Next evening, late, they heard the song and opened the door, the two boys, Hǫrðr, Emma and Little Nikki were there, the boys remained outside to push the door, supplies were carried inside, extra beds, packs, it was clear what their decision had been.
The door closed to and clicked and then an extraordinary undercutting of the Faroese reserve was seen – Emma came straight to Hugh and Nikki and hugged them both, then to Jean-Baptiste and made those noises only mothers can make which delight a child and Jean-Baptiste was not only intrigued, he liked what he saw, he reached out and touched Emma’s face, which in turn delighted her.
Good start. Hugh raced for the bottle[s] and poured into the three old and one new glass, they all came up to the platform and toasted to the next few months and to friendship.
The airbeds were pumped up, the bedding laid out, they all lay on beds and here was one small problem – Emma knew only rudimentary English but passable French, so French became the lingua franca, to Nikki’s delight.
The plan was pretty well as Gabriella had mentioned – they were to wait until 02:00 next morning – so not too much drinking now – at which point they would leave here and two other boys would occupy the room – that was not their concern. Their own little group would then quickly go down to the river and board a long rowing shell, they would transfer to a sailing smack further on and would finally join a motorized fishing smack and that’s when the danger would begin.
They must be prepared to hide – Nikki now filled them in on their last experience of this.
‘So, we know what will happen,’ concluded Hǫrðr. ‘We spend this time now getting to know each other.’
Emma was a fine looking woman of about 32, Hǫrðr maybe 45, so there was a gap there as well, Little Nikki was a bit over 2 years old, a toddler and the two toddlers were now getting acquainted. So far it seemed all right.
They were strong, the Faroese, and though Emma was not solid, she had that same wiry strength that Nikki possessed. For their part, they liked what they saw, the two were as Hǫrðr had described, it augured well.
Hǫrðr now spoke of the broadcast, how they had cut the latest news into that two minute slot, it had gone down a treat.
There was not really a lot to report about the journey itself – much fear, stinking fish, inspections, sneaky re-inspections but as Hǫrðr pointed out, they do this all the time on spec, they were not particularly expecting the four travellers, nothing would have come through in despatches – either through the influence of Gabriella or just through the law of chance and now – here they were inside yet another redoubt in the Scottish highlands – and it was an astonishing redoubt.
It was one of maybe two hundred in the area, smugglers’ hidey-holes from days of yore, details perhaps passed on by one generation to another through the centuries, long after the excisemen had gone and to look across the top of it, it didn’t exist, it was nothing more than a field – there was nothing but boggy field and that was it.
The entrance and exit were separate, maybe four hundred yards apart, the entrance could be discovered should anyone tramp onto those fields and examine the area with a magnifying glass – the exit, their escape route, hadn’t been opened for decades, maybe a century or more. But it was very real and could be used.
The way the hatches were approached, bizarrely, wasbareback on some tame red deer. The deer roamed wild here anyway and theirs were expected tracks, plus those of a few walkers who happened by. It had worked for centuries, it worked now and here they were – inside, having negotiated the narrow passages, earth propped up by repaired timber, which was a bit of a worry.
Modern times had seen a combination of heat reflective awnings and overlaid glass panels put into the upper level to stop thermal imaging and humans kept to the lower level for living. There was a manual on one of the tables, with an article by https://preparednessadvice.com/security/avoid-thermal-imaging-devices/ on the difficulty of preventing thermal imaging:
‘There is no absolute certain way to defeat infrared, but there are some techniques that make detection more difficult.
One of the most effective methods to block IR is to conceal behind glass. Glass is opaque to thermal imaging. It is not a practical solution, though, due to the obvious impracticality of carrying around a pane of glass, or constructing your walls and ceiling out of glass.
A simpler and still effective method to block IR is an ordinary ‘space blanket’ or thermal blanket of Mylar foil. The foil will block the IR heat signature behind it. A problem, though, is that whatever it is that you are attempting to conceal, its heat will either build up inside to an unbearable degree or it will escape ‘somewhere’, which will then be visible to IR imagers. Concealment, for the most part, will be temporary without elaborate mechanisms to disperse the heat signature.
For a quick temporary method of IR concealment, throw a blanket over yourself. A thick woollen blanket will help defeat thermal imaging. Covering with a layer of insulation, the heat is blocked (or partially blocked) so that it doesn’t radiate. This is only temporary concealment as the heat builds beneath the blanket, but it may work long enough to conceal during a quick TI scan or Drone flyover.’
