|BLACKACRE RISING by John C Adams|
Twenty-three-year-old trainee surgeon Gerald Flint pressed his foot on the accelerator as soon as they were clear of the Metropolis. Angry at the betrayal that had seen his group flee the capital, he slammed the pedal to the floor. Now that he was through the capital’s suburbs, his black car would devour the miles as they sped north.
Dusk softened the May evening, and he revelled in a blast of warmth as he wound down his window. Exhaustion sank down into his body in a dull ache deep in his muscles, but joy at being away from the Master’s Thought Control thrilled his soul. Not even his terror of being rounded up and shot could obliterate his relief at being free at last.
The three of them were out of the city, Gerald reminded himself, but he, Don and Ivy were far from safe. Janus Fidens would be celebrating back in the Metropolis along with the rest of the resistance, and Gerald had intended to be there until he overheard Janus’s plans for his closest allies. It was shocking that someone who fought tirelessly to overthrow the authorities could be so easily corrupted by power, but Janus wasn’t the first. Others had fallen prey to this very temptation.
Ivy Spires stared out of the passenger window, mesmerised by the bushes and trees flashing past. She’d grown up in the urban wasteland of West Metropolis. The eighteen-year-old twisted the ends of her long black hair around her slender fingers. Her dark-purple nail polish was chipped, and there was dirt under her fingernails. Her high-boned face was inscrutable as she internalised her response to Janus’s behaviour. The aroma of the perfume she’d worn to the celebration party after the resistance took control of government lingered, and its allure penetrated Gerald’s mind as he drove.
Even as he longed to know her inner thoughts, he didn’t push her to talk. She’d come with him despite her wariness in trusting him, but they barely knew each other. Working for a common goal had brought them closer in the past few days, but he was asking her to believe someone she’d known for years was a traitor to the very cause they fought for. He decided to give her whatever space she needed to work through that she could trust him. Survival instinct saved her when she was growing up in the Metropolis, and it hadn’t let her down now. She’d agreed to come with him and convinced Don to join them. Let that be enough for now, he thought.
Don Allwood was asleep in the back seat. The lad’s head lolled onto his skinny chest, and his straw-blond hair fell across his pasty face. He snuffled into a snore, mumbling in a strange, unrecognisable language.
The poor kid was drained by the combat of the past forty-eight hours. The fifteen-year-old took far greater risks than anyone else in the resistance until his loyalty was rewarded with betrayal. He was the key to everything, and, wherever the trio ended up, his safety must be paramount. If anything happened to him, they were finished.
Pulling off the road at a service station just south of Manchester a few hours later, Gerald murmured to Ivy, “Stay in the car with Don,” before handing her his revolver.
He was still unused to carrying a firearm, but she took it, checked it was loaded with practised ease and tucked it into her belt with her usual calm proficiency around weaponry.
As he scurried inside, the bright lights of the services made him blink. He filled a basket with sandwiches, packets of biscuits and bottles of water.
The checkout assistant sat behind a layer of bulletproof glass. A bright neon light shone overhead. The sign behind her flickered on and off. ‘Eats’ it insisted. She looked annoyed and disaffected, and her kohl eyeliner was clumsily applied. A heavy ‘no-nonsense’ handgun with considerable firepower lay on her desk, within easy reach if a customer became aggressive or uncooperative.
The casualness with which the weapon was left in plain sight shocked him. His normal life wasn’t like this; the country club, the hospital, the manicured lawns and immaculate homes of suburban East Metropolis were safe and orderly by comparison.
Perhaps the trouble in the capital was spreading north as law and order collapsed, leaving workers jumpy. It was one thing to carry a concealed firearm to be relied on in desperation, but leaving a gun lying right there raised the stakes.
“Travelling far?” she asked.
He shook his head. He spied his payment card nestling in his wallet, but he drew out a wad of credits instead. Janus might try to find him using a trace on his transactions.
The woman behind the counter watched him, and he thought he heard her mumble something as he turned away. He tried to shake it off, telling himself it was probably just his imagination, coupled with sheer exhaustion, playing tricks on him.
Just in case he was being followed, he strolled back to his car deliberately nonchalantly. But when he got in, he was careful to lock all the doors.
Ivy snatched a sandwich and tore open its packet, tossing aside the wrapping and jamming the bread into her mouth. She chewed loudly and swallowed far too quickly. He forced himself to repress the urge, as a doctor, to point out that this wasn’t good for her digestion. She crammed the rest into her mouth and ripped open the packet of biscuits.
