UKArchive ID: 36506mitch
Originally published on May 6, 2016 in Fiction
Chapter 07 of the Light-Father: Harold takes Saul into Crawcester in search of food but Crawcester is a city of the dead where dogs and rats are predators and humans are prey...
“Damn it, this is stiff,” Harold grunted as he once more applied his shoulder to the swollen front door of a house.
The architecture on the estate had left him disoriented: if it wasn’t for the steeper roofs and the carved gargoyles above every porch and window arch, he could have been in any suburban town in the Midlands. His foot slipped briefly on the lank weeds overgrowing the path but he succeeded in forcing the door and stumbled into the rank-smelling hallway. “It’s pitch black in here. What do you use to get around at night without streetlights?”
Saul extracted a long plastic tube from his jacket and bent it several times until it gave off an eerie green glow. “These light-sticks last for about half an hour - anything brighter would attract the Tally-men,” he explained, holding it up.
“We have those in my world too. I don’t feel comfortable doing this,” Harold muttered as he used the light-stick to peer into the hallway. “I can see why you kids are reluctant to break into these houses. Ach, it reeks! There must be corpses in here.”
“No, I know there are none,” Saul said grimly. “Because I know My Uncle Bruno buried them in the garden - this was my home.”
“So that’s why you suggested this one,” Harold exclaimed. “You haven’t been back since the plague?”
“No, Light-Father. It was too painful for me but now you are here, I can be myself for a while,” Saul said, his voice thick with emotion. “I do not need to be Elder. I can grieve.”
“You’re doing the right thing then, coming here first,” Harold approved as Saul began to weep openly. He stepped carefully over the debris in the hallway and made his way into the kitchen. “You have to tackle these feelings and memories head on if they’re ever going to make sense to you later. Hello, the back door has been kicked in - I presume that was the Tally-men. Would they have taken all the food, do you think?”
“No, they are not told to loot supplies so they don’t,” Saul said, getting the words out with difficulty. “After Redemption, they have no desire for wealth or possessions.” He picked up an empty plastic storage box from a work surface and began feeling for tins on the larder shelves as Harold used the light to load another larger box with two large pots, pans, tin plates, cutlery and mugs.
“Why are you gathering these things? - we usually eat our food cold out of the cans,” Saul protested. “It is far too dangerous to carry any more than we can run with.”
“From the shops and stores in the centre maybe but we’re only a hundred yards from those gates,” Harold pointed out. “I want to make sure those kids go to bed with full stomachs tonight or I’m not worthy of being a Light-Father. Aha! Dried herbs, powdered milk, dried soya-meat, kidney beans, rice, salt and pepper,” he laughed, shoving them into the box. “Yes! Chilli powder as well. Saul? Where did your parents keep the medical supplies? In the bathroom?”
“Yes. I’ll get them. No, I don’t need the light-stick. I can find my way around here in the dark and I have another one with me, see? I am worried though: we have so few left at the Keep.”
Harold followed Saul to the foot of the stairs. “Take your time,” he said. “It seems quiet enough out there and the rain is starting up again so the Tally-men should be quiet with any luck. Grab some mementos if you need to.”
Saul paused at a turn in the stairs, his eyes glittering in the faint green glow from the light-sticks. “Why? If we burden ourselves with belongings, how will we flee when the Keep falls to the Tally-men? A memory or a keepsake will not turn aside a blade or conceal us.”
“True,” Harold conceded. “I suppose they’re safe enough here as long as the roof keeps the rain out but make sure they’re safe, Saul, because you will need them once this is over.”
“It will never be over, Light-Father,” Saul said grimly. “Not as long as that devil, Schimrian, lives. This darkness is his darkness…”
Harold returned to the kitchen to search the last of the drawers and cupboards, adding a washing bowl, a lighter and two packets of candles to his box. He searched the back rooms and again felt like some petty thief desecrating a family home for personal gain as this could have been any house in his world with sofas, tables and a large TV screen in the corner.
