The follow up to The Last Changeling continues to grow, albeit slowly… for now, just for you, here’s a taster from the very first chapter of Book Two….!
D has just emerged from a Public Inquiry into an incident in Book One, The Last Changeling:
D made his way towards Westminster Bridge
. His uneven, loping gait carried him far and fast whilst he considered the nature of secrecy.
It bound his entire existence. Everything he did to keep people like those gossipers safe, depended upon it. Yet it was a fragile thing.
A single snowflake fluttered down and alighted gently upon him. D paused and studied the speck of white slowly melting into the black wool of his sleeve. Nestling there, it struck him as a good match for his thoughts. Secrecy was like snow, it built up in layers until you had a thick, seemingly stable covering. All it took for a disaster was for a weak layer to be incorporated into the pack.
Then there would be an avalanche.
Everything he was facing now – the multiple public and private inquiries, had all stemmed from one member of D9 breaking away and trying to force such a collapse. A torrent of news had hit the internet and only extreme vigilance, together with some cunning misdirection, had buried the most compromising information. The rest had been left, hidden in Plain Sight for anyone to see. Stories so sensational, they openly invited scornful disbelief.
D sighed, and stood, looking out across the broad sweep of the Thames
at the skeletal ellipse of the London Eye. The Houses of Parliament were behind him, still enshrouded in scaffolding following their bruising encounter with the metahominid hordes. D wearily stretched his neck, bending his head so his left ear touched his left shoulder, listening as his bones cracked loudly.
A sparse scattering of snowflakes fluttered and fell, and then no more. D raised his odd eyes to the heavens. The sky had taken on a greyer tint, and the light was lemon yellow. The bulging clouds were holding onto their payload of snow for now, but the strange storm-light promised there was more to come.
He plucked himself from his reverie, and started again across the bridge. A sudden scurry of wind whipped his straggly black fringe away, and he noticed the young woman walking towards him, pushing a buggy. Stranger still, she seemed to have noticed him
. She made direct eye contact for a split second, before scurrying past, furiously stabbing the buggy ahead of her on the pavement like a weapon. D continued but his pace quickened. In that instant of what almost seemed like recognition, his precision memory had recorded her every detail.
Late twenties. Medium height, slender build. Dark grey eyes. Skeletal face, high forehead, long thin nose, overly large mouth. No makeup. Thin, straight shoulder length hair, originally well cut, now grown out. Natural mouse overlaid with chestnut dye. Good colour, possibly a vegetable dye. Professional looking application suggests she used a salon. Re-growth reveals she hasn’t been back in at least four months. Thin, cotton summer dress, pale green print with white daisies. Pale beige knee length mac, belt missing. Black leggings and grey converse trainers. Size five. Well made clothes. All out of season, suggests she has not had the money, or possibly, the inclination, to buy more. Bracelet style tattoo of stars in red and purple on left wrist. Out of place with elegant clothes suggests early error. Wild Child rebelling against moneyed family perhaps? Further evidenced by two piercings on each ear, no earrings. Unwashed hair and dark ringed eyes, but no obvious signs of drug misuse. Creased boutique carrier bag beneath buggy suggests she’s had money but not now. Similarly, flexible pushchair is expensive, and no older than two years. Likely to have been acquired for this, her first child…
Then D’s inner analysis finally got to the meat of the matter:
…Except the thing in that buggy is no human child…
As he hurried away, D turned, carefully casual, to cast a glance back at her. She had stopped now and unaware of his observation, was staring across the broad parapet. She was un-strapping the thing that was lolling the pushchair.
He assessed his options. He couldn’t approach her, he didn’t want to spook her. He worked out how long it would take to get into position.
He loped along the bridge. In that time, she had lifted the small body clear of the buggy, and had placed it on the parapet. The thin tide of people swept uncaringly past. Londoners and tourists alike, no one seemed bothered there might be a problem, much less a potential tragedy unfolding with the junkie and her kid on the bridge.
D quickened his already furious pace. If she threw that thing into the water, she would never be able to get her real child back. He began to run.
