Friday, 5 September 2014

The air in front of my desk began to waver gently. Only one thing could make that happen – some kind of sorcery. I held myself in readiness. Wrapped the arrowhead back up, although I held onto it.
Cass, alarmed, got up and went back several paces. Her right hand dropped to one of her Glocks. But the fact was, we could only stand there, waiting to see what was going to happen. And we’d both been in that impasse before.
The wavering grew heavier, like ripples on a pond. It didn’t spread throughout the room, however. It was confined to a single area in front of me. A vaguely rectangular patch of air, its edges uneven but some five foot wide and rising eight feet off the floor. And that shape suggested …
Well, a doorway of some kind.
A drop of perspiration trickled down my brow. This was magic, I was certain. But a kind I’d never seen before.
A glance at Cassie told me she was equally dumbfounded. The bridge of her nose got all creased when she was like that, as if she was annoyed.
“Hey!” she blurted. “What is this?”
The rippling began to slow. As it diminished, something else began to take its place. Merely a vague outline, at first. Then it quickly coalesced into a solid shape.
The air became completely flat and still again. But not empty.
Something was now standing in my office.

It stood several inches taller than I did and was considerably broader.
But, despite the fact that it had all the usual requirements – two arms, two legs, a head – it wasn’t even remotely human. So maybe this was the ‘something’ that Raine had warned me of.
Its shoulders were as wide as one side of my desk. It was superbly muscled, with a great barrel chest. At first, I thought it might have fur. But then I saw that that was a mistake. It was smooth. An even, pale gray hue all over, a murky color that seemed a little indistinct, like the creature was made partly out of dust. That was not the case, though. It was definitely solid. Its weight was making the worn parquet floor creak underneath it slightly. And I could smell its rank, meaty breath from here.
Its legs were bowed slightly, the feet massive. And its arms were unnaturally long. It had hands rather than paws – as large as catcher’s mitts – but there were no nails at the ends of the fingers. There appeared to be something unusual about the tips of them, although I couldn’t tell quite what.
It growled, a noise like rocks coming apart. My gaze went to its face. It was densely ridged and oval. There seemed to be something rather lupine about it. A suggestion of sharpness to the muzzle.  A savagery to the heavy brow. Its ears were long, went to sharp tips, and were pressed back flat against its skull. Its eyes shone an iridescent green, and studied us both threateningly.
But it was its mouth that was the worst thing, for the moment anyhow. Curving fangs protruded across the lips, distorting them. The beast was drooling gently, and it grunted as it breathed.
What was this? I took a step backward, becoming aware of something else. It had materialized between ourselves and the only doorway out of here.
I tried to edge round it a little. Cassie, very gingerly, did the same It responded by lifting those great hands of its a little higher. And, where I‘d noticed something odd about the fingertips …
Retractable claws – about six inches long and sharp-looking as scalpels – all came snicking out.

It snarled again, hunched forward, and its mouth gaped open. There were several rows of fangs in there. I realized, in the dull shock of that moment, that at least we now knew what had been in Garnerstown last night.
I had a brief thought. Who created this?
And then my hand was reaching for the Smith & Wesson in my coat.
Cass, as usual, beat me to it. Her gaze became cold, her features set like stone. And one of her Glocks came snaking up.
Her first round, fired almost at point-blank range, hit the creature, making it snarl again, but then bounced off it. It left a small, dull mark against the thing’s gray hide, but that was all. I heard her curse.
But Ms. Mallory doesn’t ever give up on the first attempt. She simply drew her other handgun, started emptying both clips into the beast.
The creature stumbled back under the onslaught, but then started to fight against it, rapidly recovering.
I had my revolver out, was firing as well. But to an equal lack of real effect. The thing just took our heat, wincing with discomfort. And kept on pressing forward, trying to snatch the guns from both our hands. Its claws made a whistling noise, splitting the very air. We were the ones going back by this time, and I didn’t like that. You can’t fight properly if you have to keep retreating.
It couldn’t disarm both of us if we separated. So I stepped sideways, behind my desk. Gun smoke had already filled the room, my eyes were stinging gently. I was shaking slightly, wondering how to beat this thing.
The creature paused a moment, trying to decide which of us to follow. Its head went even lower and its green eyes blinked. And then its shining gaze pinioned me. I’m not quite sure why. Cassie was the greater threat. But perhaps it had noticed that I still had the arrowhead in my left hand.