In a cupboard, he found a battery lamp and some batteries in sealed packs and tested them - almost blinding himself. He added them to his box then tried the front room where, above the fire-place, he found an Oriental sword. He put the light-stick in a candle-holder on the mantelpeice and took the weapon down from its hook. He drew the sword to find that it resembled a Japanese katana being exquisitely made. He grinned as he adopted a stance from a Japanese samurai epic and brought the sword down in a whistling arc to decapitate an invisible opponent.
“So you lied; you do have some skills at war, Light-Father,” Saul observed from the doorway.
“Not really,” Harold admitted sheepishly, sheathing the sword. “Only what I picked up from watching martial arts movies.”
“Movies?” Saul asked. “Ah, moving images as in films?”
“So they’re called films here too,” Harold exclaimed with some relief. “Film must be an Old English or a Saxon word.”
Saul shrugged. “I neither know nor care if the word hails from Angle or Saxon but we call them cwichrérendeu.”
“Now that word gives me a headache,” Harold grunted. “I hear ‘living’ and ‘moving’ sounding together as one word. A movie is about life and it is moving but the word you say as ‘movie’ I also hear back from you as ‘cwick-koo.’ It’s driving me insane.”
Saul held his light-stick close to Harold’s face. “You should stop thinking about it, Light-Father,” he advised. “Your nose is bleeding heavily once more.”
“Damn it, you’re right,” Harold muttered, looking at the blood smear staining his sleeve. “Did you get all the medical supplies from upstairs?”
“Yes, they are in with the tins. I have some lice treatment too – I noted that you were concerned about this.”
“Of course I am,” Harold said, scratching. “All the children are infested and it will affect their health in the long term. I’ll fumigate the caravans and wagons once I get the chemicals I need. Did you take any mementos from upstairs?”
“Yes, I found my old board game of ‘Fifteens’ for the young ones,” Saul said, displaying the box. “I used to love playing this game with my father as a child.”
“Any other toys they can play with?” Harold prompted.
“Yes, I found two balls – they are in with the tinned food.”
“Good thinking - playing catch is good exercise for the younger ones and an ancient Chinese general once said that if a good leader keeps his troops happy then they will follow him into the deepest valley. He was a very wise man called Sun Tzu.”
“If that is another name for Sun Wu, then I am familiar with his writings,” Saul nodded sagely. “My father had a copy of the Art of War.” He crossed the room to the extract a book from a stack on the table and brought it close to Harold's light-stick. “This is the book,” he sighed, opening it and running a finger across the pages. “See? My father had a bad habit of adding notes in the margins.”
“So there was a Sun Tzu or Wu in this world as well!” Harold said, gazing over Saul’s shoulder at the pages. “History here must have converged with my world's history to an extraordinary degree then diverged again in the last two thousand years or so… Oh, who am I kidding? I have no more idea about how parallel realities work than you do even though I’ve just come from one!”
“Shh! Light-Father,” Saul hissed in alarm, putting a finger to his lips and quietly placing the book back into the bookshelf. “There is something in the garden and the back door is open. Do the same as me.” He quickly put on a wide head-band and inserted his light-stick into a set of loops before slowly drawing his sword. “It allows us to keep both hands free,” he explained.
“Clever,” Harold nodded and taped his own light-stick to his cap.
“You need to draw my father’s sword and hold it out in front of you like this. We have to reach the
back door in the kitchen before they can work up the courage to leap through and attack.”
“Who can?” Harold whispered as he readied his sword. A part of his mind noted how well-balanced it felt in his hands – definitely the work of a master craftsman. “I can hardly see a thing.”
Saul shook his light-stick hard and replaced it in his head-band so that it grew brighter as they crept into the kitchen.
Harold felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise as he saw faint pairs of eyes that seemed to float in the dark rectangle of the open doorway. Then he heard a low ominous growl followed by several others. “Oh,you mean dogs,” he exclaimed. “I hate dogs!”
