Chapter 8: Durch der Engel Halleluja
An invisible wave emanated from the tree knocking Jack and Gwen off their feet. As they started to stand they were hit again by a ferocious detonation that felled them for a second time. The resonating boom had Gwen covering her ears before she blacked out hitting the cold ground with a thud. Jack just managed to roll onto his elbow as five figures stepped out of the ensuing belch of smoke, an eerie green light radiating around them.
The one of the men, an officer, turned his head and glanced at Jack. In the deathly glow the captain saw a sadness that he, himself, recognised; it was a yearning, a longing for peace. The officer blinked and held his eyes shut for the briefest of moments before signalling to the others to follow.
In the SUV Tosh tried to contact with the team but all she got for her effort was white noise. She closed her laptop cutting off Michael Crawford’s Music of the Night. She checked her gun and wrapped her coat around her small frame ready to exit the vehicle. As she reached for the handle the door locked with a menacing snap; the others followed suit, one by one. The lights went out and the SUV was immersed in darkness.
Owen and Ianto ran towards the yew, deftly dodging the tombstones in their haste, their sprint making no noise on the silent earth. The moon flickered behind a veil of cloud but they could still make out the chartreuse glow of spectres against the pitch of the night.
It was cold and still as the two men stood before the ghostly group, their guns raised.
“Jack?” Ianto’s attention remained on his aim and the row of dead soldiers.
“I can’t move, something’s keeping me pinned here,” he cried, trying to pull his Webley from its holster. “Gwen’s out cold.”
Owen stepped forward, his gun threatening the peace. “Let them go,” he barked, looking at the officer.
The dead man gave a contemptuous smile as he turned away and began to move off, the others following in single file.
Ianto and Owen opened fire in short bursts aiming low at first and then higher when their carefully placed rounds had no effect.
One of the men peeled off from his comrades and lunged at the doctor wrestling the gun from his grasp. Owen fought back but his assailant’s doughy hands gripped firmly on his throat. The soldier smiled stretching his swollen lips across the yellowing flesh of his bloated face. Clotted slime dripped from his mouth giving off a rank smell of decay and stagnant mud. Owen began to retch while trying not to fall backwards from the weight of the attack.
Ianto slammed the hilt of his handgun into the soft tissue of the soldier’s bulging head but it had no effect except to discharge more of the viscous liquid and liberate a multitude of red slugs that squirmed haplessly as they fell to the ground. He attempted it again but the soldier quickly turned Owen round to block the strike.
“For fuck’s sake, Ianto,” Owen gasped as the weapon collided with his shoulder blade. “He doesn’t need any help from you.”
The doctor tried to loosen the soldier’s hold by peeling the inflated fingers from his throat. To his horror two of them fractured and came free in his grasp; the dead man’s grip remained solid.
Tosh slipped through the gap between the front seats positioning herself on the driver’s side. She tried the key in the ignition and got nothing but a feeble click. She looked up, two greedy eyes glistened from the bonnet of the SUV watching her every movement. She swallowed wrapping her hand around the hilt of her weapon as they moved closer until Tosh could make out the shape of a large rat. A gasp caught in her throat as it perched just millimetres away from her face its snout twitching against the window as her own breath clogged up the glass.
From the back seat her laptop began to sing with eerie clarity. “‘Night time sharpens, heightens each sensation. Darkness stirs and wakes imagination.
Silently the senses abandon their defences…'”
There was a loud tap at the side window, she jumped and turned her head.
Ianto struck the dead man with a fire axe from the church slicing diagonally through his collarbone to the spine. Sludge seeped from the wound along the handle of the weapon causing Ianto to let go. The soldier too released his hold on Owen and turned his blank gaze to the Welshman, the axe still embedded in his back.
“I think that just pissed it off, mate,” the doctor rasped, leaning over. “What the hell…”
He just had time to jump clear as underneath him one of tree’s great roots ripped free of the earth. It swayed in the air like a great cobra before it set upon the solider coiling its extensive reach around his ankle. Water rapidly escaped from the root’s vacant furrow turning the earth around them to a glutinous mud.