He raced away from her, in the opposite direction, off the bridge and down, barely registering the distant rolling crash and rattle of skateboarders in the Queen Elizabeth Hall undercut.
Within three minutes of first sighting her, he was beneath the bridge. It was low tide. He slid and skidded down a set of greenly slurried steps. Then he struggled out of his huge coat, cast off his big boots, and crunched painfully across the stony debris field of the foreshore.
He hadn’t time to worry about what liquid-dwelling enemies might be lurking in the freezing waters, he hurled himself in and struck out toward the centre of the bridge. Much faster at swimming than walking, he finned his huge hands and quickly battered his way through the Thames
choppy green wavelets. The elegant flattened arches of Westminster Bridge
rose above him and as he looked up, he saw something spinning through the air. A small, floppy bundle cart-wheeling through space.
Leaping like a sea creature, he exploded out of the water and caught the thing by its hooded jacket. At his touch, it opened its sickly yellow eyes and hissed. D quelled his desire to dunk it and held it high above the river. It was struggling now, but he held it firmly. As he turned to head back, something bigger plummeted down and smashed through the surface just behind him.
In one fluid movement, D spun, stuffed the creature beneath his arm and struck out towards the still foaming disturbance where the young woman had jumped in. Gasping, she popped up again almost beneath him. Her wide eyes were fixed and terrified, her frantically flailing arms betraying her as a non-swimmer. Instinct made her crane her neck to keep her head above the water, but she was choking and wildly overcompensating. D calmly grabbed the back of her coat collar before she could sink again and pulled her face clear of the surface. She responded by clinging to his arm with a desperate strength. Hampered by her and the squirming creature pinned beneath his other arm, D made slower progress back to dry land.
By now, some people above had spotted the vacant buggy and were staring down into the water and pointing. D’s feet hit the bottom still some distance out, but the woman made no attempt to stand and he was forced to drag her like a sack along the rough stones and shingle crusted mud to the shore. He dumped her just clear of the water. She didn’t make a sound, she simply lay shivering amidst the stinking river detritus. Before putting his boots back on, D grabbed his coat and wrapped the thing firmly inside it. Already he could hear a distant siren.
He looked back at the half drowned woman. There was nothing he could say. They both knew she hadn’t tried to kill her child.
Her real child had been taken from her months ago.
Out of the sightline of the gathering spectators on the bridge, he clambered quickly back up the steps. If that poor woman was ever to be reunited with her lost baby, he would have to move quickly.
The yellow-eyed thing swaddled in his coat was still moving, but D was keenly aware that normally, he should have been barely able to hold onto it.
Something was very wrong.
D loped back across the bridge, heading towards his car. Despite being clad in baggy wet clothes, and carrying a moving black bundle beneath his arm, still his strange skill at not being noticed held and indeed, no-one took much notice of him. A little way along the bridge, he skirted the gathering crowd. The attending police officers and bystanders circled around the empty buggy, were too distracted watching the woman below them being lifted onto a stretcher to register him passing by.
For his part, D was too busy to pay much heed to them. His mind raced ahead. Locating a lost human child, stolen away and hidden in a hill fort or barrow normally took weeks of careful research. By the look of the thing in his coat, it would have to be accomplished far more quickly. Before it died. If it did, there could be no exchange. Assuming it survived, then there was still the actual rescue mission to be executed – a swap involving the restoration of the baby’s sickly metahominid counterpart back into its proper environment and the recovery of the human child it had replaced.
D understood there was no way of knowing how long it would take to accomplish. All he knew was that if the malign thing he was now carrying beneath his arm through the busy London
crowds died, then the stolen human child would remain trapped in the wrong world forever.
He returned to his old battered Saab to find a parking ticked gracing its windscreen. That was the least of his troubles. Opening the boot, he dumped the dark bundle inside, reconsidered, and grabbed it back out again. He needed to keep it where he could see it. It was risky, but he put it in the passenger foot well. Holding his breath, he finally turned the ignition key. Whilst the engine hummed into life, he tensed, waiting for a reaction, but none came.
Too unwell to react, the changeling lay motionless. © FRMaher 2013
That’s your lot for now!