After hearing about the storm from Howard, Ryan had volunteered to contact the remaining awakers in Havenmoor and warn them to stay indoors. As it turned out, the only other awakers in the area were Sue and Pete from the animal compound.
The wind was already picking up in the late afternoon as Ryan helped Sue and Pete get all the various cats, dogs and other pets into the barn for safety. He was happy to help out as he had been feeling rather restless recently. No matter how many one hand push-ups he did, he still seemed to have excess energy left over. Sue and Pete were a married couple who ran a small farm and animal sanctuary during the Waking Time. They always had their work cut out for them during the winter when they also had to look after an array of pets belonging to sleepers of Havenmoor, who didn’t have time, or preferred not to take their animals to the larger compounds down south.
A bird scare gun suddenly went off in the adjacent field. Ryan jumped and instinctively felt for the pistol in his jacket. He had been carrying it around with him almost all of the time in recent weeks.
‘What’s that you’ve got in that jacket boyo?’ asked Pete. ‘A gun was it?’
‘I just like to keep it as a precaution,’ said Ryan.
Sue laughed. ‘Well Pete and I are hardly going to be causing you any trouble, are we.’
‘You’re ex-military, isn’t that right?’ asked Pete.
‘Yeah,’ said Ryan awkwardly.
‘Army was it?’
‘SAS,’ he replied finally. ‘Two years.’
‘Oh really, Special Forces eh? That’s impressive,’ said Pete. ‘Me, I was in the Royal Navy back in the day...’
‘Oh here we go!’ moaned Sue.
‘Well I had plenty of adventures I’ll tell you that,’ said Pete. ‘I’m sure young Ryan here must have seen a bit of action as well, eh?’
‘I can’t really talk about it,’ said Ryan.
‘Oh yes of course,’ smiled Pete, patting Ryan on the back, ‘official secrets and all that. You know, it’s a travesty how our heroes are neglected by the government after they come back from such terrible places. You all deserve more respect after fighting for our country.’
Ryan said nothing.
‘Well,’ grinned Sue, ‘I bet you looked very handsome in a beret anyway.’
‘My Mum thought so,’ shrugged Ryan.
Sophie was sitting on the stairs in Howard’s cottage, reading Alice in Wonderland again. It was her favourite book, and reading it seemed to help her when she was feeling tense. She had been staying at Howard’s for several weeks now as she had no other fixed abode.
Meanwhile Howard sat in the sitting room with his ear pressed up against his wireless set which was tuned in to the BBC Awaker Service. The broadcast was giving regular weather updates regarding the approaching storm.
‘This sounds pretty grim Soph,’ muttered Howard.
‘I wonder where Ryan has got to?’ asked Sophie suddenly.
As if in response, the front door swung open and Ryan traipsed in looking rather windswept.
‘I like the new hairstyle!’ laughed Sophie.
Clearly embarrassed by Sophie’s comment, Ryan patted his hair down and then entered the sitting room. Sophie followed him in.
‘I’ve just been helping Pete and Sue with the animals Doc,’ reported Ryan, ‘other than that, I don’t think there are any other awakers left in Havenmoor.’
‘What about Charlie from the Comedy Club?’ asked Sophie.
‘Oh he’s gone down to Brighton this year,’ said Howard. ‘Apparently they’re doing an awaker comedy show down there. Not sure who’s going to turn up and watch it though.’
‘Well anyway, I’d better get going,’ said Ryan.
‘It’s getting pretty bad out there,’ warned Howard. ‘Maybe you’d be better off staying here with us tonight.’
Ryan gave Sophie an uncomfortable look.
‘I’m not sure that’s...’ he started.
‘Oh come on Ryan, stay!’ protested Sophie. ‘We’re going to play Monopoly and drink sherry.’
‘Interesting combination,’ said Ryan, raising an eyebrow.
‘Well, at least think about it while you help me board up these windows,’ said Howard.
