Sunday, 20 October 2013

A Kind of Mercy by Matthew Brolly

Read by Hin Leung

When the beast calls, one must follow.

It was cold before the snow, that I do remember. Mummy would snuggle us warm with knitted jumpers, frayed scarfs and mismatched woolly hats then send us to school. It was cold then but now; now there is no school.

When the beast calls one must follow.

We learnt this early on. What you must remember about the snow is that there was no prelude, no warning. One day there was the world, the next the snow.

It started like any snowfall does, miniscule flakes littering the ground. Mummy said, ‘see how they drift like tiny ghosts?’

‘Friendly ghosts,’ I asked.

‘Of course.’

A week later and the ghosts were still falling. Six months later and the world was a vast, white snowscape. There were over a hundred of us then, a small compact community working together in relative harmony. The snow was a hindrance but manageable.

The first call came one afternoon in late September, a strange moan-like growl. Mummy had called it guttural. It had sounded like a noise within a noise, as if there was another type of roar fighting to escape.

We didn’t understand immediately. I was one of the first to see Dwight Jacobs. Dwight was my age. We had sat near each other in school. When Dwight ran into the settlement, his clothes and flesh glistening with a covering of scarlet, it didn’t take long for the men to go hunting.

‘So quick to react,’ said Mummy. ‘They didn’t even listen to the boy.’

We found out later that the blood, the piercing red which had dripped from Jacob’s shivering body had been that of his father. They had been out on the boundary searching for firewood amongst the snow and trees.

The hunt party could find no trace of Jacob’s father and no source for the noise we had heard earlier. Jacob survived but never spoke again. He began building elaborate snow structures, increasingly bizarre and grotesque in shape.

‘Fever dreams’, said Mummy. She smiled but looked sad.

One must follow.

We learnt that after the next call. It was louder the second time, as if that hidden roar had found a voice. The sound was as continuous and patient as the snow which fell unrelenting.

Even then, on that second call, there was something to the sound, the singularity of which stopped even the most foolhardy of the hunters from searching for the source. I didn’t see it that time but hours later a shape gave flesh to that sound, and highlighted how childish and mad Dwight Jacobs replica sculptures were. It was something unimaginable, even to those who had witnessed it. Mummy hid me as the beast strolled through the encampment leaving crater like footprints as it passed. Even the mildest recollections of that day sound far-fetched: fur like steel, dagger shaped teeth as large as a man. It was described as being white, or silver, or translucent with sightless, peeping eyes covering its wire coated body. Occasionally the witnesses used words like serene, calm, even gentle.

On the day the beast roamed the camp, it accidently trampled three people to pulpy death and then selected its prey. William Sydenham, forty five, black beard, plump with no family was plucked from the ground and rushed into oblivion.

The world is white. Sometimes I imagine a million other settlements, each with their own beast, their own call to answer.

We learnt that when the call comes one must follow.

One barren night, the flurry of the snow colouring the night sky white, we gathered and made our decision. Not all were in agreement and some tried to escape. One or two were lucky and were chased back to the encampment to await the call. For the others their time came early.

There are no screams, save the anguish cries as the chosen ones leave, sometimes forcibly, the encampment. Mummy told me that the beast is quick; she told me that it was a kind of mercy.

I’m thirteen now, old enough to vote and to be chosen. There are twenty five of us left. Mummy was the last to go. She told me to be strong, that it wouldn’t last forever

We are gathered now. The call began an hour ago. The beast is patient but we must decide.

He has called and one of us must follow.

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