Samuel Caburrosso stared at the audience for a minute and gathered his thoughts. He could still remember a time when this moment would have filled him with dread. He was not a natural public speaker but it was one of the necessary evils he had to perform for the cause. But now, since Annie, all he could feel was a familiar numbness settle in his heart. He knew that her death had shaken his faith, but the Church of Technology was not an organisation you could just walk away from. He would have to slip out quietly, waiting for the right moment. Until then, he had duties to perform and, as always, he would perform them to the best of his abilities. But more than anything else, he had to consider Joshua.
He sighed. “I see faces. Some familiar and some new. But not enough. Never enough! It’s obvious to me that we still have a mammoth task ahead of us. We must persuade more that our way is the right way, the only way to salvation!” He leaned on the lectern and relaxed slightly. The first few moments were the worst and he always tried to hit them hard right away. Grab their attention – that was the secret! He discovered long ago that the easiest way to do that was to chastise them – hold their faults in front of their faces. He allowed himself the slightest of smiles. Some people were fidgeting in their seats – always a sign that they were aware of their own guilt. Good. Now he could get to the point.
“Everything has happened to lead us to where we are now. Everything! Every shard of history has been a pathway to now. The creation of a Capitalist society has been a roadmap for us. For we are technology. We are the Gods of metal, of fire, of production and process. We make because that is what we are made to do. We will find salvation, have no doubt of that, and we find it in the paths we make. But we must feed. We, the Church of Technology can lead the way, can take Mankind and lead him to the Shining Path, which, ultimately, leads to God. But we must feed. Technology needs money and that is why our way is the Capitalist way. We must recruit more. We must give more to the church, which will save us all! And have no doubt, my friends. This is what God asks of us. This is why we are here! We are here to attain our own apotheosis. He doesn’t want us simpering and whining to Him. He wants us to build, to strive, to attain our own Godhood and take our place by his side.”
Samuel paused for a moment. Feeling the sweat on his brow, the stabbing pain in his throat. Had he been shouting? No matter, he thought. He could tell by the startled faces in the congregation that his point had been made.
This time, he deliberately kept his voice barely above that of a whisper. “And that
is why you must go out into the night and seek new followers. We need more patrons.”
He paused for effect, stared into some faces. “Thank you.” Then, he grabbed his notes
and disappeared into the wings.
A man stood there, somebody Samuel was sure he had seen before.
“Bravo,” said the stranger. “A fine speech. You always did know how to grab an audience.”
Caburrosso frowned. “Thanks.”
“You don’t recognise me, do you?
Sam shook his head. “I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologise. People change in twenty years. I guess I’ve changed more than I thought.”
“Twenty years?” Samuel repeated.
“Time sneaks up on us. It’s a strange thing. When we’re young, time seems almost at a standstill and then, as we grow older, it seems to accelerate to a ridiculous speed. Before you know it, we’re burying our own parents and contemplating our wrinkled skins in the mirror. Do you ever try to imagine your own corpse decaying? Picture the maggots eating your dead flesh as you lie rotten, alone and forgotten in some cold room filled with the stench of your own demise?”
“Nathaniel?” Sam asked almost in a whisper.
The stranger nodded. “How often do you think about time, Sam?”
“Nathaniel Barber. You always did have a way with words.”
Barber shrugged. “I’m a realist. I prefer to meet head on that which most of us try to avoid. Have I changed that much?”
Caburrosso nodded. “I’m afraid so, Nat. Your stomach’s grown.”
“And you’ve lost a lot up top. You’re showing a lot of bare skull”
Barber grinned and stroked his thinning hair. “Why, so I have.” He lit a cigarette and sucked in a lung full of tobacco smoke. “I see time has been kinder to you, Sam. You always were slightly paunched and vertically challenged.”
Caburrosso laughed. “Touché! I deserved that.” Sam offered his hand. “It’s been a long time.”
Nat nodded in agreement. “Far too long.”
“So. Where have you been?”
Nathaniel Barber shrugged. “I’ve been around. Travelling primarily. Spreading the word.”
“I’ve heard your name mentioned. Particularly during the acquisition of the Spear of Destiny. But I don’t understand why the Church of Technology would need such a relic.”
Barber grinned. “There are some things I’m not at liberty to discuss. Yet.”
“It’s rumoured that you work directly for the Boss.”
“It’s true. Try to think of it like this. He is the Brain and I am the Hand. I get things done.”
“Is it true what they say?”
“About the Boss? He’s an ordinary man, just like you and I. An ordinary man with an extra-ordinary vision.”
“The papers say that he lives in a huge mansion, that he uses the Church to fund an extravagant lifestyle.”
Barber shook his head. “Lies, Sam. All lies. There are so many people in the world would like to prove him wrong. They call him dangerous and it’s true. He is dangerous. Not to you or I. But world leaders are right to fear him. When his vision reaches its zenith, there will be no need for borders, no need for armies and no need for people to lead them. It’s the corrupt politician that must fear the most.” Then, Nathaniel Barber laughed. “But here am I preaching to the converted.”
Sam smiled at the remark and studied Barber for a moment. He seemed to have an air of authority around him. This was no surprise to Caburrosso as he had heard of Barber’s rapid rise within the Church. It seemed that his old friend had become something of a celebrity within the cult. His name was whispered with almost the same reverence as was normally reserved for the Boss. It was strange to think that the two of them had joined the organisation at about the same time and had taken such different paths. For a time, they had been friends but their friendship faded the day Nathaniel started his rise through the ranks. Now, as Sam considered Barber, he knew that the old feelings could never be rekindled. It was as if some invisible barrier had been erected between them. He did not know the reason yet but he was convinced that Barber was here on some form of church business, not to rekindle old acquaintances. He would have to be patient; Nathaniel Barber was not the kind of man to show his hand too early in the game.
“And what of you, Sam? I hear that you married.”
Caburrosso nodded. “I did. She’s dead.”
Sam failed to hide his surprise.
“I know it’s been a long time but I have watched your progress through the Church. You are more important to me than you think.” Nat answered.
“Why? Because I say a few words? Because I raise cash for the Cause?”
“Yes. But you are also a friend.”
“You never even got in touch when she died.”
“I was not in a position to contact you at the time. If I could have, I would.”
Sam nodded. “It was a hard time for me.”
“I can believe that,” replied Barber. “Made all the more difficult because you are now left to bring up your son alone.”
“You know of Joshua?”
“It was I, as Church representative, who organised the surrogate.”
Once again Sam was caught unaware. After a few moments, he composed himself. “I wasn’t aware. I will always be grateful to you and the Church.”
“I can see that you love him very much, Sam. And that is reward enough. As soon as I found out that you and your wife were desperate for a child. I decided to help in whatever way I could. We look after our own”
“When Annie’s cancer was first diagnosed, her treatment gave her a period of remission but it meant that she could never bear children. At least Joshua made the time she had left all the more precious. Thank you.”
Nathaniel Barber checked his watch. “I have to go now but perhaps we could meet again.”
“I’d like that.” Despite all that had transpired, Caburrosso was sure that the real reason for this visitation was still to be revealed. For a moment he felt a pang of doubt and guilt. Maybe there was nothing covert here? Maybe this was just an innocent encounter?
“Always remember that the Church is here for you, Sam. I’ll be in touch.”
