Soldiers of Fortune [book chapter]

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Nathan shows the True Meaning of ‘Special Forces’

[An extracted chapter from the book in Progress, “Reluctant Angles”]

soldiers_of_fortune

A seagull squawked overhead at exactly the same moment that a car tyre screeched on the road in front of him. The sounds were similar in frequency; yet it was easy to tell that one was from a living creature and the other from an inanimate source.

‘In war,’ thought Nathan, as he witnessed the event and associations were triggered in his head, ‘soldiers must make all living creatures into inanimate objects like pawns on a chessboard so as to better be able to kill them. Humans. Cattle. Dogs. It matters not which species. If it lives it must be rendered void of life. These men are both forced and force themselves to remove the idea of the other as a living, vibrating, kinetic being. They murder before they’ve even killed!’ So he thought.

He could feel goosebumps all over his body as the horror of those thoughts rippled through his mind. He recalled how the actual word horror comes from the Latin word horrere which means bristling, standing on end, like the fur on a cat’s back or porcupine quills when fear strikes — which was precisely what the hair on his arms was doing at that moment.

Meanwhile, the squawking seagull had flown out of view and the screeching car had driven out of sight. What remained in front of him was a human shape which smelled of what he could only call crumpled hatred. Now he knew what had brought those thoughts into his mind. That seagull and tyre could not be compared to the scream which came from this big blurry figure. Yet the figure’s face revealed nothing as he coolly ordered a pack of cigarettes from the kiosk on this busy street.

It was Lavinia who had directed him here. “All you have to do is stand on Greenwood Street near the kiosk and you will feel it. They will be there. We have to win them back. I know you will excel.” She was always right and true.

Nathan slowly focused his eyes on the body of the man. During the brief seconds before, he had scanned him with another (invisible) organ and he now wanted to see the source of such a shriek. The first thing that he noticed was that his head was almost completely shaven, apart from a slight beard growth on his cheeks, chin and neck. His extravagantly contoured body was bursting out of a tight khaki T-shirt and camouflage trousers which were tucked into steel-tipped, black, lace-up boots.

As Nathan allowed the everylittleutterthing of this man to flow over him, his chest began to convulse with subtlety through waves of mini-sobs and tears came into his eyes. After some seconds, he began to control himself. He quickly realised that he would have to psych himself up for what must come next. He took two huge strides and stood next to the man, looking at his face so starkly, with his eyes wide-open, holding his breath, that the man simply stared back at him as if waiting for some inexplicable thing to happen. He was somewhat taller than Nathan, who wasn’t small but he still had to look up at him. He had to look up even more because he was now standing with his hands on the top of his thighs as if too weak to raise himself to his true height. Then, in a softly-spoken flow of words, he said,
“What did they do to you? What did they do?”

These were not said in a questioning tone, even though they were technically questions. They were said more as if they were measured statements of incredulity. Nathan slowly straightened himself up and, as he did so, the information which he knew was coming began to flow in.

“I’m really sorry but I have to say this to you,” he went on. Slight pause. “How long are you going to shut yourself off from what you need to feel. Those children. All those children. Their blood. Their parents’ blood. You were younger. You were full of bravado. You had no idea what you were getting into. But I know your regret is more than you can bear. I saw it just before. You cannot hate yourself forever. You have to let it go. You owe it to your family.”

For a moment the man felt something begin to deflate inside him. He sensed a weakness in his lower body. His heart began to race. Then, suddenly, his face changed colour to a dilute blend of purple and red. The veins on the side of his head stood out like tree roots on a forest floor. He grabbed Nathan by his jacket and flung him across the pavement as if he was a rag doll.

Just then, three men who looked very much like him — accompanied by a woman and two young children — ran over from the other side of the street where they had been window-shopping. She was shouting “Denny! Stop!”, while his friends grabbed the man to restrain him from any further hostilities.

“That fuckin’ bastard! I’ll kill ’im. I fuckin’ will,” said the man, straining to release himself from the clutches of his mates.

