Chapter One of Incursion Back


The child lay in bed, with her duvet cover pulled right up to her shoulders with clenched hands. Even in the dark, she could make out her giant panda teddy bear, which rested on a wicker chair in the far-right corner. The cartoon cat clock on the wall that faced her bed swished its tail along with the ticks of half-seconds, and the large treasure chest in the near-right corner, where she kept all her toys (and sometimes stood on while playing games, despite the fact that her parents objected, even though she was five-and-a-quarter, and could do what she wanted to) rested beside her bed, almost a shadow. Unable to sleep, she looked up at the ceiling. Soon she would be away on holiday with her parents. On Wednesday; only three days away!
      She heard a noise, that came the landing just outside her room. The floorboards creaked as in a haunted house cartoon. She pushed herself into a sitting position, placing both hands together on her knees. A small sliver of light shot into the room, as the door crept open, and the band of light grew wider. The floorboards creaked once more, and a dark foot appeared.
      Her mother glided in through the doorway. At first she peeked her head in, and then, upon the sight of her daughter sitting up, she moved towards the bed. She sat down to the left of her daughter and stoked away a strand of dark hair from her child's eyes.
      'Honey, are you okay?'
      The child smiled. 'Yes, mommy. When's daddy coming back, mommy?'
      Her mother drew her head back. 'Is that why you're waiting up, sweety? That's two days away.'
      The girl looked into her mother's eyes, and to her mother they seemed like a drill. 'When, mommy?'
      'Tuesday afternoon.'
      'What time, mommy?'
      She paused. 'I don't know what time daddy will be back on Tuesday, sweety, but I do know that right now it's 1:21 in the morning. Go to sleep honey.'
      The strands of hair she had moments before pushed off her daughter's hair popped back over her eye, and she brushed it back over her ear with her fingertips. With four steps she was behind the door, looking in on her cherished child, who still lay in bed.
      'Do you want mommy to sing a lullabye?'
      'No mommy, it's okay. Can I just say goodnight to my teddies first, please mommy?'
      'Of course you can, sweety.'
      The child looked up straight ahead, and said: 'Goodnight Missus Cat', then turned her head to what her mother could see as an oversized bunny rabbit. 'Goodnight Mister Rabbit.'. She then turned her head to face the corner of the room. She stared, shufted her gaze up slowly and said: 'Goodnight Mister Panda.'
      Her mother smiled again. 'Sweety, you don't have a panda.'
      'Of course I do mommy. He's going to the door now, mommy. He wants to say hello.'
      A form appeared in front of her daughter, that at first seemed a blob—a panda maybe?—but soon resolved itself. As it became clearer, she could make out bluish-white, skin that glistened as if it was wet; two spindly arms that dropped two-and-a-half-feet down from the four-and-a-half-foot creature's shoulders. A huge head, about the size of a football, formed itself, made itself clear—and within that huge head, along with the slit nose and lipless mouth, were the most striking of the thing's features: two enormous, black, beetle-skin coloured, almond shaped eyes.
      She screamed.

17 years later

The ticks of the clock ran down Darren Greene's spine, as he lay wide-eyed wrapped within his duvet. Twenty-to-two, it read. The two bedside lights cast opposing shadows on the wall in front of him, like hands; butterfly puppetry played out in front of him. He flung his hands up to his face, let his palms push his eyeballs in.
      'You're too tired, Darren. Too tired,' he said.
      He pulled back his hands. Somewhere towards the dining room, something moved.
      'It's only blood vessels at the back of your eyes,' he said under his breath. He slid out of bed, and let his feet brush onto the floor. The carpet cushioned the sound of each timid step, as he neared the doorway. Figures always prance in the darkness, he thought, don't they, Darren? They have since you were a boy. He leaped into the room, switched on the light and looked around. Nothing. And every time you turn on the lights there's nothing there. He shut the door as quiet as he could make it close.
      Darren's eyes scanned the room, once more. A picture caught his eyes, atop the bedroom cabinet. Above plain socks, plain underwear and plain pyjamas it stood, looking back at him. As he looked at it, that day came to him; the stroll through the park, the football game, the dash Nate made from the camera to the group after setting the timer, and the smiles; everyone smiled back at him. Lauren, Nate, himself and...
      He lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Maybe you can breathe it out, as you breath it in. Sometimes when he looked at that picture he was in that day, while Lauren and Nate went to feed bread to the ducks. Alone together, on the day he realised how the rest of his life was to be. Such a perfect smile, why shatter it with all the wrong words? Still the smile had faded away since that day. Was it his fault, somehow?
      He grabbed the pen beside his bed, and scrawled on the scrap of paper:

