Amongst The Hordes

“But Sir, this can’t be right.” Drake protested.

“It’s all correct and it’s been corroborated by multiple sources, Drake.” Replied Simon in his trademark matter-of-fact tone. After several years teaching this syllabus, he was familiar with and prepared for most of the objections and questions this part of the course inevitably raised. “Thankfully, with all the advancements in technology in the late 20th and throughout the 21st centuries, the copious number of sources we have for this period make it much easier to verify events – and public reactions to those events.”

“But it makes no sense, sir.”

“What aspect in particular are you having trouble with?” Simon probed. “Is it that they got away with this stuff for so long, or that such a comparatively small group could cause so much damage? Because we’ll cover that stuff in more detail as we go through it all.”

“No, it’s neither of those sir.”

“Then what is it?” Simon asked, befuddled.

“It just doesn’t make sense. You said that the internet had existed for about thirty years at this point, yeah?” Drake’s face and voice bore a pained confusion as he supported his forehead on his right arm, flicking through the images in front of him with his left and glancing rapidly between the screen and his teacher.

“That’s right Drake. It obviously didn’t exist as we know it now, but it was in most homes and was becoming a bigger and bigger part of society at the time.”

“So, you want me to believe that all these people had access to all that information, but there were still people following these religions?” He looked genuinely confused now and looked to Simon with a furrowed brow and an almost desperate look in his eyes, craving the ability to understand this revelation.

“Honestly Drake, it’s completely true. Religion still existed for a few centuries after the invention of the internet.”

“Centuries?” Drake squealed in disbelief.

“Yes, centuries. It had dominated the world for so long that it took several generations for it to fade away.” Simon watched as Drake shook his head in disbelief.

“How could people have all the world’s information at their fingertips and just ignore it?”

“A lot of them were just indoctrinated into it. The majority were raised by their parents and previous generations to believe it because that was the way it had always been. There were others who came to it independently or through other affiliations, but from what we can tell, those people were mostly vulnerable or desperate, or consumed by guilty consciences, so the mythology offered them some relief.”

“But what did they do, just ignore science completely? I mean, they had some good stories, but they’re clearly just myths.”

“Well, I know what you mean, but you have to understand that people honestly believed this stuff. So much so, that they would fight or kill people who didn’t agree with them. To be honest, most of our records show that the majority of people used the internet to argue amongst themselves for the first few hundred years that it existed. It was just a platform for all the worst human traits of the period. It’s hard for us to understand now because we’ve evolved past it, but remember that people were much more impressionable back then and hadn’t made a lot of the scientific discoveries that we have now.”

“But they had made enough to know that at least some of it was obviously just a story, which kind of negates the rest of it. Just reading the information they had available back then should have made this obsolete, surely?”

“You also have to consider that people were so invested in these religions that, yes, they would reject any logical or scientific principle that conflicted with their holy books. As strange as that may be to us now, it was just the way people were back then. Even people who didn’t follow traditional religions would often have some belief in the supernatural. Unfortunately, just because information and the steps to knowledge are available, doesn’t mean that people will embrace it or seek it out.”

“It’s just so hard to believe that we were capable of all the inventions and advancements that we were at that time, yet so backwards at the same time.” Drake said dejectedly.

“You don’t even know the half of it yet!” Simon exclaimed in a half-laugh. “Wait until we cover the medical and scientific advancements that were blocked on religious grounds and how it affected things like politics. If you think what we’ve covered so far is ridiculous, you’re going to be surprised. These people still hunted animals for sport, or at least some of them did, so that should tell you a lot about the savagery and barbarism which still existed at the time.”

Drake dropped his head, shaking it slightly in disappointment at the stunted development of past generations.