“It’s a huge pack,” Saul whispered, raising the sword a little. “Don’t make any sudden move - they’re starving and will attack us instantly if you do. I cannot believe our misfortune. We haven’t seen a pack in Crawcester for over four years let alone a pack this size. Why are they here? There’s nothing left for them in the cities. We have to defend that doorway - if they get in here we will not be able to kill them all quickly enough!”
“Don’t worry about me killing them, son.”
As soon as they reached the back doorway, a large hound leapt through into the kitchen only to receive Saul’s sword in its throat. He withdrew the sword quickly and stabbed a second dog in the neck as the first animal convulsed at his feet.
Harold, recovering his wits, thrust forward as a third and much larger dog launched itself at Saul before he could free his sword. The tip of his blade entered the dog’s open maw and carried on down its throat. The dog was massive, weighing at least fifty kilograms, and its inertia carried it into the kitchen as it died, wrenching the sword from Harold’s hand.
Saul kept stabbing through the doorway at the baying, snapping pack as Harold retreated to retrieve his sword. “Don’t bother with that!” he yelled. “Throw the two I killed through the doorway as far as you can then pull your sword free!”
“What? Why?” Harold demanded in confusion.
“Do it!” Saul yelled, slashing at another muzzle. The dog yelped and withdrew but the pack was pressing forwards and four muzzles were already snapping at him across the threshold. “They won’t risk injury attacking us when they can eat their dead.”
Harold grabbed the first corpse and hurled it at the pack outside the door and was amazed at how the sound of the pack instantly changed. The growling subsided a little and he could hear their teeth sinking into the body before it even reached the ground. “Jesus,” he grimaced.
“Throw the second one out!” Saul cried desperately as another dog lunged at him and the growling increased anew. “The pack is so big that the first one is not enough! Quickly!”
Harold complied but it wasn’t until he’d freed his sword and hurled out the third corpse that the growling ebbed to be replaced by the cracking of bones and the tearing of flesh and sinew. Suddenly, an icy sensation crawled up his spine. “The front door is open as well, Saul,” he groaned, pointing his sword at the pitch-black hallway. “We didn’t close it!”
Saul didn’t answer as he was already frantically heaving the wrecked back door into its frame. A clattering of large paws came from the darkness in the hallway and another powerful hound leapt into the kitchen. Harold barely got his sword up in time so that the huge set of fangs bit down upon the blade and not his face. The momentum of the animal, similar to a wolf-hound, sent him crashing backwards onto the floor, his head narrowly missing the edge of the table. The dog was trying to wrench the sword out of his hands and he knew, despite being badly winded, that this animal with its broad forepaws upon his chest was highly intelligent and should it succeed, it would rip his throat out.
There was a blur of steel and Harold watched in horror as the head detached from the body with the jaws still clamped about his sword. Saul kicked the body off him and peered down into the hallway. “Thank the saints - there was only the one trying to outflank us,” he sighed, relaxing. “At least the Blessed Virgin has left us some good luck today.”
“About time,” Harold said weakly, still staring wide-eyed at the head still attached to his sword. “I should be in a bar right now, with a pint of beer in front of me…”
“Get up, Light-Father,” Saul said, extending a hand. “I’ll open the back door again and you can throw this beast out – that should easily satisfy them for the rest of the night and maybe tomorrow as well. Lucifer must be stalking us as this pack will make foraging in the city even more dangerous. David and I lost Leo and Jana four years ago to dogs like these.” He grimaced and turned his head away. “We never forgave ourselves. We were attacked in the main shopping area and we had to leave them… we had to let them be devoured while we ran away… I can still hear them screaming and begging us to save them… in my dreams…”
Harold clambered to his feet and freed his sword. “If you were attacked in the open by a pack of wild dogs like that, you did really well to lose only two,” he said firmly. “That’s another horror you need to talk about, Saul, otherwise it’ll drive you mad. Okay, let’s focus on feeding these damn dogs... unh, this thing is heavy! He dragged the headless hound to the back door and hefted it with difficulty. “Right. Pull it open on three – one, two, three!”
