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Monday, 6 October 2014
As Hector Smith stood behind the counter of his shop in Waterwhistle, he realised with some surprise that, for the first time in years, he was thinking of Needlemen.
As usual, he was working in the village’s farm shop that he had run for many years. And, as usual, he was staring blankly into the distance, not saying much of anything. He was coated in a general feeling of fear and dread, just like everyone in Waterwhistle was these days. You kept the fear at bay somewhat by not speaking. Not looking at your fellow villagers. Not asking questions about why things felt like this.
And then, all of a sudden, the thought of Needlemen had popped into his head.
It made him jump a little.
Why now? After all this time?
Everyone in Waterwhistle knew the stories about Needlemen. They knew that Needlemen were fictional. Made-up. Used to scare children into behaving themselves or tidying their bedrooms. Everyone in the village knew about them and knew they weren’t real. Perhaps at some point in your life, you had believed Needlemen to really exist and to really be out there, watching you. But as you got older, the thought of them faded and became replaced by a general feeling of discomfort and anxiety. That’s what had always covered Waterwhistle. For as long as he’d lived here, that unnamed feeling of dread in the background, a fear that was there and not there. Like a lie you never mentioned. A picture you never looked at. A knocking sound you always ignored.
And then recently, it seemed to Hector as though something had come along and amplified it. Turned the dial up. Turned the anxiety into full-blown fear. A fear so all-encompassing that every person in the village had turned inwards – had stopped talking to each other unless they absolutely had to.
And now, after all this time, he was thinking about Needlemen again. Co-incidence?
Hector tried to think – how did the rhyme go again?
Into the world, they come to see.
They come to us in bands of three.
Don’t look, don’t look, they come for me.
It was something like th-
The door to the shop gently opened and in walked three men. In black suits. Black hats. The one at the front was carrying a black case.
Hector’s mouth ran dry. His whole body stiffened. His eyes were stuck wide open. His insides turned to mush.
They were… here?
But then, he noticed – not just here. Through the shop windows, outside, in the street. From one end of the village to the other as far as he could see. Dozens and dozens of Needlemen. Sprung out of nowhere.
The villagers all stood around, frozen in shock, the dark figures seeming to have suddenly awoken everyone from their trance. The black-suited men – their pasty, white faces covered by wide-brimmed hats – began to walk, unhurried, towards the petrified villagers.
That’s when Hector noticed that there was one Needleman for each and every villager. Each man, woman and child with their own individual nightmare. Hector could see terror rising up off the villagers like steam. The people of Waterwhistle all looked how Hector felt; like a story was nearing its completion – and an ending they had secretly known and feared for a long time was finally being told.
“It is time,” said one of the Needlemen. His voice was cold and still and drew Hector’s attention back to his own nightmare.
“The words of this story are nearly done,” said the second.
Hector could barely speak, “…story..?”
“We do more than just replace people,” said the Needleman at the front. He opened his bag. Something inside it seemed to be glowing. “Much more.”
The fear grasped Hector’s heart and squeezed. It squeezed so tight that his very thoughts started disappearing. Soon, he knew, all that would be left would be the fear – and he, the person, would no longer exist.
But then, just before the darkness shrouded him completely, a light suddenly blinked on in the black. A voice. Calling to him, desperately, from the dim shroud of his fading memory.
“Teresa!” he suddenly shouted.