Flying through the air as we leaped between the roof tops made me feel like a ninja, or at least like Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke bouncing off bamboo poles. Happily, there was no one on the roofs to object and we hopped, skipped and bounded up and over banks and shoe shops, relatively stealthily navigating around the Narrowmarsh’s town square. One of the downsides of reducing your police form to virtual automatons is their sheer lack of initiative. Despite our effort not to jump too high, we were learning as we went and a couple of times Annette shot up into the air, rivalling the moon for glow, if not necessarily in shape – her windmilling arms weren’t the standard man in the moon effects. She wasn’t the only one of us who radically overshot, but generally, our leaps were increasingly precise and we made up for height with distance. The gaps between the building ranged up to over forty feet and in a continuous I could fly across the street, my legs pedalling the air for added velocity.
We were doing really well, as attested by the furious grins on everyone’s faces. Even when all of the human rights of a whole town are about to be violated, it is still possible to have fun. And this wasn’t some gallows humour, this was unadulterated glee. For those of us with somewhat knackered knees it was amazing. While encased in my Watcher I couldn’t properly feel the impact of the jump and landing as more than a slight pressure. My Watcher’s rubbery frame kept hold of the impact energy and reused it to bounce onwards, like the most perfect pogo stick. Pogo suit. When he had first taken me over in my flat to protect me from the police I had been effectively paralysed – the movements were all his and I couldn’t even feel my limbs moving, or see anything. Since we had all come to an understanding the action was consensual – we moved together. We were seeing and talking as one, and now pulling the kinds of Parkour moves I’ve always admired but been terrified of screwing up and snapping all of my body parts. Okay, so we didn’t have the grace and style, but we could definitely jump higher and further, landing poised for the next motion.
Rachael, this being her idea had been the first to attempt scaling the hideous concrete monstrosity that had been shat on the corner of the Road of Buses. It presently housed a building society and betting shop. It had one of those brightly coloured illuminated signs that ran around the edge of the building advertising how great it is to gamble your wages on whether one animal runs faster than another. Rachael smashed straight through it on her first jump and landed in a confetti of plastic and glass. We all froze, anticipating discovery, but the police evidently cared as little as we did for the shop’s signage. Her second attempt got her up as far as the second floor window sill, where she stood, improbably balanced before jumping straight upwards and flailing for the roof’s edge. The rest of us joined her with a range of competence, all benefitting from her example by starting off with a short run from much further back. Once Charlie and I had scrambled up to the roof we crouched low to whisper strategy. We had to make it along two half and a whole side of the square – essentially a tiled letter ‘C’, but flipped horizontally. The roof varied in height from two storeys to what might be six storeys. Adrenaline was already turning up the corners of our mouths. The plan was simple, and stolen from advertising – just do it.
We got two thirds of the way round, including that big forty foot gap before any of us made any serious mistakes. For reasons unknown to all but whoever it is at the council who approves such building decisions, the general character of the square had been ignored entirely at this point. A six floor office building of glass and fading blue green panels rudely butted in between the three storey buildings on either side which retained some rather lovely Georgian architectural features well above the garish shop signs. It was clearly going to be a bit different from jumping between two and three storey buildings. Undeterred, Andy and Ellen charged ahead. Predictably they misjudged the angle entirely and went through the glass that ran all round the sixth floor. The rest of us instinctively cringed at the sharp looking impact.
A few seconds later Ellen appeared at the window, studded with shards of glass that she picked out of her Watcher. She waved us on. We shared sceptical expressions. I knew the Watchers were strong, but they were certainly not immune to injury. I peered over the edge of our building, past the lonely gargoyle which had survived the conversion into a shoe warehouse. Not all the glass had gone inside with them. It had rained onto the street, which would have been okay I think, until the whole window frame that Andy had driven through bent out of the building and tumbled, bouncing off the edge of our roof and crashing into the square. The possessed police noticed that. I was almost grateful, they seemed to be fuck all use if they didn’t pay attention, which made the whole Watcher business pointless. I say almost. I was not pleased to see the attention of every policeman in the square to the building with the gaping hole in its side (‘sorry officer, I’ve no idea what happened there’). They immediately began running towards it.
