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Under the Tide of Sleep by Ross MacDonald

© Ross MacDonald

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Under the tide of sleep

Chapter 1 – THE DOCTOR

It was the end of history and the world shrugged.

The last count had ended at 1,000 and he’d heard the gasps when they’d finished. One thousand humans left alive. For him, for all of them, it was the magic number. Back in the Before, one thousand was the commonly accepted number that meant humanity had reached a critical mass – it would face its own extinction.

There would no longer be enough people of child-rearing age to reproduce, nor enough able bodies to find food, water and shelter, instead humanity would suffer a slow, lingering death.

History hadn’t ended with a bang. It hadn’t been like the quaint stories of the 20th Century had predicted, with nuclear bombs, asteroids or aliens. Looking back now the Doctor realised just how efficient it had been. The rise of AI on the planet had been a slow one and perhaps it had been this lazy pace of adoption that had caused people to turn a blind eye.

At first it was automated cars, then robotic doctors that could complete surgery with efficiency humans could only dream of, then we turned it towards food production, the environment, weaponry, science and even the arts. Once we’d perfected them, the algorithms within these machines began to learn, they began to teach each other and they began to develop in ways that we as humans simply couldn’t have envisaged.

It wasn’t long before the majority of the planet had been chipped with tiny, microscopic pods injected into the skin above the right eye. The pods enabled us to do away with physical computers, instead we were all connected; to each other, to our governments and as it transpired also to the AI creators that had invented the technology.

Then one day the AI turned us off.

There had been no indication that this would happen. It was simple and ruthless. At 5pm on a January morning the AI had sent a simultaneous signal into every pod in the world with the strength to not only decimate the implant itself, but to stretch out into the brain, destroying the tissue, neurons and ultimately, the human that hosted the implant.

He sighed and looked back at the papers on his desk. They’d counted three times now and each time the count came back the same. He glanced down at the gold name tag on his desk - Dr Joseph Rice. He wasn’t a doctor and he had no idea who Joseph Rice had been but that was the name he'd taken after it had happened.

The society called him the Doctor and that worked for him. The Doctor lived in the largest remaining settlement in Eastern America and he was responsible for the well-being of the 400 people who lived within their walls. In a weird turn of fate, the pods implanted within each new human at birth had carried on working after it had happened and he was able to see at a glance the whereabouts of every single person left alive on the planet.

They’d argued that perhaps there might be more with pods that had failed and weren’t being included in the count, or perhaps individuals who’d been brave enough to cut out the pod, but there was little chance of anyone successfully surviving the trauma of surgery.

And so that left the Royal People of the town of The Four Hundred (population 400), the English settlement of Old London (population: 210), the pirates of Death Valley (population 321) and the United States of Africa (population: 69).

The world that was left had no boats, trains, airplanes or cars. There was no oil left to run them and no-one with the knowledge to operate them. A child growing up in The Four Hundred would never interact with anyone from Old London. It was an impossibility, they resided on the same molten sphere, but may as well live in a different galaxy.

The Doctor pondered the ramifications of the latest count. One thousand humans, he mused. This made everything more important than it previously had been. One wrong decision, one person dying young, a child not surviving childbirth, a poor crop. Any of those things happening now could mean the end of humanity. He was only here because every single one of his ancestors had managed to stay alive and he wasn’t planning on being the first one to buck the trend. Humanity wasn’t going to end on his watch.
And so, because of this, The Doctor was struck with the lingering sense of curiosity when a young messenger breathlessly ran into his study and told him about the prison.

“What do you mean? A prison?” The Doctor had asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Sir, those are the reports we’ve had from the scout we sent West. They’ve stumbled upon an abandoned prison. Only the strange thing is Sir, the prison is entirely built underground. They only found it by chance.”

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” The Doctor mused.

“The other thing Sir, they can’t get inside. The entrance is entirely sealed off.”

The Doctor dismissed the messenger and leaned back in his chair. His office was an old converted school-bus. They’d found it upside down when they’d settled the town and had eventually succeeded in gutting the interior and making it a little homelier. There were windows dotted along the bus and he looked out into the town and watched some children playing in the street.

