UKArchive ID: 36512mitch
Originally published on May 13, 2016 in Fiction
Chapter 09 of the Light-Father: The horror of the Great Plague is relived in a suburban home in the doomed city of Crawcester when three sisters get their new names...
Standing before the bathroom mirror, Eorman Godwin checked his pulse and found that it was racing. He shrugged and leant forward to inspect his immaculate teeth but as he did so he sneezed and sprayed the mirror with fine droplets of blood.
His wife, Leola, was alarmed. “We cannot keep telling the children that we have flu,” she said tearfully. “My throat is unusually dry and my heart keeps speeding up and then slowing down suddenly.”
“How are the girls this morning?” he said, wiping the mirror.
“They’re getting ready for school. They don’t suspect a thing even though we vaccinated them two weeks ago.”
“Our own vaccination was obviously too late,” he sighed. “They must have contaminated the second batch or sprayed the labs once they’d found out what we were doing. Their plague is out there, Leola – the first victims have already appeared in Kalingrad.”
“In my darkest dreams, I never thought they would bring about the Revelation they’ve been praying for.”
Eorman sneezed again spattering the wash-basin with crimson. When he looked in the mirror, he was startled to see tears of blood welling up in his eyes. “Dear Jesus, I’m haemorrhaging! We’ll keep them home today. I’ll contact Gytha and Wynstan and arrange for our plan for the children to be put into action.”
“What plan?” their eldest daughter, Rowenna, demanded from the doorway. Her eyes widened when she saw all the blood in the basin. “What’s the matter, Dad? You’ve both been ill for days and everyone in the street has been sneezing and falling ill.”
“It’s a really bad flu epidemic,” Eorman said, wiping at his eyes. “I think we should keep the three of you at home today.”
“I’ve been watching the news, Dad,” she said fiercely, balling her fists. “Riots are breaking out. I may have only twelve years but I know this is not flu - people have started dying in Bluefield and Caertave and even in Terra Australis. They say it’s all over the world. How can flu spread all over the world at once?”
“Modern air travel, Ro,” Eorman shrugged, turning to her. “It’s given me a terrible nosebleed too but the flu vaccine we gave you should help keep it at bay.”
“But you had the vaccine two days after we did!”
“Ah, I think we were already infected before the second batch was ready,” Leola said gravely. “Don’t worry - we’ll be fine.”
“I’m not stupid!” Rowenna snapped. “Cedric next door had the vaccine only he’s sitting on his doorstep right now. I just went to see if he was alright but both his parents are ill in bed and can’t get up. He has only eight years and he knows that something terrible is happening. He’s sitting there, spitting up blood and waiting for his grandparents to come and look after him. He’s sweating and as white as snow, Mam. He’s afraid and so am I. The police have just closed off the rail-yard and made everyone leave.”
“That’s just standard quarantine practice, Ro,” Eorman said, returning to his shave. “It’s perfectly natural to restrict all forms of travel given how bad this flu is going to be. The outbreak eighty years ago killed tens of thousands and this one might be even worse but your mother and I should be okay.”
“The people on the news said they’ve never heard of flu making everyone cough up blood before,” Rowenna protested. “Or cry tears of blood like Cedric was doing. We can’t go to school anyway - Mister Hansen told me that the roads are gridlocked with cars so all the railway workers are walking home.”
“I’ll see to Cedric later, Ro,” Leola promised. “You go down and make sure your sisters finish their breakfasts.”
Rowenna refused to budge from the doorway. “You both work in a genetics research laboratory so I know that this is not ordinary flu!” she accused shrilly, bursting into tears. “You’re lying to me and I hate it! Tell me what’s going on, please!”
Eorman looked at Leola and she nodded in silent agreement. “You and your sisters need to pack your outdoor clothes into your ruck-sacks and pick some books and small toys,” he said finally. “You’re right, Ro, this virus could become extremely serious and we want to hide you and the other Exodus children somewhere out of the way if it gets out of control and the rule of law breaks down. That’s all we can tell you. We need to keep all our options open in case we need to go somewhere safe in a hurry.”
“There is no but, Ro!” Eorman snapped. “Make sure your sisters have eaten well then get their rucksacks packed. Will you please do that for me? What’s the matter, now?” he demanded as she hesitated in the doorway and burst into tears.
“You’re c-crying b-blood like Cedric, Dad,” she stammered, her face paling. She looked in horror at her mother then fled downstairs as if the hounds of Hades were at her heels.
“What frightened her about me?” Leola demanded.
“Look in the mirror.”
“Saint Peter save me,” she gasped. “That came on quick. I’m bleeding into the whites of my eyes. I look like a red-eyed demon! I have growths on my back and legs as well and they’re growing at a phenomenal rate… it has to be the Revelation virus directly attacking the DNA in our cells.”
“It shouldn’t have progressed this quickly,” he said, studying the melanoma on his forearms. “Every cell in our bodies is being infected – the virus is commandeering some cells to reproduce as cancers yet modifying others to change function altogether. Look at the thickening in my cuticles,” he said, indicating the swellings at the bases of his fingernails. “What’s coming through is a claw not a fingernail and I swear my teeth have started to elongate.”
