Land of Midnight Days – Chapter One

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Land of Midnight Days – Chapter One.

Don’t look back; it’ll slow you down – just run.

The city had become the worst of urban jungles. Hunters ruled unchecked as Jeremiah Tully, running for his life, could testify.

He fled down yet another street and saw a small crowd ahead gathered around a figure standing on an upturned crate. He came to a halt, unsure which way to turn. Raising his head, the man brushed his wild, bushy hair back from his unshaven face and began to speak.

‘Brothers and sisters,’ he intoned, arms raised high.’ Join me in my cause to rid this place of impurity. Let us drive out the iniquitous and send them back to their holes and dens.’

A poster hung on some nearby railings. Black letters on a white background blazed a message of hate:

Free the city of impurity; drive out the lower races. Unite in a glorious cause to restore our freedom!

That the speaker was demon-possessed Jeremiah didn’t doubt. Nonetheless, the crowd surrounding him hung on his every word.

The sound of running feet echoed along the pavement behind Jeremiah. A quick glance round showed a group of youths racing towards him.

Blind panic threatened to overwhelm him until he spotted a fire escape, attached to the side of an abandoned warehouse. He hauled himself up, hand over hand, feet slipping and sliding on the wet steps. At the top he paused, hunched over as he struggled to get his breath. Damp hair hung in rats’ tails over his face and his heart hammered against his ribs.

‘There he is!’

His pursuers were still after him. With a sound of despair he fled.

Coils of wire, broken packing cases and old pipes lay strewn across the flat, waterlogged roof. He wove his way between the rubbish until forced to halt at the parapet on the opposite side. A pair of rusty metal bars clung to the brickwork; the rest of the ladder had fallen away. Some fifty metres below, the ground seemed to rush upwards. He lurched back, fighting off an onslaught of vertigo. No use calling for help. Even if he’d been able to, no one would answer.

Metal clanged, wood snapped and boxes flew, as the pursuers kicked their way through the litter. One of them yelled, ‘Come on, we’ve got him.’

Jeremiah looked over at the adjacent building and tried to gauge the distance – maybe ten metres.

His pursuers were gaining on him. He snatched up a piece of pipe and hurled it at the nearest. It caught him across the midriff and he went down, taking two others along for the ride. Their tangled bodies forced the rest to pull up.

‘You stupid sod, what d’you wanna do that for?’ one of them snarled, as he struggled to free himself.

A second glance at the other warehouse told Jeremiah he had no option. He backed up a little and then raced forward. When his feet hit the edge of the roof, he pushed off into space. He overshot the ledge of the next building and landed hard. Winded, he curled into a foetal position.

A string of curses drifted from across the way and he forced himself to look up. Gathered at the periphery of the roof he’d just leapt from, the gang continued to rant and threaten, but didn’t dare follow.

Ever since he’d left The Crack o’ Dawn pub they’d chased him through the dark, narrow streets determined to bring him down. His pursuers were Wannabees, members of a fraternity dedicated to the destruction of those who were different; and he was that all right. Not only did his ancestry include membership of the last of the magical races, the once nomadic tribes of Elwyns, but he’d compounded his felony by being half-human as well. Not that the Wannabes were aware of that. All they saw was an Elwyn, with pale skin, silver eyes and slender-than-usual build.

Jeremiah shrugged off his leather backpack, took out a bulky pouch, opened it and stared at the gleaming contents.

Thank God it remained undamaged.

Ignoring the stream of abuse, he replaced the pouch in the bag and ran off into the darkness.

 

*

 

Daylight began to streak the sullen sky by the time he reached home. Tall, narrow and shabby, the dwelling stood at the end of a row of mid-Victorian houses. Despite its condition it still retained an air of faded elegance.

Next door stood the remnants of a church, its once fine structure full of overgrown bushes and nettles. Its steeple reared towards the sky as if pointing the way home. Even devoid of glass, the graceful arches of the windows clung on to remnants of their original beauty. The wind whistled through the ruined interior as though mourning its demise.

Jeremiah jogged past the church and up the steps of the end house where he paused to glance over the road. As expected, a pale oval face appeared at a hole in the downstairs window of the opposite house. Chin on hand, wispy fair hair tied in bunches, the child lifted her face to the clouds.

‘Rain, rain, go away, come again another day,’ she droned, making the little rhyme sound more like a funeral dirge. Her reedy voice drifted across to where Jeremiah watched and listened.

She lowered her head again, gaze seemingly fixed on him. One side of her thin face displayed a puckered and angry red scar, the result of a raid by a gang of Street Warriors. They’d set the fire that had not only disfigured her, but also taken her sight.      Jeremiah sighed and turned away. He knew the reason why the little girl spent so much time perched there night after night, when she should be in bed. She was waiting for it to come out of its den.

Forcing the warped front door open, he stepped into the hallway.

In his room, at the furthest end of the top landing, he took out the pouch and dropped the backpack on the floor. He glanced round and shivered. Despite the winter cold he wore only a threadbare sweater, shabby jeans and trainers that had seen better days. He took a seat on the bed, the single piece of furniture the room contained, and emptied out the pouch’s contents. The silver pieces glittered with breath-taking beauty.

When the flute was assembled, Jeremiah turned it slowly round and round, staring in wonder at the Elwyn musical notes etched on its surface. He knew, from what a friend once told him, that they were the key to something powerful and dangerous, but also something wonderful. Jeremiah had never been able to bring himself to play them, afraid of what would happen. Maybe one day soon he would, just not yet.

