Escape from the circus (3604 words)

This was written in response to a blog post by Em_Anders, in which she described a dream.


Emily looked outside. The window was streaked with green algae, that dripped from the leaking guttering, above. The view beyond wasn’t exactly enticing. But sometimes it helped to look. To remember there was something out there.

Even if it was only a “corpse motel”, as Andy called it.

The cemetery stretched out, below her. It seemed to go on forever. Brambles covered half-broken gravestones. She’d never seen anyone lay flowers, never seen anyone visit the graves.

Andy, when he was in one of his black moods, would sometimes push her face up against the glass.

“Don’t think of ever leaving me, doll,” he would say. “’Cos that’s where you’d be sleeping, six feet down, just the worms for company. And don’t think I’d come visit, neither.”

Emily didn’t know what was on the other side of the house. The windows were boarded. There was a crack in one of the boards, but she had never tried to look through it. She wasn’t allowed in those rooms: not alone, anyway. Andy never let her go outside. Sometimes she tried to imagine what was out there. But all she ever came up with was the graveyard. She’d asked Andy, once. When he was in a good mood.

“What’s on the other side of the house, Andy?”

He had looked at her. For a full minute he stared at her. He didn’t say a word, and he didn’t move. She had begun to think she must have imagined asking him. Perhaps, she’d just thought it. And then he got up. He moved quickly. Emily felt the air leave her lungs, before she felt the pain of his fist in her stomach.

He didn’t often hit her. And never on the face. The clients didn’t like it. A punch in the stomach left no bruise. Well, not unless you looked real hard.

Emily turned away from the window. On the bed were the clothes Andy had left her. Underwear, and a dress. No shoes. Some of the clients wanted her to wear heels, but Andy always shook his head.

“No shoes.”

Emily removed her night robe and began to wash herself. Andy had brought the bowl of water and the soap, fifteen minutes ago. The water was cold, but not from the wait. It was always ice cold. She dried herself with the towel. It was rough. Andy said, “soft towels don’t dry, they just move the water around”. She didn’t mind: the friction helped warm her skin. She dressed quickly. She brushed her hair, and let it fall over her shoulders. She had no mirror, so the makeup would have to wait. Andy liked her to do that in the Work Room. He liked to watch. “I need to make sure you do it right,” he said.

Emily sat down on the bed and waited. Andy would come and fetch her when he was ready for her. He hadn’t always been like this. Things had been different, once.

She was certain of that.

She had no clear memories. She knew they had had parents once. She could not remember what they looked like. Or, what happened to them. There were no memories of them in this house. They had never been here, she was sure of that. They did not belong in this house.

Emily could not remember how long they had been here. Or, how long her brother had kept her a prisoner. She thought it may have been a few weeks, or maybe a year. She did remember the day he came to her with the first man.

“We need the money, doll,” he said. He stood in the doorway of her room. It was the last time he knocked before entering. She remembered thinking he was dressed strangely. Now, there was nothing unusual in him wearing a tight fitting suit, a skinny tie knotted at his throat, and a fedora on his head. But she was sure he hadn’t worn anything like that before-

“It’s time you contributed to the household, sweetheart. But you ain’t qualified to do nothing. ‘Cept this one thing.”

He had shown her to a room. She couldn’t remember seeing it before, she certainly had never been inside. It was a large room, bigger than her room. At the other side of the room a large mirror hung on the wall. Underneath, was a sofa. A man, Emily had never seen before, sat there, a drink in his hand. He looked up as they entered. He smiled and nodded at Andy.

“Jeez,” he said. He whistled. “You wasn’t joking, Andy. She’s a good looking broad. Come over here, sugar lips.” He patted the cushion, next to him.

“I don’t understand,” Emily said, looking at Andy.

He had made her understand.

There was a knock at her door. She perked up. It wasn’t Andy: he would’ve walked right in. Which meant it had to be Jimmy, Andy’s driver and bodyguard.

“Come in.”

“Good morning Miss Emily, how are you today? Andy’s got a meeting. He told me to let you know you won’t be needed ’til after lunch.”

Jimmy filled the doorway. He had a powerful upper torso. It was quite something to behold. The body of a bull, the heart of a lamb. He always treated her well. Respectfully, even. Last nights dream suddenly came to her. She was a matador. The stadium was crowded. She would see Andy looking down from one of the boxes. “You’re gonna get what’s coming to you, this time, doll!” she heard him call. And the the doors opened wide. Jimmy stood there, more animal than man. And then he was charging towards her. She caught him in her cape, and after a struggle she over powered him. Then they kissed. The crowd cheered, but when she looked up Andy had vanished.

Emily felt her face heat up. She looked away, and pretended to look out the window.

“You seen the circus, Miss Emily?”

“The circus, Jimmy?”

Jimmy walked over to the window and peered through.

“Oh, that’s right, you can’t see it from this side of the house. They got acrobats, and clowns. And animals: tigers, lions, and elephants too. I hear it’s quite a show.”

Emily smiled. As a child she remembered being taken to the circus by her mum and dad. Andy had come too. He had liked the clowns best – he laughed until tears came to his eyes. She didn’t like the clowns, she remembered sitting on her daddy’s lap, peeking through his fingers.

She did love the elephants though. She loved their big floppy ears and the way they swung their trunks when they trumpeted. After the show, her daddy had taken her round the back of the circus to see the elephants. Emily cried when she saw the cages. Her daddy had scooped her up and held her. She had cried so much the tears stung like sand.

The memory from before this house hit her like one of Andy’s fists. It took her breath away. She felt nauseous, and elated simultaneously.

“You alright, Miss Emily?”

Jimmy looked worried. He pulled a handkerchief from his jacket pocket , and held it out. Emily took it, realising tears were flowing down her cheeks. Jimmy looked uncertain of what to do. He suddenly sat down on the bed, next to her and held her. She felt just like she did all those years ago, crying in her daddy’s arms.