There was no rush this time but the body and then the head vanished beneath a variety of canine forms. The sounds of teeth tearing into the corpses raised the bile in Harold’s throat. “Let’s barricade this shut,” he suggested, pushing the wrecked door back into the frame. They dragged an archaic and very heavy washing machine into place. “That’ll do,” he declared, panting. “We don’t want them outflanking us if we come back here again.” He went to the table and was about to put the sword back into the sheath when Saul grabbed his wrist.
“Never ever sheathe a bloody sword,” Saul said angrily, handing him a ragged towel. “For it will rust and stick in the sheath when you need to draw it quickly.”
“So you don’t mind me using your father’s sword?” Harold asked delicately as he removed the blood from his blade.
“That sword and mine are a matching pair. My father instructed me on how to wield them,” Saul smiled, wiping his own blade clean with a cloth. “Uncle Bruno took me to the yard as my parents were dying and I never worked up the courage to come back after he had buried them. I’m sure my father would approve of you wielding it though.”
“Thank you, Saul. They’re beautifully made. Are they rare?”
“Yes, only a hundred pairs were ever made for the Emperor Tadamitsu’s personal bodyguard over three hundred years ago. Those samurai carried two swords into battle but I found that one was more than enough for me – I could never master how to fight with two swords at once but then I was only a child.”
“I see – I suppose it’s only fitting that we use antiques from ancient violent times to survive in modern violent times,” Harold approved, practicing a downwards slice and lopping off a corner of the table by mistake. “Dear God, it’s bloody sharp,” he exclaimed ruefully. “I need to practice.”
“Indeed,” Saul huffed as he sheathed his sword and strapped it to his back. “If you prefer to use an axe, I’m sure Ibrahim can lend you one of his spare ones - he has quite a collection.”
“Don’t rub it in,” Harold sighed as he sheathed his sword and attached the sheath to his belt. “I’m far happier with a soldering iron than with a sword. What about the dogs out there? Could they outflank us on our way down to the gates?” he asked as they carried the boxes outside and set them down. “Well?” he prompted.
Saul raised a hand and listened carefully as he pocketed their light-sticks and near-total darkness fell. “I can’t hear any other dogs barking or howling so that must be the only pack in the area. Keep to the centre of the road – that at least is clear.”
It took a while for his eyes to adjust but Harold could just make out the road and the pavement and the cars scattered across both – a testament to the last desperate hours of the plague victims. “I hope you’re right,” he said as he pulled the front door shut with some difficulty. “Some of them were more wolf than dog.”
“They will not attack us with so much food before them,” Saul replied confidently, picking up his box and leading the way down the road closely followed by a very worried Light-Father.
“Why douse the light-sticks? I’m not used to a city being this dark at night,” Harold muttered as the rain fell steadily. “Or warm rain.”
“Your eyes will adapt over time,” Saul said. “We can’t expose light-sticks in the open because even in the rain, there could be Tally-men or even Brothers watching us. Just follow me – trust me, you will not trip over anything if you keep behind me.”
Harold was moved to ask about Bastet. “She must have had one hell of a life as a child. Didn’t her father care about that or feel guilty about what he did to her?”
“I only met Professor Farzad once at a company gathering,” Saul said angrily. “He reminded me of an iced fish but my father revered him as a genius. Ibrahim tells me that she always wore breeches and headscarves but she was discovered within her first week at infant school and tormented. Ibrahim said he always punished anyone who mocked her in the street but she could not venture out. Be wary of Ibrahim, Light-Father - he is unusually strong. Don’t ever wrestle with him – you’ll lose.”
“He’s challenged you before, hasn’t he?”
