Chapter 1 – The beginning
Gladys sneered. Great, this was just great. Not only was this sodding building soon to be full of fiends of the underworld, but she wasn't alone either.
Gladys redoubled her grip on the gun, pressing herself further into the unyielding wooden wall behind her.
She wasn't talking about the hoard of zombie-esk lords of death that were winding their shadowy way to this run down farm house. No. They couldn't technically be classed as company. Rather the 5 strong, heavily armed, incursion team that was very nosily making their way through the front door - was company. But they were very unwelcome. The little situation that she had developed here: a very dangerous, very freaking terrifying situation was just about to hit boiling point. And five heavily armed, steel capped scouts would be the match in the gas fired oven.
Gladys heard the silent patter of feet behind her. She heard the silent patter because she could feel it reverberating down each of her vertebrae. She twisted on the spot. Dropping to her feet and punching the gun to the left she fired off two shots in one smooth move. The familiar hush of sand cascaded onto a pile on the floor.
Oh this was even better. Now those machine gun toting ballerinas would know she was here. She could see them in her mind's eye frozen on the stairs waving their hands about in a silent 'holy crap boys we are not alone'.
Now what was she going to do? She could have played the innocent little 'who me?' game if they'd caught her. Oh hi there I just wondered into this deserted farmhouse in the middle of a military training ground… yeah I was looking for the bathroom… got a bit lost… no I can't read signs… now there was not a chance that clever plan could work. They would see straight through it and to the shiny gun in her hand. Woopie now she had to think of something else.
Gladys put one finger to her chapped lips and let the other hand drop to her waist, the firm butt of the gun brushing lightly against her worn cargo pants. Practiced footfall avoided the creaks in the wooden stairs, the almost imperceptible shake in the floor beneath her the only indication Gladys had that her new visitors were moving up.
This room was blocked off, no windows only one door that lead out onto the landing beyond. That's why she'd picked it – only one entry. …only one entry.
Gladys turned quickly to survey the rest of the room. She hadn't been thinking clearly. How the hell had that sand-jackal gotten in here? She'd been guarding the door and no 7 foot gray shadow of a man with the head of jackal had slipped past her.
'Righty oh' Gladys parted her lips to form the words, careful not to give her exact position away with flippant one-liners.
There was a hole in the ceiling that led to the rafters, rat eaten insulation and wiring of this well abused house. Gladys stared at it. She really shouldn't have missed that. So what if she'd had other things to think of – that was the difference between dead geek and live geek.
This did, however, present an opportunity. She knew the incursion team were seconds from bursting in on her – time to get rid of the evidence. Gladys took one quick stride into the middle of the room and, clipping the safety on the gun, threw it up into the small opening above her. It landed with a dull thud above. She quickly threw herself against the far wall in direct sight of the door.
She watched it open as she dropped to her feet and huddled against the wall.
'STAY WHERE YOU ARE.' Five guns pointed at her.
They'd filed into the room in classic action movie style, two crouching by the door as the others followed the leader in. It was a small room though, she hoped they'd appreciate how cramped they'd made it.
'LIE DOWN ON THE FLOOR, HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD.'
Shesh did they really have to shout so loudly – she was right here for crying out loud! Gladys slowly uncurled herself and made to lie on the dusty floor.
'Hold on,' said the soldier at the lead.
'Captain?' said Mr Shouty McShouty.
She knew that clipped Scottish tone, how could she possible not know that tone. She raised her head slowly and looked up at the hulk in shades of navy blue and black above her.
'Max?' she replied, her voice shaking with the smallest hint of laughter. This was totally ridiculous.
'What are you doing here?' his question was a command, a snapped demand for her to explain very quickly how she had found herself in such a very compromising situation as this.
Gladys ground her teeth, maintaining eye contact – or goggle contact at least with the heavily armored bulk of Captain Max Angus Cook. She knew better than to get up – Max may know her but the very angry and confused soldiers beside him were happy to shoot and lie later.
'…well,' she managed, blowing a thick cloud of dust off the ancient timber floor with every breath. 'your not going to be-' She paused.
'yes,' he prompted.
But Gladys wasn't listening. Her eyes widened slightly, her brow furrowed and her arms and legs tensed. There was something moving above her –and no – it wasn't a rat or an errant cockroach.
A little cloud of dust fell from the open attic hole in the ceiling. She watched, almost in still frame as Max slowly raised his head and looked up.
