‘there was a time…
the skies were Cobalt blue…’
‘there was a time…
the skies were Cobalt blue…’
From the belly of London the roar of the roadster thundered out into the chill night, the distant wail of police sirens fading, as it ploughed onward without indecision, through the poorly lit waterfront district.
The huge, black vehicle did not slow as it passed through the silent derricks and cluttered jetties, rusted freight rails and oil slick water pools, until it burst onto the motorway and headed east toward the Kentish coast.
Within the cars dark interior the dully illuminated dashboard emitted three sharp beeps denoting the hour. The figure at the wheel checked all rear view mirrors for signs of pursuit, eased off the accelerator and slowed the hurtling automobile as it approached the Steranko Railway Bridge on the farthest outskirts of the city.
The car was travelling at ninety four miles per hour when it was swallowed by the darkness beneath the bridge – and the driver saw the woman.
She loomed from the shadows in the sharp spread of the halogen headlamps, arms clasped about naked breasts, narrow waist encased in ruined black corsetry, legs sheathed in black stockings.
Standing on muddied stilettos with the roar of the engine reverberating through the tunnel toward her, she stared into the lamps of the oncoming car and smiled.
The driver instinctively wrenched the steering wheel savagely to the left and felt the car lift away from the road.
Starved of repellent force, the rear end of the vehicle refused to follow the front and began to free-slide above the rough road surface as frantic hands wrenched the wheel hard to the right.
For a moment the speeding car seemed to wrap, snakelike, about the girl.
Gravel and shale sprayed viciously at her semi-naked form as the Newton Gear regained purchase from the road for an instant and the hurtling mechanical mass changed direction.
Electromagnetic gearing, metal and oil screamed into the dark, and savage air tugged wildly at the ribbons and lace of wasted lingerie as the car howled past her, caroming headlong into the side of the bridge.
Bricks and mortar sprayed from the wall and cascaded across the bonnet as the cars wing crumpled with the impact and surged onward.
Scything into the bridge structure, it groaned finally to a shuddering halt, slewing broadside across the road at right angles to its original path some thirty feet beyond the woman.
One solitary lamp still shone a beam of light into the settling clouds of dust, but the engine of the big car, unperturbed by the impact, still idled.
The Cherenkov Effect of the Newton gear cast a neon blue glow beneath the vehicle as a gloved hand pressed a Bakelite switch within the interior; and with an ominous thud of releasing deadbolts the door swung slowly open.
The man known as Archangel stood to his full height and rubbed the whiplash in his neck. Flecks of light reflected from the worn leather of his suit as he drew one of the twin .45s from his hip holsters, and scanned the road in the direction he had been travelling.
The disc of lamplight at the end of the remaining hundred and seventy yards of tunnel showed no signs of movement and, satisfied, he returned his attention to the girl.
He held the pistol ready, against his thigh, as he slowly approached her. Apart from the shallow rise and fall of her bleeding shoulders and the gentle shifting of her long dark hair by the tunnel breeze, she remained motionless.
Dense blue-black wheals covered her back and buttocks and, as he drew level, he noted the dislocation of her right shoulder joint and darker areas which, in the poor light, may have been a tattoo.
He slowly moved to stand before her and stared directly into her eyes.
Numerous open wounds to her face and arms had caked to brittleness and the swelling to her right cheek and eye had all but closed it completely.
She had been beautiful, and the blankness that she returned in the fixed, vacant, smile seemed both cruel and misplaced.
“Don’t be afraid. I’m here to help.” He said quietly. He knew that she did not see him or hear the words that he strung together to elicit a response, but he continued. “Who – did this to you?”
He felt the familiar heat of rage swell, uncontrollably, from the core of his being. The smile faded from the girl’s face and she began to weep, silently, filled with the sorrow of the broken.
The Archangel replaced the gun into its holster. “I’ll bring you a blanket.” He said, gently offering her a comforting hand as he moved toward the car.
Over the girl’s shoulder he registered the crouched silhouette and the rifle’s muzzle flash too late, and even as he lunged to grab the girl’s upper arm he cursed himself for a fool.
He wrenched her sideways, pulling her toward him as the high velocity bullet found its mark.
But for the Archangel’s intervention the point of impact would have been to the centre of the girl’s upper back, as it was the bullet impacted her left shoulder blade with the force of a small car.
The velocity of the projectile threw the girl forward off her feet, the bullet exiting above her collar bone and tearing through the sleeve of the man’s leather suit in a welter of crimson.
The momentum of his sideways lunge flung the girl heavily in the direction of the still idling car; and she flailed doll-like, crashing to the gravel and coming to an abrupt halt against the vehicle side, unconscious.
Within a split second the man in leather tore his pistols from their holsters once more, and from the cover of the throbbing bonnet loosed a cascade of rounds down the tunnel toward the shadowed assailant.
In the crescent of illumination at the tunnels end the silhouette of the attacker stood up, slung the long barrelled rifle it had previously used across it’s shoulder, and opened fire with an automatic weapon that tore up ground and brickwork about the Archangel and his wounded charge.
Taking a moment to jam the girls badly bleeding shoulder tightly between the ground and the wheel of his vehicle, to act as makeshift tourniquet, he sat back as lead death thundered against the car side.
The heavy thud of multiple high calibre rounds echoed around the tunnel as chunks of the cars bodywork were hurled into the air.
Calmly, he braced himself against the vehicle for a moment, and then stepped into the hail of bullets.
The echoes of incoming gunfire dissipated as the Archangel levelled his pistols and strode into the tunnels centre.
By the time the twin 45s had begun to bark into the darkness of the tunnel, the assailant had ceased fire and slung the automatic weapon across his shoulder alongside the rifle.
Firing steadily from straight arms Archangel broke into a run, bullets chewing tarmac and dirt from the empty ground at the tunnel mouth as the assassin darted from view, his footfalls reverberating around the tunnel walls as he covered the distance to the entrance in a matter of seconds.
He darted into open view, and drawing no fire from above moved out of the tunnel‘s protection, raking the bank and bridge top with ready pistols for signs of movement.
Slowly he ascended the bank, listening intently to the sounds of night traffic from the distant highways mingle with river noise carried on the breeze. The starlit black sky above stared on.