“Yes, three times but he is no match for my speed,” Saul said sadly. “The last time, I made a deep cut to his chest and cut his axe haft in two. I told him that I would kill him if he ever challenged me in front of the others again.”
“And he’s respected you ever since.”
“Yes. His strength is the result of his father experimenting with ape genes to strengthen muscle fibres in humans.”
“Sweet Jesus, having a monster like that as a father, they were lucky not to have ended up in a laboratory jar.”
“Their mother was complicit in the experimentation but she became wracked with guilt when she gave birth to Bas because she bonded with her despite her deformities and would not allow the Order to take them away. Farzad agreed to protect them not because he loved his children but he merely wanted to raise them in the pretence of a family to keep them by him as living proof of his own genius. Poor Bas was often displayed naked to the Exodus executives as a science exhibit. If he were alive, I would hold him down while Ibrahim parted his head from his body.”
“Yet he died in the plague - it seems that the Order did not think he was worthy enough to join them.”
“Indeed he did die yet Ibrahim and his sister will never be free of that monster. They lived in the next street to us so they were able to join us in the Keep from the very beginning after Ibrahim fought off a Father who came to claim them as their father and mother lay dying. David was like a brother to him and he misses him greatly. Bas also found a reason to live because we had a young one who was but a babe in arms. Even though she was what she is, a dying neighbour in the street begged her to look after him. She named him Pup and brought him up as any mother would.”
“Good for her and Pup is a perfect name for him,” Harold said as they crossed the main road. “Hey, what are you doing?” he asked as Saul briefly waved the light-sticks as they approached the gates.
“Hey, I thought we couldn’t show any light at all?”
“Do you want Shield and Bas to put an arrow through you?” Saul said sweetly. “They’re on top of the caravans aiming their bows at us right now.”
“Ah, yes, I can just about make them out. I guess Bas has good night vision so we should be safe enough.”
“And good ears too, Light-Father!” she called down to them as they passed through the gates.
“As I said, Pup is a good name for the lad,” Harold chuckled. “He’s so eager to please, I keep expecting him to roll over and want his tummy tickled. He must drive you all crazy.”
“Sometimes we have to rein him in but he’s harmless. Bas adores him even though he keeps pulling her tail.”
“Pulling her tail? She has a tail?”
“Of course - her father regarded it as a challenge as cat-girls were popular in illustrated Egyptian fiction from his youth. Much of her body is covered with a fine fur but she’s really happy here with us - she’s with people who love her not parents who treated her as nothing more than a science experiment.”
Saul hefted the boxes into the candle-lit wagon amidst excited greetings from the younger children who immediately began to rummage through the contents. Pup, Rabbit and Mouse went into raptures when they found the two balls and even the sullen Amos immediately challenged Ibrahim to a game of Fifteens.
“What are you planning to cook, Light-Father?” Saul asked as they climbed up into the wagon.
“Oh, just a little speciality of mine called chilli con carne,” Harold grinned.
“Ugh, sounds awful.”
Archived comments for Chapter 07: Dog Eat Dog
Mikeverdi on 07-05-2016
Chapter 07: Dog Eat Dog
Great chapter, still on board, still enjoying. Thought you handled the action well, not over doing it. There will be time for the blood count to rise I'm sure 😊
Indeed - I found THREE howling continuity errors in this chapter! It's pitch dark yet I had Saul reading medicine labels in the bathroom without a source of light; Harold makes chlli con carne without meat; Saul buries his parents yet says he never came back after going to the yard! Gah! Pruned out the adverbs too!
Anyhoo - the tales of the individual children unfold as Harold appreiates how they were all genetically enhanced by their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents at the Exodus Labs. The mindset of the Order is from cults including Scientology - it came from a story I wrote as a student about Gregor Mendel persuading his abbot that genetics was the Word of God in Nature and how that could lead to a cult or religious order dabbling in breeding programs and worse. Mitch