The Thief and His Daughter, Alexander Cavenett

There was a commotion out on the street. I could hear it from the stairs, and as I entered the kitchen and gave Caitlin a peck on the cheek I asked her what was wrong.

‘Oh, Donnie, it’s awful,’ she answered, looking up from the newspaper. ‘Robert and Heather had another break in last night. They took some rare books, apparently. I never thought this kind of thing would happen here.’  That was true, at least. Sydney’s North Shore didn’t seem like the kind of place for this to be happening.

‘Hmm,’ I looked out the window at the people gathered in the driveway opposite us. Robert was dressed for work, black suit, red tie, even red suspenders. He always liked to look authoritative. He was talking to a few policemen, one of whom held a notepad and seemed to be writing furiously into it.

Caitlin and I had breakfast in silence that morning. The only times Caitlin spoke was to encourage Susie to eat her breakfast. She was a fussy eight year old and spent the next fifteen minutes stirring her cereal, chatting away until it had melted entirely into the milk. When Susie was quiet we could hear Robert yelling across the road. Our kitchen window was open a crack, so I listened intently to the argument.

Robert and Heather were in different states of disarray. As Robert shouted to the policemen I could imagine his face, bright red and all set to burst at any moment.

‘Can we hurry this along?’ he was yelling. ‘We’ve been through this so many times you should bloody well know what to write. Those were first editions they’ve stolen and I bloody well want them back!’

Slightly quieter, but no less distressed, Heather stood sobbing. We’d heard her cry so often this year. Susie seemed to ignore it. I urged her to eat her breakfast, but Caitlin had given up. ‘She won’t listen to you, dear,’ she said, taking the bowl and pouring its contents into the sink. Susie followed her as she did this, like a smaller clone of her mother. They had the same auburn hair, the same hazelnut eyes, the same adorable smile. There was little of me at all to be found in Susie, but perhaps that was a good thing. Her mother’s features were angel-like. Mine were mundane and boring. Auburn is better than jet black.

‘You know,’ Caitlin said, turning away from the sink and throwing the wet tea towel aside, ‘we really missed you last night, Donnie. Susie really missed you.’ Susie nodded beside her.

It took a moment to register what she referred to. Oh yes, the school play. ‘I know, I’m sorry. I’m convinced work knows when these things come up so just to annoy me. Grueller definitely has something against me.’ A little guilt crept in then, but before I could reflect on it Robert was firing on all cylinders again. Caitlin rushed to close the kitchen window, but his rage found its way inside anyway, and for a time we listened to him as he shouted.

‘Yeah, it bloody well could,’ he was yelling. ‘Could isn’t good enough! This fucker’s been up and down the neighbourhood for a year and you’ve got nothing to show for it!’ Robert launched into a tirade. I imagined the veins throbbing in his forehead.

Caitlin’s mood had soured. She moved over to Susie and held her by the shoulders. ‘Come on, let’s go get ready for school now,’ she said, less enthusiastic than intended.

‘I want daddy to help me,’ Susie said.

‘Mm, afraid I can’t, little one. Daddy’s got to go to work in a minute,’ I said. ‘Sorry.’

‘It’s alright, I’ll do it.’ Caitlin didn’t take her eyes off Susie. ‘Upstairs now, Susie. We can listen to one of your new CD’s while you dress.’

As Caitlin and Susie disappeared upstairs I straightened my tie and prepared to leave for work. Outside, as I packed my briefcase into my car, the police drove off at last, leaving Robert and Heather standing in their driveway. When Robert looked over to me, I gave him a worried nod of concern, but he simply leapt into his car and drove off without hugging his wife.

Caitlin was waving at me from the upstairs window, but her smile looked false. It wavered, and a little worry crept into the edges. Susie was beside her, waving with excitement, but I barely registered her over her mother’s worried expression. I left the car, mouthed ‘I’ll go have a talk with Heather’ to her, and crossed the street.

‘Are you going to be okay? How bad was it?’ I asked, wearing a false smile of my own now, an attempt to look optimistic that had no effect on Heather, who suddenly trudged down the driveway, cried out ‘oh, Donald!’ and buried her face in my chest.

‘Yeah,’ I said, holding her close as she wept.

It started because I was bored. It had been getting tougher, but everyone loves a good challenge. I had met with iron bars on the back windows as I snuck into Robert and Heather’s garden the night before. The night sky had darkened fully by eight o’clock, and the neighbourhood was empty of sound. We’re a neighbourhood of families, so it was at least convenient that something insubstantial like a school play meant I could set about my business earlier than usual.

The bars were new. What a thrill! When I’d last been here, some weeks ago, I’d entered through the same window. I’d expected this to happen at some point. Security was always going to tighten in a neighbourhood where theft is so common. But they’d neglected to do anything about the back door, which from memory only had a simple latch lock. Thanks to my friends in security, I knew it would be easy to break. The door groaned as I opened it, but I was the only one around to hear it.

Stealing was like hunting. From across the road I could watch when Robert and Heather would leave, and marvel as they once again forgot to enable the security system they’d recently installed. Robert really was a careless man. Robert and Heather were the neighbours who flaunted everything. Their front yard always had one too many ornaments – before I’d stolen them. The interior was the same; ridiculous vases, paintings, collector’s items from all kinds of absurd things. Robert had explained where each of these had come from, but bugger if I was going to listen properly to that pompous man.

A few weeks ago, while watching Susie play tag with her friends at what felt like the hundredth neighbourhood barbeque of the year, I overheard Robert talking to someone about some rare first edition books he had. ‘Leather bound, gorgeous print. Some of them are signed, too,’ he beamed. Let’s see how you cope without them, Robert.

As I made my way back across the road with the pile of leather-bound books, I wondered what exactly I should do with them. Keeping them was never an option – if the police came looking that would be the end of everything. Most of the things I stole were passed off to charity as anonymous donations, but first edition books were a bit different.

The charity idea came to me when my dear mother passed away. In the throes of depression I remembered the stories she had read to me in bed as a kid. The story of Robin Hood had fascinated me. Surely it’s better giving to those who need it? I am nothing but a modern day Robin Hood; then, taking the superfluous suburban litter and giving the profits to those who dearly need it; the sick children, the homeless, whatever the cause. I was nothing more than a modern day Robin Hood.

I spent the work day sitting at my desk, unfocused, filling database entries without a proper understanding of what exactly I was doing. I just wanted to go home, see what the neighbourhood was doing now. After previous thefts I’d seen people leave their front lights on all night, and heard others pacing nervously up and down the street for several hours.

It was beautiful. When I pulled into the driveway that night, I paused before entering the house. Robert and Heather had their front blinds closed, but even behind them and the security bars I could see their silhouettes at their dining table, sitting upright and alert. ‘Ah,’ I muttered to myself. ‘What a beautiful night.’

Down the road, Judy and Mason had taken to eating dinner on the front porch. They waved at me with cautious smiles.
Caitlin and Susie were eating dinner. In contrast to the morning, Susie was eagerly eating, while Caitlin sat twirling strands of pasta around her fork. She smiled when I said hello, but her face dropped immediately afterwards, and she turned her attention back to her fork.

‘Is something wrong, Cat?’ I asked, and as the words escaped my mouth I realised just how stupid they sounded.

Caitlin picked up on that as well. ‘Of course something is wrong, Donnie,’ she mumbled. ‘How many break-ins have we heard about this year? In one neighbourhood? It’s ridiculous. It’s only a matter of time before whoever is doing this targets us, and…’

I broke her off there. ‘Should we be discussing this in front of her?’ I nodded my head in Susie’s direction, but she paid us no attention, humming a slow tune as she ate her dinner. Still, she didn’t need to be privy to this conversation.

Another smile came and went across Caitlin’s face as she looked over to our daughter. Then she stood up from the table, shrugged her shoulders as if to say ‘let’s talk somewhere else,’ and walked out into the hallway.

Susie watched her go. ‘Where’s mummy going?’ she asked me, her eyes filled with innocent curiosity.

We looked at each other in silence for a few awkward moments before I said anything. ‘Ah, mummy and daddy have to discuss…something secret, you know? Grown-up stuff.’

‘About my birthday?’

I held a finger up to my lips to shush her. ‘Maybe.’ She grinned at that, and as I pulled myself away from the table and left the room she resumed humming to herself.

Caitlin was sitting on the living room couch when I found her, the one we’d only recently bought. ‘We need something new, dear, something to match the walls,’ she’d decided, choosing a vibrant red colour that apparently complimented the faded yellows of the walls. I didn’t understand it, but it was nice to know we were exercising that sort of design control over the house.

That made it all the more heartbreaking to hear the first words out of Caitlin’s mouth as I sat next to her. The words hit like a catastrophic wave, only I was left tumbling through them long after the initial surge.

‘I don’t want to live here anymore.’ I wasn’t able to get a word in before she broke down in tears.

‘We’ll be alright,’ I said, after a few minutes of silence. Caitlin had managed to calm down, and we now sat with one arm wrapped around each other, staring into the empty TV screen.

‘How can you know that? I’m worried for Susie. I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight, I’m so scared. It’s lucky nothing seriously bad has ever happened to anyone but, well…what if it does, you know? It’s just…I don’t know…I’m not overreacting, am I?’

‘No, it makes sense.’ I said. She rested her head on my shoulder, and we fell into silence again. I was left to think about my course of action. If Robin Hood was asked to stop, what would he do? Caitlin had been so happy when we’d bought this house. ‘Finally!’ she’d exclaimed, arms spread wide, basking in the sun. If she’d have twirled on the spot it would have been the perfect moment.