Brick and concrete exploded into the air around his head as he cleared the parapet and became a visible target to the assassin on the railway tracks above.
Stone chips peppered his cheeks as he ducked for protection, and he swore at the hot sting and the sudden rush of rage.
Jerking himself quickly to his left he placed a foot on the bridge masonry work and stood upright into the chill wind above the bridge.
The 45s burst into life as he emerged from cover. His eyes picked out his target and in a fraction of a second adjusted his aim to pour a lethal rain toward the, once again, fast retreating figure.
Leaping onto the slick rail sleepers he walked methodically between them, pistols blazing into the night at the fast moving figure in the cold darkness ahead.
He became aware as he attempted to target the figure ahead that some form of broken black and white camouflage pattern across the retreating back made a successful shot almost impossible.
Halting, he replaced one pistol into its holster and steadied the remaining weapon with the now freed hand.
Resting his head as the fleeing figure grew smaller; his breathing took on a steady, rhythmic cadence. Concentrating on the movement pattern of the strange camouflage and easing the adrenalin and rage to the recesses of his mind, he gently began to squeeze the trigger, taking up the slackness within the firing spring.
He counted the sway and beat of his target as he compensated for distance and wind speed. In his mind’s eye he visualized the moment of impact and the cold satisfaction of the kill.
The vibration from within the ground ate swiftly into his concentration and his subconscious mind forced his body into sudden motion even before he became physically aware of the locomotive that bore down upon him.
He stepped to the side almost casually. A controlled motion which eased him from between the rails as the passenger train tore past, mere inches away.
He turned to watch as illuminated windows filled with myriad, oblivious, fleeting faces filed past.
Rage and adrenalin rush returned and he spat venomously at the thundering intercity, his pistol dropping slowly to his side.
Seconds later the train was passed.
Red lights vanished swiftly into the darkness, trailing the clamour of thrash and clatter like a ribbon of sound behind it.
In the silence that followed the trains passing, the Archangel heard the distant roar of an engine come to life and the screech of tire on tarmac as something pulled off and left the scene, very fast.
He placed the remaining .45 into its holster and turned away from the spent chase.
He looked in both, empty, directions as the vacant stars continued their seemingly mocking vigil.
His ears still rang from the gunfight in the tunnel, and he wondered for a moment who the mysterious assailant may have been.
Then he broke into a determined run, back along the tracks towards the bridge, as the girl once again filled his thoughts.
She opened her eyes.
The flesh blue roof tiles of the tower lifted themselves into the icy air from the sickly yellow cloud that stretched away, interminably, into the distance.
Above, the sky was beginning to turn black, and strange unrecognised stars glowed red, through a million miles of dark, unimagined space.
She stood in the tower’s uppermost garret room, the milky skin of her shoulders, face and thighs stark against the otherwise dark room and the black timber floor around her. A floor pitted with strange, splintered patterns; ringlets of ragged edges, inexplicable and strange.
Light leeched, wanly, through the grimy skylight window in the highest point of the roof space, reflecting on the thick timber beams that angled away into the dark shadows at the room’s edges.
A rust red tinge to the sparse light seemed to flicker and eddy before her eyes, and she realised with sudden clarity that the room was filled with a thick and heavy liquid.
Her hair flowed, silk like, as she raised her arms to study the long leather opera gloves that enclosed them, almost to the shoulder.
Around her waist, laced corsetry pulled her midriff to painful thinness, garters clinging to seamed nylon stockings that slipped, on arched feet, into towering stiletto heeled shoes, all blacker than the night.
As she ran her fingertips across the tight, ribbed, fabric that bound her stomach, a thousand fish hooks, razor sharp and vibrating, snagged and tore at the leather and the flesh beneath, and as she raised a hand to her face, crimson billows blossomed like rose flowers into the liquid air about her.
From the corner of her eye she caught movement in the deepest shadows along the room’s edge.
She peered into, and through, the liquid atmosphere until she found the faint flicker of reflected light on the sheen of some grotesque, moving thing, and made to move back, as the serpentine form of a tentacle weaved itself into the light before her.
Thick and white, the long sinews beneath the almost transparent flesh extended and contracted toward her, small clouds of sediment dust exploding beneath it as unseen teeth in vicious, awful cusps bit down into the timber for purchase.
She tried to pull back, to take flight, but could not move. Looking down toward her feet she watched in horror as the ancient planking slowly became one with her own limbs, the patent leather stilettos and black nylon stockings turning, slowly, into the same arcane timber as the floor beneath her.
She felt the shards of wood’s splintering progress within her lower legs. It pierced her muscle, tore at the flesh and shattered the bone, as it rooted her to, and transformed her into, timber, a hybrid figurehead of flesh, bone and wood.
She opened her mouth to scream as the huge shards pierced her thighs, but no sound escaped.
Oblivious, the sickening tentacles continued their steady progress into the light.
Now numbering five, they flipped and writhed obscenely, as though excited by the pain before them, eager for whatever dread design might unfold.
As the first horrific tendril reached the mahogany shoe, wrapping itself around the grained spike heel and clamping needle like teeth into the polished surface, she screamed again.
Even in the restricting fluid, this time, the howl gained anchor.
Above her, the timbers shook, and detritus fell in spinning, granular clouds through the aqueous.
The tentacles grasped tighter the wooden carving that had now replaced her lower limbs, and as her fear increased, so too did the speed of her mutation.
A single terrible, splinter penetrated her abdomen through the holes of her pelvic bone and she ceased screaming.
She felt its presence, slowly surging through her ribcage, slicing through her collar bone, and she lifted her eyes to the skylight in defeat as the fragmented stump pushed upward through her throat toward the front of her skull.
Then she opened her eyes.
The light was dim. A pale, rust red, glow covered all that she could perceive and somewhere slightly to the right of her vision a trail of stars flickered.
She attempted to turn her head but found herself immobile. Her throat burned as she became aware of her breathing, and the dryness within clamped the sides firmly closed.
She lay in a sea of silence, her thoughts moving dully among its currents, and she realised that she felt no pain.