As soon as the car was on the slip road and in top gear, she handed him his sandwich, and he nibbled it tentatively. It was disgusting: little better than stale bread smeared with a filling he struggled to identify and wasn’t sure he wanted to know more about. His stomach churned, protesting at receiving a meal unlikely to bestow much nutritional value. He resisted the urge to retch, gesturing for her to hand him his bottle of water. He swilled his mouth clean as best he could, but the liquid was a cheap, metallic imitation of genuine spring water.
“Wouldn’t it be better if I just spoke to Janus myself?” she asked.
The unanswered question hung in the air like a stale odour as they rejoined the motorway.
Ever since he overheard Janus’s threat to kill Don and imprison Ivy, he’d been racking his brain for somewhere to conceal them. He’d grown up in the south, in the wealthy eastern suburbs of the Metropolis, but the resistance was crawling all over that part of the country. The others were from the western side of the city. That was the first place Janus would look.
The Flints were a northern family, and most of Gerald’s cousins still lived in the beautiful lake country northwest of Manchester close to Blackacre, the farmhouse in the uplands where he learned to ride, fish and shoot. Brett farmed it now. The eldest son was a gentleman farmer with a gruff exterior that belied his expensive boarding-school education. The Blackacre library revealed to the young Gerald many of life’s darker secrets, exploring them alongside Brett’s brother Toby. And there was Cousin Henry, Uncle James’s son, at nearby Darkwater, too.
The north was never really under the control of the old authorities in the same way as the south. There, the Master retained a death grip on all freedoms. Thought Control generated his total awareness of everyone’s allegiances, giving him a way to prevent people from striking out for themselves. The north was different, and the Master trod carefully there. He didn’t possess the resources to spread Thought Control across the whole country, and as a result the rural heartlands went their own way. Now that he was weakened, the sparsely populated areas would be more independent than ever.
“Where are you taking us?”
“To my family in the north,” Gerald replied.
He flashed a quick smile, hoping to charm her into accepting his plan, but she turned away, cold faced. Don carried on snoring in the back seat, muttering to himself.
“You’ll be hiding in plain sight,” he added. “Right in the midst of the Flints. You’ll be safe, I promise. I would never let anything happen to either of you.”
In the past few days they’d got to know each other, working hard to overthrow the system while teetering on the verge of romance, and his voice betrayed more emotion than he intended.
Her cheeks blazed, but she reached over and rested her hand on his, intertwining their fingers. The road ahead was clear, so he chanced a glance over at her. Her pupils were dilated, and she seemed flustered and bashful. He smiled back, his confidence growing.
Turning onto a side road, they bumped along for a couple of miles until the way dipped into some secluded woodland with a track off to the left. He yanked on the handbrake and killed the engine. They were plunged into darkness in the chill of gathering night. Don was still gently snoring in the back, but at least he’d now stopped gabbling away.
The delicious temptation to kiss her arose out of nowhere. He had enjoyed flirting with her in the past few days, but the right moment to take it further had not arisen before. Yet he ached to do so. She was so beautiful, so resilient and yet so fragile. He was loath to leave without giving some sign that he cared about her, but he must get them to safety as quickly as possible and it was already well after midnight.
By far his most pressing concern was to find someone willing to harbour two fugitives. Whoever did so ran the risk of paying a heavy price. Uncle James, with his big lakeside hotel, was the obvious choice, but he had been tricky to deal with since Aunt Camilla’s death. He wouldn’t necessarily want to make Ivy and Don his problem.
Cousin Toby and his wife Rose were more likely to get involved, but Whiteacre Hall was prominent in the local community. The identity of their guests, especially those who stayed longer than a country-house weekend, was thoroughly pored over by the old-timers in their village. Tongues wagged even in front of strangers.
Then there was Brett. The eldest Flint cousin was utterly bizarre, but like all farmers he held fast to an old-fashioned honour code. He never betrayed a guest sleeping under his roof but went to any lengths to protect them. And Blackacre had ample resources to defend itself from incursion.
Gerald mulled over his options. None were ideal. Perhaps Blackacre was the best place to start. The farmhouse was possessed of hidden powers, and once Ivy and Don were welcomed over the threshold the old place would treat them as Flints and protect them accordingly.
As she watched him, a smile played on her scarlet lips. “Every expression possible just ran across your face,” she murmured.
Before he could tug her into his arms and press his lips against hers, she leaned over to kiss him. At first he thrilled at the touch of her lips, overjoyed at last to feel the throb of intimacy and arousal between them. But the enormity and seriousness of their situation forced itself back into his mind, and he drew away.
“I must go back tonight and draw off the scent,” he said. “If I’m home tomorrow, Janus will assume I’m not involved. He’ll have no reason to come looking for you two.”
