In my only horror story, Scissorman, I have used a technique which is usually considered a fault – repetition. If I repeat that there is nothing to be afraid of enough times, it starts to sound sinister, false, as if there is something to be very, very afraid of.
Laura and Ash stood on the sand as the new tribe rallied round and round, growing in fury and sound. The drums started up again, but wildly, with far more purpose. One of the twins pulled a weapon from the sand before both dashed to grab handfuls of berry blacking to scar their arms and cheeks.
Suddenly Ash and Laura were surrounded by a crying, crowing mass of painted faces bristling with weapons and fear turned into aggression. Ash felt Laura step closer to her as, to the rhythm of the madly excited drumbeats a little sand lizard was impaled on the end of one of the new spears. The savagery of the act made them gasp as the little creature struggled with the wooden stake that had gone into its back and come out of its belly. Its tiny mouth opened and closed. Ash and Laura were astonished at how funny and exciting it was. It was scary, but the more the lizard thrashed in agony, the more the ASP dwellers celebrated their brand new savagery. Hysteria swept over them all, until what they were doing seemed natural and fair.
When Jon took the dead lizard from the end of the stick, everyone cheered. Ash stayed with Laura at the back as the cheering thrashing crowd armed themselves until they were bristling with sticks, running round the huts and streaming out back onto the beach. Birds shrieked from the forest but were shouted down.
‘This is it!’ Jon crowed. ‘This is it!’ as they ran to the far end of the beach where the dunes were, screaming along the sands, streaming over the little hills, through the dune valleys. Creatures that weren’t usually afraid quickly scuttled away. Spears were thrust at them.
As they ran whooping between the hills, a giant seagle tried to take off, leaving its lizard-kill belly-up on the sand between coarse grasses. The seagle, especially one of that size was fast, clattering out of the sky with such falling force not much could escape its attack. But it was cumbersome on take-off, too huge to get away from the ground without a long run at it. As the braying mob rounded one of the biggest dunes, the seagle panicked and ran for the air but towards them, as if propelling itself forward for an attack.
Jon and Will were at their head, hurtling forward face-first. Jon screamed like a real warrior, ‘Look it, Ash!’ as if this might have been the same one that attacked her earlier. ‘With me! With me!’
But most of the others had stalled at the sheer size of the creature, the massive hooked raptor-knuckles of its talons. Jon ran on to meet the exposed breast of the bird, running into it with the pointed end of a flagpole. It swooped to one side and crashed a wing into the grasses of the dune with a screeching sound none of them had ever heard.
The air tasted of the hysteria of the crowd. They were going to kill this huge creature, regardless of its life, its hungers and thirsts, its own anguish and pain. All that was beneath them in their frenzy.
Ash still stood just outside as they tried to surround the flapping bird. One if its wings hung down to the ground, but beak and brute talon lashed out, forcing them back.
They stalled. Ash grabbed Laura and held onto her. Up close, the seagle had them in its sight, bringing them down to earth with its accusatory eye. Jon grabbed Laura’s spear from her. She was never going to use it. Will tried a lunge at the bird, but was pushed back by a dangerously serrated beak that took the end off his stick in a bite.
‘Don’t let it!’ Jon shouted above the caw-cries of the seagle. ‘We’re stronger! It’s what we are! This! We can beat this. Then we can beat anything! Come on! Come on!’ He was screaming at everyone.
Ash felt Laura shaking, trembling. She looked into her face to give her some assurance, but saw only excitement and anticipation there.
‘This,’ Jon crowed, ‘is nothing. These things think they can beat us! Can they? Why’re we so scared? Is this it? Is it? – No, it isn’t! I tell you, nothing can beat us! All the things we’re ‘fraid of! What are they? What are they to us? They’re no different from this!’ he screamed, turning and running in one smooth moment into the bite radius of the maddened bird.
Everybody thought he was going to be killed. But he drove Laura’s spear deep into the proud breast of the seagle, far into its hidden heart.
