The young man had woken with a start. He was in that instant that sleepers recognise, that moment when they wake surprised by the strangeness of their surroundings. The boy was waking up on a bus that was a long way past the place he was meant to get off. Nightmare!
He must have gone way past where he had intended to be because he didn’t recognise anything. Before he climbed off the vehicle, he asked the driver where he was and received a reply that he had been dreading. He was near St Agnes, in the West Lake Park estate, and this was not an area for an outsider to be in at this time of night.
With the bus heading off into the wet splash of the darkness, he pulled his hood up around him and crossed to the other side of the road. From there, he would walk until he found another bus stop that would take him back. The driver had told him that one would be along within another fifteen minutes or so. Fifteen minutes felt like a century.
The road he was walking along looked like any other council estate road in the city. He knew from experience that some places were decent and safe whilst others were best avoided. This one fell into the category of ‘AVOID AT ALL COSTS’. Another thing he knew about was the evidence of gang markings in the form of graffiti.
The gangs used this method as a form of marking their territory; it meant KEEP OUT. Of course, they were happy if someone wanted to cross into their turf as this meant that they could lay down another marker that usually meant a severe beating that would be filmed on mobile phone cameras. These shots would then be uploaded to an Internet site where the prowess of their gang could reach a wider audience. The boy was not a gang member, but he was not from around these parts. If he was lucky, he would be on the bus back to where he was supposed to be. The streets were empty of people and he hurried along looking as inconspicuous as he possibly could.
To his relief, he spotted a bus stop that had a shelter where he would be able to wait until he gained his escape. He did not see the things that were watching him from the darkness and was not able to hear their alerts and communications.
He looked at his watch. There was no timetable to read as it had been the subject of a sustained campaign of vandalism. Marker pen and spray paint had been used with limited effect whereas the latest strike had resulted in something entirely more permanent; it has been torched. Somebody had doused the thick plastic casing in some inflammable liquid or other and had set light to it causing the plastic to give way to the intensity of the heat and run in unrelenting rivulets along its surface.
Now, as the boy stared at the charred results, the timetable not even a distant memory, he wondered how long he would have to wait. At least the rain had provided him with cover.
A long shiver ran down his spine and he pulled his coat around him. He tried not to think of the things he had heard about. The gangs here were legendary. The stories that surrounded them were stuff of dark mythology and their quoted exploits were too much to even contemplate. He tried not to think about this, but they came back to him, seeping through his consciousness and quietly drowning any optimism that still remained. He looked at his watch again and the hand did not appear to have moved. In the corner of his vision something did move and caused his head to swivel quickly towards its perceived location.
There was nothing.
He looked once more, but found the darkness had become impenetrable. Just the dark, he thought without finding comfort. If he could not see into the darkness, then the darkness could not see him or into him. Odd that last thought.As he sat, his mind imagining the arrival of the bus, last rescue, a dark circle was forming around him. Slowly, imperceptibly so, it began to draw itself towards its focus.
He looked at his watch and tried to pull the minute hand along by squinting his eyes. This way, the whole thing went blurry and he could make the time anything he wished. He was doing this, adopting a Chinese face, when he felt something brush against his leg. He jumped.
With his eyes open now, he took moments to adjust to whatever was left of the light… The rain was still pelting down, cutting away his long view of the street. He suddenly felt really alone and shivered from something that was now more than cold. Something else brushed past his leg, something bolder, something without fear. He looked down towards the floor and thought he saw a rising tide of black water. Must be from the drains. Drains must be flooded.He didn’t have chance to recoil before some other thing barged into his calf followed by another and another. Must be stuff washed up from the sewers.His legs were now deeply rooted in a living stream of blackness. The whole area around him was moving, swirling in angry eddies of intent and he felt fear, a fear that he could never have imagined, and it gripped him in its ancient hands.
He was drowning in the torrent, being carried or dragged along by its relentless progress, when he reached out and saw the approach of someone who would save him.
“Help,” he almost screamed before a black form ran into his mouth and bit completely away, with razor sharp teeth, his tongue.
“What’s wrong? Rat got your tongue?”
Before he disappeared beneath the deluge, he saw that the person before him, the one who he had hoped would be his rescuer, was not really a person at all.
Only a shape; or a shadow.
The darkness grinned as his motionless body was pulled down through the more than welcoming opening of the drain.