(© Samuel Moulin Fotolia)
The next sample chapter from the third draft. Here, you’ll be introduced to the early misadventures of the main character, Patrick Kynaston. Having recently escaped from the clutches of the Ironsides, he takes shelter in a church whilst trying to secure his flight into Wales. Trying to get a little much needed rest, his tortured mind thrusts him into a dream state where his past still haunts him…
© 2012 OWEN LAW
Finally, he’d crossed the border and headed south-westerly towards Welshpool. It seemed insane having to head north, cutting across west then south-west in order to be heading to mid-Wales. But that was the way the roads were laid out and he’d tried to keep to them as close as possible, following along the back routes that would eventually take him to the old A483 trunk road. Patrick had, at points, almost felt twinges of panic whilst still drifting across field, hedgerow, copse and clearing to reach that point. There was no map, no compass, not even a watch to judge his orientation by the sun. All that could be relied on was a strong sense of direction, knowledge of the area and wits to ensure that he didn’t get hopelessly lost or blunder straight into the hands of the enemy. Still recovering from the mass grave incident, it was only a sense of determined self-preservation that’d spurred him on. Maybe the fact that he’d survived this long was as a result of sheer luck.
Tired, exhausted and extremely hungry, Patrick wandered along the old tow path next to a canal running toward Welshpool, having followed the route from the junction of the B class road with the A483. It was dark now and that route seemed the safest way to go, especially as the area was still crawling with the Ironsides and their allies. Troop loads of vehicles had been heading in the direction of the Breiddens, and from this he concluded that Cromwell was now aiming to wipe the last of the Duke of Shrewsbury’s allies from the Marches. He needed to be well hidden.
The cover of the towpath allowed movement in the right direction with sufficient avoidance of the road. He’d no idea what time it was but figured it must be late because he was so damn tired! Rest was needed. Perhaps there’d be a hiding place amongst the undergrowth, providing enough cover to lie-up for the night before pressing on? The murkiness overhanging the scrub confounded this possibilty as it was very difficult to identify any suitable shelter. Still, it was a clear starlit night overhead. Now that there were no street lamps from nearby built-up areas spouting light pollution, the fantastic stellar expanse stretched out above provided some distraction from the malaise engulfing him, although it was little of great comfort. Though spying various lying-up possibilities in the dim light there was, in reality, nothing even remotely acceptable. Reluctantly, he continued on.
As Patrick proceeded, he tried to gauge where he was in relation to Welshpool itself. The answer became apparent as he rounded past a clump of trees to the left on the path. The outline of the proud tower of an ecclesiastical structure suddenly appeared over the tree tops. He recognised it. The old Church of St John at Pool Quay. It was close to the road and may still be occupied, as people had taken refuge in churches after the Collapse. Still, it could be worth the risk, he’d found nothing better as yet. Patrick couldn’t resist the urge to go and investigate. It may, just may, provide an opportunity for some well deserved rest.
He tracked to the end of a clump of trees and checked over the open ground lying between the path and the church yard. In the near distance, through the shadows, Patrick could make out a gateway leading into the yard. Scanning around and confirming that there was no-one nearby, he scooted across the open area to the gateway. Nothing, it was silent. There were not even any sounds of military engagement coming from the Breidden hills, where the Ironsides had been heading. He waited, crouching by the gateway before putting his head round the gap. There was a large, old stone-clad house nearby, but it was completely in darkness. It was difficult to be sure as to whether it was occupied or not. He’d take the risk. Rising to his feet and, entering through the gateway, Patrick nimbly walked along a pathway in the yard leading to the entrance to the church, constantly checking around himself to ensure no-one saw him. He approached the heavy oak door and tried the handle, hoping that it’d be open but apprehensive as to whether there was anyone inside. It was unlocked.
