Running. Surging onward. Bare feet slapped on the road surface, trusting in luck where they landed. The mist offered nothing. Useless once they were on his tail. How many? Hard to tell. He didn’t turn. Couldn’t. The footsteps in rhythm to his own, keeping pace behind him. Like the drums at Khazad-Dum. The wind whistling past him, like the battle hymns of the Zulus at Isandlwana. He ran for his life, but they nearly had him now. So many times before. Closer, closer, until finally he would fall, naked and shivering. Waiting for death. Retribution. Faces at the side of the road. Faces of his family, of the men he had killed. Watching. Mocking. Waiting. Like the crowd in the Long Walk. The Major waiting up ahead, ready with his prize. All he had to do was live. The light ahead of him, the sound of approaching death from behind…… Devlin sat upright, his clawed fingers bunching the sweat damp sheets beneath him, his head snapping left and right, searching for shadows and what lay within them. His demons. His ghosts. The clock flashed just after 5am, his open book lying on top of it. Just over four hours sleep. No chance of any more. The floorboards were cool beneath him as he walked to the bathroom, scratching as he went. The mintiness of the toothpaste enlivened him, and he contemplated a run. Still dark. Not just yet. Not until his brain had time to forget what had just run through it. A lot of the time he would consider the darkness one of his few friends. Not this morning. He walked into the front room of his flat, looking briefly out of the large window at the night. The single streetlight illuminated parked cars and the courtyard below, its stark light penetrating dark corners where people rarely trod. He shook himself loose, moving his limbs, ejecting the sleep and stiffness from his joints, enjoying the freedom of his body. The chin bar across the alcove flexed with his momentum, the floorboards directly below mottled with his sweat. Ten sets of thirty-six reps, alternating his grip. His muscles burned and screamed for him to stop, and in his own sardonic way he smiled. He had heard much begging and screaming in his life. He had learnt to ignore it. He did so again. Dumbell twists followed by plate drills, his breathing quickening as he moved through them on the mat in the centre of the room. The prize of completion was the cool water flowing through him from the bottle in the fridge. The flat felt massive with its lack of furnishings and its bare boards, the posters on the walls telling of his love of films, music and books, his collections running along the skirting boards in different rooms. He turned on the stereo as his second prize, the sounds of early morning comforting him. He was happiest amongst night owls, alive and ahead of the day. Kindred spirits. He glanced across at the window opposite, across the courtyard, as he moved into what Vicky called his ‘foreplay routine’. He had caught her watching him in the early hours as he had squatted and thrusted with the medicine ball, before performing the plank, knee tucks and crunches on the Swiss. Being so early he hadn’t dressed, as he hadn’t now, and he figured she had watched him for ages before he’d seen her. When he had he simply stood there, a slight smile on his lips as she raised her mug in a mock salute at four thirty in the morning, a coy grin on her face. He took the door off the latch five minutes later. She’d walked through it after ten, a knowing look on her face that she had connected. She’d led him to the medicine ball and he’d screwed her from behind within twenty. She’d wanted the swiss ball as well, but kept sliding off. She liked her nose the way it was and reluctantly admitted defeat. They’d both laughed their way to sleep after that, her joy one of the few things that made him happy as he walked through his valley of tortured souls. Vicky was a dance DJ, using the name ‘Mistress May’, good enough for it to be her only profession. Each weekend and once or twice during the week she would return in the early hours, still hyper, still moving to the beat. Often she would search him out; occasionally she would be with another man. She teased Devlin by leaving her curtains open also, allowing him to watch her passion as she would watch his routines. She was a free spirit, and he appreciated that. The curtains in Vicky’s flat had been hurriedly pulled across, so he assumed that she hadn’t made it home yet, or had gone straight to sleep. It was like a set of code signals run up between ships in olden battle fleets, the difference being that he had no curtains. In Vicky’s mind, his door was always open. The high rep workout was completed, then repeated, followed by push ups, squats and press ups. Nirvana moved into Def Leppard as he had upped the tempo, before the blues rock of ZZ Top became the bleeding guitars of Joe Bonamassa and Steve Vai. His own personal playlist, changing tempo all the time, as successive slow Blues would send him too far back where he didn’t want to go.