The Man from Delaware in Lewes
"I wonder where I am now," sighed Brett. He had been going for a quiet walk among the black walnuts near his home in Delaware when the ground started shaking. At first, he thought it was just the neighbour playing his organ with Heavy Leslie, until the walnut trees shimmered and vanished. Next moment he was sitting at a table in a cafe, with an acceptable cup of coffee and a piece of quince cake. His feet were wet in their brogues, but it was a decent place to rematerialise.
He looked out of the window onto a narrow street and a row of buildings, one of which was half timbered. In his day job, he was a librarian specialising in history. Half-timber suggested an old town. He noticed the shopkeepers across the road putting up boards across their windows. Did they expect an invasion? It wouldn't surprise him. Whenever he rematerialised like this it meant the Powers had sent him to deal with trouble.
He heard a slight cough and turned towards the sound. A young woman with spiky blonde hair was sitting at a nearby table, watching him. She had eyes which glinted like amber. Immediately, he knew she was one of the Chorus. They all had distinguishing features, his own being long canine teeth.
He collected his coffee and cake and walked over to her table. "Do you mind if I join you?"
"Feel free," she said.
He sat down. "Why are the shopkeepers barricading their windows?"
"It's Lewes bonfire night."
Brett nodded. The information, and the woman's accent told him this was England. He knew bonfire night commemorated the failure of an attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament. "Is Lewes bonfire night special?"
She sighed. "I suppose you Americans don't know any history. It's to remember the Protestant martyrs who were burned in the town." She dropped her voice almost to a hiss. "We're expecting trouble tonight. I'm Felicity Saunders. Flicka for short."
He offered his hand. "Brett Murchison. Any idea what's going to happen?"
She shook her head. "We watch and wait."
He didn't have long to wait as the short November day was already fading into evening. People were congregating in the streets, talking and waving mobile phones and the police were urging the crowd back behind lines of red rope. An air of expectation was growing. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear drumming.
Brett paid for his coffee and cake and followed Flicka out into the crowd. It was a responsibility, being a member of the Chorus. They could be sent anywhere, at a moment's notice, to look for trouble or, in his case, to sniff it out. He was a werewolf. However, he took issue with the depiction of werewolves in popular literature, as slavering monsters. He could turn into a werewolf any time after dark, and the form gave him keen powers of scent and hearing, as well as great strength and the ability to run fast.
For the moment, he mingled with the crowd and watched. At last the parades began with Morris dancers carrying burning torches. They threw the torches in the air and caught them, in showers of smoke and sparks. Next came a troupe of African dancers with feathers in their hair, who drummed and leapt down the road. There was a roar from the crowd as the first of the floats appeared – a bloated depiction of Donald Trump, with bright orange body and hair, riding on a missile. There was nothing suspicious about that.
His eyes were drawn to a couple of children in wheelchairs at the front of the crowd. A woman in a smart brown uniform was bending over the girl, talking to her. She was smiling and pointing. It was only when the woman began to push the wheelchair away that he felt something was wrong. The girl already had a good view. Why did she need to be taken somewhere else? He pushed his way through the crowd, until he saw a van parked in a side street. A man in a brown uniform was helping an old lady with a walking frame climb into the van. Brett felt the hair standing up on his skin. It was time he transformed. A man hanging around and watching would be noticed but not a dog.
He slipped into a side alley and sought the deeper shadow of a clump of trees to transform. He felt his teeth and nails grow and a thick pelt of brown hair cover his skin. The big brown dog watched from a doorway as more people with disabilities were helped into the van. There was a young boy who looked as if he had Down's syndrome, and a man who had lost both legs. Brett sniffed the air and growled: the smell of burning flesh. That smell was so often associated with evil. It had risen throughout history, as houses were torched, slaves branded and the victims of massacres burned.
When the van was full, a man in a brown uniform drove it away. Brett trotted after. At first, it drove slowly, weaving its way through crowds and between parked vehicles. However, as soon as the van left the town, it gained speed. Brett loped, dodging through gardens and fields where possible. Out here in the countryside, a big brown dog following a van would be noticed.
The van drove up a long hill, emerged onto open downland and stopped. Brett slunk behind a turf mound and sniffed. The place was full of old magic. He could feel it, rising from the turf beneath his feet and swirling in the wind bending the few hawthorn bushes. There was always magic where people had lived since the earliest times, fighting, loving and worshipping their gods. He growled because the scent of burning flesh was drifting on the wind.
Other vans had drawn up into the parking place and men in brown uniforms opened the doors. With a shock, he saw the people with disabilities being forced out of the vans. However much they yelled or fought, they were pushed and pulled across the grass. As they went, the air shivered and the scene began to change. The men and women in brown uniforms seemed to grow taller and turn into black cloaked figures. Some were building a pyre of branches and raising a series of posts. The scent of burnt flesh grew stronger in the presence of evil.
Brett raised his head and called. In any other wolf the sound would have been a howl, but Brett's voice rang out as a deep musical note. It was answered, almost immediately by a higher call as a golden lioness with amber eyes sprang to his side. Flicka. A few moments later, an eagle swooped down, on a series of descending notes and a unicorn galloped to join them, with a musical whinny. Before long, a group of magical creatures had formed.
As they advanced toward the pyre the black hooded figures turned towards them, with swords in hands. For a moment, Brett crouched perplexed, for they had no faces. He repeated his call and then sprang, trying to grasp a figure with his fangs. The cloaked figure swung his sword but Brett dodged and his powerful jaws closed on bone. As the figure fell, he saw Flicka tussling with another. He waded into the fight and helped an old man wielding a walking frame like a club. Whenever he could, Brett called, along with other members of the Chorus, until the sounds blended together into a great symphony. Suddenly Brett heard the music of an organ with Heavy Leslie.
As the great wave of sound boomed across the downland, the earth began to shake. Cracks opened, the pyre broke and dissolved into a heap of brushwood. The black figures wavered and trembled, turning into columns of smoke. The air shivered and the scent of burning flesh faded. After a while, Brett found himself standing on downland with a group of people with disabilities. He shook hands with his fellow members of the Chorus. Some he knew well, others he had not met before but knew them to be friends.