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Training Days

"I never really gave up on breaking out of this two-star town. I got the green light, I got a little fight, I'm gonna turn this thing around."

Tired, tired, so very tired. The training I'm doing at the moment is really taking it out of me. Not that it's incredibly demanding or anything like that. It's more a matter of the classroom days being so soul-crushingly dull. I don't think anything is more exhausting than utter boredom.

This is by way of apology for the first part of the story I promised not being up yet. I'm hoping to get it done in the next couple of days. If I don't, you can go on ahead and blame Target.

I am, as always, guiltless.


Mail Rage

"Libraries gave us power, then work came and made us free. But what price now for a shallow piece of dignity?"

To Whom It May Concern,

I write regarding my recent experiences with HSBC and my concerns regarding its treatment of me as a customer. I have been banking with HSBC for some ten years now, and have, for a decent portion of the time, been in debt. Given that I also have a credit card account, I expect that I have been personally responsible for making the company many thousands of pounds. So if I'm an unwilling customer in one sense, I'm certainly a good example of one. I make my payments on time the vast majority of the time, and I'm sure to communicate any issues I may have with making payments before they become a problem. In other words, you make money from me without ever having to chase me around to collect debts or remind me that payments are due.

In February of this year, I emigrated to the United States. I maintained my account in the UK largely because I couldn't afford at that time to pay it off. Unfortunately, as there is no facility online for me to make payments INTO my account, I ended up relying on relatives back home to make deposits so that I could cover those direct debits still coming out of it. Obviously this was difficult and inconvenient, and I made HSBC aware of my problems in early June via the messaging system attached to my online account (Case xxxxxxx) after multiple phonecalls were made to my mother's address despite it being explained on multiple occasions that I was no longer living permanently at that address.

By September, I had full-time work in the US and found myself in a position to resolve my financial issues. I wrote to HSBC via the same messaging system regarding the possibility of perhaps transferring my accounts to the US in order that I might pay them without massive inconvenience to myself, my extremely patient family, and even HSBC itself. In response to this enquiry (case xxxxxxx), I received a message I'd like to share with you:

Dear Mr O'Mahony

Account Transfer

Thank you for your e-message received 27 September 2006.

Unfortunately it is not possible to transfer account .

You will have to close this account and open a new account in USA.

Kind regards
Mr. X
HSBC Internet Banking Customer Support

Now, I work in customer service, and if anybody who worked beneath me ever responded to a customer in this fashion, they'd be out the door so fast their feet wouldn't touch the ground. Even if we ignore Mr. X's apparent struggles with basic English and grammar, it's clear that he hadn't so much as glanced at my account before sending this response. If he had, he might have noticed that being in debt to you means that I cannot simply close my account and open a new one. My problem is not that I wish to maintain my account with HSBC. My problem is that I wish to square my debt with you and move on.

Incredibly, my next message - in which I tried to communicate my concerns that the point had been quite thoroughly missed - earned a response from a Mr. Y in which I was warned about the dangers of being overdrawn. I would have replied to Mr. Y, but by that point I was simply too staggered by the breathtaking stupidity being shown by your Customer Services department to type. How much do you pay these people?

To cut a long story short, I have since gone to Wells Fargo here in the States to enquire about setting up a wire transfer so that I might send money to my account each month. This will add a further financial inconvenience to my already well-burdened shoulders, but I gather from HSBC's response thus far that it doesn't, as a company, care too much about such things.

For the record, I expect this missive to be met with some kind of rambling form letter about keeping up payments, but should someone that can make a difference have occasion to actually read it, here are my concerns in clear, concise English, bullet-pointed for your convenience:

1. I am making an honourable attempt to clear my debt. Your customer service department appears hell bent on stopping me from doing this. Does that strike you as at all odd?

2. When replying to a request from a customer that I am unable to fulfill, I often offer the customer an alternative solution. I am, after all, there to serve that customer. It's what I'm paid for. Funnily enough, it's what the kids who work at my local supermarket are paid for, too. I manage it, they manage it, and yet I'm writing a letter of complaint because a multinational corporation doesn't seem capable.