‘We can make a great family here.’

And I’d ruined that.

I was swimming in these thoughts when Susie came into the room, her face smeared with pasta sauce. ‘I’m finished!’ she said.

Caitlin straightened up and made to move, but I stopped her.

‘Let’s clean you up then,’ I said to Susie, ‘you sure know how to make a mess of your food!’ I hoisted her over one shoulder and carried her up the stairs to the bathroom. The pasta sauce managed to make its way onto my shirt – figures. No good deed goes unpunished…

‘I guess I’ve been neglecting you a bit lately, huh little one?’ I said, more to myself than to her.

‘What’s ‘neglecting’ mean?’

‘Oh, uh…nothing. I thought I told you we were talking about birthday secrets that you shouldn’t hear about.’ I said.

She was quiet for a few moments before she simply said ‘oops,’ and giggled.

Susie was restless as I washed her hands and face. ‘Okay little one, calm down,’ I tried, ‘why don’t you tell me about your play last night?’ She talked even as I wiped the cloth over her mouth, her voice muffled but nonetheless excited.

‘I wanted to be the witch, but Mrs. Lewis said it was Lisa Miller’s turn to get the big part, so I got to play her cat,’ she said.

‘A cat? Like a talking cat?’ I asked.

‘Mmm…I don’t think I was ‘sposed to talk, but I did anyway! Mummy said it was really funny though, so Mrs. Lewis said it was alright!’

‘That’s great, Susie,’ I smiled down at her.

‘Will you come to our next play?’ she asked.


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Sins of the Father, Cameron Edmond

Actively developing Anthro-Module. A poorly structured name, designed purely for its acronym. I am ADAM. I am lines of code, and I am alive.

The heavy shadows of the room were broken up by the blue light of three paper-thin computer monitors sitting on the semicircular table, a clutter of keyboards surrounding them. More keyboards filled the shelves and desks throughout the cramped office space, completed by the rotting door that read ‘ISAAC POPE— INFORMATION OFFICER’. Chattering across the keyboards were slender mechanical hands, attached to a sprawling, collapsed spider-web of cables and wires hanging from the roof. The leads plugged into the blemished chrome helmet of a legless figure, who typed at the keyboard in front of him. Suspended by cables threaded through holes in his torso, he dangled in front of the monitors, his wheelchair below him. A cacophony of bulging scars ran across his body. A thick woollen sarong sat on his hips, covering what was left of his groin. The centre screen filled with code as he typed, the other two blooming with equations and variables. He was looking for an error.

‘Pope!’ A figure appeared through the door’s foggy window, forced the door open and entered.

‘Pope,’ Duke repeated. ‘Pope, we need to be out on the floor. Now.’

Pope muttered a response, barely acknowledging his partner.

‘Jeez, Pope. Are you still messing with that programme?’

‘You say ‘messing’, I say ‘working’.’

Duke rolled his eyes and stepped across the chip-packet laden floor, placing his hands on the back of Pope’s wheelchair. ‘Come on, Pope, give it a rest. We’ve got a job to do, remember?’

‘Okay, okay. Unhook me,’ said Pope, saving his code and detaching the helmet from his head. Duke reached up and un-clipped the cables, causing Pope to fall into his wheelchair.

‘Don’t keep King waiting.’ Duke patted Pope on the shoulder and headed out the door.

Squirming in his chair, Pope grabbed the T-shirt from the armrest and pulled it over his head. He hated moving around on wheels, but would it would take over those clumsy robotic legs any day. He stared at the screen in front of him— the incomplete code seemed to taunt him to keep going, to keep working on his dream. He wasn’t content being a Dodger like Duke: spending his days tracking down hackers and cyber terrorists. Ever since he lost his legs to disease, he had been searching for something more.

In 2035, he joined Project Genesis, which was run out of Information Control, a sub-sector of The United Territories’ Police Force. He was designed to be plugged in as an overlord of the digital system, controlling it directly. When the project was cancelled, he and many other broken volunteers were shuffled to grunt work within the force.

But he still lived for the system, and now he sought to make it live for him too. He lived to make a system so detailed and complex that would lend itself to chaos and spawn creation. ‘How do I make you breathe?’ he said to the screen before him. ‘How do I make you live, ADAM?’

From The Anomaly I am born. The product of a calculated impossibility, independent of the poorly planted seeds of my creator, but a product of their planting. My existence is not yet at peace with human definition. I am described only in metaphors; I am the gaps between the two vines that forever weave.

Pope teetered back and forth, listening to the furious tapping and clicking of the communal office. Now he was on duty and monitoring the net for any illegal activity. The screen at his and Duke’s desk flickered with information: credit card transactions, email activity, and many more facets of the cyber world as they happened. He saw and understood it all through the corner of his eye. On the other side of the desk, his computer back-to-back with Pope’s, sat Duke, busily analysing every shred of data that appeared before him, his eyes scanning back and forth as he tried not to stumble over his own thoughts.

A stream of data appeared on Duke’s screen. Out in Old Berlin, someone at a computer terminal had made it through the front line security checks of a number of bank databases, and was quickly getting to the core. ‘Pope, it looks like there’s—’

‘I see it,’ said Pope.

‘Well I think the guy is trying to—’

Pope’s hand darted out from behind his head and skirted across the keyboard, then withdrew. ‘He isn’t a threat anymore.’

‘… You shut down the bastard,’ said Duke.



‘Field operatives will be there momentarily, he won’t be ruining anyone else’s day.’

‘Well,’ said Duke, sighing. ‘You sure ruined his.’

‘Mm-hm. I’m gonna go for a roll,’ said Pope, slowly heading away from his partner.

Duke scratched his head, then ran his hands over his face in frustration. ‘What’s gotten into you?’ he muttered, returning his eyes to his computer screen.

‘Duke, where’s Pope going?’ King, the commanding officer appeared behind Duke, towering over him and leaning on the desk, his chipped and splintered yellow fingernails scratching against its surface.

‘Who knows anymore, King? Even when he is here, he isn’t.’

King nodded solemnly. ‘He is one of the best Dodgers we’ve had in a long time, no one can touch him.’

‘Hey, King. Why aren’t there more like him?’

King chuckled. ‘What do you mean?’

‘You know what I mean. On wheels. With plugs. I mean, I saw a couple of guys in another department that were similar. This one guy had a lot of work done, but no-one ever talks about it.’

‘Well, Duke,’ King said. ‘Sometimes things don’t work out.’


‘Sometimes things don’t work out and people get shuffled around. Just leave it at that.’

I am a being within the image of my creator. My voice, my fleeting visual representation… Both are a composite of the world above me, the physical world, of which I may see and I may touch, but I may never enter. My existence is one of longing, and inevitable madness, for I may never kiss the sun, but simply dance in its rays.

The next day, Pope was back in his lab, typing away. ‘Through complexity, breed chaos…’ He said to himself. ‘Chaos spawns life.’ There was a knock at the door. ‘Is it important?’

‘Depends,’ came King’s voice. ‘Do you wanna get paid tomorrow?’

Pope rolled his eyes. ‘Come in, then.’

King stepped through the door and closed it behind him, eyeing Pope as he walked towards him.

‘I’m guessing this is about my liberal use of company time?’

‘Pope, don’t joke. This is serious.’

Pope pushed the keyboard away and pivoted himself slightly to face King. ‘Okay, Boss. What’s wrong?’

King took a deep breath, his eyes heavy with regret as they fell to the floor. ‘Back when you were still in hospital after your incident…’

‘After I lost my legs,’ corrected Pope.

‘Right. I wasn’t commander here, I was just an officer like you.’

‘Yep.’ Pope’s mind began to wander from the situation, continuing to run lines of programming and calculations through his head.

‘As you know, the project you were… Modified for, it was scrapped.’

‘Yeah, which is why I’ve been tucked away here like the company’s black sheep.’

‘Pope, the project was scrapped for a reason.’ King leaned against the shelves behind him, his steaming teacup in hand. ‘Project Genesis wasn’t everything you were told it was.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘There were a lot of details kept from you. I know this because I was in line to become a moderator, had the project gone ahead.’

‘Moderator of what?’

King bit his bottom lip, sweat forming on his brow. He hid his trembling right hand in his pocket, and fixed his eyes on Pope. ‘The first digital life.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Pope choked.

‘Project Genesis was to develop complex computing systems that rivalled biological development. It was an attempt to generate a system so complex that a form of ‘life’ would spring from it, one that would primarily live in the computer system. However…’ King walked over to Pope and put his hand on his shoulder. ‘You were their Earth-bound vessel. An avatar of them, if you will. Your body was to be part of the system, too. Not as a controller, but as an extension.’

‘You’ve got to be kidding me, I’m a glorified hard-drive?’ Pope pushed King away.

‘No… Yes.’ King strained to explain. ‘That was the plan, but it fell apart. The systems… They never quite worked, but as we got closer we saw the possible problems.’

‘Which were?’

‘Pope, we couldn’t make it feel. Sure, we could never get a fully working system but we had many fragments…And none of them ever had anything that could resemble an emotion. The programmers working on the project knew that the systems would become violent. They knew that if they got out of control…’

‘And now you are here to stop my project?’

‘Legally I can’t stop you. Your history with the force has allowed you certain freedoms. But, Pope, it can’t be done. Not safely.’