“I’m sorry, Jimmy,” she said. “I just don’t know why I’m here. In this house, living this life. How has this happened? How have I become this person? Andy never used to be like this.”

“He doesn’t treat you good, Miss Emily.”

“No, he doesn’t. And it stops here.” Emily blew her nose. She looked Jimmy in the eyes. “You gonna stop me, Jimmy. If I run away, I mean?”

Jimmy stood up, blocking the door once more. She had misjudged him. He was just like the others.

“Stop you, Miss Emily?” he said. “I’m here to help you.”

Taking Emily’s hand, Jimmy lead her down the grand staircase. A huge chandelier hung from the ceiling. They were in the entrance hall. Emily had no memory of every having seen been there.

Ignoring the front door, Jimmy opened a door to the left of the staircase. He fumbled with switch, and a light flickered on revealing a staircase.

“The basement,” he said. He held up his hand as Emily started towards the door. “Hold on a second.”

Jimmy left her standing at the door, and walked across the hall. He opened another door, and disappeared inside. Emily waited. Jimmy reappeared with a pair of shoes.

“Your size, I think. I had to hide them from Mr Andy. What is his problem with you, and shoes?”

“I have no idea.”

Emily took the shoes and put them on her feet. It felt odd. She couldn’t remember the last time she had worn anything on her feet, other than stockings. Jimmy led the way down the stairs.

The basement was not empty. There was some kind of vehicle. A car, but it looked like nothing Emily had ever seen before. It was cherry red.

“A Pontiac convertible,” Jimmy said. “Mr Andy’s pride and joy. Built and registered in Nineteen Seventy.”

“Nineteen seventy?” Emily said. “How can that be, Jimmy?”

“I know, amazing. He found it on Ebay. It needed a lot of work, I did most of it myself.”

“Nineteen Seventy,” Emily said, again. Just how long had she been in that house? The last time Andy had let her read a newspaper it had been dated Seventeenth May Nineteen Fifty Two. Emily rubbed the skin of her face. It felt soft, no obvious flaps of old skin.

She grabbed hold of Jimmy’s hands.

“How old am I, Jimmy?”

“Don’t ask me, questions like that, Miss Emily. I hate it when ladies ask me questions like that.”

Emily let go of Jimmy’s hands. She ran to the car. An anxious face stared back at her from the side-view mirror. But a face she knew to be her own. She hadn’t aged. Still mid-twenties, still pretty. Nineteen seventy? None of this made any sense.

“What month of Nineteen Seventy, is it now, Jimmy?”

Jimmy laughed. But stopped when he saw Emily wasn’t laughing with him.

“It’s January, Miss Emily,” he said, “Two thousand and thirteen.”

Emily felt light headed. She stumbled and Jimmy caught her, before she hit the floor. She leaned against him as he opened the passenger door. She fell gratefully into the seat.

“Never mind,” she said. “Let’s get out of here, shall we?”

Jimmy pressed a button on the wall. Emily was surprised to see the doors raise up by themselves. Jimmy hopped in, beside her, and inserted a key into the ignition.

“Here we go, Miss Emily,” he said. “Hold on to your hat.”

The car started with a roar. The sound was unlike anything Emily ever experience. She not only heard it, she could feel it vibrate from her toes up. Emily was pushed back into her seat as the car left the garage. Something flew off the back seat. Looking back, she saw a coat flapping in the wind. On the back seat was a woman. She wore a red feathered boa, no dress; just what looked like a sequin-encrusted corset.

“Who the hell are you!” Emily shouted, over the noise.

“That’s Margarette,” Jimmy said, his mouth close to Emily’s ear. “She’s another pr… She’s another one of Mr Andy’s employees.”

Emily looked at the woman. She was younger, maybe not even out of her teens. Jesus, what had gotten in to her brother? Jimmy looked at Emily and smiled.

“It’s gonna be alright, you know.”

Emily smiled back. The road was narrow, with no other traffic. On the left there was a grass verge, that banked up. Emily could see vibrant tents rising from it. This must be one hell of a circus: she counted not one but fourteen Big Tops. It stretched for miles. There were acrobats, and guys on stilts. Emily grimaced as she saw four clowns, in a multi-coloured car – with Clown-Mobile painted on the side – chasing another one on a unicycle.

Then she saw the cages. Hundreds of them, it seemed to her. As the car flashed past she saw a tiger pacing in one, and in another some elephants.

“It’s so big!” Margarette shouted. “What’s going on, is it some kind of Circus convention, or something?”

Jimmy turned and smiled at her.

“Something like that,” he said.

There was something in the road. Emily grabbed the steering wheel, and tugged it hard to the right.

“Watch out!”

The car skidded onto the sidewalk, and screeched to a halt as Jimmy slammed his foot on to the break pedal.

Emily leaped out of her seat, and ran to the creature in the road. A baby elephant, about the size of a St Bernard dog, looked up at her. It appeared unharmed, and unfazed by the near collision with the speeding car.

“Is it alright?” Margarette had left the car and was standing beside her.

“I think so. Jimmy, give me a hand.”

“What’s your plan, Miss Emily?”

“He’s coming with us. A circus is no place for an elephant.”

“Neither is a Nineteen Seventy Pontiac convertible, Miss Emily. Do you even know what the little chap eats? Best leave him to people who know how to care for him.”

“They haven’t done a very good job, so far, Jimmy. Poor little fella was in the middle of the road. Give me a hand, or I’ll swear I’ll do it myself.”

Jimmy shrugged and lifted the elephant into the back of the car.

“I ain’t sharing the backseat with no goddamn smelly dumbo!”

Margarette stood by the car, hands on hips. Emily guess she didn’t realise how ridiculous she looked in nothing but a boa and a corset.

“Then, I guess you’re walking from here. See you later.”