3. You are not The World's Local Bank. I have tried to make you my local bank and you have responded by making it very, very clear that you are five thousand miles away. On the subject, if there was a World's Local Language, it would be English. Many of your customer service representatives don't appear to understand that particular language. Perhaps you should change your name to The World's Extremely Distant And Virtually Incomprehensible Bank.

4. I have never, as a customer, felt so insulted, mocked, and ignored as I have in my dealings with HSBC over the past three months. I still want to clear my debt with you, if only so I can go and bank with an institution that can find its way to within touching distance of common courtesy. If you could see your way clear to letting me know what my options are regarding this matter, I would be so grateful I'd probably cry. Surely it benefits all concerned to get this matter resolved as soon as possible. One more time, and just to be sure, I'll put it in caps: I KNOW THERE IS A DEBT. I WANT TO PAY THE DEBT. I NEED YOU TO FACILITATE THE NECESSARY TRANSACTIONS. THAT IS ALL.

Thanks. Again.
Michael O'Mahony


Winging It

"Come ride with me through the veins of history. I'll show you how god falls asleep on the job."

I hope you all enjoyed that little trip into fictions past. We'll shortly be moving on to fictions future. But first, an update.

Target made me an official job offer today. It was, financially speaking, well in excess of my expectations. In fact, it wasn't far away from being roughly double my expectations, which was a pleasant surprise. I'm waiting for a confirmation e-mail from the district office, and then I'll be off to Target School for a while, which promises to be nothing if not interesting. It has, after all, been almost ten years since I've had to think about taking notes and getting my homework in on time, and I wasn't much good at it then.

There are fun times ahead, I can feel it in my water.

Meanwhile, the promised NFADR-exclusive novella is almost at the stage where I put fingertip to keyboard. I intend to approach this one in the same manner I approached Lanterns And Shades, that is writing and posting first drafts edited only for copy. I'm not sure how long it's going to be, and I don't yet have a title, but I'll be covering some of my thoughts regarding the sci-fi genre and this story in particular as my next post, which should serve as a preface of sorts. I thoroughly enjoyed myself the last time I attempted to write something on the fly like this, and a lot of people seemed to like L&S, so let's see if we can't get something similar going this time.


Lanterns And Shades - Part 11: Lights Out

"I'll go none too bravely into the night. I'm so tired of living the suicide life. That ain't no reason to live"

They say that when you’re sure you’re going to die, your life flashes before your eyes. In the precious few seconds before all hell breaks loose in my world, I gain something of an understanding of what that means. It isn’t my whole life, there isn’t time for that; It’s just the important things. I remember my mother and father dancing in the living room; the brunette lying on her back in her garden, blissfully unaware of my lustful gaze; the cold fingers that once brushed my spine and came so close to dragging me down. I remember the Shades dancing and twisting in the air above me; a shoe in my back pocket; Dennis’s half-smile when I’d told JD I loved her; my father saying she was a good kid; her face in the darkness when she’d breathed my name and her thighs had gripped my waist so tightly that I gasped.

“I don’t think you’re a murderer or even a con artist,” I’d said to Cartwright. We’d been walking in Oak Park. I’d been starting to trust him. It had felt like everything was going to be okay.

In my head, JD smiles beneath the Lanterns of Abbot Street, twin tear-tracks glittering on her cheeks like something from all those fictions you wish could be true. I’d watched her and felt so damn sure of myself and my plan. I’d believed I’d see her again. I’d trusted my judgement and it had come through in almost every department. But almost can never be enough. Somehow, I’m sure, Patrick Cartwright has fooled me.

“You bastard,” I murmur.

And, as if that curse were a call, the shadows come to life. Henry screams and I hear him scrambling beneath the truck, despite the fact that we’re both invisible and safe within the aura of light from the Lanterns. I stand my ground, though I feel and understand his terror, feel it every bit as much as I had in the Curfew Bar, when I’d finally realised just how many there were. The Shades are a swarm of pulsing, undulating shapes, crowded so closely that they might be a single entity rather than thousands of individuals. They burst from the mouth of Witches Path at an unspeakable, predatory speed, as though they’d been tensed and waiting for this very opportunity. Crowded together the way they are, the pack resembles nothing so much as a giant snake that rushes past the Lantern Truck without pause, gathering its brethren from every place the light does not reach, growing ever larger as it arrows towards Quarter B.

