Laura snaked along with the gathering evening traffic on her way to Pete’s nursery. She was still shaking somewhat as she entered the room in which Peter was sitting watching a colourful children’s programme with people dressed up as various farm animals.
He looked mildly bored, but spun around to meet her before she was even through the door. At times, he seemed to have an antenna that alerted him to her presence.
“Are we having a treat tonight Mum?”
“Yes, we are. How did you guess?”
“I dreamt it.”
The push around the supermarket had been anything but enjoyable. Lots of wet people, angry at the fact that winter had caught them. There was tension in the air which translated into a number of fractious exchanges at the checkouts. Laura kept her head down and spoke softly to her son.
Peter was singing to himself. He put his thought into song often. This time it was a song about the chocolate trifle that his mother had purchased. He was in one of his little spheres that had helped him through the times of trouble. As she looked at him, divorced from the angry world around them, she was reminded of Simon. Simon, always the optimist, always on a journey, always attempting to protect, yet failing at the end.
“Come on my little man, let’s try to get home without getting too wet.”
This time Brian refused to even acknowledge its own ignition.
Whilst Laura cursed and coaxed, she didn’t see the outline of a shadow watching them. Peter did.
That morning, the man of the shadows had awakened in a disused warehouse. He had slept on the floor, with his only blanket against the cold being the clothes he walked around in. He never knowingly felt the cold any longer. But last night was different. Last night, the temperature had become a seething mass of squeals and scutterings.
He had existed some place between sleep and wakefulness without ever being able to determine which was dominant. His dreams had brought him to this place, a supermarket car park in a city that he didn’t even know the name of. And there they sat in a mustard-coloured car that would not start. He felt that the boy knew of his presence. The boy had seen him even before he saw the boy. And this, he did not expect.
Last night, he had expected something. That thing came in the form of many eyes, but only one mind. What had watched him last night had been brought forth from curiousity; the curiousity of a hunter that had marked its territory only for another to wander into it. The thing had watched him throughout the night, but was gone by morning. He felt sure that whatever spent the dark hours with him had no real understanding of what he was. This was not surprising as he too had little knowledge either. The boy knew him, though. The boy probably knew him more than anybody could possibly understand.
Now he stood in the night of the car park. The wind was bringing its cold gifts to shoppers who hurried, isolated to their cars and homes. He, his name was Nick, the slightly confused man in the orange jacket, the usher and collector of trolleys, the empty-eyed refugee from the old world, heard the sound of a car refusing to start. Inside him, there was another, somebody who brought him there, somebody who cared for the mother and son trapped in the mustard coloured car.
Pushing his trolley into the nearest bay, Nick removed his orange jacket and moved towards the sound that was being caused by a struggle of wills between mechanical engineering and the steel of a woman who would not be broken.
That was when Nick first met Laura Andrews and her son, Peter.
Pete was watching his mother struggle with Brian. He thought Brian was just putting it on this time, playing, making a point. Pete knew about Brian in the same way that he knew about lots of things that nobody suspected him of knowing. He knew what his mother was thinking again, thta she had stopped taking the ‘happy pills’ and this concerned him. In the same way, he could read the thoughts of his older brother Chris, but not Michael.
Pete ought to have puzzled about this. If he had been older, or if he had only just been able to do the thought thing, he may have wondered rather than just accepting what he believed was natural. Another thing that Pete could do was to block out the thoughts of others and that was a good thing, that was definitely the best thing he could do.
He was aware of the bad thoughts that scurried along the gutters of humanity in the same way that a person would be aware of the pattering rain when they were safely indoors. But Pete knew not to look out of the window too often as, on more than one occasion, a manic glare could catch him and the result was like fingers, sharp, nailed and strong, trying to tear an opening.
He had heard somebody once say something about Hell (a place he knew was real) being other people. This was an adult thought and he had never tried to understand it, until recently. Beyond his family and his ‘indoors’, Hell was a stream, sometimes trickling, sometimes coursing along. If Pete were to peer out now, he would see the waters rising. Instead, he saw one of the strangest things of his secretly extraordinary existence.
Coming towards them was a man, a man he had seen pushing trolleys around the car park, a man who Pete had seen only moments before wearing an orange jacket. The man had vacant eyes, eyes that fell like a still lake of sadness. Now the man was without his jacket and Pete knew he had taken it off and left it quickly folded behind one of the cars. From somewhere, he heard the sound of rain and remembered the Hell and this made him immediately consider running back indoors before realising that Brian was indoors.
There was something else about the stranger: he wasn’t strange at all, even though he was carrying something that was heavy with urgency, even though Pete knew beyond reason that the man walking towards him was carrying another inside of him like a woman would do with a baby. Before the man reached the car, Pete knew that his name was Nick.
Pete also knew that Nick knew that he knew that he was aware of so much more.