'You-have-five-bullets-use-them-well' captain signed at us forcefully making sure everyone was looking.
When you've been 'going out' from the beginning you fall into some odd habits. I poured candle wax into my hand and soaked the strand of dirty cloth in it. Before the wax cooled I put it in my ears. There wasn’t any reason to do it any more; not after 'The Op'.
Superstitions are born out of fear, surviving whatever causes the fear gives the superstition credibility. Putting wax in my ears kept me alive until I could get to safety. The warmth inside my ears reminds me that I have survived before. There are three types of people who can survive a wraith attack and we don’t know why or how. They are Soldiers, Hippies and 'Signers'.
While we were absentmindedly going through our preparations the captain reiterated our standing orders.
‘1-Food. 2-Weapons. 3-Survivors.’
Tom looked at me and subtly signed ‘4-Revenge.’ as he leant forward to check his boots.
He and I both knew that revenge was out of the question, but if the captain saw he would be off the mission for fooling around.
The captain finished up ‘and-do-fucking-NOT-guide-them-back-to-base.’ The elevator stopped, ((ping)) as a safety precaution the doors were opened manually. My team and I stepped into the lobby of the Bank of England.
Have you ever noticed that after 'The Op' you only remember the most annoying sounds? Right now I have elevator muzac running through my head ((tink tst tink-tink))It’s not a style of music that will turn me into a killing machine.
Your brain wants the sounds to be there so badly it forces them into your imagination.
Tom and I were the only members of the team that weren’t soldiers pre- wraiths. The way I see it is that you can either volunteer for an elite group and know you can trust everyone in it not to shoot you, or you can go around with a bunch of Muppets.
One of the first things we learnt was the 'buddy-buddy' system. Tom watched my back and I watched his. Nobody could believe I’d made it to the bank without a partner or a weapon; it was the credibility I got from this that let me get onto the squad. My watch vibrated, it was the captain signalling us to move forward, we had "spike". Tom and I were the nerds of the team. When Cap. was tackling obstacle courses; we were taking magic mushrooms. For some reason these pastimes were both as valuable for resisting the wraiths.
After the all clear on the bank and the surrounding area we stepped outside. A can of coke dragged along the pavement ((scrape)) its colour was faded to a timid pink.
Abdul and Sparks checked Threadneedle and Princes Street. Tom and I ran to make a bridgehead near Bank Underground; a forgotten statue stood to attention from above us as we tried to blend into his memorial. The captain and Jones covered our positions. Ahead of us stood St Pauls against the grey sky.
We took the lead past Walbrook church; the blank look on the statues always set me on edge. Every thirty paces we rotated so that we took turns at walking backwards.
The rest of the team was a long way behind us; This is another basic rule when fighting wraiths.
If a wraith attacked at close quarters the first pair were sacrificed. Their fault for not keeping proper look out.
It takes three good shots to bring a wraith down; if we can, we do; but most of the time the space between us is used to retreat. If you were "spike" you had the most chance of being sacrificed. I glared at every shadow, snatched a glimpse of each doorway and alley.
I pressed my watch face twice. Stop. I signed the Captain:
'Dead-guy. Possible-trap. Advise.'
We hadn’t seen a "survivor" for months. Wraiths ate everything; whether this was a dead wraith or a human he should have been a pile of bones. This guy wasn't like any survivor I'd seen. His hands were covered with blood but he wore a clean tweed jacket. In one hand he held a piece of yellow chalk the other cupped his face like he was asleep.
'what-the-fuck-is-this' the captain pointed his gun at the body. Tom scanned the horizon while we signed.
'It-is-a-body' I signed as sarcastically as ISL allows.
'3-Survivors' Cap. knew that we had to find food first. 'Move-on. Get-him-on-way-back' He ordered.
'He-could-be-dangerous. Check?' I asked. The Captain nodded.
I kicked his belly and he rolled over. His lips were sewn together. Under his chest he had scrawled on the pavement:
I HAVE THE CURE.
Even without ears we can still tell when they scream.
Human bodies were not meant to scream that loudly; it hits you like an explosion, your muscles turn to jelly.
It is said that people can do remarkable things when they forget what is possible. Mothers can push a car off their injured son like flicking lint from a collar.
If you see a wraith move it is like they don’t have any limitations, they can make their bodies do anything. They don’t know what they can't do, they don’t know fear.
