Walking along the gravelled path towards his cottage, Number 6 observed the ground floor lights having been switched on, indicating that he had guests. Two of whom he was already acquainted with, the third being a newcomer to the Village.
“Who the devil are you?” snapped Number 6, bursting in through the French door.
Numbers 42 and 73 stood with their arms folded, motionless and silent on either side of the armchair in which at a most severe looking middle aged woman dressed in a blue military style uniform. The white Penny Farthing badge pinned to the lapel of her tunic had the red numeral 2. And there was a smaller badge, black with a red crest, a gold braid lanyard hung down from her left shoulder and her black hair was swept back and secured in a tight bun which helped much towards her severe and draconian appearance.
Number 6 annoyed with this unwarranted intrusion into his home repeated the question “I asked who the devil you are, and what do you mean by coming in here like this?”
The new Number 2 slowly rose to her feet, straightened her tunic and said in a stern and threatening voice “Not quite the devil you’ll be disappointed the learn Number Six, but you will wish I were by the time I’m finished with you. I am the new Number Two” her smile was severe in the extreme.
“Well, I can see you’re going to be a bundle of laughs!” he quipped “what happened to the old one, he left a bit suddenly didn’t he?”
“I am not here for laughs Number Six, as you will be quick to learn” she informed him.
“What a pity. Mind you, you look like a woman who enjoys her work.”
“You didn’t respond to my summons, how very remiss of you” she scowled.
“And you didn’t answer my question!”
73 suddenly stepped forward without instruction, delivering several blows to Number 6’s head and midriff, sending him staggering back against the fire place, winding him, doubling up in pain.
“Stop that!” barked Number 2.
Number 73 with a hand on Number 6’s shoulder, his right hand clenched in a fist and about to deliver the final blow, but stopped at hearing the command and stepped back from the antagonist, like an obedient dog at hearing its master’s voice!
“Never make such a move like that again, without my command” she ordered “you might have damaged him, I don’t want that to happen…… not just yet anyway.”
“That’s right, call your dog off!” said Number 6 rubbing his chin and reminding her said “you had better check my file, you will see quite clearly that I am here under protection, which was offered to me on the day of my arrival here.”
Number 2 stared into the face of Number 6 long and hard “Any such decrees made by my predecessor were rescinded the moment I took up office in the Green Dome.”
Number 6 could instantly see that this new Number 2 was of a completely different calibre to that of her predecessor. In fact she was as far right as he had been left, the Penny Farthing upon her badge indicating as much, to the right as it faced!
“I have read your file Number Six” she told
him in that stern authoritative voice of hers.
“There’s nothing remarkable in that, you’re not the first, nor will be the last I expect!”
“You have been allowed to get away with far too much since your arrival here, well all that is about to change. I hear you’ve been a bad boy, not obeying instructions, poking your nose into thing which are none of your concern. Then going around bothering the good citizens of this community, asking questions and showing them some ridiculous photograph, well all that sort of thing is going to stop. Tell me Number Six, why did you go to the graveyard?”
“I much preferred the better company!” he told her with a smirk.
“What did you expect to find there, surely not this elusive comrade of yours, thought we did away with him, did you? Surely you don’t consider us so barbaric?” she asked, knowing full well the lengths that she herself was prepared to go to.
“On the barbaric front, you will be pleased to learn that I already rate you pretty highly on that score!”
“You’re on a fools quest Number Six, I tell you that for nothing, is that what you are, a fool?” she asked, with that smarmy, condescending smile which could only be hers.
“That would be telling, and your job task to find out!” he replied, trying to keep his sense of humour, as well as his temper as he still wanted to payout Number 73.
Number 2 studied the room about her, she stooped down and picked up a copy of a ‘Danger Man Omnibus’ off the coffee table and thumbing through it pages said with a warning “Look if you must, but you may have to face disappointment. Are you prepared for that?” and placed the book back upon the table.
Number 6 heeded the warning, and attempting to turn the tables returned, and with some determination said “are you prepared?”
“Your kind never learn Number Six” she told him, but for the moment choosing to play the game.
“I won’t give up, if that’s what you want” scowled Number 6 in return, shoving the copy of The Tally Ho under the nose her “Where is he?”