“Henry!” I scream. I’m wrenching open the door of the truck, sliding in behind the wheel, turning the key the way I’ve seen Dennis turn it so many times. I have never driven before, though I’ve seen it done enough times to know the logistics. I stamp on the clutch, find first gear, and then accelerate.

“Handbrake! The fucking handbrake!” Henry yells. He is halfway into the passenger seat, his voice almost lost beneath the roar of the engine and the awful grinding sound coming from beneath the truck. Before I can react, he disengages the handbrake and pulls the door shut, drags himself up beside me.

“What do we do?” he asks, his voice high and hysterical. “Ken?”

The engine screams, I change gear and we are both jerked back into our seats, the truck shrieking and coughing in protest at this treatment. I have the accelerator pressed all the way down to the floor. Ahead of us, the snake has disappeared from sight, leaving only the drifting forms of stragglers. I drive straight through several of them, the Lanterns rendering their outlines in silhouette, making them turn to face the oncoming truck like luckless pedestrians in the instant before impact. Even in this frantic, desperate state, I can’t help but notice the one particular Shade raises its arms as though for protection. Such a human gesture, like building a material memorial in the woods. Then it, like the others, becomes a soft thump against the front of the truck, tossed aside or wrapped across the grille like an obscene, writhing blanket.

I wrench the wheel hard to the left and we veer into the residential part of Quarter B, carrying such momentum that two wheels momentarily leave the ground. Henry gasps and falls against me. Our heads meet with a sickening crack I both hear and feel, a white flash of pain lighting up the left side of my face and leaving me stunned. Without my foot stamping down on the accelerator, the truck slows and almost stalls, and when I blink to clear my vision and glance back at the windscreen, I see a vision from a nightmare:

If Shelley was right, and there is a hell, then this must surely be it. Beneath the high-pitched whine of impact inside my head, beneath the low growl of the truck, I hear screams punctuated by the sound of breaking glass. Some of the shapes ahead of us now are not floating but running, chased down and covered by deadly blankets of darkness that bring them swiftly to the ground. The slaughter is in the road, on the pavements, in front gardens and living rooms. All around us, the Shades are stalking and attacking their prey, silent assassins in their natural habitat.

“So many,” Henry whispers. “My God, there are so many. How do we save them?”

“We can’t,” I say, stepping on the accelerator once more.

And we don’t. Most of the people we reach are gone before the light from the truck can drive the Shades away. Those that remain are lying in extremity, jittering at the effects of being terminally Touched, taking their last, trembling breaths beneath an open winter sky. The first few times, I slow down and see Henry reaching for the door-handle. Not once do I stop, though, and not once does he get out.

“We should go,” he says finally. “We can’t do anything here.”

I shake my head, both at his words and the scene playing out before us. “I can’t leave them, JD and dad and Dennis. I can’t.”

A Shade, confused and lost in the glare of the Lanterns, thumps against the windshield, making us both jump. Its fingers claw at the glass for a moment, and then it slides away, the awful whispering of its passage sending a shiver up my spine.

“Drive,” Henry says. “For crying out loud, drive!”

On we go, up Park Hill and then another hard left onto Abbot Street. I slow outside JD’s house. The windows are smashed, the door hanging off its hinges. All is darkness. Even as we watch, a group of Shades appears from inside and rushes across the road in front of us, arcing to bring down a lone figure stumbling on the pavement opposite. It is over before I even have time to turn the wheel.


Panic, grief, and rage, like I’ve never experienced. I open my mouth to reply and what comes out is a single, strangled sob. My anger is huge and hot in my throat and stomach, my loss like a cold hand squeezing my insides.

“Ken?” Henry says again.

He may as well be dead. I may as well be dead. This time, I let the clutch out gently, let it bite and draw the truck forward. The road ahead is filled with shadows, some dormant now that there is apparently no life on Abbot Street. I find second gear, third, fourth. I haul the wheel to the right and hit two of them, back to the left for another, clipping an old telegraph pole and ripping the wing mirror off my door. Through a screen of tears, I watch them as they feel the oncoming light, always just a little too late to move out of the way. I no longer have a destination in mind, only some kind of revenge, some recompense for what they have done. I am dimly aware of my passenger screaming at me, his words garbled and lost beneath the howl inside my head as Shade after Shade disappears beneath the truck, those subtle impacts becoming almost percussive, a soundtrack to my fury.