‘I’ll help you with the windows, but then I’m going,’ stated Ryan.
Howard leant over and whispered into Sophie’s ear. ‘Pour him a sherry,’ he muttered.
Five games of Monopoly and two bottles of sherry later, Sophie, Howard and Ryan sat around the fire while the wind and rain could be heard battering the cottage from all angles. Sophie had positioned herself on the sofa next to Ryan and was edging ever closer to him. So far, he hadn’t shown any sign of being uncomfortable with this, but Sophie wasn’t sure whether he’d actually even noticed.
‘I really am going to have to go soon,’ burbled Ryan.
‘I don’t think so mister,’ slurred Howard, ‘you’re way over the limit now.’
‘I’m fine,’ protested Ryan.
‘Are you stupid or something,’ gurgled Sophie, edging slightly closer again, ‘listen to it out there!’
They stopped for a moment and listened to the shrieking wind outside, throwing itself against the boarded windows like a rabid animal.
‘Good point,’ said Ryan eventually.
‘I know why you want to leave,’ said Howard brashly. ‘It’s because you don’t want us to see you waking up in a sweat tomorrow morning.’
‘Um, excuse me Doc,’ said Ryan angrily, ‘what about doctor-patient confidentiality?’
‘Ah, screw that,’ slurred Howard. ‘I can’t really help you anyway unless you actually tell me what the dreams are about.’
‘I told you, I can’t talk about it,’ said Ryan gruffly.
‘Ah don’t give me all that official secrets bollocks,’ said Howard. ‘I was a founding member of the first interim government, I’ve seen my share of British secrets.’
‘What? You never told us that!’ exclaimed Sophie.
‘Oh yes,’ said Howard. ‘I got out of it as soon as I could of course, but back in that first year when the Hibernation began, things were in chaos, and someone had to do something. It was before I met Derek. I was a medical consultant to the government at the time. Well, myself and the other awakers in Westminster had to find some way to keep the world going while the Prime bloody Minister and everyone else took a three month nap. Of course back then, we didn’t even know if they would wake up at all! My word, we had problems that year I can tell you. We’re lucky that all the nuclear reactors in the country didn’t melt-down.’
‘I remember that first year too, it was scary,’ said Ryan. ‘I was only fourteen at the time, back in my home town. I just woke up one morning expecting to go to school as usual, and no-one else would wake up. I even tried to pour a bucket of water over my Mum’s head – it didn’t work of course. Dad was away with the army as usual.’
‘But you soon found some other awakers?’ asked Howard.
‘After about three days, yes,’ said Ryan. ‘I was raiding the supermarket to get some food and I found another guy there. James, his name was. I don’t know where he is now.’
Sophie felt herself welling up. ‘I was at the Havenmoor children’s home back then,’ she said, a tear running down her face. ‘I was only ten, just a little girl. I didn’t have a clue what was happening and I was so scared. It was two weeks before Charlie found me, two weeks! I had almost starved.’
‘Charlie from the Comedy Club?’ asked Ryan with disbelief.
Sophie nodded. ‘The only thing that kept me going was my stuffed white rabbit. I called him Jelly.’
Sophie noticed an odd look on Howard’s face, as if mentioning the rabbit had reminded him of something.
Then Ryan unexpectedly put his arm around Sophie.
‘If I had lived in Havenmoor then, I would have looked after you,’ he said soothingly.
Sophie found herself cheering up almost immediately.
‘Well, why don’t I get us some more alcohol,’ said Howard, getting up and heading to the kitchen.
‘Sorry I’ve been a bit rude to you this year,’ said Ryan, looking Sophie in the eye and brushing her hair with his fingers. ‘It’s just that...you know...with what happened last year...’
Sophie decided to go for the direct approach. She threw her face toward Ryan and planted her lips onto his. To her delight, Ryan didn’t resist.
In the corner of her eye she saw Howard approaching the sitting room with another bottle of sherry, but then promptly turning on the spot and returning to the kitchen when he saw the two of them going at it.
