If Laura ever got the chance to think about what had just happened, she would find it impossible to separate reality from dream.
She remembered the boy, Nicholas, and knew that he had pushed her through a wall and into a damp, dark passageway. She remembered the pleading of voices that wished her to join them. Most of all, she remebered crystallised the voice of the doctor who had promised her so very much pain.
They had run, through screams, hisses and squeals until, lungs bursting, they had reached a flight of steps.
These will take you back. I will see you up there.
Then he had pushed her gently in the small of her back and she had wanted to hug him. She wanted to hold the young boy who had been scarred by decades.
Instead she woke to Nick, the man, looking over her.
“So, sleeping beauty awakes. Good. Time to go.”
He had a plastic bag containing her own handbag and held Brian’s keys.
“They tried to impound him, but I persuaded them otherwise.”
He waved them along with a trace of a smile.
“Best to put these on just so nobody will suspect.”
He put her clothes and the white jacket used by doctors on the bed.
“I’ll have to turn my back. I don’t want to leave you on your own again.”
Another smile ran across his face and she wished the young Nicholas could see this.
The hospital was filling up with more casualties of the night. Doctors, nurses and paramedics were stretched in the attempts to stem this fresh tide of injuries. Only the young female doctor, who had first treated Laura had ever seen anything quite like this before. had served in Bosnia and recognised that some evil was at play.
Nicholas and Laura walked urgently through the emergency area, stopped only by a relative of a patient asking about her husband to which Nick pointed towards reception. Then they left through the doors that were to see so much more in the coming days.
In the car park, Brian waited. He started first time.
In another part of the city, Pete had slowed down to almost a standstill.
He had watched as the bus had drawn to a stop outside of a newsagents’ shop. The lights inside were still on yet he could see no human traffic going in and out of it. The bus pulled away revealing the gang. He tried to make himself become invisible. They saw him and grinned with satisfaction before crossing the road.
If he ran now, they would catch him. If he tried to hide, they would find him. If he stayed put, somebody might come to his aid. He prayed that that would be the case.
“You all right kid? Where’s your mummy?”
The leader, a skinny youth with a thin, rat-like face asked him with mock concern.
“She’s in the shop getting a paper,” Pete replied.
His quick lie knocked them off balance for a moment.
“She’s in the shop then,” responded the leader, “that’s nice. We’ll wait here with you till she comes out. Wouldn’t want anything happening to you would we?”
His line had obviously amused the others who stifled their laughter.
“Have you ever thought about being a film star?”
Pete shook his head slowly as the words refused to materialise.
Moments passed and the others in the gang started to become restless. They were anxious to get on with what they had agreed upon.
“Why don’t we just take him? Nobody will know. It’s dark and he wouldn’t put up a struggle. Look at him, he’s only little.”
A general agreement ran through their ranks and the leader placed his hand upon Pete’s shoulder.
“This can be easy or it can be hard. It’s your choice. I’d prefer it to be hard. Make your mind up.”
Pete made his mind up and bit into his would-be assailant’s hand. He bit deep and went through the skin. He bit further and tasted blood. He felt sick at the thought, but went further. He knew that bites were better when they twisted the skin, so he twisted violently and then he was off.
The rat-faced boy was shocked at what had just happened. The pain in his hand was excruciating and he saw blood pouring from the wound that looked as if it had been caused by a knife rather than some runt’s teeth. The rest of the gang stood. Without direction, they were blind and useless.
Eventually, ‘rat boy’ focussed himself on the revenge that he immediately wanted. He would enjoy what he was about to do and would do it all himself. The kid was going to regret not coming along quietly. He would take his time and make his last hours the most painful anyone could remember.
“Stop standing around. Get the little bastard. Get him and bring him back.”
Pete had a good start.
His short legs were working as hard as they could. He knew that there were just moments separating him from something horrible and he pushed himself some more.
The road was strangely empty of people and cars. The water was lying in undisturbed pools that reflected an indifferent moon. He could not outrun them. He had to find some other way.
Up ahead, a van was parked lazily in the entrance for deliveries to small a line of shops. It was partially blocking his way. He could not see beyond it and summed up his chances. If he ran around the van and then turned a quick left into the delivery area, he could be able to hide. He would need to hide well as they would come looking for him. They may have looked stupid, but there was something else about them that suggested they were instinctively capable of tracking him down.
The running feet were now splashing along the pavement. The gang was shouting things and Pete could not work out what they were saying. It was as if they were just issuing some savage howls that were intended to scare him into a mistake.
He made the van and darted left into the darkness of the alleyway.
He got as far as the loading bay when he heard the hunters charging along.