Margarette actually stamped her feet. Emily suppressed a smile, as she watched her climb onto the backseat. The elephant lifted it’s trunk and trumpeted. Emily laughed.

“We’d better get going, Jimmy. I think those guys aren’t happy with our rescuing this little chap.”

A crowd had appeared at the top of the bank, on the edge of the circus, no doubt drawn together by the sound of the car skidding onto the sidewalk. One man pushed his way to the front.

“What the hell are you doing with my baby! Gladys! I’m comin’ for ya!” he yelled. He began to run down the grass verge and tripped. Emily watched open-mouth as he turned the fall into a spectacular somersault, landing gracefully on the sidewalk, arms out-stretched like a gymnast.

“Go, Jimmy!” Emily said. The man began to run towards them. Jimmy engaged the engine and the Pontiac shot forward. Emily looked back. The man stood there waving at them, shouting.

“That ain’t language a lady should hear,” Jimmy growled.

Emily smiled. It was good to have someone who cared for her.

“Where we going, Jimmy?”

“Don’t worry, Miss Emily. The Firm have arranged everything. You just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

“The Firm, Jimmy? What do you mean? I don’t know no ‘Firm’.”

“Let’s just say that there are a few people who want you back home, Miss Emily.”

Emily looked at Jimmy. What people? Who could possibly even know about her! Her thoughts were interrupted by a honking noise. Emily turned around in her seat. Coming up fast behind them was a car. It was the Clown-Mobile from the circus. It seemed to be traveling at speed. As it approached Emily could see it was being driven by the shouting man from the circus. There was a clown in the passenger seat, waving what looked like a Tommy-gun out of the window. The back seat was a crush of people. The noise in the Pontiac was becoming unbearable. Every time the clown car honked, Gladys trumpeted. And Margarette was screaming.

“Hang on, ladies,” Jimmy shouted. He pressed the gas peddle to the floor and the Pontiac started to move away from the Clown-Mobile. Emily’s relief was short-lived. Within seconds it had begun to catch up. It suddenly swung onto the other lane. The clown in the passenger seat was shouting something, waving his Tommy-Gun at Jimmy.

“Pull over, Jimmy!” the clown, shouted. “Your gonna get a face-full if you don’t pull over. I’m gonna count to three.”

With horror Emily realised that underneath the macabre clowns make up, lurked the face of her brother.


Jimmy gritted his teeth, and swung the car to the right. There was a jarring screech of metal as the two vehicles made contact. Margarette screamed, and Gladys trumpeted. Emily looked at the elephant: she looked like she was enjoying the chase.

“Two!” Andy screamed the number and pointed the Tommy-gun at Jimmy.

The roof of the clown-mobile seemed to be opening up. Emily watched in horror, as four men on the back seat stood up.


There was a loud noise and the world went yellow for a second. The Pontiac swerved, as Jimmy lost control. Emily wiped her face, getting the yellow gunk out of her eyes. Jimmy was doing the same: he had egg-custard all over his face. Emily turned to see two men back-flip from the Clown-Mobile onto the back of the Pontiac. They had some kind of harness, they were trying to attach to the still-trumpeting Gladys.

“Hold on!” Jimmy said. Emily braced herself. Jimmy slammed on the brakes. The two men shot forward, as the car screeched to a halt. They fell to the ground, both of them performing perfect forward rolls, before standing up and jumping back into the slowing Clown-Mobile.

Margarette was still screaming, both arms around Gladys. The little elephant wrapped his trunk around the woman’s neck and stole her boa.

The Clown-Mobile was backing up, fast. Jimmy threw the Pontiac into reverse and spun the car around. Emily could see they were losing ground. One of the four men, standing on the back seat, held another kind of gun in his hands.

Emily heard an explosion. The Pontiac swerved onto the sidewalk, and up the grass bank. Then everything was upside down.

Emily felt a crushing weight on top of her. A liquid dribbled onto her face, and into her mouth. Custard, not blood. She felt light-headed. She lay there listening to the sound of Jimmy’s shallow breathing.

Just before she passed out she remembered why Andy hated her wearing shoes.


Emily awoke in her bed. She tried to sit up, but couldn’t move. She felt bruised. She lay in bed for a moment, fragmented memories returning to her. Of the escape, the chase. But also of the life before.

She felt sick.

The door to her room opened.

“You awake, doll?” Andy said. He leaned down to look at her.

“Where’s Jimmy?”

“Jimmy?” Andy said. He smiled. “Who’s Jimmy? You been dreaming again. Dreaming of a knight in shining armor, come to rescue you?”

He stroked her cheek. Emily tried to move away, tried to recoil. She shut her eyes. It was all she could do to get away from him. It couldn’t have been a dream. It just couldn’t. She knew things. It all meant sense now.

But it had all been so crazy. Perhaps it was just a dream. Perhaps she had dreamed everything in order to escape the hideousness of her existence in this house.

She opened her eyes. Andy was still looking at her. Smiling at her.

“Only joking,” Andy said. “Jimmy’s dead.”

He walked around the bed and stood by the window. Emily felt tears trickle out of her eyes. She didn’t want Andy to see her cry. Not any more.

“He didn’t die in the crash,” Andy said. “He survived the crash. You all did.”

He stood there with his back to her. If she could only move she would smash his head right through it. He turned. Quickly, as if he had heard her thought. Which, she remembered, was entirely possible.

“Do you know how much effort it takes to kill a guy like Jimmy?” he said. He leaned in to her. His forehead touching hers. “It took me a goddamn hour to kill the son of a bitch.” He laughed. “But it was an hour well spent.”

Andy stood up straight, and moved around the bed. He looked at her.

“You’re crying,” he said. “Always the cry baby. Just like when we were kids. Crying at the circus, for god-sakes. And, whilst I’m on the subject: very wrong to steal the elephant. The circuses are very good customers. I had to do a lot of explaining. I had to make a lot of promises.”