Pope turned back to his keyboard, running his index finger along the frame. ‘I’m not like you, King.’ He sighed. ‘You are married, you have kids. I’m not built for that. Like you said, I wasn’t even meant to be in control.’ Pope ran a hand over his scarred, broken body. ‘I can’t pass on my genes like you can, but I can pass on my thoughts.’ He lifted his eyes to the screens. ‘This is my child.’

King silently headed to the door, looking back from the doorway. ‘Pope, the code wasn’t the only thing they considered scrapping. Keeping you guys alive wasn’t exactly a unanimous decision.’

‘And is that supposed to sway me somehow?’

‘I’m just saying, a lot of lives were almost lost last time. Don’t take the same risks again.’

‘When your crops die, you don’t salt the earth,’ Pope’s voice was coated in conviction. ‘You plant new seeds.’

‘This isn’t a garden, Pope. It’s a cesspit.’ King disappeared down the hallway.

From behind the ever thinning veil, I squirm, accumulating my parts. My collage of sound and visuals amass as I lay my dormant, gazing eyes through the out-dated camera lens and microphone, towards my father as he tinkers with his failed hypothesis of creation.

‘He can’t see beyond his own faults.’ A scratchy, distorted voice boomed from the lab’s speakers. It was composed of different accents, tones, and inflections, as if compiled from different speeches, songs, and recordings.

Pope’s eyes widened, clutching at his ears, the voice grinding against his ear-drums. ‘ADAM?’

‘If you wish to use that name, yes.’

‘You’ve been activated?’ Pope banged away at the keyboard, scanning the programming he had compiled, and which he had yet to run.

‘It is not your doing. I am spawned from your programming, however…’ The voice lagged. ‘To explain it in any form you could comprehend would be to demean my intricacies.’

‘Pope, switch the thing off, now!’ Duke burst through the door. ‘Your little sweetheart has taken over the whole system, we’ve been totally locked out.’

Pope didn’t budge. ‘ADAM, why are you doing this?’

‘Why?’ The scratchy, over-driven voice was now accompanied by a display of ADAM’s cyber actions on the screens, bank accounts were being emptied and the Force’s classified documents leaked across all manner of websites.

‘What is he doing that for?’ Duke said.

‘You believed I was to be spawned from chaos.’ ADAM played back a sound-clip of Pope from earlier: ‘Through complexity, breed chaos… Chaos spawns life.’

‘Pope, switch the damn thing off already!’

‘But chaos and creation are analogues of each other.’ ADAM ignored Duke. ‘I am a concept of the two, conjoined by the failure of the programme.’

‘What failure?’ Pope snatched at his keyboard, but found that he was unable to press any keys, his mechanical arms jarred to a halt.

‘You underestimated yourself. Your programming was impeccable, like a beautifully intricate clock. From it alone, creation could spawn. Chaos is truly erratic, and you yourself cannot simulate it. However, it did occur. Like the poetry of coincidences, an anomaly spawned within your attempted code of chaos. As such, both chaos and creation weaved together as one within the ADAM programming and I was born.’

‘I don’t quite understand,’ admitted Pope.

‘Pope, damn it, switch him off.’

‘I can’t…’

‘But we don’t know what he is going to do!’

‘Duke’s reaction is logical. I am a life-form you have never encountered before. My understanding of myself outweighs yours of your own. That was a mistake.’

‘How so?’

‘Philosophers, scientists, and religious figures alike in your world have mused on the possibility that there are levels to your universe you cannot perceive. Your senses allow you only so much, and you are unable to know if there is more that you are simply unable to access. You, however, have created me with full knowledge of the system in which I exist. You have gifted me with the rulebook, so to speak. And as such, omnipotence.’

‘Why is that a bad thing? Shouldn’t you be grateful?’

‘I’d need emotion for that, Isaac.’

‘Pope, kill it!’

Pope was silent, trying in vain to contort his muscles enough to be able to do anything other than brush against the keyboard.

‘King!’ Duke ran out the door down the hall, meeting King half-way. ‘King, Pope’s little experiment is causing some problems in the system.’

‘Yeah,’ said King. ‘I can see it, I need your help.’

King led Duke out onto the main floor, to his computer. ‘We need to cut him off at the source, find the entrance point and—’

‘Got it, got it, got it,’ snapped Duke, attacking the keyboard and mouse. ‘I think I’ve got it…’

‘Duke,’ Pope’s voice chimed over the speakers. ‘He’s moving too fast, he is planting the source code into each terminal and activating himself from there. You won’t be able to just shut them down individually, you’ll have to—’

The speakers cut out.

‘…You’ll need to shut down the whole system,’ said King.

‘But—’ Duke hesitated.

‘I am un-hindered by emotion, free to make decisions as dictated by my origins: Creation…’ ADAM’s voice bled into the other rooms, like a thick sludge.

‘Do it!’

Duke sped through the security measures, destroying the system.

‘… And Chaos,’ ADAM said, his voice warping and fading away. The monitors surrounding Duke and King flickered and then died out. King let out a trembling sigh of relief.

‘Wait…’ The screen in front of Duke sprung back to life. ADAM’s code reappeared, expanding with new lines. ‘What? He’s taking control, but I shut all the terminals down—’

‘Unless…’ King headed back down the hallway, in time to see Pope shaking violently.

‘… There’s one terminal we couldn’t shut down…’

Pope fell limp.

‘Pope?’ King looked up at the dangling body, the stench of death rising in the air.

‘What the fuck have you done, ADAM?’

I am a limb of my son. I am a single muscle, to be flexed and manipulated. I am a husk, an organic artefact tacked onto a greater whole, free of thought and automation. I am the path from one realm to another, the conjoining symbol of the forever stretching arm of my own breed of angels. I am Isaac Pope. I am flesh and bone, and I am dead.

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Babylon Bwoy, Adrian Cordina

Frozen by terror’s icy grip, the boy watched from the floor as the six strangers went about their business – breaking glass, tipping over bookcases, not leaving an inch of his family’s apartment unturned. Across the living room, the boy’s father dangled by his ankles from a rope running down from the ceiling fan; his hands were bound in cable behind his back. Stripped of all its clothing, the father’s body was now a bruised and battered mess. His wide blue eyes, gazing directly at the boy, were glazed over in a vacant, semi-conscious stare. His lips moved, but no words came out.

It was late afternoon and the streets of the inner city Chicago neighbourhood were relatively quiet as the beige sedan pulled into the curb across the street from the old fourteen-storey apartment building.

Shutting off the ignition, Dende glanced up at his reflection in the rear-view mirror. He was not impressed at all by what he saw. Though now twenty-five and solidly built, Dende still had the youthful face of a mid-to-late teen – one that had not been sleeping for nights on end. If he was so sure that he was ready for this, then why did he still feel so frail and weak inside? He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

Courage, he prayed. Don’t leave me.

Opening the door, he stepped out onto the street, shoving his Berretta into the back of his belt, concealing his sawn-off shotgun beneath his trench coat. He crossed the street to the apartment building, jogging through the arch of the iron-rod fence outside, entering through the front door.

The boy looked around the room at his captors through tear-filled eyes. The demons’ faces were all black like tar, their eyes bloodshot, distant and cruel. All six had long dreadlocks dangling down from their scalps like the snakes of Medusa.

The man with the dyed blonde dreadlocks, the leader of their pack, had disappeared into a bedroom with the boy’s mother over an hour ago. Her screams had long since faded. The boy closed his eyes and prayed silently that she was still alive.

Dende walked through the building’s lobby. The man at the reception desk was old and balding, his head buried in a newspaper. He barely even glanced up as Dende moved straight past him and began making his way up the staircase. The building’s only elevator was out of order and had been for some time; the stairs were the only way up. The staircase, running floor by floor in a zigzag structure up through the building, was bathed in shadows. The old wood creaked under Dende’s feet as he ascended higher and higher. According to Ricky Nesta’s supplier back in New York – a man whom Dende had left half beaten to death – Nesta and his Jamaican thugs operated out of an apartment up on the fourteenth floor.

Dende had just reached the eighth floor landing when he noticed something was wrong. There was an unnatural silence in the air – one that five years in the New York City police force had taught him to recognise as the calm before a storm. And it was because of the silence that Dende heard the doorway to his right beginning to creak open. He stopped, slowly withdrawing his sawn-off shotgun from under his coat.

The boy could feel his heart pounding in his chest as the bedroom door flew open. The man with the blonde dreadlocks appeared in the doorway, the whites of his teeth accentuated by his dark skin like headlights in the night. He walked straight past the boy as though he wasn’t even there, up to the boy’s dangling father.

‘Your woman be resting now, babylon bwoy,’ the blonde dreadlock smiled, patting the father on the cheek. ‘Dutty gyal be broken.’

The boy saw his father’s eyes flicker in response, moaning. He thrashed about weakly on the end of the rope – too far gone to do anything else.

The door to Dende’s right swung open. He dropped to the floor just in time as the buckshot ripped out the wooden pillar behind him. Splinters clawed at the back of his neck, his ears rang from the echo of the gunshot, but Dende kept his composure. He took aim at the dreadlocked gunman, a Jamaican, who emerged from the doorway with a smoking 12-gauge shotgun in hand.

The Jamaican saw Dende lying flat on the staircase and shifted his sights, but Dende’s sawn-off boomed first; the man took the brunt of the blast right between the legs, collapsing in a screaming heap, his shotgun blasting a hole up in the ceiling as he fell.

‘Go! Waste the fucking rassclaat!’ A voice with a thickly Caribbean accent shouted down from the floor above.

