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.
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.