Fantasme Part Seventeen
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The Demon Watch
Liverpool, January, 1919
The walls of the Main Bridewell basement resembled those of an abattoir. Blood or what passed for it had spattered the walls of the interrogation cell. After a Skin Walker infestation the blood turned to sludge, and it was proving stubbornly resistant to attempts at removal. Instead of cleaning it up, Will’ had only managed to smear it over a much wider area, and the once white tiles had become a grim tableau. Behind him, a corpse lay on the floor, hands tied behind its back. The chair it had been sitting on now lay broken in pieces around it, and a wooden shard protruded from the back of its head.
Sergeant Tissyman walked in, and greeted the site without breaking stride. He was a short, thin man, perhaps fifty years old. Once clean cut, he now looked like a veteran of the trenches battle weary and starving His shirt hadn’t seen an iron for some time, and his moustache was thick and unkempt. He had been in Liverpool for nearly twenty five years, but the Yorkshire man could still be heard in his accent.
“You’ve made a right mess here lad.” He said with a matter fact tone born of grim experience. “Did it tell you anything?”
“Do they ever?” Said Will’.
There was a depressing resignation in his voice. It had been a war without an end in sight. They had learned little about the enemy. They knew how to incapacitate them, how to kill them, but not how to extract information from them. They still had no idea where they were from, or why they were here.
Tissyman silently removed his jacket and hung it on the back of the door, then said,
“Let me give you a hand. You’ll be there all day at this rate.”
He rolled up his shirt sleeves and took a sodden reg from a bucket of warm crimson water that stood at Will’s feet. Will’ was glad of the help. He was also happy for the company. In the last eight years he had seen his share of terrible things, but he was yet to become truly hardened to it. Despite his confidence that he had dispatched the thing on the floor, it wouldn’t be rising gain to attack him that was for sure, he couldn’t shake the feelings of vulnerability that came with being alone with the body.
The creature had been wearing the skin of a post office clerk, barely twenty years old. He had the face of an innocent. That is when it wasn’t twisted and contorted by the horror that lived within him. In those moments, when the demon possessing the poor lad was spouting its most heinous bile, he had been truly terrified. Yet still torture wouldn’t sit comfortably with him.
Tears had stained Will’s cheeks as he dipped his pen knife into a bag of salt before slicing through the flesh on the things belly. It had wailed and screamed, but it was an inhuman cry and that helped him to disassociate, and quell the rising sickness in his gut.
Salt seemed to incapacitate these things. Greg Tumnus had discovered it quite early on. Greg was a Sergeant in the south end of the city. It had been years earlier. He had finished his shift, and was heading home via the general store. The night was bitterly cold, and he couldn’t wait to be in front of the hearth with his pipe. It was barely a year since the incident in the cemetery.
Greg had just turned into Upper Parliament Street, when he heard noises coming from an alleyway. He later realised it was a Skin Walker, but back then that wouldn’t have been the first thing he’d have suspected and instinct drove him into danger. Back then crimes of the human kind still vastly outnumbered those perpetrated by the dark things.
This one had taken possession of a whore, and some poor soul was paying the ultimate price for his sins. The moment Greg arrived at the scene, he realised it was too late. The victim was clearly dead, and in the process of being consumed. He turned to run, but his right boot connected with a pile of refuse and he was sent sprawling along with his groceries. His head caught the wall, and he cried out as he felt a warm ooze pour down his cheek.
The thing took a brief break from eating, just long enough to size up its next meal. Greg could hear it breathing, but from the position he was in, compounded by the low light, he was unable to see it. He knew it would soon be done, and would then turn its attention to him. He had to get up now, but when he tried his knee gave out under his weight. The pain was incredible, and he couldn’t help screaming into the darkness.
The situation seemed desperate, and panic was threatening to overwhelm him, when he remembered his whistle was in the inside pocket of his jacket. It should have been clipped to the front on a chain, but that had long ago been broken. There was no way he was paying for a replacement, so he had just taken to stowing it in his pocket.
