The stone slapped into the shadows, its echoes bouncing round the quarry’s edges. MOT grinned,
coming here had to be the best idea he’d had in ages, even with so much drizzle soaking into his bones
that they felt loose. The wind might be tearing holes in the heather overhead but in the quarry’s heart all
was still and silent.
He jogged on the spot, his joints sloshing, and popping, and selected another stone from the pile. He
hadn’t done something like this since he was a kid.
‘Damn,’ he leant against a rock so he could feel the rain on his face. Somewhere up above his
problems were waiting, ‘Come on the offers over, the deal’s dead in the water, kaput. The Doctor’s said
no. You won’t get them to change their mind; not with that waiting list even if you do open your mouth.’
He slung another pebble and heard it sprang off the wall again. There’d be time to lob a few more
before heading back.
‘Must have been standing here hours.’
MOT watched the heather sway along the quarries lip.
‘Never mind, it’s time to go. She’s an appointment at nine.’
He fingered the ticket in his pocket, he’d been lucky; as they’d explained to him so carefully he’d lost
control of his temper. It had been his decision to renounce his citizenship all those years ago. He was as
much a refugee as his daughter. They’d trailed sweat and panic half way across the Atlantic for nothing.
‘Lucky to still be breathing, sunshine.’
The outbreak had been a bad one, and they’d watched the results played out on the street from their
compound before leaving thanking their lucky stars they’d the choice. There were plenty of others that
couldn’t. He could still see the Doctor’s room and the steady beat of its solitary fan chugging through the
‘Hope they’ve got something better to say to us this time.’
He was leaving when the sun finally found a way through the clouds, and the quarry filled with the sort of
watery light that looked like it was shining from the bottom of the sea. Heather twitched again. This time he
was ready; the pebble left his hand before he’d thought about it.
‘Mother of God! That was a good shot.’
The cliff face was moving caving into the water like an iceberg had slipped. But it was what lay behind
that was really interesting.
‘Never seen that before.’
The landslide had left slick wet rock exposed to the rain, and the cracks and fissures reminded him of
those trees you got along the coast; sharp and twisted like they could cut if you weren’t careful. There was
something blocking them too, a lot of things, smooth and cold, and wet like pebbles.
From the tips of its top most branches to the roots buried in the water, it had to be as high as the quarry
at least. He kicked a rock by his foot and watched as the lake scrunched and shimmered.
‘Where did you come from?’
The swan that had appeared from the quarries shadows stared at him from the water as it spread
wings blacker than the barrel of the gun he’d used to get them out. It looked like it could touch the shore on
either side if it wanted. MOT spat, the look on the looters face had been bad enough.
‘None of your business, you should be worried about what you’ve done. How long do you think it’s
going to last like that?’
‘That thing?’ MOT scratched the stubble on his chin. ‘What is it?’
‘What does it look like?’
As he watched one of the pebbles moved, and the swan thrashed the water with its wings as it backed
away. Maybe they weren’t stones decided MOT.
‘As soon as I turn my back, they’re at it. I’m surprised they can find anything left; now they’ve eaten their
way through what it was growing. We had to hide it you know. We tried it the other way once; thought a bit
of rain would help. All that happened was some enterprising sod sold all the branches off for tinder and we
had to fish them out of the lake.
‘What do you mean?’
‘The rats,’ the swan was looking in the direction of the fissure, at the smooth round stones wedged into
the gap. It took MOT a moment to realise what it meant.
‘You mean those things?’
‘Yes, there’s so many of them now, no light can get through.’
MOT had been watching the swan with a speculative look on his face. It was a big, strong, fine looking
beast with plenty of sheen to its feathers.
‘I might be able to help,’ he kept his voice low so as not to disturb the rats; ‘of course I’ll need to borrow
something of yours though.’
‘What do you mean borrow? I’ve nothing you’d want.’
The swan reared up again and MOT found it hard not to lick his lips as he saw its chest beat strong
and hard and black.
