The Watcher

A short story for national storytelling week

Reading Time: 7 minutes

It is London, 2154. Sirens screamed, echoing between the high buildings of the city of London. It was dusk, but it was as dark as it would have been at midnight. The moon struggled to shine through the thick clouds of smoke and dust that smothered the sky and the streetlamps were shrouded in a black mist. It was all tinged in an orangey-red hue caused by the glowing embers of burnt-out buildings and the thick flames of ones still alight.

We were clambering up the steps of the new clock tower, trying to escape the chaos below. On the streets, people ran in all directions, confused and terrified. Some had the tenacity to loot what was left in the now practically empty stores, but to what avail I did not know. There seemed little point in accumulating commodities when I couldn’t imagine anyone surviving the night.

Yet here we were, trying our hardest to live. Our plan was flawed, but none of us had the energy or the faith to come up with a better one. So we climbed up the spiral staircase that looped around the outside of the now glass-fronted, cylindrical tower which housed Big Ben. Of course now everyone called it Big Bill in honour of our new King William VII. I wondered whether he had managed to get away. I hoped he hadn’t.

“How much further?” Farren yelled over the noise of the carnage that was taking place all around us. Nearby, a flaming bi-moth crashed into the old river Thames, causing a ripple to spread out in all directions and splash over the banks. On our other side, a tall building was slowly crumbling down on to the people scrambling like ants on the pavements below.

“It’s not far – a few more flights and we’ll be at the top,” Sandy replied. She had a pair of flying goggles strapped around her head and leather gloves adorned her delicate hands. She was our only hope.

Suddenly, a loud, wailing siren cut through the cacophony. It was reminiscent of the air-raid sirens used in the Great and Ultimate wars, but was slower and somehow sadder. It rang in our ears and echoed out over the entire city. Two beams of yellow light illuminated the river to our left, just over the spot where the bi-moth sank. They overlapped each other, giving the shape that you often see in movies when the spy is looking through a pair of binoculars. Their expanse was huge, covering the whole width of the river. Slowly, their light glided towards us.

“Everyone, keep still!” Sandy screamed over the horrendous noise of the siren. We all froze awkwardly, hugging the metal steps. They were warm because of the fires that blazed around us. I dared not breathe as the dirty yellow beams continued in our direction. But curiosity took the better of me, and I had to take a look at the great beast.

I shuffled around ever so slightly so that I could look over my shoulder towards the source of the light. Farren felt me move beside him and whispered a warning to me. I craned my neck and could just make out the figure that broke the usually recognisable London skyline. They called him The Watcher. I’d never seen him this close before. All I’d ever known of him was either hazy images on the news or a soft glow on the horizon. Now I could see him in all his hideous glory.

He was taller than any building in London and even from this distance, about a mile away, he seemed to loom over the city. His face was square and housed the two eyes that shone like ugly beacons out onto the river. The rest of his body was plain penadium – impenetrable metal skin, invented to aid us during the Ultimate War. Oh, how that has backfired now. We have created a monster.

His eyes continued to roll towards us at a ghostly pace. I closed my eyes, but could still see the yellow glow from behind my eyelids.

“No one move,” Sandy repeated. “It’s almost here.”

The Watcher may be indestructible, but he did have one flaw: when he opened his eyes, he could not move, for his eyes detected only movement. For the hundreds scrambling below in a daze of panic, this was not good news. We, however, had a chance. The Watcher could not see us if we did not move. We just had to hope that some stragglers from below didn’t follow us up the tower this far.

As the gaze finally reached the clock tower, it shone straight through the glass and onto our bodies. Goosebumps rippled over my skin. It made me want to shudder, but The Watcher would see. None of us breathed as the yellow light drifted over us.

With a sudden clunk, the eyes slammed shut and the siren stopped. We all sighed with relief, hoping we had not been seen. On Sandy’s command, we carried on up the metal stairs, clanking as we went. At the top, Sandy could summon her own bi-moth and we could all fly to safety – perhaps to the cities of Antarctica.

The Watcher was on the move. We could hear its great thundering footsteps thud and crash as they smashed their way through houses and offices. We assumed he would head for the hordes of screaming civilians. His one aim was to wipe out the human race.

He had been created by a scientist named Edward Melling who believed the world would be a better place without us. Humans have destroyed the little beauty we had left in the world with industry and ugly science. Now the climate is completely different to that in the 20th century and there is no land left uninhabitable. Scientists created ways of bringing water to the deserts and bringing warmth to the poles. In a way, I could see where Melling was coming from. We had destroyed our world; maybe it was time for someone to destroy us. But still I wanted to live, just as I wanted others to survive.