“I have a lump at the base of my spine that can only be bone growing,” Leola said and winced as she touched it. “Maybe even a rudimentary tail is forming but I can feel growths and tumours inside me everywhere. We won’t survive this, my love,” she sobbed quietly, embracing him suddenly and touching her forehead to his. “What will happen to our girls?”
“They will survive,” he declared fiercely. “We will…” he halted as there was an insistent knocking on the front door. “Now who in the name of Lucifer is that?”
Before they could get downstairs to the front door, Rowenna had opened it to admit six large men wearing the working-clothes of the Order – black hooded robes that ended at the knee with black scapulas of the same length, black breeches, gaiters and boots. Three also bore the gold pectoral cross of Fathers of the Order.
The eldest Father smiled benevolently at the three wide-eyed girls. “I’m sorry to intrude but this so-called plague is getting out of control,” he said pleasantly. “We’re trying to find a cure.”
“You’re not curing this plague!” Leola shouted from the stairs. “You’re spreading it! Girls, get into the kitchen now!” She leapt down into the hallway to bar the way, quickly followed by her husband. “Get out of this house, you murderers!”
The Father chuckled and made the sign of the cross. “And the Lord roared from Mount Zion, and uttered his voice forth from New Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn and the top of Carmel withers yet even he who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee naked this day.” He raised his hand as if to bless them then let it fall and at that moment, two tazer guns were fired and the current brought Eorman and Leola crashing to the ground where they convulsed helplessly and in agony.
The air crackled with the powerful discharges and it was a full two minutes before they lost consciousness while the Fathers waited patiently in the hall and the girls cowered under the kitchen table. “Put them into the half-track,” the eldest Father ordered curtly and as Eorman and Leola were dragged out through the front door like sacks of sand, he entered the kitchen.
He bent down to stare at the girls with the smile fixed upon his face. “I’m afraid you can’t stay here, children,” he said in a soothing voice. “It’s getting far too dangerous in Crawcester. Don’t be afraid - your parents were being foolish but I’m sure you’re smart enough to come quietly. It’s for your own safety and we can help your parents get better. We’re going to the Great Abbey where you will be safe from the chaos and... aieee!” he screamed and clutched at the deep gouge in his right cheek that the seven-year-old Hild had inflicted using a carving-knife.
“You touch us, vermin,” she snarled, brandishing her bloodied knife. “And I’ll kill you!”
A stocky Brother handed him a towel which he pressed against the wound. “Are you alright, Father Pious?” he inquired. “She’s quite the fierce one - that wound will need many stitches.”
“Indeed it will, Brother Theo,” Pious agreed and lashed out with his boot to kick little Hild in the abdomen leaving her helpless and retching upon the kitchen floor. He went to stamp on her head but Rowenna launched herself forward and grabbed his leg, throwing him off balance. “Curse these brats!”
“Leave her alone, you pigs!” she screamed.
“This one is brave to shield her sister like that,” Theo laughed then dragged her away by her hair to allow Pious to kick Hild savagely again. “Obviously they’ve all been vaccinated… ow, she bit me!” he hissed, clutching at his hand. “The Unworthy little brat!” Again he dragged her off Pious who was now bleeding profusely. “We have to go, Father Pious. We need to meet up with the rotor-craft in twenty minutes to deliver these specimens. I do not want to incur the wrath of the Abbots.”
“So be it! Bring them!” Pious snapped. He stormed from the kitchen, the flow of bright blood staining his scapular. “But don’t forget that little mouse hiding in the corner either!”
The three girls were hurled roughly into the back of the black half-track lorry. The two Fathers with the tazers climbed in after them whilst the others clambered into spacious cabin at the front. Rowenna, still groggy from the blows she had received, glared at the impassive Fathers. “Where are you taking us?”
“We told you,” one said wearily. “The Great Abbey. We want to study this vaccine and the effects of the gamma strain of the virus that we infected your parents with.”
“Why are you infecting people?” she demanded as her parents began to groan and stir on the floor of the truck as it lurched down the road. Hild and little Ethelind were clinging to each other and sobbing. “Jesus would never do this!”
The Father sneered down at her. “What do you know of Jesus? He was a healer as were we for centuries from when Abbot Mendel founded our order. We healed the sick while the world sank into filth and debauchery and the seven churches of man fell into ruin and decay while their angels abandoned them.”
The second Father reached beneath his robes and handed her a laminated picture of a mutated animal. “This abomination was found in a laboratory funded by the Vatican - they were trying to match our genetics research while publicly condemning us for it. Schimrian saw this as a sign of God. Look at it! They kept this beast alive and hidden for three and a half years!”
“It has more than one head,” she gagged, thrusting the grotesque image away from her. “And there are horns on it. What is it?”
“The Sign of Revelation, child! A beast rising up with ten horns and seven grotesque heads that lives and breathes yet it was sanctioned and marvelled at by the Pope himself!”