Number 2 took the offered newspaper, studied the headline and photograph, then dropped it on the floor and rubbed her heel into the face in the photograph.
“But a child must be taught. It’s often a long slow, and sometimes tedious and painful process……” Number 2 began.
“Is it!” Number 6 butted in.
“…….. But a teacher must have a great deal of patience, and the Village is very patient. Everything will work out in the end, and upon that Number 6 you may depend” Number 2 finished.
“Work out for who, you?”
“For everyone of course” returned Number 2 smiling “we all have a few tricks up our sleeves, and you are no exception Number 6, but remember I might just have a surprise or two up mine as well!” which made it sound like a warning.
Number 6 smiled and saw the challenge which lay ahead “Perhaps there will be a surprise or two in it for you along the way, and I promise I’ll show you trick or two you haven’t even heard of!” was Number 6’s promise.
The new Number 2 drew close to Number 6, there was a sardonic look in her eye, her voice dangerous and threatening “Perhaps, but if I were you, I would take it easy, don’t run before you can even crawl!”
Number 2 and her entourage turned to leave, the French door opening automatically. Number 2 paused and turning as Number 6 wished them a good night.
“Please feel free to come calling anytime” quipped Number 6 “this visit has been such a pleasure.”
Number 2 stared him full in the face with cold menacing eyes and said “Be careful Number Six, you’ll only go and take a nasty fall and injure yourself. And we wouldn’t want that now would we?” and turned to leave.
“I’ve found his cottage you know!” Number 6 shouted after Number 2, she being halfway through the door.
On the other side of she paused for a moment and said in quiet resignation “Yes, I know!”
As the French door closed, Number 6 was left alone to pace the floor in a state of abject anger, then he saw it, a large flat brown cardboard box set upon his desk. He had failed to notice it before, his mind being left in its agitated state as it was. But now as he stood before his desk Number 6 read the label stuck on the top of the box, it read ‘No 6. Compliments of No 2,’ it being from the new Number 2’s predecessor.
Lifting the lid of the box and removing the tissue paper Number 6 discovered the fancy dress costume there in. The costume consisting of white cape with blue lining, a white tunic with silver sequins, white shirt with full loose sleeves, white boots, black and white striped hose or tights. There was also a white hat with Ostrich feathers, and a white mask, which not only covered the eyes, but also the top of the cheek bones and had a long pointed nose. A black wig complete with black bow, this along with a foil sword, its tip protected, thus completed the costume. Oh and there was a card in the box with a name upon it, which read…….. Scaramouche. He carried the box through into the bedroom, then hanging the costume carefully in the wardrobe, realising that ordering this fancy dress costume would probably have been one of Number 2’s final acts as Chairman before departing in so much haste.
It was ten minutes to curfew, Number 6 knew this from the announcement made through the black speaker. The maid had arrived to make him his nightly night cup of hot chocolate, which she had placed by his bed as usual.
“Was that you putting your costume away sir?” asked the maid making her departure.
“Costume?” he said.
“For tomorrow, the Masque Ball sir” the maid reminded him.
“Have you been making me my night cap?” he asked, suspicious of what else the night cap might contain.
“Why yes sir, the same as I do every evening” she replied.
“And is it by my bed?” he asked, knowing full well that it was.
“Why yes sir, is there a problem?” the maid enquired with some concern.
“Only that I have to drink it!” he sneered.
“It’s good for you, it will help you sleep” the maid replied with a smile.
“That’s what I’m afraid of!” retorted Number 6 “very good to me, aren’t you?”
“All part of the service” said the maid.
Number 6 retrieved the said night cap from the bedroom and held the cup and saucer to the maid “Why don’t you drink it, if it’s so good for one?”
There was a look of alarm upon the maid’s face, as she gazed at the cup and saucer held out towards her.
“You had better go, it’s almost curfew” he told her.
The maid didn’t think twice “Goodnight sir.”
“Goodnight” he replied watching the maid hurriedly depart the cottage, the door closing behind her in her wake.
He carried the cup and saucer into the kitchen and poured the contents into the sink, and turning on the cold water tap washed the chocolate away down the drain. Then taking a glass from the draining board, filled it with cold water from the tap, held it up to the light for closer examination, then took a long draught of the clear liquid before finally retiring to bed for the night.
