Thursday, 27 October 2016
LED Eyes (part 5)
“What’s wrong, Elizabeth?”
The Bugatti twisted through the slowly greying landscape of rural Yorkshire, the clouds overhead unneeded as the sun sank behind the horizon. To Lizzy Dunstan, it all seemed the same. Nothing more than dry stone walls and swarms of flies, ready to bite and buzz her into an early grave. The only redeeming feature of this land without Reddit, Spotify or proper flood defences was the memories of that slip of paper, the one from the Estate Agents, the one that showed the stone walled cottage with the vegetable patch and the small farm yard, the one that showed a house which would have a post box reading ‘Dunstan-Brooks’ but it didn’t. It never would; the Brooks was gone and now this apocalyptic landscape of a world without advancement was nothing more than a cruel reminder of how God hadn’t so much dealt her a hand as give her Doctor Who Top Trumps in a game of Poker.
That old but smooth accent pulled her out of her meditation, allowing her momentarily to see the reflection of a green haired punk in the Bugatti’s window. She turned, the leather chair creaking beneath her, to face Percival in the driver’s seat. “What is it?”
“You seem upset.” He replied.
“I always seem upset.” She sighed. “It’s part of my identity.”
“People who always seem upset aren’t necessarily always upset. You, my dear, seem to actually be upset at this current moment. So, I shall repeat my question from earlier, what’s wrong, Elizabeth?”
“Nothing.” She sulked. “I’m fine.”
“I switched off the Beatles cassette about two miles back and allowed pop music to play on the radio.” He said it with the type of grimace that said he was as pained by this development as she should have been. “You haven’t noticed yet.”
“I had noticed, I just didn’t feel the need to point it out.” She said.
“You nearly slapped Graham when he put Rock FM on by accident last week.”
She said nothing.
“Lizzy, you can trust me.” Percival said. “I’m just worried about you.”
She couldn’t tell him. He’d hate it. He’d lose the little respect he had for her. He’d see her for the joke she truly was. She couldn’t cope without Percival’s love because not to have Percival’s love would be to have no love in the world at all. Not that it feels like there’s any love in the world. Not with Annie gone.
“I…” Her voice trailed off. She couldn’t tell him, could she? He’d pull over and make her get out of the car. He’d hate her forever. She sighed. She supposed she didn’t have a choice. He’d find out eventually. “I lost my job.”
“What!” He cried.
She felt a tear run down her cheek and the rest was easy. “It wasn’t my fault. I’m sorry. Malcom fancies Leanna and he hates me because I’m hideous and I am and I know I should have argued but I couldn’t and I hate myself so much.”
“You would choose the moment when I can’t easily give you a hug to need one.” Percival sighed. “What was his exact reasoning, Lizzy?”
“He,” she sobbed, her words drowned out for a second. She cleared her throat and then continued, “He said I was too punk.”
Percival started laughing. He raised one hand from the wheel and wiped away a tear slowly bleeding from the corner of his eye. “Oh good God. That’s excellent.”
“I lost my job.”
“In a Doc Martens shop, Lizzy. You were too punk for a Doc Martens shop.” He laughed. “That’s absolutely brilliant. That’s worth getting fired for, just so you can claim that story.”
“But I lost my job. Just like I lose everything. Like I lose control of myself when people are looking at me and like I lost my parents and like I lost Annie.”
“And unlike how you’ll never lose me or Graham.” Percival smiled. “It’s all going to be okay. Maybe losing this job is the best thing to happen. You can go get another, maybe at a bookshop or that vinyl shop of yours. Or, alternatively, you could just stay at the Sanctum all day, programming, reading, doing whatever the hell it is that you want to. It’s not the end of the world, Lizzy. We’ve seen the end of the world plenty of times and, in the vernacular of you modern youths, we kicked its butt. So stop worrying. I’ll care about Lizzy Dunstan, no matter how punk she might be.”
Lizzy smiled and, for the first time in what felt like eternity, she didn’t feel self conscious about her lip piercing as she did.
The ‘Under Sanctum’ as they called it was chilly. It might have been a result of the stone walls or perhaps pathetic fallacy at the prospect of the fate awaiting us. When we were driving away from the village, I was more than happy to never return. The concept of driving back wasn’t my idea of fun.
We were helping Graham load up an inconspicuous white transit van in the garage. There were several cars down here, including a Ford Escort and what looked like a Bentley, but we got the transit. Yay!