Simon resumed the lesson, covering the rampant religious terrorism of the early 21st century and the resulting international wars. Some of the contextual information (such as having to explain what newspapers were and how early social media worked) garnered the usual sniggers and exclamations of disbelief at the primitive forms of communication. That was always one of the more fun aspects of this part of the syllabus, guaranteed to get some laughs, especially when paired with illustrations of the fashion from the period. The rest of the module was fairly depressing and bleak, but he was usually able to break it up with a bit of dark humour, plus the war stories always had interesting tales of heroics, however misguided the motives may have been. Teaching this curriculum had become largely second nature. Drake maintained an expression of confusion and frustration, but Simon knew him to be an intelligent student and was confident that he would be fine once he’d had a chance to digest the information. It was difficult for Drake to empathise with anyone who was not as bright and driven to learn. Knowing that he would probably dwell on this and let it bother him more than it should, Simon stopped Drake as he passed his desk at the conclusion of the lesson to reassure him.

“You know, Drake, you shouldn’t get so angry at the mistakes of people in the past. You should just be thankful that we’ve moved on since then and that we are now in the position we are in. Mankind as a whole always has lessons to learn, we’ll never be perfect, but at least we don’t let history repeat itself.”

Drake nodded in thoughtful agreement, but Simon could see that he had only taken it on board to a certain extent. ‘He’s a bit of a strange kid,’ Simon thought to himself ‘but I’d rather have a class overflowing with kids like him than students who soak up data without asking questions. They just learn to pass a test, whereas Drake gathers information that he’ll remember forever.’

Simon had some marking to do in his free period and was switching off the various screens and projectors when his gaze was pulled to the window overlooking the staff parking area. He stopped in his tracks and looked down at an unfamiliar figure standing perfectly still in the centre of the cars and bikes, looking straight up towards the window where Simon now stood. He paused and tilted his head slightly as he strained to recognise the figure, but it appeared to be a man who he had never seen before. The man was unmoving and simply stared as Simon reciprocated, hoping to emphasise that he had spotted the stranger and hoping that he would take the hint and move on. Instead, the figure remained as still as a statue, seemingly unphased by having been spotted. Simon turned to his right, away from the window and towards the front of the classroom. There was an archaic digital intercom at the left hand side of the main screen mounted on the wall, which he pressed with his thumb. The intercom made its customary beeping noise and a voice answered straight away.

“Campus security.” The deep voice boomed through the small speaker.

“Hi, it’s Simon Rushton in room 112. There’s a guy in the car park who I don’t recognise. He just seems to be standing there staring at the building.”

“Ok, let me just have a look on the monitor… No, there’s no-one there Simon.”

Simon leaned backwards and craned his neck to look back out of the window. No-one there.

“That’s weird, he was there a moment ago, I don’t know where he’s gone.”

“I’ll go out and have a look around, I was due to do a patrol anyway. My colleague will check back over the footage as well so we can see what he looks like. Could just be one of the visitors we’ve had today.”

“Okay, thanks.” Simon muttered, confused by the disappearing figure and momentarily doubting his own senses. He walked back to the center of the window and gazed towards the spot where the man had been standing. He studied the car park to see if there was any sign of the apparition, but there was nothing.

It took only about a minute before one of the security guards stepped out of the small, prefab office at the far end of the playground and marched deliberately to the car park. He stood watching for a minute as the guard circled the lot and even stooped down in the center to check underneath the cars. As the guard straightened himself back to standing, Simon could make out that he pulled a radio from his coat, presumably to speak to his colleagues, before having one last glance around and then continuing on his usual patrol route around the grounds. Simon shook his head and shrugged as he returned to his desk and lost himself in his work.

After the free period, Simon had another class before finishing for the day. The class was one of the lower year groups and was much more straightforward and less provocative than studying historical mythology. As the class filed out, he collected his belongings, did the final circuit of checking that everything was switched off again and strolled down the corridor towards the closest exit. As he reached the door, he thought he heard his name being called out behind him, but when he turned around there was no-one there. He paused for a second, shook his head and pushed the door to step out into the already fading daylight. The winter was mild, but the days were at their shortest and everywhere would be dark in a couple of hours.

He stopped in at the security office before getting into his car to ask if they had come across the man from earlier. Pressing his forefinger against the fingerprint pad next to the door, there was an almost immediate click and beep as the door unlocked. He stepped inside into the small reception vestibule and nodded in greeting to the guard behind the safety glass. The guard flashed an expression of recognition and greeted him.

