In the sudden darkness and silence, the three men went so still that Larry wasn’t sure if the other two hadn’t simply vanished. He was so still himself, his breath caught in his throat, that it felt like he had perhaps vanished along with them.
‘Move,’ said Johnson, hoarse but sharp, bringing Larry back to the hallway.
Larry felt his way along the wall after the two men. The darkness was unbroken, forcing them to creep even slower than they had done before. The darkness pulled Larry’s attention to the sounds of their breathing, the wincing from their injuries, and the shuffling of their feet, all the sharper without the blaring alarm.
Finally, they rounded the corner, and saw the green glow of the exit sign above a flight of stairs.
‘We made it,’ said Johnson, no longer bothering to hide his relief, ‘It’s just up these stairs.’
They climbed the stairs, helping Adams as best they could along the steps. The green light grew brighter as they climbed, and when they finally reached the top, it outlined an emergency door. Johnson, in the lead, pushed it open. Immediately, there was white fluorescent light, blinding after the pitch darkness of the stairwell.
Larry, bringing up the rear, could barely see what was out there. As he exited, he saw that they had emerged onto the roof of the mansion. The sky above the floodlights was a black blanket thrown over the world. Wind was blustering hard around them, and all three saw the helicopter perched on its pad, ready to take off. About a dozen guards were stood around it awaiting orders.
Johnson let out a sharp bark that might have been a laugh of relief. ‘We actually made it.’
Other guard’s noticed the three, and moved over to help them. Johnson gave a few more orders to them that they needed to evacuate all personnel to a safe house as quickly as possible as someone took Adams to be treated.
Larry barley heard. He was letting the guards take him to the helicopter. He wasn’t used to accessing the roof from the emergency exit, he had only ever taken the elevator on the opposite side, so he felt turned around. He smelt smoke and realised that the mansion was beginning to burn. He tried not to let the guards see that he was trembling. For the first time in his life, Larry felt like an old man.
He had raised one foot to the helicopter step.
There was a familiar tone from across the roof, as loud as church bells after a funeral.
Every head turned to the golden elevator doors that led to the rest of the mansion, quickly followed by every gun-barrel. As the chime faded, light blossomed above the doors.
They opened revealing the silhouette of a slender figure, utterly black in the golden, well-lit interior.
The men didn’t even think, they just fired, pouring a stream of bullets into the elevator with a deafening clatter. The figure practically dissolved from the force of all the bullets hitting it, spraying out into dark shadows that were black in the golden light.
After a few seconds, Johnson raised a hand, ‘Cease fire!’
Smoke swirled and drifted in the ruined elevator. A ricochet must have hit a wire somewhere, because the doors couldn’t seem to close and the light inside was flickering. There was no sight of the body.
‘Eyes-peeled!’ shouted Johnson before turning desperate, determined eyes to Larry, ‘Get on the helicopter!’
Larry couldn’t move. His own eyes were transfixed on the elevator. The smoke wasn’t fading. Instead it grew darker and thicker, pouring out of the doors and across the roof in a gentle flood.
Abruptly, one of the floodlights went out, plunging a third of the roof into absolute darkness.
A woman’s voice wrung out in song from the midst of the darkness. It was a happy tune.
‘Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers!‘
‘Fuck!’ said Johnson.
He turned towards the darkened third of the roof, but could see nothing. The guards inside it were shouting, some were screaming. Clatters of gunfire could be heard.
‘One hundred million angels singing!‘ it sang again, as a burst of gunfire from inside the darkness took out another of the lights. There was only one floodlight left now.
Larry saw Johnson move to try and aid the guards who were losing the fight against the force of darkness. In the muzzle flashes of the few remaining guards, Larry thought he could make out the figure. The brief tableau that appeared whenever a gun fired showed a pitch-black silhouette in momentary scenes of violence. Thrusting something into someone’s chest. Shooting another. Kicking a man from the side of the mansion. But the positions didn’t make sense.