In the circular chamber of the control room, Number 2 and the night time Supervisor-Number 253, a middle aged man, with thinning hair stood watching the wall screen. The Observers sat at their monitors ever watching, ever listening, as two further Observers sat upon either end of the steel see-saw device, as it went round and round, up and down set in the centre of the control room floor. The wall was adorned with a world map and an astrological chart. A set of steel stairs led up to the gantry and the pair of steel doors gave access. And around the base of the circular wall wound the map of the Village, while set in the domed ceiling was a disc of lights, not forgetting the stainless steel all seeing electronic eye which orbited the control room, both day and night. A case of the observers being observed!
“Number 6 appears to be in a sound sleep” remarked the supervisor.
“Despite his not drinking his night cap” Number 2 observed.
The supervisor looked at his superior, who despite her lofty position, seemed to still have much to learn of the ways of the Village, and so said with a satisfied smile “Don’t worry Number Two, the sedative is administered in the water supply.”
Number 2 was pleased to see such efficiency and ordered Number 6’s sleep to be deepened.
The Supervisor was eager to oblige and order the pulsator hidden in the overhead light above Number 6’s bed to be lowered.
In the bedroom of 6 Private the overhead orange lights had begun to descend over the slumbering Number 6’s face, the light pulsating with a hypnotic sound, until it was but a couple of inches over the man’s face thus deepening the sleep of the slumbering Number 6, drawing out his worst nightmare…………..
The woods at night took on a different atmosphere than in daylight. It was dark even when the moon was full, the tree tops allowing little of the moonlight through it’s full canopy of leaves and branches. The woods during the day were a wondrous place to be, but at night they became a wild and lonely place, dark and haunting.
For Number 6 to walk alone along the moonlit path along the cliffs as it skirted the edge of the woods was one thing, but once inside the dark dense woods where the moonlight could not penetrate, well one could get lost in the thicket if you should stray from the path. Keep to the paths, you don’t want to get lost do you! Haven’t you been passed that old oak tree before, and along here through the Mangrove walk….. and then something grabs hold of you from out of the darkness, but its alright you’ve only snagged yourself on a low branch, or have you? It’s a long arm with bony fingers, reaching out for you, tightening its grip on you, and the more you struggle the tighter their grip becomes. And then suddenly you’re free, free to run, free to escape! And run you do as fear finally lays its grip upon you, helter skelter you run along any path which will take you away from the horror back there in the deep dark woods. Then the path has gone and you plunge headlong through the bushes and thicket, brambles tear and scratch at your face, but anything is better than the horror lurking back there in the dark dank woods. But you are still in the woods and not free at all, as branches with long tapering twigs reach out for you, then swipe you in the face as you brush them away. Fear now has its grip upon you, sweat covers your brow, breathing is heavy, and your heart is pounding,
pounding fit to burst as you plunge through the bushes. Then you trip and stumble to the ground, you lie there in the dirt and fallen leaves, listening for something, anything which is but a finger touch away now. But what is there to fear, but fear itself! He picked himself up and followed the path out onto the cliff tops once more and gazed out across the open sand of the estuary in the bright light of the full moon. The night air was warm and still, the silence broken only by the occasional nocturnal rustle in the undergrowth. Below the cliffs was the graveyard, where the long departed of the village lay, each grave marked by either a cross or headstone and inscribed upon each was the number of the dead. As he looked down at this silent and quite eerie scene of headstones tilting this way and that in the sand from his lofty position at the very edge of the cliffs, he could see that one grave had been set a little aside from all the others. He stood upon the sand in his deck shoes and stared at the lonesome headstone. Green with mould, weather beaten, the countless tides having taken their toll, and grey underneath the mould, as Number 6 crouched down, rubbing the mould away looking for the number of the dead. But there was no such number! For this was the grave of the man with no number, and in which something dark and dangerous now began to stir.