When I reach the end of Abbot Street, I slow and begin to turn around, meaning to make another pass, to get all of them.

“They don’t die!” Henry screams. “Do you hear me? They don’t die!”

I close my eyes, feel for the first time how hard I’m crying. His hand closes around my upper arm and squeezes hard enough to hurt.

“Look,” he says. “They’re going somewhere. Something must be drawing them.”

Though a part of me has ceased to care, I look and see that he’s right. The Shades are leaving Abbot Street, heading over and between the houses, out towards Oak Park.

“Someone’s alive out there, Ken,” Henry says. He seems calm and assured now, as though we’ve switched roles. “Let’s check it out and then get out of here. It’s a long time until dawn.”

I nod, still unable to find words. I turn away from Abbot Street, from JD, and steer us towards Oak Park.

Without the familiar and comforting glow of Lanterns, it is a dark and empty place. Even here, Shades can be seen, still more of them taking on the aimless drifting that tells us there is no life here, no warmth or light. There is a short slope leading up to the main path, and while I’m almost sure that I could take the truck up over it were we carrying enough speed, I now realise that almost is a foolish assumption to base any plan on. I pull over and kill the engine.

“There’s nothing here, Henry,” I say. “This is a dead place.”

“This is where they were going,” he replies.

“Then we’re too late. Let’s go.”

Henry frowns and shakes his head. Wherever he is drawing his calm from, there must also be courage, because he opens his door and steps out into the night.

“Don’t,” I hear myself say. I sound young, panicked.

“Something…” he says.

A flicker in my peripheral vision, light between distant trees. I turn my head and watch it move out into the open, a single orb of luminescence bouncing and swaying in the night. All around us, the Shades freeze and then move quickly in that direction, as though the light were a magnet. Henry is already off and running across the park, and before I’ve even processed what we’re seeing, I’m out of the truck and sprinting after him. In moments, I have caught and passed him, my young, strong legs leaving him easily behind. For a moment, I listen to the voice in my head telling me that if I was the second-fastest runner in Quarter B, I’m certainly the fastest now. But it’s only a moment. I’m closing rapidly on the light, dodging between groups of Shades that become increasingly dense, forcing me to slow down to avoid touching them. Ahead I hear shouts, men’s voices raised in anger and fear. Between the bodies and limbs crowding out my sight, I see them fighting; Cartwright and my father and another man, surely Daniel Nolan. They are surrounded by Shades, but those Shades refuse to tempt the light, and I realise that what Cartwright has in his hand is a portable Lantern. His invention. My father and Nolan are wrestling while he stands as close as he dares, holding the Lantern above his head so that its influence extends as far as possible. My father throws one of Nolan’s brawny arms back, frees his own right hand strikes the other man in the face. Nolan staggers, loses his balance, and falls. He is out of the light for less than a second, but that is all the Shades require. There are so many now that they simply drag him away. One moment he is there, the next he is gone. He makes no sound.

“Dad!” I am so close now, maybe ten feet away from the circle of light where my father staggers back, his breath coming in great clouds of condensation, his face dark and glistening with blood. He turns towards the sound of my voice.

“Cartwright!” I scream, my voice cracking, my throat raw.

The last Lanternman swings the last Lantern with all the force in his body. It meets the back of my father’s head with a sickening crunch. His mouth falls open and his eyes widen. Even as he slumps forwards, I see that there is no life there, that he is gone.

I do not see him hit the ground. The light is drawn away as Cartwright turns and runs back towards the trees. For a moment, I am frozen to the spot, Shades rushing by me on all sides, one passing close enough that I feel its numbing touch against my elbow, that sensation of bitter, endless cold making me feel weak even through my thick sweater. The world spins and I feel myself beginning to fall. Only Henry’s hands are enough to keep me on my feet. He is breathless, confused.

“What is that?” he asks. “What’s happening?”

“Cartwright.” The word sounds distant and empty. “He lied. He killed them all.”

And then I’m running again, chasing down Cartwright with no emotion left to slow me down. I am nothing inside, cleansed of everything I was by an all-consuming anger that burned out almost as quickly as it was brought to life. All that had meaning in my life is gone, and there is no way I can ever bring it back. The only thought in my head is to catch the man responsible, and see him dead. In the cold night of Oak Park, I am a vengeful wraith engaged in a hunt that can only end one way. I am faster and stronger than my victim, and my intent will not be denied.