The soldier endeavoured to battle against the strength of the yew by grabbing at the air between himself and Ianto. There was fear on his face; Ianto could see it, even in the white holes that were once eyes, as the soldier’s struggle took him further into the hungry earth.
Jack found he could move, as if whatever had held him down now had a new purpose. He quickly turned to assess an unconscious Gwen, as he cradled her head, he looked over to the other two members of his team; a tide of muddy earth surrounded them swallowing their feet and ankles in its glut.
“Stay still,” he warned as he gently put Gwen’s head back on the ground.
Owen looked to the fold of the earth around him and then back to the solider who was up to his knees in the quagmire. The root pulled on the dead man drawing him deeper into yielding arms of the dirt. He tipped forwards making a grab for something solid seizing hold of Ianto’s lapel and pulling it down with him.
As the tree continued to drag its victim into the mud the soldier looked at Ianto, his fingertips clinging onto the cuff of the coat. “Please,” he begged.
Ianto pushed his free arm against the constricting sludge and gripped the dead man’s wrist. The solider tried to extricate himself by using the grip as a means of support but this only pulled them both deeper into the mire.
“Ianto, let him go, he’s already dead.” Jack’s voice broke through the slip of the earth.
Ianto swallowed and wrestled himself free as the soldier’s swollen lips gave a silent plea for salvation.
The root gave a final tug and its victim slid into the earth’s turbid belly. Silently and slowly he disappeared turning as he was sucked under to make the most of what little air was left to him. His hand was the last thing to vanish under the surface, still clinging to life, grabbing at nothing.
The mud receded back into the ground along with the parasitic root of the yew until all that was left was a fire axe in memorial.
Owen fell to his knees and threw up while Ianto picked himself off the frozen grass and walked towards the comfort of the austere church.
Jack waited until the doctor had finished dry heaving. “I need you to check on Gwen,” he said softly.
Owen nodded and got to his feet, Jack motioned to the imprints on his neck. “I’ll live,” he declared, glancing in Ianto’s direction.
Jack followed his gaze. “You see to Gwen.”
The doctor nodded again and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Don’t fuck up, Harkness,” he said over his shoulder walking to where Gwen lay.
Jack tired his Bluetooth as he matched the other man’s long strides. “Tosh?” It hissed a reply.
Ianto was facing the brickwork of the church, one hand resting on its irregular surface, his head bowed. As Jack approached he quickly inhaled his emotions. “Sir,” he said without turning round. “I was just going to check on Tosh.”
“Great minds,” the captain replied placing a hand lightly on the young man’s shoulder.
Ianto turned his head to the warmth of the touch and then let his gaze drift back to the brickwork. Jack’s faltering touch slid down his arm to Ianto’s hand.
“I’m sorry, Ianto.” It was the tenderest of apologies.
Ianto’s fingers softly curled around Jack’s for a moment before they slackened and he drew his hand away. He swallowed. “Shall we?” he said in a broken voice gesturing to the iron gates.
Jack grinned. “Oh yeah,” he replied with meaning.
Ianto shook his head and gave a small smile. “I meant, Tosh, sir.”
“So did I,” Jack countered, feigned innocence not hiding his grin.
Tosh met them by the gates panting heavily. “You… you okay?” she asked.
Jack put his hand on her shoulder to steady her breathing. “I couldn’t… the electrics… I couldn’t get out… the doors locked… are you sure you’re okay?” The light from her torch scrutinising Ianto’s muddy appearance.
Jack nodded. “Owen’s with Gwen,” he replied with a yank of his head.
“What…?” She gulped.
“The bleed of rift energy knocked her out,” he answered.
“Oh…” Her face lit up catching her breath. “Of course, the, the residue would have affected the car, short term of course.” Tosh was drowned out by a rush of sirens.
She looked to the noise, her voice distant. “He said, ‘they had business in the village.'”
Jack touched her shoulder turning her towards him. “They spoke to you?” he asked.
“Yes.” Tosh swallowed remembering the shattered face at the window dripping with hate.
Copyright RMC Dec 2017