Hoping that it wouldn’t squeak and attract the attention of any nearby alert souls, he gingerly pushed the door inwards.Too late, the door squealed as it moved, Patrick wincing at the sound as he tried to ease it open. It was likely that it hadn’t been opened in a long time. Managing to get the door open a few inches before it stuck, he hesitated in case the noise had given him away. Nothing. He spied through the crack. Only darkness with illumination from the moon infiltrating through the windows. From what he could make out, the place was in disarray, with overturned pews, discarded prayer books, cushions and other debris. It looked as though no-one had used it in years. It looked safe.
Pushing himself awkwardly through the gap, Patrick entered the nave of the Church and, still continuing to check around, closed the door carefully. He turned about and faced east towards the chancel. Moonlight seeped through the faded stained glass, the image of Christ in the centre over the altar, projecting an eerie feeling of solitude and emptiness into the building. The musty smell of decay hit as he stood surveying the interior. Steadily, he proceeded down the central aisle towards an altar covered in a dusty cloth. Overhead, there was a sudden fluttering of wings, indicating that he was not the only living thing inside. Pigeons started cooing from above, as he must have disturbed their roost.
His attention turned from overhead toward the sanctuary. The altar was devoid of crucifixes or altar pieces, as he expected that anything valuable had long since been looted. The rail in front of the altar was in a poor state of repair, the pulpit to the right near the south-eastern chapel looked redundant. Similarly, the lectern was covered in years of accumulated dirt. The scene made him feel deflated, as though the whole thing was a monument to a forgotten era, lost and rejected. The Anglican Church had been in decline even before the collapse, and it died in Britain the day the Monarchy had fled. Since that time people had followed other religions, even returning to animism: the worship of nature. There were, of course, the Muslims and other non-Christian faiths that had formed themselves into enclaves and ghettos. They continued to cling to their faiths. Then the Ironsides had emerged…
Whilst reflecting on this, Patrick continued towards the end of the nave and came to a stop just before the sanctuary. There, he stopped abruptly, turning to look at the north transept adjacent to the northern chapel section. Something caught his attention, causing him to almost jump out his skin. Out of the corner of his eye he thought, for one second, that he was not alone. That there was some malevolent ghoulish figure or demon watching him from the wall of the transept, ready to pounce when he was unaware. Patrick put it down to his general jittery nerves, which were frayed to the edge already. He stepped forward and took a closer look.
Back from the looming darkness stared the twisted and agonised face of Christ on the cross again. A pale porcelain figure nailed to a wooden tree still adorning the wall, faded red paint denoting blood exuding from the wounds on his head and limbs with the scroll of INRI displayed at the top. Patrick marvelled at the fact that it was still here, the mournfulness of the Saviour’s expression reflecting the collective agony of mankind in its suffering. It was difficult for him to draw himself away from the crucifix, and not just because he’d not seen one for a number of years. It was transfixing, to such an extent that he even felt that he could offer a prayer for deliverance. But, for some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
Instead, Patrick dragged himself away from the image, resolving that it would be prudential to check the entire interior of the building to make absolutely sure that he was on his own. He took some time to check the vestry then the north tower area, separated from the nave by broken and dusty glass screens with faded, etched decorative patterns resembling trees. The latter possessed the appearance of once having been a function place for the local community, with tables strewn all about. Once satisfied he was safe and alone he returned to the head of the nave to settle down on a pew, collecting a few of the kneeling cushions that had not yet rotted away to use them as a rough pillow.
The bench was heavily splattered with guano from the bird population that had taken up residence inside the church. Initially disgusted, he cleared the worst away along with a decaying layer of material covering the surface. It was long enough to accept the full length of his body, though too narrow to accommodate his width. In spite of this, he found that he could get reasonably comfortable as he lay back. Resting his head against the wooden side and propped on one of the cushions, knees draping slightly over the edge as he lay on his left, the pew felt hard but smooth as he tried to settle down. Another old altar cloth, found in the vestry, provided an impromptu blanket. He pulled it over himself for warmth, as well as affording some protection from any descending bird excrement.
He wondered how easy it would be to get to sleep whilst being wary of every sound or noise coming from outside. Lest it could be Ironsides or some other intruder checking the building. An owl hooted wildly nearby, Patrick hoping that this would be the only visitor in the vicinity. He stared briefly again at the crucifix, then to the same tortured figure replicated in the central window before deciding to try and close his eyes and grab some sleep. Even if it was only for a few hours, it was better than nothing.