“Hi. Simon Rushton, isn’t it?” He asked.

“That’s right.” Simon confirmed. “Did you find any strangers wandering around?”

“No. I went out and checked, but didn’t see anyone hanging around or anything. Phil even checked the footage, but there must be a problem with those cameras. Loads of interference. I checked all the other cameras just in case, but there was no-one heading to or from the car park.”

“Weird. Never mind, at least there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t worry. We’ll keep an eye out just in case.”

With that, Simon thanked the guard, turned and pressed the exit button to leave. Nothing happened. He tried the door anyway, but it was still locked. He pushed the button again. Nothing.

“What the fuck?” Simon growled to himself.

“Having trouble there pal?” Asked the guard in a joking tone.

“Yeah, it’s not unlocking for some reason.” He explained, pressing the button again and pushing the locked door so that the guard could see that he was doing everything right.

“No worries, we have a release button back here.” The guard offered, pressing the button behind his desk to release the door with the familiar click and beep.

“Thanks.” Shouted Simon as he exited the office and made his way to his car.

The drive home started with heavy traffic for the first ten minutes, as always, until he escaped the city limits and broke out into the deserted countryside. The narrow, winding roads were barely used these days, which is why Simon always used them. If he took the newer roads it would generally add another 20 minutes to his journey due to traffic congestion, but on this route he would generally only pass two or three other people and had only ever seen one other vehicle travelling the same direction as himself. The modern architecture quickly and clumsily gave way to ancient stone cottages and farms, then to fields and finally to one of the few remaining forests in the entire region. With the curtain of darkness falling he switched on his headlights to illuminate the slow curves of the road. The bare trees on either side clawed at the edges of the road, and in places they had grown together in the top branches, stretched and intertwined over the road in a twisted, gothic canopy.

 A strong chill tickled Simon’s spine and he involuntarily shuddered as he snaked his way through the trees. Knowing that he was overtired, he resolved to have an early night and tuck himself into bed with a hot chocolate as soon as he had caught up on organising lesson plans for the next day. It was then he spotted something out of the corner of his eye; a flash of bright red amongst the usual brown and green of the natural woodland. A couple of meters from the roadside, nestled between the trees to his left was what looked like a person, laying face down amongst the mud and moss-covered rocks. He passed it as quickly as he had seen it, but his conscience would never allow him to ignore someone in potential danger, especially with harsh weather looming. He eased on the brakes and slowly reversed, pulling up next to the shape amongst the bracken. It was hard to make out the shape from the car, but he rolled down his window and shouted to the figure. There was no reply, so fearing that the person was unconscious, he jumped out of the car and approached the shape in the grass.

“Hello?” he called out as he approached. “Are you okay? Do you need some help?”

There was still no reply, but as he reached the shape he realised why. It was not a person at all, just a discarded sleeping bag. Simon half-laughed to himself out of relief and slight embarrassment, despite knowing that he was alone on the road. He shook his head and returned to the car, closing the door behind him and was about to resume his journey.

A sudden movement in the rearview mirror caught his eye and he glanced up. His blood ran cold as he saw that there was a man in his back seat.

“Drive.” Said the man coldly, staring into Simon’s eyes via the mirror.

“What the… Who are you? What do you want?” Simon sputtered, turning.

“Just drive, Simon.” Said the man, expressionless and still staring.

Simon’s hand shot out from its place on the ignition to the door handle, but the stranger’s hand grabbed his collar. He leaned forwards and his face contorted in anger.

“Do as I tell you, Simon.” The man hissed. “This won’t take long.”

“But what do you want from me?” Simon implored, hearing his own fear trembling in his throat.

“I’ll explain as we go” was the cold reply.

Simon started the car and continued on his way. Fearing that the stranger may be armed, he quickly decided that it was safest to play along until an opportunity presented itself for escape. As the car rolled forwards, the stranger released his grip on Simon’s collar and eased back in his seat. Simon’s eyes darted between the road ahead and the rearview mirror, where he saw the man staring out of the window, as if casually admiring the scenery. It felt like an hour before the man spoke, but in reality the silence lasted only seconds.