He had lain there in his coffin, well what was now left of the coffin, for the night to come, and now that night was here. The rotting, decaying flesh had long since giving way to a multitude of maggots which fed heartily upon the rotting flesh of their host, rotting stinking flesh which in places hung loose from its skeletal bones. Long straggly hair still grew out of the scalp, as did the long tapering finger nails, turning long bony fingers into razor sharp talons, and the clothes in which this man with no number had once been buried, his black piped blazer, turtle neck sweater, trousers and deck shoes, were now little more than tattered rags which tried to dress this long dead corpse. But the dead often have a way of coming back to haunt us, and this night was to be no exception, as those long talon like fingers clawed at the soft sand as the corpse began to dig itself out from its cold, damp grave.
He felt that he had been here before as he stood up from the gravestone, unaware that so close beneath his feet something fierce and fatal was coming his way. And perhaps it was a sense of that stirring that made him suddenly back away from the grave. The desire inside him was to run and not to look back, as he ran pell mell for the security of the Village and the warm confines of his cottage. But he was firmly rooted to the spot, just as his eyes were compelled to gaze upon the grave of the man with no name, transfixed as they were, as in the soft sand a hole began to appear, like a whirlpool in water, then cracks in the sand slit the grave asunder and two long bony talon like hands appeared, clawing at the sand, making the cracks wider.
Number 6 remained transfixed, as long bony hands found a solid grip of the sand and the decomposing corpse hauled itself out of the now open grave. Number 6 was suddenly awoken from his transfixion, strength returned to his legs, and he turned to run, run from this horrific and awful place, but as he ran the sand seemed to want to hold him prisoner, yielding under his feet as they sank into the soft sand, slowing the progress of his run. Pausing for breath, because the going was soft and the running difficult, he looked back towards the graveyard and there in the moonlight, the corpse swaying and staggering along the beach after him. This sight made him take to his heels once more, and now the going was more firm under foot, he ran splashing through shallow gullies of water left by the outgoing tide. Ahead were the lights of the Village and sanctuary, but they were a long way off and the corpse behind him was keeping a steady pace, if not seen to be gaining on him a pace or two. He kept his pace going, even though his heart pounded and his lungs burned, but his legs carried him on, on towards and up the steps onto the quayside. Up the hill from the Old People’s Home and into the Village, for Number 6 there was no looking back now, as he ran along the street and up the cobbled path, ahead the Green Dome and then the relative safety of his cottage known a 6 Private.
Outside dark clouds had drawn themselves like a veil across the full moon, plunging the Village into darkness.
Number 6 woke with a sudden start from the nightmare which filled his night time dreams. He sat bolt upright and let out a horrendous scream, and screamed and screamed again! His whole body covered from head to foot in sweat, as he sat there looking feverishly about the room lit by the silvery moonlight that shone through the window. The door was closed, the window shut, and everything was as it should be. But there was a smell about the room, the lingering smell of his own fear!
In the control room Number 2 was about to leave.
“You know” said the supervisor “one day you will push him too far, and then where will you be?”
“Can I help what lurks in his own subconscious, what dreams and fears he might have?” retorted Number 2, with one foot on the bottom step of the steel stairway.
“Well this marks a first” said the supervisor “you’re beginning where your predecessor left off!”
Number 2 turned at the top of the gantry and looked down upon the supervisor “Of course, never let it be said that I fail to recognise a good plan when I see it” she said with an enthusiastic smile “besides which we still have Village Day and the masque Ball to consider, we mustn’t disappoint the community now, must we?”
“No Number Two” the supervisor replied, and saw for the first time that this Number 2 was human after all “you should do that more often.”
“What?” Number 2 asked from the gantry.
“Smile, that with a sense of humour, helps the job along” the supervisor told her, who realised his mistake.
“I understand that my predecessor was a very charming man, that he had a keen sense of humour” she said gripping the handrail.
“Yes Number Two.”
“Well I am not a man, nor do I have a sense of humour, which you will quickly learn” she retorted sternly.
“Yes Number 2.”
“Tomorrow’s ceremony and entertainment will both go ahead as planned, better than planned. You will of course be there at the Masque Ball?”
“No Number Two I’ll be working.”
“I shall save you some cake then.”
“You’re not going as Marie Antoinette then?”
“What ever gave you that idea, no I shall be Columbine!” she said smiling, and took her departure through the now opening steel doors.
The supervisor turned back to his work, but allowed his mind to wander for a moment, Number 2 as Columbine, a sight worth seeing, but was quickly snatched back from his thoughts by the report from an Observer.
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