Sometimes I feel like I'm coming up from the deepest
trenches of the ocean to chance a breath

      His eyes turned to the picture again, let his eyes rest on it for a few painful seconds, and returned to the pen:

and my head strikes the ice

      He rolled his head into the pillow, and stared into the lamp. Awake he lay, at that point beyond tears when all you can do is curl up into a ball. When his eyes began to sting he let his gaze drift down to the bedside locker, before at last he turned to stare at the ceiling once more.
      Time passed, he couldn't tell how much; it could have been a few minutes or a few hours. Why, Darren, why? Why can't you go asleep? Why do you just let your mind wander? Every night, you lie awake, and let your mind wander.
      His ears began to throb. He jumped to sit up in bed. Three white kettles hovered at the
      foot of it. Boiling kettles. There was a whistle from them. The centre one leaned forward to him, and extended a hand.
      He took it.

Night's icy wind bit into Willow Phoenix's face and neck. Some party. Five hundred guests and no-one she really knew. The same tired, dead conversations struck up with everyone... the women with their greeting, the guesswork on who the hell they were talking to, the escape when they found out who she was; and the men who tried to chat her up, some even married, too drunk and horny to care that she lost the company thousands of pounds.
      That was while Darren had been in the bathroom, or had gone up to get them a drink. He cut in whenever the women made her feel bad or the men tried to touch her... just before it became to much for her too take.
      'Why did you go, Willow?', he whispered to her.
      Willow frowned. 'I don't know... I felt some compulsion to; I guess I felt I owed it to them.'
      'Even though they hurt you so much?'
      She sighed as she looked down to the grey footpath. 'Yes...', she hissed, and stopped.
      'Willow, we don't need to talk about this,' said Darren. He put his left arm around her, and she rested her head on his chest; 'not if you don't want to.'. He glanced over at a service station shop beside them, and whispered: 'They have one of those coffee and hot-chocolate machines, I think; come on, they might even sell a scarf for that freezing neck of yours.'
      'What?', she whispered, as she looked up towards him, 'my neck isn't cold, Darren.'
      He smiled. 'There's no point in lying to me... I know you do; and I won't listen to you pretend you don't or stand by and watch you try to walk without your coat scrunched up into your cheeks.'
      'I never feel cold here...' she sighed. She rubbed her hand across his chest.
      'You snuck in a few drinks while I was away, didn't you?'
      Willow backed away. 'No, I...' she started, then looked up at Darren's scared eyes. 'Yes, I suppose I did.'
      They stepped into the shop. Darren took down a scarf from the top shelf, handed it to Willow and tapped for a hot chocolate on the machine twice. He went up to the counter, took out fifty euros, and gave it to the attendant, who was locked in a vain attempt to keep his eyes open.
      'Sir, do you have anything smaller?' he asked.
      'I'm afraid not. Hang on... you just keep the rest.'
      'What? You want me to keep forty?'
      'Sure. You need it more than me.'
      'Thank you, sir!' blurted out the attendant.
      Willow sipped her hot chocolate while Darren walked back to her. 'Why did you give that man that money?'
      'I know he needs it for something. I don't know what for, but he needs it; a lot more than I need it.'
      She handed him his hot chocolate, and they headed back out into the still night. The wind tossed some stray leaves around beneath their feet; and Willow's hair too... to the same rhythm, each strand twisting in the breeze. Darren took some hot chocolate in, which snaked it's way down to his gut and warmed him up.
      'I'm surprised you got so much attention in there from the women,' remarked Darren, 'the men; I can understand why they gave you so much attention, but the women... most of them aren't lesbians... and so many of them came over.'
      Willow laughed. 'I think you had something to do with that.' She poked him in the stomach. 'You seem to do that to women.'
      Darren sighed. 'Yeah right... but seriously, I know they came over to talk to you; they pretended to know you, and once they figured out who you were they ran for fear of being associated with you. They made me sick.'
      'How could you know that Darren? It's not like you can hear peoples thoughts.'
      He smirked. 'I know.'
      Willow rubbed his shoulder. 'Thank you for getting rid of those people who where annoying me. You got them all incredibly pissed off, and you didn't even do anything but look at them or me.'
      Darren looked at her. 'Have I ever angered you?'
      'You could never make me angry. It's not in your nature. But I have noticed that. I saw those guys bothering you last month, near Saint Stephen's Green. Why did you let them push you around?'
      He stopped, and backed up against a wall, before he slid down to the ground. Willow walked back to him. His feet pressed his back against the wall, keeping him off the pavement. He sighed, and answered. 'I could have hit them. Maybe I could have taken one down, but not all three. No-one would have helped me if they turned on me. They didn't help when they were pushing me around... but even if there was only one... how could I become violent? How could I become one of them and not give a fuck about how anyone, even if it was them, felt? That was one way out. That was the only way I would even consider.'
      'What where the other ways? To kill one of them?'. She laughed. 'You're not capable of killing anyone.'
      Darren muttered 'only for a moment'.
      'What did you say?'
      'Nothing. I don't know what I said, it just came out... sorry.'
      Willow yawned. 'What time is it?'.
      'Three O' Clock.'
      A car whistled past them.