In fact she felt nothing, and it occurred to her that perhaps she was paralysed, or dead, although she recalled nothing of how she had come to be here or indeed who she was.
Then the light dulled, and a shadow, indistinct, but very close, approached her.
She felt the beating of her heart then, beginning to race, afraid.
Somewhere, along the shattered nerves and neurones of her system she felt a touch, faint and indistinct – to her fingers?
She waited for the tearing rake of vicious needle sharp teeth, and crushing pressure of foul things.
Instead she heard a voice, a phrase, nothing more than a vibration at first, repeated, and repeated again until she finally registered, in the violated recesses of her brain… the words.
“You are safe now.” They said. “No more harm will come to you.”
A single tear obscured what sight she had found and her eyes closed slowly.
And the darkness swallowed her.
The faint sun had begun its losing battle against the revolution of the earth, the great grey snow clouds that gathered on the horizon adding to the speed of demise of the falling giant.
Along the coastal highway the remnants of daily traffic thinned to a trickle, and the industrial rush of heavy goods vehicles, freight trucks, and overnight supply wagons had begun.
The blue, black vehicle, known affectionately as The Chariot, joined the tarmac ribbon that followed the curves of the headland from the coast toward London and rumbled westward.
Within the vehicles armoured shell, the man in leather sombrely reflected on the health of the wounded girl in his charge, and attempted unsuccessfully to quell the anger that rose inside him.
Whoever the girl was, she had suffered. The bruises, cuts and minor broken bones had been inflicted over a period of time. The carved slices that formed strange patterns in the flesh of her shoulders, back and right arm, which had originally so resembled simple tattoos, had been inflicted slowly and with determined purpose, and he had let his guard drop, potentially causing nothing short of her death if the bullet wound chose to infect, or the vascular damage was too extreme.
“Angels?!” He yelled into the car’s interior, slamming the alloy steering wheel repeatedly until the fume of fury had receded. “We are no angels…”
Braxton had coined the moniker. Four defenders of right and justice they would be. Four archangels on the right hand of god!
The name had sat uncomfortably with the rest, but Braxton was insistent that their presence was invaluable to the common good.
Patrick, with his callipered right leg, had mocked him at the start, likening the four more to a gang of poor man’s Victor Mature’s, than a troop of avenging heavenly host, but the title had stuck, and Braxton’s ego had ensured its longevity in the public vision. The religious connotations subsequently helping them to gain the position of the first officially sanctioned vigilantes to patrol London’s crowded streets.
Pressing his foot down on the accelerator, the control cells within the ceramic reactor, slung beneath the chassis of the Chariot, slid into place. The electric blue glow brightened against the swiftly passing road surface below, as the car raised another three inches into the air, and the man’s mind moved onto the individual he was heading to meet… The Frenchman.
Darkness had settled across the city by the time Archangel arrived within its limits. Street lamps and neon signage gave false illumination to the concrete and tarmac maze of its alleys, and above this fragile atmosphere of light, the storm clouds had gathered to ominous effect. As the Chariot swung from the main roads and looped away into the district of underpasses and concrete subway supports at the city’s centre, the rain began to fall.
As automatic wipers, sensing the moisture on the glass, sprang into movement, scything a path of sight through the increasingly heavy spray, Archangel peered into the neon lit half-world beneath the numerous bridges and overpasses, searching for signs of The Tribe; The Frenchman’s entourage.
Small groups of men and women gathered around burning oil drums eating, sparingly, meagre pickings with which to sustain their wasted frames. They huddled together, the lost, and the abandoned, talking in whispers and drinking, by the flickering light of the flames.
Wrapped in vagabond layers, filthy and damp they eyed the slow moving vehicle with suspicion as it passed, some rising to stand, falteringly, as if to threaten the intruder to move on, others staring blankly into the curtain of rain descending from the roadways above. As though waiting for a miracle to fall.
Moving deeper into the city’s heart, where the cover afforded by the myriad, ever denser, roadways above brought the rainfall to an almost complete halt, he found his sign.
The three figures stood in the centre of the road. The heavy, grime coated countenance identical to the other denizens of this forsaken zone.
Thick, piecemeal bindings, stained and rotting hung on them, and the darkness beneath the hooded headwear of all three turned in unison to regard the unfamiliar vehicle as it approached through the dark. Where the others had been frail and broken however, these three were, alert and commanding.
When the Chariot was some fifteen feet from the group, all three pulled back their heavy clothing, bringing a trio of guns to bear on the vehicles windshield. Inside, Archangel lifted his foot from the accelerator and pressed gently down on the brake.
“Gentlemen.” A quiet, English accent, educated and strong, echoed round the concrete stanchions, like a preachers voice reverberates in the confines of a cathedral. “That is no way to greet an angel!”
The sodium glow of illicitly powered street lamps cast the ragged collection of buildings, which at one time had been known as ‘the crossroads’, with a sepia wash. The overall effect thought Archangel, as he edged the Chariot to follow the four figures bathed in the halogen glow of the Chariots headlights, was of a cavern, huge and ancient, and an abandoned city that resided within.
Broken panes, splintered timbers, and derelict structures fallen to ruin, stretched away into the darkness. Echoes of nighttime’s city traffic overhead droned intermittently through the damp and dust and, here and there, lamplight flickered in the ruins, denoting human occupation.
Ahead, the filthy white leather of the duster coat swayed to stillness, and in the murk beyond, a flight of steps impeached on the headlamps glow.
Archangel stepped from the Chariot, black, army issue boots stepping ankle deep into a dark rivulet that ran an irregular course through the street. Casting a glance at the same three attendant henchmen who had escorted the vehicle though the rabbit warren of streets, he pushed the door gently closed, and stared at building before him.
The Church of the Transfiguration had survived flame, riot and war, where other structures had succumbed to such things, and the simple passing of times. Its building blocks clung to inert life, stretching from the rank street upward, through still impressive doorway pillars, to first and second floor windows, balustrades, and finally to the tiles of the twisted steeple and the broken remnants of its stone cross, bent and twisted into the underside of the highway flyover above.
Standing at the foot of the church’s stone steps the man with whom Archangel had grudgingly come to barter, surveyed the jewel in the crown of his subterranean domain.