After what seemed like a wonderfully long time, Ryan removed his lips from hers and then pulled her by the arm out of the sitting room, up the stairs, and into the spare room where Sophie had been sleeping.
Ryan pulled off his shirt and jeans and Sophie marvelled at the sight of his exquisitely fit body. She’d forgotten just how sexy he was. Then she undressed herself and lay back on the spare bed, staring up at Ryan’s handsome face as he climbed on top of her.
‘What about Holly?’ she whispered.
‘Holly who?’ replied Ryan.
The next morning, Howard woke up in one of the sitting room chairs. An empty bottle of sherry sat on the table next to him. He rubbed his sore head and headed out into the kitchen. The storm sounded like it had passed so he opened the back door and peered out into the garden. The devastation was immediately clear. His solar panel array had been ripped apart by the winds and the panels were scattered across the garden. The small picket fence around the perimeter had been mostly blown down, and in the fields beyond he could see that the earth had become waterlogged, creating large lakes across the landscape. A lot of formerly upright trees were no longer standing.
Shortly after, Sophie and Ryan emerged from the upstairs bedroom. Howard decided not to ask the obvious questions so he started talking about the storm damage instead. Ryan and Howard agreed that they needed to start an inspection of all the local sleeper zones to look for any issues caused by the storm, plus scout for any major problems around the town. Sophie volunteered to come along for the ride.
As Ryan drove them towards the first sleeper zone in his Fiesta, they came across a tree that had fallen into the road, blocking the way. Quite bizarrely a young girl, maybe nine years old, was sitting at a white plastic table that had been inexplicably positioned in the middle of the road. The girl had blonde hair, blue eyes, bunches, a white dress, and appeared to be pouring imaginary tea for her stuffed white rabbit toy, sat in the chair next to her.
‘What the...’ said Ryan.
‘It’s the girl from the surgery!’ exclaimed Howard in amazement.
The three of them exited the car and made their way towards the girl.
‘Good morning,’ said the girl, ‘would you like some tea?’
‘What are you doing out here all on your own?’ asked Sophie, sitting next to the girl. ‘Did you wake up in the sleeper zone during the storm?’
‘Wake up?’ said the girl. ‘No of course not, otherwise I wouldn’t be having this marvellous dream.’
‘This isn’t a dream,’ said Ryan. ‘You’re awake.’
‘Well you would say that wouldn’t you, if you were a part of the dream I mean,’ said the girl.
Ryan scratched his head.
‘This doesn’t make sense,’ said Howard. ‘There’s never been any reported cases of sleepers waking during the Hibernation, it just doesn’t happen.’
‘Where are your parents?’ asked Sophie, ‘are they sleeping?’
‘I don’t have any parents,’ said the girl.
‘Me neither,’ sighed Sophie. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Alice,’ replied the girl.
Howard and Ryan shared a bemused look.
‘Well Alice,’ said Sophie, ‘I think you’d better come with us so that we can look after you until whoever usually cares for you wakes up again.’
‘That would be simply splendid,’ said Alice. ‘But wait, oh dear.’
‘Oh dear what?’ asked Sophie.
‘They’re coming, I knew they would,’ replied Alice.
‘Who’s coming?’ asked Ryan.
Alice pointed behind him. Howard and Ryan turned to look and were stunned as they saw a large group of beings walking towards them. The beings had the shape of humans, but there was no detail – they seemed to exist only as totally unilluminated silhouettes.
‘It’s THEM! It’s the shadow people!’ exclaimed Sophie. ‘See, I told you we weren’t lying Ryan!’
Howard and Ryan looked back towards Alice and were even more horrified to see another group of shadow people walking from the other direction behind the fallen tree.
‘They’re surrounding us!’ exclaimed Ryan, reaching for his pistol.
‘Oh dear, it looks like this dream is about to become a nightmare again,’ huffed Alice.
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