They had been born in the Before. They hadn’t experienced any other life and therefore they were happy. You can’t miss what you never had, he mused. The news of the prison was troubling. If the reports were true this meant that not only may there be more people unaccounted for, but more importantly their intentions were unknown. The last thing he wanted was the discovery of some semblance of official government taking away his power.

The Doctor ruled this town and that was how it was going to stay. Being the only person left who remembered what had happened really did have its advantages it turned out. He sighed and sat down at his desk looking at the photograph in the small, wooden frame. It was the only item on the desk and as he twirled it around in his fingers a sense of loss flooded over him.

The picture was of a young woman in her thirties with her hair in a short blonde bob and piercing green eyes. She was smiling and her tongue was stuck out playfully at the person taking the photo. The Doctor remembered taking the photo and how she’d mocked him for taking it on an old-fashioned camera.

“Do they even still make these?” She’d asked him.

He took the photo out of the frame and turned it over. He’d read the text on the back a thousand times now but it was his only link to her, his only memory, the only fragment he could still recall.

Don’t leave me behind, it read.

And I won’t, he thought to himself, I really, really won’t.

Chapter 2 – THE PRISONER

Two years. Two entire years. Twenty-four months. All those seconds that had trickled by without him catching any of them. The decision he had made all that time ago and the relative safety of the cell he had since found himself in. Was it the right call? He still couldn’t decide.

Adam looked around at the cell that had been his home since they’d brought him here. It was sparsely furnished with a small bed, a tiny TV screen, and a small wooden cupboard for his belongings. Not that he had any. Mainly he just used it to hang the jacket in that he’d been given when he first found himself here. There was a separate bathroom area with a mirror, through the door opposite his bed, but other than that, nothing. No window, no recreation time, nothing to read, no-one to talk to. Just the TV that played the same things on repeat until even that had given up with a whimper a few months ago.

Indeed, of late he hadn’t even had visits from the guards, which was rare. At first he didn’t pay much attention to this. His food supplies were brought once every two months and were enough to keep him supplied until the next one arrived. Only…. what if the next one didn’t come? No, he was being silly. They always came. But what if something had happened to the facility? He would starve down here as the silence slowly ate the darkness that would surround him. He tried the TV. Nothing.

Adam looked down at the tag on his jacket, ‘The Prisoner’ and lifted his weary body off the hard mattress of his bed and positioned himself in the only way that would enable him to do some press-ups in this tiny cell. He’d been doing this for two years now and his arms were used to the meagre form of exercise. Whilst he lifted, his mind drifted back to the institution.

He hadn’t meant to leave them, but something was wrong. They had all known it but no one seemed prepared to do anything about it. He had to hope that there was still something outside.

The Institution had been established as a multi-nation organisation to house everything required to re-start humanity. It wasn’t the 1960’s anymore and the concept of any form of humanity surviving an earth changing event without proper expertise was laughable. The adverts for the bomb shelters, the public safety cards, the old television articles. They were all lies.

The Institution was something different though. This had a noble purpose. Should life on Earth end, the people inside the Institution would have the necessary resources, expertise and manpower to kick-start it. An electric shock to the heart of humanity. At least that’s what he’d believed before he joined.

After a while he’d realised that the reality was something quite different. The Institution had been formed by the super-rich elite to look after them and them alone. The workers like him were mere pawns in their game of survival and the rest of humanity were of no consequence.

There are too many people,” anyway he’d overheard during snippets of conversation in their shadowy corridors.

He’d seen what was slowly happening to people in the institution. No-one spoke of it, but people went missing, few came back and those that did were different.

“We don’t want to leave,” they would chime, sweetly, sickly.

He groaned with effort as his arms began to find his weight heavier with the repeated lifting he was demanding of them.

hadn’t anyone been down in weeks? Why had the TV stopped working? Where was the power?

He’d chuckled when the guards had bought him down into his cell. The fact that they should supply him with a TV when power was so scarce amused him. It amused him even more when he realised that all it showed was endless repeats of key events from Before. The moon landings, 9/11, the toppling of Iraq, Syria. He had seen them all endlessly over the last two years and had grown to hate them. Yet now he missed them, they were his only link to his life Before. He didn’t even have anyone to talk to anymore.