He had no way of knowing whether it had popped out in the fall, he could only prayed it hadn’t. Rolling onto his back he reached inside his jacket with his right hand and searched for the pocket. It was still in there, he could feel its outline and relief surged through him. All he had to do was find the wind to blow the fucking thing.
There had to be a patrol out there somewhere, and if he was going to survive the night he had to make enough racket to alert them. His first effort lacked the power to be heard in the street beyond the alley. He shivered. It was mid January and freezing cold. He had been afraid this would mean that there would be no one to hear his call, no matter how loud.
On nights like this, him and his fellow beat bobbies would often seek refuge from the night in the warmth of a public house. The promise of protection would usually be enough to persuade the landlord to oblige, and there they’d stay until the morning sun warmed the streets. They’d then make their way back to the station desperately trying their best to appear sober. It was risky but it beat taking your chances on the streets. His only chance of rescue rested on the local patrol being affiliated with the ‘Demon Watch’, otherwise he was doomed.
From behind, he could hear the sound of chewing and it only served to galvanise him. He lifted the whistle to his lips for one more go. He surprised himself, the sound bounced off the alley walls, and much to his relief, the sound carried into the street beyond. He drew breath and did it again, and again. He wasn’t sure it mattered at this point. The horrible feasting sounds had stopped. Whether it had finished the poor John off, or was simply disturbed by the noise he couldn’t be sure. Will remembered how Greg had told him that he had begun to make peace with God at that point, he had been that convinced it was all over.
Back in the present, Tissyman wrung his rag out into the bucket, and wiped his brow with his forearm. His colleague had been very quiet as they worked, and he had been staring at him for what seemed an age before Will realised and acknowledged his Sergeants wrinkled brow with a smile.
“Penny for ’em lad”
“Lost in my own world for a bit there Serg'” Replied Will’.
“I could see that. Anything you care to share?” He wasn’t letting it go.
“Just thinking about that night we found Greg with the Skin Walker, and how if we had been just a few seconds later he’d be gone now.” He shivered.
“Ay his knee was so banged up, he would never have out run that thing.”
Will’ and Tissyman had been walking along Sandon Street, near Falkner Square Gardens, when the older man had stopped in his tracks. The younger of the two had been lost in thought as they strolled along, when the Sergeant threw out an arm, forcing Will’ to come to a halt. Tissyman drew his truncheon and made a shushing gesture. Then came the unmistakable sound of a police whistle. Both of them set off in the direction of Upper Parliament Street.
They tracked the sound down to an alleyway. They were about thirty feet away when they heard Greg screaming obscenities. By the time they reached him, he had managed to raise himself to his knees. The pain must have been excruciating, because his right knee had been so damaged he still walked with a limp. He was throwing refuse and groceries at something in the dark and not really making much of an impact. The creature was slowly advancing on him.
As they arrived on scene Will’s knees went weak at the sight. It was a woman, and her dress was ripped to shreds below the waist. Trails of blood streaked down her legs. He held up his lantern and as the light shining on its face revealed a truly grisly sight. Its teeth were bright red and slivers of flesh and hair were stuck to its cheeks.
Greg had almost run out of ammunition, and all he had left was a tub of salt from his spilled bag of shopping. He launched it, and watched as it crashed into the fiends face. It exploded on impact and doused the monster in white grains. The result was astonishing. The monster had screamed and begun to writhe around. The sound was chilling, and the three of them watched s the skin on its face began to blister and froth.
Will was first to recognise the opportunity that had presented its self, and he rushed forward waving the baton in the air and screaming. He struck her in the head with terrible force, and the skull bust open like a Halloween pumpkin. Blood, cranium and grey matter sprayed him in the face. Undeterred and driven by a mixture of terror and adrenaline he took another swing. This time he connected with its eye socket, shattering it in an instant. The side of its face caved in, and the eye ball exploded. The whore’s body wilted, and the one remaining eye rolled backwards revealing a milky whiteness. It was a fatal blow and she hit the floor with a damp thud.