The plan was to attack in two formations. Lizzy and Percival would go for the hive consciousness and Graham, Katy and I would take out any androids left hanging around. Graham explained to me that this was secret code for: Katy and I would sit in the van whilst he took out any androids left hanging around. I can’t say I really had any complaints, besides the fact that the van could do with an air freshener of some sort. I made such a comment to Katy but she didn’t take the chance to make a snarky reply. I instantly knew something was wrong but there was a greyness to her eyes that made me unwilling to push it.
Once we’d packed up, Graham checked a wrist watch that looked more of an iron manacle than a fashion accessory. “Ahead of schedule.” He humphed with the merest hint of approval. “Percival doesn’t want us setting off for another ten minutes. Either of you want a cup of tea?”
I’m personally more of a Hot Vimto kind of guy so I politely shook my head. Katy said nothing and Graham took that as a, “No thank you. I’d rather drink digestive juices produced by a seagull’s small intestines and strained through a homeless man’s socks than drink your tea.”
“Suit yourself.” He replied with his deep warble, padding up a few steps and out of the garage. Katy sighed and wandered over to a bench next to a wheel-able Snap On toolbox. I frowned and followed her. “Mind if I sit down?”
I sat down. She looked away, concentrating on her reflection in the balcony. My face was distorted by the stretched bodywork. I tried pulling a funny face at her but, if she noticed, she didn’t laugh.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“What do you think?”
“That the sky is blue because of the refraction of light and the space between my socks and my trouser ends is chilly down here.”
“Are you struggling to deal with what’s going on right now?”
“What? The alien invasion in a small country village? Yes, I am struggling with that a little bit and I’ve got a banging headache and I don’t understand how you can accept any of this.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at you. Hey, Graham, can I help you carry this box of guns? Hey, Percival, is that an atomic spectroscope? I sure do love helping out with that kind of thing. How can you be so calm and controlled when everyone is dead?! Murdered, by androids from outer space they’d have us believe! How can you just go, “Oh well,” and get on with everything?”
“Do you really think I’m fine with it?” I asked. “We’re living in a Jon Pertwee era serial made by Hammer Horror! Evil aliens have landed and want to take over the world with a bloody BBC continuity announcement and we’ve got the white section of your average diversity group- the goth and the old person- running around with machine guns telling us we need to save the bloody universe! I’m not fine with it. I’ve never been further from fine. Why am I acting like I am? Well, because I’ve got no bloody choice have I? We’re about to go to the land of the Body Snatchers and we’re not allowed guns because we don’t have a flipping licence so the only thing I’m going to have to keep me going is my stiff upper lift and boy am I going to use it. Is that okay?”
She didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then she let out a giggle.
“What?” I asked, allowing a smile to dissolve my stiff upper lip.
“Do you remember when we went to Brighton in the Easter Holidays of Lower Sixth?”
I nodded. “How could I forget? I got pneumonia.”
“No!” She argued. “That was when we went to Grimsby. No, you got stoned when we went to Brighton. All three of us did, me, you and Mike. On that beach, watching the storm coming in from the far distance, those huge clouds. And behind us, the distance sirens of police cars. We didn’t know if they were coming for us, we didn’t care. We were just rooted to the spot whilst the sea and the storm came for us from in front and the coppers were coming from us behind. And the whole time, we felt as if we were in a dream. Do you remember?”
“How could I forget?” I nodded.
“You know what I don’t get?”
“The fact that I feel like I’m sat on that beach now. The tide’s coming and so’s the storm yet here we are, letting it approach, feeling like we’re just trapped in a dream gone badly wrong.”
Graham Cooper drank his cup of tea. I like to imagine he had a cup with a picture of a pink unicorn printed onto it and I also liked to imagine that he carefully placed it into the sink of the little kitchenette in the main hall of the Sanctum. Then, I like to imagine he picked up his machine gun from the side counter and softly marched towards the garage.
“Get in the van.” He said and complied himself. I shrugged at Katy and climbed in. She sat in the back; as I learnt from the Year Eleven Berlin trip, she suffered from motion sickness when stressed. The seats in the front were comfortable if not cold and the radio was tuned to BBC Radio 3. I didn’t have Graham down as the type to listen to music but, then again, I suppose I didn’t need to.
Cooper may have climbed into the van but Demon turned the key
Maybe it was the sudden tenseness of his shoulders or the sudden stern glare of his eyes. Maybe it was the way that the van violently jolted into life or the way that the light glinted in the right angle to show his thick wealth of bristle. Whatever it was, Graham Cooper was gone, replaced by the man they called Demon.