The melody consisted of two parts. The first was a march that would sweep the listener along, the second demanded total obedience of mind, body and soul. Jeremiah knew this because he’d “performed” it over and over in his head, so clearly he could almost hear it.

His thoughts strengthened his desire to hear the instrument’s voice again. He held the flute to his lips, but stopped short. All too aware of the consequences if he did play any music, he nevertheless struggled to resist the temptation. Life held so little to be glad about, so little to look forward to. He glanced down at the instrument. Apart from this.

He’d never been able to discover his identity as an individual, until the flute came into his possession. He more than loved it – he cherished it. It provided him with a sense of purpose, a reason to go on. He released a sigh. All the same there must be more, but damned if he knew what. There was just a vague sense the flute held the answer.

He started to disassemble it, but his fingers were numb from the cold.  Afraid of damaging the instrument, he put it down on the bed, drawing the worn blanket over it – out of sight, out of mind.  His face twitched. It didn’t work like that; he needed the music.

Don’t be a fool. You know what’ll happen and this time it could be more than just a slap across the face. He threatened to break your arm last time and if he does, what’ll you do then?

On and on the inner conflict raged, temptation against common sense until Jeremiah could stand it no longer.

Temptation won.

He rubbed his hands together to restore their circulation and then snatched the flute from its hiding place.

Eyes closed, he played a soulful lament of his own composition. Exquisite beyond description, the music filled the drab room with magic that took the form of specks of silver. Jeremiah kept this particular aptitude to himself. Already considered an outsider, if such a talent became common knowledge it would only make his situation worse. There were other things he could do too. He could conjure up light in dark places and sometimes found himself inside people’s thoughts, able to see, feel and hear their memories as if he’d been there. The drawback was the sounds and images were always traumatic.

Take last night. As he’d fled his hunters, his head became filled with their feral longings. The Wannabes’ inner voices clashed and tangled with each other, adding to the terror.

I’m gonna tear that stinking Elwyn apart… Break every bone in his body… Piece of filth! Who does he think he is, livin’ ‘ere with decent folk… Why doesn’t ‘e go back where he belongs?

On and on it went, their hatred like a knife sunk between his shoulder blades.

Sparkling in the morning light, the flecks of silver drove away the painful memory. Moments like this were rare and precious, they helped transcend the misery that was his lot.

 

*

 

Downstairs, to the left of the main entrance, a door led into a small room. The occupant of the iron-framed bed issued a series of snorts and grunts, then heaved himself upright.

From beady eyes, still puffy with sleep, he looked around the bare, damp-patterned walls and took a deep breath. The stench in the room would have choked a horse, but he didn’t mind. It wouldn’t be home without a bit of atmosphere. He never understood why people objected to odours. His personal scent of stale whisky, mingled with sweat and tobacco formed part of his personality.

Ezra laid back, a yawn stretching his jaws. He stared at the ceiling and tried to gather energy enough to rise. Another bloody day amongst the damned and stupid. On the other hand it did present certain opportunities.

Owner of the dwelling, he charged exorbitant rents to occupy the rats’ nest, laughingly labelled a boarding house. If anyone fell behind, they were out; simple as that. If some people couldn’t pay, others could; it depended on how desperate they were. Due to the national housing shortage, accommodation was hard to obtain. Ezra smirked. So easy to take money off these fools, he’d been doing it for years,

No one knew his age. He didn’t himself. Ever since he’d arrived in this city, there’d been gaps in his memory. He found it hard to recall his life before he came here. Oh there were brief flashes, but they slipped away as fast as they came. Not that it bothered him – the past was the past – all that mattered was today and what could be squeezed out of it. Grabbing money from whatever source he could pulled him out of bed in the morning. It gave him power and made him master of his own life.

He rubbed at his face so hard it made his jowls wobble. Stubby fingers raked through greasy, unwashed hair and the low slung forehead creased in a frown as Ezra blinked the remaining sleep from his eyes.

The man’s decrepit façade was deceptive. More than capable with his fists, he welcomed any excuse to pound in a face and break a limb or two. His reputation brought him constant delight. Fear was meat and drink.

He swung his legs out of bed and belched, after which he pulled crumpled clothes over a grubby vest and long underpants. This was followed by several mouthfuls of whisky, chugged down from a bottle snatched from a nearby table.

Breakfast over, Ezra wiped the back of a hand across his mouth and peered into the flyblown mirror hung on the wall behind the table. Yellowed teeth bared in a smile, he raised the bottle in a mock toast and prepared to take another swig when the voice of the flute drifted down from the upper regions of the house.

An expression of fury etched itself onto Ezra’s face. ‘Shut that damn row up!’ he yelled as he yanked the door open.

When the music continued he dragged himself up flight after flight of stairs. Bad enough he had to put up with that racket at all, let alone in his own house. The stupid little sod knew that and yet refused to toe the line. Well this time he’d shut the brat up for good.

Even as the thought took shape, he hesitated. Best go easy. Not sure why, Ezra only knew the boy was important in some way. Hazy memory tried to remind him, but he knew was there’d be catastrophic consequences if he killed Jeremiah.

He sighed. Easy it was then.

 

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3 Responses to “Land of Midnight Days – Chapter One”

  1. Thanks Sophie 😀

    Like

  2. Thanks Sheryl 😀

    Like

  3. Thanks Lindsey 😀

    Like

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