His next stone clipped its head with a sound like an eggshell breaking.
It would have been fine idea thought MOT as he watched another figure slip between the boulders, and
sniffed the fat crackling on the breeze. It would have been fine, except he’d forgotten the phone.
‘They should never have invented free minutes.’
His daughter gave him a wink as she checked her bag for the umpteenth time and tucked the phone
beneath her chin. It had started with just her bezzy mate; then it had been her bezzy mate plus her bezzy
mate. Before long it seemed like half the city was in on what was going on up at the quarry, and MOT had
to rush the job before a mob arrived to watch what he was doing. Sometimes he thought the city had more
people hiding in its corners than corners themselves.
‘I think it worked Dad. It doesn’t hurt anymore. I can tell it’s there, but the pain’s gone.’
The blood plastered over Light’s skin cracked a little as she stretched to get a better look at her scar.
‘You were a really brave girl. I’m proud of you.’
If it hadn’t been for her help, he doubted he could have performed the operation.
‘I never got a chance to thank it.’
There was a crack as he pulled a drumstick off the corpse.’
‘You need to relax. You can’t heal if you can’t do that.’
MOT wiped at a sport of grease that had gotten on his shirt, and looked at his daughter. She seemed
happy enough even covered in so much Swan, she smelt of feathers.
‘Well, you could have been gentler at least. Look at the mess you’ve made. Good job I packed a
change of clothes. Hold on a second. It’s itching again. Don’t look.’
His nose filled with the smell of down as Light worked cream into her stitches, and MOT got to his feet.
The newcomers were already starting to get demanding about their treatment, and it wasn’t like there were
any more Swans about was it? MOT fingered his chin and looked at the tree and its cargo.
‘I’m going to need your help Light.’
By the end of the day, they’d given up trying to get their patients to queue and MOT was starting to get
worried about his daughters health. The transplant had been a success, but Lights chances of any serious
rest and recuperation had to be halved with half the city stamping about. At least the weather had cleared,
and looking at the clouds scurrying by overhead was a lot better than what was being done to the people’s
whose op had failed. There was that much blood on their companions faces you had to wonder if it would
ever dry, and they’d long since run out of painkillers.
‘You’re special Dad. I’ve never seen anyone learn so fast.’
Light finished what she was doing and placed a finger to her lips as the struggling patient sat up. Her
scar moved with her, raw, and wet and shiny as glass, and when she looked at him her, eyes were filled
with as many shadows as the tree cut into the rock. MOT felt the hair on his arms rise as he answered her,
‘I had a good teacher.’
Light gasped and grabbed her chest, and for a moment MOT felt old panic blossom in his own.
‘What’s wrong? Where does it hurt? I did my best; all the stitches were the same as you do.’
‘That swan’s done something to me.’
Light blew feathers from her fingertips and he watched as they disappeared into the fissures depths as
a goose landed on the water.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Don’t worry so many Dads. Just checking which way the wind’s blowing.’
She gave MOT a kiss on the cheek, and got back to organising the next patient without another word.
By the time winter rolled around, they’d emptied the city and probably half the zoos round about. Light
stood on the spoil heap waving a handkerchief as figure after figure drifted through the water and
squirmed through the gap. For all the hundreds they sent through, they never got a word of complaint. MOT
supposed that wasn’t much of a surprise unless you were particularly good at talking through miles of
granite, or whatever else counted as the same thing where the patients ended up.
Snide dug its head a little further through the heather so it could better see the drop.
‘That’s our job, you little bitch. Messing where you shouldn’t that’s what you’re doing. It sneezed and
listened to its lungs whistle it needed to find Team. When it did, Team was sitting on a rock chasing rat
tails with its hands as they ducked and dived and squirmed across its chest. Sometimes it reminded
Snide of snakes; Team’s body certainly slithered like one, but it was rats that made it move, and it was
rats that bared their teeth when its servant came close. They’d been joining it ever since Snide could
remember, and the result was something that hopped and stumbled as much as walked. If they weren’t
careful pretty soon, they’d be dining on shoe leather and soot again for sure.