“Welcome to my humble abode.” With arms outstretched the Frenchman turned to the leather clad figure behind him. “I’m surprised that it has taken you so long.”
“I have never had invite, nor need of your… Dubious services.” The masked head replied, turning slowly, his expression revealing nothing as he stepped from the pooling water.
The hooded figure closest to Archangel moved to block his route, but the Frenchman, dropping his hands to his side, barked a sharp retort. “Leon! Have you forgotten the niceties of entertaining guests?”
With an almost inaudible grunt, the faceless hulk stepped back. As Archangel stepped forward, he stared into the impenetrable shadow beneath the hood, searching for any features that might rightfully be recognised as human. He found none.
“Come.” Continued the self proclaimed ‘King of the Vagrants’. “Let me introduce you to my… Family.”
As Archangel moved away from the Chariot, thick deadbolts thudded into place, securing the doors and sending a thick metallic echo ringing around the cavernous amphitheatre. He followed the Frenchman, who mounted the steps, waving a dismissive hand toward the three mute attendants who, in turn, retreated into the shadows without a word.
The huge oaken doors swung inward and the Frenchman stepped inside. The ease with which the foreigner had accepted Archangels presence was some comfort. He had half expected to relinquish his weapons and to spend his visit under constant surveillance, but the self assurance of his host was uncanny; his command of his environs and those within them unassailable.
The interior of the church was dimly lit. Huge candles, and what appeared to be makeshift oil burners, hung in the darkness in random pattern, their lights casting dancing shadows across the wide, stuccoed, walls and the large, stone slab floor of the ancient structure.
The rank stench of fallen humanity pervaded the atmosphere and, among the pews that still filled the open space of the nave, bodies roused and woke in response to the arrival of the two men.
Arms, both male and female reached out toward the white leather as the Frenchman made his way slowly along the central aisle, clawing and caressing his groin and midriff, as he brushed them aside, idly.
Archangel grimaced internally and avoided the prostrate or pleading appendages as he followed.
“They love you, it would appear?” He queried ironically.
The man in white stopped short of the transept and turned, smiling. “I am their saviour.” He responded as a pale female arm, almost absently reached toward him.
With no apparent effort he grasped the wrist and dragged the woman from where she lay, into the aisle. The church echoed with the sound of her body hitting the stone floor. “These are the dispossessed, Mr Angel. They come here, to me, because they have nowhere else to go.” He pulled the woman onto her knees before him and took her hair, harshly, in his free hand.
Archangel looked on. Inwardly, the rage had begun to bite at his mind, yet to all appearances he was unmoved.
“Yet we all have a place in this world, do we not?” The woman eased her hands across the Frenchman’s thighs. “We simply need someone to show us where it is.” He pulled her head forward, pressing her face into the obvious bulge at his groin.
Archangel stepped forward, the rage threatening to engulf him, but the man in white pulled the girls face away and grinned. He looked down at the dishevelled face below him and his expression turned to one of pity.
“Worry not, friend Angel.” He knelt before the woman, cradling her head now and encircling her waist with his free arm. “They are my people, and I love them more than you or your kin will ever imagine. Theirs is a love that asks for nothing, but that they are loved in return. They are mine, Angel. And they are legion!”
He met the open mouth that the woman offered with his own, tongues wrapped and entwined passionately until the need for air became too great and he pushed her back to the shadows from which she had emerged.
Standing, he wiped an arm across spittle coated lips, and grinned through blackened, irregular, teeth at the unresponsive face that met his gaze.
“These people are the true face of this city. Whosoever owns these people… own the city.”
Archangel took a slow sweep of the stinking pews and smoke stained walls, and heard the steady drip of rainwater somewhere toward the Apse.
“Keep it.” He said flatly and followed the receding back of the man in white.
At the head of the steep staircase that led upwards from the North transept to the second floor a room, running the full length of the building, spread its grey, dank walls wide in pallid welcome.
Long windows, their stained glass illuminations faded and grime dark, allowed a thin light to penetrate into the space, and a strange mist hung among the rafters above, mingling with the smoke from the myriad candles that, as far as the Archangel could tell, were the only objects to occupy the room.
“So,” The figure of the European, tiny in the enormity of the room, turned, stretching an open hand to his guest. “It would seem to me that you have little interest or sympathy for my brethren? Your demeanour is one of tethered anger, tinged with a sprinkling of disgust and malice? So why then, my angelic friend, are you here?”
Archangel watched as the man in white escalated his turn to a dramatic flourish, at the same time bending at the knees to finish cross legged on the floor before him.
“I sense that you have little intent to join my happy, happy band?” He raised both hands to his face, pressing long fingernails together, mimicking a forgotten child’s game.
“Yours are renowned to be the eyes and ears of this city. Nothing happens within its boundaries that you do not witness… Or instigate.” Archangel spoke quietly. “Whether that is the case or no, I find that I have no option but to approach you… Put the myth to the test.”
The European smiled thinly behind his raised hands, but remained silent.
“One week ago,” Continued the masked man. “A woman, a girl really, was harmed while in my care.” He felt the heat of frustration and anger rising and, to his surprise, the flush of his face, and the welling of barely held tears. “Though I have scoured all the resources at my disposal I have failed to discover who the perpetrator of the act was, or why the girl should have been a target at all.”
Placing his hands on the timber floor, the sitting man absently ran his filth stained fingers along the deep grains.
“Can you help? Or does your legend reside only among the flotsam, lies and lost souls that you call family?” Archangel growled, anger growing at the seeming disinterest shown by the figure before him.
Without raising his head, the European spoke. “Was this girl garbed in clothing unsuitable for… ‘decent’ people?” He drew trails in the mildew that laid a blue bloom across the floor around him.
“She wore only lingerie… Or pieces of.” Archangel felt the flush again. “Her brassiere was missing. A black leather corset was in place about her waist, still fully laced at her back, and the attached nylon stockings were holed and torn. She wore high heeled stiletto shoes, far too high for them to have been worn in normal daily use, giving me an impression that she had been involved in some illicit sexual activity, which had… gone awry. I fear that she had been molested. The bruises, cuts and incisions across her back and right arm denoted some torture had taken place. Why I found her where I did, or the reasons that she came there are a mystery. But the individual who opened fire on her left me with no doubt… That he meant to end her life.”