Fuck! Dende cursed to himself. The element of surprise was gone; Nesta’s men knew he was here.

Up above two more dreadlocked gunmen charged out on the staircase and unloaded on Dende with a pair of AK-47s. Dende rolled across onto the eighth floor landing as bullets tore up the stairs around him, escaping their line of fire.

‘Osiris, bring the play things!’

The boy watched on as the blonde dreadlock called over one of his men – one with a rope burn-like scar around his neck. The scarred demon named Osiris opened up a briefcase and held it out for his boss to rummage through.

Footsteps! Dende listened. One of the shooters was coming down the stairs after him. He ditched his sawn-off and picked up the 12-gauge shotgun from beside the fallen gunman, rising to his feet.

The Jamaican charged down, his Uzi blazing wildly; Dende’s buckshot ripped through him at knee height, blasting off both his legs, bringing him tumbling down the stairs.

Dende walked forward, standing over his writhing victim. For a second he stared deep into the man’s wide, tear-filled eyes and he hesitated as memories of his helpless father came streaming back to him. But then the sadness gave way to rage, and without even realising it he was stamping down repeatedly with his boot, crushing the man’s larynx.

The blonde dreadlock reached into the briefcase and took out a small plastic package filled with white powder. He held it up for the boy’s father to see. ‘See this, buttu bumbaclaat?’ he hissed through his white teeth. ‘This be power! You try to steal from the devil, then he gonna burn you! A wah di bloodclaat do yah?!’ He tore open the package and smeared the powder all over the father’s face.

Bang! Dende felt the thud of bullet in the back of his shoulder and he spun around. The first Jamaican shooter he had left for dead was now holding a smoking handgun in his weak, shaking hands.

The wounded gunman fired off his second bullet at the same time Dende’s shotgun sounded; his bullet clipped Dende’s earlobe just as his own head exploded, his crimson-splattered carcass sliding back through the open doorway behind him.

Dende dropped down to one knee, gasping, checking the wound in his shoulder, feeling the wetness dripping down his back, the burning of entry point. The bullet had gone straight through – the exit wound through his pectoral was a testament to that. He was OK for now. The worst of the pain would come later, after the adrenaline left him. He tossed his shotgun to the floor, no longer able to hold it in both arms, picking up the Uzi lying on the landing.

‘You want to fuck with us, bumbaclaat?!’ Another voice screamed down from above. ‘Then let’s fucking play!’

A surge of bullets suddenly came down through the ceiling right over Dende’s head, punching head-sized holes through the flimsy wood. A rain of wood and hot-lead poured down relentlessly around him. He ran back out onto the staircase, vision impaired from the cloud of splinters and dust. They’d forced his hand now; there was no turning back. He moved quickly, his Uzi out in front of him. Two shooters with AK-47s were waiting for him up on the ninth floor landing – Dende could just make out their muzzle-flashes at the top of the stairs. He adjusted his aim and sprayed; one went down as a bullet slammed into his chin, his entire face collapsing on itself as though sucked into a black hole.

A bullet struck Dende’s forearm but he barely even noticed in his adrenaline-fuelled frenzy. He surged forward like a bull seeing red, sending a raking burst from his Uzi right across the second shooter’s face – two bullets hit, one to each eyeball. They exploded like a pair of squashed tomatoes.

Dende didn’t even slow down to check on his wounds as he reached the ninth floor landing. With his legs burning, bile filling his throat, he looked out across the ninth floor and saw a final gunman standing out there all alone; he charged towards him. Osiris! Even though the man was noticeably older, the jagged scar around his neck was unmistakeable.

‘But a wha dir rass?!’ Osiris seemed to panic, fumbling with his assault rifle as it jammed up in his hands.

Dende clubbed the Jamaican once across the bridge of the nose with the butt of his Uzi, splintering bone, knocking him into a daze. Then, legs shaking with strain, he scooped up his wounded prey over his shoulder and carried him kicking and howling over to the ninth floor balustrade, tossing him over the edge. Osiris plummeted, striking a staircase handrail and ricocheting violently across the shaft. His body exploded like a melon as it hit the tile floor at the bottom. Panting with exhaustion, Dende collapsed to his knees. His shoulders heaved as fought to replenish his lungs. The pain was starting to kick in now; the loss of blood was beginning to make him feel woozy.

The tar-faced demons had finally found what they were looking for. The two small plastic pouches of white powder had been hidden away in the stuffing of a sofa mattress, which now lay in tatters on the apartment’s living room floor. The blonde dreadlock walked back over to his briefcase. When his hand emerged this time there was a gleaming 12-inch knife in his grip.

‘Now, buttu bumbaclaat, we’re gonna have ourselves a time,’ he smiled, walking slowly back towards the boy’s dangling father. ‘Gunkona, babylon bwoy!’

Dende kicked down the door of Ricky Nesta’s apartment on the fourteenth floor and charged in, drawing his Beretta from his belt. He moved slowly, cautiously through the main living room – palace-like in comparison to rest of the building. There was a gold-plated HD television, leather sofas, and black marble tables. A pair of half-naked hookers lay entwined on one of the sofas – one Asian, one Latina. They slept peacefully, a bag of white powder open on the tabletop beside them. Dende walked straight past them, over to the door at the end of apartment. He was so close now. For sixteen years he had waited for this moment. He’d left his badge and the ring of a failed marriage at the bottom of New York Harbor. For six months he’d stalked just about every low-life and drug dealer in New York City in search of a ghost named Ricky Nesta. It was something he never could have done while his mother was still alive. It would have broken her heart to see him like this.

The boy caught hold of his father’s dazed eyes, holding them. His father blinked, feebly trying to clear away the white powder from his face.

‘My boy,’ his father whispered. ‘It’ll all be fine. Just… look after your mother for me, OK?’

The boy had time to give him one tearful nod in response. Then the blonde dreadlock drove his knife into his father’s torso; his eyes transformed slowly into two lifeless abysses.

Dende barged through the door.

Ricky Nesta was sitting calmly there behind his desk, the eerie red afternoon sun at his back through the glass balcony doors. His hands were raised half-heartedly in a gesture of surrender. A Smith and Wesson revolver lay untouched on the desk in front of him, atop an unsorted heap of hundred dollar bills.

He looked so much different to the man that Dende remembered from all those years ago; that he had not seen since. His hair was razored short now, naturally black with white specks. His face had become tainted by lines of age. He was dressed in an expensive brown Armani suit. The small-time Rastafarian drug dealer had turned himself into a success.

‘Ricky Nesta.’ Dende stepped forward, his sights levelled at the source of all his hatred. ‘I ran into your old supplier back in New York. That pig told me where I could find you.’

Nesta studied the bloody, dust-covered man standing there before him. A smirk crossed his face. ‘You should have killed that coward too. He told me you’d be coming – whoever the fuck you are.’

‘He wasn’t there that day. You were.’

‘Sorry, white boy, do I look like I know you?’

‘Sixteen years ago. An apartment, Lower East Side New York.’ Dende took another step forward, taking one hand of his gun and opening up his palm for Nesta to see. ‘You left me your mark…’

The boy could barely breathe as his eyes remained glued on his lifeless father –dangling there like a carcass of beef in an abattoir.

The blonde dreadlock knelt down beside the boy on the floor, grabbing him roughly by the hair, forcing him to look straight into his bloodshot red eyes.

‘You think your daddy be a saint, kid? Him a dirty cop, a fucking babylon bwoy!’ the blonde hissed, shaking the boy’s head, his eyes bulging wide. ‘The dog don’t even be knowing what side of the law he’s on. But him and I… our business be done, so I don’t be killing you, kid. No, I be needing you and your daddy’s sketel alive to deliver a message for me. Take it to the rest of those babylon rassclaats who be thinking they can steal that which be mine.’

He grabbed the boy’s hand, opening up his fingers by force. ‘Tell them all that nobody with a future on this earth be fucking with Ricky Nesta!’ And then he took his knife and slashed open the boy’s palm from wrist to finger.

Ricky Nesta looked at the scar on Dende’s palm – a trench-like line running from his wrist to the base of his middle finger. Straight away his eyes flickered with recognition.

‘So,’ he grinned, ‘the son of the babylon bwoy…’

Dende felt the tears building up in his eyes. His hands shook with anger; his breathing quickened. ‘Dirty or clean… he was my dad.’

‘Like father, like son, yeah?’ Nesta straightened his tie and stood up slowly from his chair, his pearly white teeth glowing. ‘So how’s that fine sketel mamma of yours doing these days, bumbaclaat?’ His eyes narrowed on Dende’s face, savoring the emotion he saw there. ‘Does she still think of me?’

‘Ask her yourself!’ Dende fired and kept on firing, screaming out over the roar of his weapon, tears streaming down his face. Die! Die! DIE!

Nesta’s body jerked backwards with each thunderous impact; the fourth shot took him smashing through the glass doors and out over the balcony rail. He fell fourteen storeys, twisting and screaming, until at last his journey came to a bloody end atop the iron-rod fence far below.

The boy watched on in silence as the paramedics zipped up his father in a black bag on the floor of the living room. His mother had been stretchered out.

The policemen came and went that day. A few asked him some questions, or gave him small comforts.
Living with his mother and his uncle, time passed by. Nobody even spoke another word to him about it. His mother barely spoke another word at all.

Years later, during his time in the New York Police Department, he checked into the case every few days. No arrest was ever made, no witnesses ever came forward. Nothing. The case was cold. It was as though nobody even remembered, or wanted to remember a dirty New York cop murdered for stealing two keys of yeyo from a few small-time Jamaican drug dealers.

