Authors: Tom Hoyle
He looked deep into her blue eyes. “Okay. I'll tell my parents this evening.” And with his hand on her shoulder, the words came out very formally: “MegÂ .Â .Â .Â thank you.”
Megan twisted around so that she faced Adam, then touched the side of his head, above his stinging ear, now more like a caring adult than a girl, and gently pressed for several seconds. “AdamÂ .Â .Â .” She paused again. “I'll always be your friend.”
That evening, at about 9:45 p.m., Adam took the gun from the Lego tub, intending to explain everything to his parents. He knew that walking in with a gun in his hand would be an awful and life-changing moment, but then found he was so terrified about what would happen next that he couldn't make an entrance at all.
A bit longer, just a bit longer, he thought.
A black Range Rover with four people in it swept along deserted country lanes. The people inside were silent, full of dreadful purpose. Scarred palms held the steering wheel; a woman in the passenger seat picked at her short nails; two teenagers sat in the back, flint-faced. Bony trees were lit for a time by headlights, then passed in a blur.
Adam sat in his room. 10:45 p.m. became 11:45 p.m.
Wheels spun quickly down a two-lane road, then even faster down a highway. London: fifteen miles. Exit at the next junction, said the sign.
Adam decided that at midnight he would knock on his parents' bedroom door. That would give him fifteen more minutes of freedom.
Smaller roads, lined by houses and trees. The Range Rover stopped. The four people stepped out, all of them carrying backpacks.
Midnight came and went, and Adam still hadn't spoken to his parents. Now it was 1:00 a.m., and he realized it would have to wait until tomorrow. It was too late. A few hours wouldn't make any difference.
The four walked across a park. A voice came from the gloom. “Hey,” someone was calling. “Hey!” Three men emerged from what looked like a children's playground. “Are you lost?” There was laughter. “Out for a walk?”
Coron responded, speaking into the darkness from under one of the lights that were strung along the path. “I think you should leave us alone.”
More laughter from the three potential muggers. “No, I think
alone.” The men jogged to the path, indistinct shadows vaguely lit by no more than a half-moon and the glow of the city. Arriving into the limited circle of light, one of the men spoke aggressively: “Hand everything over and no one will get hurt.”
Coron looked dismissive. He took a deep breath. “You have picked the wrong people.”
“We're so, so scared,” mocked the tallest of the three. “You've just met the wrong people. Don't try to be brave, Daddy.” He pulled a knife. “You're pissing me off.”
Coron was calm. “Do you have bad dreams?”
“Welcome to a nightmare.”
Coron grabbed one of the muggers; Marcia another. They were bundled to the floor, almost invisible in the darkness. There was scuffling, followed by five or six dull thuds. Then silence.
The remaining mugger, suddenly confused and wary, stared at Viper and Cobra. He saw that these teenagers were also calm. Why?
Viper spoke. “Thieves shouldn't play with murderers.”
Murderers? What was this?
Coron and Marcia returned, surrounding the thief. Gripping the mugger's head, Coron whispered in his ear, “Remember my name: Coron. Mention it.”
“What? Who to? Who should I tell?” he stammered.
“Our New God. You're about to meet him.”
At 2:00 a.m. Adam lay down on his bed. I'll speak to Mum and Dad first thing in the morning, he thought. I know that they love me; it'll be all right. He fell into an exhausted sleep. He would be awake within the hour.
In the park, three young men were found dead the next morning. One, propped against a tree, had not died quickly.
At 2:40 a.m. Coron, Marcia, Viper and Cobra reached Adam's house.
They had spent the previous morning in the gym preparing and rehearsing. Coron was both director and leader. He had over one hundred willing servants, but the Master had told
to be his avenging angel, just like the angel who had killed the firstborn in Egypt. The Master's Angel.
Archangel Coron. Yes, that was his destiny.
Coron said that the Traitor would be somewhere nearby, so they hoped for a second kill. “It will be one of the greatest nights in history if both are eliminated,” Coron had said to the assembly at the Old School House. But there was no one around to witness them striding down the path to Adam's garden.
They slipped through the bushes and toward the house in single file, a mere rustle of movement that was lost among other sounds that litter a night. Then backpacks were opened with clasps, rather than zippers, for silence. Four identical containers were pulled out and unscrewed. The smell of gasoline rose.
The sweet smell of gasoline, thought Coron. The sweet smell of death. Leading to the sweeter smell of a burnt offering. An odor that would rise up to the Masterâand to God.
Viper and Cobra thought of past kills. Like hunters, they were greedy for another. But with Adam they wanted more.
They wanted revenge; for him to be frightened and say
; for him to hurt.
Coron put his duplicate key into the back door. It wouldn't go in fully. The original key was in the lock on the inside.
Cobra stepped forward, pulling a small screwdriver from his backpack. If this didn't work, he would break a window. But that was a coarse and noisy method. They were not common criminals.
