Ringstone Round

The Premier Quatermass Fansite. Not for those of a Nervous Disposition.


By Nigel Kneale

Chapter 1, Part 1

“That was a body!” Quatermass shouted. He leaned forward to rap on the armour-glass and put his mouth as close as he dared to the crude speaking tube. “We ought to go back.”

The driver pretended not to hear. He was obviously pretending because Quatermass could hear engine noise through the tube. He rapped on the glass again until arthritic pain stabbed his knuckles.

He peered through the steel mesh on the taxi’s rear window. The body, if it really had been one, was almost out of sight. There were only a couple of street lamps alight in the road and one was feebly intermittent. No help to an old man’s night vision. But it had been a human shape and even in the moment of passing it he had known it was not just drugged or drunk. Now why was that? The limbs, of course, the way they stuck out. Inside the ragged clothes it must have been swollen, probably lying there for days.

“You don’t go back.” The driver leaned to the speaking tube. So he had heard.

“I thought it was a human duty,” said Quatermass.

The taxi’s worn engine roared and they bumped faster over the pot-holes. Perhaps the man had seen immediately what Quatermass was slower to do, that the body was far past aid. He was younger. Better sight, quicker grasp.

Just the same, a corpse lying at the side of a suburban main road, left to decay – !

The breath jolted out of Quatermass’s lungs. The taxi thumped across scattered rubble. He managed to hold on to a grab-handle. He glanced out and in the reflected light from their headlamps saw the remains of yet another street barricade.

Burned-out cars. One had evidently been something expensive, a Lagonda or Lamborghini or the like, that Quatermass had never aspired to.

“I did not indulge myself,” he had written in his memoirs, “because I simply had no time. In a larger sense my whole life has been indulgence. I did what I wanted to do.”

Memoirs were an indulgence as well. Sitting there writing in the manse, facing south over the loch where the sun, when it happened to shine, beat up refreshingly off the water. Picking over the past, re-running it all. Recriminations, proofs, apologies. Up at dawn after the brief sleep one needed, to set down what one had just remembered or dreamed: exhilarating moments of insight and invention, the old swamping horrors.

As one scribbled one slid into fierce arguments with people from another time. There they were making their long-gone technical points about fuel lines or gimbals, and one was always tempted to let oneself win because, bluntly, one had the pen.

It would go on until somebody looked into the room with a message, or perhaps a bowl of soup, and one found oneself staring at them blankly because they belonged to the present. Sour tempered Maire. And then, sometimes, Hettie. He should have talked to Hettie –

“Hold on!” shouted the taxi driver.

More scattered rubble in the headlights. Oil drums. The taxi jarred against one and the thing barely moved. It must have been full of earth. That was the way they used oil drums in barricades, he had heard.

“How much further?”

The driver ignored him and he clung as they rolled round another corner. They seemed to be on an elaborate route. The man must know where the worst barricades were. The no-go areas.

LONDON IS DEAD! The words flashed in huge streaky letters on a wall.

So why come here?

That appalling journey from Scotland, was it only last week?

People clinging to the train everywhere, actually hanging on to the outside in hundreds. Sitting on the roofs. He remembered ancient film, newsreels before the war, of trains like that in India. But this was his own country. God alone knew why they were making for London. They had passed another train, also smothered with refugees, heading back. As they limped by each other some people fell off. It was said men had jumped from one train to the other, or had tried.

WHO DONE IT? screamed more paint, WHO BURNED ST. PAUL’S? But it was old paint from a time when somebody might have cared. St. Paul’s had gone long ago, he knew that much.

No street lamps here, none at all. And the houses were wholly dark. But that was only to be expected at this hour of the night.

They swung round another corner.

The driver stamped on his brakes, sending the taxi skidding with locked wheels. Perhaps it was the rubble that saved them, jolting them to a halt a few feet from a barricade. This one looked solid. A pile of bedsteads, crates, railings, a wrecked van.

After a shaken moment the driver said: “That’s it. Out!”

“Leave me here?”

Quatermass felt anger rising. He had struck so much irrational behaviour in the last few days.

“I can’t get no further,” said the man. “The studio’s just down the street. You can walk it.”

Quatermass opened the door. Somewhere beyond the barricade there was a glow of lights. That could be the place. Unless the taximan was just setting him adrift.

“I done me best. Hurry up.”

“And you want your fare?”

“No!” The man was pleading. “Where you been, guv? It’s all paid for.”

Quatermass found his battered leather case and got out. “No Cash Carried” said the notice on the driver’s door.

“Just get going, guv.”

He slammed his gears into reverse and the taxi went screaming backwards along the street. Quatermass waited, half expecting to see it crash, but in a moment more it had turned and gone.

It was a mean street. Small Victorian houses, typical outer London. Nearly all the windows were covered with boards or corrugated iron. Once that would have been to keep squatters out. Now it was probably for protection. There might still be people inside.

A single street lamp picked out writing on the window boards. The remains of an official poster: CURFEW in huge black letters, followed by a joking couplet to take the taste away: LISTEN FOR THE SIREN SOUND! DO NOT RISK A NASTY WOUND!

Savage paint streaks, BADDER-MINDOFF RULE OK. Even that looked old. Baader-Meinhof, Badder Mindoff, the attempt to anglicize the name of the German gangs. Borrowed plumage.

His feet crunched in the rubble and he tried to pick his way more carefully, to make less noise.