The article went on with other good advice but then it gave a warning:
‘When you are hiding your heat signature with a Mylar space blanket or by other means, under certain conditions, your signature may look ‘too cold’ to an IR scan of the area (an extra dark outline, or a ‘black hole’), which may make you detectable.’
Hǫrðr and Hugh now went through the entire complex and noted how great care had been taken to allow this ‘escape’ of heat into the holes running off the main rooms, but spaceblanket strips attached the edges of glass to the walls – someone had taken inordinate care down there. Someone recent.
The only thing which did not really suit modern tastes was the system of ablution and waste disposal. Yet modern materials had come to the rescue here as well and holding tanks were dotted through the far walkways to the furthest hatch, only used in emergency evacuations.
There was a year’s supply of dried and salted venison and beef from down south. Same with vegetables. Fresh was brought on rare occasions when the weather seemed inclement and the circumference of the hatch would once again slop over once closed again.
Light was artificial and lanterns had been replaced by low level LEDs, Vitamin D tablets were taken. In the old days, two months was reckoned the longest practical time in one of these redoubts, in modern times, it was reckoned to be about five or six months, though the food would last twelve.
Humans are adaptable. Babies are even more adaptable.
They had the washing and waste disposal down to a fine art, they exercised both sexually and non-sexually, Gabriella or whoever it had been had paired these two couples well because Emma had a slightly religious bent, she was receptive to a Gabriella figure, they were all fairly laid back in their situation, they all liked board games, the two women had a routine going for the children, education was ongoing and this took care of mothers and babies, sometimes the men.
The men, as men always like to imagine themselves doing, were looking to the security of the entire complex, thinking through things each day, conversing – they were happy enough and the women said nothing about giving it away now, boys, because it got those boys out of their hair for sometimes an hour or more. Girls needed girls talk as well.
In fact, as Nikki mentioned that evening, this might have been the happiest time they’d had in many a long year. She knew it could not last, so it was important just to relax and enjoy it all now. She expressed that physicality now in one of her more outrageous displays of how to use a female mouth on a male member … and he gave just as good.
They’d talk , play with the children, spend hours on the board games.
Into this one night – it was night according to the clocks – into this, came Gabriella, she nodded with approval at what was going on and did her half hovering/sitting again in the central area, waiting, as the four made themselves half decent, robed and joined her. Hǫrðr poured some drinks for all except Gabriella.
‘I have come to answer more of your big questions,’ she smiled – she really did have a sense of humour – ‘the smaller ones you seem to have taken care of. Ask.’
‘How long do we have to ask?’ asked Hǫrðr.
‘As long as it takes to answer.’
‘The obvious one then – how long are we down here?’
‘You are a team of two couples but those two couples will separate at the end of the winter out there. The winter signifies nothing any more for you four but it is a marker, a point in time.
Hugh and Nicolette have a purpose they must move onto and it involves some of their former work – this is why they have been been chosen for the task. They can refuse, that is always on offer, but they will see the lie of the land.
I cannot speak of that now because it has not been fully told to me. When it is, I shall return and explain. When I speak of you both, I naturally include Jean-Baptiste in that.
To you, Hǫrðr and to Emma and Little Nikki, you will not stay here either, you cannot sustain life here after the winter – you will move back to your homeland, a journey then without peril but at the same time – the landscape will horrify you and it will be nearing the end of life.’
‘Explain please,’ said Emma.
‘Order in the world has now almost finished, there are no ordered governments, there is no one searching for you, the reason you are down here is because there are still marauders in their final days, they will kill first and steal, they have lost reason.
You might think this the start of a new era of innocence, green grass and the sun’s warmth. I must tell you that that is not so and you will see it that day you put your head above ground again. You have already seen the strange weather, smelt the dead bodies from afar – picture this multiplied, and this is only up here. Those in any centres down south are in a living hell, even now, in dire fear of being murdered and worse.’
‘Why? Why is this so?’ asked Nikki.
‘Throughout history, there has been a path man could have taken upwards, a good path, but there was also an enemy. I shall not explain further about that now. Suffice to say that this has been almost from the start. You are in a linear timeframe, your time moves forward, hence I speak of the end of winter. But in another dimension, it does not work this way. It works on preconditions being right for things to happen.
This enemy is trying to prevent these preconditions. It’s not unlike a seed in the ground – there must be the nutrients, the rain, the aspect, the sun, many things. When I use the expression ‘the time is not right’, I do not mean it is not right ‘yet’ – ‘yet’ has no meaning to us. I mean that is simply not right at that point.
Man strayed from his path. He did have a path, he had sets of precepts to follow and yet he chose not to. Some decades ago, many around the world knew right from wrong, knew not to kill, steal, lie, cheat, not to covet, not to step beyond a way to behave – Hugh and Nicolette have not always followed it.