A gasp went up. No sooner had it, then Will was in and lunging into the dying flesh of their prey. Another after another of them ran into it until the bird was still and bristling with brightly decorated flagpole spears, as if their first real kill had been dressed up and adorned.
Jon had to put an end to it. He stopped them. They stood in a crowd around the huge dead body. Jon looked around. ‘Ash,’ he said, picking up a fallen stick from the sand. He pushed Laura aside using the wooden shaft of the spear.
The crowd stepped away from the kill, leaving Ash standing on her own with a clear path leading to the dead bird.
‘Ash,’ Jon said again. He held out the spear.
Everyone else was empty handed now. Everyone but Ash and Laura had done the deed, but nobody would bother counting little weak Laura in something like this, so there was only Ash, alone. Being offered the sharpened stick.
She looked around at the camouflaged faces like tiger sharks snapping all round her, before taking the spear, before glancing to Laura for approval, before taking a deep breath and lunging forward, last to penetrate the broad breast of the dead seagle.
Ash expected a huge cheer. Instead, silence fell, like regret. Heads were bowed. Nothing else stirred. It could have been that there were no other birds and no adults left now. Everything had changed. “You shall commit no Murder”, the command signs said. No ASP dweller made a sound. Not a single frightened sand lizard broke cover. A saddening breeze blew through hair, through feathers, flicking the fallen flags before dying.
Jon gazed around the ring of blackened brown faces as if seeing everyone for the first time. He was small, but he drew a mighty breath.
He exhaled luxuriously. He looked at Ash before looking away at the so dead seagle once again. Then he went to it, drawing his heart-piercing spear from its deep breast. The shaft at the tip end was bright red. Jon held the spear high in the sunshine.
He opened his mouth, exposing his clean white teeth. ‘Party Time!’ he screamed out.
A cheer went up at last, echoing from the blanket of trees that covered the far green hill.
Under them, movement …
It was travelling with them as they flew across the open plain, the ground a seething mass of green feather and scale, of snapping beak and clutching hands and cracking claws.
Flying above, taunting the young male Green Raptors, Air Agles on the wing. White against the violet sky, they flitted like Angels, with their leader, Gabriel, laughing demonically as the roaring Raptors leapt and fell.
His kind, Air Agles, lived neither in the city like the heavy Ground Agles and the sloping-faced albino Rodents, nor in the countryside like the lizard legged, bird-faced Raptors. For Air Agles – fliers – flying was like breathing. If they didn’t do it, they’d die. They were made for it. Evolution had produced them. They were Nature’s chosen ones, the winged beings, the Angels.
Laughing along with the Angels was a single Ground Agle. Evolution had denied Phoenix her wings. She sailed supported by three fliers, soaring with them, laughing down at the snapping rage of the gang of wild Green Raptors below.
‘Take me down!’ Phoenix shouted out to Gabriel and Jay-Jay, the Angels on her left and right hands.
Gabriel’s pale green eyes looked down at the ground.
‘Take me lower!’ Phoenix cried to him.
Gabriel, the Angel leader, could have spotted an insect moving far, far below. He could see half way round the world, over the city to the Rainbow forest, beyond that, across the plains to the mystery of the sea. Gabriel glanced into Phe’s face – his eyes could not miss the flight-hysteria on her, the wish to slice through the sky that turned Phoenix round and round on herself every day in the ground-level streets of the city.
‘Fly me!’ Phoenix screamed at Gabriel. ‘Show me what it’s really like! Fly me down! Show me, now!’
Gabriel looked at Jay-Jay. Together, holding Phoenix by the arms and the back of her plain dress, they looked behind at Jay’s Special, Ember, the beautiful Air Agle at the Ground Agle’s feet.
Ember shook her head. She looked uncomfortable, worried.
Phoenix watched Gabriel looking at Jay-Jay. She smiled as they grinned at each other.
‘Fly me!’ Phoenix was mouthing to Gabriel. If she had wings, she’d never falter, not for a single second. If she had wings she’d be the best, with Gabriel, the ultimate flying Agle.