“Do you know who I am?” asked the man.

“I think I saw you at the school earlier, but I don’t know you.”

“Yes, that was me. I had to get close enough to make sure I hadn’t misjudged you. Unfortunately for you, I realised that I had underestimated your potential for what your ancestors called ‘evil’. I don’t believe in good and evil myself. There are things I find pleasing and things I find distasteful, but those particular labels have no real meaning.”

“You must have me confused for someone else, I’m not a bad person.”

“No, there’s no confusion, I know exactly who you are Simon. I know you better than you think possible. I can see your inner thoughts and desires, your wants, your needs. I know things about you that you’ve long forgotten and things you have yet to do. Do you know who I am now?”

“No.” Simon asserted.

“Of course not. No-one ever does these days.” The man said, his smug tone showing signs of exasperation as he stared at Simon’s eyes through the rearview mirror. “I guess your ancestors would have referred to me as a sort of ‘god’. I made this whole shit-hole world and everything in it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not any of the ones you study in your textbooks. I always thought all of those stories were a bit silly, to be honest. I’m the creator that no-one knows exists; the maker and the destroyer of all things.” He chuckled at the crescendo of his own dramatic license.

“What are you talking about?” Simon asked. “There are no such things as gods.”

“I’ve hidden my existence from mankind since the dawn of your time. I only appear to those I choose, but I’ve always gone to great lengths to make sure that no-one believes them. You yourself know the history of religion and mythology, but the truth of who I am has never even been whispered as a rumour. I created all you perceive, so I am the god of this meagre world, or at least that’s the closest explanation that you could understand.”

“Ok, I believe you.” Simon hurriedly lied, thinking the man to be insane but playing along for his own safety. “But what do you want with me?”

“Don’t lie to me, Simon.” The man growled and sneered from between clenched teeth. “Of course you don’t believe me. But that’s fine, you don’t have to just take my word for it. My plan for you doesn’t depend on what you believe.”

Simon’s darting eyes shifted momentarily from the mirror to the road and back again. The man was gone. The seat was suddenly empty. Simon slammed on the brakes, skidding the car to a sudden halt. He jumped out of the car and looked around, backing away from the car as he looked over each shoulder and inspected the empty car and vacant space all around it. There was no-one there. He stopped in the road and lowered himself to his knees to inspect underneath the car, but the space there was equally empty. As he raised back to standing he was startled by the beep of a car horn. Whipping around on the spot, he saw a car travelling in the opposite direction speeding towards him. He dived forward and the panicked driver simultaneously swerved. Simon felt the wind from the rushing car against his back and the car honked again as it corrected its path and sped away. Simon was sweating and shivering from the shock of everything. He put his hands on the roof of his car and violently shook his head, trying to gather himself and make sense of what was happening. After looking around again, especially checking the back seat, he was content that the car was empty. He opened the door and lowered himself into his seat, but immediately froze as he realised that the man was now sat in the passenger seat. Every muscle tensed at once and he grabbed the steering wheel with both hands, his knuckles paling from the intensity of his grip.

“What do you want?” Simon asked again, keeping his eyes fixed ahead of him.

“You’ll see,” said the man calmly. He looked Simon up and down with a sly smile creeping out of the corners of his mouth. “Now, drive.”

Simon started the car again, resuming his journey. He was trying to think of what to say, but could think of nothing that would be helpful or possibly persuade the man to leave him alone without knowing what he wanted. He decided that keeping the man talking would be the best course of action and might possibly open up an opportunity to escape, or at least appeal to the man’s sense of empathy to prevent him from harming him.

“How do you do that?” He asked. “The appearing and disappearing, I mean?”

“I can do anything. I can conceive of something and it is. I think it and it happens.”

“But it’s got to be a trick.”

“Then explain it.” The man challenged, sounding amused at the prospect of any explanation.

“Well…” Simon faltered. “I don’t know.”

