It was pitch black around Howard’s cottage as Ryan slowly brought the Fiesta to a halt nearby. He exited the car, followed by Sophie and Howard, and then the three of them tiptoed their way towards the back of the cottage where fortunately a light had been left on in the kitchen, allowing them to find their way.
Ryan carefully prised the garden gate open with his left hand and stealthily headed towards the back door of the cottage. His right hand was firmly gripping a loaded compact pistol which he usually kept, somewhat illegally, at his apartment in case of emergencies. After having spent time in the Special Forces, he just felt safer having it around. It had been the cause of more than one argument with Holly.
‘Stay there,’ he whispered to Howard and Sophie, before creeping up sideways to the back door and cautiously peering in through the window. The door was unlocked and slightly ajar so he gently opened it and slipped into the kitchen. Oddly, he saw no sign of a dead cat as he had been led to believe. The kitchen was clear, so he silently stepped his way towards the sitting room. He could hear no sound coming from the room except the occasional crackle from the dying fire.
Feeling certain that it was safe to proceed, he made a quick entrance into the sitting room, pointing the gun in front of him in case there really was an intruder. To his relief, the room was empty except for the crackling fire. He started to feel sure that this whole thing had been a wind-up. He went back out to the kitchen and beckoned Sophie and Howard to come in before tiptoeing up the stairs and checking the bathroom and small guest room. Again, there were no shadowy beings to be found. Finally he pushed open Howard and Derek’s bedroom door, and sure enough, as expected, Derek lay snug in his cocoon, blissfully snoring away.
‘Oh thank goodness,’ said Howard as he and Sophie entered the bedroom behind Ryan.
Howard walked over to Derek and gently patted him on the forehead.
‘So,’ sighed Ryan, ‘no dead cat and no shadowy man eh? I can’t believe you two could get so drunk as to conjure up such a ridiculous story.’
‘We didn’t make it up Ryan!’ protested Sophie. ‘Howard and I both saw it!’
‘Shhhhh!’ said Howard. ‘Let’s continue this conversation downstairs shall we?’
Ryan placed his pistol back inside his jacket and then they all descended to the sitting room. Ryan folded his arms and slumped grumpily next to the fire.
‘Look, I know you probably think we have been winding you up,’ said Howard, ‘but we definitely saw something in here. And look, the orb you brought earlier is gone. How do you explain that?’
‘How do you explain a magically vanishing dead cat?’ asked Ryan cynically.
‘Well, I can’t,’ shrugged Howard.
‘Maybe the shadow man took it away,’ suggested Sophie.
‘Or maybe you’re both full of shit,’ huffed Ryan.
‘WE’RE NOT MAKING IT UP!’ screamed Sophie.
‘Alright, alright,’ said Howard, trying to calm the situation down. ‘Look, whatever it was, it’s gone now and Derek is safe. So let’s just be glad about that shall we? Now then, who’d like a nice cup of tea?’
Six weeks passed without any further incident. However, the weather had taken a turn for the worse and there had been repeated rain storms and high winds. Havenmoor was built on high land so the risk of flooding was low, however other parts of the country had already suffered quite bad flooding according to the daily radio broadcasts. Special awaker teams had been working night and day to evacuate the sleepers in the affected areas and move them to safer sleeper zones.
Howard Rutherford was conducting one of his regular inspections of the Havenmoor sleeper zones one afternoon and had been pleased to find that all sleepers were present, correct and in good health. It was the same zone that Ryan’s girlfriend Holly was sleeping in, and Howard made particular care to make sure that she was sleeping soundly so that he could report back to Ryan. It never ceased to amaze him how the hibernation process seemed to slow down the biological clock. The hair and nails on the sleepers had grown hardly at all in six weeks, perhaps two or three days worth of growth at most.
Just as he was noting down the results of his inspection, he was caught off guard by a cough coming from the doorway of the sports hall. Howard turned in surprise and saw a prim looking man in a suit, standing in the entranceway. Howard recognised him immediately from the air of smugness.