“I remember, Andy,” she said. “I remember everything. About before. About The Firm.”

Andy smiled at her.

“Do you think that matters, anymore, doll?”

“I remember about the shoes, Andy.”

He moved quickly. She felt her cheek sting, before she realised he’d slapped her..

“I’ve spoken to my people, doll. They’ve increased the dose. You ain’t gonna remember shit.”

The syringe was loaded with the slightly florescent fluid, just like she knew it would be. She felt the stab of the needle, and then the familiar heat of the liquid as it traveled up her arm.

Her eyelids began to close. Emily fought the drug, repeating a phrase to herself.

“Remember the shoes. Remember the shoes.”

It was her only chance.


Written by Bruce Arbuckle (January 2013)

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

With thanks to Em_Anders for providing the inspiration!

Magda McFarlin (part three)

The Magda McFarlin posts are written by Bruce Arbuckle, posting as BritInFrance, on the RPG Project Zero on

Click here to read Part One

Made up of several short posts, the quotes in bold are written by other writers. * indicates the end of each individual post.


Magda saw the look in the general’s eyes as she approached. He looked enthusiastic.

“Yes, how can i help you?” he said in a rough voice. He had been drinking, she could smell it on his breath.

“General, Magda McFarlin,” she said, saluting him. “I see you’re looking for volunteers, Sir. I was up here on a hunting holiday, and wondered if I could be of assistance? I was due to meet my cousin. But he hasn’t shown up. Maybe, you know him. Joe Kirk: he works up at the military base.” Magda thought she saw something flicker across the general’s face, at the mention of Joe’s name.


Summary of others posts: The general has told Magda that Joe has gone missing, that he has been taken alive. Another person has joined the group. The general has shown the group a deep wound from the escaped creature. He has also claimed the government have spent several billion dollars preparing the creature for war. He tells the group the best thing to do is to head for the Military Base.

Magda kept pace with the general as the group headed out of the town. She was confused, and not a little alarmed. Since when did the military start recruiting like this? This general was a little bit free with secrets, too. Like he didn’t expect anyone to be around to give anything away at the end. Was he really organizing a hunt, or was he planning to use this group as bait? She cleared her throat.

“Sir,” she said. “What exactly happened up there? I mean, where are all the soldiers, the reinforcements, helicopters and the like? Why are you recruiting,” she looked around at the others. “No offence to you guys: I’m sure you’re very skilled,” she looked back up at the general. “A bunch of amateurs to do the job of a trained unit?”


Magda thought for a moment, the general hadn’t heard her. She was about to repeat her question, when he spoke.

“McFarlin, there are two things that can disable a well-armed unit. And those things are a loss of morality, and a lack of numbers. Every man that has gone out alone to try and catch this thing has vanished. With no one else to try and recruit and the rest of my men scared as rabbits, where do you think that leaves me?”

Jesus, this guy was madder than she thought. Did he have no control over his men? She looked around at the rest of the group, to see if anyone else could see how close to the edge he was. They all avoided eye contact. Perhaps it was better to quit, while she was ahead. Perhaps this guy wasn’t even in charge – perhaps he was an escaped nut-job.

Magda was about to run when the general made a noise. A hiss like a snake being run over by a punctured tire. She followed the general’s eyes. The bloodied carcass of an animal – a deer – hung from the trees. Blood dripped down onto the white snow. Magda saw the creatures head, a few feet away.

“Bloody hell,” she said.


Magda checked the two hand guns she had under her jacket in the twin shoulder holder. Looking around her, she swung her rucksack off her back and removed two more clips of ammo, and the thermal imaging scope. She slipped them into concealed pockets, in her specially designed jacket. She put the rucksack on, checking it did not impede access to her weapons.

“Well, General,” she said. “It seems your expensive pet is around here somewhere. Maybe he just has an aversion to Bambi’s head remaining attached to its body, but my guess is that your missing men haven’t been asked round for a cup of tea and a friendly game of Scrabble.” Magda looked around at the others, “Any of you guys good at tracking animals?”


“I have tracked animals before.”

Magda turned to see a teenager dressed in a camouflage jacket and a hat. She signaled for him to come over to join her.

“You ever seen an animal that makes tracks like that, kid?” she said. She pointed out the claw marks in the tree and the snow. “I can’t tell which direction it went in, but maybe you can. By the look of that deer, it was here recently.” She looked around at the others and gestured at the youth. “Unless anyone has any better ideas, I suggest we follow this guy.”


Magda followed the young man. She couldn’t see any tracks in the snow, but he seemed to know where he was going. She looked behind her. The general had dropped back. He drew his weapon. He muttered something to himself, but she couldn’t hear a word above the noise of snow being crushed under foot. She really didn’t trust this guy.

A roar, snapped Magda’s head around. Something dropped from the trees, in front of her. She gasped and instinctively drew both her handguns. She crouched to the floor, and took aim. What the hell was that thing?

She couldn’t get a clean shot. The boy stood in the way.

“Jump!” she thought, her finger on the trigger, as the creature’s tail swung round towards the youth.


Magda was surprised at the boys speed. He jumped out of the way and shot at the beast before she could fire a round.

“It’s imprinted on us damn it -shoulda hit it in the eye like i wanted to. Damn you Doc -why make something like this that can turn against you?”

The dragon-thing took hold of the boy. It steped right over Magda. She thought she saw something in it’s eye when it saw her weapon.

It’s eye. Perhaps the general wasn’t so useless, after all.

Magda took aim at the reptile-like eyes and pressed the trigger.


Please read the whole story here:

Magda McFarlin (part two)

The Magda McFarlin posts are written by Bruce Arbuckle, posting as BritInFrance, on the RPG Project Zero on

Click here to read Part One

Magda turned away from the notice and almost collided with someone. A young man, in his early twenties, was standing beside her, reading the notice.