Darren watched the lights of the cars go by. White, orange and red, easing in and out of the blur ahead. Most of them were taxis, full of drunk and half-drunk young men and women. The saplings rooted beneath the paving yawned beside him; the midnight breeze long past away, to be replaced with the dead chill of premorning—yet still a whistle, a hum, a warmth to the chill which was quite comforting. He slowed his pace, and Willow did too.
      'What is it?' she asked, with her eyes wide and on him.
      He smiled. 'Oh, nothing... this is just comforting. So comforting.'
      'What is!' she said, and giggled. He turned to her looked into her eyes, smiled for a moment; then turned away with a start. He loosened his shoulders, and his arms sagged down by his side. He looked ahead. Willow's apartment was just ahead; through a red brick archway and up some stairs.
      'Darren, what's wrong? You're always like this... why?'
      'Nothing Willow. You don't have to worry about me. Don't worry about me, okay?'
      'I can't not worry about you... not when you're like this. You smile, and then I feel like you're in pain. What is it?'
      'Now now Willow, neither of us knows what the other is thinking, do we?'
      'I never know exactly what you're thinking, Darren; but I know what you feel sometimes. I know it. So don't tell me you don't feel bad. I know you do. I just don't know why.'
      Darren looked at her, into those wide wide eyes. Worry? That was certainty. Hurt? Probably, and if so, it had to be hurt that she didn't know what choked him so. 'I have these dreams about you,' he started, 'and every time you get hurt. And I know that somehow it's my fault.'
      Willow stared at him. 'What? You're hurt because you had some dream where you hurt me? Darren, you could never hurt me, not if we both lived for a thousand years.'
      'The thing is...' he started, as they passed through the arch, 'the thing is, that dreams I have have this horrible tendency for them to come to pass.'
      'If that's the case, if you are going to be responsible for me being hurt, why do I feel so safe around you? I don't believe you could ever do that.'
      Darren looked towards Willow's door, five metres away; and nudged her arm with the back of his fingers. 'There's your door. You should get a good night's sleep; or what's left of the night, anyway.'
      'That doesn't matter, I'm off tomorrow. I could stay in my bed all day tomorrow.'
      'I could probably do that too.'
      Willow smiled. 'You could always crash on the couch if you want, but you have to make me breakfast...' She smirked. 'I don't want you to have to cross the city all on your own. Darren, stay. Please; stay.'
      Her words made him shiver, and her eyes made him weak. He forced the words 'I have to go' out of his mouth, and more. 'Goodbye'. He turned his head to the stairs. She turned away from him' and the wind tossed her hair around... it danced. He began to walk away, and his back felt her watch him go.

Willow's eyes traced Darren's path towards the stairs, and whispered 'goodbye'. For another few moments, where each one seemed longer, she waited; before she turned towards her door.