Caburrosso watched his old acquaintance move into the shadows. He seemed to slip into the night like some predatory beast. No, Sam thought, there was nothing innocent about this meeting.
Samuel Caburrosso stepped into the night and made his way homeward. His encounter had delayed him and he hoped that his child minder would forgive the lateness of his arrival. The journey home gave him a chance to contemplate his recent thoughts. He had been so sure that leaving the Church was the right thing to do. And now, Nathaniel Barber appeared to remind him that it had been the Church of Technology that had provided not only the surrogate mother but also the finance for the endeavour, which had led to Joshua. Something had changed in the weeks after Annie’s death. Sam no longer felt the same towards the organisation. It was as if his grief had forced him to look at the world through different eyes. He had begun to believe some of the stories of corruption within the Church. And yet, there was Joshua – provided by the very same organisation he wished to abandon. And now the whole situation had worsened when Nathaniel popped up to prick his conscience. It was as if the Church knew his intentions and had sent Barber in to quell the situation. But how could they know? He had spoken to no one of his desire to leave.
The next morning, Samuel sat in the garden and watched ten-year-old Joshua at play. Elizabeth, the maid, was picking some strawberries in the small section of land dedicated to fruit and vegetables. A lush green lawn edged with paving slabs took up the majority of the area. Freddy, the large ginger tomcat lay stretched out on one of these slabs, asleep in the morning sunshine. Nearby, a small pond and waterfall were the focal point of a rockery, and insects hovered around the colourful flowerbeds at the far end of the garden. Samuel enjoyed the sound of running water. It had been Annie’s favourite spot in the garden and was a place that Sam paid particular attention to when it came to garden maintenance. In a way, it had become almost a shrine to his late wife. In the days after her death, he would sit and stare into the water, hoping to catch a sight of her reflection, praying that she was standing there beside him with her customary smile. But he knew she was dead.
In her final hours, Sam sat by her bedside, holding her hand. She was asleep most of the time but, periodically; she would gain a few seconds consciousness. Sometimes she would turn her head and smile at him. A moment later, she was asleep again. Her final act was to give one small squeeze of his hand and he knew that she was gone. He had needed no doctor to tell him when his wife was dead; he felt her go. It was as if she had got out of bed and walked out of the room. Her presence simply dipped and faded like the setting of a sun.
“Father,” said Joshua, “Look at what I’ve caught.”
Samuel Caburrosso, startled from his memories by Joshua’s interruption, turned to look at his catch.
The boy stood with his hands cupped together. He smiled. “You’ll have to be quick or it’ll get away.”
Sam leaned over the arm of his chair and peered at Joshua’s hands. “Let me see.”
Slowly, the boy opened his palms and both he and Sam laughed as the butterfly escaped.
“You’re becoming quite the hunter, Josh.”
“Look. It’s left a powder on my fingers.”
Sam smiled. “That’s a special dust, Joshua.”
The boy’s eyes widened, “Is it magic?”
Sam nodded. “It’s a powder that makes things fly.”
Joshua stared at the dust on his fingers. “Maybe if I can collect enough I’ll be able to fly.”
“Like an Angel. I could become an Angel and then I could go and visit Mummy. Wouldn’t that be great?”
Caburrosso felt a tear form in the corner of his eye. “That would be the most wonderful thing in the world.”
With a shout of joy, Joshua ran through the garden checking the flowers for more butterflies to capture.
Elizabeth appeared at Caburrosso’s side. “Somebody to see you.”
Sam looked up and squinted in the bright sunlight. It took him a moment to recognise his visitor. Then, “Nathaniel. Good to see you again. Take a seat.”
Nathaniel Barber sat in the wooden chair opposite Sam’s. Between them, a small, round table stood with a beaker of lemonade in the centre.
Sam turned to Elizabeth. “Could we get another glass, please?”
“No need,” said Barber. “I’m fine.”
Nat nodded and twisted around in his seat in order that he could watch Joshua play in the garden. “He’s growing into a fine young boy.”
“Yes. That he is.”
“Before you know it he’ll be a handsome young man. A real heartbreaker with the ladies.”
“He’ll take after his father then, don’t you think?”
Nathaniel Barber smiled. “Perhaps.”
Nat studied Joshua as he moved amongst the flower border at the far end of the garden. “What’s he up to?”
“Searching for butterflies.”
“Ah! We have a lepidopterist on our hands. I must say that I’m surprised that one so young has taken an interest in the natural world.”
“He has his reasons.”
Nathaniel Barber gave Caburrosso a quizzical look.
Sam sighed. “He thinks that if he collects enough powder from butterfly wings, he’ll be able to fly to Heaven and visit his mother.”
Barber nodded. “We all need our dreams, I suppose. And what of you, Sam? What gets you through all the long lonely nights?”
“Joshua. I think that if it weren’t for him, I’d probably be dead by now.”
“That was what I was afraid of.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You’ve lost your faith, haven’t you? You’re thinking of ways of extricating yourself from the Church.”
Something told Sam there was no point in denying it. “You’re very perceptive. I don’t know how you guessed but I realise now that our meeting was no coincidence. Somehow, you knew what I was thinking.”
“You’d be surprised, Sam, how much people reveal about themselves with the way they move, the sound of their voice, the slight glance in a certain direction. But most of all, it’s in the eyes.”
Sam leaned back in his chair. “Are you here to tell me that I can’t leave the Church?”
“Not at all, Sam. You are free to leave anytime you wish. After all, it’s a free country. What right would we have to detain you? That would be illegal.”
Caburrosso held his anger in check. He gripped the arms of the chair tightly. “But there’s a catch. Isn’t there?”
“What do you mean?” Sam hissed, unable to contain his emotions any longer.
“The boy cannot be permitted to leave.”
“That boy is my son!”
“Is he? Is he indeed?”
Calmly and deliberately, Nathaniel lit a cigarette. He turned his attention to the boy playing at the bottom of the garden. “It seems that he has already forgotten his idea of catching Butterflies. How fickle we can be. How long do you think it will be before he forgets you, Samuel?”
“You can’t do this. I’m his father. I have rights that even the Church cannot contest.”
Barber nodded. “Yes. You do have rights. If you are the father.”
“You know I am.”
“I can assure you that you are not the father. It merely suited our purpose to let you believe that you were.”
Sam sat back in his chair. He was stunned by the revelation. He wanted to deny it but somehow, he knew that Nathaniel Barber was telling the truth. “You bastard,” he whispered. “What have you done to me? To Joshua? You heartless bastard.”
Barber sighed. “It’s not as bad as you think, Sam. If you listen to what I have to say then there is a way out of this.”
Caburrosso gave a bitter laugh. “Do I have a choice? Yes, I’ll listen to you but I’m his father and don’t you ever forget that.” Sam leaned forward in his chair and stared directly into Barber’s small, dark eyes. “I don’t know what you’ve done and, frankly, I don’t care. Genetically I might not be related to him but that boy is my son. And if you try to come between us, I swear that I will kill you!”
“Have you finished?”
Samuel Caburrosso sat back in his chair and folded his arms with a look of hatred etched across his features.
“It was a simple task to dispose of your sperm sample and make the substitution. The surrogate was just an innocent pawn. She was chosen for certain characteristics and compatibilities, about which, there is no need for us to dwell on. It all gets very scientific and is best left to those that know these things. Suffice to say that we needed a surrogate family and you were chosen. We knew of your wife’s illness but, at the time, she was in remission and things looked hopeful. We decided to take the gamble. Unfortunately, she died and you lost your stabilising influence. We have been watching you very carefully and are very pleased with the manner in which you have handled this most precious cargo.”