The descent took Phoenix’s breath away. The roaring, flailing green of the huge male bird-lizard people below seemed to rush up at her. They leapt up as she and her fliers plummeted. There was a clutch of grasping man-hands out of the green feathers as Phoenix and her fliers curved away at the last possible moment.
Earlier that day, Phoenix had looked at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Her Ground Agle hair was sticking up. When it moved, she felt things through it.
At that moment, she felt sick, but hadn’t been, so far. So she put the stick she always used far back inside her mouth. Up came all her food. It still looked like food. That was good.
Her eyes went back to the mirror again. Her sensitive hair shifted. What she had felt through it then was nothing but her own disappointment, her anger. She was too heavy, too lumpy.
Phoenix, with her thick-set short legs and chunky arms, would never look like an Air Agle, an angel like Gabriel or Ember, so slim and pale, so sinuous and strong. She could never look that beautiful.
She could never fly – unless …
Now Phoenix left her stomach behind once again, lifted into the air on Angel wings. ‘Fantastic!’ she screamed at the Air Agles. ‘Skywards, entirely!’
Gabriel and Jay-Jay laughed.
Phe couldn’t see Ember at her feet. She could only feel her there.
The milk white wings and bodies of the fliers flitted all around as Phoenix imagined herself as one of them. She pictured herself with a slim, lithe body like theirs as she watched their back muscles flexing as they flew all round her. It was possible to see the mesh of fine hollow bones branching out from the shoulder blades to support the stretched, semi-translucent skin of the wings. Air Agles were beautiful, every one of them. They had on just frayed shorts and tiny tops, so unlike the plain dresses over the plump bodies of Ground Agles and Rodents. Fliers wore almost nothing in order not to impair their motion through the air.
And what movements they made! Such grace and poise. Such strength and stamina.
Phoenix looked into Gabriel’s ice-cool green eyes. ‘Again!’ she cried. ‘Take me there again!’
She was heavy in their arms, she knew. They were light and graceful, she, as Phoenix saw it, heavy and cumbersome. But she loved the feeling of flight so much, the way the Angels looked against the burn-bright sky, flitting and turning, sailing and swooping.
‘Again!’ she cried once more.
Phoenix felt Ember drawing away, dragging at her feet. She begged Gabriel. ‘Please, just once more. Please, Gabriel. It’s the skymost!’
She knew she’d get to him. He could never resist her, the way she admired what they did, the way she loved what they were. Gabriel believed that being a flier was better than anything. He loved it when a heavy dark Ground Agle like Phoenix believed so too.
‘With me!’ he yelled.
He led the plummet downwards. Taking Jay-Jay and Ember with him. All round them the angel Agles dropped out of the sky.
Phoenix screamed at the pure rush of adrenaline hitting her in the face like the fast flowing air.
Directly below them, the angry Raptors sprang from the ground on their powerful lizard legs. The green of their feathers, the flashing flesh of their heavily muscled arms came at Phoenix as she dropped towards them.
‘Faster!’ she screamed.
The noise of the roaring Raptors met her with a crunch on the moving air. Phoenix’s own sound was drowned as the Air Agles accelerated faster than gravity would have taken them alone. They flew towards the ground, angering the Raptors still further.
At the very last moment again, they turned free-fall into swoop, their bodies arching gracefully just above the clutching hands and clacking bird beaks below.
But Gabriel and Jay-Jay, spurred on by Phoenix’s screams, had fallen just that much further than before. The huge arms grabbed for them, for Phoenix as they turned their fall away into rise.
Phe had never felt so frightened, or so excited. The green mass of Raptors churned just beneath her, their hands almost catching her dress. The change from down to up took away the breath like a rush of excitement she might just die of.
But behind her, Phoenix felt Ember being forced down even further by the whiplash effect from Phe’s heavy Ground Agle body and legs.
From one side, a huge Raptor leapt up. He looked familiar. Phoenix thought she recognised him.
But he seemed to drag her back. Phoenix looked round. The Raptor had caught hold of Ember by the wing. He dragged her down.
Phoenix’s feet fell, as she was lifted skywards by Gabriel and Jay-Jay.