He looked at her move to the door, then turned to move himself.

She fumbled with her keys; picked out the right one. Her eyes moved to him again, and she stared.

A thought... Her eyes are on you, Darren. He returned to look at her again.
      There was a flash... so bright it bleached out his vision; then a brief hiss of whispers, and out of the white that dominated his sight grew motion—something waved in front of him. It sharpened into the brances of a tree, the rays of the sun flickering around them. He rubbed his eyes, and turned his head to his right.
      He leapt to his feet, and spun his head around... fields rolled out along the landscape as far as he could see. The fog clinged to the horizon, and the silence was only interrupted by an occasional chirp from a morning bird, or the sound of a some other animal in the distance.
      'What the...' he started. Again he spun his head around. No grey pavement beneath his feet. No streetlights as they ended their night's duty. No cars. No road... all familiar things were gone, and with them that corrosive discomfort—though his eyes still ached as always.
      A sensation caught his attention; somewhere away from the sun. He started off towards it, each step increased it's intensity; it warmed him from the inside. It almost felt like a hum. He leapt over a small stream and walked up the hill in front of him.
      A shout of his name from ahead interrupted his thoughts. Willow stood there, about twenty metres away from him. He ran to her, and she to him. They embraced.
      'Darren what happened?', asked Willow, her chin pressed firm against his shoulder.
      'I don't know...', he said. He looked around again, and exhaled. 'I recognise this place... one of my relatives lives about two kilometres away from here... my God, this at least fourty kay from where we were.'. He brought his watch to his eyes. Six O'Clock. 'Thirty miles from where we were an hour and a half ago.'
      'Thirty miles!' exclaimed Willow, who darted back.
      'I don't know... maybe even thirty five. I'm not sure.'
      'But how can that be?' she asked; 'And why doesn't it feel wrong? I don't feel out of place here, do you?'
      'No', answered Darren, 'just lost'. He smiled at her. She looked back through his gaze.
      'What is it?'
      'You just feel in some way comforting'. He looked down at the ground. 'Do you want to go now? I think we have to head in that direction', he said, nodding away from the sun.
      'I think we should wait... I'm really tired and my eyes hurt.'

Nathan Bright woke to the buzz of an alarm clock. 6:30am, time to get up. This was not how he imagined his life turning out. He had always hoped that he would get a great job, a fast car, a nice house, and maybe, if he was lucky, a dog. He'd always wanted a dog, a faithful one, one who would be a companion. At least then he'd always have something to talk to, something alive, even if it didn't talk back.
      When he was younger, he'd had hopes of finding The Right Girl, but all he had met, and been with, seemed to lack something, something intangible. Right now he had resigned himself to a lonesome death. His eyes drilled into the wall of his room, while the alarm clock still buzzed under his hand. What was he supposed to do to find the right person? What if he had already found her, and ignored her? Don't worry about love, he had thought, once you find someone who you think you can live a lifetime with, it doesn't matter. What is love anyway, some sort of addiction? These had been his beliefs, forged by time in the real world, but something within him clicked. How could he spend his life with someone he didn't love? He tried to turn his attention away from the ceiling, but the pain stopped him turning round. Stay Nathan, what's the point in getting up?
      The phone rang. He picked it up, and brought the receiver to his ear.
      'Get up out of bed, Nate.'
      'Darren? Why are you ringing at this hour?'
      'You need to go to work, Nate. If you don't... er, I'm sorry. Never mind, okay?'
      'You do know if there's ever anything wrong you can talk to me?'
      'Yes, I do.'
      'Well, er, bye. Sorry.'
      Nathan heard a click, replaced the receiver, and put the phone back on his bedside cabinet. I suppose I should, he thought, I'll let people down if I stay here. He pulled back his duvet cover, and turned to sit on the edge of his bed. He rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. Why was Darren so worried about him getting into work today? He shook his head. Darren was weird, weirder even than him. Did Darren's beliefs change his own? His beliefs now were like Darren's, except Darren had those beliefs since he was 15. That was eight years ago. Nathan was 21 when things clicked, all of a year ago. He couldn't think why, something just did. Was it Darren's funny gestures when Nathan talked about his dates? Or was it his "lectures" when Nathan talked about girls? "Is that how you see them?" he had asked. They seemed funny then. Now they worried him. At least, a tired old man, he could say: oh, I had my fun, and then I turned into a freak. But Darren had always been alone. He had never had a girlfriend, in any sense of the words.It didn't seem like that situation was about to change anytime soon. He always talked about the fight against going normal, as he put it. Seeing other people as things to use and abuse, that's what it was; and he knew that if he did then it would be two-point-four children in a semi-detached house, two cars and a marriage based more on something other than love. Nathan had always saw himself as weird, until he found out what normal really was, and only then was he actually weird.
      A rebel without a cause, that's it; or rather with one that he fought to see clearer than a far-off blur. He filled and switched on the kettle, opened the cheap MDF cupboard, and took out a mug, the coffee jar, and some sugar. He slid open a drawer, and grabbed a spoon, closing both with his side as he opened the jar. He took the spoon and put some coffee and sugar into the mug. He waited for the kettle to boil, as his mind continued to wander.
      No wonder the two of them always seemed depressed. No way to fight for what they really wanted, because neither could actually explain to other people what that was. They couldn't even explain it to themselves, for heaven's sake.
      There was a click. Nathan reached over to the kettle, and poured the boiling hot water into the mug. He opened the fridge, got some milk, and then poured that in with it. He stirred it with the spoon, put the spoon down, and raised the mug to his lips.
      Nathan paused, and spoke:
      'How on Earth did he know I was still in bed?'

