DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. 01273 603766 - EMAIL [email protected] - www.fulltable.com/fj
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The Talisman of the Hand
The Talisman of the Hand
The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have become members of the Brotherhood, as have their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. There is also Adrian the seagull and Sniffer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood. They are about to fight a war against their new enemy, the infamous Doctor Wrist, and his associates. The scene is the seaside city of Brighton.
‘Well, your head still looks like a baked potato, so there can’t be anything wrong’.
‘Very funny. Ho Ho!’
Simon glared at the object lying on the pavement in front of him. Two or three people giggled, then looked away. Simon and his sister were standing in the middle of Sydney Street, Brighton, part of the North Laine area. It was only meant to be a shopping expedition, but something had suddenly descended on Simon, for apparently no reason at all. He was not happy. They both looked down at the object, or objects, at their feet.
Annie poked at them with her foot, and then bent down and picked them up. ‘Yuk’. she said. ‘They’re horrible old trainers’. But she still stood there, examining them closely.
‘I don’t care what they are. They still hit me on the head!’
Annie looked up. The telephone wire above them, across the street, from which they had fallen, was still vibrating slightly.
‘That’s very odd’, she murmured. ‘Size eleven’.
‘I don’t care what size they are! They still hit me!’
But Annie wasn’t listening. She was putting her hand inside each shoe, trying to feel if there was anything inside them. Then she shrieked with delight and punched her fist into the air. She started dancing around on the pavement.
‘Keep on doing that’.
She paused. ‘Why?’
‘Because if you keep doing that, then I can put a hat down and collect money from people for watching my mad sister doing the dance of the dervishes. Don’t you dare throw those things at me!’
It is lost, alas, beware!
Come and help us if you please
Or it’s going to be a terrible tease!
‘Well, it’s not exactly Shakespeare, is it?’ muttered Simon, peering over his sister’s shoulder. ‘What does the other note say?’ Annie unfolded the other message.
Please come to the usual place at six o’clock.
Four Fingers and a Thumb.
‘Well!’ said Annie. ‘How about that? A new mystery! Yippee!’
Perhaps even a little more history might be useful here. They had been invited two months ago to swear an oath to understand and to develop the idea of mystery. Their fellow members were all called after the various fingers of the hand, none of whom had ever revealed their true names. But this was a call to their secret hiding-place, and clearly, it was something serious There was going to be a new adventure, one in which an ability to talk to other creatures would be vital, that is, if those creatures chose to speak to them. This was something that the Four Fingers had suggested, and they had done their best to talk to dogs and cats, to no avail. The creatures had just walked away from them in disdain.
They were too excited to do any more shopping. Instead they went home and had tea. They told their parents nothing about the messages of course, but Annie finally persuaded them to let her and Simon go off for a while to “see the sunset over the sea” that, on the face of it, seemed quite romantic. They had to be back by eight o’clock, but that was enough time. They set off down into the town centre early on a warm sunny evening. Finally they found themselves, in a cobbled alleyway, just off Middle Street, outside a black gate with a bell-push, that Annie pressed. The gate swung ajar and they went through into the small garden and up to the large black front door. It had been quite dark on the last time they had come, and they both noticed how wild and overgrown with brambles and wild roses the garden was. This time, though it was still dim inside, they found their way up the stairs and into the corridor leading into….the secret den.
They looked at each other, then Simon burst through the door.
‘Freeze!’ he shouted, his hands holding an imaginary gun.
The four hooded figures behind the long table froze. Then one of them cried out.
‘They have arrived! Don’t shoot, G’men! Don’t shoot! We’ll come quietly!’
They raised their hands, palm outwards. Then one of them burst out laughing. The others followed, smacking their hands on the table with mirth.
‘Put your hands on the table where I can see them! Now!
They all spread their hands on the table.
‘Off with the hoods! Now!’
‘How can we do that? We’ve got our hands on the table!’
Simon gave up, and just shrugged. Annie was leaning on the doorpost, her arms folded, whistling between her teeth.
‘Come on’, she said finally. ‘Tell us what the problem is’.
She and Simon sat down on the chairs in front of the long table, facing the four other members of the society. Little Finger, a short, tubby bald man, spoke first.