The pale face looked up, finally. “Illicit sexual activity!” Flecks of candlelight caught the smile as the European laughed, gently. “Stockings and stilettos… Did you find her garb attractive?”
Archangel’s anger spewed into the room as he stepped forward, toward the still sitting figure. “A girl in my charge almost died while under my protection… May die yet if the fates so decree… And you mock me!”
The European raised a hand, nonchalantly to the approaching vigilante. “I do not mock you, Angel Man. I simply sit here in awe… of your naivety!”
Archangel halted. Baring his teeth in order to contain his rage he seethed. “Naivety?”
“For one such as yourself, whose experience of the world has shown you things of such colours as would blind most men,” the white duster coat funnelled upward as the wearer rose from his seated position and moved slowly to within inches of the huge man before him. “You see things in such shades of black and white!”
He turned, an expression of curious sympathy etched across his face. “She is not the only one.” He strolled casually away from his guest, running his fingers across the crumbling plasterwork of the damp walls. “In the past five weeks, two other girls have been found in similar circumstances. Fetishistic lingerie seems to appeal to their killers.”
“Both of these girls were less fortunate than your… charge.” Reaching the large circular window at the rooms western most point, he wiped the thick glass clean, and looked out, into his subterranean Kingdom. “Each shared the same flesh carved images across their backs and right arms. Each was naked to the waist. Each was open from throat to navel!” In the street below he watched a procession of rag clad figures heading out of the Crossroads toward the city above. “Clear, I think, that your girl has been spared something far worse than a bullet?”
“Had the killer removed anything from the chest cavities? What was the purpose of cutting them open?”
“I believe the organs were intact. The bones however… I understand that the lower left rib of both girls had been snipped clean away and was not found with either body. One girl was discovered close to the shipyards on the river edge near Hackney, the other near to the church in Whitechapel…”
“And who did these things?”
“We do not know. The bodies were removed swiftly and there has been little or no mention of the murders at all in the press.” He lifted his gaze toward the roadways underbelly above. “We may see the sun, angel man… But we are denied its touch by virtue of distance. You may wish to approach your friend Detective Inspector Bishop… It is he who hides the facts.”
“I intended to keep it personal. But I see that route has already been denied me.”
“We all have a place, Angel man…”
“I owe you.”
“Consider it a favour, Angel man… And know that you are welcome here whenever you feel the need… invite or no.”
Archangel turned to leave without further words, and as he did so, in the darkness beneath the circular window he thought, for a moment, that he saw a faint movement, as of a tail writhing.
She opened her eyes.
The crimson tinge to the light was gone. Instead, her vision was sharp and clear, then she smelled the kerosene.
The sky was blue, cobalt blue and cloudless, dissecting the view before her in a clean horizontal line where it met the blood red of the ocean.
She tried to move her head once more and, this time, found it unrestrained. She looked down toward her feet.
She was standing in a boat, a small boat, with ancient timber planking worn and smooth, and in places devoid of the sickly yellow paint that covered its entirety. On each side, brass eyelets sat, bare and empty, where the twin oars should reside.
The boat did not rock, nor loll in any swell or tide, and nor did the ocean beyond its sides in any way move with the currents of the known world. Its tides were still, its winds were silent, but beneath its surface moved the gears of hell.
A full body suit of thick, black, nylon covered her from toe to neck and, placing her gloved hands upon her thighs, she felt the stubs of fastenings, where garters attached to the nylon stockings that sheathed her legs.
She looked up. Where there had been only the strange expanse of Crimson Ocean, suddenly its surface appeared covered by innumerable tubular steel chairs; circle after concentric circle of them surrounding her and the boat, all facing inward blindly, an invisible audience to theatrical event yet to be played out.
A faint vibration from beneath her feet once again drew her attention downward.
The pointed, black leather toes of the spike heeled stilettos that adorned her feet stood out starkly against the yellow timber of the boat bottom whilst, from the corner of her eye, she caught the immense shadow of something moving in the depths, beneath the surface of the sea that encircled her.
She watched, as it moved slowly from the left side of the small boat to the right, and lifted her head again in fear, looking to the horizon for help.
Through the encroaching forest of chairs, there now lay a clear aisle. Rolling away from the prow of the boat, it stretched endlessly to the horizon, toward a great, dark tower that broke the cobalt of the sky with a sharp golden streak.
Again, the vibration from beneath sent tremors through the boats timbers, more forceful this time, closer, and she stepped out onto the ocean’s surface.
Sharp heels clicked loudly on crimson ice, the echo ringing through the thin air like a blade. Through the thickness of the surface she felt something brush its underside, and it lifted with the force.
In panic she bgan to run.
As she passed each ring of empty chairs they began to sink slowly into the red surface, their legs slowly swallowed by the softening ice, and daring to look back she saw the boat shift and pitch, it’s stern splintering and its prow pointing skyward, as though being slowly devoured from below by some unseen maw.
The tower beckoned.
Partially hidden in the vague mist that rose at the horizons edge, it’s golden facade promised sanctuary and safety from whatever unseen horror now bore down upon her, but as she began to stumble among the swiftly vanishing chairs that bobbed and sank around her, the tusks appeared.
Huge teeth-like protrusions broke through the frozen waste around her, and she stopped, turning a full circle, witnessing them arching upwards, teeth atop a mouth that now threatened to enclose her.
Writhing tentacles suddenly gained purchase on her legs and pulled her into the seething mass of liquid that now boiled around her, and the tower like throat of some enormous worm thrust upward about her. Rising up, as she was consumed by the encroaching dark of the bestial throat, it’s jagged maw turned slowly above her like a sad, sickly sun, and she opened her own mouth and screamed.
She opened her eyes.
She was both numb and sore in equal measure. Her throat rattled, pitifully, with the tapering remnants of a semblance of a scream and she looked into the dark.
A dull bulkhead lamp cast a thin blue glow across the room, and she realised that her head was turned to the side.