The beast suddenly lurched forward, ramming so hard into my desk it overturned it. My chair flipped over savagely, forcing me to jump back. I dodged across to one side, tried to fire again.
The hammer came down on an empty chamber. And the creature was stepping up onto my capsized desk by this time. I glanced desperately at Cass.
One of her slim eyebrows arched. She tossed me her second Glock. She uses the extended clips, so she had plenty of shots to spare. The creature swiped at me with its long talons, missing me by barely an inch. I put three rounds straight into the center of its chest. It staggered back again and let out something that I reckon might have been a moan. But then it just recovered, like the last time.
I could see there was no stopping it this way. We might as well be taking potshots at the side of a barn door. There was another handgun in the top drawer of my desk, a Magnum. Except my desk was lying on its side. And the creature had climbed on top of it once more.
I snatched up my fallen chair and hurled it at it, acting out of desperation. One of those huge arms simply batted it away.
Cass, though, had a clear run at the door by this time. I’d at least succeeded in drawing it away from her. She took the chance that she’d been given, yelling back over her shoulder, “I’ll be as quick as I can! Just hold it off!”
Thanks. I’d already figured that one out. I tried shooting at the creature’s temples. That got me a slightly better result. It pawed at them and stopped for a few seconds. But it wasn’t backing off from me, now. Not even a little bit.
I could hear Cass’ boots hammering down the stairwell, and I knew where she was headed. I just wasn’t sure what kind of condition I would be in by the time that she got back.
Perhaps it wanted the arrowhead. But that was the only solid lead we had. I wasn’t about to give it up. I dropped it into one of my pockets, freeing up both of my hands.
I put another slug into the creature’s face. Hit the corner of its mouth this time. It groaned again. Spat out a few flecks of darker gray liquid that I guessed was blood. But I’d already noticed something else. Those faint marks we’d managed to graze its hide with were already fading. This beast was not only hard to damage. When you did hurt it, it healed up quickly.
I barely pulled my head away as its claws went singing past my face.
I was backing off again, moving crabwise. Being forced into a corner. The chair I’d thrown was lying nearby, so I snatched that up as well.
By this stage, the creature wasn’t even flinching when the 9mms struck it. It seemed to have grown used to them. Determination shone in those peculiar, glittering eyes.
A click.
The Glock was empty. I dropped it, then held the chair out at full stretch in front of me. Where the hell was Cass?
The talons came whizzing downward. The chair fell to pieces like balsawood. A second set of claws came swiping at me but I ducked underneath the blow, dropping to the floor, rolling away. Then I lunged for my desk and scrabbled round behind it.
Tried to yank it upright, which was not an easy job. It was big, and built of stout New England oak. Difficult for just one man. But I kept on heaving, managing to get its top edge a few inches off the ground. The drawers slid partly open. I could hear the Magnum rattling around.
The creature – out of pique, perhaps – kicked the far end of it, sending it slamming into me. I found myself skidding across the floor, till I finally wound up against the far wall. I was bruised and dazed, but squinted back in the direction that I’d come.
The creature wasn’t climbing over the desk, this time. It was wading right through it with those massive hind legs, trampling it to get at me. It made huffing noises as it progressed, spittle flying through the air, like it was filled with pressured steam and it was going to explode.
I thought of the arrowhead again. When I reached inside my pocket, though … it wasn’t there. I tried the right one, with no better result. Maybe it had fallen out. I stared across the floor.
Too late. The beast was above me, like a storm cloud that had gathered. One of its hands was coming down again. I scrabbled to get out of its way.
Air rushed across my neck. I felt a tug, the back of my coat being torn. But otherwise, I got away unscathed. Except for how much longer?
In the ruin that had been my desk, I could see my other handgun, glinting dully in the wreckage. Still on my hands and knees, I went toward it breathlessly. And was just about to grab it when a vicious pain ran through my leg.
The creature had simply turned around, stepped forward. And – as casually as stepping on a bug – had planted a foot on my lower calf.
The muscles flared with pain. My leg was pinned in place like it had been nailed to the floor. Although the creature wasn’t trying to crush it, merely stopping me from going anywhere. When I tried to wriggle loose, it increased the pressure slightly. When I reached out for the gun, it did the same.