‘We have a great crisis on our hands’. He giggled slightly. Our most precious talisman has been stolen! Or lost, perhaps, by this nitwit here,’ nodding his head scornfully in the direction of Middle Finger, who was the tallest. Middle Finger looked embarrassed.
‘Well, I ..er.. normally wear it. Two days ago, before I went to bed, I took it off, put it into its special case, and left it on the table in my house. The next morning, I came down and found it was gone!’
Index Finger took up the story. ‘The back door had been forced open. It was definitely stolen’.
Third Finger joined in. ‘ We are certain we know who stole it. But we don’t know where he is, or where the talisman is’.
‘And that is where you come in’, interrupted Little Finger. ‘We need you to find it and return back to the Society, where it rightfully belongs’.
Annie was bursting with questions. ‘Firstly, what is this talisman? What does it look like?’
It was Middle Finger who answered. ‘It’s a ring, a large one, gold, with an ivory mount, and a golden hand set on it. It is our most precious and prized emblem’.
‘Right’, said Annie, ‘and who do you think stole it?’
They all looked at each other with worry written all over their faces.
‘It was…it was..’ said Little Finger, hesitantly, ‘Doctor Wrist!’
Both Annie and Simon could tell that the Fingers were really agitated.
‘Description?’ asked Simon.
‘We don’t know. He is a master of disguise, but’, added Little Finger, ‘His name is very important. You see, the wrist controls the hand, and if he keeps the talisman, then he has power over us, to make us do his bidding. We are all, as you see, old men, and don’t have the energy to pursue him. But you are young and strong, and you are rotatable’.
‘That is why mankind, sorry, personkind, rules the world. The rotatable thumb allows us to handle tools and other things, including weapons. That’s you’.
Simon decided to try to take charge. ‘So this is a search and retrieval operation, is it? Sounds good to me, sister’.
‘Shut up, Simon’.
‘But we have taken steps to provide extra help for you. Very shortly, you will be contacted by a group known as the S-Team. We have asked them to provide you with all possible assistance’. This was from Index Finger.
‘What’s the S-Team?’ asked Simon, his curiosity overcoming him.
‘Oh, you’ll find out when you meet them. Best snoops in the business. They’ll contact you in the next day or two. Now, thank you. We really appreciate it. Please bring back our talisman’.
The four figures drew their hoods back on, and the meeting was at an end. Silently, Simon and Annie got up and went down the stairs, back through the garden, and through the garden door, which closed noiselessly behind them.
‘Well’. said Simon.
‘This is going to be a great adventure, a real mystery!’ Annie exclaimed. ‘But I do think that we might need some help of our own. I’m going to ask Indira and Pei-Ying. They’ll be really excited. What do you think?’ asked Annie, deciding to be very democratic.
‘Oh…er….yes…well, that’s fine’ muttered Simon.
Annie grinned to herself. She knew that Simon had a bit of a crush on Indira, a tall, very pretty Indian girl, who, like Pei-Ying, was a special friend. Pei-Ying, also tall and dark-haired, was also a close friend, and Simon secretly rather liked her too. In your dreams, Simon, she thought. Simon was in another world.
‘Ok, babe, this is it. Wish me luck!
‘Oh, Simon! Please be careful! You don’t know what you’re going into!’ pleaded his sister.
He strode on manfully, his sister clasping her hands together in fear and pride. He stopped and gave her a brief salute. Behind her, Indira and Pei-ying were choking back sobs, but nothing would stop him now. His strong jaw jutting forwards, his sharp eyes focussed on the black door, he patted the Smith and Wesson .38 strapped to his right hip. He moved closer and closer to the door…….’
‘Simon! You’re daydreaming again!’ shouted Annie in his ear.
He stopped, looked around, and realised where he was, which was on a bus on the way back home. ‘Oh, right….sorry’.
Annie smiled to herself.
Nothing happened for the next day or two. It was the middle of another warm sunny morning, with small tumbling clouds wandering aimlessly across the sky. Annie was in her private vegetable plot, weeding out her garden. Her head was bent down, but she suddenly felt the darkness of a large shadow across her. She looked up slowly. There, perched on the garden wall, was the largest seagull she had ever seen. It cocked its head from side to side, and then spoke, in a harsh, guttural voice.