I know exactly how it feels to be a Shade.

I catch him on the edge of the woods, throw myself at the backs of his legs so that he goes sprawling onto his front, the small Lantern rolling just beyond his reach. I climb over his struggling form and grab its handle, standing to hold it over him.

“Ken…I…you…” he gasps, scrabbling backwards away from me before turning his head to see how close he is to the edge of the light and pulling up short. I smile and take a step back. He shrieks and crawls back towards me.

“Please…I…I…only wanted to…I…”

While he struggles for the words, I listen to the whispering in the branches around us. The Shades have gathered like an audience, lending their ears to this final display.

“Hear them?” I ask, taking another step back.

“Yes!” He scrambles towards me again, and when he gets close enough, I kick him in the face as hard as I can. He cries out and grabs at his nose, fresh blood pouring between his fingers.

“Listen,” I say.

He glances up as though expecting me to speak, and when I don’t he looks puzzled. The movement amongst the trees grows louder, the sound of the gathering dead. I wait until I see the look of terrible understanding in his eyes, until his body tenses and he opens his mouth, perhaps to make one final plea or to tell one final lie.

I wait, and then I smash the Lantern against a tree. Darkness. The whispering rushes in from all sides, Cartwright screams in terror, and then the shadows claim him.

Henry and I spend the night in the truck. He sleeps with his head resting against the window while I sit motionless in the driver’s seat, watching the moon cross the sky until the clouds begin to pale and an orange glow spreads slowly across Oak Park, a barren, empty field surrounded by dead Lanterns. In the distance, I can see the dark shape that must surely be my father’s body.

“I’m sorry, dad,” I whisper. “I can’t. I can’t do it.”

I turn the key in the ignition and Henry stirs as the truck stutters and coughs into life. He looks at me and says nothing. There is nothing to say, only one last journey to make, back through Quarter B and out to the main road, looking for another town or even another Quarter where there is enough time to make a difference.

For memory’s sake, I take the long way. I drive slowly down Abbot Street and out towards Witches Path, where I pull over and get out of the truck. For a moment, I stare at the wooden box on the back. If I thought I could laugh, I would. I’m not the person I was yesterday, though, and all my laughter is gone.

Henry doesn’t call me back and I don’t look to see if he’s following. I walk up Witches Path feeling old and exhausted, make my way through the woods, and gaze down at the final mystery of the Shades one last time.

“Something human,” I tell the pile of clothes. “Something left behind.”

As I turn away, a shoe rolls from the top of the pile. I freeze, remembering the rumour about Shades in the daytime, remembering how they hide. Beneath this canopy of branches is dark enough, as naked as they are.

The mountain of clothing bulges just shy of its peak. Jumbled, ruined garments fall away. Something is emerging, lifting itself up from the Shade graveyard, stretching to its full height and shrugging layer upon layer away from itself. I take a clumsy step away, biting back a scream. The shape matches the movement, reaching up to snatch an old summer dress from its head. I see the hands just before I see the tangle of dark hair, just before I see her face.

“You…” I breathe.

“Surprise,” JD manages. Her face is pale, her eyes red-rimmed, her clothes damp and dirty. “I tried to find you. The lights went out. I ran. They…” She closes her eyes and stumbles towards me, old clothes wrapped around her legs and feet. I catch her when she falls into me, marvelling at how warm she is, how there.

“They got everybody,” she says, pressing her face into my shoulder, muffling her voice. “I tried to get to you…to the truck. But you were gone. I hid.”

“You ran. You outran them.”

She looks up at me, just enough of the old JD beneath her grief to remind me of all the times we raced them, all the times she won.

“What did you expect?” she asks, and offers a ghost of a smile, a Shade of a smile.

“I thought you were dead,” I say, and with the words come tears. I turn my face into her hair, inhaling deeply, unable to quite believe that she is alive just as I couldn’t believe she was gone.

“I thought you were dead,” she says, wrapping her arms around my neck, kissing my mouth and then the side of my face. “I thought everyone was.”

“They are. It’s just you and me and Henry. It was Cartwright. He knew all along. I…I killed him.”

