Everyone remembers where they were on Three/Twenty-One. Lucas Doughty remembered it very well indeed, but not for quite the same reason that most other people did.
He was at school in his biology class, examining his own skin cells under a microscope, when the deputy-headmaster walked in and whispered something in Mrs Lever’s ear. She turned pale and dropped her chalk, and the deputy-headmaster put his hand on her shoulder to steady her. “Right, class.” he commanded hoarsely. “I want you all to go to the hall straight away, quietly now; no running or pushing.” When they were in the hall the headmaster told them what had happened. It took more than an hour for Lucas and his older brother Brendan to get home because they weren’t allowed to walk as they usually did. His parents had to come and collect them. They walked home swiftly between the shoulders of their mother and father. The streets were jammed with traffic, every face which passed was drawn and horror-struck. Echoing police sirens whooped all over the city. A mountain of solid black smoke towered into the sky from the direction of Anfield. Lucas felt a moral obligation to feign the same expression, but really he just felt numb. Once they were home Lucas’ father locked and bolted the door to their council flat while his mother went to collect his sister Cara from her school. When the family were all home they ripped the masking tape off the door to the cupboard containing their emergency supplies and retrieved the bottles of drinking water, chocolate bars and cans of food. They then huddled together in the lounge and switched on the TV.
“….The death toll cannot begin to be guessed at right now.” said the news reporter, pausing as an ambulance screeched by. “But all four stadiums were filled to capacity…” The scene in the background behind was indistinct. The sky was grey and foggy as if a huge sackcloth had been draped over the scene; to his left was the orange glow of a fire. Jets of water from firemen’s hoses arced into the air. Rows of emergency vehicles were lined up as if on parade. The grim-faced reporter was replaced by an equally grim-faced newsreader. He was struggling to retain his usual professional composure. “In case you’ve just joined us, the only headline today is: Four aircraft have crashed at four different Premiership football grounds this afternoon killing thousands of people…”
The afternoon wore on and the different detailed reports and analyses seemed to blur into one for Lucas: pictures of people weeping in the rubble-strewn streets, experts on aviation disasters and terrorism interviewed in the studio, aerial film shots of the famous football grounds wreathed in flames and black smoke. The chairman of the FA making as statement to a press conference with red eyes, coverage of the emergency Parliament session. Lucas’ mother was weeping and preying at the same time, fumbling her rosary in her quivering hands and struggling to mouth the words. Lucas felt his father’s eyes on him; his expression was thoughtful and sad. “Dad?”
“You’re lucky you’re too young to understand all this, Lu.” It was almost the first time he’d spoken all afternoon. He’d been sitting in his armchair in his usual posture, slouched back with his chin on his chest and a can of lager in his hand. His brows had been clenched and his eyes fixed on the TV.
“Get outa town! I do understand, Dad.” said Lucas.
“Do you?” He picked at his string vest and scratched his unshaven cheek. “You’ve grown up with all this, Son.” He gestured at the TV screen. “You don’t remember what the world used to be like when I was your age; how much safer we felt.”
“Ah, the good old days!” sighed Brendan with a sarcastic smile.
His father ignored him. “We only had the Russkies to worry about back then and I think we all knew deep down that they’d never really drop the Bomb.”
“Don’t forget the Provoes. Charlie.” said his mother.
“Mary, the Provoes were lambs compared to these Muslim creeps! They used to give out warnings for Christ’s sake!”
“Don’t blaspheme!” she scolded. “Today of all days!”
“And they never used planes and dirty bombs!” he continued. “Little explosions; once they went off that was it.”
“Were they clean bombs, Daddy?” asked Cara who was sitting on the floor fiddling with her dolls’ house.
Everybody looked at her and there was a long silence.
Lucas gazed out of his bedroom window at half-past one in the morning and saw lights burning in all the other tower blocks. No one was sleeping that night. A helicopter guttered overhead, shining its spotlight onto the streets below. On the network of roads below Lucas’ block a number of police cars cruised slowly along. No other vehicle was using the roads. On the pavements nearby strutted a squad of soldiers dressed in gasmasks and protective clothing. In the garish streetlight they looked unearthly, like aliens from a science fiction film. Another police car shot past on the main road, its siren echoing in the concrete canyons of the estate, its light dieing the scene in flickering blue. (New PG? Ed) Lucas turned away from the window and flopped down onto his bed. The lights of the helicopter shone in, illuminating his walls and ceiling. He turned on his TV. The non-stop news broadcast of the last ten hours now showed an announcement by the Prime Minister. “… Everything that can be done is being done. Don’t try to help just yet. Stay in your home and keep your TV or radio on and tuned to the news. Remember that the presence of chemical, radiological or biological agents cannot yet be ruled out. Do not drink tap water and do not bathe in it. Keep your windows shut and only consume food and drink from your home supplies. Cooperate in every and any way asked by the military and emergency services…”
Lucas switched off the TV and closed his curtains. He lay back down and tried to make out his Liverpool FC poster in the dark. He felt he were watching a movie of his own life.