I took the discomfort, stretching out my arm until the fingertips were shaking. They got almost to within an inch of the Magnum, but no closer than that.
I twisted around to see what was happening.
Its right arm had come up once more. Its talons caught the light. This time, it wasn’t going to miss.
The claws were sweeping down next instant. I was raising both my arms to shield my face, as if that would make the slightest difference.
When a loud explosion made the entire office rock.

The gray creature was almost lifted off its feet. It went back practically two yards, slamming against a cabinet and then nearly losing its balance altogether. So it could be injured. Its jaws split open as wide as they could, and it let out a shriek that nearly burst my eardrums.
Breathing hard, I hauled myself half upright and then glanced toward the doorway. Cass was standing in it, triumph dancing in her gaze, the Mossberg smoking in her grasp. She didn’t load the thing with ordinary cartridges, either. She used BRI ‘saboted’ slugs, capable of blowing holes right through a concrete wall. And from the range that she had fired …
I looked back at the creature she had hit.
The round had penetrated slightly, leaving a dent in its stomach from which dark gray was leaking. A bruise the color of lead was becoming apparent round it. That looked more permanent than the other marks. I didn’t think that it would heal real soon.
But the thing wasn’t anywhere near dead. Obviously stunned and in genuine pain.  It remained to be proven, though, if we could finish it for good.
Cass seemed eager to try. Her eyes narrowed and she bit her lower lip. She worked the pump, then stepped in closer, aiming for the head at nearly point-blank range.
The creature looked up, understood what she was doing. Its contorted features grew alarmed. I expected it to try and move away. Instead of which …
The air around it started rippling again, much faster than before.
And between one moment and the next, it had completely disappeared.

A long and breathless pause, as we stared at the empty space it had left, was finally broken by an aggravated “Damn!” from Cassie. She looked furious.
Not that I didn’t sympathize. But – for my own part – I was just pleased the thing was gone. It wasn’t her leg that had gotten stamped on, after all.
I doubled over and massaged my calf. Cass, still holding the shotgun, came and stood beside me, panting gently.
“You okay?” she asked.
“There’s probably nothing broken. That’s the up side. It still hurts.”
“Sorry about leaving you like that.”
She’d forgotten her annoyance. Her face was apologetic.
“No – you did the right thing. Thanks.”
I stared rather numbly at the wreckage strewn around my office.
“Ever see anything like that before?” I asked.
“I’m sure I’d remember.”
But I started to wonder. I hadn’t even told Cass about my conversation at the Manor yet, but … if this was the ‘visitor’ Raine had talked about?
There was something missing. Whatever that creature had been, it seemed merely an animal and nothing more, with no guiding intelligence. Why would it leave an arrowhead for us to find? It didn’t even answer Tommy Wilkes’ description.
And if it was doing someone else’s bidding, then what kind of lunatic would conjure up a sheer monstrosity like that?
Cassie murmured ‘damn’ again. Walked across to where the beast had last been, then stooped down and picked something up. Displayed it to me in her open palm. It was the saboted slug she’d fired, flattened to a pancake. It had caused some damage, certainly. But had not even penetrated fully. All the victory had melted from her eyes by this time, and they glimmered with a quiet dismay.
This was definitely something quite out of the ordinary we were facing.
I edged across and finally picked up my Magnum. Then I stood up properly, carefully distributing my weight. My leg was aching badly. That would be the case for quite a while. But at least I was mobile.
I went to drop the gun in my pocket, but then patted at the fabric in advance and realized it was still empty. So, finally tucking the Magnum away, I began to turn in a wide circle, casting my gaze across the floor again.
“What are you looking for?” Cass asked me, a trace of suspicion in her voice.
“That arrowhead you found. I think I dropped it.”
So she started hunting too.
She went off toward the window. Except, reaching it, she stopped.
“Er, Ross?”
Her tone was rather urgent, and my head came up. She was peering out numbly through the slightly smeary glass.
“You’d better take a look at this.”
Cass’s voice, uncommonly for her, had become reduced to a dull, low whisper.

I’d come to know her well enough that, simply by the way that she was standing and the angle of her head, I realized she could see more trouble brewing. An entirely different kind of trouble, perhaps – she didn’t raise her gun. It wasn’t the obvious kind, then.
She kept entirely still. So when I wandered up beside her, it was very cautiously.
