Nils and I crept around behind the gigantic blade. I ran my fingers across its sleek surface and found it was somehow both hot and cold, but the hot and cold did not cancel each other out. The night had become disturbingly silent; either the two Rorys and Old Nils had defeated the heavily armed elite troops and the bionic-armed Jimmy O’Shea, or, well…
We stepped into the house at the spot where up until ten minutes ago the front wall stood, went to the kitchen and peered out the window. Apart from the demolished stage, overturned tractor tyre, smoking craters, three hundred-odd fish and two or three dozen dead bodies, the yard was empty.
“There, I reckon,” said Nils. He pointed over to the shed, where an orange light flickered. “I’ll fly over and check it out.”
As we turned around, an angry looking guy in combat gear stepped around the smashed front wall and turned his chunky machine gun at us. He was as surprised to see us as we were to see him.
“Hold it,” he said, stepping through the lounge room toward us. “Hands up.”
We raised our hands.
“Who else is with you?” demanded the man.
Nils was defiantly silent. I gulped, then answered, “Grandpa.”
The man stopped and gave me a weird look. “What?” he said.
I exhaled a nervous breath and then repeated, “Grandpa,” a little louder.
Out of the corner of my eye I had noticed a huge, blood stained, glistening fanged, werewolf-looking beast standing within the hallway. At my first attempt at the “Grandpa” word, she tilted her head. At the second, her eyes widened and her ears pricked up. Yet she kept to the shadows in the hall. The angry-looking man drew the butt of his gun hard up against his shoulder and stepped forward.
“I’ll ask you one more time,” he said, “and you better start making sense. Who else is with you?”
“There’s no one with us,” said Nils.
“Shut the f**k up,” barked the man. “I’m not asking you, I’m talking to Fat Albert here. Now, who else is with you?”
I closed my eyes and took a slow breath. Inspiration struck—the “grandpa” word was Greek, so I needed to say it with a Greek accent. Now, I can only do two accents: there’s Scottish, which I do quite well, and then there’s the one I do not do so well. As far as I can tell, it is a hybrid of Italian, Russian, and Jamaican, and I use it as a general-purpose European accent. Whenever I use it, listeners give me looks of confusion and/or disappointment. Of my two accents, it was the rubbish European one that was closest to Greek. Keeping my eyes shut, I gave it my best shot. “Krem-pah!”
I froze and heard in a moment a viscous snarl, a gunshot, the scratch of claws on the floorboards and then a scream. I opened my eyes. Robin had knocked the armed man to the ground and was going for his throat. The man was shrieking and fighting her off as well as anyone could. Nils ran in and grabbed the machine gun from the floor, went to fire, but hesitated. In the tumbling struggle of man and Rottweiler, it would have been hard to get off a clean shot. Finally he turned to me and said, “Help her out, will you?”
His jetpack lit up and whooshed him into the air. He floated high, machine gun in one hand and pool cue in the other, toward the shed. I ran toward the man on the floor, and in what must have looked like a rehearsed pro wrestling move, Robin rolled the man onto his stomach just as I leapt into the air. She bit down on the man’s head, he raised his hands to try and fight her off, and I landed butt-first in the middle of his back. He let out a grotesque, strained moan for a second, before Robin latched her jaws onto the side of his neck, thrashed her head side to side a few times and then held him still, huffing through her wide nostrils. After a few moments she released him. The man laid there wide-eyed and gaping like a fish out of water. Blood pulsed slowly from his open neck. He wheezed a few shallow breaths and then fell silent. Robin sneezed blood all over my leg.
“Come on, Robin,” I said, making my way to the front door. She followed me, but I heard an odd rhythm to her footsteps. I turned and saw her limping. A trickle of blood ran down her back leg from a bullet entry wound. “Oh no, wait there, girl.”
I took a couple of couch cushions and led her down to the basement. Placing the cushions together on the floor, I got her to lie on the makeshift bed, then set the opened pack of lamb chops before her. She seemed unbothered by her gunshot wound and happy to gnaw the frozen meat. I dared to give her a scratch behind the ear. She snorted. I left her there and went back upstairs.
It was quiet again. With no sign of Nils, I decided to venture out the front door (though I could have just stepped through the enormous hole in the wall). The place was deserted. I crouched and headed toward the shed, passing the ruined bodies of at least eight mercenaries. I picked up a handgun from the first body I encountered; he had been shot directly between the eyes. The next was missing the top half of his head, and another laid face down in a wide patch of grass stained almost black with blood. Strangest of all was one guy who was exceedingly swollen from head to toe and whose skin was blue. He was wrapped here and there in a kind of string that cut into his skin and made him bulge in unwrapped areas. His right eye had popped from its socket and hung at his cheek.
“Bloody hell,” I whispered to myself.
The Rorys and Nils had annihilated what must have been practically an SAS squad.
At the shed, which was riddled with bullet holes and blown apart at one corner, I searched for my friends (and their clones or older versions) but found no one. I would have loved more than anything at that moment to meet Rory there alive and well, but, failing that, I was ever so thankful that I did not find him. That meant he could still be alive. I checked the ground for clues or anything useful, but there was only a carpet of spent ammunition and dead fish. Inside the shed, I found the hatch to the tunnel, opened it and climbed down. The lights were out, and I knew the tunnel ahead was unstable, so after rummaging in the dark for a minute or two, looking unsuccessfully for a better weapon, I climbed back above ground.
A thick smog hung over the backyard, so I went around front. I circled the fallen gigantic blade and came to the dead witch. She looked grey and cracked like dry ground. I nudged her with my foot; she was as hard as stone. I continued down the hill to the white tepee among the vans and went inside. In the middle of the floor, on a mat of snake skins, was a large copper bowl, at the bottom of which festered a stinking, congealed mixture of animal innards. A pattern of unfriendly symbols decorated the tepee wall.
I left the tepee and went around the far side of the house. It was dark and silent. I knelt beside Ezra’s body and looked down at him. I don’t know how long I knelt there; I began thinking about my visit to his house the previous day, and then drifted into a daydream about riding a skateboard inside a cathedral and then getting into an argument with a bishop. I don’t even know how to ride a skateboard.
Upon returning to reality, I decided to go back into the house. After checking on Robin (she was fine), I went into the lounge room, where the television caught my eye. While the entire house was damaged beyond repair, the T.V. had miraculously escaped destruction. It sat there on its low cabinet untouched by the evening’s mayhem. The screen and I stared blankly at each other for a minute, and then I sat down on the couch. A terrible loneliness flooded me, and I was afraid for my friends. I kicked a small trout away at my feet then laid down on the floor in front of the couch and cried.
After a few minutes of personal misery, I wiped my eyes and sat up, and then noticed the plastic bag next to the television. It was the bag containing the time-slowing equipment that had given Budgie and Annette Dobbyn time to write their communism-ending ballad in Nelson Prison—the proximal relativity disruptors. I crawled over and dragged the bag off the cabinet, then sat on the floor to inspect the high-tech apparatus. The plastic bag was strong, but as thin and flimsy as tissue. I could not get it to stay open. I tried to hold it with my petrified right fist, but it was numb and useless. In the end I managed to stretch one of the bag’s handles down over my head and around my neck, and the bag hung open nicely. The equipment did not look high-tech, it looked like a bunch of cheap plastic trophies. Except for the modem-looking thing. I figured that must be the controller. So engrossed was I inspecting the time-altering gear, I did not hear the approach of two mercenaries behind me. I did, however, feel the cool steel of a machine gun muzzle press against the back of my neck.
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