The pain in her left cheek had subsided, and the all engulfing fire that she remembered had occupied her entire left torso was no longer present.
Summoning her strength, she forced the muscles of her neck into action, and drew her head upwards to face the ceiling.
The faint ticking of a clock, somewhere within the room, set up a rhythm with the slow beat of her own heart and she allowed her head to drop onto the opposite side.
She winced as the shock shot through her shoulders and down her spine, dissipating at her pelvic area into soft nothingness as it vanished into her legs.
A bank of tiny green and red lamps flickered in the square face of some indistinct console, from which an array of pipes and valves offered thin orange hoses toward where she lay, disappearing from view beneath the pillow upon which her head now rested.
Somewhere, far beyond the walls that surrounded her, the peel of a church bell struck four, and the honking horn of some solitary passing vehicle quietly droned away to nothingness.
Her arms still refused to move, and as she tried to feel the nerves in her legs with which to move her toes, the door to the room opened.
Cast against the bright rectangle of the doorway, the man’s silhouette seemed to swim as he approached her. The fear returned and she felt the hot sweat begin to run from her pores, but could do nothing, her paralysed limbs betraying her. In resignation she closed her eyes.
She felt again the near caress of the man’s hand, and somewhere in her subconscious she felt at ease. His touch was somehow familiar; it brushed across her wounded shoulder as it had done a thousand times since… She could not recall.
She opened her eyes and looked into the face above. Haloed by pale light strips above, his features were dark and indistinct, but his voice, when he spoke was strong and reassuring.
“You are mending well.” He said. “You were seriously injured. Lost much blood… and suffered enormous trauma.”
Her eyes followed him as he stood then moved out of view. She heard the sounds of liquid being poured and he reappeared holding a lidded container from which a short, oval drinking straw protruded. The bed on which she lay sank as he sat next to her, and she felt a hand slide beneath her neck to gently lift her head.
“You have been here for five weeks now.” He placed the straw to her lips, manoeuvring the tip between the desert dry skin. “Your heart failed three times in the first few days.” The liquid was warm and thick and dripped rather than ran into her mouth. “Among other things, I am versed in medicine and surgical procedures. In another life I was…” He faltered. “I was a doctor.”
She felt the contents of the liquid peel back the dullness of her mind and the lights within the room seemed to brighten, throwing the man’s face into vague clarity.
Perhaps sixty years old, his head was either bald or shaven, skin short. The skin of his face was scarred and pockmarked, and stretched across a muscular jaw and cheekbones that seemed carved from stone, set atop a thick beard, and neck sinews that seemed as thick as a tree trunk.
She began to cough as the liquid pooled at her throat and he removed the beaker, lifting her gently upright to lean upon his chest. He wore a thin top, stretched across a muscled frame, and as she rested her head against his warmth, listening to the rhythmic beat of his heart, cough subsiding, she felt safe.
“You may know me as the Archangel.” He said, placing the drink to one side and holding her with both, huge, arms. “When you are well, you will tell me who did this.” His voice suddenly took on an icy tone. “And we shall bring them to an end.”
She felt the darkness rising again to meet her. And before she succumbed, she thought of his question, and realised that she did not even know who she was herself.
The tall figure in the blue sharkskin suit made his way, decisively across the intersection of Hammett and Fuller, passing the neon facade of Raymonds Revue Bar into the heart of Soho.
Despite his unusual height, the suit was tailored to perfection, luxurious and expensive. The man’s peroxide white hair and brows evoked short lived interest in passersby as he approached a gaily painted frontage.
Opening the bright orange front door to The Crimson Kimono restaurant he stepped back, as two exiting diners nodded their thanks, buttoning their coats to the chill air.
It was six ‘o clock and the sky had begun to darken as night approached. He cast a glance toward the towering hulk of the Margrave Jazz Casino across the street, taking a moment to watch lights illuminating in random windows across its frontage before dipping swiftly into the warmth of the restaurant with a smile.
The expanse of tables within, multi layered with exotic oriental silks belied the grimy exterior.
At the centre of the dining area a huge cherry blossom tree overhung the clientele. Here and there it would periodically drop white petals to the table tops beneath, or to settle on the grand piano that chimed Asian jazz riffs through the crystal chandeliers that hung in profusion from the ceiling.
Fortunes had changed in the Chinese quarter since Anthony Newley and his studio entourage had descended on the area to film his fifth motion picture, The Wings of Daedalus, with co-stars Anthony Quayle and Peter Cushing.
Highgate cemetery, the waterfront and market districts had all served for location shoots, and the long, expansive finale had been filmed over a period of three weeks last spring in the Crimson Kimonos kitchens, and front of house.
The studios promise of substantial financial help had been upheld, and now, eighteen months later, the menu was the most viewed in London thanks to the heady mix of investment and kudos.
The man searched the faces that laughed and conversed with one another, until he found the one he wanted.
A lean, tanned face looked up with ice blue eyes. Unsmiling, the rake thin, grey haired, man raised a hand and beckoned to the sharkskin suit.
“Sit, Mr Snow.” Said the thin man.
The tall figure complied with the command, pulling himself, tightly, into the tables embrace and reaching for the menu, with the same wry smile.
“Mr. Snow…” The light Germanic lilt in the older man’s accent drifted to silence, as the steel grey eyes focused on a solitary falling petal, as it began its descent.
It spiralled downward, coming to rest atop the half eaten soup of a pretty brunette, whose company burst into laughter and fits of pointing.
Unmoved by the spectacle, the close cropped head of the German lowered its attention to plate before it, and with a vague sneer of disdain pushed it gently aside.
“You are paid well, Mr Snow, for the services which you provide to my little… Group, no?”
The smile faded from the tall man’s face. “More than well, Mr. Sebastien.” He said, placing the unread menu flat on the table and focussing his attention solely on the man in front of him.
“Indeed. That was my understanding.”
The brunette laughed again, waving the bloodied white of the petal to her entourage.
“You, are our shield, you see, Mr. Snow.” The man’s gaze remained upon the girl as he continued. “Your application to the task given to you provides us with the safety and assurance that we need to continue our quest.”
