The clouds draw back, the night is long,
No hint of cheer or joy or song,
When out of nowhere bells do chime,
For a glimmer of hope begins to shine…
I never wanted this, Derek thought.
It was the latest in a flood of awful thoughts he’d been having lately in relation to his… thing. I never asked for this being another common thought, alongside I’m not the right person, I can’t do this, and why me?
Derek was nobody special. At school he’d been somewhere in between the nerdy type and the guy at the back of the class who nobody expected to particularly excel due to his deep lack of attention. Not really having a clue what to do after school, he’d decided to take a college course in computing (Because it’s the future! They said), and graduated four years later. He worked lacklustre jobs within a few different IT departments around town before settling into the one he worked for now at the age of thirty-three: Mega Solutions Inc.
He’d worked there for just over ten years. He would say he hated it if that didn’t mean putting more thought into the role than he deemed worthy. He had no close friendships and largely stayed out of office dramas. He felt his colleagues viewed him as a decent enough guy but nothing exciting. He was invited along with the rest of the staff to nights out and he’d occasionally join them, staying pretty quiet but laughing politely with jokes and making his contribution to rounds of drinks. For Derek, the most exciting yet disheartening thing in his life had been Sarah.
Sarah had started working in Derek’s department six months before the day that changed his entire life. His supervisor introduced her to him on a dull Monday morning and Derek found that he couldn’t stop glancing over at her desk for the rest of the day. She seemed always to have a smile on her face and to have an amazing ability to stay relaxed all the time and speak softly, even when she was on the other end of the phone to an irate customer. Derek observed this gleefully about Sarah for the rest of that week, and found himself humiliated every time she asked him for something because he found his heart sped up rapidly, his voice shook as he stuttered out words and he felt out of breath talking to her.
But always, she kept that warm smile and gentle posture. Derek felt like an idiot.
Six months after Sarah started, Derek attended another staff night out at The Ivy, the usual place for the employees of Mega Solutions Inc. He had arrived later than he’d intended, soaked head to toe due to the lashing rain outside. The first full table of his colleagues had laughed when they saw him, and when Derek replaced his glasses after taking them off to remove the rainwater and steam he saw to his dismay that Sarah was part of this group. The laughter had been in good nature but there was no seat near her.
‘Derek! Over here!’
Steve, perhaps the person in the office Derek was closest to called him over, and he sat with a group of four others a little further away from Sarah.
The night had been uneventful until Derek noticed that Sarah was missing.
He didn’t want to make an embarrassing scene out of it. He searched the bar casually, hopeful that he hadn’t spotted her somewhere obvious before. Without any success, he finished the last of his drink before telling Steve and the others that he was feeling a little queasy and wanted some fresh air.
Outside, the rain was still hammering down. Derek looked up and down the street but couldn’t spot Sarah anywhere. His heart sank.
‘Damn...’ he whispered.
‘Damn?’ a bright voice questioned behind him. Derek spun around and there was Sarah, bright, beautiful smile across her face as usual. ‘I was thinking the same myself. Thought you’d gone.’
‘Whu..?’ Derek stammered. ‘Um, me? No! No, I was just getting some fresh air.’
‘Oh,’ Sarah said. ‘Mind if I join you? I’ve missed you all night!’
‘I missed you too.’ Derek felt his face turn red as soon as he’d blurted out those stupid words.
What a stupid thing to say. How embarrassing. She thinks you’re an idiot. You should probably just go ho… Why is she leaning in towards me?
Her lips were soft and she kissed him gently with a tenderness Derek had never known. She had a faint, sweet smell which filled Derek with joy and excitement. But just as he raised his hands to place on Sarah’s arms, she stopped suddenly, and took his hand in hers.
‘Come on,’ she said with a look of elation. ‘Let’s get some privacy.’
They ran through the rain a few streets down, holding hands and giggling like young teenagers. They found an alley which seemed deserted and began to kiss once more. The next few moments would play back in Derek’s mind for the rest of his life like a never ending sordid tale that would perpetually force itself upon him.
The sudden voice. ‘Give me your money or I’ll stab you.’
The shaking and trembling, not just of Derek but of Sarah too.
The decision to just hand over their wallets.
The refusal from the man to back off. He wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to know if they had more.
The moment he stepped towards Sarah, threatening her with the knife.
The moment Derek stepped in, put his hand on the man’s shoulder and pulled.
The moment the man thrust the knife forwards, into Sarah’s stomach.
The pain in her eyes. Not the physical pain. The emotional pain. The gut wrenching heartache that was felt by both of them.