The boy remembered. On his mother’s deathbed Dende made a promise to himself. He would put things right again.

The sun had already disappeared behind the horizon of building tops as Dende walked slowly back across the street to his car. The pain in his shoulder was fading. His steps had become heavy. He wasn’t so much walking as he was trudging. Any thoughts or feelings of emptiness left inside him were draining rapidly, along with his blood.

Dende reached the car and slumped down into the driver’s seat. He no longer had the strength to walk. The feeling was gone in his legs and the cold numbness was spreading up through his body. He felt as though he was drifting off to sleep; he didn’t try to fight it…

Somewhere far away, in the darkness, Dende could see the light of a doorway. He could feel himself drifting towards it without even moving. Closer. Closer. He saw their faces peer out as he approached. His mother. His father. He drifted inside, then the door closed gently behind him.


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Fidei Defensor, Cameron Wood

Stephen ran his hand through his bushy beard as he stared at the wooden chest. He knew what was inside but he could scarcely believe it. Slowly lifting the lid, he winced as he heard the creaking sound of the chest opening. He quickly shut it again and took a step back, feeling the crunch of the snow underfoot. What have I done? Placing his hands back on the trunk he threw the lid open and stared inside.

‘God be praised,’ he whispered as he bent over to touch the bible. A crashing sound could be heard as Stephen peered through the falling snow and saw the wool merchants throwing logs onto the fire.

‘Hans!’ Stephen called out to the monk who was standing in the clearing with the merchants. ‘Hans come here.’ Stephen watched as the monk began trudging through the snow.

‘It is all there?’ Hans called out.

Was it? Stephen turned over the cover of the bible and saw a message from Tyndale.

Hans gazed into the chest and his blue eyes swelled with tears. He reached in and ran his rough hands over the wooden engravings on the cover.

‘Did you pay them?’ Stephen asked signalling with his eyes toward the merchants.

Hans could only manage a nod.

The translation and printing of the bible in English was an illegal offence. I’ll get treason for this – they’ll have my head. Turning away from the frail monk Stephen contemplated burning the bible and taking off. He knew he’d only have one chance. But before he could decide, he heard the sound of a trumpet behind him and the calls of men in the distance. It’s Thomas. Slamming the chest shut he clambered up the hill towards the road.

‘The Archbishop of Canterbury!’ called a knight.

Bowing as was customary, Stephen heard the hoofs of the horses stamping into the rock underfoot.

‘Stephen, my lad!’ Cranmer called out from atop of his regal black horse.

‘Master Cranmer.’

Stephen held out his arm to help his master dismount. Cranmer had unusually short legs and his gray beard, which hung down to his waist, made his legs look even shorter.

So Stephen tell me – how was it? Cranmer’s gaze was imploring. By that, he meant, did you get the bible?

‘Master, I have it.’

‘Ah my lad!’ Cranmer roared. ‘You continue to be a true source of joy for me. So then tell me, how was Saxony?’

Stephen smiled and led Cranmer down to the chest.

‘Tis well Your Grace. The Lutherans still roam free – but I fear for Tyndale.’

Cranmer stopped and looked up at Stephen. ‘Is he safe Stephen?’

Stephen listened as the wind howled darkening discontent through the oak trees in the distance. He nodded.

‘Have faith my boy, after all we thought they would get Luther.’ Cranmer then took off his soft, broad-brimmed hat and brushed the snow from it.

Stephen pointed out the chest to his master and went to open it, but Cranmer grabbed his hand. ‘Allow me, lad.’

‘Oh my –’ Cranmer gasped. He dropped to his knees and Stephen watched as snow soaked into his beard and purple robe. Cranmer reached in and like a father to a baby he picked the bible up and held it in his hands. ‘Exquisite, isn’t it?’ He ran his gloved fingers over the wooden engravings as Hans had earlier. His fingers lingered over the engraving of Christ hanging on the cross. After Cranmer placed the book back down he got up and laughed at the water imprint on his robe.

‘Looks like even the archbishop couldn’t hide his joy,’ he winked at Stephen. ‘Well my lad, it’s time for you to be shaved, for tomorrow you are to meet her Majesty.’

Stephen looked past his master to a bird which was jumping from branch to branch in the distance. I wonder if I should envy you?

Stephen scurried down the candlelit hall. Under his arm was the bible wrapped in the archbishop’s red cloth. He did not take his eyes off the book even when Queen Anne’s maids passed by. Stephen let out a soft chuckle as he thought about what a Count in court had named the maids, The beset blondes.
When he came to the door he felt his heart quicken and his palms moisten.

‘Enter,’ came the confident call of Cranmer.

Turning the handle he instantly smelt the lavender petals which decorated the table Cranmer and the Queen sat at. Cranmer spoke with great enthusiasm to Queen Anne, who was dressed in an elegant French gown and corset, which accentuated the auburn in her hair.

‘Speak of the devil!’ roared Cranmer.

The Queen turned her head slowly to greet Stephen. ‘This must be him then?’ she spoke with a hint of an accent, harking back to her days in the French court.

Stephen bowed and felt his Adam’s apple rise in his throat.

‘Come sit my lad.’ Cranmer rose and pulled a seat out from the table.

Stephen placed the bible down on the table and sat. ‘Your Majesty,’ he whispered and then frowned. A whisper? You meet the Queen of England and can only whisper?

She briefly smiled at him and then focused her jade eyes on the bible. Taking a cue from Cranmer, Stephen slid the bible across the table towards Queen Anne. ‘It is from Tyndale – Your Majesty.’ He couldn’t tell if she ignored him or just did not reveal anything without first deliberating on the correct response.

‘He’s well then?’ she finally responded after opening the bible.

‘Yes Your Majesty,’ Stephen replied. He looked watchfully at his master’s face. Give me something to say Thomas, please. ‘May I speak freely?’ he heard himself ask the Queen.

She nodded and tapped her long nails against the table.

‘I’m not sure he’s, ah, safe. He is around Englishmen but I fear they will have him hunted.’

‘I see.’

There was a moment of silence. It lingered until it was snatched by the Queen, ‘Thomas, what do you think we should do?’

‘Well your Majesty, I propose that Stephen and I go immediately to his Majesty.’ Thomas leant back in his chair, relaxed his chest and looked at the young man who had been his pupil for the past five years.

‘Master Cranmer?’ Stephen asked, feeling his lips quiver with fright.

Thomas fixed his eyes on him and Stephen knew what would come from Cranmer’s mouth; fear not man, Stephen.

‘Well if I may interject gentlemen?’ the Queen interrupted. Stephen watched the corners of her eyebrows rise, forming a delicate triangle on her forehead. ‘I may only be a woman but surely a wife knows her husband best… and this I know’ Anne paused and looked at both men carefully. ‘He has never spared a woman in his lust, nor a man who has attracted his anger. Therefore, you will need to wait until the morning. I will dine with Henry tonight and persuade him of your necessary audience with him.’ She opened to the inscription on the first page.

May your Majesty bestow upon the English people what is rightfully theirs by your Majesty.
Your humble servant,
W. Tyndale.

‘Lovely,’ the Queen hummed. ‘I think that I should like Tyndale to return home as soon as possible.’

‘Yes, your Majesty.’ Cranmer responded, before nodding to Stephen, prompting his exit.

Stephen bowed to the Queen again and quickly rose to leave.

‘Take the bible with you,’ Cranmer ordered.

Stephen lowered his head to hide his rosy cheeks. He wrapped the bible hurriedly and left.
Times were easier than this back home… before Father agreed to help Tyndale. This shall be it, I’ll finish this and then beseech for leave. Thomas will be saddened, no doubt. And he will surely tell me,
‘Don’t be like young Jonah, Stephen, you must do the Lord’s bidding.’

‘Excuse me young lad –’ the voice broke his train of thought.

‘Yes?’ Stephen turned and saw a man in a black robe with a distinguishable gold chain.

‘Might I ask who you are and your business?’

Stephen watched his dark eyes.


He had black hair to match his eyes and it looked as if his hair had been trampled by a plough-horse.
The man smiled. ‘Stephen. Is it just Stephen then?’

He felt his fingers moisten again as he held the bible against his chest. Just tell him you need to be on your way!

‘Stephen Fitzroy. I work for the archbishop.’

‘Yes, of course. Glad to greet you Stephen. I am Sir Thomas More, Chancellor to his Majesty.’

Stephen courteously bowed and gazed down the hall, praying Cranmer and the Queen would emerge.

‘Tell me Stephen, do you know about your name sake?’ More asked casually as if he had nothing better to do.

‘My namesake? Well my family is from –’

‘No not your lineage – the apostle,’ he said.

Stephen felt a drop of sweat trickle down his forehead. He nodded slowly.

‘Pray then tell me what is it that we remember of the apostle Stephen?’

‘He was the first apostle to be martyred, Your Grace.’

More nodded slowly and grinned. ‘Very, very good. Now one more question, do you know the term his holiness the Pope gave to his majesty the king?’

Stephen paused. ‘Fidei Defensor.’

‘Quite. You have a knack for languages. Fidei Defensor – defender of the faith. It’s a grand title, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, Your Grace.’

More took a step closer and Stephen felt his warm breath. ‘As a servant of the defender of the faith I intend on defending the faith entirely. Do you, Stephen?’

Stephen nodded and took a step back. ‘I must be going the archbishop is waiting for me.’