“What’s goin’ on?” said one. Then, nodding towards Nathan, “What did ’e do?”

“He were givin’ me mouth. Mouthin’ it off about the fuckin’ war. Fuckin’ twat!”

The word “twat” was accompanied by a spray of saliva due to the force of its delivery. It fanned out in slow-motion as the sun caught it in a glint.

One of the men approached Nathan as he sat on the floor and said roughly, “Go on, mate, fuck off like he says”, jerking his thumb down the road.

By now, Nathan had stood up, a little bruised but unhurt. He was used to this. He studied the man’s face and body language. The other men had led their friend away from the scene. The woman was quizzically looking round at Nathan as she accompanied them.

“What I said to your friend was for all of you. I wasn’t mouthing it off about the war. You need help. You’re all hurting inside. I’m probably the only one who knows apart from you guys.”

“What the fuck are you talking about? And how do you know anything?”

Then his face lit up, as if he’d had an idea: “You a fuckin’ reporter?”

“No. Not a reporter,” said Nathan. I just know. It’s what happens. Seeing people and knowing them. Not every detail but just a broad picture and usually a detail or two. I can’t explain it all now but I have to tell what I’ve seen. It’s not for me; it’s for you.”

“What are you then? One of them psychics like on the telly? Listen to me, arsehole. Me and those guys you just seen is thick as thieves and you start any trouble and we’ll finish it. And I mean fuckin’ finish it. You don’t wanna mess with us, mate!”

Nathan observed that the man was flexing his large shoulder muscles and sticking out his neck in a peculiar manner. He had seen this before. It reminded him of a cock strutting across the farmyard as a desperate way of impressing the hens.

“I’m just me. But I know what you did. Taking the heads off kids and kicking them around in a football game. Raping pregnant girls then disembowelling them. Forcing their families to watch. I know you did what you thought you had to do at the time. You were sometimes crazy, sometimes brave as hell in other situations. But one can’t do stuff like that and walk away intact. Each time you destroy a life in coldblood you destroy a little part of yourself and make a dent in the darkn…”

Nathan didn’t have time to finish. After making a muffled shriek in the back of his throat, the man’s right arm flew up and gripped Nathan round the neck, pinning him against a shop window, making it shake and rattle loudly. Inside the shop a sales assistant alerted a security guard to what was taking place outside. Nathan managed to speak in a throttled tone.

“Please! I know you can be free of all this. I know you hardly sleep at night. All those nightmares. Life is too precious to…”

The man tightened his grip. By now Nathan could hardly breathe. Thirty seconds had gone by since he was slammed onto the window. He was ready to die; but he maintained steady eye-contact with the man. Then through a haze he heard a siren and a car screeching on the road alongside them.

‘That was quick,’ thought Nathan. “Just in time.”

Two policemen roughly the same size as the man got hold of him and pulled him off, though he didn’t seem to resist much. One of the policemen spoke:

“What’s goin’ on ’ere?”

Then he saw who it was he was holding. “Geoff? What the ’eck are you doing?”
By now Geoff wasn’t struggling but was just looking down at his feet, embarrassed at his reactions and breathing deeply. On civvy street he was a law-abiding family man who let his kids tickle him till he begged for mercy. One of the policeman asked Nathan if he was alright.

“Yeah I’m fine. You can let him go. I understand his reactions. He was provoked. I said things he didn’t like.”

“Well that doesn’t give anyone the excuse to get hold of whoever they want and strangle them. It’s assault.” said one of the policeman (not the one who knew Geoff), looking round in such a way that it almost seemed to be a moral address to the little circle of people which had surrounded the scene, one of whom giggled. Nathan took a step forward and spoke hoarsely.

“It’s okay, officer. There’s no need to take this any further. Just two guys getting a bit carried away on this stinking hot day. It’ll be okay now.”

He held out a hand to Geoff who looked up and eyeballed him with surprise. After a moment’s hesitation, during which he realised it was the best way to round this off, he loosely took Nathan’s hand, who gripped it as hard as he could, staring at Geoff with pleading in his eyes. The police released their grip on Geoff and turned to the crowd and said “Alright, the show’s over. Move along.”