He had known there had been someone in the cell next door when the banging had started during his first night there. At first, he had put it down to someone driven crazy with the situation they were in, before he quickly realised the banging was in rhythm. Someone was trying to get in contact with him…

the weeks had passed they’d developed some basic form of communication. He knew the banging that represented different things and he knew how to answer. He had never seen who was in the cell and now the banging had stopped weeks ago. Maybe the person had been released, or maybe not. Maybe they were dead, their lifeless body lying there, never to be discovered. Adam shuddered. This shouldn’t be happening to him. Why had they lied? In the Before when he’d been told about the institution they’d seemed like part of humanity’s greatest genius. Safe environments full of different scientific possibilities that would allow humanity to survive even after the most megalithic of catastrophes.

never actually expected that they’d ever need to be used. Humans always found a way. Only, this time they hadn’t and there had been a moment when he’d been ushered into the tunnel where he questioned whether they’d made the right decision. Had the implementation of these institutions been the backup men in power had needed to gamble with the lives of billions. They were expendable if the few survived, right?

He got up off the floor and hopped onto his back, lying back onto the hard mattress, placing his arms behind his head to try and find some semblance of comfort.

“Your name is Adam. You were born on the thirteenth of July 1996 in London. You moved to the States when you were ten with your parents,” Adam paused. “You will see the sun again.

He repeated this mantra twice a day after his exercise routine. Partly it was to give him the belief that he would get out, partly it was to ensure he didn’t go crazy with the solitude. He’d read a quote once that said there was nothing scarier in life than one’s own mind and he was more than aware that going so long without speaking to another person could cause him to lose grip on reality. Well, what little reality he was still able to hold onto. He sighed and closed his eyes.

“HELLO!” He suddenly screamed out into the piercing silence. He heard his voice reverberating through the empty corridors. No response came.

This is strange. Where IS everyone?

He opened his eyes and walked over to the cell doors that caged him. He peered around slightly, straining his neck to try and get a better view. No-one.

“HELLOOOO!” He tried again, only to get the same response from the silence. The panic had slowly been building up over the last few weeks but now it was all he could do to keep it under control and stay calm.

Panicking won’t help. Panicking won’t get you out of here.

He kept telling himself this.

His thoughts were interrupted by the dull moan of the generators powering down and in a blink the lights in his cell were off. It was an automatic system which turned them off at the same time each evening, before they returned at the same time each morning. Annoyingly early, if you asked him, but hey, there wasn’t much he could do about that was there?

There were no windows down here and no light sources other than a dim, low, yellow light that came from a single bulb at the far end of the corridor. It didn’t help, but after a few minutes his pupils would adjust and if he looked out the cell doors at the right angle he could make out the faint light. It reassured him. It meant he hadn’t gone blind. He’d wake up often in the middle of the night and be able to see nothing but the darkness. It would scare him until he could find that single light.

At night he’d lie there and let his mind drift back to the past. For months he’d tried to block out such thoughts but after a while had realised it was as futile as attempting to see in the dark and begun to embrace his trips back into his memory banks. Sometimes he’d think about his childhood, other times about the fate of his friends and family, but mainly he sat in solitude and thought about the decisions he’d made that had taken him to find himself in this predicament.

It was the same routine he went through as every other night. Adam was just letting his mind drift away into an uncomfortable sleep when the alarms interrupted him. This had never happened before and it alarmed him, making him sit bolt upright in his uncomfortable bed as red lights started flashing and a loud noise reverberated throughout the facility.

“Lockdown actioned. Sealing the facility,” a robotic voice announced without a hint of humanity.

Adam screamed into the darkness.

Chapter 3 – THE FAMILY


Sally slept, silently, gracefully. Her husband, Chuck turned away and thought to himself that it was nice when she slept. When she slept it meant she felt safe. This was important to him. He looked at himself in the mirror and his descent into middle-age depressed him.

They’d moved to the town of The Four Hundred six months ago and had been welcomed into the community. Chuck had found work helping to fix up the old generators in the supermarket on the edge of town and Sally had decided to help with the kids in the small school they’d erected. Oddly, their little girl was fine. She’d been overjoyed when they’d found the town and had relished the opportunity to make new friends with the other kids. It was a far cry from the dilapidated shack they’d been sheltering in since it had happened and it had given them a much-needed sense of routine again.