“Joshua is not a cargo.”
Barber nodded. “An inappropriate phrase. I apologise for my insensitivity. But know this: Joshua is not what you think him to be.”
“He is a ten year old boy. I don’t know what you’ve done or why but the simple fact is that Joshua is a boy.”
“Again you must excuse my inappropriate choice of words. But it is the very fact that you care enough to protest which intrigues me.”
“You said that there might be a way out of this.”
“So you accept that you are not the father?”
“I accept nothing!”
Barber nodded. “Very well. Here is our problem. You love Joshua, No?”
“You know that I do.”
“Do you love him enough to protect him? To sacrifice your own life to save his?”
Caburrosso paused, unsure of the direction in which he was being led. Then, “Yes.”
“You are the perfect choice to care for the boy. We need somebody who will put Joshua’s needs above all else, somebody to teach him of the world and somebody to give him guidance when he requires it. In other words, Joshua needs a father. And, to be quite blunt, Sam; you need a son.”
“I have a son.”
Nathaniel Barber scratched his chin and studied Caburrosso for a moment. “Perhaps.”
“You want me to stay within the Church.”
“If you do, you will remain with Joshua.”
“And If I don’t?”
“Then we will fight you in court if necessary. We will insist on a DNA sample which will prove categorically that you are not the father.”
“And I will lose.” Sam said quietly.
“That is correct.”
“Then it’s true. He’s not my son.”
“As you said yourself: you are his father even if you are not genetically related.”
Sam clasped his head in his hands and leaned forward in the chair. The enormity of the situation was beginning to sink in. All these years, he thought, loving a boy he thought was his….and now this! And yet, he still loved Joshua, still considered him to be his son. But the devastating truth was before him. Instinctively he knew that Barber was telling the truth, knew that he was only allowed to be with Joshua because it suited the Church. All these years, he thought he had been a good father and he had been little more than a puppet. Had Barber been pulling the strings all this time? No! He was a good father and always had been. It had been he - Samuel Caburrosso - who had sat with the boy nursing his measles. It had been Sam who had taken him to hospital when he had fallen and broken his wrist. Where was the Church then?
Sam rubbed his eyes and stared at Nathaniel Barber. “It doesn’t matter what you say. I am the boy’s father. The day you gave him to me, you made me his father. And no matter what happens, I always will be.”
“Then you will stay within the Church.”
“I will consider it.”
“What’s there to consider?”
“I need some time to take all this in.”
Barber nodded. “Of course.”
“But I need to know why Joshua is so important to you.”
“I’m sorry, Sam but I can’t tell you that until you agree to stay. I will come back tomorrow for your answer.” Before Sam could think of any reply, Nathaniel Barber rose from his seat and walked towards Joshua. He stopped beside the boy and stared at him for a moment. Joshua halted his activity and studied this stranger. After a few moments, Sam was standing beside them.
“Be careful, young Joshua, when you capture butterflies.” Said Barber.
“Why is that?” Joshua asked.
“Because they are fragile things. Do you know, there are some whose lifespan are so short that they don’t eat? Their time on this earth is limited but they teach us that what is important is not how much time we have but what we do with that time. Never waste a minute of your life, Joshua. It’s far too precious a thing to squander.”
Samuel Caburrosso rested his hand on Joshua’s shoulder as he watched Nathaniel Barber march down the garden path and disappear into the street.
“Who was that? Was he a Butterfly collector?” asked Joshua.
There was no need to alarm Joshua with the threat of their separation. “ Yes. He’s a very clever man that I met a long time ago.”
“I don’t like him.”
Joshua’s revelation intrigued Sam. “Why don’t you like him?”
“I don’t know. He’s going to make you sad.”
Caburrosso tried to laugh. “Why would he do that?”
“Because of me, I think.”
Then, Joshua walked to the flowerbed and caught another butterfly in his hands.
Sam watched him at play for a moment and then retired to the shade of the house. He had to think, had to work something out before Barber returned. How could they do this to him? To trick him into believing that Joshua was his own son and then hit him with a revelation like this so many years after. It was something to do with the Church and Barber’s role within it but why was Joshua so important to the organisation?
In the night there came the dream: Sam was standing by the garden holding Joshua by the hand. Nat Barber was there, searching the flowers, catching Butterflies with his hands. Then, the box. It had a golden chain and padlock around it. Barber, grinning, maniacally swung a large axe and split the chain. Inside the box lay a chrysalis. It pulsated as if breathing. And then Sam was running, carrying Joshua in his arms.
He awoke with a start and felt the sweat run down his nose. He flung back the covers from his bed and went to check on Joshua. Sam breathed a little easier when he saw the boy fast asleep. Leaning against the doorframe, he collected his thoughts. The dream had terrified him and exposed his fear of losing his son. At least the dream showed him a way out: he would run.
It was just before dawn when Caburrosso finished loading the car with essentials for the journey. When he was satisfied that all possible necessities had been packed, he went to Joshua’s bedroom and roused the boy from his sleep. Groggily, Joshua stirred and asked what was happening. Sam explained that he had decided they needed a holiday and they were setting off early to miss the morning rush-hour traffic.
“Where are we going?” Joshua asked as he rubbed his eyes.
Sam smiled. “It’s a driving holiday. We’ll go to different places – wherever we feel like going.”
Almost as soon as they set off, Joshua curled up on the back seat and went to sleep. Normally on a journey, Sam would be pointing things out to Josh, telling him facts about places, indicating animals or birds as they drove through the countryside. But this time, Sam was glad that Joshua had gone to sleep; it gave him a chance to think, to try and figure things out and, more importantly, decide on some sort of destination. It seemed as if Joshua held some great importance to the Church of Technology and Caburrosso was certain that Barber would come after them as soon as he realised they had absconded.
The church was a large organisation and Barber would quickly organise a series of lookouts throughout the country. One thing was certain about their escape from the church: they could trust nobody.
“For now I stand as one upon a rock, Environ’d with a wilderness of sea,” Sam whispered to himself. It was a surprise to him that he should recall such a line from Shakespeare. Then, he shrugged. Perhaps not all that surprising: Annie always enjoyed the evenings they would spend watching a performance. Somehow, despite their nature, the words comforted Sam. They made him feel that perhaps Annie would approve of his actions. He had lost faith in his church and God.
It was a while before Sam realised that he was travelling north. It was as if he were moving instinctively. He realised that he was heading to the place of his birth – the only place that he could truly call home in these dark days.
It was turning into a warm and sunny morning and Samuel’s mood began to soften slightly. There was still very little traffic around and this in itself helped relax him. The situation changed when he slowed down at the approach to a junction. A large, bearded man stood by the side of the road. He held a placard displaying the word ‘North’ on it. As Caburrosso passed by, the man stuck out his thumb in that universal gesture of hitchhikers. Sam had already decided that picking up a stranger would be a bad idea. This feeling was reinforced as the hiker gave Sam a look that sent a shiver down his spine. Was that man really what he seemed? Sam wondered. Was he just being paranoid? It was possible, he concluded, that Barber had discovered the escape. He checked his rear-view mirror and saw the hiker reach for something in his pocket. Something innocent? A cigarette? Or perhaps he was reaching for his mobile, relaying the fact that he had spotted their quarry?