As soon as the policemen turned away, Nathan put a card in Geoff’s hand.

“Call me. Really. You must. Talk to your mates. You know what I mean.”

Nathan turned to walk away as one of the policemen said to Geoff, “Are you out of your mind? Doing something like that in broad daylight on Greenwood Street?”

“I know. I just lost it. He was one of those peace protest twats.”

“I get it. But all those medals don’t put you above the law. Just don’t lose it again.” Then, leaning his head in Geoff’s direction conspiratorially and lowering his voice, he added with a wink, “…well not in broad daylight on a busy shopping street anyway.”

Nathan walked away from the scene exhausted. He had to limp slightly as a result of the way he’d landed when thrown to the ground. ‘I’m getting too old for this,’ he thought. To which he immediately replied aloud, “No you’re not. It goes with the territory. Be a man!”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Late that evening, Nathan received a telephone call.

“You know who it is. Meet me in the car park at Bradley’s at eleven tonight.”
Then the caller hung up.

Yes, he did know who it was. He checked his watch. Six minutes past nine. He thought ‘If I was a drinker, now is the time I’d have a drink.’ Instead, he sat down in a chair, closed his eyes and breathed deeply for fifteen minutes. Each time he breathed it became slower and slower and the gaps in between took longer and longer. He remained in that state for more than an hour; but he was not asleep. On the contrary, his mind had never been more pointed. Finally, he opened his eyes, rose to his feet, fetched his coat and left the house.

He drove in silence to Bradley’s. Even when he was alone he would often speak to himself incessantly, either aloud or in his head. But now he was silent in single-pointed awareness. He knew he was going to need not his own wit but sheer inspiration from somewhere way beyond himself. He was heading there in his mind right then.

As he pulled into the car park he saw a solitary car. He couldn’t see inside but he already knew there would be more than one person, most likely four. As he pulled alongside the car — the windows of which were all steamed up — a man emerged from a rear door and waited for him behind it. Nathan breathed deeply, opened his door, got out and closed it. He turned to the man and held out his hand. It was the one who had thrown him across the pavement. From the high-power halogen light in the car park his shaven head was glistening with skin oils and sweat, making him seem to glow. He didn’t shake Nathan’s hand.

“That’s your seat there,” he said, motioning towards the middle section of the rear seat. Nathan observed a pair of knees in the seat on the far side of the car. A hand was wiping the window above the front passenger seat.

‘They’re all here,” he thought, inwardly smiling to himself. He wasn’t afraid but he had a primitive sense of the kind of exhilaration and ecstasy which is a distant cousin of fear though without the irrationality and cringing. As he got into the car he became aware of a feeling of protection and he heard a voice saying deep within him: “Do not be afraid. I am with you.” As he let it wash over him, he realised that the voice belonged to Lavinia.

The man got in beside him. He was now sandwiched between two huge men and the front two seats were not exactly occupied by pansies. Where his body interfaced with theirs, he felt as if he was pressed between two metal walls.

‘Either this is the end or the beginning,’ he thought to himself. Then he remembered that even ‘ends’ are really beginnings, so it made no difference which one it was.

Nathan was, in fact, ready to die. He had rehearsed his death over and over again in his mind. He had always known that it would never be a matter of “he died peacefully in his sleep”. He believed he would undergo an extremely violent death. Sometimes he could picture it clearly in his mind. Blows from blunt instruments would rain down on his supine form while boots would beat themselves mercilessly into his head and body to the sound of cracking bones. He would be thinking “this will not last… this will not last”; but the pain would seem as if it could go on forever. In the moments before death, time becomes a mere hypothesis made of plasticine and a minute can seem like a lifetime. But in a sustained assault, after a short period of intense agony, endorphins would kick-in to numb the pain. If it went on for long enough and unconsciousness had not been gifted to him, there could even be a sense of euphoria and an actual welcoming of the blows. His assailants would see him smiling and use even greater force until he smiled no more — his face a gory, unrecognisable pulp — and the light in his eyes had been extinguished.

