Author Topic: The Colony -1996 words  (Read 338 times)

Offline Matthew Hughes

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The Colony -1996 words
« on: March 09, 2018, 11:16:32 AM »
Hi, This is the first 2000 words of an 8000 word short story I've just finished.

Grateful for any feedback you can give.

Genre is a bit of a mixed bag. Suspense/horror, maybe.

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The Chosen will be gathered and the Prophecies will come to pass.
A messenger will come bearing the sign of the Hydra.
And the messenger will be offered to the First Born.
A darkness will fall and day will become night.
The sky will rain with the righteous fire of the first-born.
The Chosen will submit, and be saved.


[The Colony Scroll - translated from the original Latin by Professor William Gershalt, Oxford University, October 2021]

***

Jessica placed the note in her pocket, worrying it between her thumb and index finger. She sat on a lop-sided chair her father had made, an attempt to add comfort to what he referred to as their family ‘lodge’. In truth, it was little more than a damp, wooden shack, offering cursory relief from the elements.

She smiled at the thought of Josiah coming up with a plan.

Despite all the talk of rejecting modern life, the Colony still sent its dirty linen to the laundromat in town. It was Jess’ job to take the delivery from Kelly Wilmslow, a girl she'd known at school.

Non-believers were not allowed inside, so Jessica met her at the gates. When Kelly passed the first set of sheets across, Jess felt the note being pressed into her hand, under the sheets. They held each other's eyes for a moment without saying a word.

In the shack, she read, “Meet me at our place in the woods. Tonight, 7 O’clock. I miss you. Josiah.”

For a moment, the misery of the past month lifted from her shoulders. Her parents' decision to enter the Colony and the privations of life inside were something that Jess wanted no part of. She surveyed the squalor around her and felt the emotion rising in her throat.  Jess closed her eyes.

Touching the note again, she thought of Josiah. She recalled an image of him on the beach, laughing, during their trip to Brighton the previous Autumn. They’d told their parents they would be away with the school, a sixth-form excursion to the seaside. But it had just been them, together and alone for the first time. They visited the arcades, walked on the beach and drank for long-hours in the bars. Josiah booked two separate rooms at the hotel, but by the second night they needed only one.

***

The Preacher entered his cabin and closed the door.

The spacious single room served as a study, kitchen and living quarters. It was basic, in-keeping with their values, but much larger than the other lodges. His Brethren understood his position and responsibilities. There would be no begrudging the inequity.
He sat at his desk and clasped his hands.

For the first time, he sensed doubt among them. The uninvited questions and the diffidence of their manners had been building for a time. Thursday worship, the holiest session of the week, was supposed to be a time of reflection and contemplation. With their insolence, a few had betrayed a lack of true faith. How many did they speak for?

Alice Cuthbert was the worst of them, the leader of the malcontents. Always passive aggressive. “When will the messenger come, Preacher? You say he will be here soon, but when?” A motherly doubter. The children were hungry, she said. They needed more food, more meat, more vegetables. Always more, more, more.

He stood and paced the room. A chair blocked his path. The Preacher picked it up and flung it violently against the wall. When it crashed to the floor intact, he retrieved the chair and swung it against a pillar, over and over again, until each piece had broken away and he was left with a single wooden leg dangling from his hand. Sweating, breathing heavily, he tossed it away and sank to his knees.

They dared to question him?

In the twelve years it had taken to build this place, they had all made sacrifices, but he took the burden of leadership. In the beginning there had been just a handful, but his word had spread and their numbers had grown. With each new arrival, a bargain was struck. Conform to his strictions, and in return, he would ready them for The Reckoning. The Preacher was a man of his word, and he would remind them of their mission here.

He picked himself up and strode towards door. Outside, on the porch of his lodge, he found Greg , a large and forceful man who did not know the meaning of ‘doubt’.

“Fetch Alice Cuthbert and her family. Place them in the pit for three days.”

Hopkins nodded. “The children too, Mr. Preacher, Sir?”

“The children too.” he said.

***

Josiah took care not to be seen leaving the southern end of town on foot. Cars and buses bound for Stratford took that route all the time, but there was no reason to be walking in the area, unless they meant to visit the Colony.

Any driver could see the route from the main road. Beyond a thick copse of trees and a derelict barn lay the banks of the Stour. Cross the footbridge and you arrived at the old Friern Farmstead, a collection of fields broken up and sold off in the 90's. The two largest meadows eventually came under the ownership of Elton Digweed. And the rest, as the people of Shipston-on-Stour were fond of saying, was history.

From a distance, the settlement looked pre-historic. Perhaps twenty wooden huts built in rudimentary fashion, peppering the fields, interspersed with smoking fires and people moving between them. There was no way to tell the Colonists apart from the hill. They all wore the same plain hessian uniform, even the children. At the northern tip of the settlement, built on a raised bank, was a larger, more substantial building. Everyone agreed this must be Digweed’s residence.