This was crazy. The Church was a powerful organisation but would they resort to such tactics? Sam recalled the look on Barber’s face when they sat in the garden discussing Joshua. What was it about the boy that made him so crucial to the Church? That look on Barber’s face confirmed it; the man was a fanatic. He would not stop until Joshua had been found.
Instinctively, Caburrosso craned his neck to check on Joshua who was still asleep on the rear seat. When he returned his attention to the road, he saw a deer immediately in his path. He jerked the steering wheel in an effort to avoid the collision but it was too late. It seemed to happen in slow motion as he hit the animal and then veered into a tree by the side of the road.
When he regained his senses, he heard Joshua crying. He unclipped his seatbelt and turned to check on the boy. “Are you OK?”
The boy seemed fine but he was pointing out the window. “You’ve killed it!” he wailed.
“I couldn’t help it. It was just standing there in the middle of the road.”
By this time Joshua had unclipped himself and made his way out of the car. When Sam reached him, the boy was standing over the injured beast.
Joshua pointed at the deer. “Look,” he said, “it’s still alive. We’ve got to help it.”
Caburrosso studied the stricken animal. Its breathing was ragged and blood seeped from its mouth. The legs twitched and kicked as the animal tried to get on its feet. Sam could see the fear in its eyes for a moment. And then, the twitching and kicking ceased and a dull, grey mist seemed to descend over the eyes. He pressed his hands against Joshua’s shoulders. “There’s nothing we can do, son. He’s dying.”
“No!” Joshua wailed as he turned and pressed his grief stricken face against Sam’s body.
Caburrosso held a comforting palm against the back of Joshua’s head as the boy hugged him. He watched as the deer’s breathing became shallower and, finally ending with a ragged sigh.
“He’s dead.” Sam said quietly. “His pain is gone.”
Joshua looked up at him with tear-streaked eyes. “Will he go to heaven?”
Sam nodded. “Come on.” He said softly, “We’ve got things to do.”
With that, he detached himself from Joshua’s embrace and dragged the dead animal to the side of the road. Then, he went to the car and inspected the damage. It was no good. The engine had been all but destroyed in the impact with the tree. He grabbed a couple of bags containing clothing.
“We’ll have to walk.” Sam looked at Joshua expecting a reply but the boy was kneeling beside the animal. He seemed to be pushing the body.
“Come on! Get up. You’ve got to get up!”
“He’s not getting up Joshua.” Caburrosso sighed. “He’s gone to Heaven.”
Joshua wiped the tears from his eyes. “But if that’s true then why do I feel so bad? And why were you so sad when Mum went there?”
“We always feel bad when this thing happens but you’ll understand a little better the older you get.”
The boy sniffed and studied Sam for a moment. “You promise?”
Sam nodded. “When you’re ready, I’ll help you to understand. But right now, we need to go. We might have a long walk ahead of us.”
Joshua stood up and brushed dirt from his trousers. “I’m ready. Where are we going?”
“To find the nearest town and organise some transport.”
As they began to walk along the narrow country road, Sam checked his watch: almost midday. Barber was sure to have found them missing by now.
A noise behind them interrupted Sam’s thoughts. He heard a grunting sound and turned to identify the cause. His eyes widened in surprise.
“Look!” cried Joshua.
The deer was standing staring at them through its black, wet eyes.
“But it was dead,” Sam said, his voice hoarse, his throat dry. “This can’t be!”
“He’s alive! Isn’t it wonderful.”
The animal’s legs trembled as if it were a newborn foal but, yes, Caburrosso had to admit, it was very much alive. How could he have been so wrong?
Then, the beast gave a snort and disappeared into the trees by the side of the road.
Joshua waved his hand. “Goodbye, mister Deer. I’m glad you didn’t need any Butterfly dust!”
Sam gave his son a quizzical look.
“To help him fly to Heaven. You remember.”
Caburrosso allowed himself a small smile. “Time to go.”
They reached a small village late in the afternoon. Sam spoke to the proprietor and mechanic of the only garage in the area and gained an assurance that the mechanic would tow the damaged vehicle into town and carry out the necessary repairs – if it was worth repairing. In the meantime, the mechanic suggested he should call a hire firm and get a car delivered. That way, he said, Sam and Josh could continue their holiday with the minimum of interruption.
“Where are you headed anyway,” asked the mechanic as he wiped the dirt from his hands with an old rag.
“It’s a driving holiday. We’ve got nothing specific planned: a couple of nights here, a couple there – that sort of thing.”
The mechanic nodded. “Well the chances are you won’t be going anywhere till morning. It just so happens that Lilly’s Bed and Breakfast’s across the road.” He nodded in the direction of a house advertising vacancies.
“Thank you,” said Sam. Then, he and Joshua made for the house.
When they were standing at the entrance gate to a path that led through a well-kept garden, Sam glanced back at the garage. The mechanic was still there, watching.
The knowledge filled Caburrosso with dread. It made him wonder how deep the Church’s influence went. Had it managed to reach small settlements like this? Or was it still primarily city oriented? The chances were, Sam concluded, that the mechanic was merely curious of strangers but it made Caburrosso wonder if he could trust anybody.
Lilly was a cheerful, attractive woman with long red hair who happily informed them of their good fortune.
“As we’re a bit slow this time of year, you can get the best room in the house. No extra charge.”
“Thank you,” Sam replied.
Lilly turned her attention to Joshua. “Did I mention that the hire of the room also includes free ice cream?”
Josh shook his head.
“Well. I’d better rectify that matter. I’ll be back in a moment.” She went to a room, which Sam presumed would be the kitchen. When she returned, she was carrying two ice cream cones. “One for each of you,” she said as she gave one each to Joshua and Sam.
“That’s very kind of you….”
“Just call me Lilly.” She said to Sam, “Everybody else does. My full name is Lilly Marlene Hawthorne. I think my parents were under the mistaken impression that they actually had a sense of humour.” She shrugged. “I suppose, if nothing else, it’s a fine icebreaker.”
“I don’t understand?” said Josh.
“Eat your ice cream before it melts,” Sam replied.
“Does he always listen in?” asked Lilly.
“Doesn’t every ten year old?”
She smiled. “Probably. You have a fine looking son there.”
“Thanks. And you?”
Lilly sighed. “Just me on my lonesome. You could say I never found Mister Right. I found plenty of Mister Wrongs but never the one for me.”
“Don’t be,” she replied. “It was fun trying.”
“What does she mean, Dad?”
Sam gave Lilly a conspiratorial grin. “Never you mind. Just thank Lilly for the ice cream.”
Later that evening, Lilly supplied the two travellers with a fine dinner. Joshua surveyed the scene before him: Roast beef in a deep brown gravy, glistening roast vegetables, golden brown roast potatoes and a large Yorkshire Pudding. “This is much better than your cooking, Dad.”
“Why thank you Joshua, for humiliating me in front of our new friend.”
“Sorry,” Joshua said as he sulkily stabbed a potato.
“I take it that you’re not much of a cook then, Sam?”
Caburrosso eyed his son suspiciously. “We get by. Don’t we Josh?”
The boy shrugged and stuffed a mouthful of beef into his mouth. “I suppose so. But this is much better than we normally have.”