But this was not what Nathan was thinking about now. He had a mission and he must not allow any thoughts to interfere with that. He closed his eyes and thought only of light and love, which he radiated out from his heart to the men who surrounded him in the car. He knew that — as is the case with all catharses, lustrations, rebirths and renewals — this situation must first get worse before it could be better and he was ready for that.

Not a word was spoken on this strangest of journeys. Nathan likened it to riding in a car which was in the convoy of a hearse on its way to the cemetery — the occupants grim-faced and speechless, afraid of uttering some unfitting banality, still in shock at the way, among their own kin, there could be such a sudden transition from life to death, from animation to inertia. In fact, the stench of death filled the car from the ground up like a low-lying fog spreading across a barren moor. It emanated both from the future intentions in the minds of the men and from their past exploits too. They were walking death machines and there was only one way to deal with it that evening. Or so they thought. Nathan had other ideas.

He looked from one to the other of his fellow passengers. Three of the four men had necks the diameter of a small tree trunk. Two of those three had tattoos imprinted on them. They all stared straight ahead as if concentrating on a certain point in the distance. One of them turned and looked at Nathan then quickly looked away into the distance again. One mustn’t look one’s victim in the eye before the kill.

Nathan concentrated with all his power on reducing his heartrate to the rhythm of the windscreen wipers. Vrook… Vrook… Vrook… Vrook. Three minutes and it was done.

“This is it,” said Geoff, leaning down and pointing to an entry on the left. They had long since left the town and were now in deep countryside. The car swung to the left and Nathan noticed a sign referring to a quarry. The sign was dilapidated and, judging by the state of the access road, it was obviously an old, now disused excavation. The rain was even harder now and the potholed road was throwing water into the air each time the car went through. After a couple of minutes, the road came to a dead end and the car stopped. The men all put on beanie hats and then proceeded to exit the vehicle. After they were outside, one of the men handed to each of the others a pair of surgical rubber gloves which went into their pockets. Nathan noticed that over each foot the men had already placed plastic bags which they’d tied up with twine. Geoff put his head back inside the car and motioned to Nathan:

“Out!”

Nathan eagerly obeyed the order. A voice said “Here’s the Cobras.” Then one of the men put Nathan’s hands behind his back and placed his wrists in disposable plastic restraining cuffs. He heard a voice saying “Bag ’im up” and a cloth hood was placed on his head. Nathan was impressed with how professional they were. The men then frogmarched him along a path deeper into the quarry area. The path had been carved out of the side of a cliff. They walked a little way to a kind of clearing then stopped. Nathan didn’t know it (though he felt it) but he was standing on the edge of a sixty metre drop poised over a huge lake of deep sludge surrounded by the quarry on all sides.

One of the men said “You know what we’re here for. Now tell us what you know and how you know it.” He had the sound of a professional interrogator — as if he’d done this many times before.”

“I told you already,” said Nathan. “It’s what I do.”

A voice which Nathan recognised as Denny said “Fuck this, Pete. Waste of space. Just kick ’im over.”

Another voice said “Wait,” to his mate. Then, to Nathan, he said “Who’re you workin’ for?”

Then Nathan said calmly: “I’m working for a very advanced being that you would best understand as an angel. I’m part of a group known as RAGS. We are based all over the world. There are many of us. We help people dirtied by their deeds to get cleaned up. We’ve all been dirty ourselves in one way or another. We’ve brought you here to clean you up too. Tonight. That’s why we’re here. The agenda is not yours.”

“What the fuck!” said Denny. “You ’avin’ a larf, mate? It was us what brought YOU ’ere. Angels my fuckin’ arse!”

Then a heated discussion began between the men. Denny wanted to kick Nathan off the ledge right there and then. Another counselled restraint and said they had to get to the bottom of what he was talking about. Another agreed, saying it might be “one of those weird intel psyop groups” and that Nathan could be “a fuckin’ spook” and they need to find out because if he disappeared then he might be followed by others like him.