Jos knew people gossiped about anyone seen in the general direction of those huts. Children were warned to stay clear by their parents and teachers. Suspicion still lingered over poor Sam Harwood, months after he'd fished the river from the wrong bank.

To avoid such a fate, Josiah rode to the Sports and Social Club and dumped his bike next to the clubhouse. By the time he'd crossed the football pitches, his boots were caked with mud and his hands were frozen. He vaulted the stile and hurried down the pathway dividing Jim Buchan’s land. At the river, the path turned north, tracking the bank towards Long Compton.

He took a full minute to check his surroundings, rolled up his jeans and waded into the ice-cold water. Half way across, a river rat broke the surface and eyed him suspiciously. He swiped his hand against the current and the creature swam away.

In the fading light, the boy climbed the bank and dried himself with a rag from his back-pack. He put on his socks and boots and continued through the woods.

If Jessica had received his message, she would be waiting on the far side of the trees. He pictured her, standing in the clearing, her arms gathered around her with a smile forming at the edge of her lips. Thinking of him, anticipating him. They had not seen each other in almost a month.

The night before, Jos’ father had visited him in his room, awkwardly staging a father-son talk. He was worried about Jos, he said, everyone was. He hardly ate, his school work had dropped off. Even his friends were concerned. It was time, his Father said, to move on from Jessica.

"Move on."

All that experience and still his father used those words. As if Jessica were a bump in the road, an experience to be mused upon in later life. It was difficult to forgive.

Through the trees, beyond the walls, he spotted the flickering glow of their fires. She must be able to slip away, he thought. They couldn't watch each other constantly.

He recalled the warning signs before Jessica and her parents had disappeared. The Preacher’s leaflets on the Rowley's coffee table and the curious questions Jess' mother would ask Josiah when he called. Had he heard the rumours of his strange powers? Did he think there was truth to them?

The Colony held outreach sessions once a week in Shipston’s community hall. Most who attended were out of town, crackpots who'd picked up the story from the media or the internet.

Jessica’s parents had gone along, then things started to spiral out of control.

Josiah should've acted then. He should have told people about Mrs. Rowley or watched the house to make sure nothing happened. Instead, he went on as though everything was fine and a week later, they were gone.

In the woods, he reached the clearing. “Jess.” he said. “Jess, are you there?”

He walked on, wet grass clinging to his ankles. “It’s Jos. I came to get you.”

More silence. He felt foolish now. He’d rehearsed their reunion so many times; it hadn’t occurred that she might not be there. He shuffled around the edge of the clearing, finding only darkness between the trees.

Josiah heard a feint rustling, low to the ground. It could have been an animal, but there was something purposefully furtive in the sound. He approached slowly. “Jess? Is that you?”

Her voice came from behind, soft and inviting, “Josiah.”

He turned. She stood in front of him, dressed in plain, off-white overalls, a crochet blanket draped across her shoulders. Her hair had been cut short and her skin was paler than he remembered.

He took a deep inward breath, steeling himself against his emotions.

“Are you okay?” he said.

She dropped her eyes and covered her face with her hands.

The blow to the back of his head was sudden and heavy, impacting at the base of the skull, sending shockwaves of pain across his shoulders and spine. In the split-second of consciousness before he hit the ground, Josiah heard a male voice growl and heavy footsteps beating towards him.

“Take him.”

***

Consciousness returned in short, painful bursts.

Strong hands gripped his shoulders and legs. Mud and mulch passed beneath as they carried him.

Next, they were turning him over, struggling to get him through the door of a wooden hut. One said,

“The blood makes him slippery.”

Josiah faded again, but for longer this time. When he came to, he was sitting up in a chair. The pain at the back of his head mixed with the sensation of hands tending to his wound. A cloth soaked with cool water dabbed at the cut.

From behind, she whispered into his ear. “Don’t speak.” With the sound of her voice and her breath on his neck, his senses revived. Josiah tried to move his hands, only to find them bound to the arms of the chair.

“Cut these, and we’ll run,” he said.

“Quiet. They have someone on the door.”

Josiah saw that a bearded man stood sentry at the open entrance.

She whispered again, so quietly he could hardly make out the words.

“You shouldn’t have come. They found the note. They think you’re a sign.”

“A sign? A sign for what?”

“You’re in danger. So am I.”

“I can get you out. I can.”

“Stop. I had a way to get out.” He sensed her hands shaking. Was it anger or fear? “Now we’re all in danger.”

The bearded man finally noticed their urgent whispers, and came into the room. Up close, Josiah recognised him as Mr White, his old Maths teacher. People in town said he’d retired and left to live in the city.

There was no sign of recognition for his former pupil, just a blunt instruction for Jess. “Clean him, bandage him and get out.” His voice carried a furious edge.

White remained until Jess finished dressing the wound. As she left, her fingers brushed gently over the back of his hand.