Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Obscurati Chronicles- Part 15

(Contradicting accounts of Dia Parkinson’s death in Part 14) (Possible section or chapter break here)
Glyn didn’t know how long it took; he’d lost all sense of time. His head was spinning and his stomach and bowels were weak. He felt like a fly on the wall, watching himself as he, a separate person, was manhandled to a police car and driven to the station. Uniformed officers, faces blank in professional catalepsy, filled out forms, asked him for his name and address, took his fingerprints and a wiped the inside of his cheek with a cotton bud to obtain a specimen of his DNA. He was then calmly marched to a cell where the heavy steel door thudded shut behind him. After about five minutes of standing still he returned to himself and began to experience again. He walked around the little room and ran his fingers along the walls covered by bathroom-like tiles. The walls and ceilings felt so heavy and solid that he imagined he was suffocating. The air was dry and tainted with the stench of disinfectant from the metal bowl toilet. He sat down on the thin, rubbery mattress of the bed and stared at the sunlight coming in through the pebble glass windows. The room was comfortably warm, but he trembled and clutched himself; his body reacting, but his thoughts and emotions still offline. Slowly the sunlight outside dimmed as the night began. A small light popped on in the ceiling; next to it was the black Perspex hemisphere of a CCTV camera. He stared back at it, as if caught in the hypnotizing gaze of the operator.
On reflection he found it curious how easily he managed to fall asleep; maybe it was a form of escape and rest for his overloaded mind. He awoke suddenly and sat up. In the middle of the room was a cloud of mist, a circular balloon of smoke. A rough hewn face appeared in the centre that gradually solidified; it reminded him of the apparition of Aldred during the seance at Dia Parkinson’s house. Glyn felt no fear at the sight of this peculiar vision materializing in the middle of a police cell in north London, just a feeling of vague curiosity, a mental shrug, a nonchalant sense of “fancy that!” The features of the face became more distinct, the skin took on a purple hue and its large protruding nose became visible. His black marble eyes glinted and his thick lips curled into a smile. Glyn gasped. “Boggin!?”
“Hello, Glyn.” It was his squeaky, lilting voice; the one that Glyn had last heard eleven years before.
“Boggin! It’s you!”
“Yes…” and he added something else that was distorted and indistinct. His smile dampened and his face started to blur, in the same way Aldred’s had during Dia’s seance. His lips moved as if he were still trying speak, but no sound came out of his mouth. Glyn sensed that he was struggling against whatever was holding him back. The smoke covered his face and his last expression was forlorn.
“Boggin! Don’t go!... BOGGIN!”
The bubble of smoke faded like evaporating steam until it was gone.
Glyn heard footsteps outside the cell door; the viewing slit opened and a policewoman’s face peered in. “I just heard you shout. Are you alright?”
Glyn sat on the bed rigid, staring into the space where the cloud of smoke had been.
“I said are you alright?” the policewoman repeated.
Glyn nodded mindlessly at her. She slammed the slit shut without another word.
Glyn lowered himself back down onto the mattress. This time his eyes found a few tears to shed.
About half an hour later Glyn heard multiple overlapping footsteps in the corridor outside and a key turned in the lock of his cell door. A trio of police officers entered the cell. “Stand up please, Glyn.” one of them ordered. They led Glyn down another corridor to where there were interview rooms. A group of more uniformed officers as well as men in suits stood outside one of them; Arthur Southsea was with them, his face pale and wide-eyed. “Dad!” exclaimed Glyn. But there was no time to speak to him; they were all ushered inside the room. The room was carpeted and bare and it had no furniture in it apart from a table set against one wall and a number of plastic chairs. One of the suited men, presumably a police detective, sat down on one side while the uniformed men took seats beside him; Glyn was pushed gently but firmly by his shoulders down into one of the chairs on the other side. The detective pressed a button on an audio recorder that was attached to the edge of the table. “Interview with Glyn Southsea commenced at nine fifteen PM…” and he added the day and date.
“P…p… please!” blurted Glyn’s father. “I don’t know what has happened here, but I’m sure Glyn meant no harm and is an innocent party to it. Whatever the problem is I’m sure he is willing to cooperate with you in any way necessary!”
The detective leaned forward on the table and gazed deadpan at them both with his watery blue eyes through the top of bifocal spectacles. He was old and wizened, his face craggy and weather-beaten. He ran a hand through his neat grey hair then slowly turned his head to look at the other officers. He gave an almost imperceptible nod and immediately, as if expecting his cue, all the uniformed policemen left the room and shut the door behind them. He was now alone in the room with Glyn and his father. He reached out and switched off the recorder. He laid a briefcase on the table, opened it and fiddled with its contents for several minutes. He flicked through some folders and writing books (detailed noun- Ed) then he shut the briefcase and looked at them. “Glyn.” he said. “You’re in serious trouble.”