“You’ll have to teach me a few tricks, Lilly.”
She poured a glass of wine. “From what you’ve told me, you’ll be off soon so I’m afraid we won’t have time for that.” She offered Sam the bottle.
Caburrosso poured himself a glass. “Unfortunately that’s true. We have to be away in the morning.”
“Where are we going?” asked Josh.
Lilly gave Sam a look of surprise.
“It’s supposed to be a sort of magical mystery tour,” he explained. “You know the sort of thing.”
Soon after the evening meal had been concluded, Joshua was yawning. Sam took him up to their bedroom where the boy soon fell asleep. After ensuring everything was fine, Caburrosso returned to Lilly in the dining room.
She stood with the bottle of wine and two glasses in her hands. “It’s such a nice night,” she said. “I wondered if you wanted to join me in the garden. There’s nothing like a Burgundy under starlight to give the end of the day a real feeling of satisfaction.”
Sam smiled. “I’d like that.” Despite having known Lilly for only a few hours, Caburrosso could feel himself begin to trust her. Compared with the abnormal events leading up to this encounter, she seemed so normal, so safe. He wondered if he should stay a while longer in this small town. Immediately, he rejected the idea. Whatever his personal feelings, he had to protect Joshua. The mechanic at the garage worried him. It was not so much anything he did or said but just the way he looked at Sam and Josh. It filled Caburrosso with a dread that, perhaps, the mechanic was acting as eyes for the Church of Technology.
They settled in a wooden bench on the porch. It was a still night with a velvet black sky pinpricked with flickering stars. Glancing at the privet hedge that enclosed the garden, Sam saw spider webs glistening in the cool, white moonlight.
“I love this place at night,” Lilly said. “It’s so peaceful. All my troubles just seem to fade away when I look up at the stars.” She topped up their glasses from the bottle by her feet and handed one to Sam. “It makes me feel humble, this thing we call Universe.”
Sam nodded. “I know what you mean.”
“Have you ever heard of the Pillars of Creation?”
“It’s a nebula, three light years in size, where stars are born. Can you imagine something like that?”
“You’re quite the astronomer, Lilly. I’d never have guessed.” He studied her profile for a moment, her skin deathly pale under the moonlight. Suddenly, he realised how attractive she was..How like Annie.
“It doesn’t matter who you are up there.” She replied. “We are all equally insignificant when compared to the cosmos. Everything is balanced. Even our greatest faults become like nothing when placed alongside our Universe. Just once, I’d like to go there; fly through nebulae, skim across the corona of stars.” She sighed. “I can’t of course. But in here.” She tapped her forehead. “I can go anywhere I want.”
Sam nodded. “It sounds to me like you’re running away from something, or someone.”
She turned and stared at Sam for a moment. “Aren’t we all?”
She shrugged. “I was married once. Everything was fine…for a while. Then I discovered that he was quite handy with his fists. He’d come home stinking of drink and then it would start. The second time he hospitalised me, I left him. I came here, bought this place and never looked back. The first few years were hard. It took a while before I started making enough money on this place to repay the mortgage. When I was with Dan, my ex, I managed to save a little and that turned out to be just enough to tide me over until my business started to make a profit.” She laughed and raised her glass to the stars. “And here I am. Lady of the Manor.”
“Better alone than in a hospital bed.”
Sam raised his glass to Lilly. “If this is what you want, then I’m glad that you’ve found your dream.”
Lilly studied Sam for a moment. “And you, Mister Caburrosso? What do you run from?”
“I told you,” Sam replied, “I’m on holiday.”
Lilly frowned. “No. You’re not. There’s more to it than that.”
Sam was beginning to feel uncomfortable. “You’re imagining it. We’re just here to do a bit of sight seeing.” This woman seemed determined to reach the truth. If she were a member of the Church then she would already know the truth. Perhaps she was attempting to gain confirmation of her suspicions? Then again, maybe she was not a member? Maybe she could help them escape the clutches and influence of the Church of Technology. Could he take that chance? Did he dare reveal himself?
“Huh?” Sam was caught off-guard by her challenge.
“Stay another day. Tell you what: I’ll give you the room for one more day rent-free. Now there’s an offer you can’t refuse.”
Sam shook his head.
He felt her hand rest on his arm. “What are you running from?” Her voice was soft, there was no longer any hint of challenge in the words. “Maybe I can help.”
Sam sighed. Did he have a choice? Reluctantly, Caburrosso relayed the events of the past few days to Lilly Marlene Hawthorne.
A period of silence fell after the revelation.
Then, “Why?” Lilly asked. “Why do you think Joshua is so important to them?”
“I honestly don’t know,” said Sam.
“And you believe Barber’s claim that you’re not Joshua’s biological father?”
Sam nodded. “I know him. He’s telling the truth. But I still can’t figure out why they did this in the first place. It makes no sense. Unless…”
“Unless what?” Lilly prompted.
“Unless Joshua is not what he seems. Somehow he’s different from other children.”
“In what way different?”
“I don’t know. But somehow he’s a part of the Church’s plan.”
“To attain a place at God’s side through technological means.”
“Lilly shook her head. “It makes no sense.”
“I can’t give him up. Not without a fight. No matter what happens he’s..” The words seemed to clog Sam’s throat as the anguish he had tried to hide cracked his voice.
“Your son?” Lilly said.
Lilly placed her hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Let me help,” she said softly. “I know we’ve only known each other for less than a day but I believe you. It sounds incredible but for some reason, I know the story is true.
“You can’t help me, Lilly. Nobody can. Barber could even use the law against me. He could force a DNA test and gain custody by producing Joshua’s real father, whoever that might be.”
“And that’s why you’re running.”
“And they’re looking for you?”
“The Church never lets go.”
“They’re looking for a man and a boy, not a family. If I came with you, it might throw them off the scent. They won’t be looking for three people.”
Caburrosso’s eyes widened at the suggestion. He thought for a moment and then nodded. “You could be right.”
She gave a wide grin. “I’ll pack a few things and we’ll be out of here before dawn.”
Sam sighed. “But how do I know that you’re not a part of the Church?”
Lilly shrugged. “You don’t. But I would have thought that a man like yourself would have realised the truth of your situation by now.”
“And what might that be?”
“That when all else fails, all we have left is our faith. You’ve got to place that faith in me, Sam. I won’t let you down.”
They set off early the next morning after Lilly had stuffed some extra clothing into a travel bag. Sam guided a groggy Joshua into the back seat of Lilly’s car. At first, he was excited that their new friend was coming on holiday with them, but soon his fatigue took over once more and he curled up on the seat and went back to sleep.
The sun was just rising as they left the village. Lilly smiled at Sam. “Still time to change your mind?”
Caburrosso shook his head, “You were right last night. I need to put my faith in somebody.”
“I won’t let you down.”
On Sam’s instructions, they headed north.
“I need to put together some kind of plan,” he said.
“A good starting point is where we are going.”
Caburrosso shrugged. “I had this idea of heading into the Highlands.”
“Don’t sound so surprised.”
“I was young when we moved down to England. I lost my accent years ago.”
Lilly thought for a moment and then nodded. “Yes.” She said. “The Highlands might be a good idea. If we could rent a cottage somewhere remote and stay there a while.”