I peered down onto Union Square. The shadow of the statue had expanded out across the wide flagstones. The doors of the municipal buildings were coming open and a couple of cars were trundling by. There were a few pedestrians abroad by this hour of the morning, on their way to work. They were mostly on the far side of the square, and glancing nervously across and walking quickly. If the first shots hadn’t quite been audible, then they had certainly heard the final one.
Otherwise, it was wholly as it had been, with the banners flapping in the breeze. Except a pair of jet black crows, big ones, were perching on the statue. They had not been there before.
And the ragged old man was back, and staring up at us. He might have been smiling – it was hard to tell with all that beard. His dog was at his heel, awake. And his placard was no longer there, as if he’d changed his mind about the world’s demise.
He did have something to replace it, however. Something which, although much smaller, conveyed a whole new message.
He was twiddling it between the long, narrow fingers of his bare, outstretched right hand.
The arrowhead we’d been searching for a few seconds earlier.

He kept on fiddling with the piece of flint. I had no idea what it might signify. His gaze on us was steady and unflinching. There was something obtrusive about it, too, that made my hackles rise immediately. I have these instincts, sometimes. And I had them about him in spades, so much that I wondered why he hadn’t bothered me before. Perhaps he’d wanted it what way.
“Any idea at all who he might be?” I asked Cass.
“No.” The bridge of her nose wrinkled up again. “But if he’s the cause of all of this, then he has to be a major adept. And a self-taught one at that.”
I guessed so.
“And we know who all the adepts are,” she pointed out.
“Or so we thought.”
I told her quickly – summing it all up – about my meeting on the Hill last night. Cass never usually gives the likes of Woodard Raine much credence. But on this occasion, even she looked shocked.
Below us, the arrowhead kept glinting dully in the morning’s growing light. The old man hadn’t budged an inch. He was waiting for us to come to him. And I wasn’t sure if that was such a good idea.
Although, to tell the truth, I couldn’t see too many other options. So I quickly decided what we’d do.
“Stay here,” I told Cass.
Her face swung toward me.
“Won’t you need someone to watch your back?”
“You can watch it better from up here. You’ll have a clearer shot.”
I trusted her implicitly on that score. And she nodded.
When it became obvious that I was coming down to talk, the old man nodded too. And, oh yes, he was definitely smiling now.

‘Something,’ Woodard Raine had said. But this guy looked human. My stomach kept on flipping over as I went back down the stairs. There was nobody else in the stairwell or the lobby of the building. I was glad of that.
As I’ve said, the best way I’d ever found to confront powerful magicians was to not be overly impressed by them. Act normally. So I kept my tone light as I went out into the square through the front door.
“Hey, that was a neat trick. With the arrowhead, I mean,” I called to him. “What exactly is that thing?”
The old geezer remained in place. The sharp flint kept on being twirled between his fingers.
“A Mohawk chieftain, a great warrior in his day, shot me through the heart with it once, just before I ripped his insides out.”
Which sent another shock through me, although I tried not to show it.
His voice came as a dry, cool whisper from his wizened lips. There was something hoarse and very old about it. And an underlying gravelly quality as well.
I stopped dead, about three yards away from him. And felt my eyebrows rise.
“Excuse me?”
“After word of that had spread,” he continued, barely noticing I’d spoken, “the Iroquois Nation never raised a weapon against me. Never once. Never again. A lesson that you newcomers, even after several centuries, have yet to learn.”
His gaze shot upward momentarily. I didn’t dare look back, but I knew that Cass was at the window with the shotgun at her shoulder. I could almost feel her, watching us. This guy had noticed her as well. But his attention dropped back to me, next instant. He was choosing to ignore her.
I stared at him more closely, taking in his height and beanpole narrowness all over again. His shaggy hair and beard. His wide, floppy hat was a mud brown color. And his tattered coat the same, buttoned the whole way up to his neck, tied around the middle with a length of rope. His pants, frayed at the cuffs, had once been charcoal gray, but were a variety of neutral shades by this time. He had on heavy black boots, densely scuffed, the laces broken and re-knotted maybe half a dozen times.
His skin seemed faintly grimy. I had already taken note of how extremely straight his posture was. But he looked somewhere in his mid-seventies. Should a man so old stand quite like that?