“Excuse me,” she said. He looked up. He had a strange facial expression. Magda had seen something like it once before. In Afghanistan, when visiting one of her colleagues in hospital. The man in the next bed had had the same wild stare as this guy. A mixture of determination, satisfaction, and… hunger. It had scared her. And she wasn’t easily spooked.

The door of the bar, across the road opened, drawing her attention away from the strange young man. The military guy walked out. A General, if she was not mistaken. She saw him remove his weapon as the door closed behind him. There was a flash of something green – a trick of the light? – and then he closed the barrel and the gun was back in his holster.

She weighed up her options: follow him, or introduce herself? Their eyes made contact, as he glanced over to the notice board. Her decision was made. She cleared her throat, and crossed the street, aware of the eyes of the man by the Town Hall burning into her back as she did so.

“Excuse me, Sir?” Magda said.

To read the next instalment click here

Please read the whole story here:

Magda McFarlin (part one)

The Magda McFarlin posts are written by Bruce Arbuckle, posting as BritInFrance, on the RPG Project Zero on

Something has escaped from a Military Base in Colorado. The nearby town of SnowPeak has been isolated. Magda (formerly in the British Army, currently employed in a private security firm) has received worrying emails from a former colleague. After loosing contact she makes her way to the town.

Magda McFarlin (posted 9th January 2013)

Magda sat on the edge of the bed, wondering how it could be colder than in the forest. SnowPeak was as she had expected: a small town, covered in snow with locals making her feel as welcome a syphilis in a brothel. There was just one motel in town. She had checked. Twice. It was dirty and uncared on the outside. To the owner’s credit he had tried his hardest to keep the same theme throughout his establishment. And, as she saw, when he eventually came to the desk, he had extended this to his personal appearance.

“You a reporter?” he said, after she had asked for a single room for a week.

“No,” she said. “Why?”

He gestured to the TV on the desk behind him. It was tuned to a local channel, there was a reporter standing in the snow in front of a roadblock. The sound was turned down, but the headline read “Bigfoot on the loose in SnowPeak?”.

“Na, didn’t think so,” the man said scratching his backside, before reaching round and plucking a key from a hook, behind him. “You ain’t pretty enough to be a reporter.”

After fiddling with the radiator, Magda managed to get it lukewarm. She decided to take a look around the town. Not trusting the owner, she took her backpack with her, leaving nothing in the room.

The town was not exactly busy. It was ski season: she had expected a few tourists, even in a place like this. More worryingly was the lack of military personnel, or police. It seemed either nothing was going on, and one of her closest friends was playing a joke on her, or that Joe Kirk was right: the people in charge seriously underestimated the threat.

She went into a store and bought herself a Coke. The man behind the counter, looked her up and down as he dropped the change into her waiting hand.

“You ain’t from round here, are you darling?” he said. “You a reporter?”

“No,” Magda said. “I’m not pretty enough.” The man nodded, sagely. “I’ve just come in for a bit of skiing and hunting.” She gestured to the rifle, hanging from her backpack. “I’m meeting up with my cousin, Joe Kirk. He works up at the military base. You know him?”

The man narrowed his eyes. “Don’t know no one from up there, and don’t care to, neither. Say, where you from? You talk funny.”

“I’m from Dublin,” the lie came easily. No one knew where Belfast was, any way. And everyone loves the Irish.

“You don’t say,” the man said. “You come all the way over on the Greyhound bus?”

Magda looked at him in the eye. He was serious. “That’s right,” she said.

As she left the store, she saw a man in uniform pinning something on the notice board of, what she assumed was, the town hall. She watched him walk away, and saw him enter a bar across the road.

Checking no one was watching her she walked over and read what was written:

…..Looking for Volunteers; Skilled both in Combat and Tracking, or are willing to Learn.

Oh, dear God. What kind of amateur operation are they running here?


To read the next instalment click here

Please note: any text written in red, or in bold has been taken from another players posts. Please read the whole story here:

Magda McFarlin (character template)

The Magda McFarlin posts are written by Bruce Arbuckle, posting as BritInFrance, on the RPG Project Zero on

Name: Magda McFarlin

Age: 31

Bio: Magda’s American father came to Northern Ireland in the early 1970’s. A strong supporter of the Republican Cause he married into a Catholic family, and was reported to have links with the IRA. He died in a traffic accident in 1984.

Magda was the second of five children (and the only girl).

One of her friends was shot dead (a case of mistaken identity) by a member of an IRA splinter group, when Magda was seventeen. She reacted by joining the British Army, the day after the funeral. She was ostracized from her family and community.

She has seen action in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

She left the Army three years ago, to join a Private Security Company, run by a former commanding officer.

Three weeks ago she received an encrypted email from a former Army colleague. Joe Kirk said he was concerned about security at the facility he was working at. After three email exchanges, and one telephone call, Magda lost contact with Joe.

Concerned, for the safety of her friend (and, from the information she received, the wider public) Magda took two weeks leave and booked a plane to Colorado. She hired a Jeep and (from one of her many contacts) purchased some weaponry (including a rifle, hand guns, ammunition, infrared goggles and thermal image weapon scope) and drove up towards SnowPeak.

A roadblock twenty five miles from SnowPeak confirmed her suspicions. Forced to abandon the Jeep, Magda loaded her backpack with all the weaponry she could and headed through the forests on foot, arriving on the outskirts of SnowPeak, eight hours later, having avoided contact with military patrols.

Personality: A team player, when there is a team she can trust, Magda can be independent and headstrong. She makes a stand on issues she believes in. She suffers fools not at all and is not averse to bending the rules and flouting orders if she believes the orders to be wrong headed (this got her into trouble in the Army on three occasions but was also the reason she was recruited by her ex-commanding officer).