“It would give us a chance to figure things out.”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
“It wasn’t an idea,” Sam replied. “I just had this feeling, this instinct that it was the right thing to do.”
Lilly took her eyes from the road for a moment and glanced at Sam. She gave him a wry smile. “Maybe somebody’s watching over you. A guardian angel?”
Caburrosso shivered. “God, I hope so.”
Sam suggested that they keep away from the main thoroughfares, as they were the most likely to be under surveillance. The route through the narrow, winding roads would take much longer but, at least, Lilly remarked, it was going to be a much more picturesque route because of it.
Lilly turned her head slightly and checked Joshua on the back seat. She nodded in satisfaction. “He’s still asleep.”
Sam nodded. “Good. The more he sleeps through this the better.”
“He’ll eventually realise that things aren’t right. Then the questions will start.”
“Hopefully not before I figure things out for myself.”
“Have you ever considered telling him the truth?”
Sam shook his head. “What am I meant to tell him? Sorry. I’m not your father?”
Lilly shrugged. “Just a thought.”
Suddenly, there was an awkward silence within the car. Sam cast his gaze across the landscape of hedgerows and the odd ancient tree. The sun was now high in a bright blue, cloudless sky.
“It’s going to be a warm one today,” Lilly said as she grabbed the opportunity to get the conversation flowing again.
Sam merely nodded.
She tried again. “So tell me mister Caburrosso? What clan are you from?”
Sam turned his attention towards her and his mood immediately softened in the radiance of her smile. Again, he was filled with memories of his wife. In his mind, the recollections blurred and Annie’s face merged with Lilly’s. Suddenly, they were the same. Finally, he knew that he was attracted to this woman.
“It’s Italian,” he said.
“Are there many Italians in Scotland?”
“You’d be surprised how many there are.”
“So how come?”
“My Grandfather came here as a prisoner of war. When the war was over, he decided to stay in Scotland, as did many others. He met my Grandmother. They got married and the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.”
“And the Church of Technology? How did you get mixed up in that?”
Sam’s expression turned grim. “You’d be surprised how easy people are being drawn into their web. I was always one of those people that go through life looking for something more, attempting to attach purpose and meaning to the most mundane of things. I’ve always believed in God but Christianity itself left me feeling disillusioned. I’d watch all these people walk into church to say their prayers and sing their hymns. And yet, almost as soon as they’d left the service, they’d be sniping and gossiping about each other, committing adultery and turning up their noses at the homeless beggars on our streets. I realised that I was surrounded by hypocrites and liars. It was easy for the Church of Technology to target and finally persuade me to join their ranks. I was young, impressionable and totally disillusioned with my own church.” Sam laughed. “Come to think of it,” he said, “I was probably a text-book case for turning.”
“And what made you want to get out?”
Caburrosso shrugged. “Getting older. Becoming wiser. The rumours of corruption. But mostly, it was Annie.”
“I met her at a workshop. We fell in love and got married.”
“And it was this Nathaniel Barber that made the arrangements for Joshua’s surrogacy.”
Sam nodded. “After she died, all my disillusionment returned. I even began to doubt if there was a God.”
“And here we are,” Lilly concluded.
“Barber will be after us, Lilly. Have no doubt about it. I know the man.”
“We have to find out why Joshua is so important to them, Sam. If we know that then perhaps we can devise a way to fight back, or at least out-think them.”
“I have no idea why he is so important.”
“You told me that the general philosophy behind the Church was to harness technology to climb the ladder to God.”
“Then Joshua must, in some way, be a very important rung on that ladder.”
“Something about him,” Caburrosso mused, “but what?”
“Is there anything unusual about him?” Lilly asked as she glanced to the rear seat to make sure that the boy was still asleep.”
“Apart from his origin, nothing. He’s just an ordinary boy, exceptionally bright but normal nonetheless.”
“Then perhaps that’s it. Where he came from. His real father. Maybe that’s what makes him special!”
Eventually, Joshua opened his eyes. “Where are we?” he asked somewhat groggily.
“We’ve just entered Scotland,” Sam replied. “If you’re hungry, we’ll find a place to have a bite to eat. We should reach the Highlands sometime this evening.”
They stopped at a small burger van where each satisfied their hunger before resuming their journey. Sam swapped places with Lilly.
“You should get some sleep,” he said to her. “I don’t need a navigator.”
Lilly raised a questioning eyebrow. “You’re sure you can manage without me?”
Sam grinned. “I’ll cope. Only just, mind you.” He watched her settle into the seat as she prepared for her nap. “I’m glad you came along.”
“So am I,” Joshua interjected from the rear seat.
“Well.” Lilly laughed, “I’m pleased to be so popular all of a sudden.”
Before Sam could reply, she closed her eyes. He glanced at her as she drifted off into sleep and turned to Joshua. “Not long now,” he whispered.
“Can we go fishing when we get there?”
Sam nodded. “Of course. But for now, lets keep quiet and let Lilly get some sleep.”
“I like her,” Joshua replied.
“So do I.”
For a moment, Sam thought he caught a hint of a grin on Lilly’s face. Was she listening? He hoped so.
As they neared central Scotland, they drove into a small town where they managed to get some information on rented accommodation up near Inverness. A few phone calls later, Sam returned to the car wearing a triumphant grin. “Right on the banks of Loch Ness. How’s that for a holiday home?”
Lilly joined in with Joshua’s cheering.
Sam grinned at the boy. “All the fishing we can handle.”
Josh cheered again.
“You catch ‘em and I’ll fry ‘em.” Said Lilly.
Sam laughed. “It’s a deal.”
They shook hands on their agreement and then resumed their journey. The mood was much lighter now that the travellers actually knew their destination.
It was a warm afternoon by now and Lilly rolled down the window by her seat. She sighed as the wind blew through her hair.
“I know,” said Josh. “Let’s sing a song.”
“How about ‘Three Craws’?” Sam suggested.
“Huh?” Josh scratched his head.
“Funnily enough,” said Lilly. “I know that one.”
“Yeah?” Sam asked.
“Yeah,” she replied.
She burst into song and, soon, Josh and Sam accompanied her through the subsequent verses. When the song was over, the car filed with laughter.
Caburrosso studied her for a moment and then nodded. “I’m impressed.”
“So you should be, mister.”
He gave her a quizzical look.
“I’m not averse to the odd holiday with our kilted cousins you know.”
Sam shrugged. “Fair enough. Here I stand defeated by your immeasurable talents.”
With her laughter echoing in his ears, Caburrosso gave a wry smile and returned his attention to the road. This woman was good for him. She made him laugh, gave him a chance to forget his worries for a few moments. He could worry enough if Barber tracked them down but, for now, her company was all that he desired.
On the fifth day of residence at the small cottage by the edge of Loch Ness, Samuel Caburrosso emerged at dawn to find a drizzle in the air. It looked as if the fishing trip he and Joshua had planned would have to be abandoned. He wandered down the bank and on to the gravel edged shore. He could feel the cold rain begin to penetrate his thin cotton shirt but he did not find it too uncomfortable. Up until now the days had been hot and humid. It was good, he thought, to feel the heavy weather of previously begin to lift.