“Explain it to yourself however you want. Or don’t. I couldn’t care less. Believe me… Don’t believe me. It really makes no difference.”

“But if you’re a god, then why do you just look like a normal man?”

“Practical purposes. My natural form can’t be detected by your primitive senses, so I take an existing body to interact with your kind. I’ve done it in different ways before; planting thoughts, manipulating environments… But this way is by far the most fun. This way I get to actually interact when I’m down here amongst the hordes of parasites.”

“But why have you come to me? I’m not special or influential. If I tell people you exist, they won’t believe me, they’d all just think I was insane. I can’t get people to worship you.”

“Oh, you are so fucking thick. Whether you tell people about me will be completely irrelevant. That’s not why I’m here. It would be pointless to have everyone know that I exist after all the centuries of hiding myself. People worshipping me would be a complete waste of time too. I mean, what good is it to be worshipped by something not too far removed from germs? There’s no pride to be had in being ‘King of the dirt’.”

“Then why create us?” Asked Simon, still trying to play along to bide for time.

“It was just a throwaway experiment at first, a project to fill a bit of time, but then I decided to keep you around for a while because you humans are great fun to play with.”

“What do you mean?”

“You have the perfect combination of stupidity and ego, so you’re easy to manipulate. So, when things get a bit boring, or if I think there’s getting to be too many of you, I introduce a massive disaster or a new disease. Sometimes I just plant a few messages in someone’s head and make them do things. Your simple little brains make it really easy to persuade people into things they might never have dreamed of doing.”

“But why would you do that to your own creations? How can you be so cruel?”

“Well, if I didn’t have my fun with you, what would be the point of keeping you around at all?” He laughed.

“I would have thought that you’d want to nourish and cherish something you had created? To take pride in it’s accomplishments and revel in it’s joy, not to create obstacles and misery.”

“What you call misery, I call… adding a bit of drama.” He paused and leaned forward, adopting a more condescending tone. “You’re a very boring species.”

He sat back in his seat, glancing around while he thought aloud.

“Besides, there’s no difference between the way I treat all of you and the way you all treat other animals and each other. The only difference is that I created you exclusively for my amusement, so what I do is justified, whereas you all just assume your rights over each other and other creatures through inflated self-importance. Now, take the next turning.”

Simon steered the car down a narrow, rocky pathway to the left. The ground had been left untended and had obviously not been repaired for quite some time. The patchy, weathered bushes which lined either side looked to be barely clinging to life in parts, while others defiantly boasted a thick coat of leaves to spite the worsening weather. The woodland beyond them obscured any view of where they were heading, which made Simon even more uneasy. The further down the path they drove, the less chance he knew he may have to escape, if that would even be possible with someone who could apparently transport themselves at will. The panic welled up in his chest and stomach, making him feel sickly and weak. He suddenly slammed his foot on the brake and grabbed for the door handle. As he did so, he just heard the man sigh to himself. The door handle didn’t move. He pulled on it again. Nothing.

“Right, this is getting boring now.” The stranger said, remaining calm but audibly running out of patience. “I’ve already done this once today. Let’s just skip this part, shall we?”

They were both suddenly outside the car, with Simon kneeling in some mud beside what looked like an old, ornate stone birdbath. In shock, he was unable to process what had just happened and how they were suddenly somewhere else. It took a few seconds of staring at the ground and down at himself before he gathered the wherewithal to look any further. Surrounded by thick, old trees and several stumps of stone protruding from clumps of grass and weeds, they were in the shadow of a huge, dark and overgrown building, which Simon recognised from study materials as being a church of some kind. It could have been a synagogue or a mosque or some other religious building, but centuries of wear meant that there was no obvious iconography left on the structure to determine which. The air was eerily still and there was snow in the tops of the trees around the perimeter of the clearing, which was something Simon hadn’t seen in years. As cold and harsh as the winters were, snow was a particular rarity. Then he noticed that the treetops were leaning slightly in a breeze that wasn’t blowing, while birds hung in fixed positions in the sky, as though they were inside a three-dimensional painting. The heavy silence held his skull in a cold steel vice. He tried to stand, but was held in place as if by invisible binds, unable to pry his wrists apart from each other and his legs completely unresponsive.