He drove quickly but carefully, paying almost delicate attention to traffic lights and other cars on the road. There was not once a flash of anger or irritation at the plight of other drivers, merely the conscientious disapproval of someone who knew he had no power over the lives of others and wasn’t willing to waste his time attempting to interfere.
We reached Yorkshire after a short while. He didn’t speak much, accept to occasionally ask if I was comfortable and then to shout through to Katy to see if she wanted him to stop so she could get in the front. She ceased replying after a while but the occasional flutter of her lips as she snored stopped me from worrying. It had been a tiring few days so I wasn’t surprised she’d fallen asleep.
As we wound through yet another claustrophobic village, this one a little less hostile than the one we’d been camping in, Demon’s deep voice warbled. “Ask it.”
“Ask what?” I replied.
“I don’t have a question.”
“Yes you do.” He sighed it with the same exhaustion I used in response to those who thought I was a basket baller or inquired as to the weather up here. “Everybody has the question.”
“Why does Percival call you Demon?”
“It’s my operational name. I use it when I’m on operations.”
“Percival doesn’t have a different name.”
“He doesn’t want a different name.”
“Why do you?”
“You much of a gamer, Chris?”
“Does MarioKarts count?”
“Then no, I’m not.”
“Neither am I. Give me some knitting any day. My kids used to play video games, though. It used to appall me. They’d sit in their room all day, firing virtual machine guns, tearing virtual zombies apart, and then they’d come downstairs to eat whatever I’d cooked them for tea. I never got how they could do it, so I asked them. ‘Dad, it’s just pretend!’ That’s what they said.” He sighed. “I have an operational name because Demon isn’t real. When Demon shoots these aliens on general principal, it’s just pretend. It’s not Graham Cooper, it’s not a real human being. And that way, when we go back to the Sanctum, when we sit down to enjoy the evening, Lizzy at her computer, Percival with whatever book he’s borrowed from the local library and myself with a ball of yarn, if the bloodied faces of whoever I’ve killed that day come to my mind, it’s nothing more than my kids thinking about their virtual zombies and their virtual Nazis, because one part of the equation isn’t real so none of it is.”
“Do your kids know what you do?”
“No. I don’t have kids.” For a moment, those carefully attentive eyes clouded over, losing their detailed focus on the road ahead. And then he was back in the cab of the van. “Not any more.”
I didn’t probe him on the subject. I think he felt as if he’d told me too much as it was. We continued to drive in silence for a while, before his low warble broke the silence again. “You have a girlfriend, Chris?”
“Me and Katy aren’t going out.”
“I know. You told Percival. I didn’t ask about Katy. I asked if you had a girlfriend.”
“Yes, yeah, of course.” I replied. “And, no, in answer to your question. I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“Good.” Demon said. “Going to a place like this, it’s not easy if you love someone.”
“I can imagine.” I said, but my mind was elsewhere. I might have said I don’t have a girlfriend but I never said I didn’t love someone.
“I want to talk about Annie.” Lizzy said.
Percival sighed. He didn’t know what to say. He’d been avoiding that conversation for so long. Should he tell her the truth of why the girl had really left, or should he just listen to Lizzy’s sobs and try to console her? Should he continue her suffering or should he doom himself?
“What about her, Lizzy?”
“Why did she lea- Percival, watch out!”
It was like the glare of a car suddenly approaching from the other side of the road. Percival swore and twisted the wheel. The Bugatti spun but the glare encompassed it from all directions. Lizzy reached for her gun but it was too late. The glare grew brighter.
The village loomed up in front of us, with its little sign declaring a population of one hundred. Below, it said, “Please drive responsibly.” Demon seemed to see this and grin, pressing down on the accelerator. I watched the speed dial as the small hand rose in its clockwise rotation, passing from twenty to thirty, forty, fifty then up to sixty. The wing mirror brushed over a dry stone wall and chipped it but he kept moving.
“Is this such a good idea?” I asked.
“Yes.” He said. “Hold on.”
We skidded around a corner, braking momentarily, and then he hit the pedal even harder and we shot forward. I was thrown back into my seat. I became momentarily aware of my lips quivering as they attempted to form a prayer. I’d been an atheist since the age of eight and there I was, in what I believed to be my final moments, praying. It was a funny world.
Despite the walls creeping up on other side, we didn’t stop. The bonnet found the corner of one of the stone walled cottages, tearing the wall apart and spraying debris all over the artistic monument. I saw the Sun Inn flash by as Demon spun the wheel. We careered off, across the limited space before we crashed into the entrance of the Green Dragon.
“Damn.” Demon muttered. “My door is blocked.”