“Then shouldn’t we have a solicitor present?” asked Arthur. “I’ve seen the movies; I know we have rights…”
The man held up his hand to cut him off with a half smile. “This is not a normal criminal matter. I’m not a police officer.” His voice was gruff, yet educated.
“What!?... Then who are you?”
“My name is Smith, and I’m a civil servant.” He gave the tiniest of pauses before the words Smith and civil servant and raised his eyebrows just a touch at the end of the sentence, the most subtle of hints.
Arthur Southsea gaped like a fish. “You mean you’re a…”
“I can neither confirm nor deny what I am, Mr Southsea… Now, Glyn. I know you’re only seventeen, so I’ll try to explain the situation to you in language you’ll understand. Are you aware that what has been going on in Belswill over the last week is a classified military operation? Do you know what I mean by ‘classified’?”
“You…” Glyn’s throat was clogged. He coughed. “You mean secret?”
“Yes, very secret indeed. The reason for the secrecy was that there was very grave danger in Belswill at that time; caused by the PSA; it’s an extremely poisonous chemical. The PSA released from the crashed helicopter could have killed hundreds of people. Can you imagine that? It could have killed you and your family!” Smith leaned back in his chair and frowned. “To protect the people in the local area the Government decided to evacuate everybody who lived there, including yourselves, and seal off the whole town using the armed forces. Those soldiers then got to work cleaning up the mess, making the area safe for people again. This involved the deployment of special military units operating to a contingency plan, a plan we’d already worked out before this happened just in case it did. However this plan is highly secret; the reason we sealed off Belswill wasn’t only to protect its residents, but also to prevent anybody discovering what this secret contingency plan was. You see, if the residents found out then it’s possible a spy from a foreign country could find out too; a country with hostile intentions towards the United Kingdom.”
“Mr Smith.” said Arthur. “You must surely not suspect that my son is a spy of any kind. He’s an A-level student for goodness sake!”
“Really?” riposted Smith. “His activities, and those of his friends, over the past few days fit the profile of hostile undercover agents; following elected Members of Parliament around London in a car, photographing them through windows, using a homing pigeon to take video of a location restricted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2005? Posting the images of the location on the Internet for the entire world to see? Spies come in all shapes and sizes, Mr Southsea!”
Southsea turned to his son. “Glyn!? What is he talking about?”
Glyn withered under the scrutinizing glare of both men.
Smith addressed Arthur. “Your son got it into his head that what had really crashed in Belswill was not a helicopter full of PSA, but a flying saucer.”
Arthur slapped his face. “Oh, God!”
“Did you know about this, Mr Southsea?”
“Yes, but... but… I didn’t think he was serious!”
“It seems that he was. What’s more he wasn’t the only one; a handful of others jumped to the same conclusion and they quickly found each other within the evacuee community. They teamed up and decided to try to expose what they mistakenly thought was the cover-up of a flying saucer crash. In doing so they committed what could be construed as an act of espionage and jeopardized national security.”
Arthur tittered nervously. “Come now, Mr Smith! You can’t possibly compare a foolish fantasy by a schoolboy with a plot by Al-Qaida!”
“Can’t I?...”
The conversation became heated and as the two men argued for several sentences while Glyn struggled to get his thoughts in order. The first time he spoke they didn’t hear him.
“What was that, Glyn?” asked Smith when Glyn repeated his statement.
“I said it was a flying saucer. I saw it. We saw it! It’s online for everybody to see.”
Smith smiled at him, almost sympathetically. “No it wasn’t, Glyn.”
“But we saw it! You all saw it!"
Smith paused. “Glyn, on my way here I stopped in at a bookshop and bought you something.” He opened his briefcase. “You see, I anticipated your query.” He pulled out a crisp new paperback book and handed it to Glyn.
Glyn took it from him and studied the cover. It showed a dark blue sky full of stars over a desert landscape of rocks and scrub. Dominating the foreground was a large succulent tree. The title was ramped across the illustration in large letters: Mirage Men- A Journey into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFO’s; the author’s name was Mark Pilkington. In the middle of the illustration was a dark-coloured flying saucer.
“Read it carefully, Glyn.” said Smith. “It’s a remarkable book. The author has managed to ascertain independently one of the principle methods governments use to shield their secrets from prying eyes.”