As their discussion continued, Nathan turned around, with his back to the ledge and started to speak to the men with great authority:

“Listen to me, guys! This is not a joke.” At which the men stopped speaking. “You have indeed been brought here — not so much by me but by a force beyond anything you’ve ever known. Today, everything changes. You are the first of many groups of former soldiers all over the world who we will debrief and then reassign to be of use to a new mandate — a new society, a new order — that you cannot envisage right now. I know you are loving family men these days in this land but you have done terrible things in other lands. How can you look your own children in the eyes? You didn’t realise it at the time but such actions have consequences — not just on the people you killed and their families but on your own souls and families too. Not only that but there are consequences for the whole Universe. This is the missing link that you haven’t understood and this is why I’m here today, standing in front of you now.”

The next statement was spoken by Nathan slowly, syllable by syllable, in a very different voice to the one he had used so far — a voice which seemed to come from an otherworldly centre: “Everything we do affects everything and everyone everywhere.”

A strange silence hung over the group in the now light drizzle. The men’s flashlights were all pointed in Nathan’s direction, making him seem an eerie figure on the edge of the cliff, his words a little muffled, a little as if he was speaking through a megaphone, through the wet cloth which sometimes clung to his face so that he was unable to breathe and he had to blow the material from his mouth to keep the flow going. He continued:

“The atmosphere surrounding this earth is so polluted with hideous human actions such as yours that the darkness has become overwhelming. You don’t know it but there are beings on the other side in that dark realm around this planet which feed off those actions. They are the ones who are causing these wars which able young men like you have to fight so that the rich can profit and politicians can score points. This is why this whole civilisation seems as if it’s in a process of barbarous destruction. It is! Everyone knows it deep down. You can see it happening. But we are all responsible for that, even though most hide their heads in the sand. And this is why I’m here with you tonight. Bit by bit, we are trying to turn this around as part of the emergence of a new civilisation. After the Implosion has come, there will be survivors. But good people need to be around after this whole show has disappeared up its own backside. This is our mission. To frustrate the darkness and to gather the new seed for the future. I know that you’ve come here with the intention of killing me. But how would that solve the issue? Tell me! How?”

The men were now standing there in shocked silence as Nathan spoke. They could feel something happening to them as his words came into them. Nathan loved the power of words, especially when they came in fiats.

“What fuckin’ issue?” said one of the men.

“The issue of you slaughtering and raping children,” said Nathan in a loud and mighty utterance. “I’m not judging you for it. I’m not condemning you for it. You have already judged and condemned yourselves. That’s why you know I’m right. That’s why you wanted to kill me. In this world as it is now, truth always has to be killed, which is why they kill the truthtellers. But that will never kill the truth. This is the big mistake and weakness of the ones who have fostered the power of darkness. They can kill the truthtellers but they can never kill the truth. It will just keep coming after them forever until it catches them up and they either succumb to it or it swallows them up forever. No one can escape it. What you did to all those people in Iraq and Afghanistan is part of what’s continuing to destroy this civilisation, you, your lives, your families; and it has to be put right.”

The four men stood there open-mouthed, sensing an altered state of reality. It was as if they had been drugged — stupified with the power of Nathan’s words. He continued:

“Many civilisations have gone before ours, some far more advanced than ours. But they had to be wiped from the face of the earth. We cannot destroy this earth, for she is a living being in this universe, providing the theatre for its successive civilisations and all the drama which accompanies them. Now we stand on the threshold of a period of history when this civilisation can either be completely brought to an end or allowed to continue in a wholly different way. That depends on how many of us are willing to step out of the disguise we wear on earth and become the human beings we are within and which we are really supposed to be.”

Nathan could sense, through the wetness of his hood, that there was some lively energy moving among the men. It felt like a tug of holy war between darkness and light.

“Let’s fuckin’ top ’im right now,” said Denny.