Beneath the fine cotton collar, the white haired mans neck flared crimson. The flush spread upwards to his cheeks but he did not speak, his eyes remaining on the face of the man before him.
“It would seem that the young lady in whose company we shared such a brief moment some weeks gone, and who chose to excuse herself from the party in which we were engaged… Eluded you, Mr. Snow?”
Like slivers of flint, the older man’s eyes finally moved to look at his guest, his expression unchanging.
“The girl is currently untraced,” Replied Snow, too quickly. “Mr. Sebastien, but I have faith that I will find her before she becomes a problem.”
The older man did not reply.
“There is no evidence that she has communicated with the local police department, or that she has visited any of the local hospitals. The only alternative is that she has gone to ground with a friend or family member and is remaining beneath my radar. Rest assured that this is a situation which is untenable.”
“The girl is a loose end, Mr Snow. I do not like loose ends.” The man called Sebastien placed his hand slowly inside his jacket, withdrawing a sickly pink, yellowed, wallet. “You will find her. And you will ensure her demise. Only then can we move on with our cause.” Without counting, he pulled out a handful of notes and laid them onto the silk covered table top. “The ribs of Adam must be returned. The triumvirate, the father, son and Holy Ghost must be appeased.” He pushed back his chair and standing, placed the napkin which had been draped across his knees, alongside the money.
“I assure you, Mr…” Began the white haired man.
“You will find her, and you will bring her life to an end. You will then source us another, Mr. Snow.” He moved to Snows rear and placed a thin fingered hand on the electric blue sharkskin. “She is spoiled. We need another, pure, soul, Snow. And I warn you…”
Snow felt the hot breath from Sebastien’s mouth at his ear.
“Do not fail us again.”
Snow remained motionless until he heard the entrance door swing closed behind the icy figure of Sebastien.
Somewhere across the restaurant the brunette laughed aloud again, and his gaze drifted toward the sound.
The group had stood up to leave, and were busy cajoling, and making their way toward the front entrance.
Waiters lifted empty plates from the table and darted like dragonflies back and forth across the floor as the group left.
He gazed around the room. Most tables still contained a selection of couples, groups and even the odd, single diner.
His eyes lingered on the females, assessing their potentials, calculating the difficulty with which their abduction might be met. After some minutes he decided to disregard those within the room. Their happy middle class lives too difficult for one such as he to infiltrate, strike and make his exit, without huge repercussions. Especially as the police would now be on the lookout for female abductions, and the fact that he could ill afford to upset Sebastien again.
He stood, without acknowledging the waiter who asked him for his order, and turned toward the door.
The smile, cold and cynical returned as he stepped onto the now lamp lighted sidewalk and strode out purposefully down the street.
The illuminated eyes of the casino cast their gaze upon him, oblivious, and in the savage machinery of his mind he formulated his plan.
She opened her eyes.
She lay on a hillside, her cheek against the dense red grit beneath her.
Looping away, in front of her, some twenty feet of rusting chain wound its way to where it disappeared into the sand.
She sat up.
The hillside was exposed. Around her, short decimated remnants of tree stumps, black and sparse, reached feebly skyward, forming a scattered matrix of spines across the otherwise featureless hillside as it swept down toward the wide valley plain and the tower, which still stood, many miles distant on the misted horizon.
The cobalt blue, cloudless, sky remained, vast and empty, and as she lifted her eyes to search for the sun, she felt the tug of the restraint about her neck.
The chain hung, arcanely bolted through primitive shackles, to a thick leather collar that encircled her neck completely, and as she gripped the rusted links with gloved hands it slithered away from her, three couplets vanishing beneath the sand at her pull.
Drawing herself to her feet, she noted again the dense black nylon bodysuit she wore, and the garter belt and stockings and the spike heels that now sank into the shifting sand beneath her.
Releasing the chain, it ceased its descent into the surface of the hill and, on her knees she breathed a sigh of relief.
A faint breeze played through her hair, coming off the empty desert like a whisper.
Something in the distance caught her eye, and she watched as the thing grew larger and more distinct as it drew nearer.
Great feathered wings propelled a grotesque body through the hot air. Writhing tentacles flopped and twisted beneath the great hulk as it moved ponderously away from the shadow of the tower.
Although still some miles distant the creature opened a huge maw, teeth long and spine like, waving, as though the gums in which they rested was somehow alive, in and of itself. And she realised that the creature was heading toward her.
Globs of blood tinged saliva fell to the desert floor beneath it as the thing increased its speed. The tentacles touched the desert here and there and clouds of Crimson dust spewed into the air driven eddies stirred in its wake.
Taking hold of the chain once more, without relinquishing her gaze on the abomination bearing down upon her, she pulled. Again the chain began its slow, deliberate pull into the mountainside.
She was dragged with the shortening chain until a mere four feet remained above the surface and she was forced to stoop, before she finally released her hold. The chain stopped.
The flying thing was perhaps 500 yards distant, it’s trailing tentacles scraping the dust into chaos when, from beneath the sand before it, a huge shining spine emerged.
Viciously edged it slid up from the desert. gathering momentum a sinewed forearm followed, then a shoulder, neck and enormous malformed head towered before the airborne monstrosity. And with a force that shook the hillside upon which she stood the girl watched as that same spine descended with terrible purpose into the creature that once she had thought to be her end.
It ploughed into the desert in a great flume of dust and sand, as the second creature emerged fully from its cover. A vast back, arrayed with great, grasping tentacles, flailing with the impact and the momentum of the felled beast.
Both monsters howled into the dust laden air as the spine was removed, spewing entrails and blood into the sky, and reinserted with renewed ferocity as a wing was torn away, the crack of bone and muscle carrying through the air to where the terrified girl now knelt.
The second creature turned, and she saw in horrific profile the huge head, liken to an enormous pig, thrust forward, evil jaws wide, into the rent body of the dying winged thing.
An unholy scream burst forth as the pig-head tore away rib cage and flesh, in a welter of gore, turning its bloodied visage in her direction.
Myriad arms, some with blades where hands should be, tore at the remnants of the flying thing, spreading its bone, flesh and innards across the plain until nothing remained save a bloody pile of parts from which the sad rib cage pointed skyward like the grasping fingers of a dismembered hand.