We really had done so well up to that point. With little time to worry about it, we backed up and leaped one at a time into the hole Ellen and Andy had made. Ellen was indeed fine, the rips in her Watcher appeared to be sealing up with that mistiness I’d seen earlier. Andy however, was not doing so well. He had gone through the window frame itself and a long shard of some building metal (I’m no architect or engineer – it could be a part of the frame, what do you want from me?) was sticking through his shoulder and out the back. It was one of those awful moments when time shudders to a stop around you and the world recedes while rushing towards you. The object of horror stands in blazing halo of shimmering light. You feel hollow and ants crawl up your arms. It’s that feeling that sucks you away from the world when a loved one dies, or when you realise that your attempt to humorously chuck your mother under the chin has become an uppercut. That those two things are very different doesn’t detract from the feelings that come with them. There is presumably a limit to the number of different internal feelings we can experience and recall, so it’s not that surprising that lots of feelings, both joyous and awful get lumped together with just a spoken word to package the weird array of feelings into something we can tell each other and ourselves about. All of these sensations, and the cod-philosophising about the sensations are superb distractions from dealing with the thing that has occurred. I’d guess that’s even the point of those feelings – to pull us back for a moment and insulate our brains with unreality so we’re disconnected enough to deal with the hideous event.
Andy was being held up only by his Watcher. Ellen and the others were clustered around him; I was the last to jump into the office block. Glass had been thrown across the open plan office and at least one of our party had ploughed into the curved desks which had once been arranged into loathsome ‘pods’ for team working. A satisfying number of monitors and keyboards lay cracked and broken on the floor. Andy was also broken. The Watcher explained that he had sealed the wound as it entered, but a spray of vivid scarlet attested to the force of the impact. As long as no one just pulled it out he would probably be alright, for now. In a town with only possessed nurses and doctors we had cause for concer. He looked pale even inside his Watcher.
“I don’t think I can keep going,” he muttered.
“No, really? Of course you can’t,” replied Rachael, “you need to not move.”
“We have to keep going. The police are on their way,” I reminded them.
We could hear them coming up the stairs after kicking the front doors in. That sounded awfully familiar.
“We’ll stay with him,” said Annette, indicating herself and Charlie, “we’ll be able to keep them away from him. You three go on.”
Andy nodded bravely. Charlie snapped off another length of twisted metal from Andy’s entrance. Ellen, Rachael and I headed for the stairs. We reached the top of the building and smashed through the fire exit. Why you would want to exit a building through the roof while it’s on fire is beyond me. We really don’t have many helicopters, certainly far fewer than appear in Hollywood films. We at least had the benefit of our Watchers. Below us the police had surrounded the ghastly office block. That made no difference to us. We just hopped off the roof’s edge and landed on the next building along and continued our run. I don’t think they noticed us, so focussed was their attention on Annette and the others. It felt strange being separated. I had become used to us being a team, even if it had been for only a few hours. As we began running again we could hear the sounds of Annette and Charlie defending Andy. I glanced back to see a table exit their floor of the building, accompanied by a pair of police officers. They seemed to be doing alright.
We didn’t have far to go. A hop, skip and jump over Pizza Hut and BeWise brought us to the edge of the shopping centre. I always felt slightly sorry for those businesses banished to ringing the square – I never knew what they had done wrong. It must have been pretty bad to be out there in the wilderness where teenage skateboarders pull unimpressive failed Ollies and be subjected to the overblown tedious racket of the Salvation Army. Poor bastards.
And then suddenly we were there, looking up at the Narrowmarsh shopping centre. I’d never realised that it had any windows on its first floor. Inside you only get columns tiled with mirrors and the kind of interior lighting that makes you wish everyone was a zombie so you could shoot them in the head. Also, the lights give me headaches. From the outside though there are lots of windows. That was good news. Although Andy’s entrance had gone wrong, we intended to improve on the process by just kicking a window in and climbing through. Happily that took us into staff areas and not the retail section of the centre. I only know these parts of a shopping centre exist from watching Dawn of the Dead, and from the logical assumption that if shop assistants don’t cease to exist when they leave the shop floor then they must have somewhere to go, even if it is just back into a storage chamber.
The backstage area of WH Smiths is less exciting than I’d have hoped. We encountered no resistance (see, my days at the cinema paid off with relevant vocabulary). We needed to go down, as far as possible. The Watchers remembered having to come up through stairs and seemingly endless corridors; it sounded like a reasonable metaphor for birth. Once you’re out of the actual shop it’s very easy to get around. There are more sets of stairs than one would consider necessary outside of an M.C. Escher drawing. We descended, and thankfully had none of the geometry bending which would have resulted with us exiting sideways. Down, down, down we went. At last we reached a corridor that my Watcher found familiar. To me it looked exactly like every other faceless service hall I’d seen. I think we were doing better at stealth than anyone would have expected, but that whole looking around corners before walking round them is a habit you have to train yourself into. We hadn’t, and that’s why we walked into the trap.