“What the hell was that?” I cried. “Couldn’t you have given me some warning?”
“It felt like the right thing to do.” He said. “You’re going to need to get out of your side and let me climb over.”
“Yes, right.” I muttered. “Of course. Katy?! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” She moaned, but her voice sounded a bit croaky. “Urgh.”
I clambered across the seats and kicked my door open, jumping down to the floor and beginning to head towards the back of the van. Demon jumped out after me and, momentarily admired his handy work. One cottage looked on the verge of collapse, the artistic monument was lying on the floor smashed, the Green Dragon looked as if it had already collapsed and somewhere, shattering the uneasy silence of the countryside, a car alarm was crying.
He contributed to the destruction by firing his machine gun into the air.
“Bloody hell!” I shouted. “Are you trying to get their attention or something?”
“Yes, Chris.” He said. “That is the idea. To distract them from Percival and Lizzy’s actions, remember?”
“Yes.” I sighed. “Of course.”
“Good.” He emptied another magazine and then loaded a fresh magazine before hanging his gun from a strap on his back and closing the door. He wandered a few steps towards the Sun Inn, smelling the air. “They’re coming.”
“Of course they’re bloody coming. You just put a klaxon next to a sleeping teenager.”
“A beautiful analogy, my friend. A beautiful analogy.”
I wandered around to the back of the van, reaching for the black handle when I heard the sudden buzz of electric motors. I looked up in their direction and saw six women in pink approaching. Except, as my eyes focused, I realised they weren’t all women. Sure, their bodies and their posture were feminine but their faces weren’t yet done morphing, the facial hair hadn’t all fallen out, the hands were still a little too long. As they approached, I saw them changing, shrinking, their shoulders becoming less broad, their faces softening. They were on the other side of the bridge at first, but by the time they’d crossed it, they were different people, their skin rearranged and their bodies shifted.
“Demon!” I shouted. “They’re coming!”
He ran over and nodded. “Get yourself and Katy to the bell tower. Lock yourself in and wait my call. I’ll protect you.”
“There’s six of them.”
“I’ve got a big gun.” He said and aimed it at them. “Come on. We haven’t much time.”
The motor sounds suddenly got louder. I turned around and saw another six approaching, these even less transformed than the others, yet still pushing the lawnmowers with roaring rotors and slicing metal. “Demon, there’s more.”
“Got Katy to the bell tower. NOW!”
I grabbed for the door of the van, tugging on the black handle but it wouldn’t open. The door wouldn’t give. “I can’t open it.”
“Hold this.” He said, passing me the machine gun. “Honestly, kids nowadays. Don’t know how to do anything.”
I watched as he reached for the black handle, pulling on it softly and causing the door to come swinging open. There was a loud creak and then the door had swung open. “Come on, Katy. We haven’t got lo-“
A fist flew out and sent Demon flying, stumbling into the window of the house opposite the Green Dragon. I didn’t turn to watch the glass shatter and the frame corrupt around his massive hulk of a body. Instead, I stared at the sight on the other side of the door. “Katy?”
She stared down at me, her body rigid, her clothes slowly becoming pinker, her hair burning away the auburn for blonde, her eyes glowing the whole way through. “Katy, what the hell are you doing?”
“I am not Katy.” She said. Then, her voice joined with a hundred others in announcing, “My name is Samantha. My name is Samantha.”
I raised the gun as they circled me, coming closer and closer. Katy stepped down from the van and stepped towards me, the glow of her eyes burning on my face. “My name is Samantha. Samantha. Sa-sa-samantha.”
The chorus became louder and louder as the others grew closer. The opening that led to the church was occupied by yet another lawn mowing woman. I look towards the Sun Inn but there were slowly changing villagers coming from there too. I looked in every direction but there was no where to go. The tide and the storm were coming and I was stood there, letting it approach, like it was all a bad dream gone horribly wrong, as if any second I’d wake up to the dark of my bedroom, a cold sweat on my forehead. Yet it wasn’t dark around me, it was bright white, the glare of shining eyes and the chorus of that awful voice. “My name is Samantha.” Said the transforming villagers, their corpses stalking the home they had lost.
“My name is Samantha.” Said my childhood friend, her identity slowly burning away.
“My name is Samantha.” Said a voice of Received Pronunciation louder than all. I looked over my shoulder and saw, amid the sea of approaching doom, Percival, his eyes shining bright, his identity lost as he began to change.
“My name is Samantha.” They said in unison, a cacophony of conflicting voices slowly beginning to morph against their will to unity. I raised my gun and got ready to fire.