“What do you mean?”
Smith chuckled affectionately. “What do you think your clever pigeon-handler actually filmed with that ingenious camera set up he made?”
“A flying saucer! We saw it inside that huge tent.”
Smith shook his head. “No, what you saw was a fibreglass model made to look like the classic flying saucer image promoted by followers of the UFO legend.”
Glyn began to reply but stopped.
“We deliberately placed a model of a flying saucer near the centre of the clean-up operation.”
“Because we anticipated that somebody might find a way to capture an aerial photograph of the site. We'd already established a no-fly zone above Belswill, but still wondered if someone might find a way round that. To be honest we hadn’t thought of that pigeon method; at a guess I’d have expected some nutcase with a hang glider. We’ll be on our guard against camera pigeons next time.” He laughed again.  “You see, Glyn, governments often create false scenarioes based around superstitious myths in order to confuse and distract curious onlookers from the real nature of their activities. In the old days this would be to engineer fake vampire attacks or write stories about an angel at the Battle of Mons; today the central folklore of the modern age is that we’re being visited by intelligent creatures from another planet. So we feed the believers exactly what they want in abundance, so that they never see what’s really going on.”
“I don’t understand.” stuttered Glyn.
Smith sighed patiently. “Suppose you had built an experimental fighter aircraft and wanted to test it secretly. You knew that however careful you were, for instance only flying it over very remote locations, you knew that it was inevitable that somebody would eventually see it; what would you do? Now imagine somebody did see it and went home and mistakenly reported that they’d seen a spacecraft from an alien world. What would you think?”
“I suppose that would be… a good thing.” Glyn felt he had conceded a point of some kind, although he didn’t know what.
Smith leaned forward in encouragement. “It would be an excellent thing! It would be disaster for your secrecy protocols if he’d gone home and said: ‘I just saw an unknown warplane on a test flight!’, but if he says: ‘I just saw a spacecraft flown by aliens’ then your secrecy protocols are safe and sound. Everybody who investigates will be looking for entirely the wrong thing. It’s perfect! Now, once you realize that, why not go a step further and plant fake evidence relating to UFO phenomena inside the believing communities to strengthen the protective myth? This is what we do regularly and we’ve done it in Belswill this week.” He shrugged happily. “We placed a mock-up of a flying saucer at the scene of the Belswill operation so that any curious peeping Tom’s who succeeded in breaking through the cordon and finding what they were looking for would end up looking at something false, a piece of stagecraft. People like you, Glyn.” He pointed emphatically at him.
There was a pause. “But… but… I didn’t only see it on the camera footage; I saw it this morning too.”
“What do you mean?” Smith frowned.
Glyn described the helicopters he’d seen that morning flying over the Grigsbys home in Watford.
Smith tittered. “Glyn, what you saw were four heavy-lift CH47 Chinook helicopters from Eighteen Squadron of the Royal Air Force. They were transporting some of the equipment used in the Belswill operation to RAF Fairford.”
“No! They were carrying a flying saucer, the same object we saw in the tent! Or are you about to tell me you need four helicopters to carry a fibreglass model?”
“They weren’t carrying the flying saucer model. That model was dismantled and driven out by lorry.”
“No, they were carrying a real flying saucer on cables!”
“They were carrying a Type XS 20-125 air transport pallet loaded with ninety-eight tons of decontamination equipment; they’re circular in shape.”
“It… it was… smooth…”
“Glyn, it was very early in the morning, it was still dark; and you were standing on the ground and observing it from hundreds of feet away. How can you be sure what you saw?”
There was a stunned silence.
Smith shook his head. “You have no idea how many calls we get from the public reporting objects in the sky that they can’t identify yet give fantastical descriptions to; and when we investigate we find that there was a balloon race that day, or a kite festival or even a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. We even used to run a special UFO Desk at the Ministry of Defence, with a considerable budget, to handle all these reports. It was run by a man called Nick Pope; you may have watched him on TV… You see, Glyn, the will to believe is very powerful; it can confuse your perceptions and distort your ability to reason. This is especially a problem when we have the added social pressures of companionship and bonding.” His expression became more severe. “And I know that this was a pressure you experienced too, wasn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your new friends who helped you breach the security of the Belswill operation… or to be precise, you helped them.”
“What, you mean Joe, Judith and…”
Gary? Yes. We know who they were. We know they recruited you to their madcap scheme. Perhaps if you'd been a few years older you’d have been able to twig that you were being used. You might have understood that you’d been subverted into a dream world of dangerous nonsense! We know that those three are the real bad guys here, not you. You’re just a naive kid and you didn’t know any better; they took advantage of you…”
“Did you kill them!?” Glyn shouted. During Smith’s speech memories of the last few hours had been flooding back into Glyn’s mind like a tidal wave.