Gladys blinked once then quickly rolled to the side as a huge, sinewy guard of the underworld flung itself from the rafters above. A giant, gold scimitar sliced in to the ground where she'd been lying. The wave from the sudden action blew Gladys' tangled dull brown fringe into her eyes as she walked her feet quickly up the wall in front of her, using the traction to push herself into a backwards tank roll and onto her feet.
The three soldiers in the room had all taken a collective step back at the sight of a 7ft giant dog-headed man jumping from the ceiling.
'What the hell?' Mr Shouty Mc Shouty offered.
These highly trained men may have been prepared for anything – but they weren't prepared for a dusty sand-jackal of underworld doom. In fact, the tensed 'what the hell' stances of their bodies, their guns raised in automatic freak-out would have made Gladys laugh, if she'd had a gun herself. To their credit though, barely a moment had passed, but that was a moment too much for these fiends.
Gladys pivoted on the ball of her foot facing the beast, which was now between her and the wall. The soldiers behind her wouldn't shoot… well, she hoped they wouldn't shoot. So it was up to her to bring this one down.
She watched and waited as the thing grabbed the scimitar which it had driven deep into the floor, one tense of it's long arm muscles plucking it up. It lunged at her, the glint of gold held at head level. Gladys brought an arm up to meet the hilt of the blade, clutched tight in its claw-like grip. She pivoted again dropping quickly and curling her back. The momentum of the monster brought it over Gladys and she sharply kicked up with both legs, landing a hard blow in its stomach and catapulting it behind her.
If Gladys had been wearing her hair in two side buns, a tiny slit dress and a studded collar she would have put Street Fighter to shame. Though, she doubted whether she could do a handstand on the spot and twist-kick her assailant repeatedly, a little judo flip was still pretty impressive – for real.
As Gladys slammed herself back onto her feet she noticed with half an eye that she had 'accidentally' hurled her assailant into the equally foreboding form of Mr Shouty Mc Shouty. The two lay sprawled near the far wall, a tangle of gray and black.
Gladys seized the opportunity and seized a gun. The force of a giant muscle bound dog of death slamming into him had separated Mr Shouty from his assault rifle. The other soldiers, though they were now coming to terms with the situation, would not risk shooting at the creature when their comrade lay firmly entangled in its bulk. Gladys didn't have the same qualms.
She could feel Max behind her catch up to the situation. To be fair, it was a pretty odd situation. Someone he held to be a very pathetic, weak, total geek had just thrown the hulking form of a mythological creature across the room and was now going to shoot his sandy arse. It must be quite challenging for him, Gladys reasoned, as she darted clear out of his reach. She aimed the gun at the creature's chest as it quickly untangled itself and rose to its feet. Perfect chance, she squeezed off two rounds… except nothing happened. The gun did not fire.
Gladys's face snapped to deathly white. This was not supposed to happen. She was not prepared for any counter move. She was too close to use the creature's momentum against it. She didn't even have time to squeeze her eyes shut.
Someone slammed into her back, knocking her out of the creature's path and heavily to the wooden floor below. She felt the person twist around and fire off two quick, sharp shots. A waterfall of sand exploded over her back.
Near fatal situation averted... almost. Now she was going to have to explain herself… to Captain Max Angus Cook.
Several months earlier...
Gladys pushed her glasses further up her nose as she idly shot at the zombies with the gun in her other hand. This was a very cool move – she would have looked very swank indeed… if it weren't for the fact she was a short, stumpy 23 year old standing in an arcade full of weedy teenagers in her moccasins, thread bare t-shirt and tracky dackies. Yeah, check her out – hell she could even twist the gun around in her grip and blow the smoke away… well she could if it wasn't attached to the game by a cord.
