Author: D J Lunan
Hemmings stopped walking briefly, bathed in a swift glimpse of moonlight, and endured the sustained scream echoing across a forest sucked clean of landmarks, inmates, and healing energy by the storm’s whipping tail. He recognised that something or someone was meeting its wild end, and ominously, it was occurring in his direction of travel.
With his frozen bare feet soaking in the mood of Stane Street through its infamous autumnal mud, he leant ear-first into the wind, weighing among a limited suite of options, and wishing he had his head-rig and a drone.
Hemmings pressed on: old enough to have forgotten the primal night terrors of the lone traveller, keener to reach Silchester and the welcoming hearth at the ruined datacentre. His threadbare coat, small knapsack, and mutilated feet ensured only sufficiently desperate or addled road-roaches would consider him a proposition. He subconsciously tightened his grip on the sharpened forger’s tongs strapped with willow twine to his right thigh.
The scream had scratched an itch and Hemmings mind raged in increasingly desperate efforts to gauge his whereabouts, mis-interpreting each sagging bough and flooded trench as heralding the holographic gates to the great floating metropolis.
Lost in his mind’s maze, Hemmings entered the slim harbour of the landmark Marguerite Bridge before he recognised the sheltering danger.
A momentary gust shook the juniper trees asunder, allowing the half-moon’s shadows to create an unexpected albedo effect radiating fear, surprise and aggression across the faces of the two wood folk and their cart, squeezed under the low bridge.
“Who goes there?”, demanded the larger.
“A sky shepherd, running late to Silchester”, replied Hemmings, careful to limelight his low-value.
“You’re either lying or late, old man, today was market day”, probed the smaller.
Hemmings silently loosened the willow twine, and wrapped his cold fingers around the warm tongs. Unexpectedly another gust briefly bathed the group in shy moonlight, illuminating the microchip-collaged head-rig of the larger man, and in backdrop, the intricate chalk pebble stonecrafting of the parabolic arched underside the bridge, freshly red-washed and garishly dripping blood and gristle.
In shock, Hemmings dropped his tongs. Soundlessly, the smaller man hit out with a small wooden club, and Hemmings folded ungraciously into the mud.
No longer concerned about secrecy, his assailants clicked on their blazing head-rigs, and swiftly bore down on Hemmings. One grabbed and inspected his hands while the other pawed his face, and simultaneously announced, fatigued but content, “Clean!”.
The release of tension was palpable and, slipping in the blood-blanched mud, his assailants muttered their apologies, and manhandled Hemmings to his feet.
“You are one lucky sod!”, exulted the larger man.
“I don’t feel lucky”, said Hemmings suspiciously, rubbing his bruised jaw, and surveying the horrific murder scene through the piercing light-beams of his assailants.
“This merchant was less lucky”, the smaller one declared, his beams glinting off the cart and its cargo of three wooden, wind-up vinyl record players. The cart was compact, well-maintained and sleek. It was designed to be piloted by a single rider, with new carbon wheels, and a dynamo transmission. But it was showered with bloodstains.
“He or she was taken as they rode”, observed the larger one solemnly, tilting his head, he involuntarily dragged all their eyes back to the horror scene painted on the underbridge.
“Taken?”, quizzed Hemmings, confused and bewildered.
“Who knows?”, replied the larger one, and motioning languidly to the bloodied roof, “Witches, ghouls, trolls….”
“Of all the strange things to be kick-started by the New Dawn…..”, mused the shorter one, before trailing off, his mouth agape, eyes burning wild, pointing at the foundation wall just behind Hemmings.