“You…” Her hands move back to my face and she kisses me fiercely. “Only here,” she says. “It’s only you and me and Henry here. There must be others, must be. We can find them and tell them. There’s a world outside Quarter B, Ken. There always has been.”

“A Daylight World.”

“Then we’ll show them. We’ll prove it to them.”

Looking down into her eyes, I see that she means it, that she believes it. When JD believed that we’d make it down Witches Path, we did. When JD believed she would outrun the Shades, she did. And when JD believed that we’d get out alive, well, here we are. I nod and kiss her forehead, lacing my fingers through hers.

“Come on,” I say. “Henry’s waiting.”

We leave the graveyard behind and walk away up Witches Path, towards the waiting Lantern Truck.

The End


Lanterns And Shades - Part 10: The Beginning Of The End

"This is the end, beautiful friend. This is the end, my only friend. The end of our elaborate plans, the end of everything that stands, the end. No safety or surprise, the end. I'll never look into your eyes again."

My mother and father were in love. That might sound like an odd and rather obvious statement to make, but then I’ve come to realise that there isn’t an awful lot of room for love in the Daylight World. Marriage, children, and a lifetime of tasks to be carried out before it gets dark, sure. But not much love. It’s been nearly thirteen years since she died, and if I’m honest with myself, I don’t really miss her. There is an ache, an absence, a sense that there was pain here once, but it isn’t grief and it isn’t mourning. I barely knew my mother, and trying to recall her features gives me that same feeling of distance. I can see her as a photograph, but not as a living, breathing person.

A few months ago, I came home from work to find my father sat on the sofa with a glass of brandy in one hand and her photo in the other. Of course, that was before all this, before the Daylight World began to show cracks and this sense of tension and finality became so all-encompassing. He’d looked up at me, eyes glazed and lips trembling.

“She was my little firecracker,” he’d said.

I’d remembered then. Not her features, not the way I’d felt when I was six years old and at my own mother’s funeral. Those things were gone forever. But I could smell her perfume and I could hear the angry yet somehow amused tone of her voice when they argued or when I did something wrong. Blue eyes, she had. Faded blue, like well-worn denim. Blue eyes and a soft voice that could harden so fast it scared me. My mother the firecracker.

Lanterns protect us from Shades, but not from each other. Laura Trent was stabbed in the throat for a purse containing only seven pounds and her house keys. The struggle that preceded the robbery was heard by several residents of the nearby houses, but by the time an ambulance arrived, she was already dead. By the time the police arrived, whoever did it was long gone.

Maybe that’s a part of it. My memories tell me my parents loved each other. When my mother was taken from us, it wasn’t such a literal thing as it is with those who get Shaded from our existence. She was dead, but there was a body, and we were able to bury it with all the ridiculous ceremony we attach to such things. Twelve times since then, once for every year that has passed, we have gone to her grave and laid flowers. We remember the woman we loved, and because of that, her absence from our lives is not a source of fear and insecurity.

Those clothes in the wood. I can’t stop thinking about them.

I’m standing at the front door, watching that weak winter sun come up over the rooftops, its light falling slowly over Abbot Street, Quarter B, and what once was a town called Oakfield. The birds are singing the dawn chorus, and from behind the house, I can hear a lone hammer thumping steadily at nails that will hold together a trap I’m hoping can cage a Shade. Henry works alone now, tireless in his rage and grief, perhaps the most determined of us all. Dennis and my father retired a few hours ago, JD long before that, as soon as her work was done. I haven’t been able to stop thinking and planning and speculating, and it seems foolish to even entertain the idea of sleep.

“Are you actually coming to bed anytime today?”

JD is standing at the foot of the stairs, wrapped in my blanket. Again it strikes me that she seems to have this knack for knowing where I am and what I’m thinking.

“Can’t sleep,” I say.

“Who said anything about sleep?”

And I can’t help but smile, can’t help but go to her. She opens the blanket to include me in its embrace. She’s naked beneath, and all of a sudden the thoughts in my head have nothing to do with Shades or Lanternmen. We kiss slowly, thoroughly, still exploring and adjusting to this change in our relationship.

“You should sleep,” she says, pulling away just enough to free her mouth. “You and Henry both. You said yourself you can still be Shaded. You need to be alert.”