Ninety seconds later they were in.
The four slipped through to the sitting room. Silenceâapart from the usual
that are common to every house. For two or three seconds the fridge rattled, then was still. Adam's fish drifted around their tank, dumb witnesses to the four intruders.
Coron spoke quietly, below a whisper: “Of all the people in the world, we are the
important. Nothing will happen tonight that is more significant than what
will do here.” He closed his eyes. “Master, we serve you.”
An equally quiet response came back, not much more than the movement of lips: “We serve you, Coron; we serve the Master; and we serve the New God.”
The four went in separate directions. Viper and Marcia splashed gasoline downstairs, while Coron and Cobra did upstairs.
. Gasoline was spilled, carefully, thoughtfully, arteries linking to veins.
We are like artists
, thought Viper as she poured spill after spill over the sofas. They pulled threads to weave in the most flammable material. Skilled work in the service of the Master.
Coron and Cobra did the same on the stairs and landing. Quiet spurts of gas, soaking into carpet, seeping under doors, spreading like thin molasses.
Finally, Coron reached Adam's door.
Coron had intended to stop there. But something stirred in his spirit. A desire to torment his victim.
With his head pressing against the sign that said Adam's Room, Coron pushed down the handle and opened the door.
Even imposters must sleep, Coron thought. Even Adam must sleep.
The smell of gasoline was strong now, and Adam was beginning to stir. Coron went forward three paces and quickly put his hand over Adam's mouth and nose.
Adam was drifting out of sleep, swimming up into the place where dreams blend with reality, where consciousness is seen above like ripples on the surface of a pool.
Panic filled Adam the instant he realized he couldn't breathe. He couldn't think of anything else, just the need for oxygen. Then some air crept in, and with it a spasm of realization: there was a man here. Adam's eyes sprang open. The guy from the festivalâKeenanâwas behind the man.
Adam tried to scream, but a hand was clasped over his mouth. Nothing came out but a long and throaty “mmm” sound; spent air filled his lungs.
The hand relaxed. Air. Gas, thought Adam.
“Hello, Adam. I am the avenging angel, come to kill the firstborn of the millennium.”
“Let me go,” Adam choked out. Predictable, natural, futile words.
“No. I don't think so. You are the thirteenth, and you are thirteen; if you become fourteen, you become a man, and if you become a man, then the world will not have the leader it needs. Me.”
There was no strange look or mad tone. This man was not the Joker or the Green Goblin. There was nothing comic book about him. His words were blunt and simple, as if he thought they were obvious.
Surely someone who spoke so calmly would have some sense of reason. So Adam said, “Please, I think you need help. If we could just think about thisÂ .Â .Â .”
Another hand, slightly smaller and less abrasive, pushed hard into Adam's face, forcing his lips against his teeth. Then Adam felt breathing on his ear. It was Cobra. “We are going to start the burning now, and it will continue for eternity.”
Coron whispered again, standing up. “You see, fire is like an idea. It spreads slowly at first, but gathers pace and enthusiasm. Eventually it makes the world roar.
will make the world roar. I am the chosen one.”
He pulled a packet of matches from his pocket. Adam could barely make out the box in the dark, but he heard the familiar rattle of the thin sticks inside.
Cobra pushed his left hand hard into Adam's throat, shoving and squeezing with the strength that hatred gives. His right hand held plastic cord-like handcuffs. “You will see death coming.” Adam felt his throat close.
“Bind him,” said Coron. “We offer you as a burnt sacrifice to the Master.” Coron pulled out a match and rested its head against the side of the box.
Cobra smiled and giggled.
Then Coron lit the match and held it up in his left hand. A small flame flickered, a flame that would feast on gasoline.
Suddenly a familiar voice, full of horror and confusion, came from the doorway: Adam's dad. He shouted, “Oh my Godâhelpâget outâAdam!”
Adam saw Coron pull a gun from his inside pocket with his right hand.
For an instant, all was still. The match burned unwavering in Coron's left hand as he murmured, “Shhhh.”
Before Adam realized what was happening, there was a snapping sound from the gun, followed by a thud as Adam's dad staggered backward and fell to the ground. His dad made short gasping sounds: “Ad-am; Ad-am.”
Adam twisted and writhed against Cobra's grasp, desperate to get to his father.
The match was now half-burned, still upright, without a tremble, between Coron's fingers. Only a lunatic would have such conviction when faced with another's death.
Dark specks were appearing in front of Adam's eyes. He was losing consciousness. Some specks became blotches. Cobra was dragging him out of bed and down to the floor to tie him up.
Coron stepped into the hallway, put his foot on Adam's dad and spat, “You protected Adam. You are also an enemy of the Master.” But the match had burned down into Coron's fingers and gone out. Adam heard the scrape and fizz of a new flame.