She fell… Fell into Derek’s arms and clutched onto him in a way that made Derek think she was begging him to be saved. Their eyes met only for a brief moment and hers said “help me”. He felt utterly powerless.
She slid from Derek and hit the ground, not harshly but gently, as was everything she did in life.
And then in death.
When Derek saw the look of veritable indifference on Sarah’s killer’s face, everything changed.
‘You killed her!’ Derek had screamed. ‘You killed Sarah!’
The man had grumbled something inaudible but his face spoke all the words Derek had needed to hear. A rage had built up inside Derek that would have sent him mad with terror had he been in a position to think clearly. Something inside him had awoken, ignited by the horror and brutality he’d witnessed.
Without thinking much about what he was doing, he punched the man in the stomach. The man flew off his feet and soared through the air to a wall behind him. The wall didn’t stop his flight; instead it crumbled and the man went soaring through it. Derek was too consumed by his own fury to notice how unusual this was and instead pursued his target. If he’d been able to think, he’d have noticed that he covered the distance of about one hundred meters in about six seconds. When he arrived at the bewildered man, he instinctively threw an arm out towards him and what happened next was so bizarre that even in Derek’s state of savage rage, he was completely taken aback.
What looked like blue electricity flew from Derek’s arm and shot out straight towards the man, whose body writhed horribly as this… force was sent through it. Derek was able to stop it but the man now lay motionless and covered in the debris from the part of the wall he had just smashed through.
He stood for maybe five minutes trying to comprehend what had just happened. Part of himself wanted to check to see if the man had survived the attack, but another part of himself didn’t want to know.
Finally, he called the police. They arrived shortly afterwards to find Sarah’s body being carefully cradled by a weeping Derek, who told them that Sarah’s killer had run from the scene.
When they found his body, they judged that he’d been killed by a bolt of lightning.
We know what you are.
The words flashed up on Derek’s computer screen at work on the first day of his return. They had allowed him a month off alongside a generous counselling programme which Derek had felt wasn’t working very well. When he’d arrived at work this morning everyone had politely smiled or said hello, but largely stayed out of his way. This was to Derek’s advantage – he didn’t want anyone to see this.
The words had typed themselves onto a Microsoft Word document. Derek had no idea how this could have happened. He began to type a response (“Who is this?” had seemed a good start) but suddenly even more words had begun to appear.
You are not alone. We need you. Meet me tonight and I will explain. I’ll send the address to your phone. Don’t tell anyone and come alone. Don’t worry, we’re friends.
Surely enough the address had been sent to Derek’s phone alongside the simple instruction: 9pm.
He’d thought about typing something on his Word document. He’d thought about replying to the text message. But he concluded that whoever these people were, they likely wouldn’t engage in a long chat after giving him such direct instructions, so he decided to meet with them.
The address took him to a building in the middle of the city centre. It was tucked away in a quiet-ish part of town in a small alley. Derek double-checked the number and seeing no signage of any sort pressed the buzzer. Nobody spoke but he heard a soft click and found that he was able to push the door open and step inside.
He found a hallway with stairs right in front of him and a small corridor with doors to the side. The door nearest swung open and an elderly lady stepped out. She had grey hair and a grim look on her face. Her eyes showed a long life lived with much hardship. Derek could tell that she had many stories to tell.
‘Derek,’ she said. ‘Follow me.’
She disappeared through the same door she’d come out of and Derek followed her in to find a small, comfortable looking room with a large table surrounded by several armchairs. Three men and two women sat there, watching Derek with interest.
‘My name is Adelaide,’ the old woman said, taking a seat. ‘Please, sit down.’
Derek did as he was asked. ‘Why did you ask me here? Who are you?’
‘Perhaps you should be asking that of yourself,’ Adelaide said. ‘Who are you, really Derek?’
‘I’m nobody,’ Derek replied. ‘Just an IT man, trying to get by.’
‘Funny,’ Adelaide said. ‘All my years of this life and I’ve never met a nobody before.’
Derek shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The others remained silent but continued looking on at the conversation between Derek and Adelaide with apparent fascination. They didn’t look particularly unfriendly but Derek couldn’t be sure whether he was welcome or not.
‘Why am I here?’ Derek asked again.
‘You must know why you’re here,’ Adelaide said, her old eyes fixed upon Derek. ‘You have something. An extraordinary ability. Something you’ve used only once and have been terrified to try using again since, am I right?’
‘How do you know about this?’ Derek asked, almost in a whisper.
Adelaide smiled a little. ‘Each of us here in this room have abilities. It has been my gift to see them and in some cases know of them before even their hosts did. But none of us have great powers such as the ones you bear, Derek.’
