The Man From Delaware Goes to Worthington

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The Man From Delaware Goes to Worthington

A raven

Brett was standing in his garden, with a tray of seedlings at his feet, when the walnut trees began to tremble and blur. 'Oh, what do they want this time?' he wondered. He had been looking forward to spending the morning planting out squashes and was sorry to be interrupted. Although he was committed to his work for the Powers, he never knew what was going to happen or where he might be sent. It was unsettling.

When the blurring stopped and the surroundings settled, he was standing on a stretch of pebble beach. A cold wind was blowing and clouds hung low, turning the sea leaden grey. A little way along the beach stood a strange shape which looked like a giant bird. It stood with its wings spread and its powerful beak thrusting forward. Brett stood still for a moment, waiting for his werewolf senses to tell him if this creature was evil. All he felt was a heightened awareness. Nevertheless, he approached cautiously, ready to flee or fight if necessary. As he crunched across the pebbles, the bird's shape became clearer. It was a huge raven, but the black of its plumage was tinged with gold, and it seemed to watch him with a grave expression in its eyes. It gave such an impression of grandeur, he stopped as he drew close and bowed. 'May I ask who you are?'

The raven cawed, but Brett could understand the message. 'I am a messenger of doom.'

'Is doom coming?' Brett asked, and a frisson of fear ran through him.

'Doom is always coming. Ever since the beginning.'

'Why have you come now, in that case?'

'Because a particular danger is gathering, which will cause devastation.'

'Can we prevent it?'

'If you act wisely and well, you can make a difference,' said the raven.

'What do we need to do?'

'Go to the church in the village of Worthington in England and look for the manuscript in the crypt.'

'Is that all?' asked Brett.

However, the great bird flexed its wings, took off and soared up into the sky until it disappeared into cloud. Brett might have thought it was a creature of his imagination if there hadn't been a pile of feathers on the pebbles. He picked them up - black feathers tinged with gold.

The ground blurred again and, once it had settled, Brett found himself standing at the gate of a village church. It was not beautiful; a long, low structure of mottled stone, with a stumpy wooden bell tower. However, he knew this must be Worthington and he had to find the crypt. As he opened the gate and walked through the graveyard, he noticed a young woman tending a bonfire beside the boundary fence. When she looked up and stared at him, he recognised the spiky blonde hair and amber eyes. ' I remember you. Flicka, isn't it?'

She looked round at the empty churchyard ' 'Nice to meet you again, Brett. Do you know what we're doing here today?'

'I'm looking for a manuscript.'

'You're doing better than me. I just turned up and met the vicar and ended up clearing some dead wood.'

'Is that your line of work? Gardening?'

'Garden design, really. But I can't imagine what that's got to do with our task today.'

He smiled at her. 'You know what it's like. The Powers throw these tasks at us but they provide things to help. I better get on and look for my manuscript.'

'Good luck.'

Brett tried the church door and it opened into a dim interior. There was nothing unusual about the rows of wooden pews, although the stained glass windows looked mediaeval. An old man, who must be the vicar, tottered towards him and looked at him over half glasses.

'You're the second visitor today. That's most unusual. Are you with the young lady?'

Brett didn't want to explain the connection between him and Flicka. 'I'm a historian. I've heard you have an unusual manuscript in the crypt here.'

The vicar scratched his head. 'There are several mediaeval documents in the crypt. I don't know which one you want.'

'Can I look?'

'I'll show you.'

The vicar opened a small door and switched on a light, revealing a stone staircase. He eased himself down, holding on to the handrail. As Brett followed him into the crypt, he saw a line of family tombs, some with figures on them. The air was musty and shadows gathered in corners, and he felt aware of the weight of centuries of history. He had no sense of the presence of evil; instead there was a feeling of rest after struggle. He followed the vicar across the crypt to a cupboard, which the old man unlocked.

'These are the oldest manuscripts,' he said, taking out a volume in old leather with a faded Latin title.

Brett held it with a sense of reverence. 'How old, do you reckon?'

'Fourteenth century, we think. There was a monastery here, until the sixteenth century.'

Brett opened the book and started turning the pages. Each chapter was headed with a picture, picked out in bright colours. They were vividly drawn and depicted daily tasks in the fields and orchards. Men ploughed fields and caught fish, women picked fruit and chopped herbs. Monks sat at long tables, eating and drinking.