As he made his way to the shoreline, he noticed a small motor launch out on the loch. It bobbed in the still waters and it seemed as if there was nobody aboard. He was about to call out a greeting but then he remembered Joshua and Lilly were still asleep. Too early to wake them yet, he thought as he wandered along the pebble beach. In the distance, he could see the ruins of Castle Urqhurt perched on the shoreline. He let his mind wander, imagining how it must have been when the castle held sway over this area. It was a place he was sure Joshua would enjoy visiting. It might, in some small way, repair the child’s sense of disappointment at the lack of evidence of any monster in these parts.
It was Joshua’s voice, which roused him from his daydreaming. He turned to look at the cottage and realised that he had wandered further than he had intended. Then, he noticed the motor launch beached close to the house. There were two men: one held Lilly and the other had Joshua.
As he ran back to the house, he screamed at the men to let the boy go.
“That’s far enough, Caburrosso.” Said one of the assailants. He was a large man, muscular. His companion held Lilly, her arms pinned by her sides. He was of a similar build. It was obvious that these men had been chosen for this task.
Lilly tried to free herself from her captor’s fierce grip. “I’m sorry, Sam,” she cried hoarsely, “They caught us by surprise.”
“Dad?” whimpered Joshua.
Caburrosso held out his hands. “Don’t hurt them. Please.”
“Oh, come now, Sam.”
A voice behind him. His voice.
Sam turned towards the launch where he saw Nathaniel Barber emerge from the small cabin. “Nobody’s going to get hurt. Just do what you are supposed to do.”
Caburrosso clenched his fists but kept them by his sides. “No.”
Barber gave a short laugh. “I don’t think you understand, Sam. You don’t have a choice. We’re taking him, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“But why?” Lilly cried, “He’s just a boy!”
“Precisely,” Barber replied.
Joshua whimpered and struggled within the grasp of his burly captor.
“He’s frightened, Barber. Can’t you see that?” Sam made a move towards the boy.
“That wouldn’t be wise, Sam.”
He stopped, unclenched his fists and tried to relax himself. He knew that he needed a clear head, needed to wait for an opportunity to free Lilly and Joshua. He couldn’t take on all three men. As he stood staring at Barber he realised that his teeth were hurting. The muscles around his neck were rigid with stress. He felt his heart flutter as adrenalin coursed through his veins. A bead of sweat trickle down his nose and his legs trembled with fear. The thought of losing Joshua was unbearable. And Lilly. He had to get her out of this somehow.
He tried to speak but his mouth was dry and his tongue felt thick and swollen. He felt as if his own despair were clogging his airways, suffocating him, stifling his choices of action.
Barber looked amused. “You want to say something, Sam?”
“How did you find us?” Caburrosso rasped.
“The boy, of course. When he was first created, we embedded within him a tiny transmitter. It was powered by his own Bioelectricity. Isn’t global satellite positioning such a wonderful thing? Just the kind of stuff that the Church thrives on.”
“Created? Born? Manufactured? Is there a difference?”
Barber nodded to his two henchmen. “Tie them, gag them and put them in the house. Sam and I need to talk.”
Both Joshua and Lilly screamed as they were dragged into the cottage. Barber held out a restraining hand as Caburrosso made a move towards them.
“If you wish to help them, then listen to what I have to say.”
Sam sat on a large rock and buried his head in his hands. “Don’t do this, Nathaniel. I can’t bear to lose him.”
Barber moved closer to Caburrosso, “I have no choice, Sam. It’s as simple as that. This project is too important to consider your feelings.”
“And what is the project? I know it’s to do with Josh. You said he was created…manufactured?”
Barber shook his head and laughed. “I do have an uncanny ability for choosing the wrong words, don’t I? Never mind. I’ll explain it all to you. Who knows? You might even begin to understand how important this moment is.”
Sam rubbed his eyes. The longer Barber talked, the more time he would have to think of a way out of this mess. “Go on,” he said, “I’m listening.”
“The Spear of Destiny!” Barber cried in triumph. “When we had that in our possession, we knew that we could start the work in earnest. Have you ever thought about the nature of God, Sam? How he came to us as Jesus. He looked like a man but he couldn’t possibly be a man. And where would the difference lie? On a genetic level! We gathered some genetic material from the spear. Do you know what that meant?”
Caburrosso nodded. “That the material might be from Christ himself.”
“Exactly! Our studies showed it to be very close to human. There were some differences, but that is what we expected to see.”
“You used that genetic material to create Joshua?”
“Not quite. We didn’t want a God we couldn’t control. We isolated what we believed were the genetic properties that set Him apart from us in human form and this material, we spliced with human DNA.” Barber’s laughter was almost maniacal, “Don’t you see? We have created Joshua in our own image. We have grafted Humanity and Divinity!”
“I don’t believe you. It’s not possible.”
“Oh but it is. And Joshua is the proof of that. Think, Sam. Think of what we have achieved.”
Caburrosso slammed his hand down on a rock. “He’s just a boy! Leave him out of your insane schemes Barber or…”
Nathaniel raised an enquiring eyebrow at this burst of temper. “Or what?”
“I’ll kill you.” Sam’s voice came out as a hoarse whisper but it was loud enough for Nathaniel Barber to understand his meaning.
“Suddenly you’re not a Christian anymore. I am disappointed, Sam.”
He stood back and held out his hands. “Well. Here I am. Kill me.”
“Don’t tempt me.”
“No, Sam. You’re not the killing kind. No matter what happens, you couldn’t bare to lose that self-control of yours. But, like I said, you don’t have a choice where Joshua is concerned. But, you can make his life easier.”
“How? What do you intend to do with him.”
“Learn. Through that boy, each and every one of us will reach closer towards immortality. Even if he has only a tiny fraction of the power contained within those genes, we will have made a step forward.” Barber moved closer to Caburrosso. “Has he that power, Sam? Have you seen anything that puzzled you?”
Sam stared at the gravel around his feet. There was nothing strange about Joshua. He was just a boy. He shook his head.
“You’re sure? Nothing at all?”
“Just the deer.” He had blurted it out before realising and hated himself for it.
“It’s nothing. We hit a deer. I thought it was dead but it wasn’t.”
“You thought it dead? Had it stopped breathing?”
Sam shook his head. “I don’t remember.”
“Listen, Sam. There are two people in that house who would be better off if you had a much better memory. Now. Let’s start again. Did it stop breathing?”
“I think so.”
“What happened exactly?”
“We hit a deer. I got out to check on it. I thought it was dead. I turned around for a moment and, when I turned back, it was on its feet. It was staring at me.”
“Where was Joshua when this was happening?”
“He was with the deer.”
Barber sighed. Thank you, Sam. You have been a great help.” Then he giggled like a child. “Take up thy Deer and walk!”
Caburrosso shook his head in confusion. “You can’t think that Joshua had anything to do with it.”
“Oh but that’s exactly what I do think.”
Barber chose a large rock close to Caburrosso’s and sat down. Just then, his two men appeared in the doorway of the cottage. “Are they both secure?”
One of the men nodded.
“Then one of you can leave. Take their car and dump it somewhere.” Without waiting for an acknowledgement, Barber turned to Sam. “You think me foolish dismissing one of my bodyguards? I don’t think so. Even if you escape me again, we will hunt you down. I hope to persuade you that there is no sense in running and that you’re best option is to work with me, for Joshua’s sake.”
“You want me there because it would be easier to control him.” Sam sneered.
“No. You misunderstand. Your job was to instil within the boy a sense of right and wrong, a conscience, a sense of humanity.”