BADDERS RULE LONDON. That looked more recent. And then KILL! Just that, just kill. Anybody would do.

He tightened his grip on the case. Don’t hurry, he told himself, keep calm.

Shots. Three or four of them. But they were distant. Another one. Yes, very far away. Silence after that. No rumble or throb of a living city.

“Hello, there.”

The voice was polite, well-spoken. As Quatermass jerked round it flashed into his mind that this was a helper, a vigilante perhaps, somebody concerned for law and order.

Then he noticed the young man’s deliberately ragged garments, hair woven into a shock of stringlike dreadlocks. But this was a white youth.

“Hello, grandpa.”

Quatermass felt his heart rate rising. He tried to speak firmly.

“Get out of my way.”

His upper arms were suddenly gripped from behind. He managed to get a look at another grinning face. Then a third came at him from the side and wrenched the case out of his grip.

Give in, that was the advice, let them take whatever they want. Papers, money, clothes.

“All right, you’ve got it,” he said.

They all smiled at that, as if he had made a joke and they were showing themselves politely amused.

“We’ve got you, mate,” said the first youth. His accent was still unplaceably correct. Public school or an imitation of it. The “mate” jarred.

Quatermass saw his case open on the pavement, clothes being pulled out of it. He had brought everything with him, having no intention of going back to that filthy hotel.

“What’s he worth?”

Quatermass chilled. He was not being robbed but evaluated. “I’m not worth kidnapping if that’s what you – “

Something hit him in the face. “That’s for us to say!”

Such pain as he had not felt for years. But he knew, through it, that he had only been hit lightly. He saw brass knuckles, but there had been no sound of cracking. Cool intelligence somewhere was reminding him that an old man’s bones are brittle, that if nothing had shattered it wasn’t so bad. Not yet.

“Get his teeth out.”

“Grandpa’s still got his own. Haven’t you?”

“So get ‘em out!”

This time he saw the knuckles flash. He twisted and the blow grazed his temple. He cried out. His eyes were squeezed shut. He felt himself being swung round, held ready. He knew what came next: the pummelling and kicking that he would not survive.

Now it was time to plead. He said: “Please – please don’t – “

He waited for the blows. They were making him wait. Tormenting.


A screech filled the street. Light flashed across his lids.

The hands changed their grip.

Headlamps. A car horn blaring continuously. Some kind of heavy vehicle crashing through the barricade.

Quatermass found himself on the pavement. Moments of complete confusion before he realized his attackers were running. A big dog was barking.

Hands again. Friendly hands, supporting.

“Easy now.”

He tried to speak but the words came out as an unintelligble whisper. He had to say it again: “Have they gone?”

“My dog’s seeing them off.”

“They were enjoying it,” whispered Quatermass.

“Of course they were.”

Quatermass peered at him, feeling blood run into one eye. A quick, intelligent face that he seemed to have seen before.

“Can you stand up?”

Quatermass took the proffered hand. No bones cracked.

“That’s better. Where d’you live?”

The question was incomprehensible. What was he supposed to say? His address in Scotland?


“D’you live round here?”

Of course. Natural to think he was a local victim. He looked down and saw his filthy hands, a sleeve ripped and hanging. He found his voice.

“I … I’m looking for the television studios. I’m supposed to be in a programme.”

“So am I.”

The young man smiled. And that face was puzzlingly more familiar.


“It could just be the same one. What’s your name?”


“I’m Joe Kapp.”

Of course. They’d told him. Dr. Joseph Kapp. And he’d remembered and been pleased. Quatermass found himself curiously self-conscious. He tried to wipe the blood out of his eye.

“What a way to meet,” he said.

Kapp started gathering his scattered possessions from the pavement. Quatermass told him aboutthe taxi.

“Setting you up for them?”

“Oh. I don’t think so. I think he was frightened.”

Kapp whistled, harsh to the old man’s crawling nerves, and the dog came bounding out of the darkness. A huge brute, an Alsatian with a wolf’s mane. Saliva dripped and hung as it investigated him.

“Good puppy,” Kapp was saying. “This is a friend, puppy.” Quatermass wondered foggily why he addressed it like that, a creature bigger than a Highland calf. It scrambled ahead of them into the waggon, which looked like something strayed from an armoured column. It might once have been built as a delivery van, but it was now smothered under steel mesh and crash bars and deflector plates. Inside it was just as rough.

They had not far to go.

Floodlamps switched on as they approached the massive ram-proof gate. BTV said the sign above it, and all round were threats: HALT! PRODUCE IDENTITY! DO NOT PROCEED WITHOUT PERMISSION! GUARDS AUTHORISED TO SHOOT!

One of the guards came ambling out of the gatehouse munching a sandwich. The carbine hung across his chest lent little conviction.

“What d’you want?”

“You’re expecting us. Professor Quatermass, Dr. Kapp.” Kapp passed their plastic identity cards across.

The guard peered in. “Had trouble?”

“Yes, so please get on with it.”

“Badder gang?”


“Oh, muggers. Them’re just hangers on.” There was a curious pride in his voice as he added: “We got some big Badder gangs round here. They’d’a shot you up.”

“What about you? Don’t you do anything?”

The guard grinned. “We don’t go out.”

He signalled. The gate swung open. Kapp drove into the almost empty car park.


Kneale, Nigel. Quatermass. Novel. Arrow Books, 1979.