Watchers – Part 15 (NaNoWriMo 2015)

The night raced by us, leaving lamp posts as streamers of light in the darkness. We soon left the police cars and vans behind. I had never moved so fast – it was an unreal sensation of the world flying by and vibrating before me, but I felt almost none of it. My Watcher was doing all of the work, accelerating, leaping over fences and walls with barely a moment’s hesitation. I just saw through his eyes. It was exhilarating.

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We were off road, into Admiral’s park which lay just off centre in the middle of town. It’s a surprisingly huge area, apparently named after some naval hero or other who hailed from a town as far from the sea as you can get. The children’s playground had a number of swings and climbing frames that looked vaguely ship shaped. I’m sure he would have been thrilled by his legacy – wide grassland and enough trees to build a couple of decent warships. We came over the iron railings without slowing down, and came to an abrupt halt as we reached the tree cover. With that same cold and slippery feeling, my Watcher peeled off me. I felt like I was being pressed out of a jelly mould, shaking with excitement and a fresh appreciation of what it is to feel myself breathe and my heart race.

“Wow, that was fucking awesome,” I yelled.

The Watcher had mastered basic hand signals, and conveyed a finger pressed to his lips with enough force for me to mentally append “idiot” to the gesture. That was fair. But it had been exciting. I’d never felt so powerful before. The Watcher inclined its head into the even darker space between the trees and I followed. I cast a last look across the park and through the railings to the road beyond. A faint wail of sirens was still on the air, but the roads were clear. No people, still. No cars. We tramped through the trees, evading the fallen branches and scrubby plants that dared to grow between the trees. In the dark I had no idea what kind of trees they were, but I fancied that I could hear the scratching of squirrels and the shuffling of hidden birds.

I could hear soft voices ahead and laid my hand on the Watcher’s shoulder to warn it. It turned back to me and smiled. The slight moonlight caught the white of its face perfectly. Again it nodded towards the dark and the voices. I figured that I owed it at least a couple of favours. When the Watcher-clad Derek crashed through my ceiling I thought we were doomed. When I heard the police as well, I was doubly certain of our imminent doom. It had not occurred to me that the Watchers themselves had any particular power – I’d seen mine do a few cool or useful things, but it had been the police on their own earlier in the day . Their Watchers had stood in the street and watched them throw Alison and her family into the back of a van. I didn’t know why they were keeping their distance back then. From what my Watcher had told me during our surreal conversation in the mirror it might be something to do with the learning process. If the subject was stimulating then the Watcher replicated their behaviour and appearance, learning and developing into these distinct and apparently intelligent forms. The others- those who were paired with intractable or rejecting subjects didn’t develop in the same way. They were stunted and never moved beyond the default appearance they had arrived with. Their seizing of the human bodies lacked the grace and sureness of my more advanced Watcher. The Watchers who had bonded by force were clumsy, and easily confused, as I’d achieved with the policeman in the street earlier that evening. But that grace seemed to be a result of my consent. We were sharing this form, like perfect form-fitting armour. My Watcher had suggested that we were now more similar to each other than it was to its fellow Visitors.

We came into a small clearing. It was filled with dark figures and lightly shaded Watchers.

“What the -” I managed, still overly loud from the adrenaline excitement.

“Jesus man, keep it down,” my heart raced suddenly at the words and then on recognising its author, began to slow. It was Rachael.

In fact, it was all of them standing together in the little glade, even Annette, Vanessa standing attentively by her side. We had agreed a rallying point, which sounded awfully fancy. The park is almost equidistant from where we all lived, and it felt like we might conceivably need a place to meet if everything went as tits up as Andy and Ellen had seemed to think it might. It had, and we did.

“It’s alright, we all made it. You’re the last, but Andy only just got here before you.”

Andy gave me a tight smile, “told you we were going to get screwed. That meeting was just cover. They just wanted to make sure we were all who they were looking for.”

“If that was true they would have just sealed the doors at the town hall and gassed us or something,” said Rachael, “we don’t know if anyone else got taken, or if it was just us.”

“I’d like to know what it is that we’ve done wrong,” said Ellen, “all we did was go to the meeting we were told to go to and then went for a drink.”

“Collusion and conspiracy,” muttered Andy. His Watcher was nodding agreement.