“And with that sense of humanity, you could blackmail him by threatening those that he loved.”
Nathaniel Barber shook his head sadly. “I never took you for a cynical man.”
“What did you expect? The Church is corrupt. Everything about it is corrupt. The teachings are all lies.”
“Are they? What about Joshua?”
“You haven’t proved anything. The incident with the deer could have been a..”
“Coincidence? You know there are no such things. There’s a deeper story here, Samuel my friend. The Boss is dying. He’s got cancer and not long to go. I can’t afford to lose him. Not yet. Joshua can save him, can take us to the next stage of our journey. Just think of it! A step closer to immortality.”
“Of course. Don’t be so naïve!”
“You keep the Boss alive long enough to strengthen your position.”
Barber nodded. “Will you help me? Help me guide Joshua.”
“I don’t have a choice and you know it. I can’t abandon him.”
Nathaniel sighed. “Good. I hope that, one day, we can put all this unpleasantness behind us.”
Caburrosso nodded. His thoughts were on a different tack: believe what you will. Right now I’m buying time and nothing else.
Barber called his bodyguard. “Bring the two of them out to the boat. It’s time we left. Oh, and untie the boy. Mister Caburrosso and I have come to an agreement.” Then, to Sam. “I do hope you like boat trips, especially in such a picturesque setting.”
Sam stood with his hands pressed down on Joshua’s shoulders as the bodyguard cast off the launch. Barber was busy manouvering the boat. Caburrosso took the opportunity to study his surroundings and look for a way out of this predicament. Lilly lay in the stern of the craft, feet bound, hands tied behind her back and a length of cloth tied around her mouth. Her eyes looked pleadingly at Sam.
Soon the launch was moving out into the loch. Caburrosso bit his lip and weighed up the possibilities.
“What about her?” Sam asked as he noticed a boathook clipped to the edge of the craft.
Barber glanced around. “Sorry. I almost forgot.” Then, to his bodyguard. “Get rid of her.”
Caburrosso screamed in a fit of rage as the guard moved towards Lilly. He grabbed the boathook and thrust it at the burly henchman, piercing his left eye with the hook. It seemed as if in slow motion as Sam watched both body and boathook topple into the loch.
Barber let go of the wheel and the boat lurched to the left. He grabbed Caburrosso.
“I won’t let you hurt him!” Sam screamed as the two men struggled within the craft. With as much strength as he could muster, Sam pulled hard on Barber, toppling both of them into the freezing waters of Loch Ness.
It was dark beneath the surface. He felt a heel hit his face but he held on to the body, dragging his hands up the legs and torso until he felt the throat. In the cold blackness of the loch, he squeezed. After a time, his lungs felt ready to burst but still he squeezed the throat of his struggling adversary until, eventually, the struggling ceased. Then, realising that he had killed for a second time, he loosened his grip and let the dark claim him.
He could feel himself sinking, was aware of the last fragments of air leaving his lungs, felt his body retch as water poured into his chest. For a second he opened his eyes and thought he saw the surface of the water illuminated by a strange light. But it was so far away. So he closed his eyes again and relaxed. He knew he was dying but felt strangely calm. There was no fear left, only acceptance of the inevitable……
It was like an electric shock. The power surged through him but he was reluctant to return. He knew there was nothing more to fear so why should he turn back?
He thought he heard a voice. Faint. It was Joshua. Yes. Joshua. He had to go back. He opened his eyes, gasped for breath and then vomited on the deck of the motor launch.
“Your alive! Your alive!” Joshua was hugging him. Crying.
Sam looked up and stared up into Lilly’s tear-streaked face.
Her eyes were wide with wonder. “I would never have believed it.”
“What?” he croaked.
“You were dead. I swear it. You were dead.”
He shook his head. “Alive. But Barber?”
Lilly glanced out at the water. “Gone. I’m pretty sure he drowned. There’s no sign of him anywhere.” She helped Caburrosso sit upright.
“Maybe the monster got him,” said Joshua.
Sam shook his head. “The monster got him a long time ago, son.”
Lilly turned to the boy. “Joshua. Why don’t you go into the cabin and see if you can find your dad something to drink.”
The boy looked at Sam.
Caburrosso nodded. “It’s okay, son. Do as she asks.”
When the boy disappeared inside the small cabin, Lilly turned her anguished face towards Caburrosso. “You were dead, Sam. I swear it. It was Josh. He held you and, somehow brought you back to life. I know it sounds crazy…”
Sam placed his hand on top of hers. “Promise me. You won’t breath a word of this to anybody.”
Lilly bit her bottom lip for a moment and then nodded her head.
“I’ll try and explain everything later. For now, we need to think about what we’ve done – about what I’ve done. After all, I’ve just killed two men. And now I’ve got to learn to live with that fact.”
“But it was self defence.”
“Will the police understand or believe the circumstances?” Sam shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“What will you do?”
“Run. From the authorities and the Church of Technology. We’ll go abroad.”
“I’ll come with you.”
Caburrosso sighed. “No, Lilly. You don’t have to.”
“I want to.”
Sam looked up into her eyes and wondered. Was there a chance? Did she feel the same way as he did about her?
He shrugged his shoulders. “If that’s what you want.”
“It won’t be easy.”
“I know.” She said.
“All we’ll have is each other.”
“Sam! You fool! That’s all I want!”
Laughing and crying, they fell into each other’s arms. After a few moments, Sam noticed Joshua watching them.
“It’s alright, son. Everything’s going to be fine. Lilly is going to help us.”
The boy gave a weak smile.
As Lilly started the engine and made for shore, Sam lay in the back of the boat recovering from his ordeal. He was bloodied and bruised but at least everything he cared for was safe. The journey time gave him the chance to study Joshua and realise how badly all this had affected him. The carefree youth of a few days ago seemed gone forever. And now, life on the run would not help his recovery. Perhaps, Sam mused, that once the Boss was dead, there might be a chance to return to a normal life. That would all depend on the Church and how it evolved in the future. Then, there were the authorities to think of. But Sam felt he had no choice there. How could they offer the boy protection? How could they be expected to believe such an incredible story? That somewhere within his chromosomes, this boy carried the mark of God? Sam wasn’t sure he believed it himself. Was Joshua the healer that he seemed to be? Or was it all just a great coincidence? Nathaniel Barber would have said there was no such thing - that coincidence was God’s very own Deus Ex Machina, his way of channelling events. In reality, it did not matter what Lilly or Caburrosso believed. It was what the Church thought that mattered. If there were still people within the organisation that were aware of the project, they would come after Joshua.
And so, Sam concluded, it did not matter even if Joshua was the Son of God himself, he had to be protected until he was old enough to come to his own decisions. Until then, Sam and Lilly must carry the secret between them. Perhaps, if Joshua were truly some kind of Man/God hybrid, he would learn to use his powers wisely. Perhaps Nathaniel Barber was right and there was no such thing as coincidence? Maybe he and Lilly had been destined all along to be Joshua’s guides. Fate? Perhaps this was where Mankind’s future began? The first step on the path to hope?
As the launch swung towards the shoreline, the drizzle had begun to clear. Sam glanced up at the emerging blue sky and felt a sense of awe at the wonder of the world he inhabited – a world where butterflies emerged from the unlikeliest of places, a place where faith could be lost and found in the strangest of ways.
He sighed. It was going to be a beautiful day.