‘You’re the Thumb, aren’t yer?’
Annie was too annoyed to consider how she could talk to a seagull.
‘What’s it to you?’
‘So you are, then. Where’s that brat of a brother of yours?’
Annie did not care for his tone of voice, and she noticed that Simon had crept up behind her, gripping a small garden fork in his right hand.
‘Who are you’, she asked sharply.
The bird didn’t reply, but gave a loud squawk. Instantly, the air was filled with beating wings. The large bird flew down onto the ground in front of her, and Annie found herself facing a semi-circle of about a dozen large seagulls, staring at her with their bright, beady eyes.
‘We’re the S-Team. The seagull team. And if I’d known that we’d been coming to help out some snotty little girlie like you, I wouldn’t have bothered. Girls! Useless! They ought to stay back in the house where they belong, playing wiv’ their little dolls!’
Simon tightened his grip on the garden fork. Annie moved slowly forwards, until her face was about two inches from the bird’s cruel yellow beak.
‘You know something?’ she began.
‘Seagulls really do look very funny without a beak’.
‘So. if you make any more nasty sexist remarks like that, I will personally rip your beak off, and stuff it right down your throat’.
The seagull and Annie stared at each other very hard. Then the bird shifted its feet from one to the other, looked down, and muttered ‘Yeah, all right’.
‘Now tell me who you are, where you’re from, and what you can do’.
The other birds crowded around. Annie sat back.
‘Outta my way!’ squawked the big seagull. ‘I take big steps! Right. I’m Adrian. This here is Jerry’, indicating a smaller brown bird, who nodded in a friendly way, and said loudly ‘yeah, I’m the token girl’. Adrian glared at her, then indicated another strange-looking seagull to his right. This ‘ere’s Cassidy. The bird seemed strange because it wore a small black eye-patch over its left eye, and only had one leg. It hopped towards her and said politely, ‘How do you do, Ma’am’. ‘These others are, Nick, Tom, Fred, Sid, Dick, John, Gus, Harry, Ned and Bert’. They all nodded to Annie and Simon.
‘Do you all live in Brighton?’ asked Simon.
Adrian’s eyes flashed angrily. ‘Now we do. But we were all up in London before, until we got turfed out of our patch, by them crows! Not that we had much choice – there were over five ‘undred of ‘em. So we came down ‘ere by the seaside. But we’ll be back and get rid of ‘em. We don’t like crows who deal in…’ his voice became a hoarse whisper.’…noxious substances’.
You don’t mean…?’ said Simon and Annie together.
Adrian nodded grimly. ‘Yeah. Meat cubes. Beef flavour’. Anyway, what is it you want us to do?’
So Simon and Annie told them of the talisman, and about it’s mysterious theft. When they had finished, Adrian nodded.
‘Right. So we’re looking for some geezer that you haven’t got a description of, and a ring which might be anywhere?’
‘That’s about it’. Said Annie rather dispiritedly.
‘Can’t you use the pigeons for help? After all, there are a lot of them around’. Asked Simon.
Adrian’s feathers rose in rage. ‘Them lot!’ he squawked. ‘Not likely! Pah! Rats with feathers! All they’re good for is waddling around and stuffing their dirty little faces! They’re just flying dustbins! No way! Don’t mention them to me again!’
The other birds all sniggered and nodded in agreement. Adrian looked down at the ground between his huge webbed feet.
‘OK. No problem’.
‘I said, no problem. Right, lads, on yer’ bikes! We’ll find you as soon as we get something’.
Without another word, they all rose up in the air with a great thrashing and beating of wings, and soared away into the sky.
‘I must say, they are really beautiful when they’re flying’. Annie reflected, as she watched them disappear upwards and then separate in different directions, high over the mean streets of Brighton.
‘You do realise we can talk to them’.
‘Of course. Isn’t that what the Brotherhood said?’
’I forgot. Well, what now?’