Out there, false teachers have suggested other things are possible, are sustainable, things which are not – not for the human organism and so you see what is out there. The enemy you refer to could do little were it not for the folly of human beings who stray from the path, the natural path. Your next question is perhaps the biggest of all.
Perhaps the best way to put this is that humans created portals which were once closed off. Let me think of some examples from your popular culture. Do you remember a film called the Mummy?’ They all smiled. ‘Good. In that, they woke that which should not have been woken – why? Curiosity, arrogance that they could control what they found perhaps. They could not control it.
Another example of film – do you remember the third Terminator movie about Skynet? They invented something which they could not control. Do you know of Artificial Intelligence? Would that you don’t, as it is another portal. All of these things should not be, they are not part of normal society and they are portals for the enemy.
Why does Someone who created this world allow all this to happen? The answer is what you call ‘free will’, the ability to choose, without which you are robots. Animal species, even the higher orders, also do not have much choice, except it be bound by and guided by instinct. The human has total choice. He can know something is destructive and instead of instinctively avoiding it, some wild passion in him will do it, knowing it to be destructive.’
‘Are we in some sort of social experiment down here?’ asked Hugh.
‘You are ‘down here’ because you made choices in another place and you ended up here. You were given a paradise in your own terms, possibly not in ours, and if you had controlled your passions, you could still have had that.’
‘You mean sins of the fathers and that sort of thing?’
‘I cannot explain all that because the equipment in your minds, in your souls, cannot compute it – you must needs refer back to your own senses and reasoning processes and they always stop short of understanding. This will all be explained to Hugh and Nicolette in time, in another dimension, but they themselves must go through a transformation first before they can comprehend it.
All that is important for you four to do now is to live as you have finally learnt to, in a sustainable way for this last time period and being down here will protect you from those out there who have refused to follow the natural path.’
‘Phew,’ breathed Hugh. ‘that’s heavy.’
‘You are not alone, I am referring to the marauders. The people, like you, who have chosen to escape by finally doing right – there are many such people dotted about the earth, all in redoubts like this.
Your family is vital to you – your children – for reasons other than the obvious ones of comfort, from a sense of fulfilment, from a feeling of having completed a task. All of those are important of course but there are aspects outside the temporal as well – conception and birth are not just events, they are points of metaphysical movement for us, they are markers which we out here respond to.
It’s far too much for me to try to explain here and now. There is a second death you see, one which is far more real and permanent and your actions and thoughts here do affect that. Various faiths have tried to explain this, they get hold of part of it and go with that part.’
‘Clear as mud,’ said Hugh.
‘Could we,’ asked Nikki, ‘have got here now without having to go through that airship business?’
‘Yes and no. I could have taken you with me but you are not as I am, you would not have returned and it was not your time for this. I explained at the start – the conditions must all be present for something to happen in our dimension, that is the be-all-and-end-all. If even one condition is not present, then it does not happen.’
‘Like the big bang,’ asked Hǫrðr.
‘The big bang, yes,’ she smiled. ‘I really do like human beings.’
‘Is it the end of time?’ This was Emma.
‘Yes and no. Not today of course, nor next month nor the next for you but yes – this period is coming to a close in your linear terms, for this earth in its current form. Yes. But not for the universe of course.’
‘Is it toxic for us out there now?’ asked Hǫrðr. ‘Can you tell us that?’
‘Yes it is toxic. As you know, Scotland and north of here – your Faroes for example – they are better for air than around the Equator and in Europe, where people are dying of diseases, respiratory failure, heart failure and it has not gone below ground yet. You have months. But you know that air patterns, currents too, are global and those conditions are coming here by degrees. It would not be good for you to stand out and look at that water today – you would start having problems and there is one more thing.
The food supply is ended. You have a year’s food down here but the supply has ended. Your helpers are not coming any more, they are not well, marauders have found them, many things. Because you are down here, you do not fully appreciate what it is like out there. Do you put your heads in a gas oven, just to see what it’s like?’
‘It’s weird,’ said Nikki, ‘it’s a very strange feeling.’
‘Not as weird as that which is coming to you both not long from now,’ Gabriella reminded them, softly. ‘The four of you are currently being artificially sustained, yes. And now, are there any more questions?’
‘There probably are and we’ll think of them after you go,’ rued Emma.
‘Of course,’ smiled Gabriella. ‘I shall now take my leave but you are not abandoned, do not think this.’
And she was gone.
‘Does she always do that?’ asked Hǫrðr.