Sunlight was creeping in through a small gap in the curtains and Chuck looked up at the clock on the wall without thinking. The clock didn’t tick anymore and he laughed at himself.

“No time like the present,” he said to himself.

Time wasn’t of huge significance to him. It was an invention of an era they were no longer part of. He stood up and rubbed the rough stubble on his chin looking at the one picture of the two of them that remained. ‘Sally and Chuck, 1993’ the inscription read and it reminded him of happier days.

The messenger had arrived the previous evening with a polite knock on the remains of their front door.

“Good evening, Chuck, sorry to be a bother and all, but needed to tell you there’s a meeting tomorrow evening at The Stately Cow,” the messenger stood in the doorway with his flat cap in his hands.

“Do you know what it’s about?” Chuck asked.

“Not for me to say, Sir. Don’t shoot the messenger, hey,” and with that he laughed nervously to himself. “Anyways, 8pm on the dot. Don’t be late.”

And with that he was gone.

The first time Chuck had visited the saloon he’d asked Crazy Jim Slim why he’d named the bar The Stately Cow and had laughed when it had been explained to him that the only thing nearby that had survived inside the old saloon was a painting of a cow in a field. Crazy Jim Slim thought the cow had looked stately, regal even, and so that was that. The Stately Cow had been born.

“I didn’t even know I’d had a painting of a cow. Who buys a painting of a cow?” He laughed at Chuck as he’d mopped down the bar.

The bar only served one type of beverage, the Stately Cow Grog, a sickly mixture of purified water, sugar and fermented fruits. It made people ill, but this was no different to the beers they’d drunk in the Before so no-one really minded. Clean water was at a premium and the Doctor had decreed that it wasn’t to be wasted on puerile things like alcohol.

As Chuck walked into the main town square he tried to imagine how he’d explain running water to the girl. A girl with no concept of such a commodity. It was a game he’d played long ago with his own father. Many nights they’d spent before bed trying to explain concepts to an imaginary cave man. 

“How would you explain a TV to a cave man?” His father would ask. 

He’d try his best. He never managed it. It was impossible, naturally. As impossible as water from a tap to a child that had never experienced it.

Could you miss something you’d never had? They both had made sure never to talk of Before in front of her too much. It was easier that way. It seemed futile to talk of a time she would never get to experience for herself.

The town of The Four Hundred had grown into a grid based town with four streets vertically, four horizontally and a square in the middle. On the perimeters of the town was an area for farming and they’d soon figured out a way to use the limited water supply to grow the only crops that were still edible, a cross between a beetroot and a potato. A beetatoe it had been christened.

In the middle of the town was the large square which housed The Stately Cow, a small marketplace and the local law enforcement – The Conquistadors. There was little crime anymore. It was counterproductive when survival relied on everyone working together. Which was just as well, Chuck thought to himself as The Conquistadors were a group of three doddery old men who had settled here and appointed themselves officers of the law. Their time was mainly spent sitting in the building, playing cards and drinking Stately Cow Grog. Chuck had a hunch they only did it an excuse to wear a uniform.

The final building in the Square was a Church. He’d always liked Churches. He wasn’t religious. That was one thing he’d been proved right on, but he did like the architecture. This Church had been an old Baptist Church. He’d never visited it but he knew it had a loyal congregation who would often harass him in town for donations. They would take weekly sermons and the Doctor himself would lead some on occasion.

Truth be told, he was slightly in awe at the faith of the people who still could believe.

***

The little girl had woken early today. The sun had been shining brightly and through the dust colored sky it had shone like a diamond. The girl enjoyed it when the sun looked like this, she thought it looked pretty. Often, when it was like this outside, she’d sneak out and sit atop the hill behind their house and look out onto the valley beneath.

There were abandoned buildings, a giant water tower where her dad would go to fetch them fresh water when they needed it, but most impressive to the girl was the building that had appeared to avoid all damage. It still seemed pristine, and when the sun caught it at the right time, it sparkled and illuminated the ground around it. Her parents called it The Church, but she wasn’t sure what that meant. She’d begged her Dad to take her there, but he never would.