INTERVAL FOR REFRESHMENTS
Their parents were very pleased with themselves, So pleased, in fact, that they decided to take everyone out for a meal at a Japanese restaurant in New Road, close to the theatre. They both worked in publishing, and had just had news that one of their authors had received a major contract for a feature film. So it was time to celebrate. In fact, they were in such a good mood, they invited their friends, Indira and Pei-Ying as well, for that evening. There they all were, eating colourful Japanese food with chopsticks. Simon, of course was so overcome with the close presence of his beloved Indira, and his equally beloved Pei-Ying, that he kept dropping food into his lap, at one point managing to stick his chopstick up his left nostril.
But Annie, Indira and Pei-Ying were too busy whispering and comparing notes to take any attention of him.
‘There’s been a strange man around, on London Road, a big man, with a bushy red beard and long red hair in a ponytail’. Whispered Indira to Annie.
‘I saw him too! Whispered Pei-Ying. ‘His eyes were so strange! They seemed to be made of silver. He looked at me once, and I could swear that they gleamed at me! It was really frightening! He had on this wide black hat, didn’t he, Indira?’
Indira nodded her head. ‘He was really spooky. I kept him in sight, but he kept looking around, as if searching for somebody, or something. Do you think he’s the thief?’
Just then, their mother interrupted. ‘Just look at all those seagulls out there! As if they’re waiting for food! I wish they’d go away! Ugh!’
Annie stood up. ‘I’ll get rid of them. I have a way with seagulls. Back in a moment’.
‘Do be careful, Annie’. her mother called after her. ‘You know what nasty creatures they can be’.
Annie hurried out into the street. She had already recognised Adrian and his gang, who were perched expectantly on the benches opposite.
Adrian cocked his head on one side. ‘Yeah. Told you we were good. It was Cassidy here who spotted it. Old eagle eye, he is. That ring is in the pawnbroker’s shop, in the window, the one on the corner of London Road and Trafalgar Street. And we got wind of a hairy fella’ round about there, too. You’d better check it out’.
‘Nice one’. said Annie approvingly. ‘Where are you off to now?’
‘To go and ‘ave some nosh. You wouldn’t believe what they throw out round the back of these restaurants. I fancy a Full English Breakfast meself’.
‘No, Italian!’ chorused some of the other birds.
‘Greek for me!’ cried Cassidy.
‘And a rather nice Lebanese for me, with couscous’. added Jerry.
‘You dumb cluck’. said Adrian, cocking his head and looking at her with…affection? Oho, thought Annie, something going on there.
‘Right she said loudly, ‘I’ve got to shoo you away!’ She flapped her hands up and down.
‘Righto!’ said Adrian, then whispered, ‘Be in touch’.
They all rose up, and flapped away into the night sky
‘Well done, Annie!’ said her Mum, admiringly
‘Oh, just making them see the error of their ways’.
Early the next morning, she and Simon walked down London Road, past the shoppers, past the closed Co-operative store, the empty Woolworths, the gift and charity shops, and the Open Market. They were totally focussed on finding the pawnbrokers on the end of Trafalgar Street. They peered in at each of its windows.
‘There it is!’
They looked in the window, cupping their hands around their eyes to keep out the bright morning sun. What they saw was a large ring, oval in shape, white, with a golden, outspread hand, that sparkled and gleamed. The hand was spread outwards, as if it was blessing them. It seemed to them as if it was a magical thing, that seemed to be asking them something. Simon broke the spell. ‘Let’s go inside’.
The young man inside certainly remembered the ring, and the person who had left it with them.
‘He was very large, with a big bushy beard, red in colour, in a big brown overcoat. He just asked us not to sell it, because he was coming back today to redeem it. But he asked us, for some reason, to put it into the window. He said he wanted someone to see it, before he came back. He left a card. Do you want to see it? It’s really strange, as if he was leaving a message’.
They looked at the card. On one side it simply said in a scrawl of handwriting, only this:
Be at the house this evening
Don’t bring the birds
This is the address…
They both recognised it vaguely. Something strange had come into both their minds, but as yet they couldn’t put their finger on it.
‘Can you ring me on this number, when he comes back? It’s really important’. asked Annie.