Lucas didn’t remember falling asleep. When he awoke his alarm clock said seven forty-five, but he didn’t need to be told that school would be shut today. He put on his slippers and padded into the lounge. His parents and Brendan were all seated avidly watching the news. “Morning.” Lucas yawned.
“Shh!” hissed his father, pointing at the TV. The screen showed a grainy, flickering image of a man. Despite the poor quality there was no mistaking the piercing black eyes, the handsome, Roman nose, long, greying beard and pill-box hat of the rogue, fugitive warlord Mohammed Evel Al-Kokkah. He was speaking in a foreign language, but his words were interpreted by subtitles at the bottom of the screen:
"I, Mohammed Evel Al-Kokkah, leader of the Glorious Jihad of God, hereby announce that yesterday’s attack against the British infidels, the Satanic American puppet, was carried out by brave soldiers and martyrs of God. I offer no apologies for the loss of life and injuries resulting. Those killed and maimed were enemies of God. It is our right and duty by God to kill as many of them as possible. Satan claims his own and God and the prophets smile with delight at their demise. God’s eyes open in greeting to the brave soldiers of the Jihad, the best of his people who love Him and dedicate their lives to Him. They are right now gazing upon the Heaven that He has prepared for them. This is not the end; it is only the beginning! More battles will follow until Satan’s infidel hoards are defeated and the armies of God have triumphed and Islam can reign on Earth for eternity. Victory to the Jihad! Glory be to God!”
“What a terrible man!” said Mary. “He should be ashamed of himself… Are you alright, Charlie.
Charlie just sat and stared. He was flushed and sweating; his eyes twitched.
The TV was now showing a picture of the interior of an airliner. The narrator explained how Al-Kokkah’s hijackers coordinated their attack, sneaking aboard each plane and attacking the passengers and crew soon after takeoff with Stanley knives and sharpened screwdrivers. “Ugh! Those poor people.” said Mary.
“They then locked the cockpit doors and took control of the four aircraft.” said the TV. “British Airways Flight 4167 was the first to be hijacked soon after taking off from Heathrow Airport en route to New York.” The picture changed to a photograph of a handsome, elderly man in a pilot’s uniform. “Captain Robert Saunders was one of BA’s most experienced pilots. He was due to retire next year after more than forty years in the air. He and his first officer, Nigel Blake, didn’t even have time to radio for help or press their panic buttons. The hijackers would have immobilized and killed them as quickly as possible, aware of these security measures. The terrorists then shut off the autopilot and radar beacon and flew the plane, a Boeing 747, on a new course. Eyewitnesses in North Wales and fishermen on the Irish Sea have reported seeing the aircraft fly past them at very low altitude. The hijackers flew back inland over Liverpool towards Manchester where they dived straight into Old Trafford football ground. The plane was almost fully-laden with fuel…”
Lucas’ father leapt to his feet and hurled his beer can at the TV screen with a bellow of rage.
“Charlie!” exclaimed his wife.
He stormed out into the hall.
“Dad, are you OK?” asked Lucas.
“Daddy, come back.” called Cara.
Their mother reached out and touched Lucas’ and Cara’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. You’re dad’s upset, but he’ll be alright in a minute.”
They heard Charlie’s voice on the ‘phone for a few minutes then he came back into the lounge dressed in his overcoat. “I’m going out for a bit.”
“Out!?” shrilled Mary. “You can’t go out! You heard what they said!”
“I don’t care, I’m going out.” His face was pale and wooden.
“Going where?” asked Brendan.
“I’ve been on the phone to a few of the lads.” his father responded. “We’re going to sort out the people who did this. The people who tired to kill us. These…” His face twisted with rage and his eyes glinted. “…these fuckin’ Muslim scum!” He turned and walked out. The front door opened and slammed.
A few hours later the all-clear was given. The security services had verified that there was no trace of contaminant in the air or water supply. Lucas and Brendan then went out to look for their father while their mother stayed at home with Cara. It didn’t take them long to see where he’d gone. Half the estate seemed to be out on the streets walking swiftly along the main roads in huge crowds. Some carried weapons, baseball and cricket bats, metal pipes and stakes. One or two even brandished shotguns and hunting rifles. Lucas saw Mr Cage, his school’s caretaker. The gentille old man Lucas knew was transformed; he was marching along, his face red and his teeth gritted. He carried a crossbow in his arms. Her spotted the two boys. “Go home, lads! Both of you!”
“Why? Where are you going?”
“Downtown, to the mosque.”
“The mosque! Why?”
“Just get the fuck out of here!” he shouted. “Go home and stay there!” He picked up his pace and disappeared into the throng.
Lucas and Brendan obeyed. They went to Brendan’s bedroom for a few hours and played computer games until the sky went dark outside to take their minds off the situation. Then their mother poked her head around their door, her eyes were tearful and her lip trembled.
“Mum! What’s wrong?”
She sniffed. “It’s your dad. He’s… he’s been hurt.”