Tissyman had been frozen to the spot, but on seeing the thing collapse he leapt past Greg who was still unable to move, and joined Will’ in raining down blows on the thing. They kept going for a full three minutes, and only stopped when there was no more skull to hit. Spent, they both sank to their knees, exhausted and breathless.
The memory of it brought a shiver to Tissyman, as he picked up the bucket and carried it to the rear of the room where there was a large sink hole in the floor.
“Seems like a lifetime ago now, but that was a grim night son.” He tipped the bloody liquid down the drain.
“Ay.” Said Will. “The first of many.”
The older man stretched and rubbed his shoulder. He appeared stiff and in pain. They had worked hard, and still had the body to clear away. Will felt fine. He had begun to notice that these days he seemed to have so much energy. He only ever needed a few hours sleep at night, and often had to be reminded to eat. That wasn’t all, he had seemed to have gotten younger looking too.
At first Will and his wife had been too overloaded with their new arrival to notice the physical changes going on with him. Mabel never knew where the baby had really come from. Will had spun her a yarn about finding the child abandoned. He and Gregory Tumnus had settled on the story, as they made their escape from James Street.
The group that had fled the curtain of light at the cemetery all those years ago had quickly become separated pretty. Will and Greg had somehow stayed together, and they never saw the others again. The paper was filled with stories of desertion and cowardice for weeks after.
Greg, had his own ideas as to the fate of the other men who had been in the cemetery that night. Those ideas often came between him and his sleep, but he had no choice but to run, and if he couldn’t out pace the evil coming through the curtain then he had to out run his co escapees.
After about ten minutes Greg had called out to him to stop. He hadn’t even realised the policeman had been behind him. Will’ didn’t want to stop until he got home. He had been clutching the infant close to his chest, and when he looked down at it he noticed it was staring up at him. It’s eyes were so green. They were beautiful.
Greg was lumbering towards him, sweaty and breathing hard. “I’ve got to rest.” He said.
“We need to keep going, we are not safe yet.”
Will wasn’t even out of breath, but it took Greg a minute or so to regain his composure and speak.
“We’ve been running practically uphill for an age. I don’t know about you, but I need a breather.”
Will gazed back down the hill towards James Street. He had expected to see a flood of light, and all manner of hell breaking free. Instead the glow of the curtain was beginning to dim. Reassured a little he wandered over to a stoop outside a terraced house, and sat down.
“We’ll take five minutes, but no more.”
The balance of power had shifted in the relationship, and it wasn’t lost on either of them.
“Thank God.” Said Greg, staggering over and sitting down next to Will.
They didn’t speak, as five minutes turned into twenty. Instead, they sat and watched as the light slowly went out. The cemetery was once more in darkness. Will was first to speak.
“Did you know about this?”
Greg had been lost in his thoughts, and the question was genuine, although Will had thought he was being evasive.
“Don’t give me that copper. I heard you and those soldiers talking back there. You’ve seen this sort of thing before haven’t you?”
The policeman stared for a moment, weighing up the best way to respond. He had regained control of his breathing at last, and felt a little more sure of himself. Truth was Greg Tumnus and others within the local constabulary had been fighting a hidden war for a number of years now. Incidents had been reported way before the Transport Strike, which had provided a convenient excuse to call in the military.
Greg had even wondered if the ‘Spring Heeled Jack’ sighting in ’04 had been an early precursor. The local populous had cornered the thing in Everton on a dark evening. It had apparently terrorised the neighbourhood for weeks, stealing animals, and a child had also vanished.
The crowd, consisting of men and women had chased the thing into a crumbling slum. Eye witnesses reported the thing had been trapped, its back to the wall. One woman, who admittedly reeked of ale told Greg that think had just cackled at them. Its eyes, she said glowed yellow, and spotting a gap in the rafters it leapt into the air. The mob had been terrified, and could only watch as it leapt into the night sky, before disappearing completely.