There was a flutter and a dark shadow of wings. Beside them, on a bench outside the library, was Cassidy. He looked troubled.
‘Are you going to go there?’ he asked directly.
‘We might.’ said Simon.
‘How did you know?’ asked Annie curiously.
‘We know everything around here. I am very serious. This is dangerous. Doctor Wrist is an evil man. He would not hesitate to do……very bad things’.
Just then Annie’s mobile phone rang. She picked it up and answered.
‘Yes……….Yes………I see……..OK………all right. Thanks ever so much. ‘Bye.’
She turned to Simon and Cassidy, and said quietly, ‘The man came in and paid back his deposit for the ring. The pawnbroker man said he was gone immediately, after he picked up the talisman. Our only hope is to go and find him tonight’.
Simon and Cassidy were silent. Across the square, a group of young Japanese girls were giggling and laughing, pointing at Cassidy standing next to Annie. They had obviously never seen a one-legged sea gull before, and some of them were taking pictures on their digital cameras. One of them came across to them. ‘Would you mind if I took another picture, please?’ She knelt down and aimed her camera at the three of them. But she didn’t take a picture. She looked around carefully, and then said ‘You must be very careful. He will take every opportunity to strike at you’.
They were all frozen in the same position. There was a slight click as the Japanese girl took her photograph, whilst in the background, the other girls screamed and laughed. The sun shone down from a clear blue sky, bringing warmth to the square. There was not a breath of wind.
‘Who are you?’ said Simon quietly.
The Japanese girl looked up at him, her pale oval face and slanted, almond eyes clear against her straight black hair. ‘My name is Mariko’.
Just before six o’clock, they were standing outside the black gate, that they already knew well. They looked at each other, a cold feeling sitting in their stomachs.
‘This can’t be right!’ cried Simon.
Annie looked at the card in her hand.
‘It is. I wonder. Does the Brotherhood really know about this? Or are they playing games with us?’
They stood outside the gate where they had met the Brotherhood twice before. Why should the mysterious thief have given them this address, of all places? Annie began to reach for the bell-push, then realised with a start, that the gate was already open!
‘That’s odd. That’s really odd’. She muttered half to herself. ‘The Brotherhood wouldn’t have left this gate open surely?’ Simon was about to say ‘I don’t like it!’ but decided not to. They walked slowly up to the front door. It, too, was ajar. Then they stepped inside. It was dark and silent. In the gloom, they could just about see the staircase leading up to the landing and the room of the Brotherhood. Simon took a deep breath, and slowly began to mount the stairs, Annie following in the silence that now wrapped itself more and more tightly around them. Annie stood for a moment on the third stair, desperately straining to hear any sound, any sound at all. Simon had nearly reached the top.
A dull groaning sound. He looked up and saw a huge nightmare, a great black presence right on top of him! As he began to scream ‘Annie!’ it crashed down, and he was gone! Annie swung round and looked up, hearing Simon’s voice cut off by the tremendous roar and screaming of the great black thing that was rushing down the stairs straight at her! For a moment, she stood there paralysed, then as the roaring thing towered above her, she grabbed the banister rail and leapt for her life!
She hit the floor with a thump, that knocked all the breath out of her. She dimly heard the beast’s loud scream, then a huge, ear-splitting crash, then silence. After a few seconds, she raised her head. It throbbed painfully where she had hit it on the floor. ‘Simon?’ SIMON!’ she called, but there was only silence. She got up slowly and painfully, and hobbled to the front door. As she opened it, sunlight streamed in and lit up the dead body of the beast. Except it was not a beast. It was a huge wardrobe with double doors, that lay cracked and splintered across the foot of the stairs, completely blocking them. ‘SIMON!’ she shouted, in sudden panic. Surely he couldn’t be lying dead under that enormous thing! No!
Suddenly, one of the wardrobe doors began to move and open. Then it was pushed back, and Simon’s head and shoulders, blinking, emerged into the light. ‘Wow’. he gasped. ‘That sure was a better ride than the Cyclone at the fair’. Annie clambered over the broken wreckage, hugged him hard, and helped drag him out. They stood, looking at the shattered wardrobe, lying on its back.
‘Simon, I thought you were….’ She choked back a sob.