‘Yes,’ answered Nikki and Hugh together.
Geneviève sat slumped against a damp wall, stained black over the years, on the inside of the old garage she’d managed to secure as a dwelling. It wouldn’t even be a question of time now until they came for her – there was no government any more, there were no security forces.
There was only the mob.
A mob in her her own Barbizon and they’d slaughtered the men in uniforms wherever they’d found them. The remaining forces had stayed loyal for some time, being dragged from their vehicles and bludgeoned to death but then the majority had shed those uniforms.
This is what they had sailed through countless bodies for, near Trueville, until she had thrown up over the side. This is what they had finally made it back to her home town for, to see her home demolished, vandalized and all that she’d held dear now gone.
The cars and motorcycles pouring south from Paris had met the same procession of vehicles from other cities coming north, coming west, going nowhere, nowhere to go. The roads were clogged, the roads were potholed where the central government had first let them slide into ruin as policy and later the regional governments had devoted all resources to the Great Work of Ages, while irrelevances like sanitation, food and water had been completely forgotten.
Jean-Claude hadn’t been seen as an enemy, he hadn’t been seen as a friend. He’d been eating bread, openly, in the street. The fool. The mob had surrounded him and hadn’t even attacked him. The sheer numbers had weighed against him, he’d stumbled, the motorcycle had been trying to find a way through and had seen a gap.
That was it.
She’d been a fool herself to come outside and see what was happening.
She’d seen him fall, she’d screamed. It had taken her an hour to drag him through the mass of people, a steady stream going one way but meeting the tide the other way. People had fallen over her and sworn at her in language she’d never had spoken to her in her entire life, not even from Pierre.
It had been the language of the gutter, it had been guttural, it had been unpleasant.
Here was Jean-Claude at her feet now. She was paralyzed, not knowing which way to turn, not knowing what to do, not knowing even where the bread had come from. She’d been so hungry, so hungry and he’d gone out to scavenge and she’d reached inside his jacket when she’d got him into the garage and she’d taken the two petits-pain, the one which sat by the wall with her now, plus the one she’d just eaten while looking at her dead husband, ravaging it like an animal.
There was one petit-pain left now. One petit-pain and Jean-Claude, her husband.
She could not confront the guilt, she could not even start to confront it. She had to do something with her husband, her emotions were already drained and she’d already wept for two hours. She was a better person than this and now she had to lay Jean-Claude somewhere in the garage and let him rest, without the mob coming in and disturbing his rest.
She’d seen the spot for hours now but it hadn’t registered – a long coal box and now she saw a long bar and the lock came off quite easily. There was a layer of coal inside, halfway up and now the worst part came. He was still able to be moved and she had to place her arms under his and lift him. She kissed him and spoke for some minutes, then heaved. He balanced on the edge of the box and then fell in of his own accord.
Two bags went over his upper half, she took one last look and closed the box quietly.
So here she was again now, slumped on the floor of the garage, back against the box and she felt his presence as if he were alive. Her clothes, always so neat, so clean, were a mess. Her hose was torn in places and her ageing calves were open to the world, her thigh in places too. Her skirt was still in good condition, apart from the oil staining it at the hem. Her flat shoes were all right. How her hair looked, she didn’t want to know.
It never occurred to her not to survive. It never occurred to her to take her own life and lie there with her husband. It was a wicked thing to take your own life, especially as life had been cheapened. If they’d died together, fine. If she’d died, then she would not want him to sacrifice himself this way – they’d already spoken of such things.
She looked across the garage, at the small hole in the roof telling her that there were still two hours of light to go.
The petit-pain was on the floor over there and she was past caring.
Nikki felt it about the same time as Hugh.
Both sat up bolt upright in bed and looked at one another. ‘Yes, I think so, Moineau. I think it very much might have been. And you know, I’d never have thought it possible to feel that.’
‘Do we know who?’
He shook his head. ‘I’d put money on Gabriella appearing now.’
She didn’t. She was quite busy at that time – there was no immediate danger here, that would come later.
‘Bad feeling, Bebe – I think it was Mademoiselle and Jean-Claude. There were two, weren’t there, though they seem to have been at different times.’
Tears came to her eyes. ‘It’s horrible.’
‘It may have been a release for them.’
Sophie felt it but Sam did not.
‘Someone’s died, two people. One died not well, one in peace. It’s not Hugh and Nikki.’
‘The other two members of that Section?’
‘It may be so. It seems that way. I owe much to that lady, it’s very sad.’
‘How are you feeling inside now – yourself I mean, not because of this?