Smith’s expression changed to one of embarrassed incredulity. He leaned back in his chair and raised his hands with the palms facing upwards.
“Mr Smith, did you kill Judith and Joe?” Glyn asked again in a calmer voice.
“No.” Smith paused and leaned forward, meeting Glyn’s eyes earnestly. He spoke slowly and sincerely.  “Glyn, look at me. I promise, we did not kill your friends.”
“So… Joe’s death really was suicide?”
“Completely… Glyn, how well did you know Joseph McAndrew? Did you know that he and his brothers owed over two hundred thousand pounds in mortgage arrears? Did you know that his brothers were trying to persuade him to sell his beloved pigeons to pay off some of the debt? He was a desperate man, Glyn! Desperate and depressed; trapped with no way out… except one. And he took it”
“And he just decided to kill himself yesterday by coincidence?”
“What else could it be?”
“And Judith? Judith was murdered and Joe killed himself on the same day... by coincidence?”
Smith’s face became severe. “Glyn, I’m a servant of Her Majesty’s Government who has been ordered to investigate a breach of national security during the Belswill disaster clean-up operation. It is not a part of my mission to speculate on how the timing of irrelevant and inconsequential incidents, that just happen to occur in the lives of the suspects, makes you suspicious. My mission is to investigate this breach of national security. All that is relevant to this case is that national security has been breached and that Her Majesty’s Government is acting upon that breach. End of story.”
Glyn could think of no reply. There was a long silence.
“Mr Smith.” piped up Arthur Southsea. “I’m sure there’s no disagreeing with you over everything Glyn has been involved in… believe me, I’ll make sure he reads that UFO book from cover to cover! But you must now realize, as you yourself have admitted, that Glyn was an innocent party in this whole endeavour and that he was under the influence of adults who exploited his impressionable tender years and the suspects have fortuitously died anyway so… may I suggest that you’ve finished with Glyn now and that we might be free to leave.”
Smith appeared not to hear him. He opened a folder from his briefcase and read it for a minute. Then he looked up suddenly at them. “This interview is not over yet. There is another matter to be resolved; that of the fourth suspect who remains alive and on the loose.”
Glyn shuddered. “You mean…?”
“Gary Peterson.”
“What about him?”
Smith lowered his brows. “Where is he, Glyn?
Glyn looked at his lap. “I don’t know.”
“When did he last speak to you?”
“On Monday… At Joe’s house.”
“You’re lying.”
“I’m not!”
“Yes, you are! We’ve checked your call records with your mobile phone network. Gary Peterson called you at 4.48pm this afternoon. That call lasted for one minute and four seconds. We don’t know the content of the call, but we do know that it took place. What did you talk about, Glyn… What did he tell you?”
Glyn’s eyes started to swim. He could hear his heart pounding in his chest.
“Glyn, we need to talk to Gary Peterson. We need to! It is my job to protect the lives of British citizens from harm and it is your duty to assist me with that… What if Gary has some connections with Al Qaida that he hasn’t told you about? Or the IRA, or the Mafia? Your fellow British people could be in danger, Glyn. They might end up being killed, possibly in large numbers, and all because you didn’t tell me what I needed to know in order to find him.”
“Glyn!” said Arthur. “If you know something about this, please tell Mr Smith. Tell him now.”
“Just tell me where he is, Glyn; then you and your dad can go home.”
Glyn cleared his throat. “I don’t know.”
Smith sighed. “Very well, Glyn. We’ll do this the hard way… you asked me earlier if we’d killed Judith?”
Glyn looked up in shock.
“I said we didn’t and that was true.”
“Was it?”
“Yes. We didn’t kill her… You did.”
“Yesterday evening you travelled to the home of Judith Wright in Stevenage, you broke into her house…”
“No!” protested Glyn. “I’ve never been to her house! I don’t know where she lives!”
Smith continued as if Glyn hadn’t spoken. “… and you then proceeded to rape and torture her for over three hours. Then you bludgeoned her repeatedly with a hammer and left her for dead. She died of her injuries in hospital the following afternoon.”
“The police have CCTV footage of you on the 7.35pm Arriva number 301 bus between Belswill and Stevenage, they have found your DNA on the body and at the scene; they have also found your fingerprints on the murder weapon.”
Glyn sat still, staring at him. His body was shaking uncontrollably.