Appearance: 5’7”, brown eyes, short dark hair currently shaped into a bob. Athletic, with good muscle tone. The lobe of her left ear is missing (a souvenir from Afghanistan).

The Great Fire of London

The Diary of Samuel Pepys
1st September 1666

It is almost eleven o’clock as I write these words, with a shaking hand, by the light of a single candle. They surround us. We are trapped. I can see no way out. I do not know if I will finish this account of this terrible night. Nor, if there will be anyone left alive to read it. But write it, I must.

The bells of St Magnus-the-Martyr announced six o’clock in the evening, as I hurried through the church yard. I was late. I quickened my pace and reached the doors, just as the church warden began to close them. He handed me a hymn sheet and showed me to a pew, where I was greeted by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth.

He shook my hand. He looked weary, older than when I last saw him.

“What are your thoughts on these reports of the plague, Mister Pepys? Of the dead rising from their graves?”

“I am sure you are better informed than I, Sir Thomas. I assumed they were stories, designed to scare people away from the plague pits. To stop people stealing from the dead.”

“One would think The Black Death frightening enough,” he said, shivering, despite the warmth of the evening. “Whatever their source, the rumours have certainly caught the imagination of the average man.” He looked around him. “The church is almost empty.”

The rector climbed up to the pulpit and began the service. As the light began to fade, the congregation dwindled further. The church warden lit lamps and candles to ward off the encroaching darkness.

There was a crash.

“Help us!”

I looked to the back of the church. A woman stood in the doorway. She began to scream. She held a small bundle in her arms: a boy.

Before I could reach them, the boy fell to the floor. His mother dropped to her knees, beside him. I pushed her aside to examine the child. With horror I saw he was missing an arm. Blood was weeping gently from the wound, together with a strange, stinking, yellow puss. The flow began to ease, and then stopped. The boy was dead.

Sir Thomas was at my side. He pulled the weeping woman towards him, away from the child’s body. She began to hit out, screaming into Sir Thomas’ face. The church warden came to help him.

I stood up. Taking a lantern I went outside. I could see nothing in the twilight. There was a noise. A shuffling sound. I could not locate it’s source. I heard a cry that could have come from a dying, or tormented, beast. Out of the shadows a man came. He moved like a drunkard. I watched as he stumbled into a gravestone. I almost called out, but something stopped me. There was something very wrong about how this man moved: he was not merely drunk. There was a terrible odour. A smell of death, the stench of the plague pits. He came nearer. In his hand he held something. As I watched he brought it to his mouth. In the still of the evening I could hear teeth ripping into flesh, and with horror I realized it was a child’s arm. I gagged, and vomit splashed onto the ground in front of me.

The man-shape turned slowly towards me. It paused for a moment, as though sniffing the air. Pale of face , it looked more dead than alive. Yet, it moved.

A shiver ran through my body. The creature was within ten paces. Now I could see it was not alone. I wanted to run. I was paralysed.

A hand gripped my shoulder. I cried out in terror. I turned. Sir Thomas Bloodworth stood beside me, his face white with shock. Attracted by my cry the creatures advanced towards us: I counted five, no seven. Their white watery eyes bulged horribly in their pale, scarred faces. If they had once been men, there was no humanity left in their gaze now.

Sir Thomas pulled me inside. We slammed the heavy doors shut, and leaned against them. For a moment we simply looked at each other, unable to understand what we had seen. It was Sir Thomas who regained his composure first as the doors began to shake.

“We need to barricade this door,” he said. The church warden bolted the door with a thick piece of oak. I helped Sir Thomas drag a pew over to the doors. We began to construct a rudimentary barrier.

The door continued to shudder. Amongst the pounding on the door we could hear the unnatural, guttural moans of the creatures on the other side.

As we moved the pews, I counted nine of us: the rector, Sir Thomas, the church warden, two women, three children and I. The body of the dead child had been moved to the side of the church and covered by a cloak.

We lifted the last piece of the barrier into place.

“What in Heaven’s name do you think they are Mister Pepys?” Sir Thomas whispered in my ear. An image of the creatures came into my mind, and I shivered. Those creatures had nothing to do with Heaven, of that I was sure.

Before I could formulate a response, the rector, Robert Ivory joined us. He took the arm of the Lord Mayor.

“I think the time of the apocalypse is upon us,” the rector Ivory said. He spoke softly, glancing at the women and children, huddled together on the floor. “We need to gather together and pray.”

As he spoke, I heard glass breaking. Sir Thomas looked at me. We ran towards the sound. Past the tower, at the back of the chancel we saw a window, with shards of stained glass at the base of it. A shape climbed through the aperture. Sir Thomas grabbed a long pole which leaned against an oak wardrobe. He held it like a spear, and advanced towards the intruder.

“Sir Thomas!” I shouted, as the man stood up. “I think he is human.”

The man bore none of the characteristics of the creatures I had seen earlier. He moved fluidly and had colour in his face. He wore the clothes of a night watchman, although these were torn and stained, with blood and other substances, I could not identify. He bent down and retrieved a mace, from the floor: the evil spikes dripped gruesome matter onto the stone floor.

“Help me,” he said. He turned back to window and took a swipe at a white arm as it clawed through the window. The mace crushed it against the wall of the church. Undeterred, the creature continued to advance. It was missing half its face, and had but one milky eye. Its teeth were visible through a hole in its cheek. I could smell its putrid breath from where I stood riveted to the ground.

The watchman swung the club, smashing the head into a sticky mess.

The creature was not alone. Two or three others were behind, clawing and biting its body. I could not tell if they were feeding on it, or tearing it apart to get to us.

Sir Thomas ran to the watchman’s side, jabbing at one of the creatures with his staff as the watchman swung his mace at another. I searched for a weapon, but in the pale lamp light, I could see nothing other than a walking cane. An idea came to me. I opened the wardrobe, and pulled from it some robes. I ripped them into shreds and began wrapping them around the end of the cane. I blew out the flame from a lamp and poured the oil onto the cloth.

