By Andrew Hawcroft
John Clay is the teenage leader of the inner-city youth gang, The Red Liners. They inhabit the impoverished Red Corners estate in South London, a law unto themselves, living for ever-increasing kicks involving crime, intimidation and destruction.
One night, when John decides to raid the house of the creator of an old science-fiction TV show, he sees it as nothing more than another cheap thrill, another way to make some easy cash selling the artefacts on display.
Laurence J. Carrington, a former professor of English, wrote the Professor Morton’s Curious Gadget series of children’s sci-fi books in the early 1970’s as, in his words, ‘a means of providing moral guidance to children’. They were subsequently adapted into a classic sci-fi TV series in the early 80’s, which ran until the late-90’s. In 2003, after his beloved wife Matilda died from a rare incurable illness, he ordered their large home turned into a museum dedicated to the show, with the profits going to a charity supporting research into the same illness. This done, he promptly died himself, the blame going on the strain of grief combined with old age.
The house itself is a strange place, filled with props from the TV show, including full-size mannequins of some of the most famous and beloved creatures from the show; The Dust Merchants, The Eleetium, a giant tooth from the skyscraper-high Strider monster, and so on.
Breaking in, the Red Liners, hopped up on alcohol and sugar, wreck the place, stealing anything they can fit in their pockets, while John, the more controlled and intelligent of the gang, takes a precious engraved pendant belong to Mr Carrington’s wife.
They escape and initially see the episode as another ‘laugh’, another night-on-the-town, just another of a hundred casual break-ins and scenes of mindless vandalism.
Shortly after though, things begin to happen. Members of the Red Liners start behaving oddly, seeming paranoid, even afraid, claiming ‘they aren’t alone’ during times they should be. Some stop turning up to gang meetings, and soon, some start disappearing. Others are discovered in terrible states on terror, incapable of rational speech.
As winter descends heavily upon Red Corners, strange markings and footprints are found around the scenes of each attack, and despite the ludicrousness of what is suggested by those markings, the evidence becomes impossible to ignore.
As the members of his gang who assisted in the break-in fall away, John becomes aware that he is being left until last by whatever dreadful force is pursuing the Red Liners. He begins to understand that if he is to finally find the strength of character to atone for his crimes, the time for doing so is rapidly running out...