“GLYN!” shrilled Arthur. “What is he talking about!?”
“You may be only a young boy, Glyn; but even lads of your age are capable of carrying out the most heinous of crimes. It has been known in the past."
Arthur was whimpering.
“Now, the evidence I’ve just described has been gathered by the police, but was then seized by my own department and is currently held under an Official Secrets Act classification. It can be withheld from the police and Criminal Prosecution Service indefinitely if necessary. Conversely it could be released to them at a moment’s notice if necessary; the decision is mine. Now, I’m perfectly willing to keep that evidence classified, in which case you walk free this evening, on condition that you know the whereabouts of Gary Peterson and are willing to divulge them to me tonight. If you do not know, or refuse to tell me, then there are police officers standing outside the door to this room right now, poised and ready to enter and arrest you for the murder of Judith Wright.”
“GLYN!” Arthur Southsea was in tears. “TELL HIM! For Christ’s sake just tell him!”
Glyn hid his face in his hands.
“Decide quickly, Glyn.” said Smith slowly in a calm, chilling voice. “I’m not going to wait all night.”
Glyn cleared his throat. “He said he was going to stay with a friend of his.”
“What’s the friend’s name?... Be careful, Glyn! If you tell me anything that later turns out to be untrue I will still release!”
“Craig. He said his friend’s name was Craig.”
“And where does this Craig live?”
“Did he give you any more information?”
Smith paused. Then he scribbled something in a notebook in his briefcase. Then he looked up and grinned; he said in a completely different tone of voice: “You’re free to leave now, Glyn. I hope you enjoy the book.” He slammed his briefcase shut and stood up.
Arthur Southsea grabbed his son by the arm and wrenched him up out of the chair. Glyn’s legs could hardly support his weight as he staggered towards the door of the interview room. Smith opened the door and held it for them. “By the way, Glyn.” he said.
Glyn turned his teetering head in Smith’s direction. The government agent was smiling as he stood by the door.
“We may have need of your assistance again someday. In which case… I’ll be in touch.”
“Do you think your Auntie Margaret would be interested in coming with us? I don’t mind, but your mother doesn’t like her. What’s more Margaret hates Spanish food.” Arthur Southsea laughed. They were driving back to the Grigsbys house in Watford and he had talked continuously, jovially and enthusiastically about a whole array of subjects: school, Mark, Daisy, the house, the garden, the car and now next year’s holiday. Glyn hadn’t replied once and had stayed completely silent, staring ahead at the red taillights of the vehicles on the road ahead.
“Dad?” Glyn finally spoke.
“What? Do you think we should invite Margaret?”
“I didn’t kill Judith! I’ve never even been to her house! I…”
“SHUT UP!” his father bellowed in a deafening roar. “SHUT… UP!... SHUT… UP!” The car swerved as the steering wheel jerked in his hands. He had transformed instantly from a cheerful, chatty, carefree man into a snarling animal. “It didn’t happen!... You hear me!?... It didn’t happen!... Never EVER mention it again!... NEVER!”
(Chapter break here)
“Glyn!” Miss Skinner’s voice yelled in his ear.
“AHHH!” Glyn Southsea sat up with a start. He looked around him at the classroom; the white-board, the windows, the other students all staring at him. He took them in almost in disbelief.
Miss Skinner has left her place at the front of the class and had just jumped back in shock from Glyn’s table. “Dear me, Glyn! First you fall asleep in my class and then you deafen me.” She smiled in that sickly sweet threatening way that was her trademark. “Are there any other discourtesies you have waiting for me up your sleeve?"
The normality of his surroundings struck him dumb.
“No?... Then may I continue with this lesson?”
Glyn nodded his head.
She slowly strutted back to the whiteboard. “May I also suggest that you go to bed earlier in future, Glyn. Exams are coming up at the end of the term, or had you forgotten.”
Glyn looked down at his worksheet and tried to focus on it, but the dream he’d just had clung on to his mind. He’d often had this dream at night in bed, but this was the first time it had come to him while dozing during the day in class. The same came regularly now, several times a month. And where they came from he had no idea.
The dream was emotionally intense, powerful and highly lucid; as recurrences progressed more details had emerged. It began with Glyn walking across a plain of cracked, parched soil. The air was freezing cold, but it was also stale and arid. He was wearing only light outdoor clothing and so was shivering; his teeth chattered and his hands became numb. His mouth was caked from microscopic fines, wafted by the lightest of breezes into the air from the desiccated ground. He looked up into the sky; but there was no sky, just a ceiling of smog. It was grey and brown, mottled with cancerous streaks of black, from horizon to horizon. The lifeless sun clawed helplessly through the fume to emerge as a hazy splat of red; heatless and choked, as if drained by the effort it took to rise in the sky. Its height indicated that it was daytime, but the light was as dim as dusk.