‘They’ve got her!’ she cried out. But the other couldn’t hear her. They were too busy flying upwards, away from where Ember had fallen, where she ran and stumbled and fell and was engulfed by the ruffled green of over-agitated feathers.
Lights came on automatically, illuminating a long corridor as the elevator doors closed behind Blake’s back. The walls were blank, no doors, no windows, disappearing into the far dark distance.
‘What is this place?’ whispered Blake.
From behind him, the sound of the lift as it began its long ascent. Someone above had pressed the button. They were still coming for him.
Blake had no choice. This corridor had to lead somewhere. He had to find a way out, to get back to the coach before it started off without him.
He had to run.
Blake’s head went down and he sprinted. His mum would have been proud of him, once. Now he did not want to disgrace her memory.
Up ahead, darkness. But then more lights, showing another far, far distance. Two-hundred, four-hundred metres came and went.
His lungs were bursting. Blake wasn’t built to run this far. He felt sick, with worry as well as with the effort. The corridor did not end. It seemed as if it never would, with his heavy legs as if wading through wet concrete under him.
The lift was coming down again, he knew it. There was nowhere to hide. He had to get to the end. He had to get out.
Then, at last, the final set of flickering lights were igniting to show the double exit doors at the end of the race and Blake was flying through with hands just barely before lowered head. To Blake’s relief, there were no security guards, but he hadn’t time to wonder why. He threw himself at the release handles and the doors crashed wide.
Blake fell out into the cold fresh air. He saw the hills surrounding him and the low winter sun as he collapsed against the armoured metal plates covering the closed double doors behind.
He dropped back in fear.
Blake went down as a wolf-pack of huge slavering dogs flew at his face. The heat of their breath hit him like a slap of warm dead meat. Thick, smelly slobber like rabid drool spattered across Blake’s mouth.
The dogs were colossal, dark-haired and mangy, with rough, matted fur through which the blue-mauve of thick, sore-scabbed skin showed. They were on him, left and right, razor-snapping as he dragged himself harder against the doors.
Blake cried out. His voice was drowned by the hyena-like howls from six starving open mouths full of curved yellow fangs and quivering violet, violent tongues. He shoved back and back, reaching behind for the handles. But there were none on this side of the door. There was no escape.
The barking howls of the dogs were growing ever more hysterical as Blake’s face came back out from behind his protective arm. The dripping, clamping mouths, three to his left and three right, were horribly close, but they were not quite able to get at him. The dogs were tethered, on chains just long enough to keep them away – only just.
Not all of them were tethered though, just one either side, with a thick studded collar round its neck. But they all struggled and raged to break free, as if one collar was enough to hold back three flailing heads. Blake leaned over to see how this was being done.
He cried out in terror. This time, his voice carried. This time, with the fear and horror of what he saw, he shouted even louder than they – even over the three braying heads left and three right, with their one left and one right body.
Blake shouted out. He was being attacked by two three-faced monster dogs, each with one body, four legs, one thick tail, and a triple-headed will to kill.
The rhino ran up the stairs and out into another instantly silenced environment. The humankind stopped unkindly, stared. He could go back, but couldn’t. Wherever he’d already been was too aware, curious and too eager to catch hold of him. He could only charge on.
He bolted, without thinking of where there was to go. There was nowhere to go. Nowhere, however, was a better place than the spiteful somewhere he had come from. Nowhere was a better, much better place. And worth fighting for.
So it was head down, horn up, blowing and bellowing down the alley-ways of people. He shoved them all aside, wheelchairs, beds on wheels, straight and crooked people alike. They blurred his eyesight into a red and white flurry, angry and afraid, red and white.
A man shouted almost into his face. He thrashed, casting the men and their metal machinery aside. A scream! A crash! Ryan thrashed. Water spilled splashing from the walls, cups and glasses smashing.
Ryan steamed, screamed through, a rhinoceros tipping aside a plains-jeep full of nasty riflemen and flash photographers. A man’s grasping hands were quite suddenly on him, trying to hold him back. The rhino thrashed free, its hard horn striking home into something fleshy and soft. Almost everything felt fleshier, softer than the horn. There was a grunt of pain, but not from horn-hard Ryan, running flat-footed across the open plain with another great white hunter hard in pursuit.