‘What happened?’ asked Annie, still trembling.
‘As it so happened, one of the doors swung open just as it was coming down on me, so I jumped inside for the ride. Just as well really’.
They inspected their wounds. Annie had a huge lump on the back of her head, and a few bruises. Simon had a large graze on his forehead, and a bleeding finger. ‘Look at that!’ he said proudly. ‘A war wound!’
Annie looked again at the huge carcase of the wardrobe-beast, groaning and squeaking as its timbers settled. ‘That was no accident, Simon’, she muttered quietly, ‘Someone, or something, pushed that thing down the stairs right on top of us’.
‘Well, I think’, said Simon darkly, ‘the Brotherhood has got a lot of explaining to do. Let’s go home’.
They limped away to the bus-stop, both feeling like wounded warriors.
It was lunchtime the next day, still warm and clear, with a bright blue sky. Simon and Annie walked down Sydney Street, still discussing the night before.
Simon glared furiously at the dirty trainer that had just hit him on the head. ‘That’s another message’. said Annie. She picked it up.
There was Indira and Pei-Ying hurrying towards them. ‘What happened to you?’ asked Indira, looking with horror at Simon’s beautiful large graze.
‘Oh, Simon, let me look at that!’
Annie sighed, and whilst Indira and Pei-Ying fussed over a very pleased Simon, she unfolded the note inside the trainer. It read:
This is not a trick or trap
Not our doing, not from our lap!
‘Oi!’ shouted Annie. ‘Do you all want to meet the Brotherhood?’
Half an hour later, they were all sitting at a bench table, Simon, Annie, Pei-Ying and Indira on one side, and the four Fingers on the other. To say that the Fingers were very distressed would be an understatement. They sat, clasping and unclasping their hands anxiously. Little Finger was almost in tears.
‘I’m so sorry! We’re so sorry! We never thought it would come to this! We never thought he would be so evil and dangerous! We knew nothing about it! And in our own meeting-place, too!’
Annie looked at the faces of the four rather shabby old men, wearing overcoats even on this warm day. But she believed them. Indira and Pei-Ying’s faces were dark with anger. So was Simon’s, as he leant forward and snapped ‘Yes, well, we don’t really appreciate very large wardrobes thrown at us, even on a good day!’
The tall, thin figure of Index Finger groaned. ‘I’m afraid it’s worse. We received a message only this very morning. Look!’ He passed a small white card across to Annie, who read it aloud to the others.
Time to meet for the last time, brats!
‘That’s not very nice, is it?’ grinned Simon.
Pei-Ying nodded in agreement. ‘Are..are you really going?’ squeaked Little Finger.
THE FINAL ACT – A RUMBLE UNDER THE PIER
Five minutes to midnight. The scene was cold and eerie. The four heroes, having crept silently and furtively away from their homes, now stood and stared at the open, dripping space before them. Far away, the sea mumbled and sucked as it rose and fell. A row of rusty cast-iron columns stretched away from them, supporting the greasy stained concrete ceiling above. The flat ground was damp and shiny, trickles of water running down the wall on the left. In this wall were small, round-headed doors, painted a dark slimy red. From the cracks in the ceiling hung rows of small, grey stalactites. There was the occasional plop of water on the floor. The hiss of a car far above disappeared, and all was silent again.
‘What a place for a showdown’. Whispered Simon, his voice unnaturally loud in the dimness. ‘Here we are, our very own multi-national task force. The United Nations would be very proud of us. All armed and ready’.
They looked down at the long, heavy electric torches they carried, underneath their quilted anoraks. Their breath hung in clouds in the cold air. No-one replied. They were each of them trying to overcome that feeling of dread and fear that lay in their stomachs. They waited silently.
‘Listen!’ cried Annie, ‘I can hear someone coming’.
There was a heavy clump, clump, clump, of footsteps coming closer. A large black shape appeared at the other side of the pier. It came nearer and nearer, larger and larger, silhouetted against the pale light behind. Then it stopped about twenty feet away from them. They were all clutching their torches so tightly that their knuckles gleamed whitely in the dark. A low chuckle came from the black figure. All they could see was a sudden flash of silvery eyes from underneath the hood. Then it spoke.
