Callum Hayes felt a sharp prod in his ribs. At one time he would have found it painful, but compared to the recent injuries it was nothing. It was just irritating.

He turned and glared at the woman who had dealt the blow. His mother was barely recognisable behind the black veil, but the disapproving scowl and lack of tears from narrowed eyes was just like her. Her lips moved soundlessly and the black gloved finger pointed to his ears before it jabbed his ribs again.

He sighed and removed the earphone without hitting the pause button on the MP3 player. He pulled out the other earpiece and let the cord dangle over his shoulder. The sound of ‘Archives of Pain’ from the Manic Street Preachers’ third album The Holy Bible spilled onto the wooden pew. James Dean Bradfield’s voice was metallic and distorted in the silent church, but the line All I preach is extinction was clearly audible..

There. That should piss ‘em all off. He turned away from his mother and grinned at his father sitting on his right.

His father glowered at him but didn’t raise a finger. He wouldn’t dare. Instead, Michael Hayes clenched his fists and pressed the heels of his palms harder onto his knees. He always did that when he tried to bottle up his anger. Never a harsh word, never a slap, never even a Callum! Do what your mother tells you to! Let mum look after the discipline, eh, dad? Just because you don’t trust your temper…

Other heads had turned in the nave to stare at him, just as disapprovingly as his parents had. He faced them down, his cold grey-eyed stare forcing some of them to hastily turn their heads away and back to the vicar standing over the coffin.

He allowed himself a small smile of triumph, which broke out into a full, smirk when his mother gave up prodding his ribs and turned away.

The vicar met his eyes once, having heard the tinny sound of Callum’s iPod. His bushy eyebrows furrowed and met in the middle, looking to Callum like a disapproving, sanctimonious caterpillar on a rosy-cheeked globe of pious piss and wind.

Say something, you fucker! Go on, dare ya!

A victory of sorts, he considered, an entire village scared stiff of a sixteen year old boy. Nothing new there, these bastards shit themselves every time they came near the council estate or deliberately crossed the road to avoid a bunch of WKD drinking hoodies congregating outside the Londis store. Callum knew he didn’t fit the media-defined image of a hoodie. No shaven scalp or piercings, no tattoos or bling, no street wear or expensive trainers. In his normal uniform of  Primark jeans and 3-for-a fiver T shirts from the local market, the cheapest spectacles his parents could find and imitation-Vans trainers that squeaked whenever he walked, he was fair game for the teenage thugs himself, in or out of school. Consistently high grades, a love of European literature and a cack-handedness at any form of team sports made him an irresistible target.  In another time he would have been the victim of them, rather than a source of fear and apprehension.

Another time, he mused. Might as well be on another planet. The coffin was proof of that.

He pressed the pause button on the iPod. Not out of respect for the mourners, but because it amused him to hear what the priest had to say.

Another suicide, vicar? One more kid went too far when they harmed themselves? Go on, tosser, explain that as part of God’s plan!

He stretched leisurely and leaned back on the hard wood of the pew. His black T shirt lifted over his smooth abdomen, revealing well-toned abs. He saw his mother open her eyes in surprise. A previous look of disapproval at his refusal to wear a suit and tie, now changed to a look of bewilderment. Her baffled gaze swept over the bulge of his biceps and the taut skin that barely contained the new muscles, but she didn’t see the bandages and plasters that covered his own self-inflicted wounds..

Of course she hadn’t noticed the change in him. Too busy fussing over the girl when she started to self-harm, too wrapped up with researching the condition online, seeking answers from forums and message boards when the media and the mental health professionals admitted that they didn’t have a clue. And then the grief as her daughter became one more statistic, one more hole in the ground. All this time, neither she nor her bloody husband bothered asking him how he felt when his sister died. Why he’d abandoned the chess club and the computer club and had attended the local gym instead.

His father had vaguely noticed. He’d probably even approved, maybe considered that pumping iron and ten mile runs every morning were a good way of burning off the excess energy and the rage that built inside the boy. A positive way of coping with grief.

But that wasn’t the reason Callum had forced the physical change on himself. He didn’t give a shit that his sister was dead.

“Megan’s passing has been a terrible blow to us all.” The vicar’s words hung in the oppressive atmosphere of the church, held firmly in place over their heads as though stuck in the wall of heat that blazed from the July sun. Sweat poured from the vicar’s forehead, ran down his cheeks to join the tears.

“It is at times like these that we look deep into our hearts and ask the question: why? Why has God allowed this to happen? Why did he not prevent this terrible, terrible affliction? Why has such a wonderful young woman, with such intelligence, compassion and love for life been taken from us in such an obscene way?”

He saw his father lift his fist to his mouth and bite his knuckles to stifle a sob. Callum grinned.