“What are we doing here?” He asked, the nerves shaking in his voice.

“We are here for your punishment”, came the matter-of-fact reply.

“Punishment? For what? I haven’t done anything.” Simon pleaded, his bulging eyes like sinkholes opening up in his paling face. “Honestly, I’m a good person.”

His assertion was met with a genuine, hearty laugh from his captor, who stepped forward and leaned into Simon’s ear.

“By what standards do you measure that? Don’t forget Simon, I know everything about you. Everything. I know your twisted thoughts and your perverted fantasies.”

“Whoa, wait a minute!” Simon protested, starting to have no choice but to believe that the man did indeed have powers beyond human capability. “If you’re talking about what I think you mean, I’ve never acted on any of that! Anyway, it’s not uncommon, lots of people have those…”

“Shut up!” his captor suddenly screamed. “You may not have acted yet, but you’re getting closer. It would interfere with some of my other plans, so I’ve decided to take action before you do anything. I won’t have you ruining my fun.”

“But you can’t punish me for something I haven’t done.”

“I can do whatever I want!” The man hissed in a sudden eruption of rage. He turned his head to the old, decaying building behind them and the structure suddenly groaned and shook. In seconds it was swaying, with huge chunks collapsing from the roof in a chain reaction which continued down to the foundations: a series of almighty crashes punctuated the deep rumbling which vibrated the ground beneath Simon’s knees. The man leaned in close enough that Simon could feel his breath on his ear as he sneered at his powerless hostage. “You arrogant humans. You think the universe is subject to your changeable, inconsistent morality. I created your impulsive, disgusting species and I can do whatever I want with you. If all life conformed to human ideas of ethics and justice, the universe would have destroyed itself centuries ago.”

“Please, whatever you’re planning… just please, don’t. I promise, I’ll never do anything wrong.”

“But I know that you will. I know every possible outcome and I know what you will do if I let you go. I know what you would have done if I hadn’t come to you. You’re sick and you’re broken.”

“But if you created us, then you designed me this way? Why didn’t you just make me differently so that I didn’t have these thoughts?”

“It doesn’t work that way. This was an experiment. It’s like your scientists when they start a chemical reaction in a petri dish and observe the results. This world and many others were thrown together on naive and immature impulses, when I hadn’t yet discovered my true potential. It was a mistake and the experiment was a failure, but that’s no reason for me to not still have some fun with it. If it wasn’t for the fact that I could play with you all, I would have shut this thing down a long time ago.”

“But why punish me for your mistakes? If you had designed things better… or just designed me differently…”

“Are you not listening? This isn’t one of your silly old-world mythologies with a father-figure painstakingly designing every individual and every aspect of your environment so that it works in perfect harmony.” The man’s tone grew increasingly mocking and condescending, but an undertone of amusement betrayed his enjoyment in explaining himself. “Is it not obvious that none of that could be true? The singular elements of nature don’t compliment each other. If they did, there would never have been any need for plants and animals to evolve to survive. There would be no disease or natural disasters, no unexpected or unnecessary deaths, or death at all for that matter. There would be no genetic disorders or abnormalities being passed down between innocent generations, no sense of inequality, no capacity for cruelty and definitely no sick, disgusting people like you.”

“Look, we can work something out. Surely there’s something I can do? Maybe I can help you?” Simon’s eyes widened even further with transparent desperation, welling up with tears. The man threw back his head and laughed.

“What could you possibly do for me that I couldn’t do for myself?” He shook his head, his words dripping with disgust.

Simon’s arms flew suddenly upwards as if hoisted by an imperceivable winch, dragging him to his feet. The jerking motion and sudden pressure made his shoulders explode in burning agony, causing him to cry out. He involuntarily turned on the spot towards the birdbath and cried out again as the bowl began to fill from the bottom with what looked like blood. It bubbled and gurgled upwards, filling the huge bowl within seconds and beginning to spill thick crimson syrup down the sides. Simon gasped as it began to creep across the floor and pool around his feet in a broad moat around the base of the bowl. It swallowed the grass beneath it, looking almost black as it blanketed the ground. His captor circled the growing pool as he continued to speak.