Glyn looked at his surroundings. He was in a smooth shallow valley with a river at the bottom. The edges of the valley were lined by a pair of stone walls with buildings behind them. He was about fifty yards or so from the river and so walked closer to take a look. There was a dozen yards of cracked semi-solidified mud bordering the river, indicating that it was a tidal river, or a river that has just receded from a flood. The soil which displaced with the ease of sand under his shoes gave way to the mud. The mud was thin, pure and clean; there were no pieces wood, waterweed, insects or anything else mixed in with it. The water itself was black and looked viscous, more like oil than water. It gave off a foul stench, like sewage or chemicals, and it looked as lifeless as the mud. The river was only about twenty feet across. He turned away from the river and looked at the walls bordering the valley. They were a dozen or more feet high and looked like they were made of stone. They ran parallel to each other and at one point a few hundred yards along they both jutted out into two broken stumps of masonry directly opposite each other, as if they were the remains of a bridge that once crossed the river. There were tall buildings behind the walls that looked strangely familiar to Glyn despite the unearthly setting. He walked up the slope of the valley to get a closer look. There were no breaks in the wall, but at odd intervals there were flights of stone steps leading up to the top of it; Glyn approached one of them. For some reason the steps didn't quite reach the ground and ended about five feet above it. Glyn had to clamber up onto the bottom step before walking up the rest of them normally. When he reached the top he had a far better few of his surroundings. He stood still and looked around himself and recognized where he was. His heart was thumping and his blood ran far colder than it would have from just the low air temperature. He was standing on the Embankment of the River Thames in central London; everything so familiar, yet so horribly different. The river he'd seen was the Thames itself, shrunk to a mere trickle, a fraction of the size of its former flow. The walls bordering the valley had been the walls which lined both sides of the river as it passed through the metropolis. Around him were the enormous buildings that made up the vista of Westminster, but they were all derelict. Ahead of him were the Houses of Parliament with Big Ben towering over them, but the stone facade was crumbling and ruinous; the clock faces were gone leaving gaping black holes. The statue of Boudicca had been knocked off its pedestal (Good metaphoric symbolism!- Ed) and lay shattered on the ground. The stumps he'd seen were the remains of Westminster Bridge. Portcullis House was just a shell. Glyn picked his way across Victoria Embankment and turned the corner into Parliament Square. It wasn't an easy walk because the tarmac of the road was rent like pastry and covered with rubble. The lamp posts and traffic lights were rusty, all the windows were glassless. The gates to the Palace of Westminster had fallen off their hinges and lay on the ground like an ancient, oxidized (other syns of "rust", "rusty", rusting" etc- Ed) cattle grid. Glyn continued up Whitehall, but there was no end to the devastation. Along with the broken down buildings he saw vehicles in a similar state, wrecked rust buckets with cracked bare wheels. They were barely recognizable, but he could see that along with normal vehicles like cars, busses and vans he could also make out military hardware like tanks and mobile artillery, as if a great battle had been fought in the heart of London.
Glyn's foot bumped against what he thought was just another brick or rock, but when he looked down at it he screamed aloud in shock. It was a human skull, as dry and featureless as everything else in the vicinity. Now he'd noticed it once he watched the ground more closely and began to spot many more pieces of human skeleton, strewn around randomly as if by the wind; their ligaments and tendons perished. When he arrived at The Mall he saw that St James' Park was almost indiscernible. Its ground was the same desert soil as that of the river bed. It was clean, homogenous and totally sterile. All that was left of the trees were shattered stumps, worn down by time and the wind until they crumbled between Glyn's fingers. As he approached Buckingham Palace he noticed that the Victoria Memorial was covered in graffiti. There were no words, just images; they mostly consisted of repeated representations of what looked like two-legged dinosaurs, but they were partly humanoid as well. They were crudely carved or scratched with chalk on the cracked paving between the broken remains of the statues that had once decorated the monument. One of the rudimentary figures had an object on its head that resembled the monarch's crown.