Gladys sighed. Yep, another day drawing to a close. Another day spent at her boring, lifeless, dead end job and finished off with a half hour on the machines. The arcade machines – not the gaming machines; no she was way sadder than that. She didn't throw her money away on the slim chance of win fall – she threw it away so she could shoot the same old crappy pixilated monsters on the same old arcade machines. Monsters was a generous term – they looked like brown blocks with vaguely angry faces. Still it wasn't the graphics that kept her coming back she just… well… there wasn't anything else to do really. She didn't have a boyfriend, she didn't have a cool gang of buddies, she didn't even have a dog. In fact, Barny the 60 something guy that owned this fine terribly smelly and aging establishment was the closest thing she probably had to a friend. Wait no, back up – that soundedreally sad. She had friends, they just weren't here in this stupid little coastal village in the middle of-friggin-no-where Britain. Why would they be? There was nothing here for a self-respecting 20 something… except for an arcade…. Well technically there were several pubs and some sort of seafood restaurant – but if death-bed drunk 6ft beefy ye olde fisherman were your idea of a good time – it certainly wasn't hers. In fact the only men here who were vaguely her age looked like they could nut a crayfish clean open with a wink in their eye. There were no women her age... well none she'd care to mention. They had no doubt wised up and moved to the big smoke – not much in this village that didn't have scales and smell of ammonia.
Gladys rammed the worn blue plastic gun back into the holster on the side of the game machine. Great, now she got to walk home and eat toast while watching East Enders. Or just bread… the toaster was broken wasn't it. She'd have to tell Myrtle to get that fixed or, rather, she'd have to ring the repair guy and get it fixed herself. Myrtle would probably just poke it with a screw driver till it erupted in sparks and smoke. She was sweet enough, but for crying out loud how many diddly grannies had a workshop full of electronic equipment and a PhD in physics? It was frankly terrifying to think of her in her soldering helmet, a hint of blue rinsed curl as she played with fire.
She tried to fix everything, Gladys noted as she gave a gruff nod to Barny and, hands firmly in pockets, walked out the door. Hell, she'd even tried to fix her. Fix her up that was. She would constantly insist that a nice walk by the pier in a nice dress would be nice. Damn if her granny actually thought she'd consider tarting up for a walk along the wharfs then her ship had well and truly sailed.
A cold blast of salty sea air whipped the ends of Gladys's long plat over her shoulder. Gladys had always been a bit of a no hoper – she didn't ever have a life plan, wasn't terribly good at anything (other than Zombie Master 3000) and well…. Wasn't anything much to look at. She didn't have charisma, long legs or a winning smile. Her hair was long and dark brown, her eyes a dull hazelnut, her face too round. She could touch her toes though, and shoot a zombie at 40 paces. But apparently that doesn't impress. But regardless of her lack of potential, she hadn't exactly helped herself. She could have gone to uni – could have made something of her life. But instead... well instead she just stayed in Sunnybay...
Gladys jammed her hands further into her pockets as she tried to recede further into her t-shirt. The sea-breeze was blowing a cold one tonight. She quickly marched along the cobblestone pavement that looked out onto the pier and blue-grey ocean beyond.
'Morning' chirped the 70 something, curly haired blur invading Gladys' morning fog.
'Hi,' she mumbled in reply. 'What's for breakfast?'
'Toast!' Myrtle declared as if she were proclaiming the freedom of the enslaved.
'Nice…. Very nice.' Gladys shifted herself on the hard wood of the kitchen table chair; it's legs grating against the worn lino in protest.
'So what are you going to do today?' chipped Myrtle as she pottered around the Kitchen bench, shoving very stale bread into the dangerously hot toaster.
Gladys would have shouted at her 'the same thing I do every day Granny M – absolutely bloody nothing!' but she was making her toast after all. 'Not much – just going to work.'
'Oh tell Matilda I just loved that mint jelly,' Myrtle flourished the knife she was using to butter her toast adding more enthusiasm to the phrase 'mint jelly' than it justly deserved.
'Will do.' Gladys blinked, letting her eyes wonder around the small kitchen. It was poky, dark and musty. It's only feature, in the same way larva is a notable factor in a volcanic eruption, was the collection of brown and orange tiles above the bench. The 70's had a lot to say for kitchen design.
'Oh dear,' Myrtle interrupted, looking at Gladys like her face had exploded in a poxy rash.
'You're being cynical again aren't you!' Myrtle clucked her tongue. 'Chin up dear, you'll find Sunnybay isn't such a bad place after all!
'I've practically lived her my whole life!' Gladys smiled warmly. She may be totally insane – But Grandma Myrtle was still sweet as hell. 'I reckon that's enough time for Sunnybay to throw up all it can.'
'Oh pluck up dear – you'll have an adventure soon.' Myrtle passed her a plate of toast and marmite.
'An adventure? I don't want an adventure Gran – I just want something to happen!' Which wasn't entirely true – if said adventure involved aliens and space ship captains she was well up for it.