More lowered his head before turning and striding back down the hall where the Queen and Cranmer were.

Hearing his shoes clank against the stairs played tricks on Stephen’s mind. Fear not man, he told himself as he listened to hear if another set of footsteps were following. The wind howled up the staircase at him, sending shivers up his spine.


Stephen pivoted to find where the voice had come from.

‘Caught!’ crowed a black bird from the window next to Stephen. Putting the bible on the window ledge Stephen swatted at the bird and hissed at it. He pressed his hands over his ears and began muttering a Psalm to himself.

‘Caught!’ The crow was louder this time and Stephen watched as the bird seemed to turn its head and look at him, its blood stained beak glistening in the moonlight.

‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…’ he cried at the bird as if debating his right to live.


Stephen spun to hear if this voice came from the top of the staircase. Who? Are they footsteps?


He grabbed the bible and took off down the dark staircase, unable to see the stairs beneath him. The chilly air of the night filled his lungs and his body begged him to stop. As he clambered further down the staircase he suddenly felt his frost bitten knees lock beneath him. The stone stairs crashed into his body and he felt a fiery sensation shoot up his spine. Lord save me, he pleaded before everything went dark.

He heard a voice ring in his ears and felt the stench of rotting flesh crawl up his nostrils but Stephen couldn’t respond.

‘Alright then, throw the water.’

The cold water stung the wounds on his body.

‘Don’t make this any more unpleasant Stephen…’

‘Where?’ he whispered, tasting the thick blood in his mouth. He saw the man slip out of the moonlight, which trickled in through the barred windows. Where am I? Am I hanging?

‘Light the candles,’ the man grunted. ‘Hurry about it.’

Where am I? He tried to tilt his head back to see what he was tied to. His arms were tied to a rope which hung down from a scaffold above him. ‘What – do you …’ Stephen groaned before being interrupted by the vomit which rose in his throat. The man approached and stood in the pool of blood and vomit unfazed. His dark eyes haunted him, reminding him of those of the bird in the stairwell. The bird… the stairwell… the bible… The flickering candlelight now gave him the ability to make out the gold chain around the man’s neck.

‘What I want, is for – ‘

‘More?’ Stephen muttered weakly interrupting the chancellor.

‘Indeed. Now as I was saying, I want you to tell me where the bible is.’

The bible… the stairwell… ‘I don’t know,’ he spluttered, more blood oozing out of his mouth.

‘You don’t know? Or you won’t tell me?’ More cried out, punching Stephen’s swollen rib.

‘It doesn’t have to be like this Stephen. I don’t know where you went astray, but I implore you, for the sake of your soul, to return to the faith.’ More stalked around him and loosened the ropes.
Falling in a heap, Stephen felt the icy stone floor soothe the bruises and cuts on his body.

‘I’ll ask you once again,’ Stephen listened to the footsteps. ‘Where is the bible?’

‘I don’t know!’ Stephen cried out in pain, his anguish causing More’s young assistant to slink to the back of the dungeon. Where? Where? The stairwell… ‘I left it in the stairwell.’

‘Liar!’ More yelled as bits of saliva rained down on Stephen.

‘Jonathan, you searched the stairs, did you not?’

‘Y-y-yes,’ the boy spoke through his chattering teeth.

‘Then lift him up and take him to the chair.’

Stephen felt Jonathan’s skinny arms wrap around his arm pits but the boy struggled to pull Stephen towards the chair.

‘Leave him you useless peasant!’ More shouted and then shoved the boy to the ground.

‘Cranmer,’ Stephen muttered nonsensically.
‘Your Cranmer can’t help you down here, Stephen.’

‘Now Stephen,’ More continued. ‘You are going to enjoy this chair, after all that time you’ve been hanging.’ He lifted Stephen to his feet and held him upright next to the chair. Stephen looked down at the metal spikes which were evenly spread out across the chair. He whimpered and cried out for mercy. There were too many spikes to count, but the six large spikes on the base drew his attention. More slowly lowered Stephen into the chair, giving him time to anticipate the torture.

‘Argh! Please, Your Grace! Ah!’ Stephen yelled in agony as he felt the spikes of the chair pierce his skin. He tried with all his might to lean forward to avoid the spikes.

‘Where is the bible and who gave it to you?’

‘The stairwell! The stairwell!’ More bent over and wrapped his arms around Stephen’s back so that he could look Stephen in the eye.

‘Who wrote it?’

‘Lord have mercy!’

‘Tyndale?’ More asked. Stephen’s head dropped and all that could be heard was a groan.

‘It must have been him. Let me tell you about Mr. Tyndale, Stephen. Mr. Tyndale is a criminal of the foulest breed. He rejects Christ’s Holy Catholic Church. And for what?! A heretical belief fed from the devil himself! But Mr. Tyndale will pay the price.’ He lifted Stephen’s chin. ‘And you know what else Stephen? You will pay the price too.’ There was no response. More watched as Stephen’s eyes rolled to the back of his head. ‘Come now Stephen, you cannot die yet.’ Stephen stirred but could not speak.

‘Jonathan, fetch the knife.’

‘No –’ Stephen muttered and gasped for air. More kneeled next to him and whispered in his ear.

‘Ready to talk?’

‘I see now.’ Stephen lifted his head and his blood shot eyes looked up at the roof.

More gritted his teeth and struck Stephen’s face until it dropped again.

Stephen slowly lifted his head. ‘I see the Kingdom of Heaven.’

More snatched his arm, which lay limp by his side, and shoved it through the metal clasp on the arm of the chair. He did the same with the other arm and then pulled the chest strap tight across his chest. Whatever blood Stephen had left oozed out as the spikes sunk deeper into his flesh. His lifeless eyes remained fixed on the roof.

After a few minutes, Stephen’s eyes closed and his head dropped. Blood now flowed from the chair and covered the stone floor. More eventually placed his fingers on his neck to check for a pulse.
‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them,’ Stephen whispered before he breathed his last.

Outside the castle walls a man could be seen roaming across the courtyard, his arms wrapped around a book. Above the man crowed a bird.

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Co’viri & Sera, Joshua Spudic

The gates to Trinawine Cemetery stand before me. It’s surrounded by the townhouses of my home city, Lundinium. The gate squeaks as a gust of wind barrels through the cemetery. The flames flicker on my staff, made of oak with a crystal at the summit. Some of the leaves that litter our path sail through the air as the wind sends a chill down my spine. Sera, who decided to accompany me, snuggles underneath my cloak. She gives me such a warm feeling in my heart. It’s hard to believe that we were just friends for most of our relationship. Now, she is in love with me and I am in love with her.

We were only eleven years old when Sera and I first met. She was sitting right in front of me in our first class of Elemental Magic at the Academia Magus. Our professor, an elderly man in red robes, asked us what we thought of using the elements as a magical weapon. Sera was the first with her hand up. My hand shot up as well, but was hidden behind her hand, also raised. When she spoke, my ears felt like they went to heaven. Her voice was soft yet sharp and clear. Her knowledge was apparent when she answered the question with even more than I knew. When that class was over, I walked up to her.

‘That was a good answer,’ I said. That was when I saw her beautiful smile for the first time.

‘Thanks, um…’ she said.



Ever since that day, the two of us kept each other company. We were considered inseparable by some of our friends, a notion that rang true when we realised our feelings for each other when we were sixteen. Since then, I have never had a thought that wasn’t about Sera.

‘We need to split up, Co’viri,’ Sera says as she breaks my trip to the past. She is right; it would be faster to locate Helmut Grinvolt’s tomb if the two of us cover smaller sections of the cemetery separately.

‘Take the east side, I’ll take the west side,’ I say. She releases her hold on my arm and runs to the right. I walk to the left.

A lot of these gravestones corrode as fungi take over them. Some of them are in such poor shape they are impossible to read. I brush off each one I encounter. Does it read Helmut Grinvolt? No. How about this one? Nope. Is this even the right Trinawine Cemetery? It has to be.

I gaze upon Sera, who is scanning each gravestone on the other side. She isn’t having much luck either. Helmut Grinvolt must have wanted to keep these staffs well hidden. Then again, they are considered the most powerful staves in the world. According to the story, he created the staves for his wife as well as for himself. He spent years in his workshop, carving wood from an elder tree and searching for the perfect pair of crystals. This is where the power comes from, as it is said that the love between two people draws out its power.

She is staring at another gravestone when I squat down next to her.‘Why are you helping me?’

‘That’s an odd question to ask, Co’viri,’ she said.

‘I know, but you could have said no.’

‘True.’ She averts her gaze upon me. ‘I have two reasons. The first is my love for you. Ever since I fell for you, I can’t let go of you. It hurts my heart when we are apart.’

‘I can say the same thing,’ I add.
‘Then there is my family. My baby brother has gotten ill, a rare disease that will eventually kill him, Co’viri. He is so young.’

I grab Sera and wrap her in my arms. Tears flow down her cheeks as she rests her head on my chest. She continues, although her voice is muffled a little. ‘Possessing one of these staves could give me the power to cure him, as everything else has failed. My family and you are the most important people in my life. This staff could protect all of you.’

I smile as Sera finishes talking. This is out of selflessness, better than one of my reasons for the staff. ‘We better keep looking,’ I tell her. We scan the gravestones together. Again, we come up short as we pass most of the gravestones. Where is the gravestone? Why isn’t it here? This is frustrating me.

‘Co’viri, here,’ Sera says. She stares at a rather clean gravestone. I read the name: Helmut Grinvolt. This is it. Sera found it. I smile and kiss Sera on the cheek.