Willow approached Darren, as he sat on the hill-side near the phonebox. The sun no longer clung to the horizon, but lay just above eye-level; it filled the countryside with an orange glow. Green summer leaves seemed like the copper leaves of autumn. Dark-green grass rolled across her vision, except where it was interrupted by a vibrant bush, or yellow field of crops, or the stream at the foot of the hill. The sun gave Darren an orange glow, and his face reminded her, for some strange reason, of an amber traffic light. He turned his head around, and she saw a smile upon his face.
      'You called Nate?', she asked.
      'Yeah... it's sorted, whatever it was. I get these stupid ideas all the time and act on them. I didn't for a while, but life seems more tolerable when I do, even if I do annoy people at half six in the morning.'
      'Why don't you ever annoy me at half six in the morning?', said Willow, lauging; 'I feel left out of the club.'
      'I can annoy you right now if you want,' blurted out Darren, 'but I'm saving up being annoying to you for later.'. He grinned.
      Willow headed to the stream, and looked into it; watched the orange glow bounce off the ripples in the water, speckled with the occasional glint of white light. She stepped towards it again. When she got within an arms reach, she sat down on the bank and put her hand in, and whirled it around. She loved the water. She felt it clean her hand, as little packets of the cool, clean water spiralled around her fingertips.
      She turned to look back at Darren. He was sitting down on the grass, knees tucked into his arms. When he saw her face, he waved. Willow returned her attention to the stream, while behind her Darren sighed.

Nathan grabbed his toothbrush. 'Routine,', he muttered, 'routine. One of these days you'll do this and realise you've left your body lying on the bed. You don't live, you survive. It would be so easy to give in, but so hard to forgive yourself for it; and once you give in there's no going back to this. There are worse things than dying alone, Nate. You could live your life with someone you don't love.'
      He brushed his teeth, the bristles like steel wool against his gums. He didn't care. He towelled his shaven jaw, and didn't like what he saw in the mirror. His eyes seemed dark and sunken, sad and old. He looked out the open window, between the pale white curtains that streamed out like a ghost's arms, that beckoned him towards it. Five storeys down. If he hit the pavement head first it would be over in an instant.
      He dropped his head. No. That would be giving in, giving up. How could he give up? It was easier to think of this as some kind of test, and giving up was an automatic fail. Still, there are worse things than suicide, at least that only kills your body. He could always be a beaming smile sicophant, yet still an arrogant bastard, going along with the flow like the rest of the sewage. Have a nice day (bitch). Hope you enjoy your meal (you stinking whore). A true fashion victim.
      He looked back into the mirror, into his eyes. What the hell? People are are basically good, Nate, he told himself, aren't they? His attention flicked to his eyes again, and then was trapped there. He saw someone in them, with long hair. Their face was a blur. He knew her, and yet couldn't recognise her, put a name on her. She said something. His heart felt heavy, and he croaked.
      He shook his head, and tried to think about work.