When he turned the key in the ignition, a chill fell between them as suddenly as their arousal had arisen. Ivy gazed silently out the window again, once more lost in her impenetrable thoughts.
Don sat up in the back seat as the car engine roared into life and yawned. As Gerald let out the handbrake, the car rolled back down the track towards the road. The three of them were nearly safe. Blackacre lay only five miles over the next hill.
Ivy clambered out of Gerald’s car and stretched, relieved that the never-ending journey was over, but she stared up at the foreboding farmhouse in astonishment. Nothing in her upbringing in the slums of the west prepared her for what she saw now.
Its five-hundred-year-old walls looked like they were almost squatting down into the hillside. The roof was littered with broken slates, and a ridge tile was missing in the middle. It lay smashed on the gravel by the oak front door. Feeble lamps flickered, giving out next to no light. Black ivy clung to the walls, twisting against the stonework and climbing as far as the first-floor windows. The plants rustled ominously even without a breeze.
The house was broadly square, but there were a few additional structures tacked on round the side. Tiny attic windows protruded from the roof, and huge chimneys dominated the roofline. The whole place stank of damp.
A full moon shone across the moorland, reflected in its pools of stagnant water and gurgling streams running down to meet the river in the valley below. She shivered at a well lurking beside the house. From deep inside it a sullen plop echoed, and the reek of stagnant water emerged from its surface.
They were in the middle of nowhere, about to knock on the door of strangers and beg their hospitality. It might be weeks before it was safe to go home again. This place is odder than anything I could ever imagine, she thought. What kind of depraved force had created such dark power? What was this hellhole in which Gerald intended to leave them, and what was it truly capable of when riled? From the sinister manner in which the farmhouse skulked, she could discern only a hostile response to their arrival.
Gerald retrieved their bags from the boot. He softly closed it and pointed them towards the house, but she tried to drag him away.
“Don’t leave us here! It’s horrible!” she said.
A light snapped on upstairs, and the lead-mullioned window was thrown open, banging against the frame. A shotgun poked out, and a booming pellet shot past her head to ricochet off the well.
When he disentangled her fingers from his sleeve she scowled at his calmness, but he was engrossed with the brown-haired man in his mid-twenties leaning out of the window.
A dark shadow rose up out of the well, but another shotgun pellet cracked the night. Whatever it was gave a shrill yelp and slithered back into the water.
The front door was yanked open, grating as it scraped over the stone flags, and light spilled out onto the gravel. A woman in a flowing nightgown, her brown hair working loose from its plait, beckoned them in.
“Radclyffe! Thank God!” Gerald said.
The stench of wood smoke filled Ivy’s nostrils, and she spluttered into a cough. Radclyffe eyed the trio warily as they crossed the threshold. Brett’s wife was still young, but exhaustion and strain aged her, and Ivy experienced a surge of sympathy for a woman whose daily grind of life was debilitating.
An infant crying upstairs made Radclyffe turn her head. She ushered the three of them in, locked the door and ran upstairs two steps at a time.
Ivy and Don sat at the long oak table in the kitchen while Gerald and his cousin argued on the other side of the door. When they entered the room together, Ivy did a double take. Seeing the two together was like looking at brothers.
“My cousin Brett Flint,” Gerald said. The strain in his voice panicked her. This was their sole source of safety when he abandoned them in a few moments?
“We’re not staying here with him!” she said.
As Brett rested his shotgun against the whitewashed wall and folded his arms, he glared at her. She sneered back, but he ignored her and bent to riddle the stove. He slipped two logs from the wicker basket into the stove and carefully adjusted its settings. Filling the kettle, he set it down on the hob. He fetched five mugs from the oak dresser and dried the rose-painted china teapot with a floral-print tea towel. He laid everything out onto the wooden tray and got a jug of milk out of the fridge.
“D’yer wake my dairymaid, d’yer think, going past the cottages?” Brett asked. When Gerald shook his head, Brett continued, “Good. Missy here can help with the babies. Plus there’s always plenty of chores want doing on a farm. Make yersel useful with women’s work!”
“We’re not staying. I told you already,” she snapped.
To calm her, Gerald squeezed her arm and gently shook his head. He slipped into the seat next to hers at the table and took her hand. Reluctantly, she let him do so, dreading that he would try to persuade them to stay.
“Everything’s going to be fine. Trust me,” he whispered. “I will sort out Janus and come back for you both. I won’t be away a moment longer than necessary.”