“What happened to you guys?” I asked. I turned to Ellen, who had her arm round Annette’s shoulder.

“They were waiting for us at Annette’s apartment,” said Ellen, “she’s only a bit further on than me so I wanted to see her home first.” Annette patted her on the arm, “we were almost at the elevator when the police van pulled up outside. I was sure we were going to get caught. I’ve never been in trouble with the police before.”

Annette continued, “as soon as the back doors of that van opened, Vanessa was there in front of me. I’ve never felt anything like it. It was like being embraced by an angel. It was like we were seven years old again and knew exactly what the other was thinking and feeling. Two halves of the same body.”

Ellen took over. “Annette’s Watcher just slipped over her like an all body nightshirt. It was incredible. She slammed the front door open in the faces of – I don’t know – three, four of those wax faced policemen – they went flying across the street. Then she / it grabbed me by the hand, and my Watcher and sort of pushed us together and then I was like Annette – like she said, it was beautiful. I felt full of light. We ran off, and made our way here.”

Ellen and Annette smiled coyly at each other, like they had shared some naughty but delicious secret. I was sort of glad to know that it wasn’t just me, even if their experience did sound different to mine. I hadn’t felt kissed by an angel, more like kissed by an anaesthetist.


“I didn’t even get home. I decided to take a long way home. I figured we were being followed, and even if they already knew who we were I didn’t want to make it easy for them. That barmaid was giving us weird looks all night, it didn’t feel right. I was pretty sure we were being followed. I caught sight of a police van edging round the corner way back behind us and decided to have a crack at losing them. It didn’t work. By the time we got to the other end of the alley I’d chosen, there was another police van already pulling up. This guy,” he pointed at his own Watcher,  “took action. He pulled me back into the alley and looked me in the eye. All that stuff you said earlier about feeling like there was a real connection finally made sense to me. I just kind of nodded, even though I didn’t know what I was agreeing to. Then – wham. I felt like a superhero, like I’d just put on this magic suit. And we were off. I’ve never run so fast in my life.”

Charlie snorted, “I don’t think I had ever run in my life before. I got back to my place, cracked open a beer and then the fuzz kicked my door in. I was gonna slap them about a bit, but this guy,” he thumbed at his Watcher, “got all valiant and up in their faces. That confused them – they were like the barmaid, wearing the humans like dolls but really stupid and clumsy. Anyway, I’ve got a back door so while my Watcher was keeping them busy I got my hockey stick from by the back door and put some dents in them. There more police cars arriving, and it just felt like the right thing to do – so we… I dunno what we’re calling it, but I y’know, put on my Visitor. Then we legged it here.”

“Like the others I guess. The police knew where we lived. I suppose it was only a matter of time. But when the police arrived I’d already – I liked your idea of talking to the Watchers, so I did it too. We were talking when they arrived. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Rachael held her Watcher’s hand as she spoke, before grinning broadly at me, and at the others.

Looks like we’d found something we weren’t expecting. Far from being the ‘chosen’ ones, the special ones who were being praised for our compassion and acceptance, we were now being hunted. We didn’t know what we had done that was wrong, but it didn’t feel wrong. I think we all felt stronger.



Watchers – Part 16 (NaNoWriMo 2015)

We couldn’t stay in the park forever. It was only early evening so in theory we had all night, but who wants to stand around in a park all night? Apart from teenagers of course. But we were all old enough to drink in pubs and take our dodgy drugs into our own homes. It takes the appeal out of public spaces.

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I’m a fan of the odd public bench, but places that are outside are, well – outside. That always means other people. I don’t really dislike other people, it’s strangers I find it difficult to get interested in. People I already know like family and friends are fine – in their defined times and places, it’s the others who appear at random when I least expect it that I’ve got an issue with. I’ve been asked before, on expressing this view of other people, how it is that anyone gets from stranger to person. I don’t have a good answer for that. Family get in by default, but can be excluded later by rudeness or distance if they aren’t up to snuff. How people become friends – I don’t know. I’m always wary of strangers and new people. Because of that it takes some persistence or resilience on their part to stick around long enough to bridge that invisible river of quasi-hostility.