Then another, whose name was Jim, said in a shaky voice: “No. Wait. May God help me, he’s right. Maybe it’s all true. I’ve been goin’ crazy over this, guys. Each time I look into my kids’ eyes I want to scream and scream. I can’t deal with it anymore.” And he began to sob with huge sighs, covering his face with his hands and dropping to his knees. The other three stood watching him, amazed. They have never ever seen him like this. Nathan then knew where the shriek had come from that he heard near the shops in Greenwood Street earlier in the day — though it was probably yesterday by now.

“Just fuckin’ man-up all of you!” said Denny to his mates, to which Jim replied: “You know it’s true. What we done was wrong. I have nightmares every night and I’m goin’ crazy with it!”

Suddenly, Denny got his gun out, pointing it wildly around him.

“Shit! Put the Glock away, Denny. For fuck’s sake!” said Geoff.

“No way! I’m gonna clean this up the way it should be cleaned.”

Pete: “Then more of them may come.”

Denny: “Then I’ll fucking take them out too.”

Geoff: “Next thing there’ll be some bloke from internal investigations snooping around.”

“Then I’ll take him out too.”

Pete: “Fuck, Denny, that would be one of us. You can’t start taking the company out too.”

Denny: “I will. I swear I fuckin’will. I’ll just keep taking ‘em out till it all stops.” There was now a wildness in Denny’s eyes. It even scared the other three guys.

Geoff: “But that’s what’s always been wrong, Denny. Don’t you see? It just goes on and on. Baggin’ them up. Takin’ them out. Baggin’ them up. Takin’ them out. Forever takin’ them out. We wuz soldiers mate. Defending. Fighting for something. Doing the awkward jobs no one else would do. Like pros. We were the good guys. What the fuck went wrong?”

“Nothing’s gone wrong,” said Denny, “except you’ve all turned into a bunch of wusses. We did what we had to do. Now get the fuck out of my way while I deal with this jerk.”

Then Jim said through tears, still on his knees: “No, Denny. We did what we were told to do and what we thought they wanted us to do but we didn’t have to do a lot of what we did. Did we have to torture that lad then take ’is head off and then kick it around? His big fuckin’ eyes staring up at us from the ground. Fuck no! We thought it wuz a larf. What did we become? He was ten, Denny. Ten fucking years old, just like your son! It’s like a huge weight on me, man. I can’t take it anymore.”

“Oh hell,” groaned Geoff. “What we did. What we did!” At which he leaned forwards and put his hands on his knees as if he was about to faint. Now he too was sobbing. “It’s all fucked. Everything’s fucked.”

Pete: “We’re losing control here.”

Geoff: “We lost control a long time ago, Pete. We were used, man. We’ve always known that but we never could admit it. We went out there all starry-eyed thinking we wuz savin’ the world. They used us, man! Remember Fallujah? Fuck! We thought we were kings. We could do anything. No one could stop us. We executed them all, man. All of them! Women, kids, old guys, old women. If anything moved. Whack! No questions asked. It was their fucking country. The chief told us they were all terrorists so we could do what we wanted. We raped children, guys!” Then, screaming: “Fucking children!” At which Geoff completely collapsed to the ground in a mountain of sobs.

Pete suddenly whizzed around on his heels as if fighting an invisible enemy. He began to pace around in circles, saying “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” over and over again to himself. He went over to the cliffside and began to hammer on it with his hands like a man possessed, then banging his head on the wall too. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!” over and over again. He then leaned against the wall on one shoulder, slumped there like an almost deflated toy, breathing heavily out then in as if he was asthmatic, making strange noises in the back of his throat. Then some words began to barely form on his lips. At first, resisted through habit, they came out in a stifled whisper. Then they become louder and louder, forming actual words. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Oh God forgive me. God, forgive me! I’m so so sorry! Oh no, oh no!”

Denny was looking at them all in horror. His fired his Glock into the air. “Have you all gone fuckin’ mad? Have you lost your fuckin’ marbles? Can’t you see the game ’e’s playin’ with us? He’s fuckin’ with us. I don’t know where ’e’s from but ’e’s got to go.”