“I don’t think I can, I really don’t. As for Henry…he’s like a convert to a new religion. He’s running on something a little stronger than the rest of us.”

“And that’s dangerous,” she says.

“You’re dangerous,” I reply.

“Me? How am I dangerous?” She frowns.

I pull her body closer to mine, bend my head to kiss her neck, inhaling the scents of sleep and yesterday’s soap. “You’re a distraction,” I tell her. “Why the hell would I want to go out there when you’re in here?”

“You need distracting, and you need sleep. Come upstairs.”

And she does distract me. And - after she has dressed and gone out with a bagful of leaflets for the residents of communities A and B - I do sleep.

The voices from the living room drag me back to consciousness. It’s still daytime, but the quality of the light is fading, and it’s time we were moving. I take the briefest of showers, more to wake myself up than anything else, then dress and head downstairs.

“Welcome back to the land of the living,” my father says.

“Right,” I say, suppressing a smile.

Here they are, the people I’m relying on to carry off a plan that seems more ridiculous every time I think about it. My father sits in his usual seat, tall and stocky and looking somehow younger then he did just a few short days ago. His eyes are bright and alert, and he is clearly both tense and excited. He is not, as far as I know, a fighter, but he’s big enough to be physically intimidating, and smart enough to know what he needs to say to the Lanternmen. Sitting beside him is Dennis. An old drunk, they say, but a wily one. He’s been around the community for a long, long time. He will back up my father’s words. The combination, I hope, will have enough credibility to make them think, to make them argue. I don’t think it’s an argument we can win, not if Nolan and his supporters mean to have their way, but it should buy us enough time.

Us. Henry Nicholls and I. Henry sits in the armchair opposite the other two. Like my father, he seems tense. Like my father, his eyes are wide and bright. Something like hysteria in Henry, though. He is already dressed for Witches Path, gloved hands clutching each other, one heel bouncing almost frantically up and down, like he can’t stay still. JD was right; he’s dangerous. But there’s no way I’m going to catch a Shade by myself, and no time to find and convince other sufferers of our rare affliction.

Perhaps surprisingly, it is JD that seems the most relaxed. She’s worried, of that I have no doubt, but compared to the terrified girl I had to force to flee the Curfew Bar, the woman perched on the edge of the coffee table is a picture of confidence and calm.

“I’m not going to have a lot to do with this once those leaflets are posted,” she’d told me this morning. We’d been lying in bed, the sweat still drying on our bodies.

“You’d be surprised,” I’d replied. “You’re a reason to do this, a reason to pull it off. Maybe even the reason, for me anyway.”

“I’m not a damsel in distress, Ken. The Lanternmen are mostly a boy’s club, and they look at a girl, especially a girl my age, as an inferior. There would be no point in going with Dennis and your dad. As for going with you and Henry, that’d be suicide. Unless you need bait.”

I’d laughed at that. I’d pecked her on the lips and it had turned into another of those long, slow kisses that set butterflies loose in my stomach, butterflies that had kicked it up a notch when she’d slid her lips away from mine and her warm breath had tickled my ear as she’d said the three words that meant we had to make it through tonight. Somehow, we had to.

Now, standing in the living room and staring at her in a silence that’s dragged out for long enough to embarrass everybody, I offer her a smile and ignore the heat in my face. I take a deep breath.

“Everybody ready?” I ask.

Dennis and my father nod. Henry looks up at me with his disconcerting green eyes.

“I’m gonna go crazy just waiting here,” JD mutters.

“Why don’t you go home, see your family?”

“And tell them what?” she asks.

I shrug. I don’t know.

“Better than being alone here,” Dennis says.

It’s that very thought that makes her nod. Lanterns or not, doors and windows and walls or not, there is nothing comforting in being by yourself after dark.

We go outside in silence. My father closes and locks the front door and we stand in a loose circle on the driveway, shivering with cold. The Lanternmen meet only two streets away, and Henry and I have a burden to carry. It is for that reason that we will take the Lantern Truck while Dennis and my father will walk.

“Take care with her, Henry,” Dennis says, handing over the keys.

Henry nods. He has spoken only three or four times since he arrived.

“And you take care of yourself, Ken,” my father says to me. “Please…be careful out there.”