I’ve never thought that ‘having something in common’ is sufficient. We’ve all got blood and not long enough to live, but that hasn’t bonded humanity yet. It’s not so much having an activity that can be shared that matters – it’s having the same reason for liking an activity that counts. The activity itself doesn’t matter, and it can hide the person behind the job or the description. Somehow though there can be that spark of similarity which gets recognised on a weird cognitive and emotional level, and before you know it someone else has slipped across the moat filled with grumpy crocodiles. Sometimes I don’t even want to acknowledge another human being, let alone a possible friend. And then they bloody helicopter in anyway, ignoring the carefully curated moat and minefield. Walls just can’t be built high enough.

Despite all of that, I’d found new reasons to have friends. One, appear magically in my home in the middle of the night and pretend to be like me. Apparently that works. My pale doppelganger stood by my side as I talked about what we had to do next with my other new friends. At least they seemed like friends – this is friend reason two: be pursued by possessed police because you also have a weird stalker who has become your friend. It looks like that’s enough to have in common. It had certainly lead to us all standing together in the woods on an unseasonably warm evening.

We had nothing but the clothes on our backs and the Watchers that we’d worn on our fronts. To the best of our knowledge  we were wanted men and women, and presumably so were our Watchers. They’d each acted to defend us when they could easily have stood aside. I wasn’t sure whether we had worn them, or they had worn us. Does a rider wear a horse? The horse wears the saddle. I felt as if I were probably the saddle. Being the saddle is good, it stops the rider from falling off. It’s hand-tooled skin… Again, these analogies were not helping me at all. I still didn’t understand the relationship between me and my Watcher. We had been told that the town hall meeting was for those of us who had developed our relationships with the Visitors. The relationship’s existence was visible, since they had come to take our form and mannerisms, and we had learned to accept them without fear.

Rachael and I compared notes from our respective conversations without our Watchers. We had received similarly mystical and philosophical answers from them on the nature of their existence. It was hard to argue against a being who, when asked about his origins, just turned the question back on you. Maybe it’s because despite our understanding of the world and the universe, which if looked at without a religious lens shows that everything is without specific purpose we still believe there has to be a ‘why’ beyond assorted determinism and existential nihilism. Purpose is what you make it – we had built relationships, which according to Rachael were only strengthened further by our using them as a kind of living power armour.

“I think we’ve been asking the wrong questions – we keep asking why. If there isn’t a why, then we should be asking how and who,” stated Ellen.

Annette and Charlie slipped into their Watchers. It became easier each time. We had all taken turns to join with our Watchers while someone else asked questions. They each had their own way of responding, as if once combined they were a mixture of the human within and the Watcher without.

“Alright then – how did all the policemen know how to find us?”

“They were watching us all at the town hall. Everyone was under scrutiny. Before we separated we would have been watching,” replied Annette / Vanessa.

“We can no longer watch, but can be only be watched,” finished Charlie and his Watcher.

“Because you’ve become distinct from the blank, pre-formed Visitors, right?”

“That is correct. We have lost our homogeneity to uniqueness.”

“Before you separated, did you know what the other Watchers were doing?”

“I knew what everyone was doing, persons and un-persons. We saw everything.”

“So – the policemen are basically all the same person?” Ellen continued to unpick what we heard.

“No, they are not persons. They are the whole.”

“Yeah okay, but they are many, whereas you are one.”

Vanessa had to think about that before replying, “yes. We are outside the control of the whole.”

“Unpredictable, disorderly, undesirable.” Added the combined Charlie.

“So this is about control,” said Andy triumphantly, “their purpose – sorry guys, I know you don’t like the word, but it means something to us. Their purpose, their function is the exercising of control through omniscient surveillance. The results are instantly known by every part of the network. But these guys are off the grid – they’ve fallen out of the network by falling in with us.”

“Then the next question is – how wide is the network?”

“The network is everywhere.” Vanessa stated.

“Already – wait. You mean within its sphere of influence?” I asked.


“That sphere is currently limited – the town’s in quarantine remember. The Watcher network has filled up everything available for Watching, ” Rachael kicked the bark off a tree while she spoke, “the whole town is being Watched – that was the first thing that happened, and then there were these sections that dropped out of the network – these guys, and everyone else at the town hall. Result – action. They knew where those missing components were, so they invited us all to the meeting to confirm their suspicions. All those people taking notes as the meeting went on. I’d put money on them having ticked off those of us who were truly separate from those over whom control might still be established.”