He, the rhinoceros, plunged through another doorway and down the well of a second staircase. His pursuer was left way behind as Ryan took the steps down three at a time. His ivory-toed, numb feet looked separated from him, thundering under like the hooves of another beast altogether.
Down he dashed, and down. The stairwell seemed to drip with moss and dank plant life. The lighting changed, dimming as down he plunged, deeper and cold, into a strange semi-lit underworld of pipes and trays full of squirming black wires and little trapped lights in bowls along the wall.
The beast had lost its bearings. The red floors and dirty white walls told of a directionless purpose that was not Ryan’s. His purpose was unknown here, lost in the dense basement as wet and as cold tears. And totally alone.
Great brute tanks coated in fat white cladding displayed fearful dials. Somewhere a furnace clicked and lighted.
The Ryan-beast stared at the sound.
Then turned at another sound. Footsteps sounded loud on the stairs somewhere behind. The beast started, ran on in the wrong direction. Between the tanks he ran with no sense, with no direction but this one, running into a tangle of pipes and dials and pumps and taps. He ran forward at the tangle in front, turned against the tanks on one side and on the other. He turned and turned, the whole dreadful twisted squirms of glass and metal, the sides of the tanks, bellying out in a claustrophobic cage with only one way out. The way he had just come.
The beast turned.
Footsteps approached its only exit.
The beast’s back arched. The horned head went down. The eyes blazed, mad. Ready to charge, to barge its way – the only way – out.
She flew down the stairs after him. He was mad – Danni had heard that man saying so. But she didn’t need to hear him say it. She knew he was mad. He’d been driven to it, she also knew, like an animal being whipped into a pen. That’s where her brother was running to, she knew. She’d seen the fury of it in him as he’d spiralled downstairs too far. At this depth, the basement ducts and pipes swirled like brain matter round the walls and across the ceilings. This far below, as deep down as it was possible for Ryan to go, the unseen madness way below the normal is seen, curly and wet, twitching and cringing, its nerves laid out for all who look to see.
Dan walked carefully between the subterranean grey-matter of a seemingly sane world. Up above, far above, in the squeaky-soled corridors, medicine set about the job of nursing, caring for the many but explicable ailments. Here though, the insane whirl of pump and pipe held hard a captive furiousness that wanted only to bend and break and escape. Dan turned the corner and saw him captured there in another cruel cage.
He was out of his mind. Furious with fear and outraged with shame, his beastly head sank, prepared to charge. Dan prepared herself to be charged. She took up all the space she could. There was only one way out.
‘You’re going to have to go straight through me,’ she told the animal. ‘You’re going to have to hurt me. I don’t care.’
In writing “The Rule of Claw” I wanted to do two things. First to tell a gripping adventure story that was exciting, involving and emotional. Second, I wanted to explore the Evolution versus Faith debate that is even more relevant now than it was in Darwin’s time over a century and a half ago. My intention was that “The Rule of Claw” could be read on very different levels by different people.
Ever since I was a boy and I came across a simple explanation of Einstein’s view of space and time, especially the fact that time can go by at different rates according to the position of the observer, I have been overawed and fascinated by science. Physics and Cosmology and Evolution and Genetics are all, for me, the one enthralling subject. I wanted to bring some of my fascination into my writing.I have also long been interested in the world’s religions, especially in the way religious faith has shaped our own and other societies – faith is so often a political issue.
The world as it stands is under threat from Global Warming. Too often the issue is reduced to clichés like “Save the Planet.” Well the planet itself is not under threat – it is present-day species, including ourselves, that face the greatest danger. The world has made us what we are – it can change us again whenever it feels like it, I just think, one day, it will feel like it.
“The Rule of Claw”, although not set in this world as it stands, is about this world. I have done everything I can to make it an enjoyable read while, at the same time, discussing many of the issues that inspire me as well as those that should frighten us all.