Willow and Darren sat beneath the beech tree, their eyes shielded from the brilliant light of the sun. Somewhere in the distance, life went around its business. A bird chirped a tune out, unseen. Willow lifted her hand up, and took Darren's arm in it. He faced her.
      'Yes Willow?'
      She let go of his arm. 'What's going on here, Darren?'
      'I don't know. I wish I did, but I don't.'
      Willow turned her eyes towards the branches; watched the golden light filter through them like honey. She could feel it dance upon her face, flicker across her smile, and felt a type of wonder and amazement. She imagined it to be like that wonder the first human to see fire must have felt. Dawn's firey chariot blazed across the sky, running over the meadows and the stream that lay before her.
      'Darren, are you hiding something from me?'
      He laughed, and looked down at his feet. 'What?'
      'I think you're hiding something from me. I don't know what it is and I don't know why you would, but I do think that you're hiding something.'
      'What makes you think that?'
      'I don't know. Something. I just felt it, while I looked into the branches. I could be wrong; I, I'm just not sure,'. She giggled. 'I'm wrong, aren't I?'
      He dropped his head, and sighed. He looked down his legs at his feet, which shuffled around at the moment. He could feel his hands tense up, and they curled into fists. He let go, his hands opening wide. The backs of them were white, and bits of grass stuck out from between his fingers. He looked back up at Willow, and then back down at his feet again. Still they shuffled. He sighed once more, and then looked at Willow, and smiled.
      'Yes, you must be mistaken. I can't think of anything I could be hiding from you.'

Nathan checked his wallet. Cards, cash, closed. He patted his pocket. Clink. He closed the door to his apartment, took out his key and locked it. Clunk. He headed for the stairs, and ran down them. Fifty-seven steps, no more, no less. He swung out the open door and walked towards his car; raised his keyring, and pressed the alarm button. Beep.
      'Routine!', he yelled, under the sound of the engine.

Willow yawned. The early daylight had matured into the much brighter rays that caressed her skin. Darren hid from it beneath the shadow of a tree; his eyes had not reacted as easily to this new intensity as hers. Her stomach grumbled. She heard Darren call from behind her; 'do you want to get some breakfast?'
      She smiled. 'You read my mind.'
      'Yeah that's it. It's got nothing to do with the fact that I'm starving myself. Not a thing.' He stood up and walked towards her, and held out his hand. 'Come on,' he said as he squinted in the sunlight; 'let's go eat. It's only a mile to walk.'

Nathan tapped out a beat on the plastic, foam-covered steering wheel, as the car idled in front of some traffice lights. Some fumes crept in through the vents. Traffic flew by just two cars in front of him. The fumes fed into his nose. 'Ah, that smoke is our bread and butter on these roads,', he said; 'Bread and butter.'; then felt tempted to strike his head off the wheel. As the beat continued, his head began to wander; first left, then right.
      Lauren Fay.
      She was walking down the street to his right. That was fine, if only her face didn't seem so cracked up and her expression so sullen.
      The traffic seemed to disappear just when he needed it to. He sped round the embankment and screeched to a halt just ahead of her. He jumped out.
      'Lauren! Are you okay?'
      You're going to be late. You're breaking your routine. The routine that you've kept for two years solid. Sod the routine. Is that all you can think about? Someone you love is in trouble.
      Their eyes locked. For a moment, everything else was just background.
      'I am now,' she answered, and pulled him towards her; 'I... I love you, Nate.'
      Oh well, thought Nathan, there's no point in trying to fight what you've already seen.
      'I love you too,' he said, and kissed her. At least he hadn't seen that coming.