His face looked hawkish and imperious under all that silver fuzz. There seemed nothing special about it. Except …
There appeared to be something odd about his mouth. About his teeth. I couldn’t quite be certain. And his eyes, partway hidden in the shadow of his hat. They were very pale, and it was hard to tell which color. But one detail about them captured my attention. The left pupil seemed to be twice the size of the right. It winked at me like a camera lens. There might have been a faint, strange brilliance, a tiny fiery glow within it. I just wasn’t sure.
The crows behind him, cawing loudly, flapped up from the statue suddenly. They circled and then vanished. When I looked back at the old man, though …
They seemed to have left some of their dark color behind, when they’d departed. He had borrowed it, perhaps. Shadow hung around him far more heavily, by now. As though he’d stepped into this place out of the darkness of the previous evening, bringing some of it along with him.
He peered back at me, waiting for me to say something more. What he’d said made no sense at all. Mohawks? I kept on trying to hide how unnerved I was feeling.
An idea occurred to me. I glanced at the flint again.
“You didn’t drop that accidentally last night, did you?” I asked.
There was a calculating look deep in his eyes, and I had noticed that as well. This was someone who did nothing just by accident.
He pressed his lips together.
“You were announcing yourself, like a calling card.”
“Very good,” he said.
And then he did something that genuinely startled me. He stopped twirling the arrowhead, held it up to his lips. Then put it in his mouth and swallowed it.
I could see the bulge as it slid down his throat. Remembered how sharp its edges had been. But he didn’t seem in the tiniest bit discomforted. His eyes were laughing at me as the shape dropped lower, disappeared.
And when his mouth had opened … had his teeth been filed down to sharp points, or were they naturally like that?
I could hear Cass push the window open wider, obviously alarmed as well. But I raised a hand quickly, before she could do anything else about it.
My breath was hissing in my lungs. What exactly was I stood in front of? The few pedestrians around us, I could see, were giving us a wide berth, glancing at us oddly. Even they had noticed there was something wrong.
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“Just putting it back where it belongs, Ross.”
And how did he know my name?
“Have we met?”
“Not exactly, Mr. Devries. But you know what I am called.”
My head reeled slightly. What was he talking about, if this was the first time we’d come face-to-face?
“You’ve seen it,” he added.
His brow creased a touch.
“Oh, Mr. Devries! I’d assumed you were the observant type, more than capable of putting two and two together.”
But I was already observing more than he had recognized. My own gaze had, a few times, flickered down to his old dog. It was pale, with diseased-looking brown patches on its hide. Its eyes were a gently glinting green. And its big belly was hanging on the flagstones … but was that a large, deep bruise I could make out? A deep gray color, just like …
It looked back at me balefully, its snaggled jaws mashing together, and let out a snarling noise that sounded a touch familiar. A chill ran through me, and my pulse worked a little faster. But, not sure what was going on as yet, I simply stood my ground.
The only thing I really knew about this guy was that he owned that arrowhead. And scratched on it there’d been some lettering. So …
“Saruak?” I tried.
“Bingo!” It came almost as an abrupt laugh. “I knew you could do it!”
Then he peered at me expectantly, like I ought to welcome him to town.
My feet were trying to move away all by themselves, but I wouldn’t let them. It felt like a caterpillar was crawling up my spine. I hated even standing near to this guy, he let off such a hateful aura. It was a struggle just to keep on sounding calm.
“And where are you from?” I asked.
“Around these parts, originally. After that? Nowhere in particular. I travel a lot, you see.”
“What do you do, exactly? And what brings you here?”
“As to the first, the Iroquois tribes used to call me ‘Manitou.’”
I knew what that meant. ’Evil spirit.’ That’s crazy, was my first thought. Such a thing could just not be. But when you considered where we lived …
His features stiffened, as though he’d heard that.
“The Penobscots, who knew me first, had another name for me. Quite hard to translate. But roughly, ‘The Dancer in Dreams.’ As for your second question … well, it seems a pleasant place, this town. I thought I’d hang around awhile.”
Which was not how people usually reacted to Raine’s Landing, and I told him that.
Laughter flickered in his eyes. “I understand that. Yes, I know.”
I studied him all over again. He remained passively still under my gaze, his face blank, like he had absolutely nothing that he wished to hide. How much did he know about this place?
“Did you kill all those people last night?” I asked him outright.