‘Howard Rutherford,’ said the man, ‘it’s been a long time.’
‘Michael Granger,’ replied Howard, ‘what an unexpected pleasure. How’s life treating you in the interim government? Aren’t you Secretary of State for Health this year?’
‘Indeed I am,’ confirmed Michael walking into the sports hall, ‘and life has been treating me very well since you ask. It’s been caviar and cigars every day at Whitehall for the last six weeks.’
Howard was unsure if he was joking or not. He suspected not.
‘You really should consider joining us again,’ said Michael, ‘the int-gov needs brains like yours, especially at the moment.’
‘Well as you know Michael, I prefer to work in the field, rather than behind a desk,’ said Howard, trying not to sound too terse.
‘Well, that’s very commendable of course,’ sneered Michael, ‘but it is such a waste of your talents, being a simple GP in some wretched small town, when you could be one of the leading medical minds of this country, as you once were.’
‘Michael,’ said Howard, ‘why don’t we just cut out the pleasantries and then you can tell me the reason for your illustrious visit, yes?’
Michael looked up cautiously at the surveillance camera that was linked to a control centre in London. The centre monitored all sleeper zones twenty-four hours a day. He pulled Howard by the arm over to a corner outside of the camera’s field of view.
‘The thing is old chap,’ whispered Michael, ‘we really could use your expertise. Ever since the Hibernation began this year, there have been inexplicable...sightings.’
‘Sightings?’ asked Howard. ‘Sightings of what?’
Michael hesitated for a moment.
‘Shadow people,’ he muttered eventually.
Howard felt a chill run down his spine. He had no intention of revealing his own experience to the int-gov, but he was intrigued to learn more from Michael.
‘So what are they, hallucinations?’ asked Howard.
‘Well that’s the whole thing, we don’t know,’ said Michael. ‘Nothing has ever been seen on surveillance cameras, but too many people have reported seeing the same thing for it to be a coincidence.’
‘Oh, it’s probably just some urban legend that has built up,’ said Howard with mock dismissal. ‘I wouldn’t pay much attention to these stories if I were you. Awakers like to tell ghost stories during the Long Sleep.’
‘Well I thought exactly the same thing,’ said Michael, ‘but then I saw them for myself!’
‘You saw shadow people? Where?’ asked Howard with intrigue.
‘I was taking a walk through parliament one evening, and I thought I’d take a little peek at the House of Commons chamber, you know to make sure everything was present and correct.’
Howard thought it was more likely that Michael had got drunk on champagne and gone into the chamber to piss on the seats.
‘As I opened the door,’ continued Michael, ‘I was stunned to see the entire house full, full of shadow people! It was like they were debating or something. There was even one in the speaker’s chair!’
‘A shadow government, you might say,’ joked Howard.
‘This is not a laughing matter Howard!’ hissed Michael angrily. ‘We want you to come to London and help us resolve this. If we don’t, the actual government are going to be very pissed off when they wake up.’
‘Well I hate to say this Michael, but that’s your problem, not mine,’ said Howard.
‘I must insist!’ said Michael.
‘Insist all you like, but I’m still not coming,’ declared Howard.
‘Oh do as you wish then,’ said Michael stomping back towards the entrance, ‘but I don’t want you revealing this to anyone else, do you understand?’
‘Yes sir,’ nodded Howard.
‘And don’t think this is over Howard,’ said Michael. ‘We will have your cooperation, whether you like it or not.’
Howard said nothing.
‘Oh by the way, there’s something else I need to tell you,’ said Michael abruptly, ‘Joe has issued a severe weather warning.’
‘Joe?’ asked Howard.
‘Sorry, I should say The Met Office has issued a severe weather warning,’ said Michael, correcting himself. ‘A large gale force storm is heading this way from the Atlantic, it will hit tonight. So, since you refuse to come back to London with me, you’d better get to that quaint cottage of yours and batten down the hatches. It’s going to get rough!’
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