The church warden arrived. He began to push the heavy wardrobe towards the window. Sir Thomas stood back, now weapon-less. His staff was stuck, protruding from the eye socket of a monster climbing through the window. The watchman swung his club at it’s head and it fell back. The pole clattered to the floor. Sir Thomas grabbed it and returned to the side of the watchman.

I took another lantern from the wall. I advanced towards the window and called to the others to move.

I lit the end of my makeshift torch, and threw the lantern through the window. Oil spilled over the creatures. I thrust the torch at them, driving it into their evil faces. My stomach turned at the abhorrent smell of cooking, rancid, meat, as their heads burned.

“Enough Mister Pepys!” Sir Thomas pushed me away from the window The watchman and the warden pushed the wardrobe to block the window.

We leaned against the wardrobe, exhausted, panting hard. It continued to move, as it was battered by the creatures behind it, but it held its position.

“Thomas Farynor,” the church warden said, offering his hand to the Watchman. “Welcome to our church.”

“Sorry about the visitors.” the watchman said, between breaths. “London is full of them. The Black Death has become something new, something worse: the dead have risen from the plague pits, thousands of them. And they are coming for the living.”

“May God help us all,” I said. “The rector is right. The End of Days has come.”

A scream, from the other side of the church, brought us to our feet. We arrived to see the rector Ivory holding his cross before him, the women and children sheltering behind him. The barricade was intact. It took me a few moments to work out what was wrong. The Rector Ivory was looking over to the side of the church where the covered body of the dead boy lay. The cloak – or rather what was beneath the cloak – moved.

The warden, Farynor, took the pole from the hands of Sir Thomas. He walked slowly over to the body, accompanied by the watchman. Sir Thomas and I moved closer, blocking the view from the rector, the women and children.

A stride away from the body, Farynor used his pole to flick the cloak off the body. The body was small, bloody and broken. It twitched. At first I assumed it was a vile trick of nature, like a hen that continues to move after its head is cut off. But to my horror the child – what had been a child – opened its eyes. Using its one remaining arm it raised itself up.

The watchman lifted his mace, the cruel spikes still glistening with brain matter. There was an ear-piercing scream. One of the women pushed past me. Still screaming she grabbed hold of the watchman’s arm. Farynor grabbed the woman and pulled her away. The child-thing lurched towards the watchman. Its teeth closed around his leg. His grip loosened on the mace but he did not let go. With a cry he raised the mace high and swung it down onto the head. I looked away, but too late. The skull split in two and the watchman was splattered in red and grey matter. I heard the thud of the mace as it hit the floor.

The woman fainted. Farynor lifted her onto his broad shoulders and carried her back to the rector Ivory. The watchman pulled the clock back over the corpse. He picked up his mace and limped away from the group. Sir Thomas and I followed.

We found the watchman back by the wardrobe. He had rolled up his trousers and was examining the wound. It was already yellow around the edges, and it oozed a foul-smelling pus. The watchman looked up at us, fear in his eyes.

“Don’t let me become one of them,” he said. “Use this,” he gestured to the mace, beside him. “You will need to smash my head.”

Sir Thomas picked up the mace. He wrinkled his nose, as he examined the putrid substance that coated the spikes.

“That, I can not do,” he said, his voice unsteady. He put the mace down, and touched the watchman on his shoulder.

“My friend,” I said, looking the watchman in the eye. “It seems you have to be dead before this plague takes hold and transforms you into,” I looked away, unable to look into his terrified face. “Into whatever they are. You are not dead yet. We have need of you.”

Footsteps approached. Mr Farynor joined us.

“I need to speak to you, Sir Thomas. I must go to my family. I need to know they are safe. And if they are not,” he looked away from the watchman. “If they are not, I need to give them peace.”

Sir Thomas looked at the warden. “You are the Kings baker, are you not? Thomas Farynor of Pudding Lane?”

“Yes, Sir Thomas. It is but three hundred strides from here.”

“Mr Watchman? How do you rate our chances of reaching Mr Farynor’s bakery?” The watchman looked at Sir Thomas as if he had lost his head.

“Not good, Sir Thomas. I barely made it in here. The church will be surrounded by now. If there were another way out, perhaps they could be distracted.”

“And these creatures, they are all over London, you say?” The Watchman nodded. “We can’t hope to kill them all with a mace on the head.” Sir Thomas, patted the watchman on the shoulder. “But I have another idea. I will not pretend that you will survive this. But I think there is a way you can serve your City and your fellow man. Come with me.”

We followed Sir Thomas back to the small group. The rector Ivory was continuing to comfort the dead child’s mother, who let out a whimper when she saw the watchman approach carrying his mace.

“Rector,” Sir Thomas gestured for him to join us. “This Church has a subterranean passage that leads into it’s crypt, does it not?” The rector nodded. “And where does it lead?”

“Into the crypt in St Margaret’s Church, New Fish Street, Sir Thomas.”

“Just round the corner from your bakery, isn’t it Mr Farynor?”

“Fifty or sixty strides, Sir Thomas.”

“Good. Then I have an idea.” As he told us his plan, I wondered if he knew how desperate it sounded and how unlikely it was to succeed. Seeing no alternative, I kept my silence.

A short while later we were ready. Sir Thomas now wielded the mace. Thomas Farynor (the churchwarden and baker) had emptied all the oil from the lamps. We had soaked more rags and tied them to the staff and my cane. The rector Ivory had armed himself with a large iron cross. The watchman had no weapon.

We made our way down the stone steps into the icy chill of the crypt. We all looked around nervously at the sarcophagi, half expecting them to open to reveal more of those creatures. Reaching the end of the crypt we halted before a large metal gate, which blocked our progress. The rector chose a rusty looking key from a large ring, hanging from his belt. At first I feared it would not turn, but eventually the gate swung open with a screech.

