Dig For Victory
The flame takes her night vision for a moment. The Slayer squeezes
her eyes shut, and looks away. The orange shapes flutter behind her
eyelids, taunting her with a suggestion of sense in the chaos.
"You're not supposed to do that," she says, voice too close to
weary, "Pisses off the Wardens."
Mr Hathaway breathes in to light his cigarette, then drops the used
match into the gutter. The light dies as it falls. He gives a single,
ironic laugh. "I've faced worse things than the Luftwaffe." He says
the 'w' like a 'v', like the Germans. Iris thinks that Mr Hathaway is
good with things like that, the little details. And he talks ever so
fancy. Like someone from a film. Her mum thinks he's quite glamorous,
but she's always impressed by things like that. She wants Iris to get
herself an American at the dancing, so they can have chocolates
Iris and her mother don't do badly though, despite the lack of GIs.
Mr Hathaway brings them things - fruit and meat and the like. He says
that Iris has to be strong to kill the dead things, but he never says
where the extra food comes from. Fell off the back of a lorry, says
her mum whenever Iris asks. Mum lets Mr Hathaway eat with them on
Sundays. (Christ, no wonder everyone thinks they're at it!) She's
very understanding, is mum. She gets that what Iris does is
important. Mr Hathaway says that usually a Slayer's family doesn't
get told anything, because they might, as he says, 'over-react'.
Loose lips sink ships.
The Watcher smokes in silence, ash fluttering down onto the darkened
pavement. He coughs as he finishes, like he always does, and
carefully grinds the fag-end into the wall behind him. "Right then,"
he says, and he tells Iris what she's going to kill tonight.
Iris is still wearing her overalls from the factory, because they're
easy to move in. Mr Hathaway carries the weapons so she can move
quickly if she has to. All Iris carries is a stake, a knife and the
obligatory gas-mask in its plain cardboard box. The box keeps
twisting round on it's string and banging against her leg, so she
leaves it on the ground when she fights. Always have to make
compromises in this business, she tells herself for the umpteenth
Vampires tonight, her favourite.
It brings them out, the black nights. All demons love the darkness,
but vampires most of all. They came swarming into the cities when the
blackout started, crawling among the alleys and the craters; the main
reason Iris was glad when the children were evacuated, but most of
the kids are back now, and she has to worry again. Things just seem
to get more and more complicated. She wonders sometimes if this is
part of being a Slayer, or just the normal way of things.
Tonight the Slayer and her Watcher are going to stalk the cemetery.
The vampires like the cemetery, it's as dead as they are. Really,
this war is the best thing that ever happened for the vampires. Death
and darkness all across Europe. Iris wonders how the creatures ever
got by before.
But the demons are old, older than Iris and older even than Mr
Hathaway. They have always been here, and here they always will be.
The thought weighs down on Iris like the darkness. There will be
other Slayers after her. This means that Iris must come to an end,
They set off into the ink-black night.
Mr Hathaway can't run too fast, so they have to be extra careful on
their dark-lit patrols. They did something to him, the Council, so
that he could be invalided out of the war. Something to his lungs, or
was it his heart? Iris has seen him cough up blood a few times, but
he tells her not to worry about that. The Slayer has enough to deal
with, he says, and he's right, as always. Iris can't help thinking
that the lungs are, in a way, her fault.
It was spring when Mr Hathaway came to Iris's house, when the leaves
were green and the sky was a brilliant blue. He wore a suit and
carried a tightly-rolled umberella. He was very polite, and her
mother fussed over him. He told Iris what she was, and that she had a
grand destiny to fulfill. Iris can remember exactly what she said,
thinking it over as she poured the tea into fragile, paper-thin cups -
her mum's wedding china.
"That's not a job for a young lady," she said. Mr Hathaway had smiled
and said she had a lot to learn.
Now Iris thinks that her night-time job is more ladylike than her day
one. At night, she kills, but it's a personal sort of killing, and
she knows that every creature she slays deserves the quick impact of
the stake or the sword. When the sun shines, Iris twists together the
casings on the bombs and worries about her soul. She knows that the
Germans started the war, and she knows that her side have to win, but
she also knows that her work might take children and old women.
Humans are more complicated than monsters, thinks Iris. Humans don't
come in good and evil, you can't get books that tell you which ones
can't be saved.
The piercing cresendo-and-fade of the air-raid siren hits Iris and
stops her thinking. She pushes work-roughened hands over her ears and
looks at Mr Hathaway. He pulls a lump of cotton wool from his pocket
and tears two pieces from it, handing them to her. The monsters don't
go down into the shelters so neither do they. Iris is glad really,
they're full of screaming kids and scared old ladies. Slayers are
supposed to die standing up, says Mr Hathaway. So they keep going,
out towards the cemetry. They have to duck into an alleyway once, to
avoid being seen on the streets and towed down into a shelter. Last
time Iris nearly had to break the Warden's arm before the old git
would let her go. Yelled at her though, told her she was mental.