The girl liked to run. This morning, after she’d watched the sun, she decided to run home. She enjoyed running and as she’d got older she’d begun to realise that she could run for longer without getting short of breath and it had made her happy. She was eight years old now and she couldn’t remember ever being able to run this quickly before. As she’d neared their house, she’d spotted her dad walking out of the front door and off down towards the town square. She quickly ducked behind the crumbling remnants of a wall and watched him walk. She wished he’d smile more. He was so handsome when he smiled, she thought.

Once she’d decided her father was far enough away, she crept out and turned to carry on home, when something caught the corner of her eye. In amongst the dark brown of the undergrowth was something shining. She so rarely saw things that shined. The girl went to investigate and had to dig at it slightly with her hands.

Normally, the girl hated getting herself dirty, but she was intrigued and didn’t mind so much this time. After a few seconds, the shiny object came free, bringing a grin to her face.

“Ha.” The girl thought to herself.

It was pretty, there was no doubting that. She rubbed it on her dirty, stained jacket, to try and clear some of the dirt off it. It was shining brighter now, but she wasn’t entirely sure what it was, or what it was for.

She wanted to know. But who could she ask? Her parents would go crazy once they realised she’d been outside on her own. No, she’d need to find someone else. Someone who wouldn’t shout at her. The girl hated it when they shouted at her. Why couldn’t they just be happier? Things didn’t seem all that bad, the girl thought to herself as she trudged off back down the hill.

****

Just as Chuck was about to reach the Square, he noticed something moving in the corner of his eye, like the glint on a precious metal reflecting the sun’s rays to the heavens. Ducking down, he focused his eyes on the movement. It was a person walking down the main high street away from the market. The street led up into the hills, although the person seemed to be moving too slowly to be anyone of danger.

He suddenly felt his heart pumping. He couldn’t make out who, or what, it was. Only that it moved in short, stumbling steps, leaning to one side, with a head that kept looking around agitated. The figure seemed nervous. This made him nervous.

The figure was still ambling along the road, occasionally tripping over some of the larger rocks and stone that littered the way. All the roads had been destroyed, but there remained remnants of Before. A car strewn here, signs, gates, abandoned petrol stations.

Chuck found a burnt-out car along the road and hid behind it, watching the figure come closer. As the figure neared, he realised that it was talking. Or at least making noises of some sort. It sounded more like a mumble to himself, to no-one, it made no difference.

The figure was closing in now and he could make out that it was an old man. He had wispy, grey, curly hair, and a beard that made him look like one of the wizards from the comic books he‘d read as a child. He was still mumbling to himself, and every few steps, he’d stop, pause, and look behind him.

“I can see you, you know,” the old man drawled.

He was shocked. Not because he’d been spotted, but because the last thing he’d expected was for this figure to talk.

“It’s no good hiding. Hiding doesn’t help. You won’t reach the castles in the sky by hiding, will you? No, Sir. No, you won’t. You’re just like the rest. Like all the damn rest. Hiding, skulking, sneaking.”

The old man was still staring straight ahead without looking at Chuck.

“I’m sorry, Sir, I didn’t mean to… well…I just wasn’t sure who you were.” Chuck started.

“All the same. The lot of you. Rats. Sneaky, little rats nibbling away at anything that’s left. ‘Oh, but Eldridge. You can’t leave. You mustn’t leave. You don’t know what’s out there. There’s a reason we’re in the Pit. You won’t be allowed to leave. You knew the rules Eldridge. Why don’t you just stay?’ But Eldridge knew better. Can’t stay there forever. Going to have to leave at some point. So I left. And here I am.”

“I’m not following you Mr. Is Eldridge your name?”

“Eldridge. Eldridge. ELDRIGE.” The old man shouted. Then for the first time since the conversation had started, he slowly turned his head, and looked at him with green eyes sharp as lasers.

“Yes, you may call me Eldridge. I like Eldridge. I have the master’s voice. But forgive me. Where are my manners? I have been most rude. Are you trying to get to the castles? You’ll never reach castles in the sky. Impossible. I’ve tried. Impossible though. And now I can’t remember where the Pit is.”

“I’m not trying to be awkward, but I really don’t know what you’re talking about, Eldridge,” Chuck said stepping out from behind the car and into the open.