‘Multitudes are marching, to the big kettledrum!‘
How many are there? Larry thought. From the brief flashes, it appeared as if there were about half a dozen figures on a killing spree. That was the only explanation for the patternless zigzag of screams, shouts, and gunfire. A small army of shadows attacking from every direction at once. Thick strands of smoke twisted and whirled on the roof. Dimly, Larry wondered why it was not being blown away by the wind.
‘Voices calling, voices crying. Some are born and some are dying.‘
The voice sang with fervour and emotion, touched with a mad zealotry.
Larry realised, distantly, as if the thought was someone else’s, that the guard that had something forced into his chest was Johnson. He cried gruffly out, then collapsed to the ground.
The figure seemed to pluck Johnson’s gun from the air as he let go and fired it into the remaining floodlight. The only lights now on the roof were those coming from the helicopter and that flickering, golden bulb still left inside the elevator.
‘It’s alpha and omega’s kingdom come!‘
Larry was paralysed. Since the ding of the elevator barely fifteen seconds had passed. In that time, he had felt his last connection to his life of safety and security disintegrate around him.
Larry realised, quite abruptly, that he would probably never leave this roof.
Someone in the helicopter was pulling Larry inside by the shoulder. He wanted to bellow in rage at them that that was his broken arm, but his voice wouldn’t come. He fell backwards and allowed himself to be pulled to a sitting position. Why weren’t they taking off?
As he stood, there was a deafening crack from above as something broke through the sky. It had flown onto the roof of the mansion with the speed of a military jet, but it landed with barely a burst of thrown dust. The figure was a woman, short but athletic, in a minimal combat uniform that looked like it had seen better days. Breezeblock had arrived.
She looked around at the bodies of the guards. ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ she said.
Larry mustered his final reserves of energy, his final lingering hopes. ‘Kill it!’ he screamed, indicating as best he could the dancing silhouette, which had just murdered the last of his guards.
‘Oh, right!’ said Breezeblock, before she began moving faster than the eye could follow.
In the almost complete darkness, Larry could not see the fight. All he saw were brief tableaux when they moved closer to a source of light. What he saw made no sense. Breezeblock was fast – unspeakably fast – she should have been able to catch up with the figure in moments and put it down. But the figure always seemed to be there, shifting from position to position on the roof. A dark and playful imp.
‘And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree!‘
Breezeblock had flown into the sky, about twenty metres up, apparently trying to get a better view of the figure. Larry noticed the silhouette on the ground at the same time Breezeblock did. Even Larry from could see that it was a trap, but Breezeblock didn’t. She threw her entire body into a flying punch that powered straight through the figure, smacking through the roof, and into the mansion bellow. Immediately, smoke ruddied by the flames from the burning mansion vomited out of the splinter-toothed hole.
There was a moment of quiet, where the only noises were the crackle of flames, and the distant shouts of those in the helicopter, still trying to get it to take off.
With a dull shower of splinters, a section of wood at the edge of the hole collapsed into the mansion beneath. A plume of dark smoke erupted, and when it dispersed, the figure stood there once more, silhouetted in the flickering light of the elevator.
Larry couldn’t see her face, but he knew that she was looking right at him.
He heard the voice breathe in, as if about to burst into song once more.
When it spoke, it wasn’t singing. In fact, its whole cadence was different. It was still the same voice, but the fervour and emotions had vanished from it. It sounded casual. And familiar.
‘Oh. Hello Larry,’ it said.
Then it raised its gun to him.
With a rush of wind, Breezeblock shot out of the hole she’d left in the mansion to hover for a moment in the air between Larry and the figure. Taking the bullet.
There was a crack, and Larry felt an unspeakable pain in his chest and back. But that didn’t make any sense. Breezeblock was bulletproof.
As numbness crept over him, he looked down to see a stream of black smoke that emerged harmlessly from Breezeblock’s back and into his own chest. He felt blood running down his back.
The last thing he saw before slipping into infinite darkness was Breezeblock turning to look at him with an expression of confusion. The last thing he heard was the voice singing again.
‘There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down,
‘When the man comes around.’