“So, our putting our heads together afterwards was both a brilliant and a terrible idea?”

“Yes – you established that we were fully independent of the network. Useless. Expendable.” Vanessa sounded dreadfully sad.

“And then they sent out their suited and booted slaves to hunt us down. Ace.”

By becoming individuals our Watchers had removed their usefulness to the whole. Persons became of less value. Harder to predict, harder to control.

“Right – let’s get it straight. The Visitors or Watchers are used to watch – it’s what they do. They’re even better than CCTV or spy shit that reads all your email and phone calls. They are right in your home. But when they weren’t accepted, they just got taken over. That’s not sustainable – there’s no point in having control over a bunch of zombies. You might as well just kill everyone and have a ghost town with cameras that never show you anything – no dissidence, just nothing. If that’s some kind of win, some kind of end game then we’re all fucked.” Charlie had stepped out of his Watcher, whose shoulder he hugged as he spoke. “If the Watchers are always lurking, and people are always freaking out then there’s no stability possible. What’s the next step?”

Rachael and her Watcher replied simply enough: “absorption.”

Ellen elucidated, “we are absorbed through the skin of the monitored subject. We sink in as an unconscious layer of skin, unaware of ourselves, monitoring and sharing with the whole.”

“Well, that’s just fucking brilliant. Perfect, total surveillance of every individual,” Andy fumed, “everyone in town is going to wake up in a day or so and find that their Visitor has fucked off and will be grateful. We’ll forget it ever happened, apart from those of us who are outside the network.”

“You mean like the mayor and the other people on the rostrum? They didn’t have Watchers at all.” pointed out Annette.

“Unless they had already absorbed their Watchers,” I suggested.

“You don’t take control and power by giving that control and power away at the same time. No, I’d say that lot don’t have Watchers at all. They’ll be the beneficiaries of the network, not its subjects.”

The next step, as with all technology is that once you’ve done your pilot (that was us) you roll it out nationwide. Government schemes at their best. It wasn’t surprising that they had found a bug – us again – and no problem in government schemes ever gets fixed, they just roll it anyway. That left them with a bug-hunting issue. We didn’t know how many more of us there were – we couldn’t assume there were any. They might all have been grabbed, we were the lucky ones. Or unlucky. It didn’t feel unlucky though – we were special. In our own way we had so far escaped intimate surveillance. And if we were the only ones, we had a responsibility to do something about it.

No one except Charlie was especially thrilled by the idea of fighting back. We were far from a paramilitary unit. We didn’t even all have coats, let alone weapons and a gung-ho spirit. Of strategy we had none. I’d done Tae Kwan Do for a bit when I was little, Annette was in her mid-seventies and Andy’s weapon of choice was an Alienware keyboard. Despite our seemingly endless reasons for being unsuitable candidates to lead a pre-revolution revolution, there wasn’t anyone else we could call on. We couldn’t get out of the town, and there was no way to communicate with anyone either in or outside of town. By the time the quarantine came down, that would be because the roll out of Watcher surveillance was underway. That was the only part of this I felt good about – at least we weren’t trying to do public relations and press conferences. Screw that.

“Earlier I asked my Watcher where they came from, and he gave me what I thought was a stock gnomic response: ‘where do you come from?’ But you Watchers must physically originate somewhere – are you bred, born, produced…? I don’t mean that you’re not people – clearly you are, but some, the non-developed versions must be coming from somewhere. Where were you before you appeared in our homes?

“The source?”

“Uh, sure. The source – where is it?”

“It’s going to be under the town hall, isn’t it?” said Charlie, “of course it is – it’s bound to be. It’s dead centre. Perfect.”

“I don’t know the words to describe it. It is central within the town. Many smaller buildings are within it. We spread from there.”

“The shopping centre? Makes as much sense as the town hall. Plus there are miles of service corridors and storage areas.”

“Sounds like we have a target. Do we have long before absorption?”

“It should already have begun.”

Perfect: we had no food, no shelter, no transport (except for our Watchers) and no plan. The night wouldn’t hide us forever, and it was beginning to get cold. That was motivation enough.