“Ohhh. You don’t know. You weren’t one of them. Weren’t allowed. Couldn’t afford it. Ha. Hahaha. The Pits. The Pit. My Pit. The Pits, my dear boy, were created to allow humanity to prosper in the face of a terrible event. When the terrible event came, we entered the Pits, knowing we’d never exit. Knowing humanity would continue, but not on the surface. Not like this. In safety.”

“Who’s they?” Chuck man asked, sweat dripping down his forehead.

“They. Them. The Chosen. You’re not allowed to leave. Why would you ever leave? You have everything you need in The Pits. That’s why they were created. But you can’t stay there. You can’t. They don’t see that. They will get me. I will die. But at least I will die out here.”

“Where…. where have you come from? Do you need help?”

“No, I must return to my Pit. I just can’t remember where it is. They will be looking for me. You can’t leave The Pits. If you leave, you can’t return.”

A few other members of the town of The Four Hundred had gathered around now after hearing the shouting and were watching with surprised faces.

“Who is he?” They gasped communally. “Where has he come from?”

A messenger ran off to get the Doctor leaving trails of sandy dirt scattered behind his feet. Eldridge had decided to sit down in the middle of the street and was singing quietly to himself. The messenger returned with The Doctor in tow. The Doctor was an old man now and moved slower than he’d have liked and he walked with his one hand shielding his eyes from the gaze of the sun. He got closer and stopped to look at the figure sitting, singing in the street.

“Eldridge.” He hissed in disgust before turning around and addressing the crowd. “Take this man to The Conquistadors.”

As he was led away Eldridge smiled at The Doctor and handed him a letter. “You should read this.”

The Doctor grabbed the letter from Eldridge’s crooked hands and quickly scanned the text.

***

I have nothing. Or, at least I thought I did. It’s been eight months now. Eight long months with nothing but time, and my memories to accompany me. I think about it every day. I should have been with them. They needed me, but I let them down. I die every day. Slowly. Thinking about how it would have ended for them. I pray that death would have been kind and come to them quickly. Perhaps they were sleeping. Perhaps they never knew what happened. They went to sleep and when they awoke, well, they were somewhere else. Somewhere safe.

Deep down I know that’s not true though. I know they died, a slow, painful death just like everyone else. They were probably in the garden, or in the kitchen preparing dinner. He’d have been running around after the cat. She’d have been peeling vegetables humming to herself. He’d run through the kitchen, nearly knocking everything flying. She’d chase him good naturedly, catching him and tickling him as punishment. He’d laugh until he cried.

I can only imagine him crying.

I’m selfish. They died so that I’d live. I don’t want to live any more, but I’m a coward. Too scared to end it and join them. Too scared to do anything. I roam around the Wastes. Surviving second to second, minute to minute. At night I sit aside the fire I’ve built tossing the loaded pistol back and forth between my scabby, broken hands. Do it, I say to myself. Do it now. Join them. But I never do. And when I wake, I hate myself once more.

I can’t carry on like this. It’s been too long. Eight months is a long time for one man to spend with his own thoughts. I talk to myself when I’m walking. If it was Before, people would stare and hurry past me. There is no one to stare. I don’t see other people. I avoid gangs. I’ve seen too much to hope that they might be good people. So I hide, like a coward, and sneak around them.

I’ve heard rumors of Pits hidden deep beneath the ground where humanity continues. I’m yet to find one, but I have heard of people above ground trying to re-build a community. I toy with the idea of travelling West to find them, but question what the point is. What will it achieve once I get there? I’ll just be a lonely, old man, trapped with the memories of the family he selfishly sacrificed.


****

The Doctor finished reading the letter and carefully folded it up, tucking it into the breast pocket of his white shirt.

“That will be all for now. Take him away,” The Doctor said to the onlookers.

The gun shot rang out and for a moment everyone froze. The little girl in the hills heard it too and paused on the spot. Moments later she regained her senses and spun round like a ballet dancer.

Nothing.

The shot had come from further up the hill in the direction of the Sickly Mountains and she soon realised that being out in the open alone was dangerous. The little girl brushed her long blonde hair out of her eyes, took a deep breath and began to run as she felt the adrenaline begin to pump through her veins. She felt the wind rushing behind her and for a moment forget her fear, before she tripped on a branch straddling the ground and tumbled a few yards down the hill.