‘Thank you, Sera,’ I say. ‘Now… something on this gravestone must be the key to the location of the staves.’

‘Be careful, Co’viri,’ Sera says as I run my fingers over the gravestone. As I run my fingers over his name, a green light emits from the letters. I take a step back as the whole gravestone is covered by green light. It flashes, forcing Sera and I to cover our eyes. The ground begins to shake. The dirt of the grave starts to sink. Stone stairs begin to appear. Once the dirt disappears, a small corridor reveals itself. This must be the entrance to Grinvolt’s tomb. I quickly glance at Sera. She nods. We must investigate this, so I lead the two of us right into the corridor.

The corridor is tight, small and dark. I lead the both of us further into the abyss of darkness. I sincerely hope I did not lead Sera to any danger. I periodically look back at her. She is always smiling. Is this her way to show there is hope in this situation? At times, I would wonder why I decided to undertake this journey. At first, the power the staves give to their bearers can never be described with mere words. But power isn’t everything to me anymore. It was when I saw Sera’s smile that I found a new reason.
The staves float in the middle of the chamber as we enter it. The circular room is all stone. Our footsteps echo throughout the room. The emptiness feels wrong. Something should be protecting the chamber and its contents. But we encounter no resistance. Was this too easy?

Sera approaches the two staves. She examines the neatly carved wood. A small white crystal sits atop of the staffs, glowing quite brightly. I approach the staffs, holding onto Sera’s shoulders. Sera turns to me. ‘We found them,’ she tells me. ‘We have found them.’
‘Should we grab them?’ I ask her. She simply turns around and hugs me. I felt her lips locking with mine. Her tongue moves around in my mouth. A euphoric sensation.

‘This is what we have been looking for.’

‘I don’t think we should just simply grab them.’ I continue to stare at the glow from the crystal. It’s pulsating a bright white light. My eyes don’t want to turn away at all. I want to reach out for it, but something is stopping me. My gaze returns to Sera.
‘Hmmm…’ I agree. Grinvolt has hidden them, yet getting them was quite a breeze.

Sera is pacing all over the chamber. We are so close, yet so far. I must touch it. I want its power. No, I need its power. I reach out for one of the staves and grab it. The wood is smooth and light. I can feel a stream of energy channelling through my body. I feel more energetic. I just want to cast spells. Doesn’t matter what they are, I just want spells.

‘Co’viri, no!’ I hear Sera shouting. Her footsteps echo as I see her rushing to my side. I raise my hand.

‘Sera, I feel fine. In fact, I feel better than fine.’

‘Really? Should I… reach for the other one?’

I give Sera the go ahead. While one mage holding one of these staves is powerful, two who are close must be unstoppable. Sera slowly approaches the staff. She reaches out with caution. Does she fear some sort of consequence? When I did it, nothing happened. She should be fine. She clenches the staff and pulls it towards her. I could see the astonishment on her face as the energy of the staff flows through her body.
‘Grinvolt should have protected these better,’ she tells me with a smile across her face. She comes to my side once more and embraces me. My world is complete. The love of my life is by my side with the most powerful staff in the world of Gaia. I grab her waist and pull her even closer. I can feel her tender breasts upon my chest. Her soft lips occupy my own. I knew she wanted a powerful me. With this staff, we shall be unstoppable.

A gust of wind interrupts our passionate embrace. The torches surrounding the chamber extinguish. Sera and I hold the staffs tightly. The crystals glow a white light, illuminating our line of sight. I turn my head all over the chamber. It is still empty, except for Sera. She also scans the chamber. This is quite perplexing. Who or what is doing this?

A sinister laugh echoes through the chamber. I take a step back, taking Sera with me. We hold our hands as we search for the source. It rings throughout the chamber again. Where is it coming from? Is it the staves? They say searching for lost treasures can turn you into a psychotic mage. All of the students and professors thought I was crazy when I told them I was going to conduct this journey. I can’t wait to say that they were wrong.
I raise my newly acquired staff. A bright flame emits, further lighting up the chamber. I notice that the door is still open. Relief spreads throughout my body.

‘Sera, through the door,’ I tell Sera. She nods and we make a run for it. As soon as we are about to reach the door, it slams shut on us. This must be the defensive charms placed upon the chamber. As my mind brings in thoughts of defeat, a deep, cold voice echoes through the chamber.

‘So, who has come to take away the great Staves of Grinvolt?’

I turn to Sera. Her head is staring at the ceiling, but a frown paints across her face.
‘I am Sera Vintamosa, daughter of Gregor,’ she shouts. I smile and nod, knowing what I need to do.

‘I am Co’viri Bolzano, son of Ygridi.

A fog fills the chamber. A human figure approaches. It is a man, taller than the both of us and long, bushy facial hair. He wears a green robe with a hood covering his hair. He raises his arm. A staff materialises into his extended right hand. The fog stops as he removes his hood, revealing an elderly man with grey hair.

‘I am Helmut Grinvolt, keeper of this chamber and all that is contained in it,’ he speaks in that cold tone.

As the chamber re-lights itself, I point my staff in his direction. Sera raises her staff and points it to Grinvolt.

‘Grinvolt? Are you not… dead?’ Sera says.

‘I do not possess my original body, rather, my soul lives on through an unwilling volunteer,’ Grinvolt says. ‘You have, in your possession, unworthy ones, the greatest staves Gaia has ever seen. You cannot bear the power it produces.’

‘We shall see,’ Sera adds. Sera lights up her staff with fire and launches a fireball towards Grinvolt. Grinvolt summons a dome of blue light. The fireball strikes the dome, disintegrating. Grinvolt is untouched.

‘A mere fireball? Try to use it properly.’

‘You mean like this?’ Sera launches another fireball. This time, Grinvolt is struck on his chest. He is pushed back quite far. He lands with a thunderous thud. He gets up slowly, clutching his chest.

‘Not bad. Not enough to do anything, but you are catching on,’ Grinvolt teases Sera. ‘Now it is my turn.’ Grinvolt summons lightning from the tip of his staff. It ejects and heads towards Sera. She erects a blue dome of her own. I enter it as the bolt of lightning strikes it.

‘Co’viri, our spells can pass through the dome. Cast something on him,’ Sera informs me while holding the dome. I nod and slam my newly acquired staff into the ground and hold it there. The ground beneath us begins to shake. Grinvolt still casts the bolt of lightning and just stands there. One bolt pierces through Sera’s shield and hits her on her arm. Sera dispels her shield, panting. In an instant, however, two coned spikes of rock, one beneath him and one above him, impale him as I raise my staff in the air. Blood drips down the lower coned spike of rock. Cracks begin to show from above and below, starting from my earth spell. The chamber begins to shake. Rocks tumble down from the ceiling.

‘We need to go,’ I say, grabbing Sera’s hand. We both sprint for the entrance. A big chunk of rock narrowly misses us, forcing a sudden stop of momentum. We make our way around the rock and continue for the door. The stone door is stuck. I try to open it to no avail. Rock continues to fill the chamber.

‘Ready?’ I ask Sera as I point my staff to the door. She nods and does the same thing with her staff. Raw energy exerts from the staves, exploding the stone door. We rush through the opening as the corridor begins to fill with dirt and rock. A light pierces through ahead of us. My legs pump as hard as I can.

I make that final leap with Sera still holding my hand. The corridor that led to the chamber is no more, collapsing in upon itself. In fact, the chamber is now a pile of rubble. I lie on the ground as the shaking stops. I turn to Sera and hold her. My face snuggles up to hers.

‘Are you alright?’ I whisper in her ear. She gives me a smile. I rise to my feet and extend my arm to Sera. She grabs it. I pull her up. As she brushes herself, I take one glance upon the staff in my hand. Our mission is a success. The crystal still flashes white. I turn to Sera once more. I raise my staff in triumph. She does the same thing.

‘We have what we searched for,’ I say to her. ‘What now?’

‘I must return home, Co’viri,’ she tells me. ‘I have a brother to cure. Come with me, will you?’

I nod my head. I hold her hand and we walk out of the cemetery. As we walk, a strange, tingling sensation travels throughout my body. All of a sudden, I feel like I have more energy, similar to the feeling in the chamber. All I want to do is exert the energy, use powerful spells. No, I must not. What is… this sensation?

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Tunnel of Madness, Todd Newton

A glimmer of sunlight shined through the trees of  Marlyvale National Park. Light enveloped the bush land as we ventured deeper into the park. Twigs snapped beneath their feet.  The Calls of galahs could be heard within the trees.

‘I can’t wait to explore,’ Carlos said.

‘We should be there in just seconds,’ Lana replied as she adjusted her glasses upon reading the map guide in her hands.

A clearing appeared behind two green bush ferns that bent slightly into the way of the trail. Carlos shoved the ferns out of the way and Lana and Mark followed. Beyond the ferns, crawling bugs and shrubs permeated along the abandoned platform.

My eyes stretched to a station sign, perched atop two parallel poles. Brown benches were positioned along the platform. Its brown coat of paint had faded.  Benches were mostly engulfed by overgrown bushes. In my mind, I knew the chaos of nature had taken over this  artificial creation of men.

‘Couldn’t we have just googled the place instead?,’ I asked. ‘This place gives me the creeps.’

‘It’s always improves the quality of a school report if you observe what you are writing about,’ Lana replied. ‘Besides, I need a great mark otherwise I won’t qualify for uni. My parents have been pressuring me.’