Glyn walked swiftly down into Victoria. He had no idea where he was going or why; he just staggered on subconscious autopilot. He panted and coughed continuously, sometimes stopping to gag and spit phlegm onto the ground. It wasn't just dust from the river bed, he realized; the general air quality was very poor. The atmosphere was polluted with something and very musty. After a couple of hours walking through the devastated city he collapsed onto a concrete bench in what might have once been a park somewhere in Shepherd's Bush. He looked up and saw something unexpected looming above the horizon, something that was definitely not a part of the London skyline that he knew. It looked like a mountain rising in the distance to the west. From the way it shifted in parallax when he stood up and moved around while looking at it, he could tell that it was a long way away, and therefore was enormous. But Glyn knew that there were no mountains that high anywhere near London. He was struck by a curiosity that overcame his discomfort and he started searching for a place where he could better examine the phenomenon. Close by, there was a tall office building that rose above the rooftops of the houses. The door was off its hinges and so Glyn had no trouble entering and locating a stairwell. It was dark inside, but there was enough light coming from the bare windows to allow him to ascend. The stairs were concrete and remained solid and so he felt fairly safe as he rose up the storeys to the roof. There was another door beside the lift machinery which was locked but in poor condition. One blow from Glyn's foot burst it open. He stepped out onto the flat roofspace of the office block and stared at the mountain to the west. Its profile was extremely regular and smooth, more like a very large Egyptian pyramid than a natural mountain produced by geological action. In fact as he studied it harder he saw that it did have a squared elevation because he was slightly angled off one of the faces. The two visible sides were broken by a completely straight ridge at ninety degrees. The pyramid was crowned by a capstone, a fractal pyramid in miniature, about a tenth the size of the whole structure. Glyn screwed up his eyes and gazed hard at it; it was partly shrouded by grey smog, probably it was that which was making his breathing so difficult. The capstone of the pyramid was decorated by a picture of a large disembodied eye. He then also noticed that the capstone wasn't directly attached to the pyramid; there was a slight gap between the bottom of it and the main body of the structure. He could see no pillars or supports connecting the two; it was as if the capstone were a balloon hovering over a truncated flat top. Glyn descended the building and continued walking west, keeping his eye on the phenomenon. After another hour or two's hike he came across some tall residential tower blocks in Acton and decided to have another look at it. Climbing up the stairs was hard work and took Glyn a while but when he reached the top he had an unsurpassed view of west London.
The pyramid's apparent size was only slightly bigger than when he'd seen it in Shepherd's Bush. This made Glyn scratch his head at the thought of how big it was. It wasn't even standing in London at all, but far to the west of the metropolis in the heart of England. He was about to turn round and begin the long descent of the skyscraper when something else caught his eye. It was by now getting late in the evening and the sun was sinking low in the septic sky behind the pyramid. It was much darker than it had been earlier and Glyn saw something on the landscape beneath the pyramid that he'd not yet seen in this strange devastated world: artificial lights. There must have been human activity in the distance...
This was the point where Miss Skinner woke him up. His first thought was that he'd fallen off the top of the tower block, and he had yelled with vertigo before realizing where he was. He looked up from his worksheet and checked the clock. He'd only been in class half an hour; when had he dropped off? Whenever, there was no doubt that his dream had lasted far longer than the period of sleep he'd had. It had lasted hours, even an entire day, whereas he'd been physically asleep no more than a few minutes. He'd experienced this kind of time discrepancy in dreams before, but never to such an extreme. What did the dream mean? Where in his head did it come from? Why did the dream keep coming back to him? It was starting to make him feel almost afraid to go to sleep at night; and now he couldn't even avoid it while dozing through Miss Skinner's tedious analysis of Graham Greene.
Miss Skinner's narrative broke off as a large fly suddenly buzzed in through the window. She shrank back as it crossed the front of the classroom and thudded against the opposite window. The teacher continued her monologue while the fly butted itself manically against the pane, pushing itself with futile effort against the transparent wall, which its simple brain interpreted as empty space. The rasping of its wings was grating and obtrusive. Miss Skinner continued speaking for a minute or two, but she was clearly distracted by the fly; she kept pausing and looking around at it. Eventually she sighed and opened a drawer in her desk. She brought a fly-swatter and went over to the window. Miss Skinner was a short woman and the fly had moved to the top part of the window out of her reach. She turned and ran her gaze over her students. Somehow Glyn knew who would be chosen; Miss Skinner seemed to have some ulterior motive that he was sure was there but couldn't identify. "Glyn." she said. "Be a darling and whack this fly would you? I can't reach it."