The thuds were getting louder. He had already made it half way.

“We need to hurry,” urged Sandy. “Come on, come on!” Farren and I ran up the stairs with what little energy we had left to try and keep up. We were so close to what we hoped was freedom. I could almost taste fresh air the higher we got. Big Bill’s tower was now the tallest in London, giving us a terrible view of the whole city, and of The Watcher.

“He’s so close,” I called up the stairs. “He’s not coming for us, is he?” The silence that greeted my question was answer enough for me.

We ran faster and faster up the last few spirals. The door that led out to a viewing platform at the top was in sight. The Watcher seemed to be gaining speed as he approached, eyes level with the top of the tower; with us.

Sandy burst through the door onto the viewing platform, quickly followed by Farren and me. She pulled on a chain that hung around her neck and produced a gold whistle from beneath her blouse. It was an old-fashioned one – long and narrow. She blew on it, but no sound came out. Farren and I wondered if it was broken, but Sandy assured us that her bi-moth would hear it.

“Just wait,” she said, “and don’t move.” She glanced towards the both of us. Clearly, she thought one of us had tempted The Watcher. I wondered if it had been me.

In the distance, I could see the wings of a bi-moth flapping beautifully towards us. Bi-moths were fast – much faster than the more common heliums. As she drew closer, we could see she was large, with purple wings and brass cogs. She perched on the side of the viewing platform and Sandy immediately and skilfully climbed aboard with ease. She sat just behind the head of her bi-moth in a red upholstered chair. Behind it were two more brass seats which matched the body. Farren and I struggled to scrabble into them, and eventually strapped ourselves in.

“Welcome aboard Xan,” Sandy called back to us. “Hold on tight, you two!”

Xan took flight as Sandy pulled on one of two levers sticking out the top of the bi-moth’s head. A panel of buttons were in each of the arms of her chairs and she was constantly pushing different combinations. Her goggles were now covering her eyes and her scarf was pulled up over her face. Farren and I did the same with ours to avoid breathing in too much of the ash in the air.

The Watcher was still approaching the clock tower, assuming we were still inside. Relief swept over me as the wind rushed into my face. It almost tasted fresh. Farren was cheering in front of me. We could make it out of London now – out of this whole mess. If we made it to Aricea, the capital of Antarctica, we might be able to survive this.

A giant metal hand appeared in front of Xan. She almost collided with it, but thanks to Sandy’s expert piloting, we managed to veer up and over it. We all looked to see The Watcher’s eyes open. The siren was silent.

He started following us as we flew south, the yellow beams of light turned off as he started to move. That was our one advantage – he had to stop every time he needed to know where we were.

“What’s going on? Why is he following us?” Farren screamed in desperation.

“Because we are a moving target,” replied Sandy glumly. This had always been the flaw in our plan. We hoped we could get far enough away that The Watcher wouldn’t bother with us yet, but he had caught us right where he wanted us.

“Come on, Xan,” Sandy whispered, patting the great brass body of her bi-moth. I turned back to see the great lumbering mass trudging after us through London. I wondered if Xan would be fast enough to get away. Somehow, I doubted it. I knew that freedom was just too good to be true.

The Watcher’s huge hand swiped out at us again. His eyes were closed for now, but that only meant he was gaining on us.

“Do you trust me?” Sandy shouted over her shoulder to the both of us. This worried me, but we both nodded. With that, Sandy pulled the other lever and frantically pressed a series of buttons. Xan plummeted.

Farren and I screamed involuntarily. Was this Sandy’s plan? Kill ourselves rather than let The Watcher take us? No one knew what happened when The Watcher ate you. No one knew what was inside his awful body except Edward Melling.

When we were inches away from the tops of some of the lowest office blocks, Xan finally started to level out. She swerved between the buildings, her wings occasionally brushing against them. We were still heading south. I supposed that Sandy hoped The Watcher wouldn’t think to look at his feet. Trying to fly behind him would be useless as it was in the opposite direction to where we needed to go, and he could easily turn his head in a 360° circle. Flying high was also not an option because bi-moths couldn’t go to high altitudes – that’s what heliums were for. This was our only chance.

As Sandy steered Xan through the maze of buildings, we heard the siren go. A yellow glow illuminated the sky above us. Maybe we had fooled him. Maybe he would hunt a different prey.

The siren stopped abruptly as the lights went out. We carried on flying as fast as we could away from the monster, but I could see a shadow rippling along the road below.

That’s when his great hand came down upon us.

National Storytelling Week

Between 27th January and 3rd February, we will be sharing a short story every evening submitted by one of our readers. Tune in at 7pm each evening to enjoy the story. Click this box to find out more about National Storytelling Week.
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