‘Like you, the cough is worse, I feel I’m being eaten from inside. Jan and Marit too. They haven’t come with the supplies, those people, two times now. I’m beginning to think this is it, Sam. Little Nikki is not well.’
Anya felt it but she didn’t know them well. Still, she felt it and it wasn’t Hugh and Nicolette.
She herself was in a bad way – the lesions were worse but not as bad as on her mother. Other members of this family were dead in there and no one had moved them, they couldn’t.
Since Massimo had died – consumption they’d called it but it was not – there was no point but to sit out on this low stone wall.
And waste away. The food inside the building had now come to an end – near enough anyway. Sludge and smell were around her feet, wrecking her Pradas.
They were playing whist in the redoubt and Emma had made the point that though all that was happening out there, though they were very sorry for everyone, especially their families, they had to live on – there were two children who understood none of it and so they all had to live on. The children were the key.
Nikki agreed and they were playing with some gusto when she suddenly felt a jolt inside and so did Hugh, they both dropped their cards, which pretty well ended the game, and staggered over to their bed.
‘Something’s happening,’ said Nikki and she did not mean anything physical inside them. It’s all right though, did you feel that?’ he nodded. The other two brought chairs over and asked what was wrong.
‘Our best friends … and I think Gabriella may be with them.’
Hugh explained about Sophie and Sam, about Scotland, about how they’d parted, why they’d parted.
Then they both felt it was the end, the game finished, they went to bed and Jean-Baptiste went with them. The other two thought it time to go and lie down themselves.
Gabriella lifted her hand from Little Nikki’s forehead and it was over. She’d eased Sophie’s and Little Nikki’s way across, as she had done with Genevieve, but it had been too late for Sam and Jean-Claude – at least they were all safely across now.
She was well aware that Hugh and Nicolette had felt it, and also her presence. She must go there now and explain.
The two Faroese saw Gabriella appear first and had a feeling it would be so. She came over to them first and slightly bowed, then returned to the other three, touching each of their foreheads in turn.
They’d been dozing and Jean-Baptiste continued to – Nikki looked across at him, then at Gabriella. She made to get up, Gabriella indicated it was better they stay in bed.
‘I felt you feel it, I knew I had to come here.’
‘It was … easy?’ asked Hugh.
‘For Jean-Claude – no. For Sam – no. The atmosphere is poisonous, I explained. I could not get there in time, I can’t … be everywhere.’ There was bitter regret in her voice.
‘You move fast enough, we’re not complaining. Let our friends come over and hear this.’
Gabriella turned and invited them, they got up, donned robes and brought chairs. They looked at Hugh, he nodded and Gabriella touched Little Nikki’s forehead.
‘They’ll wake up better for it later, minus sniffles and aches,’ said Nikki. ‘So, please explain.’
‘Samuel had expired, I was too late as I said. Sophie Magdalena and Little Nikki were not well. She was in her mother’s arms, sitting on her lap. I placed a memory of you, Hugh, into her head and touched her forehead. She passed over and Sophie Magdalena saw this.
She asked me, ‘Why do you do this, if you know I am the enemy?’
‘Because I must,’ I replied. She nodded at that. I asked if she was ready. She nodded again and said thank you. I touched her forehead.’
‘I wish we could go like that,’ Emma looked at Hǫrðr.
‘You both have a task,’ replied Gabriella, ‘and I will be right there. Just as Hugh and Nicolette do but it is not the time yet to explain it – that will come.’ They did not even question it but just smiled.
‘Jean-Claude and Genie?’ asked Hugh.
‘It was not good. They had taken themselves out of my sphere of protection, to a place where there was only death. They saw the horror as none of you have. Bodies in the water by their boat, pestilence, the mobs, senseless murder. And yet they wanted to see that town of Barbizon one last time.’
‘So do I,’ said Nikki, bitterly.
‘Can you accept you would not have survived it? Not with Jean-Baptiste? That you both might not have even made it that far into France? Can you not see that?’ Nikki sighed and knew that that was so. ‘Were they in pain?’
‘Not pain as such, they were sick as Sophie Magdalena and Sam were but far worse – terminal. They had some petits-pains.’ She explained that and how Genevieve had ‘buried’ Jean-Claude.
Nikki broke down, Gabriella touched her again and it helped.
‘What … what will we do?’ asked Hǫrðr.
‘As you have been doing, as was explained, nothing has altered. You will live beyond the time of living … then it will be time for you.’
‘Is there no chance at all the earth will recover?’ asked Emma, ‘as it always has done?’
‘None. Now I’m sorry but I must go, there are places I must be.’ And she was gone again.