At the time he had been convinced that this particular apparition owed more to hysteria, fuelled by bad gin, and beer than the mysterious phantom that stalked the country. Since then he had been forced to face the fact that this was merely an early manifestation of the terror that now gripped the city. He turned to Will and confessed.
“Yes I have.” He said. “But I couldn’t tell you what all of this is about. I just know they keep coming. They are relentless. There’s a dozen for everyone of them you put down.”
“What are they?” The baby was beginning to squirm, and Will wondered if it was hungry.
“That I can’t say, but if you want my best guess, I’d say they’re demons. Only Satan himself could conceive of such monsters.”
Will had been force fed the Bible along with the rest of his friends growing up, but it had been many years since he was last under its spell. He had become convinced religion was no more than a rich man’s tool, to keep the likes of him cowed and obedient. The events of that night had severely challenged his world view. Could this be the end of days? He looked down at the baby, then at the policeman, and dismissed such notions. There had to be some other explanation.
“You really believe in all of that?”
“I didn’t.” Said the copper. “Let me put it to you this way. I believe in what I see. Do you?”
Will’ knew where this was going. “Of course.”
“Then I will ask you this, if they aren’t demons, what are they?”
Will had no answer that night. Years later, stood in the basement of the main Bridewell, hands soaked in the horrid black sludge, the life force of these terrible creatures, he was still non the wiser.
It had been a rough day. They all were lately, but this was up there with the worst of them. All he wanted now was to get home to Mabel and Charlie. They had named the child after his wife’s grandfather. Mabel had no problem accepting it as their own. In a moment of honesty, Will’ had confessed to his sergeant and Greg that, even if he hadn’t known that this infant was significant in some way, he still wouldn’t have handed it over to the church.
They had both desperately wanted children, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t happening. Here they were, presented with the answer to all their dreams. He knew there would come a day when the truth would out, but he didn’t need to worry about that for some time. At least that’s what he thought.
The neighbours were easy. As far as they were concerned the baby’s real mother had perished from typhus, and Mabel was fulfilling a promise to take care of him. It was a story that people could easily accept, and it came with the added benefit of engendering sympathy and support.
The sound of boots on the stairs outside caused his heart to sink. He knew it was Greg with the tools. That meant the day was not done. There was more grisly work to be done before he got home to his family. Disposing of these things was by far the most difficult aspect of the work, as far as Will’ was concerned. It was far easier to inflict suffering on these things when they were screaming obscenities, and trying to rip out your throat. It was quite another matter once the light went out in the eyes, and they became just another poor corpse awaiting eternity.
The door swung open, and Greg walked in carrying an ominous looking tool bag. He surveyed the ragged and mutilated body on the floor, and took a deep breath.
“Did you get it to talk?”
Will’ snorted. “Oh it talked all right.” He said. “Called me fit to burn it did.”
“Is that why you put the chair leg through its head then?” Greg smirked, a twinkle danced in his eye.
Tissyman coughed conspicuously. He was all about the business, and had no time for the levity the other two frequently used to cope with the nightmare they were living.
“Come on lads. The quicker we chop this thing up and get rid of its sorry carcass, the sooner we’ll be home to our beds.”
“Sir.” Will’ and Greg chorused.
Greg took the tools from his bag. He tossed an axe to Will’ who actually caught it without looking. To an outsider watching, as they both crossed the floor to the crumpled corpse, they could easily have been mistaken for two criminals walking to the gallows.
Will’ dropped to one knee, and raised the axe. Before swinging it he briefly made eye contact with Tissyman. The sergeant recognised the look. There was no telepathy going on here, just empathy. He’d worn that stare, and thought those thoughts. He knew that Will’ was losing a little piece of himself every time he butchered one of those things. He also knew Greg was feeling exactly the same way.