Annie stepped forward, Simon, Indira and Pei—Ying just behind her.
‘You’ve got something of ours that we want back. Hand it over. Now!’
The figure gave a long shrieking laugh. It made them cold even to hear it.
‘You will find that my little friends have other ideas!’ The black shape turned and raised both arms high. Annie just caught a glimpse on his left hand of something gleaming. The Talisman!
‘ATTACK THEM!’ screeched the figure.
Before they knew what was happening, a huge cloud of flying things hung over them all, and then crashed down. All Annie saw were bright yellow eyes, scratching claws and biting beaks. They were weighed down with the heaviness of the onslaught of feathered bodies, the snapping and scratching and the smell of bird-droppings. Desperately they tried to fight back, swinging their heavy torches around them. All Annie could see was a storm of maddened black shapes, clawing and scratching at her eyes, her face, her hands. There were so many of them! She felt herself being forced down to the ground, fighting and lashing back at the shrieking shapes that were settling over her, trying to battle against their strength and those awful claws and beaks!
Just as she knew she was going down forever, the black shapes were smashed aside, and she was suddenly aware of small anorak shapes, slashing and swinging at the black things, all around her. She got to her feet, and began swinging her torch in wide arcs, hearing dull thumps and thuds as she swept away at her attackers. She could hear Simon yelling, but nothing else existed except to keep fighting, hitting at every outstretched talon and maddened eye. Time stopped still. She just fought and fought for what seemed like a lifetime. Her arms were so tired, but she just kept going and going until suddenly the shrieks, screams and yells seemed to fade, and she sank to her knees, her face wet with sweat and blood. Her face and hands hurt, and she could barely loosen her grip on the torch she held.
She struggled to her feet, and as her eyesight came back, she was able to look around. The black shapes had vanished. But there was Doctor Wrist, standing in front of her, his hands reaching out towards her neck. Without even thinking, she smashed the torch down onto his left hand. He screamed in pain, and something bright flew past her face. Then, without warning, a great flurry of wings came down on his black figure. Sharp beaks seized his coat, his outstretched arms and the back of his neck, and with a tremendous beating, the seagulls lifted him up and carried him up, up, into the night sky and out to the distant sea.
Annie felt dizzy and light-headed, but she began to look around her. She recognised the ones in anoraks, standing or sitting around, being looked after by others. The floor beneath the pier was littered with small black bodies, some with claws still pointing up, heads on one side, yellow beaks gaping. It was a battlefield.
‘Annie!’ she turned and there was Simon, his face scratched and bloody. They hugged each other. They both looked around at the place of their famous battle, at the dead crows lying in heaps, and at their allies, in anoraks, now slashed to ribbons, busy cleaning and dressing their wounds. ‘Wow!’ gasped Simon. ‘That was some fight!’
‘Simon?’ whispered Annie. ‘I think I’m about to throw up’. She staggered across to the wall with the doors and was violently sick. She came back, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. It was only then that she noticed her scratched, bleeding knuckles, and the stinging on her face. ‘Are Pei-Ying and Indira all right?’
‘Yeah, they’re fine. Look. There’s someone we recognise over there’.
Annie went across to one of the anoraks, who was bending over a girl, sitting on the ground, sobbing quietly. She straightened up as Annie approached.
They embraced each other. ‘Thank you, Mariko!’ She looked down at the girl, who was holding her arm in an awkward position. Annie began to cry. ‘Don’t worry”, Mariko said. ‘Jojo’s broken her arm. We’ll take her to hospital in a moment. I think everybody is a little bit hurt, but there is nothing serious’.
‘How did you know we were here?’
‘You needed help. We came’.
Annie was still sniffling. ‘How will you get home?’
‘That is no problem. We have a place to go. Do you think we won?’