All three of us turned and fired at once. ((crack crack crack))
Bullets tumbled through his bruised flesh.
The Captain threw a smoke grenade. ((fhsssh))
They kept coming.
Naked and blood drenched one leapt onto an abandoned car, confused by the smoke long enough for us to take some more shots.
The bullets pushed him back, but he didn’t even wince as my round passed through his ribcage. In a second we would be in hand to hand combat. Then the others would dash in to finish us off.
Abdul, Sparks and Jones should be back at base now.
There was no way we could survive this.
The wraith leapt above our heads, his arms and legs outstretched, desperate to attack our bodies.
We were close enough to see his tiny pupils and poisoned blue lips before firing our last shots. Instinctively I opened my mouth and screamed.
My last breath limped passed my silenced vocal chords just before he staggered in front of us.
The man in the tweed jacket could hardly stand. Like a runner finishing a marathon he was bent double, one leg took his weight and the other pressed uselessly against it. White smoke swirled around his ankles.
He looked at the wraith out of the corner of his eye and took a deep breath, it was something about his sewn lips that told me what he was going to do next.
He threw his head back; the stitches in his lips burst open, the smoke around us cleared. The wraith fell at his feet.
It-is-not-a-virus-or-a-bacteria.' Our saviour held up his only possession, 'let-me-use-a-chalk-board'.
We were putting gauze on his lips while we waited for the elevator, emergency medical supplies were always kept in the bank's lobby.
'What-is-your-name?' Tom asked him. I looked into his gaunt blood covered face.
He spelt it: 'H-A-R-R-Y.'
'Hold-on. The-doctor-is-coming.' I had to keep him awake, he could be close to losing consciousness again. Cap. was fixing a drip to his arm; he wouldn’t be able to sign from now on.
'Write-with-this.' I gave him my notepad.
He snatched at it.
'It is a virus of the mind, an experiment gone wrong. A combination of hallucinogenic drugs and hypnotic suggestion created an effect that could be passed on through sound alone...'
'Where-the-hell-is-that-lift?' signed Cap. I pressed the call button again.
'...We can reverse the same process, anyone who still has their vocal chords can pass on the anti-virus to the wraiths and make them human again...'
((ping)) Thank fuck for that, the medical team forced open the lift.
'keep-him-alive.' I signed forcefully.
'We-do-try-you-know' The doctor still hung his stethoscope around his neck. I trusted him more for it.
'You-do-not-understand.' I showed him what he was writing: 'He-has-the-cure.'
'...By taking the cerebral fluid of someone under positive hypnotic induction and passing it backwards through the same synthetic drug procedure we are left not with component chemicals but with the psychological effects of the drug experience expressed as neural energy...'
'What-the-fuck-does-that-mean?' the doctor asked.
'Yeah,' said Cap. 'they-were-shit-scared.'
'I-know-it-must-be-tiring-to-watch-me-sign-the-same-old-stories-again-and-again.' I put my slippers on and made a move towards the kitchen.
'No-they-get-better-and-better-each-time.' Said Sarah. She is an angel.
'It-is-hard-to-make-heroes-from-people-who-can’t-hear-their-own-fanfare!' She looked at me with her head tilted affectionately to one side. She knew that I was being flippant about a deep wound.
We are second class citizens now.
The anti-virus made humans strong, fast and intelligent. But the anti-virus couldn’t be given to the Expedition Teams. Everyone who sacrificed their eardrums and vocal chords were written off as soon as all the wraiths were dead.
When the wraiths were around the people who fought were valuable. Signers became our teachers and leaders. Men became soldiers. Everybody else trembled behind the legs of the deaf and the dumb
Now that the wraiths are gone the 'most capable' are back in charge. Our generation is an embarrassment to them. The strongest have survived and they do not reward the sacrifices of the weak.
Sarah is different.
‘How-is-the-research-going?’ I asked.
‘It-is-amazing-to-have-found-one-of-the-original-members-of ‘B-E-T 17’. You-are-a-living-treasure.’
Her hand movements are graceful, you can tell a lot about people by the way they sign, she is so fluent...
I caught myself thinking about it again. What do I fear the most, dying alone or telling her?
I tried to make my old hands form a heart, but I disguised it as an itchy chest.
‘Cup-of-tea?’ I signed instead.