history lesson-


Dig For Victory
by nostalgia

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 again.

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 time.

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, some day.

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 crossbow.

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 hit?"

"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.