Annie suddenly remembered. ‘The talisman! It’s here somewhere!’ She began looking around frantically amidst all the mess. Simon helped her, as did Pei-Ying and Indira. Pei-Ying saw it first, a small gleam amongst the bodies of the crows. She picked it up and handed it to Annie, who stared at it. They all crowded around. ‘It seems quite pleased to see you’. said Pei-Ying, wiping a few more spots of blood from her face. In fact, the ring seemed to be glowing with its own light. Mariko looked up. ‘I can hear police car sirens in the distance. I think we must all disappear immediately’. The Japanese girls, the ones that Annie had recognised earlier, disappeared like shadows. Annie and her brother clambered up the steps and walked away to the bus-stop.
But there was still unfinished business to attend to.
Two days later, the Brotherhood was assembled around two tables pushed together in a beach restaurant, certainly very different from where Simon and Annie had met the Fingers. It was close to Brighton Pier, where the fight had taken place. The sun shimmered and sparkled on the gently lapping waves, from a cloudless and warm sky. All around there was chatter and laughter from the passing tourists and from the nearby tables. Over the empty dishes and plates, with glasses of lemonade in front of them, their mood was quiet. Simon, Annie, Indira and Pei-Ying sat next to Mariko. Across from them sat the four Fingers.Their eyes were on the talisman, that Annie held between her cupped hands.
‘Why is this so important?’ asked Annie finally.
It was Third Finger that answered. ‘Because’, he said quietly, ‘It is the emblem of our Brotherhood, and because it possesses strange and mysterious powers. It is still a mystery to us, and we need to find out what it can do. That is why we asked you to return it to us. We promise that we will tell you when we know. We’ll send you a message’,
‘I’m getting a bit fed up of being hit over the head with smelly trainers!’ snapped Simon. ‘Try email next time’.
‘Here come the birds!’ cried Little Finger. The next moment, Adrian, Jerry and Cassidy landed with a thump on the table and began to greedily eat the leftover food. Annie turned to Mariko. ‘Are your friends all right?’
‘Oh, yes’. replied Mariko cheerfully. ‘Just cuts, bruises and scratches. Jojo is in plaster, but she is fine. She said she would not have missed it for all the world’. Annie turned back to the rest of the people around the table. ‘Here,’ she said, tossing the talisman to Third Finger, who caught it neatly. ‘Look after it this time’. Third Finger nodded, and put it back on his own finger.
‘Come on, Adrian’. urged Simon. “tell us what you did with Doctor Wrist. Adrian swallowed a few more tasty leftovers. ‘Right, well, we flew him right out to sea, didn’t we, Jerry? ‘
’Dead right, Ade’. she said, cocking her head to one side. Oho, Annie thought. I was right. She’s the gangster’s moll.
‘I must say, he went down in a big splash!’ sniggered Cassidy.
Annie’s eyes rounded with horror. ‘Adrian!’ she gasped. ‘that’s murder!’
‘Well, it was and it wasn’t. We did drop him near one of those buoys that they ‘ave out at sea. If he can swim, he’ll get to it, and maybe someone might pick him up, maybe. I’ll tell you summat else. Them crows you clobbered, they were the ones that chucked us off our patch. They’re not going to be back again. Nice one, eh?’
‘I would like to propose a toast’. said Little Finger unexpectedly. ‘I would like to thank, on behalf of the Brotherhood, our members, our friends and our companions for all that you have achieved. Our little mystery here is done, but there may be many more in the future. To the Awesome Thumbs, the Foursome Thumbs!’ ‘Sixsome, actually’, said Annie, looking at Mariko and Adrian. ‘But that’s difficult to rhyme’. complained Index Finger.
‘That’s no surprise’. muttered Simon.
‘Let us drink to each other for now’, announced Little Finger, ‘because, I fear, Doctor Wrist has not finished with us yet’.
Turn back the clock about forty-eight hours. The buoy gently bobbed up and down in the whispering sea, anchored by a steel cable. It rose up and down, up and down, it’s red light flashing on and off, on and off. Nothing disturbed its gentle rhythm. A small splash next to it broke the ripple of the surface. A long, claw-like hand reached out, missed, then missed again. For a third time it reached out, and gripped one of the supporting iron bars of the flashing light. This time, it held on.
Frank Jackson (18/04/09) Word count – 6901
This was where the fight under the pier took place. Above, is the pier itself. Doctor Wrist entered at the far end.
A second view of the battle scene. The floor was littered with the bodies of crows.