'Well – anything's possible dear – you'll see… speaking of which – you're cousin Brittany rang for you last night.'
Gladys furrowed her brow. Myrtle may as well have told her that Flash Gordan had called and had left the message that he'd be getting around to kicking her arse later that day. 'Oh good,' she managed after a large bite of toast. 'whash did she wansh?' she managed through a mouthful.
'She's taking you somewhere next Saturday – didn't say where though. I'm sure it'll be fun!' Myrtle added with a virtual thumbs up sign ringing in her voice.
'Gran the last time Brittany took me somewhere she treated me like her pokey, backwards, freakishly geeky cousin who she was doing the charity of introducing to the real world.'
'Oh yes – she can be a bit of a chump.'
Gladys spluttered as she choked back her laughter.
'But she is your cousin dear – and you never know – she might take you some place exciting.'
Gladys grinned a Mr Sheen beamer over her toast. 'Quiet an imagination you've got there Gran.'
'Ever hopeful dear. Oh! You better be off!' Myrtle cried with one look towards the oven clock. 'You'll miss you're early morning entertainment!'
Entertainment? Gladys thought. Then she felt a blush warm her cheeks. 'Gran' she rebuked.
'Go on Lass,' Myrtle gave a stage wink, 'he should be jogging by any moment now.'
Gladys rolled her eyes and made the point of slowly putting down her plate. However, with one glance at the clock she realised she really did have somewhere to be. With half a smile and the kind of speed available to only the most dedicated arcader, Gladys grabbed her toast and ran.
Today was not going to be a good day, Gladys noted as she placed another label on another rhubarb jam jar. Not only had she missed the aptly named 'Jogging man' through her feigned ambivalence, but it was Thursday. Thursday was alarmingly close to Friday. And Friday was far far too close to Saturday. And on Saturday she would likely die of boredom/ and or embarrassment from whatever hellish play date Brittany had organised.
Gladys took a deep, belly shaking sigh as she scooted the labelled jar over to join its friends at the other side of the counter. She had all the evidence she needed right here that nothing ever happened in Sunnybay. Nothing but boredom, fish and rhubarb jam – which was an utterly unappealing combination. Her Grandma was well and truly bonkers if she thought an 'adventure' could happen to anyone originating from, or inhabiting this locale. The people in this sleepy village were imbued with the kind of lethargy that gave clinical catatonia its pathology. Well… her sample size was a little askew, Gladys accepted as another lovely old diddy walked in.
'Hello dear!' Mrs Arnold piped as she shuffled into the store.
Gladys managed what she hoped was a cute beam; 'nice to see you Claire.'
'And you dear! Patsy told me Doris had just finished another batch of rhubarb!'
'Well Patsy sure as hell wasn't lying Claire,' Gladys held up the freshly labelled jar in her hands as if it were the holy grail.
'oooh!' Claire chirped.
Yep. This was life right now, Gladys accepted as the door closed behind a contented Claire Arnold. All she had too look forward too in this tiny little fishing village was an arcade… that smelled like fish…
Gladys stared blankly out of the window of 'Viera's Haberdashery'. It offered a descent view of the town slipping away to the port and the vast ocean beyond. One thing she would concede was that this town was quite picturesque. If she was 70 and wanting to retire she may consider one of the little bungalows on the hill over looking the bay. But she wasn't 70, she was 23 for god's sake – she shouldn't be anywhere near this place.
The only reason she hadn't moved away yet and made something of herself was that she had to look after her grandmother – whatever that meant. Clearly Myrtle could look after herself. Well… as long as you kept her away from power outlets. But she had no choice in the matter.
Gladys placed a hand forth and parted several stray strands of lavender, fastened on a drying string across the ceiling. They were impeding her view of the window – of the port and ocean beyond. Not that anything was going on of course. She would have to have mutant powers to see anything other than the tiny black dots milling around the port. Still she was trying to maintain a satisfyingly brooding position – staring out the window as naught happened around her. Her grandmother was right on that account – Gladys would have given anything, anything at all – if only something wouldn't happened to her.
Unbeknownst to Gladys as she stared down at the port – something was happening. Though it did not involve her at this point, the large oblong case being unloaded from the recently docked Cleopatra would eventually change her entire world. More importantly, the strange, tall, dark, gaunt figure that stood at the side of the dock, watching as the package was loaded into a car would be the catalyst of it all.
Be careful what you wish for rings true in this account too.