Night had fallen and silence swallowed the city, broken only by the faint rustling of rats among the garbage bags.
The streetlights provided small oases of light, but the majority of the city was dark as midnight came and went.
The clock in the hallway of apartment twenty-six on the thirteenth floor of one of the many vast tower blocks chimed twice, signalling the passing of the second hour of a new day.
Silence again claimed the apartment, as if the clock hadn’t sounded at all.
The inhabitants were all sleeping peacefully in their beds.
Mother, father, sister, brother.
This last was so small, so fragile, so seemingly insignificant, but the catalyst for future atrocities…
The clock doesn’t get to chime for three o’clock as a jackbooted foot crashes the apartment’s door open, smashing the antique frame into shards of glass and wood. The clock’s cuckoo pops out, its bent spring looking sad and pathetic, likewise the sound it makes.
A man in a black motorcycle helmet enters. Six feet tall, two-hundred-and-twenty pounds of solid muscle. The dim light in the corridor glints on the two-inch white letters on the front of his helmet, just above the visor.
In this place and time humanity is rapidly running out of food and other valuable resources.
The solution to this problem is stunning in its cold, clinical logic, but more on that later.
The cullsman glances around, his hand tight around the butt of his matt black shotgun. He snacks the pump, the sound almost deafening in the stillness of the apartment.
Noises from down the corridor make his head snap to the side, the light reflecting off his visor.
He sniffs, smiles grimly behind his bulletproof visor.
He takes no pleasure in this; it is simply something that must be done.
Rules must be followed, or punishment – brutal and cruel though it undoubtedly is – must be meted out.
Emotion must not be allowed to cross his mind, or a steep descent into insanity and despair would surely follow.
His foot makes the floorboards creak. His shotgun is aimed down the corridor, his black-gloved finger tight around the trigger.
A light comes on in one of the rooms, accompanied by muttering that is laced with panic and confusion.
A figure appears at the end of the corridor. At this stage it is unclear whether it is male or female, young or old.
In the end it doesn’t matter.
The gun goes off, the sound like thunder in the enclosed hallway.
The light from the muzzle flash shows enough to reveal that the target is young.
There is a wet thud, the sound of pulverised matter spraying the wall behind the child, then a high-pitched scream.
The child drops, letting out pained whimpers.
The cullsman has heard these sounds enough to know that her time left on earth will be short and miserable.
The thought to put another shell through her pain-contorted face, thus putting the poor wretch out of her misery, does not occur to him. Again, emotion has no place here. The target has been put down. She is not armed, and fighting back is the furthest thing from her mind.
A mercy killing would be a waste of time and ammunition.
His boots leave prints in the pool of blood spreading from beneath the girl’s riven abdomen.
The child’s eyes, wide with horror, look up into his. Flecks of blood cling to her pale skin.
His eyes flick away to the dense corona of blood and pulverised flesh leaving trails down the wall, then down to the growing crimson pool on the carpet.
He looks away, knowing there are more lawbreakers to punish.
A flicker of movement from his right.
He spins, blowing a cheap bedroom door to kindling.
There are no pained screams, no flying plumes of blood and flesh, so he knows he has missed.
A shame. His superiors will have something to say about the wasted shell.
No doubt a dent will appear in next month’s wages.
He scowls, strangely more upset by this than by the dying child screaming at his feet.
The door in front of him flies open and he sees a woman, her face red and contorted with panic and despair, her white-knuckled hands clutching a butcher’s knife.
His shot hits her full in the face, taking off her head from the bottom jaw up over and scattering it across the surrounding area. A thick splat lands on his visor and begins to slide down.
He backhands this from his visor before the woman has hit the deck. She lands, a full five feet from where she stood, as though flung by an invisible hand.
He turns his attention back to the door in which he wasted his shell.
His boot makes light work of the rest of the door.
Likewise the cheap, balsa wood chest of drawers that has been shoved in front of it as a makeshift barricade.
A muzzle flash lights up the peripheral vison on his right side and his head jolts to the left with the force of a kick from a mule.
The bulletproof helmet and visor prevent any serious damage, but the impact is enough to disorient him for a few seconds.
He turns and sees the father in the corner of the room, desperately fumbling bullets into the revolver in his trembling hands. The majority of them fall to the floor like metallic rain.
The slightest flicker of emotion crosses his mind; anger at being fired upon, but still, his annoyance at having to sacrifice his wages for the wasted shell dwarf this.
Before Father can raise the gun again, the cullsman crosses the room in half a dozen stiff strides. His shotgun butt hits Father’s jaw in a blow as well-practised as it is brutally efficient.
There is an audible crack as his jaw shatters, then a small rattle as a tooth lands on the bare floorboards.