‘Look,’ Derek began, becoming more alarmed. ‘What happened to that man was an accident. I...’
‘Of course Derek,’ Adelaide interrupted. ‘Of course it was. You had no idea of the power that lurked inside of you, I know you didn’t. But now you must try to learn to control it.’
‘H-how?’ Derek stammered. ‘How did I get this… This thing?’
Adelaide closed her eyes and extended both of her open hands towards Derek. The room fell silent. Derek could see her eyelids move as her eyes no doubt darted side to side.
‘I think...’ Adelaide said, eyes still closed. ‘I think there has always been something in you. Yes. Sometimes that’s the case. Sometimes our abilities need unlocking. Sometimes a great and terrible thing can be the catalyst. For you it was a tragedy.’
Sarah… We only had a few minutes together. She was given to me and unjustly taken away in moments. Taken away from everybody – her family, her friends. “Help me” her eyes had begged, and then she was gone.
Adelaide’s eyes opened. ‘I’m sorry, Derek.’ Around the room the others looked sorrowful.
‘These people,’ Adelaide said, indicating towards the others in the room. ‘They have been waiting. Some of them for their entire lives.’
‘Waiting for what?’ Derek asked.
‘For you,’ Adelaide replied.
Derek stood up and began walking towards the door. ‘I’m sorry, there must be some mistake. I’m really nobody.’
He placed a hand on the handle but it wouldn’t move.
‘Sorry,’ one of the men spoke up. ‘Adelaide isn’t finished yet.’
Derek looked at him in surprise. ‘You’re doing this?’
‘Please,’ the man replied. ‘Sit down.’
Derek didn’t sit, but he took his hand away from the door and placed it on his head instead as he started pacing the room. ‘I don’t understand any of this. A month ago I was living a boring, ordinary life. Then all this happens with Sarah and that rat and... Have I gone crazy?’
Adelaide chuckled slightly. ‘No. But I had the same thoughts when I was a little girl and found that I could predict the future. You see Derek, I am one of the people in this room who has been waiting for you for as long as I can remember. It has been foretold that a man with great power would one day come, and bring an end to the darkness.’
‘Darkness?’ Derek asked with disbelief. ‘What darkness?’
‘That’s a long story,’ Adelaide said. ‘One that you must hear. For now, all I can say is that long ago there was an omen. That the darkness would come. And it did come, yet only those gifted enough to observe it would be cursed with seeing its true destruction. But the omen also predicted that a light would emerge from among the darkness and that it would guide those gifted people to victory.’
Adelaide stood slowly now, and walked over to Derek. She held both of his hands in hers, gently.
‘You must have courage now Derek,’ she said. ‘I wish I had the time to tell you more, but my time grows short.’
‘What do you mean?’ Derek asked.
Adelaide smiled softly once more. ‘My gift of seeing the future comes with a grave misfortune. I tried to run away from it for many years but finally the date of my own death became known to me. I’m rather afraid our meeting tonight is to be very short lived.’
And even as she said these words, Derek saw that she was becoming weaker. Her cold hands trembled slightly and her legs began to give way. Derek did his best to support her tenderly to her seat again. The others in the room had risen to their feet in concern as they watched.
‘Derek,’ Adelaide said. ‘Don’t be afraid. You must lead these people now, not me. Everything you’ve ever known and more is at stake.’
Derek felt tears come to his eyes. ‘I can’t! I don’t even know these people! I don’t know what this darkness you’re talking about is. I’m nobody special, nobody at all!’
‘If you can’t find a way,’ Adelaide said. ‘Then nobody will.’
Adelaide closed her eyes and Derek and the others stayed with her until the end.
I never wanted this, Derek thought.
I wish it had never come to me, this wretched power.
Damn it! Damn this thing!!
How did Adelaide know I’m definitely the one the omen foretold of?
Yet, here he was. Derek the IT man, in charge of a band of… superheroes? Fighting a thing called the darkness. The years ahead would be tough, and Derek strode forwards with a growing determination.
All he could do was learn to use his powers, find out all he could about this “darkness” and do his best to stop it. At least it made his life more exciting, he supposed.
He began to feel confident that he knew his place, and he knew what it was he was supposed to do.
Until he received a handwritten letter in the post.
A letter that read:
Everything you were told by Adelaide was a lie. You are being manipulated. DO NOT go back to the HQ. I will meet you tonight when it’s safe.
His mind was teeming, his spirit low,
How should he proceed? Who is his foe?
The bells are quelled, the clouds are full,
Deeds performed by a ghastly ghoul...