“Do you see this blood?” The man demanded. “This is every drop of blood which was spilled to satisfy your habit. I could have drowned you in the tears that were shed alone, never mind what else was spilled in the making of your collection. Is there a form of media or technology that you haven’t bastardised to celebrate your perversion?”

Simon attempted a response, but his voice caught in his throat as a wave of complete defeat crushed his spirit. He closed his eyes as he resolved himself to having been caught. At least he didn’t have to live with the guilt of his lusts and the worry that he would hurt someone. A tear rolled down his cheek as he expected the man to kill him and surprised himself at the realisation that he didn’t really care.

“I wanted you to know why I was doing this to you. I want you to understand why this is happening to you.” The man stated, back to a coldly calm demeanour. “Fighting it will only make it more unpleasant for everyone else.”

A knocking sound startled Simon and he jolted, letting out an involuntary snort as he caught his breath. He was lying down in what had been darkness, pierced crudely now by the flashlight beam which burned his newly opened eyes. He shielded himself with his hand and heard a voice yelling from the other side of the window. He was in the back of his car and it seemed to be the middle of the night, judging by how dark it was. Had he been dreaming? He was certain he had not, but here he was, being woken up in the backseat of his car.

“Sir!” Yelled the voice outside the car. “Step out of the vehicle and keep your hands where I can see them.”

Simon bolted up into a sitting position. The police? He surveyed the scene outside the window through squinted and stinging eyes. Two sets of lights flashed, battering the torch beam in short, sweeping cycles. The barrels of two guns pointed at him from the other side of the glass. He flung up his hands in a sign of cooperation and pushed himself towards the door. One of the officers reached for the handle, keeping his gun trained squarely at Simon as he released the door, letting it swing open.

“Slowly! Get out of the car and drop to your knees with your hands behind your head!” Commanded the officer closest to him. Simon felt his way forwards with his foot, easing himself out of the car and dropping straight into a kneeling position as ordered.

“Please officer, what is this about? I don’t understand.” Simon asked, completely bewildered.

“Keep your mouth shut, you sadistic bastard!” shouted the officer as he stepped behind Simon and roughly grabbed his wrists to handcuff him. Grabbing the cuffs in one hand and with the other on Simon’s shoulder, the officer simply said “Up!” and pulled him to standing.

“But I don’t understand, what have I done?”

“Yeah, like you don’t know.” The officer growled in his ear, yanking him towards the flashlights and sirens to load him into a car.

“But I honestly don’t! I don’t know where I am!” He called out with desperation, confusion and panic dripping from every word.

There was another officer standing next to a police car with the back door open, eagerly waiting to help throw Simon into the back seat. As they reached him he slapped his open hand onto the back of Simon’s head and the two of them launched him into the back of the car, slamming the door after him. He wriggled and struggled to try to get himself into a seated position while the officer in the front seat began reciting his rights to him. As he managed to swing himself into the correct position his head scraped the ceiling and narrowly missed the window. Glancing out, he could see vague silhouettes of the officers outside, circling and advancing on his car. The droplets of rain on the windows magnifying and glistening the torch beams made the whole scene dance and sparkle, blurring his view of the converging lights which gathered on his car, meters from where he now sat.

Blood streamed down the sides and over the windows, branching out into smaller grotesque fingers. On the roof of the car was a hideously contorted but familiar figure; the man from nowhere who had appeared in Simon’s car. Dead. His clothes were soaked through to the yellowing flesh by a cocktail of rain and blood. So much blood. Pitch black snaking branches and hectic spatters, glittering with ruby circles carved out of the darkness by torchlight. His torso was ripped wide open, as if something inside had exploded out of him. His limp head hung to the side, eyes wide but dull, lips parted to tease a glimpse of gritted teeth. Simon stared back at the accusing eyes and mocking expression, positioned as if with foreknowledge of the ideal vantage point.