“No, Denny,” said Geoff. “I don’t know where he’s from either. But we’ve needed this for a long time. I wuz at breaking point. I haven’t screwed Denise for a year now. She’s talking about leaving me. It’s all because of this. She knows I done some bad things but I could never tell her all of it. I’m so ashamed that I can’t even get it up anymore.”

Nathan was listening to all this and the tears from his eyes mingled with the rain in the hood. Now the energy was really moving. This was exactly what he’d been hoping for. He knew it could only go well now. He addressed Denny directly, moving forward to be closer to him, even though he now pointed his gun directly at him.

“Denny, please listen to me. You’re resisting this because it’s more than you can handle. Deep down I know that you’re terrified at having to face up to what you’ve done. It’s understandable man. But now’s the time to stop. Just admit it from your heart and ask for forgiveness. Then you’ll have peace and can move forward. It’s never too late. It has to be put right. Now is the time.”

There was then a silence which could only be described as cold treacle being poured out of a jug — hanging there, slowly slowly slowly coming out, all in one huge blob. There was a silence so pregnant and profound that even the rain stopped coming from the sky. Denny continued to stand there pointing the gun at Nathan’s head. Through his hood, he could hear the men breathing. There were occasional sobs. The whole scene was frozen in time. It was as if a sacred ritual was taking place, with the quarry as the temple and his own self as the high priest — the conduit through which permission was being given to the men to allow three years of closed ranks and cauterised hearts to dissolve into a tender forgotten rush of nothingness.

Then something rose out of the group which made Nathan’s hair stand on end. (He’d had the same feeling for the first time when, as a lad of 20, he saw a ghoul standing at the end of his bed, as it sent the thought into his mind “I’ve come for you”. He learned to recognise that feeling as one which was evidence of intervention of any kind from the realms beyond what could merely be seen). The sound started as a low terrifying growl and gradually rose in frequency until it was a scream so blood-curdling that he wanted to close his ears with his hands. But they were still tied behind his back. It was Denny. He repeatedly wailed and wailed like a sick animal, still pointing the gun at Nathan. Geoff rose up and approached Denny to console him. But the moment he did so, Denny shrieked and ran off to a hole in the wall about fifty metres away. Within seconds there was a flash from the cave entrance and the three saw Denny in the light of the flash with the gun pointed to his head.

“Dennyyyyyy!” yelled Geoff and — with their alert military training kicking-in, overriding their emotional pains for the time being — they all got to their feet and started dashing towards him. They shone their flashlights across the ground and saw Denny writhing there in pain. But there was no blood from his head. Then they scanned the ground around him. There was the gun, in pieces and one of Denny’s fingers nearby. He was clutching his hand.

“It’s a fucking KaBoom,” said Pete. “Fuck, he’s a lucky bastard!”

“Glock 27s,” said Geoff. “Man I’ve heard about it but never seen it. Quick, get his finger and let’s get him to hospital.”

“It’s no use. The finger’s fucked,” said Jim.

“Bring it anyway,” said Pete.

“Is he okay?” shouted Nathan.

“We’d better bring him too,” said Geoff, pointing at Nathan.

“What were you thinking, Denny?”

Denny began to speak gibberishly while still making sounds of pain. “I can’t take it. I just can’t take it.” He was speaking of his inner pain rather than his hand.

Then Geoff, lifting Denny to his feet, said: “We’re all in the same boat, mate. We have to take it. We went way overboard and now we have to figure it all out, as a team, like we’ve always been. Like he said, there are always consequences.”

Pete went over to Nathan and removed the hood and cuffs. They looked at each other and Pete said “You’ve ’ad a busy night. You’ve got us all fucked up ’ere. What you been doin’?”

“Nothing. I’ve done nothing. This is just as it should be. It’s the beginning. Is Denny okay?”

“His hand’s all fucked up. The Glock KaBoomed. Lucky for him. He was trying to top himself.”