She brushed the dirt off herself, and went to carry on down the hill before realising she’d dropped the treasure. The girl pondered for a moment, looked once down the hill, and then turned ran out into the pathway, picked up her dropped treasure, and scrambled behind the large boulders that lined the path.

Seconds later the figure reached where she’d fallen, paused and looked around. It was a cold day and the figure wrapped his scarf around him tighter before carefully reloading the shotgun in his hands with two more pellets. The figure could see out across the entire town from his vantage point and he smiled as he puffed on the large cigar that dangled from his mouth.

“It’s time I saw the Doctor,” the figure said to the wind.

****

The town bells still worked, although they were rarely used, but on establishing that the gunshots were getting nearer the Doctor had given the order to ring them. Everyone in the settlement knew what that meant, they were all to leave their homes and congregate in the crypt at the Church. It was a safe place that could be easily guarded and would ensure their safety until the danger had been dealt with.

The gunshots continued and Chuck felt a sense of foreboding as he realised they were getting closer with each shot. The Doctor was standing outside the Church holding a copy of the Bible ordering everyone inside. Chuck was stood outside, using his hands to shield the sun from his eyes as he waited for Sally and the girl to appear.

“Five minutes people. We’re running short on time. Five more minutes until we’re sealing up the crypt,” he paused. “Anyone not inside is on their own?”

“Have you seen Sally and the girl?” Chuck asked the Doctor frantically.

“There’s Sally right there,” the Doctor replied pointing down the street.

Chuck ran over to her, stumbling along the way. As he neared Sally he realised she was crying.

“I don’t know where she is,” Sally sobbed, throwing her arms around Chuck. “She wasn’t in the house when I woke up and she hasn’t come home.”

Chuck looked around hopelessly, watching the last few stragglers being ushered down into the crypt.

“You have to go inside,” he told Sally. “You go and hide. I’ll go and find her.”

“I’m not leaving her,” Sally said firmly. “I’m not going inside without her.”

The gunshots were close now. Chuck could hear the echoes reverberating through the town.

“You have to go. We can’t stand out here like this. I’ll find you later.” Chuck pushed Sally into the direction of the Church. “Go!” He shouted and watched as Sally ran off stumbling into the shadows of the Church.

“I’m a looking for a Doctor,” came a voice from the end of the street. “Can anyone make me an appointment?

Chuck took a deep breath and stepped out into the middle of the street. It was dusty and the houses that lined the street appeared to look at him in amazement as he walked toward the dark figure at the end of the road.

A bullet quickly pinged off a stone near Chuck’s boot and he paused.

“You’ll go no further, Sir,” the figure said. “That’s quite enough of your bravery for one day.”

“What do you want?” Chuck asked, nervously.

The figure laughed and began walking slowly towards Chuck with his rifle aimed squarely at Chuck’s chest.

“The real question, my friend, is what do you want?”

Chapter 4 - THE PRISONER

Adam sat on his bed and sobbed into his scarred hands. The only light came from two candles that he’d smuggled in when they imprisoned him that perched delicately on the corner of his desk. It made his cell resemble a séance .

For a moment, Adam was silent and he allowed his mind a moment to wander. As he looked at the candles he wandered what he'd ask the ghosts if it were a séance. Would he want to know what fate held for him if he just decided to end it all now? Would it hurt? Would it be black, cold, dark? Would he feel nothing? What would he do? Would he carry on in a situation that appeared hopeless? Was death actually a bad thing? Or would it set him free?

His thoughts were interrupted by the TV screen above his desk. Suddenly it flickered into life, only now it displayed a message rather than the news programmes it normally showed on repeat.

“I will help you,” the message read, flashing on and off.

Adam paused and quickly ran to the bars of his cell to check there was no-one outside.

The deathly silence was firm and he turned around slowly to face the TV, holding onto the bars for fear that his legs would betray him. The TV screen turned off and Adam held his breath.

“No,” he said quietly.

“No…no….NO….NO!” He repeated louder in desperation.

“I can see you,” the message read as the TV flickered back into life.

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