It was the first day of the Redhaven spring-time, not that it made any real difference from any other day or any other season. The sky still continued with its unnaturally consistent shade of leaden grey and the people still hurried about their business in their desperation to get out of the open. The air, as always, was thick with coal dust from the Redhaven mines- the kind that sticks to windowsills and clothing for weeks. The day was just as cold as winter. But, for some reason, the fact that it was indeed the first day of spring registered somewhere in the back of the mind of old Credence Daily so that when he awoke that morning, he couldn’t help but notice a slight lift in his mood. Considering that Credence’s mood rarely lifted above dejected at any point in the day, let alone in the morning, this was highly unusual. As a result, he came to the decision to bury this misplaced happiness beneath a sense of wariness and open suspicion. Resolved, he continued about his morning routine in his usual rigorous fashion, perhaps even taking a bit of extra care when measuring out each of his cornflakes to make sure they were all exactly the same size.
Getting dressed for work, he selected a tie of neutral brown so that he looked even more unremarkable than usual when he stepped out of his front door to join the heavy stream of expressionless pedestrians. But despite of all of this, that nagging feeling of high spirits continued to buzz at the base of his skull. Even when he spilt his morning coffee on his shoes and when his boss nearly fired him for breaking the fax machine, his light mood remained annoyingly persistent. By midday, Credence was feeling positively cheery. In his desperation to get away from the office, he took an early lunch and headed to his usual dreary lunch-spot in the local park. The park consisted of a bleak toilet block and a bench, with the occasional sickly weed growing out of a crack in the pavement. Security cameras, just like the ones that sat on poles in every part of the city, followed him as he made his way to the bench and began to eat his sandwich.
Suddenly, something quite unaccounted for happened. A bird, albeit a small and slightly bedraggled one, flew from above and landed lightly before Credence’s feet. He watched it with fascination. He’d never seen a bird before, though he had read about them at Education Camp as a boy, and had always thought that they were long extinct. Yet here was one in the flesh. It hopped slightly from foot to foot and stared with beady eyes at Credence’s sandwich. With shaking fingers, he broke off a piece of soggy crust and threw it to the bird. It gobbled it up promptly and gave him a look that almost resembled disgust. At this, a small smile forced its way to the surface and flickered briefly across his lined face.
He jumped to his feet, scandalised. The bird took off into the air with fright at his sudden movement. Credence, in all of his 71 years, had never smiled. His mother, his teachers, everyone had taught him better. Something very, very strange was going on and if anyone found out … Credence swallowed dryly. He hurried from the bench, nearly tripping over in his haste, and moved back into the main street. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and re-joined the stream of pedestrians that buzzed along the footpath. Was it his imagination or did their eyes linger on him for longer than usual? Oh god, they know. The thought spiralled around his mind and he felt his stomach leap with nerves. He needed to get away. At the next junction, Credence broke away from the herd of people and slipped into a deserted side street. A strange, sickly sweet kind of smell rushed to greet him and rocking nausea rose in his stomach. He closed his eyes, trying to calm his wheezy breathing, and leaned against the filthy alley wall.
Credence’s eyes snapped open at the sound of the terrified voice. There was a rustling from a doorway a few paces down the abandoned street and the voice whimpered again.
“Please, I won’t do it again, I swear. Just don’t hurt me.”
Credence felt his heart beat rise in his throat and began to back away from the noise. It was better to not to get involved, in whatever it was, and just leave now. He nodded to himself and began to turn away. But he couldn’t. It was that feeling again. It held him there just long enough to hear a muted cry from the doorway and before he knew it, his legs were carrying him towards the source of the sound. The better part of Credence’s judgement screamed at him to leave, to stay out of trouble, but his legs carried him relentlessly forward. The whimpering voice grew louder in his ears as he moved and seemed to fill his every thought. Picking up a grimy metal trash can lid, he pushed himself up against the wall, silently begging his thundering heart to settle.
Credence spun to face the doorway and clumsily attacked before he even had time to think twice. With a muffled cry, he brought the can lid down on the head of a man who had been standing over the huddled figure of a young girl. The man crumpled to the ground with a slight groan and rolled onto his back so that Credence could see his face. Or rather, his mask. Credence gasped with horror and clutched at his chest as he took in the appearance of the unconscious figure before him. The white uniform, the mask, the tattoo at the nape of the neck … he was an officer of The Federal Enforcement Agency of Redhaven. The F.E.A.R, Credence’s heart dropped. The huddled girl looked up at him with tear-streaked, horrified eyes.
“Run…” she said, her voice shaking
Credence did not need to be told twice. He dropped the can lid with a clatter and stumbled down the street as fast as his old legs would take him. With a fearful glance at a nearby security camera, he ran onto the main thoroughfare. People shouted abuse as he bowled them over but he didn’t care. He just kept moving. There were no sirens, no signs that anyone was after him. But Credence knew better.