They lay and sat, not moving. Then the children woke and it was time to get to work.
Over Har Megiddon, the air was thick with acrid smoke, sparks, debris and a sickening smell, the smell of death that one can only imagine, never having previously experienced it. It had to have been the smell of Auschwitz and Belsen, of Beslan, of the crematorium, of that sickly sweetness exuding from all.
God’s creation was wracking itself to pieces and mankind, in its swaying multitudes in the valley, was being slaughtered wholesale.
In Jerusalem, far down the catacombs linking the Temple Mount and the room where a little man sat, came a hubbub of human voices but due to the nature of the corridors, the echoes reverberated and came back on one another. It did seem to be getting louder, the man was wringing his hands and he trembled.
Now the sound was immediate and then a dozen troops appeared, holding automats, scouring this chamber and many others leading off it, before taking position by the walls. A group of suited men now entered and behind them were women in black garb with head scarves and carrying orbs with geometric designs cut into them.
Now appeared, flanked either side by men in robes, the Prince himself, in striped suit and wearing a withered rose in his lapel.
He saw the alcove, saw the ark, ordered it taken down and placed in the middle of the floor. His accolytes bowed under the weight.
He ordered the lid removed.
Four men came forward with crowbars, a fifth with a cordless drill.
After some considerable time, the Prince waved them away.
He bent his eyes to the lid and exerted all his power, all his might, all his majesty to the task. The lid of the ark did not budge. Quietly but with smouldering eyes, he looked about the room at those who’d witnessed his shame, a wave of energy radiated and all fell to the floor, stone dead.
He turned on his heel and stormed out of the chamber.
In the redoubt, things had got back to some semblance of normality. They’d resumed the game of whist and Emma was showing she was quite the little gamester – they were well on the way to their third rubber.
It was when they had finished, had had a nightcap and had retired to their beds which, for privacy, were set around the corner in the next space, when the children had finally dispensed with the toys, which went back in the box, that the first discordant notes had come.
It hadn’t been that way in the opening month but now something had altered in the way Emma acted in [cough] doing that and it woke them at night, it also impinged on their own lovemaking.
He put it to Nikki that they use the old cassette recorder they’d found, along with some large batteries in a box. She tumbled to it but was loathe to do it.
‘How else can we show them, love?’
‘But is it fair, when our own noise is not recorded?’
‘No but do we not wish them to stop this? If we just say it, it just gets them angry.’
Next morning, after a breakfast produced for once by the men, they all sat around and Hugh opened.
‘Hǫrðr, Emma, you are our dearest friends.’ Being direct people, they took it that way and had not picked up on any subtlety. ‘May I ask a question? What do you do, the Faroese, if you have something delicate you must say?’
‘Something which it is not easy to say, something which might make you embarrassed, and us?’
‘We come out and say it.’
‘Yes, I thought you might probably say that. All right, let me ask you a direct question and we need a direct answer – come out and say it please, we will not be offended. When Nikki and I make love,’ he gulped, ‘are we too loud?’ Emma was already getting the idea but Hǫrðr was oblivious – or at least he was pretending to be, probably in order to defend Emma.
‘You certainly enjoy it very much,’ said Emma, ‘if that’s what you mean. But I think I know what you are referring to.’
‘Well I don’t,’ said Hǫrðr and he was not happy about this. This was going to make it doubly difficult and Emma saw that.
‘Please tell us the things we do which annoy you, make you uncomfortable,’ said Nikki.
‘Sometimes the songs to Jean-Baptiste at night wake us up, Hugh also snores but so does Hǫrðr.’
‘Not as bad as me,’ admitted Hugh, ‘and we will try to correct that for you.’
Emma knew exactly what was coming up now and she was both bemused by the extreme difficulty the two were having coming out with it but she also knew Hǫrðr would try to defend her honour, no matter what. She was ready and she said, ‘Tell us, Nikki, get to the point, which I already know by the way.’
‘Would you be very, very angry with us,’ said Nikki, ‘if we said we had recorded your lovemaking last night?’
‘Recorded?’ Hǫrðr did not understand, Emma did though and she explained in their language.
‘But Nikki,’ said Emma, ‘Hǫrðr is very quiet.’
‘Yes,’ said Hugh, ‘he is.’
Hǫrðr was not sure he liked this now and wanted to know what those two were getting at. Emma spoke to him sharply and clearly told him, in their language, to change his attitude and let this thing run its course. ‘Go on, Nikki, let us hear this – it should be fun.’
‘Ah you sure?’
‘Yes, yes, let us hear it. I would like to hear myself.’