Then, the bloated body turned, and the viscera covered face and tusks of the pig thing stared across the short space at her.
She met its gaze and pulled feebly at the chain which began again its descent into the desert. She watched as the thing took a single step toward her and arched its monstrous back, and as it opened a monstrous maw and howled, she screamed.
She opened her eyes.
She was alone.
The quiet, rhythmic whirring of electric motors and the infrequent beeping of unseen panels, the only sounds in the room.
Glass phials grasped in the fingers of tiny centrifuges span slowly on the steel benches in the dim lamp light that illuminated the walls around her.
Shelving, cupboards and tables held a plethora of medical and scientific equipment, and on the white painted concrete walls hung banks of tiny television screens, all of them blank, save one, the image upon which span and rolled.
The room was hexagonal in shape, giving the impression of it being in the centre of whatever structure held it. Three doors, one on each alternate wall, led to who knows where, and the floor was painted with a rubberised solution which, here and there, had been worn through to reveal the bare concrete beneath.
She had become accustomed to the scent of dense disinfectant, and now, only registered its presence vaguely. The dim light cast by the reduced lighting had also grown familiar, their orange, sodium glow almost soothing in its dull intensity.
She had been here nine weeks. The man had informed her on his last visit that the time was approaching that she would be able to recuperate, ready to leave the confines of the building.
She had no impression of where she was, how she came to be there, who the Archangel might be and, most worryingly, who indeed she was herself.
She knew only that she had woken, in great pain, in this place, and that the man had tended her. She had been sedated to such a degree that most of her time had been spent in an unconscious state and she had no ideas as to what the man’s intentions might be once she was recovered.
She raised her left arm and rubbed the bandaged crook of her elbow, where the dull sting of the now removed tubes still burned faintly.
The bed was raised such that she rested in a half sitting position, draped in a thick, snow white cotton, surgical gown, her legs and feet covered by pale blue sheets. She attempted to sit upright but was unable to do so, something unseen forcing her to remain in the prone position.
Pulling aside the gown she looked down at the thing that guaranteed her immobility.
To all intent and purpose her waist was bound in a smooth corset. It encircled her midriff completely from just above her hips to just below her breasts. It clung tightly to her contours like nylon, and like nylon seemed to be semi opaque, showing the shadows cast by her abdominal muscles and skin creases.
She moved her hands around each side searching for fastenings, or seams, but found nothing, except the large flap that seemed to be integral to the corset, which vanished into the bed structure at the base of her spine and which clearly was attached to the beds underside, preventing any movement she may be tempted to make.
She sighed and lay back. Pushing a thumb between her stomach flesh and the red fabric she studied it closely. In all practicality it felt similar to the nylon used in the manufacture of stockings, slightly thicker it still felt light but much stronger than anything that may be designed to adorn the legs. It held a strange waxy feel also, on the outside only, the internal side being of a matt texture. Although it bound her tightly it was cool against her stomach and the overall impression was that she was not bound at all. She stretched, attempting to arch her back and slide her hips into the tube, but was greeted by nothing but passive resistance.
Then he spoke.
She had not heard him enter, and concluded that he must have been present in the room since the moment she had awoken.
“I think perhaps it’s time for you to get up.” He said flatly.
She felt him move out of the blind spot behind the bed, and his presence at her side. She did not meet his gaze or attempt to speak as he scraped the feet of a chair to the bed and sat down.
“I’ve kept you immobilised for ten weeks now, for your own benefit. The drugs which I’ve given you to make you sleep have rested you to the maximum that I could without causing your body damage through their ingestion. I have manipulated your body daily. Physiotherapy, massage and a Pilates like exercise regime to keep your joints mobile and your muscles hydrated and the blood flow fresh. I have at times been… Indiscreet. This was unavoidable. To stop the onset of petrifaction, gangrene and organ failure, it was a necessary evil. You have been fed nutrients, minerals, fluids and body sugars intravenously, and water, orally, when the opportunity arose. Do you understand?”
The flow of information had begun to congeal within her mind, all that remained was a constant drone as he spoke, a steady flow of noise, a shotgun spray of sound.
“You had a multitude of superfluous flesh wounds. Strange designs seem to have been carved into the skin of your right arm, shoulder and back. A heavy incision, clean and deep to your lower left chest required stitching, as did the bullet wounds to your shoulder. I had to rebuild some of the scapula that was shattered when the bullet passed through and, likewise, I had to plate and screw your left collarbone back together. Where it exited, I’ve patched the wound as best as I could. I will warn you however that I am no plastic surgeon. My main concern for this particular wound was the blood loss caused. As there was an enormous amount of trauma caused to the blood vessels, due to the quantity of bone matter loose in your upper chest. I lost your vital signs three times during numerous operations in that first week. You are lucky to be alive.”
The scraping of the chair brought her from her reverie and she felt the pull on her stomach as the man detached the restraints from beneath the bed.
“Your legs will resist any attempt you make to force them to move.”
He was at her side once more and she felt his breath on her cheek as he bent forward and wrapped a powerful arm beneath her knees and one at her lower back.
“So you will need help.”
She turned her head toward him for the first time since she had found herself in his care, and a tear rolled unbidden down her cheek.
“Do not be afraid to ask.”
He lifted her from the bed, muscles tightening beneath a full long sleeved high necked vest of the same fabric with which the bed restraint had been manufactured.
As he walked slowly toward one of the three exit doors, easing it open with his shoulder, she weakly wrapped an arm around his neck and rested her head on the broad shoulder. And had he been able to see her face from that angle, he would have seen her lips mouth the words, ‘thank you’, as she closed her eyes to light that poured through.
Around the halfway point on the novella…. time to kiss start phase 2. Based on the format of the much missed 80’s zine… BRUTE!, from the minds… Read more “LOOSE ROUNDS…”
The purpose of posting online is to [a] set a deadline for myself in the production of this origin story to BPN and [b] give anyone who… Read more “Chapters 1 to 6 now available…”
London… in a 1960s similar, yet different to the one in the history books. Government sanctioned vigilantes act alongside a stretched police force to uphold law and… Read more “Chapter 4 now available…”