It's about half a mile, sirens screaming and the streetlights out.
The moon is almost full though, and the stars are out. Perfect
weather for a bombing run. Iris shivers and pulls her big grey coat
tighter. They make their way through the silent streets, breath
condensing in the cold air.
The town feels almost empty; heavy black curtains holding in the
light and the warmth from the houses, the streetlights and the car
lights dead to keep the city safe. Iris starts as a soft warmth
brushes past her. A black cat lands effortlessly in her path and
pauses for a moment to stare up at her. Iris shoos it away with an
irritated wave of her arms. The cat bares its teeth and runs off down
the middle of the street.
Slaying has not made Iris superstitious, it was her mother who did
that. The Slaying has cemented her fears, nothing else. Nowadays,
there is a rational frame around her most irrational beliefs. Her
more realistic fears have waned though - the human monsters of the
blackout could never pose a threat to one like her.
Iris has only ever killed in self-defence.
As they head further into the velvet night, finds herself wondering.
She wonders a lot, about many things. Tonight she wonders about the
girl who will follow her. Will the next Slayer be older than her?
Younger? Will she be dark or fair? Will she speak English? Will she
be told about Iris? Will the story be presented as a shining example
or as a warning?
All this is futile, thinks Iris. She kills one monster and another
emerges in its place. On and on, one thing after another.
And the strongest ones survive the centuries. Mr Hathaway call
this 'Unnatural Selection'. There are vampires walking this world who
have taken the blood of Slayers, there are demons who saw the Earth
encased in ice. As long as there are shadows there will be monsters
to hide in them. And when there are no shadows? The monsters will
make do somehow. They are resilient.
The ground is solid under her feet. She jumps the fence almost
thoughtlessly, then waits for her Watcher to make his way into the
cemetery. They left the railings here, when they came for metal.
Everyone fears the vengeance of the dead, the army most of all. Mr
Hathaway said that you can't make airplanes from railings anyway,
airplanes are made of aluminium. It was all just propaganda, he said,
like 'Dig For Victory'. Just something to make the people feel that
they were helping with the war effort.
Mr Hathaway lands somehow with his effortless dignity and leads the
way into the darkness. Iris wishes they could have something to light
their way, every gravestone pulls at her attention, a huddled black
shape in the clautrophobic night.
They don't have to wait long. Iris is across the churchyard in a
matter of seconds, leaping at the demon, blaming it for everything.
The discarded gasmask tumbles from its box onto a 1918 grave, scaring
a rat and crushing a weed. Iris doesn't know this though, as her
vision is red and focussed. She fights with too much aggression
sometimes, mostly when she's worried about something.
The creature fights back harder than expected, the steady strength of
the recently-fed. Mr Hathaway scurries towards the fury, the bag of
weapons clanking absurdly in his grip. But Iris has her stake, and
she wants that to be enough.
They all look up at the droning whine, even the vampire. But of
course while the engines are sounding all is safe. "Doodlebug," she
says, trying to be detatched, and kicks the vampire across the left
side of its face. The demon stumbles. Iris takes the moment of grace
to listen for the engines of the bomb. She swears as the low sound
stops. She turns, and feels an inhuman hand on her shoulder, icy even
through her clothing. The Slayer is pushed back and down.
Mr Hathaway says a word Iris's mother would refuse to believe he
knows. He aims as best he can and squeezes the trigger on the
He misses, as usual, and Iris has to roll to one side to escape the
bolt. Mr Hathaway says the word again.
Iris is on her feet once more, throwing her weight at the vampire.
Her fingers tighten around the stake in her hand as razor teeth and
iron muscle work against her.
Iris, unlike her Watcher, never misses. She finds herself straddling
dust, yelps as she hits the ground. She blushes.
She turns to look back into the depths of the city. "Where did it
"It doesn't matter."
Iris stares. "Yes it bloody does!" She sets off back towards the
houses, but the Watcher catches her arm.
"Iris, you're the Slayer, you don't get to walk away. You have a job
to do." He is stern but steady, like a newsreel announcing a cut in
rations. He is doing what he must. He has a job to do.
Iris looks back at the city, at the thin column of smoke climbing
towards the sky. "But..."
Mr Hathaway ducks down till he is at eye-level with the
girl. "They're in the shelter, Iris. And there are people to put out
the fires and people to take care of the wounded." His voice is
quiet, a little hypnotic. "None of those people can do what you do.
You're the only weapon we have."
So Iris stays in the cemetery and she turns the demons to dust. Join
the RAF, Dig For Victory, Do Your Bit.
And always the feeling of hopelessness, always the futility and the
fear. The war Iris fights in the daytime will eventually be over, one
way or another. But the one she fights in the darkness never will.