Hugh brought over the recorder, wound the tape back just a bit and pressed play. Hǫrðr was barely audible, nor was Emma but then something happened, something Hǫrðr did differently and it changed Emma.
She now came in as though she were riding a rodeo horse, was one of the Valkyries or whatever, whooping and hollering and it blasted through the room, Hǫrðr reached out and pressed stop, then went to leave in high dudgeon on behalf of his wife but she knew him of old and told him to sit down, told him quite sternly in fact.
She was smiling. ‘The point is made – Hugh’s snoring and my lovemaking are worst I think? We will make adjustments and no doubt Hugh and you will too.’
Hǫrðr was not a happy man but then Emma had another stern word and she must have threatened him, he asked her the equivalent of, ‘No, you wouldn’t, surely?’ she nodded.
He gave a little laugh and said, ‘All right, Hugh, you win this one.’
‘Hǫrðr, I do apologize, we just did not know how to do it.’ He offered his hand and it was taken.
‘We do like our sex though, don’t we, all of us?’ giggled Emma.
Hugh jumped up to make the coffee.
It was Emma who came out with it. ‘We have Christmas coming, it is Advent from today. We must make the calendar.’
‘What is your tradition, Emma?’ asked Nikki.
‘We make an Advent calendar either for every day or we can do it for the Sunday – Sondag, Dimanche. But we make the tree now and celebrate throughout December until the 24th, when we have a big meal and read Luke 2.’
‘Anyone have a Bible?’ asked Hugh.
‘I do,’ said Emma, ‘a small one,’ as if that were relevant. ‘We make decorations for the tree and this tree stays up for this time period.’
‘We have no tree,’ said Hǫrðr.
‘We make it,’ said Hugh ‘or we use something else. I know, we use our empty bottles – we have about 30 of these and we have glue, we have string.’
‘This is the men’s job,’ declared Nikki, ‘they will produce this tree and we will put the decorations on it. Do we have coloured paper?’
‘We have glue,’ said Hugh.
‘Yes we do,’ said Emma, ‘I kept our wrappers from our food. We cut them in strips and make a chain from them.’ Nikki excitedly agreed, ‘Yes we used to do that too. This will be fun.’
‘And we can make other decorations too.’ Emma was about to launch into ideas and so was Nikki when Emma suddenly said, ‘But these are our traditions. What are yours?’
‘We have Noël. We do letters to Father Christmas from the children, we make a Nativity crib for the baby, let’s not worry about Father Slapper, we do much of what you said just now.’
‘And we do too. It’s all fine,’ said Hugh. ‘Let the ladies be the directors. We will make a beautiful Christmas Eve meal.’
‘Good,’ almost shouted Emma, ‘so let’s get to work!’
The two men looked at each other and that look said it all – they wanted their women happy because it meant the children were happy and therefore – they were allowed peace and a certain happiness too. No one was going to rock the boat on this project.
Emma was already heavily into the project and Nikki now joined her. In Emma, she recognized a younger her, Nikki, and liked what she saw.
In the Valley of Jezreel to the north of Haifa, there was total war. The army from the east had arrived across two dry river beds – the Tigris and Euphrates – the armies from the north, the EU was there, that from Russia and further south, around Jerusalem, was the United States. The British had not been able to make up their minds.
A large number saw a terrible beauty in lives expiring, hacked to pieces by metal under the offensive pall above them. With no hope still extant, they were like prize fighters at the end of fifteen rounds – striking out on autopilot.
Moving through the skies above were vast creatures with unrecognizable forms and yet recognizable in their origin and to them, it was all as it should have been, the triumph of the light.
Now appearing over the area, slowly becoming visible in the perma-night, were orbs, giant orbs the size of football stadia, moving into position along the via Maris and stretching all the way round to Jerusalem.
Ankle deep in putrifying blood, friend and foe alike paused and now trained their weapons on the orbs, the bombardment commenced, constant, never ending, having not the least effect, except maybe to cause them to strategically shift slightly, one way or the other, higher or lower and then to hold their position.
All that the men and women, bereft of reason, the children and old people who’d been press-ganged into replacing the fallen – all that they knew was that this was the greatest threat they’d faced yet, even possibly their very extinction. In every one of these phenomena there was menace and killing was the only instinctive reaction against a menace.
Mid December, 2013
The redoubt looked a treat. The tree of bottles was made, the chains were draped across, the decorations over them, a cross topped the tree, not a star, stars being too difficult to make and secure there, the children were absolutely delighted by all the fuss and pretended to help.
‘We’re not worried about a cross on top of drink bottles?’ asked Hugh, smiling. ‘No? Fine, fine.’