Sergeant Robert Tissyman wouldn’t have had it any other way. He needed men who still knew what it was to be human. Men who would cling to, and fight for that humanity with everything that they had. That’s why he had persuaded Will to join the force, despite his obvious distrust and even hatred for the institution. That’s why he had recruited both him and Greg to the Demon Watch.
It is why he nodded his approval, as Will’ lopped of the poor empty bastards head with a single blow. He did all of that, because he was certain that every time they butchered one of these monsters, it meant there was one less for their children and grandchildren to fight in the future.
However, the future has a way of doing its own thing. No matter how much ancestors labour, there are battles they must pass down the generations. The three men had no way of knowing on that grim morning, that in sacrificing those little pieces of their souls, they would pave the way for the liberation wars to come, much less the key role their descendants would play.
Decades later Harry Tumnus, grandson of Gregory was locked in a war of his own. He was buried deep inside himself, lost and alone. He wandered the places in his mind, always returning to the one space and time where he felt at peace. At home with Lucy.
Harry found himself on a pathway, looking into a garden he knew well. He had lost count of how many times he had opened that gate and stepped on to the driveway beyond. The car was still there, his car. It was freshly washed and gleaming in a spring sunshine. The grass was so green, and the flowers so fragrant. Of course they were. They were all trapped in a single perfect moment, set on an infinite loop in his subconscious.
The front door was open, the newspaper on the mat folded neatly. He knew the headline before he picked it up, but he couldn’t stop himself picking it up anyway. A policeman stared back at him from the front page, his eyes seemed to glow yellow. Above the photo the headline screamed LIAR. Unconcerned, he dropped it to the mat and stepped over it.
There was music emanating from the far end of the hallway. It was coming from the kitchen. He could clearly hear the rattle of dishes, and a voice he had yearned for, and he went to it.
The sun was pouring through the net curtain strung across the kitchen window. Lucy was there. She had her back to him, and was singing along with the radio. The table was set for breakfast, and the air filled with the smell of toast, and hot tea. If there was a heaven, Harry mused, it couldn’t have been any better than this place.
She reached over and turned off the radio. It was sitting on the window ledge next to a porcelain hen full of eggs. He remembered they had bought it from the chandlers down the road. They both thought it was hilarious. She turned, and he noticed the fullness of her lips, and he wanted to kiss her so badly.
“Lucy I’m lost.”
She smiled. Her teeth were so white. Her hand dropped to her side, the tea towel hung from her fingers. With her free hand she swept a strand of hair behind her right ear.
“Harry you’re not lost. You are home.”
Behind her the radio crackled back into life, but this time the music had been replaced by random noise. It was no more than static, and it sounded like someone was searching in vain for a station. Harry was deeply troubled and strained to make out something in the garbled hiss.
“Can you hear them again Harry?” She said, all the time maintaining that smile.
It didn’t make him feel good though, not the way it had in the past. It was unnerving, almost like it wasn’t her at all, like something else was hiding behind that grin. An image from the Stepford Wives movie occurred to him, and he wanted out.
She was right though, he had begun to hear order buried deep in the white noise. For some reason though, he wanted to deny it. He didn’t want his Lucy to know. She wasn’t going to let it go though.
“It’s OK Harry I know you can hear them, why won’t you tell me what they are saying?”
Harry was afraid of her now, and he began to stammer. “It’s Lur Lur nothing Lur Lucy.” He was backing away from her into the hallway. He just wanted to run.
“Lur Lur Lucy!” She mocked him, cackling like the wicked witch of west. All pretence appeared to have been abandoned. Her face became a twisted parody of its self, and her eyes turned a filthy shade of yellow. He knew he had to leave. It wasn’t her, and she mustn’t know about the voices. He had to follow them, they would lead him to safety.
He turned and ran. Her voice chased after him, deriding him, and loaded with murderous intent.
“Run Harry, but you have nowhere to go. I am everywhere, and I will find you.”
To be continued………….