The battle was lost before Simon knew that he was in it. Cradling his face in open hands, elbows rooted to the imitation wood tabletop, heaving and gasping between sobs, he was a pitiful portrait. He took a brief pause to sniff and wipe the snot from his nose before it ran over his trembling lips. He knew that they were on the other side of the glass, studying his defeated body language with righteous condemnation and speculating on his fate. He had known that they would not believe him, but he had to tell them the truth. No-one lied to the police anymore. A software developer had made that practice obsolete over a hundred years ago, giving his patent to international law enforcement for free and making himself a hero. ‘What was his name again?’ The question trailed off and was forgotten before it had even fully formed in his mind.

The room was bleak and brutal, spartan and unkempt. Simon felt like they had left him in there hours ago, but they must still be deliberating whether he was a lunatic or if he had just made their prized technology obsolete. He evidently believed what he said, or else he had found a way to work around the program. Either way, the verdict would be the same. Guilty. Murderer. No other explanation could account for the facts. Certainly not Simon’s explanation.

He would have to give a similar account for himself when it goes to court. It would be like one of his lessons, but with a disinterested audience. Firstly explain that hundreds of years ago, there were belief systems called religions with mythological beings credited with anything unexplained by science. Then tell them what happened that day. They will all laugh too. No-one believes in any of this shit anymore. Not for centuries. They will snicker and sneer, smirking smugly as they pass his sentence. Everything gone and nothing he could do to fight it. Checkmate.

His blank stare filled the brief gaps between hysterical outbursts, boring a hole through the cheap desk. Painful, suffocating silence punctuated only by his sucking breath. Then he heard it. Softly, barely audible over the thickness of the quiet, a light breeze of a whisper. He froze and held his breath, transfixed in fear as the whisper came again. It was saying his name. In the corner of his eye, something shifted. Simon closed his eyes and screamed. Clamping his eyelids down with all of his might he threw himself to his feet, launching the table and chair in opposite directions. He could still hear himself screaming, blocking out sight and sound in childlike self-protection. Above the screams he heard the door fly open and in a second he was on the floor, writhing and screaming beneath a mass of uniforms and arms, all pinning him to the floor.

“No!” He cried, his voice cracking as the blubbering began again. “He was here… He was here for me again!”

“Of course he was,” said one sarcastically, while another plunged a needle into the side of Simon’s neck.

He stopped struggling soon after that. His whole body went weak, but he could still hear them talking for a few seconds before everything went quiet. Someone called him a “poor bastard”, while another called him “a fucking mess”. One suggested, supposedly as a misguided joke, that they put him out of his misery, while another said they hoped he got “the help he obviously needs”. Someone mentioned a mental hospital. “Do they even still have those?”

Words started blurring and the voices were fading into the distance. He kept his eyelids locked down to keep the man out. “If I don’t look, I might be safe” he tried to convince himself. He felt a breath against his cheek. A shiver pulsed through his spine and he swore he heard the sing-song whisper one more time as the thick, dark silence embraced him.

Drake was singing along to his music under his breath as he walked home. It had been a strange couple of days, what with his teacher going insane after a normal day of teaching and all the stories about what the police found in his house. No-one saw any of that coming, least of all Drake. As he passed a small patch of artificial grass where the sportier neighbourhood kids would meet for sports simulations, he caught something out of the corner of his eye. It looked like someone huddled in the far corner of the pitch in a bright red coat. He stopped and tilted his head as he squinted at the conspicuous mass, then slowly crept towards it, knowing that he would never forgive himself it was someone who was hurt and he had just walked on by. As he got closer, he saw that there was no person there beneath the padded material, it was just a sleeping bag. He turned back around and walked straight into someone’s chest.

“Oh, sorry,” he grunted, shaking his head as he fell back a step. He looked up at a man he had never seen before, who smiled back at him with a glint in his eyes.

“Hello Drake. I’ve been dying to meet you. Come with me, I’ll explain as we go.”