1. Talion

By David Christopher Johnston

WARNING: Contains adult themes and graphic violence

Two wooden lampposts guarded the entrance to Victoria Way like wrathful sentinels, their lights long blown. The cobbled street lay dark and silent, a crumbling collection of boarded-up terraced houses and abandoned buildings. What had once been a bustling side road in the small town of Ashford, Derbyshire, a quaint avenue of charity shops and homely bakeries, festered now in forgotten ruin. The headlights of a passing car briefly intruded upon the darkness, revealing a thin covering of snow that blanketed the cobbles and accumulated on rotten window ledges and broken drainpipes, but as the vehicle sped away the night swiftly reasserted its dominance and Victoria Way slunk back into oblivion.

Deep in the shadows, the driver’s window of a black saloon opened a fraction. Kieran Cross flicked a lighter and the smell of burning tobacco drifted out into the freezing air. He glanced at the clock on the dashboard and resumed his surveillance of The Black Horse Inn, a tired-looking pub that stood opposite the entrance to Victoria Way. Private Function was scribbled in chalk on a sign above the green door. Two burly bouncers in black suits too small for their steroid-induced frames guarded the doorway, the glow from inside reflecting off of their shaven heads in shades of yellow and green.

A group of teenage girls wearing too much makeup but not enough clothing arrived in a shivering huddle and were welcomed by the bouncers with lecherous smiles. The smaller of the two men groped one of the girls’ buttocks as she stepped through the door; the girl turned and slapped him hard across the face, shouting something that Kieran couldn’t hear from this distance, before her friends pulled her inside. The two bouncers burst into raucous laughter as the smaller man rubbed his reddening cheek with theatrical amusement. Kieran watched the scene dispassionately. They were nothing to him, just two more fools in his way, but when the time came to wipe the smiles from their faces he would kill the one who liked to molest teenage girls first.

A sudden groan from the back seat of the car diverted Kieran’s attention. He adjusted the rear-view mirror, focusing on the man bound and gagged on the back seat. The man’s hands were handcuffed behind his back, his legs tied together with thick red rope, the buckled seatbelt strapped across his chest forcing him into an upright position.

‘Awake at last,’ Kieran said. ‘I was beginning to think my men had given you an accidental overdose.’

The man slowly raised his head, revealing a face painted in purple bruises. His left eye was swollen shut and blood trickled from its corner down his cheek. His right eye searched the gloomy interior of the car and met Kieran’s gaze in the rear-view mirror.

‘It’ll take a few minutes for the tranquillizer to wear off, so try not to throw up on the back seat – it’s a rental,’ Kieran continued. ‘I hear you put up quite a fight. Gave one of my men a broken jaw, apparently.’

The man gave a derisive snort and lunged headfirst at Kieran but the seatbelt across his chest locked, thrusting him backwards into the leather seat with a thud. ‘Stop thrashing about, Callum,’ Kieran said, blowing cigarette smoke out of the window. ‘Save your energy for later.’

‘Fuck you,’ Callum yelled, the sound muffled by the duct tape over his mouth.

Kieran turned to face his captive, the slight curl of his lip the only sign of growing impatience. ‘I said calm down, or I’ll knock the rest of your teeth out.’

The two men glared at one another in hostile silence. After several minutes, Kieran put his finger to his lips and whispered: “Now, if I take this duct tape off are you going to stay quiet?’

Callum said nothing. With a sigh, Kieran reached over and tore the duct tape from Callum’s mouth in one swift movement, taking a decent portion of his stubble with it. Callum stretched his jaw and spat blood into the footwell.

‘Where am I?’ he asked.

‘The Black Horse,’ Kieran replied. ‘You didn’t think I’d miss your welcome home party, did you?’

Callum peered past Kieran towards the Black Horse Inn in the distance. His gaze fell upon the Glock 17 handgun on the dashboard and fear flashed across his mutilated face. He struggled violently against the restraints, hurling himself against the door in a bid to escape.

‘Don’t waste your time,’ Kieran said, flicking the butt of his cigarette out of the window to sizzle in the snow.

‘This don’t got nothing to do with them,’ Callum grunted.

Kieran laughed sardonically and turned to the items spread out across the passenger seat: a pair of tactical gloves, a two-way military radio and a hunting knife. Kieran put on the gloves, strapped the knife into a sheath on his hip and flicked a switch on the radio, which lit a green LED on its front. As he picked up the handgun from the dashboard and checked the magazine, the radio crackled into life. ‘Lights out in five,’ came a gravelly voice through the speaker.

An unnerving, almost giddy expression spread across Kieran’s face. ‘Watch this,’ he said to Callum, motioning with the handgun towards the Black Horse Inn. ‘Three, two, one…’

Kieran clicked his fingers and Ashford plunged into darkness – the light vanishing as though the Devil had sucked the soul out of the electricity grid. The initial impenetrable nothingness morphed slowly into a world of shadows; in the absence of man-made light the glimmer from distant stars reflected off the snow, giving the road a faint glow like it was lit from underneath. Through the windows of The Black Horse Inn, faint lights started to appear – one after another like a spreading forest fire – as the patrons inside used their phones for candles.