“There are no answers,” the vicar continued. Callum shook his head and looked at his father. Michael Hayes’s eyes were squeezed shut, but the tears still found their way. They mingled with the blood that trickled from the knuckles. His stifled sob escaped, too. High pitched and wheezing.

No answers, dad? What, not even you, Mister-fucking-know-everything? Callum’s grin faded as contempt for his father returned.

Of course not. The police training college at Hendon never covered children’s suicides, did it? If you can’t bang someone up or give ‘em a parking ticket, you’re lost aren’t you, daddy?

Callum knew what his father had been thinking over the last few days. Knew he was blaming himself, questioning his role as a father – as a protector. If I can’t save my own daughter from herself, his face every morning said, what good am I?

The vicar’s eyes turned to the bereaved parents, and his eyes softened at the sight of Michael Hayes.

“There are no answers, and no-one to blame.” A sympathetic, watery smile.

There. That was it. Console yourself, former Detective-Sergeant Hayes. It’s not your fault. You were a good copper, and still a good father. Callum sniggered. In the silence of the vicar’s pause the sound was loud, amplified by the cold stone walls of the packed nave. The vicar’s smile froze and Callum delighted in the shocked, disapproving glares from the rest of the congregation. Glares mingled with fear.

No-one to blame – you’re still a good father. Shame that it was Megan who went rather than that bastard son of yours.

Callum glared back, turned in the pew to face the rest of the congregation whose hate-filled eyes quickly sunk to their laps.

“Megan Hayes’s tragic passing is devastating to us, but we must remember that ours is not the only community to be shattered in this way. The shock and grief we all feel may seem unique to us, but we must remember that what has happened here – and the service we are performing today – is being repeated throughout the country.” The vicar sighed and glanced at the coffin. The floral tributes looked tired and wilted, the wreath in the shape of Bongo the cat, sagging as though overcome with the heat from outside or the despair facing the community.

All but one. Callum wasn’t surprised by how packed the church was. With a small community of less than eight hundred people everyone in the village knew each other and Megan had had the knack of being loved by all. Even brighter than her brother, her acceptance by Trinity College Cambridge to study European Literature was no surprise and indeed a cause for celebration. But then, Callum grudgingly admitted, she never flaunted her academic brilliance and managed to be friends with the geeks and the cool kids. Shit, even the thugs that milled around the Londis store showed her some grudging respect. But that may have been more down to the fact that they’d fancied the pants off her.

Funny how no-one had ever tried it on with her, though. Not that she had this I’m-out-of-your-league-so-don’t-even-try-it vibe about her which would’ve turned the other blokes on even more. Neither did she prick-tease. There’d been something otherworldly about her, something that distanced her from the rest of her peers no matter how friendly and charming she was to them.

That otherworldliness was something he understood now. Something he had feared when it had first whispered to him, gave him the impression that it was not the same thing that had spoken to his departed sister. But he knew now it was not to be feared. If anything -

Bloody hell, there was one of the Londis hoodies over there, just at the rear pew. Sobbing like a fucking girl.

What’s up, Wayne? The fantasy-fuck image all gone now that the last memory of her you’ll have is of her being lowered to the ground in a wooden box? Poor little boy!

Another prod, this time accompanied with a whispered warning.

“For God’s sake, Callum!”

Callum sighed. That prod had hurt this time. The fingernail pressed into a gap between his ribs, and he felt the recent wound open up beneath the plaster. Shit. Just as well he’d worn black today to cover the ever-reddening plasters and bandages. Hard work to hide his own self-harming, knowing that if his parents noticed he’d be whisked away to one of the recently-built government institutions. But it didn’t matter anymore.

The Presence wanted him inside. Why, he didn’t know, he’d always thought that his purpose was on the outside. Surely he could follow his as yet unknown destiny to greater effect in the real world? But no. The presence had been very clear. Only when the coffin was taken out of the hearse and carried in to the church by the sombre-faced pallbearers, his tear-faced father in the lead had it made its decision known to him.

Now was the time to show them. Now was the time to let them all know that the vicar was wrong when he said there were no answers.

There is an answer, chaps and chappesses. But you won’t like it!

“For God’s sake, mum? What has God got to do with this exactly?” He grinned at the sight of her visible flinch. Her mouth opened in a shocked gasp, a gasp taken up by the other grievers.

“Callum,” his father hissed. Michael Hayes’s eyes blazed with fury and fear. “I don’t know what you’re playing at, but it ends now. D’you hear me?”

Callum stood up. He stared directly ahead, looking at the stained glass window behind the vicar. The crucifixion of Christ was a beautiful, shimmering collection of jewels with the sun blazing behind it. The rivulets of blood were glistening, liquid rubies.