Brett eyed their momentary connection with a cynical amusement that simultaneously repelled and intrigued her. What has gone into the making of such a man? Ivy thought. But already she could see the accuracy of Gerald’s description of his cousin as a gentleman farmer. He was quick and intelligent, his words carefully chosen and delivered in perfect English that featured only a single accent word to mark out that he didn’t speak with the same vanilla accent as Gerald. “Yer instead of you,” she murmured.
“The lad can sleep in Toby’s old room. Do it good to have my little brother’s room occupied again. The ghosts miss having someone to yarn with in the small hours,” Brett said.
She turned to Gerald in distress, clawing at his sleeve. “I’m not staying in this madhouse. People don’t live like this in the twenty-first century!”
When he rested his forehead against hers, the warmth of his breath made her shiver with delight. He squeezed her hands so gently that she longed to creep into his embrace. “Can you please trust me?” he asked.
Janus’s betrayal wasn’t the only one to deplete their small group. She was still reeling from her brother Valentine’s duplicity down in the Metropolis. She must believe they could trust Gerald. He was the only ally they had left.
Gently, she nodded.
Blackacre Rising by John C Adams is available to preorder now on Kindle at a discount of 50%.
|From Horror Tree reviewer and double Aeon Award Longlister John C Adams comes a disturbing tale of scientific experimentation and sadistic cruelty. The sequel to ‘Souls for the Master’, ‘Blackacre Rising’ features a stunning cover by Fiona Jayde Media. Join Ivy, Don and Gerald as they battle the implosion of their resistance movement in the face of betrayal from those they trusted the most.|
Leaving the chaos erupting in the Metropolis behind, Gerald speeds north to his cousin Brett Flint’s farmhouse, Blackacre. He is certain that their vehicle is being followed, but returning to the capital with Don and Ivy is simply too risky now that Janus Fidens has taken over the Resistance and declared the pair to be outlaws who have betrayed the Revolution. Arriving at Blackacre, Gerald begs Brett and his wife Radclyffe to shelter Ivy and Don under their roof without asking too many questions about why his young companions have had to flee to the sparsely populated uplands and need their presence there kept secret.
Distraught at saying goodbye to Gerald, Ivy admits how much she has come to care for him since they have been battling the authorities together. They snatch a few moments alone together to say a private farewell before Gerald drives back to the capital, hoping to persuade Janus to drop his pursuit of Ivy and Don. En route, Gerald is followed by the same car that tailed them northwards. Lured into stopping to assist at the site of a road traffic accident, the trainee surgeon is captured and transported to a shadowy underground scientific research facility, where he is disturbed to discover that Sinister Tungsten, sister to his arch nemesis Hendra, waiting for him.
In the Blackacre library, Don is welcomed by The Seven. This mysterious group includes the Master he fought to defeat down in the Metropolis, five other strange figures with bizarre powers and, of course, the malignant farmhouse itself. Brett, Radclyffe and their twin baby sons reside in the oddest place Don has ever encountered. He reluctantly agrees to become involved in The Seven’s project to assassinate Dr Luther Honigbaum, who funds the facility where Gerald is being held prisoner and runs the asylum in Austria which supplies its young female test subjects.
Learning how to transport herself from one location to another shocks Ivy. Unlike Don, who has wielded great power his whole life, her skills as an assassin are more practical in nature, and she worries that having shifted safely to Austria she’ll be unable to return safely. Finally, she is ready to undertake her mission to kill the evil man behind the gruesome experiments that serve no purpose other than to gratify the rampant cruelty of Honigbaum and his acolytes.
Meanwhile, The Seven show Don another facility, this time in Antarctica, where equally cruel experiments take place upon men. When The Seven tell him he is too young to witness exactly what it taking place, he uses his unique powers to advance his age by three years so that he is now eighteen. He gladly sacrifices a part of his natural life to rescue the men kept prisoner there and tormented by sadistic experiments with no scientific value whatsoever.
On her arrival in Austria, Ivy is horrified to discover that her cover is already blown and Honigbaum lies in waiting for her. He has a sinister agenda of his own and will stop at nothing to eliminate anyone who resists both his sadistically cruel medical research and his repulsive sexual advances. When Brett Flint’s cousin Henry turns up at Ubersneller, Honigbaum locks him up in one of his asylums high up in the mountains to ensure his silence. He has particularly dark designs on Ivy, and is determined that her close friendship with Don will enable him to reach out to his estranged son. Drugged and forced to comply, Ivy is young enough to provide the ageing Honigbaum with everything he wishes.
Gerald’s imprisonment ends when Sinistra’s elder sister Hendra returns and the authorities brutally re-establish law and order, but he is no safer with her than with her sibling as she, and others within the power structure, begin the battle for control of his soul.