Kieran turned in his seat and pressed the barrel of the handgun under Callum’s chin, forcing his head upwards. Callum grimaced, sweat pouring down his face as Kieran pushed the handgun harder into his throat. ‘My men have cut the power to this miserable town and jammed the phone signal. There is no way in, or out,’ Kieran said. ‘That means no one is coming to save you this time, Callum.’

Callum looked down his nose at Kieran and, to Kieran’s surprise and anger, started to laugh. ‘What are you gonna do, Kieran: shoot me?’ he asked, the words gurgling in this throat. ‘You don’t got the balls.’

Kieran felt fury rising in his chest but swiftly suppressed it, refusing to let Callum play with his emotions. He leaned in towards Callum’s ear, so close he could smell the dried blood in his hair. ‘Shooting you would be too easy—’

The seatbelt released with a distinctive click and snapped up into its anchor point. Callum launched forward in a screaming rage but Kieran was quicker, driving the butt of the handgun across Callum’s temple, the fierce impact twisting Callum’s body in mid-air, his skull ricocheting off the rear passenger window with a sickening crunch. The car rocked like a small boat in a storm then fell still.

Callum lay crumpled against the car door: unconscious, but not dead (yet). The temptation to kill him now and leave him in the gutter for the rats was overwhelming, but Kieran pushed the thought from his mind. His eyes fixated on the scar across Callum’s forehead with its fading, raised pink lines, the failed skin grafts merely emphasising the disfigurement, and his hands began to tremble. Memories boiled in a screaming cacophony in his brain that mingled with the metallic stench of blood inside the car, making him feel nauseous. Kieran felt his heartbeat increasing, the dull rhythm thumping in his ears until it masked all other sound. Outside, a shadow passed across the periphery of his vision and his eyes chased it, searching for the ghosts of his past, but he knew the street was empty. They were alone. He was alone.

‘No!’ he screamed, hitting himself furiously in the head until his breathing slowed. Thirty seconds passed before the shrieking in his mind weakened into a chant, then a whisper, as the memories retreated across the fields of his consciousness, marching slowly to the fading drumbeat of his sanity. When Kieran finally opened his eyes again, they shone dark and troubling.

The sky danced in white as Kieran stepped out of the car. His steel-toe-capped boots crunched in the freshly fallen snow as snowflakes formed mini galaxies on his ballistic vest. Kieran tucked the handgun into his belt and grabbed a black motorcycle helmet with a mirrored visor from the car boot. With a final impassive glance at Callum’s lifeless frame slumped up against the inside window, Kieran activated the central locking and strolled up Victoria Way towards the Black Horse Inn, tapping the hunting knife in his left hand with his index finger.

The smaller bouncer held up his palm as Kieran approached. ‘No mate, you can’t wear that helmet in here…’ he began, the words dying on his tongue when he saw the knife in Kieran’s hand.

Kieran pushed the bouncer’s arm aside and stuck the knife into his throat up to the hilt. Blood spurted from the man’s carotid artery like a burst waterpipe and he collapsed in a fountain of red, grasping soundlessly at his windpipe as the colour drained from his face. Grabbing the second bouncer’s collar, Kieran headbutted the man so hard that his helmet’s visor cracked; the man flopped lifeless onto the entrance steps. Kieran removed the broken helmet and threw it on the ground, then absently wiped his bloodied gloves on the dead man’s suit.

Standing over the bodies of the two bouncers, Kieran put his fingers to his lips and whistled. Scores of figures dressed in black appeared out of the various sides streets and alleyways that flowed from the town centre of Ashford like the tributaries of a poisoned river. They marched towards him brandishing a selection of automatic weapons, crowbars, baseball bats, and wooden planks. Some wore balaclavas, others carried flaming torches – Kieran could feel the heat on his face as they approached. They formed a semi-circle six people deep around The Black Horse Inn’s entrance and stood silently, awaiting instructions from their revered leader.

Steam rose from Kieran’s skin and oscillated in the bitter air. ‘Seal off the road,’ he said to them. ‘When the police arrive, you know what to do.’

Kieran turned to the towering man on his left – a great beast of a being whose monstrous chest made the shotgun in his hands look like a child’s toy. ‘Are you ready?’ he asked.

‘Ready, Sir,’ the beast grunted through black teeth.

Kieran removed the handgun from his belt and cocked the slide. ‘So it begins,’ he muttered, grasping the handle of the green door that separated him from the unknowing patrons of the Black Horse Inn. Thrusting the door open with such force that it slammed into the outside wall and cracked a hole in the rendering, Kieran Cross stepped inside, fired two shots into the ceiling, and waited for the panic to subside.

The Talion Revolution had begun…

~

 End of Chapter 1.

Copyright © 2024 David Christopher Johnston.

David Christopher Johnston hereby asserts and gives notice of his right under s.77 and s.78 of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work of fiction. All moral rights are asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this work of fiction may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author. This story is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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