Each of us took turns to shake the hands of the watchman (apart from the dead child’s mother). The gate swung closed and the rector used the key again to lock it. As we began our walk down the narrow passage it struck me: I did not even know the name of the man on the other side of the gate.

I do not know how long we walked. Dank water dripped upon our heads. Rats scurried around our feet. I could hear them squeal and occasionally I could feel a body crunch underfoot. Finally, our path was blocked by a gate identical to the last. This time the rector left it unlocked, and open. We feared what might be awaiting us in the church above.

The church was quiet. Our footsteps echoed loudly, as we crept through the nave. Mr Farynor and I went ahead, with our torches throwing light into the recesses.

Mr Farynor helped the rector Ivory pull the doors open. Outside, there were few stars in the sky. In the distance we could hear shouting, and the occasional scream. But of the unnatural sounds of the creatures there was no sign.

We crept through the church yard, holding our torches before us. Thomas Farynor led the way, out onto the narrow street. Sir Thomas was at the rear, and the rector Ivory and I protected the women and children on either side.

The bakery was in sight when they came for us. Three creatures lumbered out of the shadows. Two of them may have once been women, but I could not be sure. Their appearance was as unbearable as their stench.

Sir Thomas moved quickly, and clubbed one of the creatures in its head. It fell into the arms of another. Staggering briefly, it flung the inert corpse to one side and rounded on Sir Thomas. The rector swung the cross, embedding it in the skull, with a sickening sound. Mr Farynor kept the the other at bay with his torch, until Sir Thomas swung his mace into its face.

There were others coming toward us now. We ran to the the bakery. Thomas Farynor hammered the door.

“Open quickly, in the name of all that’s Holy!” The door was opened by a timid girl: a maid.

“Oh Mr Farynor, sir, thank Heaven you’re safe,” she said. Sir Thomas and I remained outside, pushing the women, children and the rector inside. Sir Thomas gestured me in. I threw my torch at the head of the nearest creature and threw myself through the doorway. I turned to see Sir Thomas swing the mace, before entering. The blow glanced off the creatures head.

“Close the door!” Mr Farynor shouted at the maid, as Sir Thomas ran past. She stood in the door way, frozen in terror. The creature lurched forward and pulled her towards it’s horrid face. The maid’s scream turned into a gurgle as it sunk it’s teeth into her throat. Sir Thomas pushed the two writhing bodies out of the door, and followed them. I heard two thuds. Sir Thomas returned, blood spattered and grim-faced. He bolted the door shut.

Mr Farynor sent for his workman, an earnest young man, covered in flour. Sir Thomas spoke to him in hushed tones, before giving him a note, hastily written on paper ripped from my journal. The workman left “the back way” (climbing through the second floor window into the neighbours house), with the heavy mace for protection.

As I write this I can hear them outside: their strange guttural moans, and the noise as they hammer the doors, and the windows.

I am thinking about the poor Watchman, left alone in the other church. And of the task that awaits him.

The bells of St Margaret’s are ringing out, now. They are answered by others, all across London. The signal: the city is ready to fight. Sir Thomas’ plan is a bold one, but I fear I will not live to finish this tale.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys
5th September 1666

The fire has been raging for days, but it begins to wane now.

Thomas Farynor set a good fire in his ovens and the fire spread quickly. London is a crowded place: one house leans against another (which is how we were able to escape “the back way”, into the neighbours house). The only thing Londoners fear more than fire is the plague.

The watchmen of London worked day and night to round up and lead as many of the plague creatures into buildings before they were burnt to the ground. Our Watchman played his part. When the church bells rang all over London, he opened the doors of St Magnus-the-martyr. As many as eighty creatures entered the church, before the church took fire.

It was the second church to be burnt to the ground, St Margaret’s being the first.

Sir Thomas visited me on the second day. He stood with me and looked with pride at as building after building succumbed to fire.

“It will take more than a woman to piss that out,” he said, patting me on the back.

Sir Thomas and I were summoned by the King, today.

“My advisers can not tell me how the plague changed or what it has done to the brains of the dead,” he said, stroking his moustache.

“It seems, however, that whatever it was it has been contained to London. I have ordered that all victims, or suspected victims, of the plague have their heads crushed before burning.” We nodded our agreement.

“I am concerned that should news of this outbreak spread it could trigger unrest. It is just six years since I returned to the Throne. I can not – and will not – allow this country to return to civil war.

“I therefore command you Mr Pepys to write another version of what happened that night. Sir Thomas will tell you what must be written.”

My King has commanded, and I must act.

But can I bring myself to destroy the truth of what happened that night?


Written by Bruce Arbuckle (December 2012)

This is a work of fiction. It may have happened like this, but I seriously doubt it.


Notes on the “official version” of the Great Fire of London.

The fire was started at Thomas Farynor’s (also spelt Farriner) bakery somewhere between midnight and two in the morning on 2nd September 1666. The family escaped by climbing from an upstairs window into a neighbour’s house. The maid died in the fire, because she was too scared to attempt the climb.

Thomas Farynor, a former Church Warden, was buried in the middle aisle of St Magnus-the-Martyr (in a temporary structure ) in 1670. The church was rebuilt between 1671 and 1687 under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren.

Sir Thomas Bloodworth, the Lord Mayor of London, was blamed for the spread of the fire as he refused to demolish houses to halt the blaze. He was said to have remarked “Pshh! A woman might piss it out!”

St Margaret’s Church was the first church to burn. It was not rebuilt but a monument stands on the site, commemorating the Fire.

The Rector Robert Ivory remained rector of St Magnus-the-Martyr until his death in 1710

The fire destroyed 13,200 houses, 87 churches, St Paul’s Cathedral and many other public buildings.

Samuel Pepys, his diaries and his account of the Great Fire of London, are renowned throughout the world.