He tumbled round a corner, nearly running into a tiny old lady with a shopping trolley. A burning stitch had begun to blossom in Credence’s side and his breath racked against his ribs. Hide… you need to hide. A voice in the back of Credence’s mind guided him through the dark Redhaven streets. Somewhere… anywhere. A dilapidated building rose on his right with Lucky Mattie’s Accounting Firm clumsily blazoned in peeling paint on the cracked shop-front. Credence burst into the building and pushed a broken cabinet against the frame. The smells of damp and decaying wood wormed their way through his thoughts, and Credence stumbled as waves of nausea rolled through him. Desperation coursed around his body and he felt as though a gigantic hole was gaping within his chest. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t think. The F.E.A.R would find him. And they would show him no mercy.
As panic began to claw its way up his throat, he fell dry-retching to the termite-eaten floorboards. The acid in his stomach brought tears to his eyes and the hole in his chest seemed to grow wider. Bang! A bone-shaking shudder vibrated through the building, causing plaster dust to fall in spirals from the ceiling. A second bang at the door drew a whimper from Credence’s mouth. He scrambled to his feet. With tears dripping from his chin and his heart beating furiously, he stumbled into the next room, desperately searching for a way out. This room was just as decayed as the rest of the building and was completely empty, except for a rotting wardrobe crouching gloomily in the corner. It was his only hope.
Credence scurried to the wardrobe and clambered his way inside. Barely a moment after he pulled the doors shut, he heard the splintering sound of the front door being smashed open. Fear gripped him. Credence shoved a gnarled hand over his mouth to stop himself from crying out. He slid quietly down the back of the wardrobe, fixing his wide terrified eyes on the swinging moth-eaten clothing that hung above his head. Several sets of quiet footsteps, betrayed by the soft creak of old floorboards, grew more pronounced as they drew near Credence’s hiding place. Credence screwed his eyes shut. An insane compulsion to scream, to cry out against the terror clutching at his heart, filled him but he bit down hard on his tongue to stop himself. He waited for the inevitable and concentrated on the sounds around him. Silence, except for the hammering of his heart.
Slam! The wardrobe flung open with a force that nearly ripped it from its hinges. Credence yelped in fear and tried to scramble to his feet as a pair of cold hands clutched for him. A featureless white mask concealed his attacker’s identity. For all Credence knew, there wasn’t even a face behind that merciless mask. The officer clamped a gloved hand around Credence’s arm and he cried out in pain as the bones of his wrist were crushed. In desperation, he tried to kick out but the Officer brushed off his pitiful attacks and yanked him out into the light. Credence crumpled to the floor, clutching his wrist with his head down, as other hurried footsteps entered the room. This was it. This was the end. Fat tears rolled from the corners of his eyes. The Officers of The F.E.A.R circled his huddled form. He heard the terrible clicking sound of a gun being loaded and swallowed dryly. Please… Just let it be over, he begged silently. Please…
Credence’s mind was far from his body. He floated loosely in a hazy light that seemed to fill every part of him. He couldn’t remember how or why he’d left but in truth, he didn’t really care. It was just good to be away. Faded memories hung around the edges of his consciousness, jumping slyly from his grasp whenever Credence tried to pull them into focus. He kept up the chase though, chuckling as their wriggling forms continued to dance away from him. As time passed, the game gradually became easier and the details of the memories grew sharper. The enormous figures of a bird and an old wardrobe were the clearest, smiling down at him with huge, shifting faces.
“Wake up! We need to get out of here!” they chorused together.
Credence frowned at them, explaining politely that there was nowhere else in the world he’d rather be. But the bird and wardrobe paid no attention to his words.
“Wake up!” they repeated, sounding slightly more anxious.
Memories were rushing towards him now, pushing and shoving for a chance to be seen. A run-down building, a broken fax machine… meaningless images flickered through Credence’s mind. The memories were shouting now. They hollered at Credence as he tried to make sense of what they were saying.
“Calm down, calm down. One at a time, please,” he muttered distractedly, trying to push the memories back. But there were too many of them. They clamoured over him, swamping his mind with random pictures and nearly suffocating him beneath their weight.
“WAKE UP, OLD MAN!” the giant figures of the bird and the wardrobe yelled over the rabble. Suddenly, Credence felt himself being pulled helplessly from beneath the pile of struggling memories. A sharp streak of pain flashed across his face, and then he was tumbling, away from the hazy realm of his memories. He fell directly into a place of darkness, where a dozen aches and pains pounced on him with delight. It was almost as though they’d been waiting for his return. This, Credence grudgingly recalled, was why he’d left his body in the first place. He groaned. Cracking open one groggy eye, he flinched with surprise as a shadowy face beamed down at him with wild eyes.
“Sorry about the slap, old man, but we really need to get out of here,” said the young man to whom the face belonged.
Credence absent-mindedly touched his stinging face and looked around in confusion. He was lying on a cold stone floor. The grimy metal bars of a gaol cell were just visible in the half-light and the powerful smell of earth told Credence that he was far underground. A crippling sense of claustrophobia filled him. Ever since he was a boy, he’d always hated the idea of going underground since hearing the stories of cave-ins from the old Redhaven coal miners. Credence took a deep breath, gathering his bearings.