However, when he turned a page, everything changed. People were shown lying on the floor, covered in black pustules and crying out in pain. In the shadows stood an ominous figure, dressed in black and wearing a mask with a beak like a bird's. The similarity to the raven he'd seen in the beach was striking. A sense of such powerful evil swept over him he gave a gasp.

The vicar looked over his shoulder. 'The Black Death. The population dropped dramatically round here.'

'Of course, that died out long ago,' said Brett, as lightly as he could.

'Yes, but some of the locals are worried about the research institute. It's supposed to be working on medicines but there are rumours...'

Having thanked the vicar and asked the way, Brett hurried out of the church. He met Flicka carefully raking over the ashes of her fire. 'I think I know what we're looking for. A research institute.'

As Brett walked down the road with Flicka, he felt the countryside changing. It had been green with the new growth of spring but a grey mist stole over the trees and fields, and an odd smell hung in the air. As they came round the corner, they saw a block of grey steel behind a high fence. All the trees nearby stood dead and blackened, leaving a strip of ground by the fence on which nothing grew. A sense of powerful evil spread out from the building and a robot with a laser gun stood guard at the gate.

Brett felt hair growing on his neck rising and his teeth lengthening. He turned into a wolf at the same time as Flicka became a lioness. They paced along by the fence, seeking a chance to bring down the robot before it could use its gun but it tracked them steadily. The gates closed automatically with a clang. A few moments later a big brown bear appeared from the other direction. He recognised it as Bob Fielding, one of his most reliable members of the chorus. While Brett and Flicka distracted the robot, Bob approached stealthily and sprang from behind. With a few swipes of his great paw, he smashed it.

As the gates were firmly closed and too high to leap, Brett tried clawing the wire but it held firm and he fell back. The three friends charged the fence together, tearing with their teeth until a big enough hole formed for them to scramble through. They ran together towards the building and circled the grey walls. There appeared to be no windows and, at first they could only find doors that were sealed tight. The chemical smell was stronger here, making Brett feel dizzy.

After a while, he noticed a container of waste. He stopped trotting and turned back into a man.

'If that got out, there must be a way to get in.'

Flicka turned back into a woman, walked over to the wall and examined the walls carefully.

'If you want a bit of muscle power, let me know,' said Bob, as he relinquished his bear shape.

Flicka found a button and a section of steel slid open. 'Waste chute.' She scrambled in, followed by Brett and Bob.

The friends emerged into a store room. Brett opened the door a little and saw a corridor between laboratories. Although the smell was still strong, here it seemed a mixture of different chemical odours. As he watched, a man in a green coat left a room and walked along a corridor. The sense of evil seemed to hang thickest around a few doors marked with a bio hazard sign.

Flicka asked 'What are we looking for?'

'Diseases. Plagues and things like that,' said Brett.

'Plagues?' gasped Bob. 'Then we can't just break into secure laboratories! The viruses or bacteria will get out and cause hell.'

'Would fire help?' asked Flicka. 'I've still got matches.'

'It might be useful,' growled Bob. 'We could burn the place down.'

Brett shook his head. 'We shouldn't kill unless it's unavoidable. You know that.'

'OK,' said Bob. 'How about we light small fires to set off the alarms. Then the staff leave and we collect up as many samples as we can.'

'Hand them into the police?' asked Flicka. 'And get arrested?'

'The Powers will protect us,' said Brett and fumbled in his jacket. 'I've got some feathers we can burn. '

'Let's start the fire in this store room,' suggested Flicka. 'There are things that will burn here.'

Bob and Brett built a couple of piles of feathers and cardboard boxes, while Flicka kept watch. Soon flames were curling upwards and smoke rising. Suddenly, a cacophony broke out as the fire alarms rang. Staff in green lab coats hurried out of rooms and made for the exits. Brett, Bob and Flicka dived into laboratories. Brett saw a refrigerator with a bio hazard sign on the door and, finding there was a combination lock, tapped in a random group of numbers, knowing the Powers would guide him. It opened and he collected a number of labelled test tubes. He peered out into the corridor, saw his friends and they all rushed for the nearest exit.

A few days later, Brett was sitting in the kitchen of his house in Delaware reading the paper. He turned the page and saw the headline. 'Secret germ warfare base found in England. Police are investigating.' He smiled. That was another good job done and he could get back to his work and his gardening.

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