Geoff wrapped Denny’s hand up to stem the blood. Jim ripped a piece off his shirt and put the finger in it. They had to move fast. With Geoff supporting Denny, the five men went back to the car and then they drove to the hospital at speed.

“What’s the story then?” said Geoff.

Denny was slumped in half a faint at one side on the back seat.

“I reckon we just say he was messin’ with the gun in his back garden and it went off in his hand. That’s the best we can do.”

They all began to remove the plastic bags from their feet. “This is not how it was supposed to go this evening,” said Pete.

“Oh it is!” Nathan responded. “This is exactly how it was supposed to go. Really.”

Then Geoff said: “You’ve opened a bag of tricks here, mate. You should be dead. I can’t even begin to think about that angel stuff. What are we supposed to do now?”

“Are you some kind of shrink?” said Pete.

“No. Shrinks charge a lot of money and don’t go deep enough. They’re like the blind leading the blind. This is not a shrink thing. This is a love thing. Shrink is short for head-shrinker. We don’t shrink heads. We expand them so they can see beyond what is ordinarily seen. If you want to know what you’re supposed to do now, I would say continue as normal. You may want to start to talk to your wives about it, if you think they can handle it. Let them know how truly sorry you are. Don’t let your kids find out. This is not for children. But if you carry on as you are and don’t resist, you’ll notice that — although you’ll do more crying and more feeling bad — the weight will be lifted from your shoulders and your relationships will improve. Geoff, you’ll soon be able to get it up again with Denise! That’s a promise. You’ll all most likely go through big changes in the way you think about the world. That’s normal too. You’ll start to be who you’re meant to be. Honestly, I can tell you that I love you all for what has happened between us tonight. It takes more courage to do that than to take me out! You can get in touch with me any time you want. I’m right here for you.”

“This is the strangest day of my life,” said Pete.

“Mine too,” said Geoff.

“Roger that,” said Jim. “But I now see the… the… the… enormity of what happened over there in the ME. If we’d done those things in civvy street we’d have been banged up forever. They’d have thrown away the key and the other inmates would’ve flayed us alive.”

“This is what war is, guys,” said Nathan. I hope you believe me when I tell you that there’s a force of darkness enveloping this world which feeds off these depraved actions. It’s been there from the beginning of time. It takes courage to stand up in the face of all that. I’m praying that you’ll have the same courage you sometimes had on the battlefield when you’re dealing with all this and the darkness. I can’t tell you how much I admire you for what happened tonight. You’re gonna have to look after Denny though. I believe he had the most to lose as he was the worst of you in the war.”

Geoff sighed. “You’re right there. He was always the one looking for the most blood. When we all wanted to go home after a night of mayhem, he always wanted to go out hunting for more.”

Nathan replied: “It sounds as if he had the most bruised childhood and therefore was the easiest of you to control. That’s how it works. I’m hoping he’ll want to meet up with me soon so we can continue with what’s good for him. I hope you all will. I’d really love to meet up with you. Nothing fancy. Just in a pub or something.” Then he offered his hand to them.

They all shook his hand. Even Denny, with his good hand, who was now awake and who said, with a little effort, “I never knew my parents. Grew up in children’s homes till I was seventeen. Can’t even begin to tell you what happened to me. I heard you just say ‘bruised childhood’. Yeah that about sums it up. And the rest.”

“You’re a good man at heart, Denny,” said Nathan with tears in his eyes. Follow that heart of yours. Fear nothing — especially your own ghosts. I think you’ll see how cruelty works now. Which means you’ll never be capable of cruelty again.”

The car was now in the town. Nathan said “Can you let me out here? I’ll leave you to go to the hospital together. Hope that hand heals quickly, Denny. I’d like to walk the rest of the way home. In fact, I would love it.”

They pulled up, quickly said their goodbyes and after the car drove off Nathan lifted up his hands to the heavens, which were now clear, and shouted “Thank you!” at the top of his voice. Immediately after that, a shooting star flashed across the sky and he heard Lavinia’s voice deep within him saying “We are love. That is what we are.”

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© Alan Morrison, 2015

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