The attempts to get some sleep were patchy at first, as he tossed and turned on the pew in a fitful state. It was not comfortable, the pervading fear of being discovered still persisting at the back of his mind whilst married to the lingering memories of the battle and the revulsion at his later morbid discovery. The trauma was difficult to exclude as the images of the dead soldiers kept repeating in his mind over and over again, like some B-movie horror film. Patrick shuddered as the dreadful events of the day replayed themselves in graphic and agonising detail. Eventually, he began to drift off into a disturbed, dreamlike state.
He found himself in London, Parliament Square. It was Christmas time, in the old days before the Collapse, and Patrick was stood on the grassed area in front of the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben towered above him, that familiar symbol of the Capital instantaneously recognisable to all. He looked up. The clock-face read just after midday. Vehicles zipped past on the surrounding road and the place was full of people, walking to and fro. Yet he was still dressed the same way, in his post-Collapse combat clothing. He looked about himself and could see the world going by, the normal display of life as it had been in the old days. Yet, there was something different. The sky above was an emerald green colour. It seemed bizzare, surreal, yet all those around him seemed oblivious to this anomaly.
He saw a young child, possibly six years old wearing a duffle-coat and a bright red beret whilst holding a balloon, walking with her mother, a well-dressed ‘yummy mummy’. There was a young couple, possibly students, strolling in warm embrace. A busker in a trilby hat played Christmas tunes on a clarinet near to a statue. A young woman passed by, carrying shopping bags whilst chatting away intently on her mobile phone. He could see a Metropolitan Police officer on patrol with a PCSO, and two American tourists pointing curiously at the iconic sights of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Patrick continued to stare at them, the world passing by impervious to his presence. He felt like an outsider, dispassionately watching events on a screen with a sense of detachment. A window on the old time which now seemed like a totally different country.
Then things began to change. The couple stopped, turned and began to stare. The musician stopped playing and shifted his attention to the green. The young woman pulled the phone from her ear and turned to look. The Police Officer and PCSO came to a halt to observe. The tourists looked and pointed in his direction. The child grabbed at her mother’s arm and also pointed. ‘Mummy!’ came the words in some weird distorted fashion, the mother stopping to see what it was she was being alerted to. He realised it was him. The strange attire, his soiled linen clothing, matted black hair and dirt-covered, unkempt face. Around him, other people were stopping to look at him. Now, he was the centre of attention. It felt uncomfortable. He spun round to look at all his audience, feeling trapped and out-of-place. Turning and turning, also most as if in a spin.
Suddenly, the square was empty. No cars, no lorries, no taxis, buses, bikes, rickshaws, people. Just the buildings. He looked back towards Big Ben. The hands had stopped. Then, he realised then he was not alone. His girlfriend and two young children were stood in front of him. Side-by-side, hands linked, staring coldly and blankly back. They didn’t acknowledge him.
A slight smile on his face. Hoping for a response. Raising his right hand towards them both. Nothing. It was like they were statues. Inert, unmoving. Then, in an instant, the wall of water came rushing down the street from the direction of the Parliament building, engulfing them all. He woke with a jolt.
Sitting up immediately, Patrick blinked and rubbed his eyes with his hands. Looking around, he realised he was still in the Church. It was still night-time, still dark, moonlight continuing to percolate through the windows. Patrick looked up at the agonised figure of Christ, then over to the stained glass window and back to the crucifix again. A sudden inclination to pray entered his mind, as if the recognition of his own mortality had forced him to adopt a religious response.
‘Lord have mercy, lord have mercy, lord have mercy!’
The words repeated rhythmically from his mouth, providing some form of panacea. It helped. Only briefly. Then he stopped. Still staring at the crucifix, the sudden futility of his actions dawned on him. He really had to question this, ask whether it was valid.
‘England is dead’, his dispondent statement directed at the image. ‘What can you do to help us?’