They’d given away the Advent calendar because they had no presents to give and thought was now being given to who would give what to whom on the Eve itself. The music was fine – they had an old cassette in English of carols and they played one a day and sang it, teaching it to the children.
The alcohol would hold out. They’d decided not to do mulled wine but just wine – it was OK.
The men had made a small crib and some iffy shepherds and wise men from dolls but Little Nikki would not give her pride and joy up, so that was that. They weren’t going to use one of the dolls as a baby Jesus as it was felt it wasn’t right but they would draw and cut a baby from paper and put that in there.
They put up a two metre long ‘mantelpiece’ on the wall with the ‘tree’ at one end, made cards and put them on – the board was screwed into the rock and string held the ends, leading to wall hooks above.
Preparations went on.
Christmas Eve, 2013
Sick to death of tinned meat, they still had some dried lamb left and this would be the Christmas main dish but the vegetables would still be tinned.
The last of the case of lemons would be used up today, the last of the powdered milk – of everything else they seemed to have enough. There was coffee aplenty for some reason, water was still not an issue.
The scene was like something out of the 50s in a nicer west than it was now. Two blankets were a rug for the children to play on, toys had also been made by the men from wood and the women from paper – children are adaptable, as they’d observed many times and they were having a wail of a time, mothers still having to be close by to complete the mood. The men had it far easier in their ability to roam.
The tree was laden, they’d wrapped some things in paper, mainly foodstuffs the children liked, but in saying that this was to be a traditional Christmas, their own experiences would have told them it might not be – something from out there might still come along to wreck it for the two families.
Hugh hoped there really was some sort of avenging of all that was happening out there because it was just not on in his book.
It must have been a good two hours into the morning festivities and about to eat one of their two meals when they heard the thump, the huge bang above the redoubt, like New Year fireworks only far louder, hundreds of times louder, then another – bang.
And a bit later, not at regular intervals – bang.
Bang! A particularly bad one this time but of course – not directly on them.
They looked at one another and decided to ignore it, to just celebrate, but Little Nikki began crying and Jean-Baptiste had tears in his eyes. Their mothers picked the two of them up and rocked them in their arms, Nikki sang some Christmas ditties she knew in French, alternating with Emma’s Faroese carols.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Then a tearing sound.
The men were angry at those bastards out there and tried to contain this, Nikki and Emma sang earnestly, the men now tried to play down the situation by toasting to their women, the women raised their glasses and the men handed around the plates – it was a smorgasbord of cold cuts this meal.
Gabriella appeared, quite flustered compared to her usual manner, Hugh offered her a wine and she smiled – no but thank you.
They defiantly launched into Joy to the World which Hugh had just put on the player.
Thump! The very ground shook.
Gabriella held off until the carol was over and said, ‘My employer will appreciate that by the way. The enemy know you’re in the area. This is not local, this is from an airbase in the south – they have to kill off any they suspect are still alive.
I’m afraid the time is here, the six of you, earlier than we had hoped. Hǫrðr, Emma and Little Nikki will remain here for now – you’re safe enough but I shall return and take them to greater safety later. Despite the noise and despite bombs penetrating quite deeply nearby, this will cease. Al lthe same, it is Hugh and Nikki who are causing this in a strange way I cannot explain and they must depart.
I’m afraid you are in for a shock, Hugh and Emma. We cannot afford to take you out of here the regular way and airlift you or anything like that, not any more, that is all finished.
I’m afraid you must come with me now, the way I move about and that is going to mean a slight change in form for the three of you which will render it impossible for you and Hǫrðr’s family to communicate any further.
‘Can we not just have our dessert of tinned fruit?’ asked Hugh.
‘Hǫrðr, Emma and Little Nikki can, you three though must come with me now. They will have yours for you and will toast to you three … also to me.’
Those three nodded, dumbfounded. ‘They will also pray.’ Emma in particular nodded.
‘But we haven’t packed, what shall we take?’ wailed Nikki.
‘Gabriella, come on,’ protested Hugh, ‘be fair, it’s Christmas Eve.’
She sighed. ‘Hugh, Nicolette, I am part of Christmas do not forget. Prepare Jean-Baptiste, say farewell to the others, we go in ten minutes of your time.’
They raced to get Jean-Baptiste ready, whatever that meant.
It probably meant the papoose, Jean-Baptiste was strapped onto Nikki’s back, kisses, hugs, handshakes and the right words followed in a rush and then they were gone.
Hǫrðr continued just to gaze at Emma, she at him and she finally said, ‘So that is how the Rapture is done – they just disappear like that.’