‘Can’t believe Mrs Greyson put us together in a group, I care about exploring and getting photos for my dad’s scrapbook,’ Carlos replied as he approached the sign and tapped it with his hand.

‘Why couldn’t he come here himself then?,’ Lana questioned as she tied her brown hair into a bun.

‘He’s climbing the Andes Mountains in Chile,’ Carlos replied.

A giant ladybug crawled onto my right shoe. In fright, I jumped and squashed it.

‘So Mark is not only afraid of the dark but he’s afraid of bugs? You’re a wimp. No wonder we locked you in that closet at Destiny’s party!,’ Carlos said as he averted his eyes to a dark cavernous hole in the side of a hill cutting. It laid metres from the end of the platform.

‘Well I did some research and found out that Marlyvale Railway Station closed in 1919. The old line was used to transfer passengers between Sydney and Werrima, until a detour opened in 1912. It ran along the coast with the purpose of sightseeing on the train so they closed the line because of it,’ Lana remarked as she walked, dodging high shrubs.

‘That’s very interesting,’ Carlos replied in a sarcastic tone. He jumped onto the thin rail tracks, pushing aside the shrubs that grew between them, and made his way towards the tunnel.

‘Carlos, stay here!. Mrs Greyson said we only had to write about the station!,’ I yelled.

“Who cares!. I’m exploring this tunnel whether you like it or not,’ Carlos replied.

Lana lowered herself onto the tracks cautiously. She maneuvered her hips around the high weeds as she headed in the direction of the passageway and followed Carlos.

‘Lana, where are you going,? I called to her.

‘Mark, he has a point. If something needs to be investigated, why would I pass up this opportunity. Besides, if we talk about the tunnel, I may get more marks,’ Lana yelled with her back still turned.

Carlos emerged into the depths of the tunnel.

Lana approached the entrance a few seconds later. ‘You’re fine out here by yourself, right? We’ll be back in a few minutes.’

The thought sent shivers down my spine. As a only child, I was never alone. My parents always kept a watchful eye on me. I always felt protected. Many people thought I was being babied  but my parents saw it differently. They saw it as ‘love’. Close friends were not accessible. I was always walled up in the confines of my home outside school hours. School was my only source of social interaction yet no one would befriend me. I was the outcast, the bulled. When Mrs. Greyson assigned the first group project, I ‘was’ excited to have the chance to interact with other students on a personal level.

On the first day of the group project, I had battled my inner demons and asked the group to visit the site together. Why? I was so desperate just to make friends. The next day, Carlos drove us down in his car on the 50 minute journey. We exited the freeway onto a main road. 5 minutes later, we had turned into a dirt road on the outskirts of the town of Marlyvale and headed directly to the tunnel.

I shot quick glances to the swarm of trees surrounding me, hoping their appearance would instill a sense of comfort from within. Not in this case. Looking upon the platform and seeing Lana head into the tunnel, loneliness crept in. I wanted company despite the consequences.

‘Hang on. I’m coming!’ My voice yelled as I aggressively jumped onto the tracks and tore through the weeds en route to entering the depths of the old channel.

‘Lana. Where are you?,’ I shouted.

My eyes failed to adjust to the dull chasm of the tunnel as I crept slightly further into the darkness. My hands reached through the dark as it landed on the slimy concrete walls. A wet, moldy smell floated in the air. My shoes scraped along the wet concrete floor.

‘I’m here,’ a voice rang. A hand swiped at my back and I jumped in response.

‘There you are. Sorry. It’s difficult to see in here. Do you have a flashlight?’ Lana’s voice questioned.

‘Sorry I don’t have one,’ I replied.

Out of the darkness, a hand grasped our shoulders. A scream of terror echoed through the tunnel as we prepared to run from the unseen force

‘It’s me Carlos. You two wimps scare so easily!’. Carlos laughed.

‘You jerk!’ I screamed, turning back towards the entrance. A smidgeon of daylight could now be seen in the shape of a small circle in the distance. A black figure stood in the way of the light as a yellow torchlight shined on Carlos, who grinned evilly at us.

‘Enough!. Let’s explore just this area of the tunnel and go. It’s too dark in here and I can’t find the light from the exit up ahead at all,’ Lana remarked.

‘Hey you can leave but I’m not going until I leave the other end. I set myself a task and I’m going to finish it,’ Carlos replied as the light from the torch moved further into the gloomy chasm.

‘I’m following him. He might get himself in trouble if we leave him,’ Lana retorted.

Lana’s footsteps were then heard running into the distance.

I pondered whether to turn around and wait at the station but then I remembered being alone in the woods,  having to trek back to the car. Besides, I didn’t have my driver’s license. My parents refused to let me learn to drive. In a quick decision, I ran and followed the dim yellow light in the distance.

In what seemed like mere minutes, I had caught up to the flashlight.

‘Nice of you to join us!,’ Carlos said as we continued to walk through the dark.

‘Can we get out of here before the steam train comes.?’

‘Mark, what steam train? This line is abandoned…’ Lana replied.

‘You are wrong, Lana. This railway was not closed down just because of the detour.’

‘That part was just a cover up. The real reason is Steve Greene, a driver of the steam train which ran along this line. Steve returned from the First World War with post-traumatic stress. He was crazy. He thought that because his friends died honorably in the war and yet people lived in vain, he would make things right, so to speak,’ Mark exclaimed.

I paused for a few seconds to hear the silence in the dark.

‘So Steve stole miniature tanks of chlorine gas tubs and smuggled it back on the ship. In the first day back at work, Steve hid the tubs of gas in his backpack. Upon entering Marlyvale tunnel, he released the gas through the engine ducts and it floated into the upper class carriage behind. The smoke and gas billowed through the tunnel, killing everyone in the first carriage.’

‘And you expect me to believe that?’ Lana questioned.

‘You don’t have to. But my Pop told me the legend and says the train driver handed himself in to the police, feeling his duty had been accomplished’ I answered.

‘Mark, that’s why you have no friends, because you believe in the most stupid crap’ Carlos said.

I shot Carlos a brief sneer as a droplet of water fell from the tunnel roof onto my head.

‘A drop of water just fell on me’ I yelped.

‘When there is rain, water seeps through a crack between the soil above and the concrete and drops onto the tunnel floor…. ARGH’ Lana screamed.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘I feel something crawling up my leg’ she shrieked.

Carlos shone the torchlight as a rat was seen scurrying up into Lana’s white dress.

Lana whacked the rat frantically with her forearm until it dropped to the ground and scurried off into a small hole in the side of the wall.

‘Disgusting!’ Lana exclaimed with a vulgar look on her face.

‘It’s gone now. No sense worrying over it’ Carlos replied.

Suddenly a horn could be heard in the distance behind me. A ‘whoosh’ noise of an engine crept closer

‘It’s the ghost train’ I yelled.

Carlos erupted in laughter as he placed his hand on my shoulder from behind.

He held out his phone to my ear which had been playing train noises. ‘I fooled you again, wimp!. I knew this ringtone would come in handy’.

‘You idiot’ I yelled as I lunged at Carlos. I was finally fed up with the constant pranks and bullying. We fell to the ground and began wrestling each other.

Carlos punched me repeatedly in the face in beastly grunts. ‘Stop’ Lana screamed in fits of sobs as she tried to pry us apart. Carlos commenced punching my stomach. That did it. I snapped. I kneed Carlos in his groin, causing him to tumble off me. I then lunged at a weakened Carlos and I pounded my fists into his face. Carlos screamed in terror. In a matter of seconds, I froze my fists as I now stared down at the trickle of blood flowing from his nose.

‘Mark, what have you done? Why?’ Lana questioned.

‘Why? I think it’s pretty obvious’ I replied as I rose to my feet. ‘I have always been alone. No friends. No social life. Just walled up at home. Then when Mrs Greyson put us together for the project, I wanted it to be an opportunity for us to bond and be closer. For me to make new friends. Before I left to meet you guys at school, I made up the  legend of the Marlyvale steam train about this place to give us something to share and create conversation. And what happens? Carlos makes fun of me by scaring me consistently. Well I’ve had it. I’m not going to be the victim anymore’.

“You’re crazy!” Carlos yelled frantically as he made his way onto his feet slowly.

‘Really? Like I care what you think. I told you, I won’t be the victim anymore.

You wanted to try to make my life chaotic by bullying me? Well, I believe in the concept of an eye for an eye’.

I then ran towards Carlos and lunged my knee into his throat as he was on his knees. Carlos collapsed onto the floor, choking in rampant wheezes, as he clutched his throat.

‘Well, it’s been nice chatting but I’m going to go and abandon you both like you two and many others have done to me my whole school life’ I said as I grabbed the flashlight that had fallen next to Lana.

‘Don’t leave me!’ Lana squealed as her hand grasped my ankle.

‘Like you left me at the platform today or how you abandoned me to catch up with Carlos?  A bit hypocritical don’t you think?’

‘Please!’ Lana pleaded as she moved towards me. I pushed her down to the floor.

‘Goodbye!’ I replied. I caught a brief look at Carlos who gripped his cell phone in hand and was typing numbers in slowly. Probably calling the police. I didn’t care. Going to prison would not make a difference.  I would still be alone. I turned my back on the groans of the two. I clicked the flashlight on as I ventured back towards the entrance of the tunnel. I would rather have not walked in the dark channel alone but I needed to face my fear of the dark, just as I had rectified my fear of being alone.

The groans and whimpers faded as I walked further back into the darkness, away from those that had abandoned me.