The beauty of death and self-sacrifice, he thought. Pain and suffering have a light of their own. And it’s beautiful.

“No, dad. It doesn’t end here. It’s only beginning.” He pushed past his stunned father, lazily pushed the clutching, sweat-and-tear-soaked fingers from his T shirt. He walked leisurely down the aisle, an arrogant swagger in his purposeful steps. He felt the hatred and fear of the congregation in their glares, which fired him up even more.

He pulled off his T shirt and tossed it onto the coffin. It landed with a wet slapping sound, a mixture of sweat and blood from his wounds. Even he was surprised by the amount of scarlet that oozed from the collection of bandages and plasters on his otherwise immaculate torso. He heard the sharp, horrified gasps and mutterings from the congregation.

His audience. The vicar was the support act, the warm-up. Now was the main gig.

“Cheers, vic. You can go home now. There’s nothing more you can do.”

The vicar took an involuntary step backwards. “I beg your pardon? What on Earth do you think you’re – “

“On Earth as it is in Heaven. As above, so below, and all that shite. No longer.” He grinned as he took the vicar’s place behind the lectern. He glanced briefly at the open pages of the Bible and shook his head. He lifted his left arm and pulled off the plaster he’d freshly applied this morning to his shoulder. It came away with a wet sucking sound, pulling away pieces of skin and opened up the wound which gaped like a hungry red mouth.

“Things are changing, chaps and chappesses.” He slapped the soaked plaster onto the spread pages of the Bible and moved it in a slow, circular motion, just like his father cleaning the family Renault. Within moments the typed script on the thin pages became illegible.

“Forget the Word of God. He can’t help you now. In fact, words will be pretty much meaningless in the days to come. What’s coming for us doesn’t use language the way we do.” He pressed the damp sponge of the plaster firmly into the centre of the Bible, lifted the left cover and then slammed it shut. Blood oozed from the spine and dripped onto the lectern. Callum smiled darkly as he lifted the heavy golden cross.

“Solid gold, eh? Waste of precious metal. Let’s put it to some real use.” He hefted it in his right hand and turned on his heel. The vicar ducked, just in time to avoid the heavy object striking his sweating forehead. But he wasn’t Callum’s intended target.

The sound of the stained glass display shattering echoed violently off the walls of the nave like a bomb exploding. The central panel of Christ’s Passion fragmented and wickedly sharp daggers of the glass fell from the lead panes, their further destruction muffled by the thick red carpet. Callum knelt down and picked up the closest piece.

Two feet long and curved like an Arabian scimitar. Every edge gleamed in the fierce sunlight that poured through the hole in the window, glistening with a warning of sharp pain to any who dared to pick it up.

Callum dared. He was no stranger to pain. And this was for a truly noble cause.

He turned back to his audience. Some were still shaken by the assault on this sanctuary, but none had dared to leave their pews. He had expected a sudden rush from the male mourners, an attack before he could begin his journey. It wouldn’t be long, though. He had to act quickly before they recovered their wits.

“My sister is dead. She killed herself but not because she’d had enough of life. Not because she was in despair. She self-harmed like so many others of us do…she just went too far. Didn’t know when to stop.

“That’s the story, anyway. The truth? Truth is, she didn’t believe. She chose the wrong side. The side that’s going to lose. And she didn’t want to be around to see the final battle.”

His fingers stroked the curved side of the fragment lovingly. Fresh blood welled from his fingers as he tightened his grip. He brandished the fragment like the scimitar it resembled, twirled it round his head three times. The blood flicked away from the damaged fingers and flecked the Sunday-Best clothes of the front row of mourners.

When he felt the glass grate against the exposed bones of his metacarpals he knew it was time. The grinding sound was loud in the stunned silence of the nave.

“One thing this guy got right. Self-sacrifice. Shame he did it for the wrong reasons.”

He raised his left hand, palm outwards. Then he turned it at an angle, just enough for the audience to see the point of the fragment pierce the palm. With no trace of pain or exertion on his features, he effortlessly pushed the piece of glass right through. His impaled fingers twitched in time to the rasping sound from the bones of his ravaged right hand powering the sword of glass.

He pulled it back quickly and the glass retreated with a wet, meaty sound. He showed the palm to the audience.

I am the way,” he intoned emotionlessly. “It is through me that life eternal shall be granted.

There were new sounds in the church now. The cries of horror mingled with the shouts of rage and hatred at the blasphemy and the desecration of Megan Hayes’s service.

Silence returned in an instant. Because now the mourners saw what was in Callum Hayes’s pierced palm.

I am the gateway. It is through me that they shall come. It is through me that their lives will be eternal…at the cost of your own.

The warning – or the promise – was underlined by the thing that emerged from the gaping hole in Callum Hayes’s palm.

“All I preach is…extinction.”