“So because of this Papal idiocy, you unleashed a man-made plague?” Eorman growled, clutching at his stomach and crawling forward on his knees and one hand. “Some vile lab experiment like this and you decide to bring about the End of Days?”
“Only the Worthy shall enter the New Jerusalem,” the second Father said, bringing his face close to Eorman who could see the fanaticism burning in the cleric’s eyes. “We fear God and give Him glory,” he intoned. “For the Hour of Judgement has come and all will fear Him who has made heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of holy water from whence our thirst shall be slaked. Only the Worthy of the… urk!” His eyes widened as he stared down at the handles of the sharp scissors protruding from his chest, the blades having pierced his heart. Bloody spittle bubbled from his mouth as Eorman grasped the tazer in his hand and fired it at his dumbstruck companion.
The girls watched in horror as the Father writhed silently upon the floor and their mother crawled forward to cut his carotid artery with their father’s old-fashioned razor, spraying blood upon the roof. Eorman bent down to check the pulses of the two Fathers. “Both dead, thank God,” he gasped.
“Well done, Leola!”
“Listen, girls,” Leola said, glancing through the window. “The truck is slowing down so get ready. If we allow them to take you to the Great Abbey, they will kill you. Do you remember the museum, Ro? It’s the big building to the left and it will make a good place to hide in. There’s a big crowd up ahead and a barricade that will distract the Fathers while we escape.”
Wide-eyed and trembling, the three sisters stood by the doors. “I don’t think I can make it,” Hild whined, clutching at her stomach. “He kicked me really hard, Mam.”
“And us too,” Leola sighed. “Ignore the pain, dear heart, or we will all die. We’ll get out as quietly as we can and then we’ll run through the crowd straight to the museum. Here we go!”
They climbed down as the Fathers in the front shouted at the milling crowd to remove the barricades and get out of the way. Leola quietly closed the doors and taking the girls by the hand, she and her husband led them at a run through the open doors of the museum. It was deserted inside and to Eorman’s surprise; there was no sign of looting. “We’ll try the weapons display room,” he decided. “It’s next to the canteen and has lots of hiding places.”
“And we can arm ourselves,” Leola said through gritted teeth. “If another Father touches my girls again, I’ll blind him.”
The weapons room was on the first floor and after Eorman had checked that the museum was deserted, he barred the front door using several pikes. “There! The side-doors are locked,” he said briskly, dusting his hands off. “That’ll keep the Fathers out for a while but we’re trapped in here and all the phones are dead.”
For the next two weeks they watched as Armageddon raged outside the thick walls and smoke blackened the skies. They broke into the display cabinets and Eorman made the girls practice with various weapons for ten hours every day. Rowenna proved unusually adept at the cross-bow and could soon load and fire the bolts accurately within seconds.
One day, Ethelind found a hair band with mouse ears attached in the canteen and the chilling words of Father Pious resounded in her memory. “Look,” she cried, brandishing a pike made for a young German prince two hundred years before. “I’m Mouse who’ll bite the toes of all the bad Fathers!”
Rowenna was trying on a triangular shield when Hild feinted at her with the long sword-stick she’d claimed as her own. It made a sharp metallic clang and struck a spark off the surface of the shield. “You’re Shield,” she declared happily. “And I’m Fierce.”
“Indeed you are, my brave yellow-hair,” Leola smiled, hugging her daughter. “We have to defend ourselves - so practice.”
Leola had fashioned beds out of benches for them all and sewed towels and drapes together to make bedspreads so it became an adventure for the girls. The canteen was well stocked and although the fruit and bread ran out, the tins and a stove that ran on bottled gas kept them well-provisioned with hot soup and drinks.
Shield woke up one morning bruised and tired from a rigorous training session the evening before. She padded across the canteen floor to the stove and put on a pan of water to make her parents some herbal tea. While it heated up, she went to the windows to gaze down upon the devastated city in the early morning light. Not a single vehicle moved but she could still see the two bodies lying in the middle of the road where they’d fallen the day before.
To her horror, hordes of huge black rats were biting at the heads and faces as a pack of dogs chewed at the limbs. She felt the vomit rising in her throat so she turned away and hastily returned to the stove to make the tea. She put the mugs on the floor by the bed then shook her parents’ shoulders to wake them but no avail - they’d fallen asleep in each other’s arms and had died at some point in the night, their blood staining the pillows. She stood there helpless and heart-broken; the tears pouring down her cheeks until she was pulled into a rough embrace.
“Well done, Shield, well done,” Harold said gently, patting her back as she wept uncontrollably. “Shhh now. That’ll do - but it’s a good start. It’s getting light so go and get some sleep - you can tell me the rest tonight.”
(c) 2012 Paul D.E. Mitchell
Archived comments for Chapter 09: Cry Crimson
Mikeverdi on 13-05-2016
Chapter 09: Cry Crimson
It really is a great story, thanks for continuing to post.
Thanks, Mike. Will do.