‘Have to do something, come here.’ Team didn’t sound like it wanted to argue and when Snide joined
it at the foot, he squirmed his way up to the rats acting as its larynx with all the speed of a born survivor.
‘Where’ve you been?’
‘Watching, being good rat.’
Snide drew closer so it could speak into the animal acting as its ear.
‘They’ve found a way to get them out.’
Team’s mask swivelled as the rats behind it flicked it with their tales.
‘Impossible, the gap’s wedged solid. Besides, they’ll get a surprise if they use them.’
‘Not any more it isn’t.’
‘How many are left?’
‘Thousands, millions even, but they’re scattered.’ Team stamped as some of its chest flew into the
heather. ‘They’ll come back.’
‘They’ve been using animals.’
‘Ah.’ The air that escaped Team’s lips then must have come from every rat in the slithering sliding thing
Team called a body. ‘We should go look. I want to know how it’s being done.’
‘A man put the swan’s heart in a kid. I saw it myself; he took a rock and brained it. They look like they
want to take our spot.’
Team flexed its tail letting it whip and rattle to and fro until the heather boiled.
‘Then we must have help.’ Ferry men are a corporation built on loyalty. Team settled down on its
haunches as it rummaged through its depths, ‘perfect.’
A thousand rats hissed and churned agreement, and one by one with a neat thunk like an apple being
cored, it tapped a claw through the unlucky bodies squirming in its fist; nail puncturing bone until what was
left of their eyes went red with blood. Soon it was oozing from the rats like water; running through the earth,
filling the cracks in the cliff. The rats that were left popped out one by one and then the gap was drowned in
MOT looked up as he heard a noise like a gun going off and a tidal wave of gore rolled toward the
lake. There was something standing up there he hadn’t seen since the Doctors office.
‘Dad, is that a rat?’
‘Yeah, a big one, and it’s brought its mates.’
MOT caught one of the rodents in his fist ignoring the wet squelch as the blood it was coated in slid
through his fingers, and brought it close enough he didn’t have to squint. The thing was definitely a rat, one
with as much fur on its back as a leper had teeth.
‘What are you doing?’
‘It’s Ok, I’ve got this.’
There was something about rats. They’d used it back home when they’d run out of poison. ‘Wait.’ A
splash reached his ears as first one then another of the creatures hit the water and swam for the rocks
where MOT and his daughter were working. Soon they had to stand back as rats dived off the cliff by the
dozen, and before long MOT was watching Teams mask travel up the pile growing in front of him till it sat
at the top like a trophy.
‘You’ve something of mine.’ Team’s voice was more hiss than words, and MOT couldn’t help
shuddering as he stepped in front of his daughter. But Team was faster; it unzipped the stitches in Lights
chest like she was something it had found in a shop although he doubted it was expecting the result. So
much light burst from his daughter, it looked like Team had unzipped a halogen, and the sound it made
then was like the jungle whispering back home when a storm hit the treetops. He darted round Team
untying, loosing, and unpicking, until the mound began to come apart at the seams. No matter how much
Team scrabbled, it couldn’t stay upright. MOT rummaged around the rocks at his feet until he straightened
up with a flint the size of a fist in his palm.’
‘Want something do you?’
It wasn’t long before he worked up a sweat as he stamped and twisted before slamming his fist
through the masks mouth. What was left he flicked across the water before looking at the light spilling from
the hole in his daughters chest. He never saw the ripple as the stone hit that cliff like water. Light’s eyes
He grabbed his daughter’s hand as she fastened her ribs with a bow like she was doing up a shirt.
The quarry filled with the sound of wave’s slip slapping against the rock.
In my twenties I was living
in vehicles and caravans
on the continent as part of
the European travelling/
squat/ teknival scene. Now
I write, I've brought it from
squatting, and sleeping in
a van in one of Bristol's
pub car parks... to here.
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