“Who the hell are you?” he croaked, eyeing the young man warily.
“My name’s Dietrich O’Connell and I’m here to save your life.”
Dietrich grinned widely. As he helped Credence to his feet, more pains awoke and he stumbled. Dietrich sighed, before hoisting Credence’s small frame over his shoulder and carrying him out of the cell. If Credence had had the energy, he would have protested violently at the indignity of being carried, but he was far too exhausted.
Dietrich said nothing as he walked into the passage outside of the cell but Credence gasped, nearly tumbling from his precarious position. A scene of carnage lay before them. Dozens of mangled bodies lay along the passage way, twisted into unnatural positions. It took Credence a while to recognise them as Officers of The F.E.A.R due to the dark blood stains that tainted their uniforms. He gagged, willing himself not to throw up, as Dietrich strolled nonchalantly through the sea of corpses.
“Are you alright, old man?” Dietrich asked, accidently stepping in a puddle of partially-congealed blood.
“Don’t call me that,” Credence said absentmindedly and a feeling of light-headedness swooped down on him. Oh god … he thought, as he spiralled into unconsciousness.
Credence jolted awake, lurching away from the faceless bloodied figures that had haunted his dreams.
“Careful there. We wouldn’t want you hurting yourself, old man.”
The face of Dietrich O’Connell peered in from a doorway, grinning broadly. Light filtered into the room from an open window, and Credence could see Dietrich’s illuminated features for the first time. He couldn’t have been older than 25, but deep lines tracked across his forehead like map lines. His grin, which seemed to make regular appearances, showed off straight white teeth and caused his wide eyes to crinkle softly around the edges. He stepped into the room, still smiling. Credence could see that his clothes were unlike any he’d ever seen. Fitting comfortably to his slim frame was a suit, fashioned from a satiny material of the richest purple imaginable, and his tie was adorned with colourful swirls and outrageous patterns. Dietrich crossed the sparsely furnished room and sat on the edge of the cot that Credence had been sleeping in.
“How are you holding up? Are you still in pain?” he asked, concerned.
“Who are you?” Credence asked suspiciously.
“I told you who I am.”
“You told me your name, but I still have no idea who you are,” Credence said coldly
Dietrich sighed and shifted his position on the cot so that he could see Credence better.
“I’m what you might call a revolutionary, against the tyranny of The F.E.A.R,” he said darkly. “I am the leader of a group of like-minded people. We are the ones who are willing to do what it takes to destroy The F.E.A.R.”
“Whatever it takes?” Credence scoffed, thinking of the scene of carnage that had greeted him upon leaving his cell “Even murder?”
A shadow of annoyance flickered across Dietrich’s face.
“Casualties are a part of war.”
“You’re a terrorist,” Credence spat.
“I saved your life, you know. The F.E.A.R would have eventually tortured you to death if I hadn’t come for you. You might try being a little less hostile.”
Eventually? Credence thought back to his terrifying encounter with the Officers of The F.E.A.R and frowned. Why would they have shot him with a tranquiliser dart as opposed to a bullet? Why would they spare him after what he had done?
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Dietrich, “Why would The F.E.A.R spare you, only to kill you later? Because you are a threat they’ve never seen before, my friend. Something happened to you, didn’t it? Something changed, yes?”
“You won’t believe me.”
Credence swallowed. He bit his tongue, but the words poured out of him regardless.
“I was… happy. I felt good for the first time in… well, ever. I helped someone… a girl… I have no idea why. But I couldn’t stop myself.”
To his surprise, Dietrich smiled broadly.
“It’s really happening, then,” Dietrich laughed, joyously.
“The change, my friend. Things are changing now. They can’t control it, they can’t stop it. You aren’t the only one that’s feeling the change. It’s contagious,” he said, his eyes glinting. In that moment, Credence thought he saw something dark in those eyes. Anger? Madness? He looked again but Dietrich was smiling, and the flash of darkness was gone.
“People aren’t going to take it anymore. The oppression, the suffering… the people are ready for a revolution. And I am the one to lead it,” Dietrich continued.
Credence opened his mouth to respond, to call the very idea of a revolution ridiculous, but his voice faltered. For some reason, what Dietrich was saying made sense. Things had been changing – within the people, within the day to day running of things. Not huge dramatic changes, just little things. Small signs that people were starting to feel again.
“You are a part of that change, old man. The F.E.A.R captured you because they couldn’t just kill you; they needed to break you first. That’s what has given them their power all along,” Dietrich said, “but it was never meant to last. You know that. You’ve always known that. And together, we can stop them.”
“They will come for anyone who tries to stop them,” Credence said quietly.
Once again, Dietrich smiled broadly. He rose to his feet and stepped into the circle of light from the window, turning to face Credence.
“I’m counting on it, old man.”
“Don’t call me that,” Credence grumbled, but rose to his feet and extended a gnarled hand. Dietrich stared at the hand for a moment, before clasping it in a firm grip.
“Together, we can stop them” he said again, smiling broadly as he shook Credence’s hand.