Glyn stood up slowly and walked to the front of the class. The teacher was holding out the fly swatter towards him, offering it handle first. Glyn took it. It was a thin strip of flexible plastic with a square, orange blade made of a tight mesh to allow air to flow through it. He stepped over to the window and looked at the fly. It was still trying hard to pass through the glass of the pane. It flew back into the room and tried again with a run-up, bashing its head hard against the glass. It was high up, but within Glyn's reached. He raised the swatter to strike it a deadly blow. The fly looked sweet and pitiful in its confusion. It could obviously see the world beyond the window but couldn't understand why it simply could not reach it. It had no way to comprehend the invisible barrier that held it back.
"Go on, Glyn." prompted Miss Skinner.
Glyn raised the swatter again, but paused. "Miss?"
"Yes, Glyn?"
"There's no need to kill it; if you give me a glass and a piece of card and I can catch it and put it out of the window."
Miss Skinner smiled. "But, Glyn, I didn't ask you to catch it and put it out of the window. I asked you to swat it."
"But, Miss..."
"I asked you to swat this fly for me and you haven't done that yet. Is there a reason why you haven't done that yet that you would care to explain to me?"
"It's a living creature, Miss. It has a right to live. We shouldn't kill it when it would be very easy just to capture it in a glass and put it out of the window."
Miss Skinner's smile broadened. The sides of her mouth reached for her ears and her skin of her cheeks creased as it stretched. Her smooth white teeth glinted in the sunlight. When she next spoke her voice was as sweet and melodious as the chattering of a mountain stream. "I expect you misheard me when I asked you the first time. That's not a problem; it's no effort on my part repeat the request: Glyn, could you please swat this fly for me?... As an additional reassurance to verify that you understood what I said I shall repeat my request a third time: Glyn would you be so kind as to swat this fly for me. The only answer you need to respond with is 'yes' or 'no'."
"But, Miss..."
"The only response you need to give me is 'yes' or 'no'."
"Miss, I..."
"The only response you need to give me is 'yes' or 'no'."
Glyn paused. She stood looking at him with her hands neutrally by her sides, her beatific grin gleaming out of her countenance. He threw the swatter onto her desk. "No."
A flush of outrage filled her cheeks yet her expression didn't alter at all. She retrieved the fly swatter and turned to another boy on the nearest table. "Jonathan, would you be as kind as to swat this fly for me? I can't reach it."
"Sure, Miss." Jonathan jumped to his feet, took the weapon and slapped the window pane where the fly was trapped. The buzzing stopped and the insect's shattered body dropped to the parquet floor of the classroom. It lay there motionless. Jonathan handed the weapon back to the teacher and then returned to his seat.
"Thank you, Jonathan. Glyn, you may return to your seat to now too." she said.
Glyn walked back to his desk and slumped down in his chair. He felt that he'd throw up if he looked at Miss Skinner's smile again.
"Now that that awful noise has been stopped, thanks to Jonathan." she said with a minor chuckle. "Where were we? Oh yes; similarities and differences between Fred Hale and Henry Scobie..."
They came for him as soon as the lesson was over. Glyn was at the urinal in the toilets; Jonathan and four others, all boys from that class, walked in behind him. They must have followed him straight from the classroom. It was a totally different experience to being bullied in the junior years, firstly because that sort of thing happened much more rarely in the Sixth Form; secondly because of the manner of his assailants. There were no expressions of savagery or anger on their faces; no sense of sadistic enjoyment, despite the fact that this was the worst beating he'd ever had in his life. Their faces looked mournful and uncomfortable. There was a mixture of resolution and pity in the way they stared at him between raining blows with their fists and shoes; almost embarrassment, almost a hint of the apologetic. They looked like a group of men who had been burdened with a very unpleasant but essential task. Glyn's lip was split in three places, both his eyes blackened, two of his ribs cracked and his nose bled so much that he almost needed a transfusion at the hospital. His penis had still been hanging out through his open flies when he was attacked and he'd wet the entire front of his trousers with his urine. Glyn lay on the damp floor of the toilet and watched them from between his swollen eyelids as they dispassionately walked away. Jonathan looked back at him with a half smile that seemed to say: "This is for your own good, Glyn. We're only trying to help you."  No ambulance was called and he was just bundled into a taxi by Mr Kyle, who then shoved a five pound note into his hand before slamming the door. Nobody went with him. When he reached the hospital the meter read five pounds eighty and luckily Glyn had just enough of his own change in his pocket to make up the fare. When his parents arrived the first question they asked the doctor treating him was how much school time would he have to miss as the result of his injuries. They breathed an outward sigh of relief when the doctor replied: "Only a couple of days." The school did not mention the subject again; no letter was sent to the Southsea family and no investigations were carried out. When Glyn's black eyes had eased enough for him to see properly he was sent back to school and everybody acted as if nothing had happened.

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