“You too, dad,” I say, sparing a glance for Dennis. “Both of you.”

He hugs me a little clumsily, kisses the side of my face. When he steps back, he is blinking rapidly.

“What he said,” JD says.

“If anything happens…” I say.

“Shut up. No speeches. You’re going to be okay. We all are.”

She wraps her arms around my neck and holds me tight for a few seconds, a few seconds that make me feel the first surges of panic. I don’t want to go to Witches Path and catch a Shade. I don’t want my father and Old Dennis to be anywhere near Daniel Nolan. Most of all, I don’t want to be so far from JD.

She draws away and turns her back, probably because she doesn’t want to cry in front of all these men. I watch her walk up the drive to the pavement, turn and head towards her house.


She turns back, and even from a distance I can see the Lanternlight catching the tears on her face.

“I love you.”

It doesn’t feel stupid or awkward. It feels right. It feels true. JD walks backwards a few steps, blows me a kiss, and then turns away again. My father is looking down at his feet. I’m pretty sure he’s grinning. Even Dennis, that drunkard and one-time scourge of Quarter B’s womenfolk, is looking at me with raised eyebrows and just a hint of a smile. For Henry, it barely registers.

“Come on, Dennis. If we leave it much longer, they’ll be drunk,” my father says.

Dennis nods. The four of us look at each other a moment longer, and then they break away, moving quickly and purposefully up Abbot Street, two men with their heads down and their hands in their pockets, looking for an argument and perhaps even a fight.

“Ready, Henry?”

“As I’ll ever be,” he says.

“Then let’s go hunting.”

A few minutes later, the Lantern Truck is coasting slowly down the main road. In the back, where JD and I always sat when Dennis picked us up after work, a tarpaulin covers our trap, an amateurish construction of wood and nails that is, essentially, a box with one removable side. The plan is to lure a Shade into the three-sided cul-de-sac and then close the box. That simple. Despite all that has happened, I am still sure that a lone Shade is not strong enough to break anything that a man cannot, and though we had tried our hardest to damage the oak panels that Dennis had suggested we use, they had resisted. A weaker creature in a confined space, I reasoned, couldn’t possibly get out.

Henry slows the truck and steers it to the side of the road. Again I’m reminded of JD and I running Witches Path. This was safety and sanctuary, and never more so than the night I was Touched.


He’s clutching the steering wheel, staring straight ahead. He’s shaking.

“Henry. Get it together.”

“I’m together,” he says, his voice barely a whisper. “I’m just scared, Ken. They killed my daughter here.”

“I’m scared, too. But we’re the only ones. You know that, right? They don’t see us.”

He closes his eyes and nods, swallowing. I reach into my coat pocket and pull out my gloves. They’re leather, the insides lined with a thick layer of soft cotton. In order to get the Shade into the box, one of us may have to touch it. I know it won’t be Henry.

“If anything goes wrong, run if you have to. I will. Whatever happens, remember that they can still touch you. We’re looking for one, and I’m prepared to wait a while if the opportunity doesn’t immediately present itself. We can’t risk a pack of them.”

“How long do we have, do you think?”

“I don’t know. Dennis and dad will be there by now. Let’s say no more than half an hour.”

I get out of the truck and Henry follows suit. Together, we pull back the tarpaulin to reveal our trap. It looks flimsy and ridiculous out here in the dark, and we both know it. Henry actually manages a smile.

“That film,” he says slowly. “With the shark.”

“Jaws,” I reply, looking across at him, knowing exactly what he means. “Except neither of us is going in this thing.”

“Still…” he says.

“I…” I freeze, staring back up the road.


I’m not breathing. My heart is thudding hard in my chest. I’m realising that for all my thinking and planning, I have forgotten a detail, and it is not a minor one.

“Cartwright,” I manage, in a strangled voice. “Cartwright. He…he never came back.”

I raise my arm and Henry turns, his gaze following my trembling finger to the streets of Quarter B, where everything looks somehow different. He doesn’t immediately realise what it is, just as I hadn’t, but then the sheer enormity of what we’re looking at strikes him and he lets out a low moan of horror.

“Fuck,” he whispers. “Oh, fuck me.”

In Quarter B, the Lanterns have gone out. In Quarter B, all is darkness.