His expression didn’t even twitch.
“Is this how you treat newcomers? You’re being very rude.”
“You’re saying you didn’t?”
Saruak shrugged. “It hardly matters, either way.”
I thought of all those butchered people, their dead faces staring. And it was of no consequence to him? When I tried to speak again, it felt like a fishhook was embedded in my throat.
“I’ve seen so much death, down the centuries. A human life, passing? Is like a drop of rain hitting the soil. A perfectly common occurrence. One that happens several hundred times a minute. And so, barely worth commenting upon.”
Which didn’t sound like any philosophy I wanted to subscribe to. But how old, precisely, was this Saruak claiming to be?
My gaze dropped back to his ugly dog.
“My guess? It wasn’t you personally doing the killing last night, was it?”
Once more, his face split with delight.
“Spot on again, Mr. Devries! I knew that you were one of the sharper tools in this particular box! Meet Dralleg.”
And he reached down, patted the beast’s head. It blinked at me, its eyes seeming to glow a little brighter.
“Strange name for a dog.” I commented.
“Strange dog,” he grinned. “But I’m wasting my breath. You’ve already guessed that.”
It couldn’t do what it had done in that form. But another native concept came to mind – shape-shifter. I wondered how safe I was, standing here. Any moment, it might change back into that creature in my office.
But all it did was sit there like a miniature blimp with half the air let out. My lip curled.
“Where did you find something like that?”
“I didn’t. I thought him up. Dralleg is a product of my mind.”
“That’s some imagination that you have.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
I was getting angry with his flippant manner. “Why did you kill all those people?”
“You’ve already asked.”
Which was no answer. So I stared at him.
“To prove a point,” he told me.
“I’m the new boss around here, or soon will be. Forget your Sycamore Hill, your adepts and your mayor. And Woodard Raine.”
I’d heard that kind of speech before. It got me wondering not only how much he knew, but how on earth he had discovered it.
There was a deeply mocking gleam back in his eyes. When his voice came oozing out once more, it sounded exactly like Woody’s.
“’Whatever’s come to visit us, it’s all het-up and hungry. I’d get a move on, sport, if I were you’.”
I jolted.
“Ross?” Cass yelled, behind me.
I sucked in a breath, then quickly looked around. She was leaning right out of the window, with her shotgun trained on the old man. I shook my head, indicating that I was all right. Then peered back at Saruak, dumbfounded.
He had somehow been listening the entire time, last night. And Woodard Raine, for all his powers, hadn’t even known. That spoke volumes by itself. What was this guy capable of? And we had always thought, here in the Landing, that there was no magic greater than our own.
My hand went to the Magnum in my pocket, out of reflex. But the man didn’t seem in the tiniest bit bothered.
“Look, there’s nothing for you here,” I told him.
But he shook his head. “I disagree.”
“What, then?”
“A place to rest. Do you know how long I’ve been on the road? Practically four hundred years.”
Longer than we’d been under Regan’s Curse, in other words. But, again, what did he mean exactly? On the road where, and for what purpose?
His gaze and expression, they had both become impenetrable.
“Why stop, after all that time?” I asked.
“This problem that you have. This isolation from the world. It seems to bother most of you. But me?”
The dog made a faint noise and looked up at him.
“It gives me a captive audience. And I’ve always wanted that. Most humans run away from me eventually. But the plain fact is, you people cannot. You are rooted to the spot. And we can …”
His eyes took on a sickly sheen as he hunted for the right way to put it.
“Get to know each other properly. We can commune, in depth.”
He could do anything he wanted with us all, in other words. And take his own sweet time about it. It didn’t sound like any kind of idle threat. I kept wondering how he was going to act on it.
“What are you, really?” I inquired
Saruak’s arms became slack at his sides.
“Are you really sure you want to know? It might prove more than you can handle.”
I stared at him wordlessly.
“Very well, then,” he responded. “See you again soon, I’m sure.”
The air round him began to waver, just as it had done inside my office. Just before the old man disappeared …
I caught a glimpse of him in his true form.
Blood was pounding in my temples, and I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t seem to move at all.

My insides became frozen. The world tilted or … no, my knees were buckling. I went down on them hard. And then curled forward, till my head was pressed against the paving stones. And I stayed there with my eyes squeezed shut, doing nothing more than simply trying to get some air into my lungs.

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