Father slumps, terrified, to his knees.
‘Please,’ he begs, blood oozing from his mouth. ‘Don’t do this.’
The cullsman shakes his head. ‘You know why we are here, yes?’
Father nods, eyes wide and white, like marbles have been shoved in the sockets.
‘You know as well as I do that breeding is no longer permitted.’
Father nods, his gaze sinking to the floor. ‘We didn’t plan it,’ he pleads.
‘That is no excuse. Contraception and terminations are readily available.’
‘We couldn’t afford it, I swear. I can show you my bank records, as proof, if you require it?’
‘That wouldn’t change anything.’ The voice is cold, clinical, detached. Like he’s watching this on TV instead of acting it out in real life.
Father says nothing, continues to stare at the ground, one of his hands clamped to his face as though it is going to magically fix his shattered jaw.
‘So… where is she?’ the cullsman says.
The cullsman doesn’t reply. Wasted words and all that.
‘Please. She’s only two weeks old.’
‘Where is she?’
Father’s delay in replying is rewarded with a much harder blow. He lands on his back, swimming in darkness.
The cullsman listens. There’s a faint cry coming from the next room, where the mother was.
Instinct tells him the baby is in there. The brother is also still unaccounted for.
He boots the door open, taking the flimsy lock with it. It clangs to the floor, making the baby’s cry intensify.
His eyes land on the cupboard door at the back of the room. It is lined with badly drawn pictures of castles and princesses and dragons.
In the middle of the collage is a crude but unmistakable picture of a cullsman, looking huge and ominous in thick black crayon lines. He holds a gun that is almost as big as he is. The barrels are pointed at a tiny pink squiggle that vaguely resembles a baby.
Between the two figures stands a boy, roughly half the size of the cullsman. Though the drawing is poor, it is obvious the boy is there to defend the baby, even without reading the scrawled legend; ‘I wyl prutekt yu.’
The next picture along shows the boy standing victorious, his foot propped up on the back of the fallen cullsman. A large puddle of red crayon surrounds them. The boy has his hands in the air in celebration. He and the baby have smiles bigger than their faces.
The cullsman shakes his head, mutters, ‘Yeah right.’
He snatches them from the door and crumples them up.
Pulls the door open, the movement impeded slightly by pressure from the other side.
Little hands trying to hold the door shut.
He pulls harder, tearing the door from the kid’s hands.
There’s a frustrated cry as the door comes open.
A boy of maybe ten stands in front of him, his stance confrontational.
Some serious balls on this kid, the cullsman thinks.
‘You’ll have to kill me to get to her,’ the brother says, his face set in a determined grimace. His grubby hand indicates the baby on the cushion behind him, now red and shrieking and writhing in response to the sudden appearance of the black-clad man with the big gun.
The cullsman shrugs, pulls the trigger again. Brother’s gut erupts with blood, staining his nightshirt red. He falls, screaming, but still moving to block the cullsman’s path. His legs kick out at his assailant, trying to force him back.
‘No,’ he screams. ‘I won’t let you take her.’
The cullsman boots him in the top of the head, drawing a pained howl, but not diminishing his fight. Indeed, as the cullsman goes to step over him he sinks his teeth into his hand and starts thrashing his head from side to side like a dog with a chew toy.
The cullsman feels the pressure on his fingers, but the teeth don’t pierce his skin. He leans down and punches the kid full in the face.
Brother falls back, the cullsman’s glove in his mouth.
He snarls, lets the glove drop and, jaws gnashing, comes back for seconds.
The cullsman curses and lashes out again.
After the fourth blow, Brother finally stops struggling and slumps back, a ribbon of blood snaking down from his burst lip.
The cullsman shoves his glove back on, hiding the ornate skull tattoo on the back of his hand. He steps over the fallen boy, keen to get to the screaming infant and quiet its cacophony forever.
He picks it up by the leg, carelessly dangling it upside down as he moves back towards the father.
Baby’s screams intensify.
Father is just stirring.
‘You brought this on yourselves,’ the cullsman tells him. ‘The rules are simple; no breeding. We have enough mouths to feed as it is.’
Father’s eyes close as the infant is thrust to the floor. But by the sickening crunch and wet splat, it’s obvious what has happened.
The sight of the cullsman wiping a congealed bloody mess of flesh and hair from his boot confirms his worst fears.
The distraught father doesn’t even get to finish his scream before the cullsman’s blade tears through his jugular, liberating a hot spray of gore that further spatters his visor and jacket.
Father slumps back, his blood pouring out onto the bare wood beneath him. The cullsman watches his death throes, then turns and goes back for the baby’s brother.
The only problem is that Brother is gone.
Next chapter here