Darren and Willow walked together, down the country road. Darren ran his hands through the branches at the side of the road. Thorned branches didn't hurt him; his fingers just seemed to flow around them.
      'Where you ever here before, Willow?', he asked.
      'Not that I remember.'
      'I was. A relative of mine lives near here. A few fields seemed to be permanently kept dead. The one depressing note in the symphony.'. He sighed.
      'Why? That doesn't make sense.'
      'I don't know. As I recall, the farmer died, and the next of kin wasn't arsed enough to do anything.'
      'Don't you think we should go to your relative's house and ask directions to the bus stop?'
      'I know the way. Besides, what would we say? Hello, we woke up here this morning, but don't remember getting here. But somehow it seems—okay—er, hold on.'
      Darrens fingers weren't touching anything. He looked around. A field lay before him, and within it, instead of the crumbled, dead and grey soil he had seen before; lay shoots of plants. He ran into the field, into the centre, and yelled out.
      Willow giggled.

If there was one thing that John North was certain of, it was that TV dinners tasted like reprocessed rubbish mixed in equal measure with treated—or maybe not—sewage. The meat? Was that really meat, or something that might, just might; have been created on the same planet as the meat it was posing as?
      The news wasn't much better... some poor shites in some other country were starving to death. The pictures... kids with a belly full of worms, the occasional corpse by the side of the road. There were flies everywhere. It was putting him off his dinner.
      A noise-John, did he hear?
      He tucked the knife into his right palm and slowly raised himself off the sofa. The plate made a dull clink as he put if down on the coffee table. He flicked his head from right to left, the butter knife his comfort... but there was no more noises. After a minute he sat back down, and returned to his dinner, whose warmth had grown faint and sickly. He picked up the plate, walked into the kitchen and tossed the remains of his dinner into the bin.
      He returned to the TV... some celebrity popped onto the screen, slim and attractive. His mouth dropped slightly, and he felt himself become aroused.
      What was that he heard? You want her?
      He turned around to the the source of the noise... nothing there. Again.
      'John, you're going crazy.'
      The beauty on the screen swallowed his attention once more, and he stared again at her. From what he could see, she had everything a man could possibly want.
      Another noise? The flesh is great, isn't it John? Do you want to have her and any other woman you desire?
      John leapt to his feet, his breath shallow and his back itching with tension. He clenched the handle of the knife tight; his hand red with that grip. The rear wall of his skull tasted like batteries... tingled; and this became more prominent with each moment. No more noise... no further noise bothered him, until his grip on the knife became too painful. He dropped it, and it struck the floor soft.
      Do you want the power to control others, John? You are strong John. We need someone like you... and in return you get any woman you want... that's what you want, isn't it? They'll queue up for you, John; for the privilege.
      'It's all in your head, John', he reminded himself.
      Yes... in your head. That's all we want; let one of us join you and you shall become strong. We can give you your dreams.
      'Oh God... your crazy John, crazy John, crazy!' he yelled, and laughed.
      So is that a yes? Or do you need more convincing?
      What the hell, thought John; I'm only imagining this... play in your dreams.
      There was a knock on the door. He stood there for a minute, staring at the floor. A knock again. He walked over to the door and opened it, and before him lay the woman in the flat next to him. Almost as good looking as that babe on TV, he thought... yet for some reason she didn't seem to be there; her eyes had a strange dullness to them, void of any ember of life. She placed her hand on his neck, stroked down to his midsection and pushed him backwards. Her left hand closed the door behind her, and her right hand continued downwards.
      'What are you doing?' he asked, with a grin on his face. She wrapped her lips around his, and caressed him. She withdrew herself with a jolt, and stood there with those same blank eyes.
      You like this, don't you? Say yes and you can have this all the time, with any woman you desire.
      'YES!' he roared. She leapt at him again, tearing his clothes off with such haste they were shredded on her nails; yet it was the noise that had his attention... a song, such as that the rails sing when a train is moments away—then a hum. His skull began to itch, then all of his skin... then it changed to a sting. The noise of... swirling?
      The train hit. He screamed out, his lungs on fire, and his skin; he collapsed.
      Life returned to the woman's eyes, and she looked down at John... naked on the floor, with a twitch every moment or two. She sobbed, and turned to the door. It remained in place, despite her efforts.
      John stood up to her, and held her from behind. She beat upon his arms, the grip too tight to break. He bit into her shoulder, and she sobbed again.
      John looked at her again, and reached into her mind with his own... so many switches. In a moment her fight was over; she faced him again, and resumed her previous activity.

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