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Authors: J. K. Gray

Vampire dancing

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VAMPIRE DANCING

J.K.Gray

 

Content copyright © 2012 J.K. Gray

All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is, thankfully, purely coincidental.

 

 

 

To everyone who had faith.

You know who you are.

Table of contents

 

 

 

 

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

EPILOGUE

ONE

 

 

 

 

00:00 am ...

 

A bead of perspiration runs down the side of her face. Her pulse is pounding. Her mouth, dry.

She has energy to burn, and this is the place to start a fire.

All around her, bodies move to the swell of the music. The pace is frantic; the atmosphere, electric. Her thighs sway within the confines of a low cut, figure-hugging black dress. Her every movement is sensually smooth, yet simultaneously unyielding and untamed.

The lights fade and the music stops. A murmur ripples throughout the room.

Her nostrils flare. The odor of sour perspiration and curdled copulation is strong in the air. The anticipation in the room is palpable. She can hear it play breathlessly upon the lips of those surrounding her.

Moments pass, and, just as the darkness seems to take on a life of its own - to become an actual entity in itself - the room explodes once more to a pulsating, hypnotic rhythm.

She throws back her head. A dark mane of lustrous hair whips across her face. Her eyes dazzle like sapphires. She is in perfect synchronicity with the pulse of the music.

Beautiful.Entrancing.Enigmatic.

No one notices just how different she is.

Except one.

He negotiates with ease through the crowd. Not once does his gaze stray from the sight of her undulating figure.

Seconds pass ... and then he is before her, invading her space.

Her eyes blaze with a mixture of apprehension and excitement. She can feel his piercing gaze probe her mind. She tries to look away, but it's no use. There's no escaping his intrusion.

Light flashes across his face. His features are strong – extra defined by a stubble that is several hours old - and his hair is dark – not too short and a little wild. His emerald eyes are like whirlpools.

She finds them mesmerizing.

He encircles her waist with a strong forearm and pulls her close. She gasps and resists, but he pays her objection no attention and slides his other hand across her rump, then travels lower still.

She struggles to escape; manages to break free of his gaze and verbally objects - “No” - but her resistance is feeble at best, and all but lost to the din of the music.

He moves his mouth close to her ear and speaks: “You like to live dangerously ...I can tell.”

She shakes her head in protest and unwittingly -or perhaps wittingly- becomes prisoner to his gaze once more.

He slides his hand around the front of her leg and ventures under of her dress.

She reaches down and stops him from probing further.

He maintains his position, but doesn't push.

The music is at fever pitch, pulse-pounding at a 160 beats per minute. The atmosphere is euphoric; orgasmic. Bodies twist, arms flail. The crowd is surfing on the crest of an adrenalin tsunami.

Hesitantly, she relaxes her grip on his hand. He takes this as an invitation to proceed, and finds the warmth between her thighs. She gasps and opens her mouth to protest, but before she can utter a word, he flicks the tip of his tongue across the surface of her glossy red lips.

And now she knows for certain.

Overcome by an insatiable desire, she slides her arms around his waist and grinds her crotch against him to the throb of the music. Suddenly, she wants all of him, and nothing less will do. She pushes her tongue eagerly into his mouth and kisses him hard. He finds her taste intoxicating; can feel the fervent pounding of her heart against the wall of her chest. He could take her on this very spot and no one would even notice.

And she would let him.

 

*

 

They make love on the roof of the club.

He is on top of her, unleashing everything he has to offer. Sweat clings to his lean torso like a second skin.

She grabs hold of his hair. Her knuckles turn white with the intensity of her grip.

He moves in rhythm with her, gradually increasing his pace.

With her other hand, she reaches down and sinks her fingers into his buttocks, encouraging him deeper.

He responds to her eagerness, and drives harder still.

She gasps and arches her back. Perspiration drips from the curve of her spine.

He lifts her and maneuvers onto his knees.

Now she's straddling him, her arms around his neck. She moves gracefully, up and down, riding him to the fullest extent.

He cups her breasts and squeezes them hard.

She cries softly with a mixture of pleasure and pain, then sinks her teeth into his neck. Her eyes flicker then turn red. They burn with intention and desire.

The skin on his neck breaks and a moan escapes his lips. He closes his eyes. When he re-opens them, they, too, are blazing with arousal.

Her mouth is smeared with his blood. She flicks her tongue across her full lips and begins to move faster ... then faster still, and, as a result, the crisp night air becomes awash with the sound of their moaning - louder and louder, until ... she brings them both to the point of climax.

 

*

 

He watches her pull on her dress. She's doing it from quite some distance; just grabbed her stuff and made some space. As yet, he hasn't bothered to clothe; reckons his arousal is still way too boisterous to cram into his pants.

She pulls on her shoes, fastens the straps, then rummages through her cream colored leather purse for something.

"Anything I can help you with?"

No answer.

He touches the fast healing wound on his neck. "I think we got a little carried away back there at the club."

Still no response.

She finds what she's looking for: some cleansing pads and a small mirror. After she's finished wiping her face and fluffing up her hair, she re-applies her lipstick - plum red - then packs everything away.

He wonders what's next.

She slips on a fitted black leather jacket then strolls casually towards him. Her long heels make a distinct clacking sound against the concrete. He finds himself hypnotized by the sway of her hips. When she stops, she says nothing; merely looks him over. 

"I'm Amber," she finally says.

"Michael," he replies.

Amber casts her gaze across the lower Manhattan skyline. Despite the pretty lights, she doesn't find built-up tenements and sky-scraping tower blocks a particularly endearing sight. She shifts her attention to the clear night sky, allowing her senses to drift into the expanse. The Moon is whole and the stars gleam like small diamonds set against a black velvet canvas. When she speaks again, she says: "You hungry?"

"Famished," he replies.

Amber slides her purse over her shoulder. "Okay then, get dressed and we'll go find something to eat."

 

*

 

The man in the inexpensive gray suit crumples to the cold parking garage floor.

“Fuckin' trash,” the individual standing over the body mutters. His right eyelid starts to twitch. He reaches up and touches it.

Someone wearing a Yosemite Sam baseball cap and a #44 Yankees jersey steps forward. “You got him real good, Wiley.”

Wiley turns. Light from the florescent falls across one side of his face. “Don't I always?” He closes his cheap Italian style switchblade and tucks it into his back pocket.

Two more figures step into the light. One of them is African American, the other is an overweight American.

“Len,” Wiley says to the overweight American, “check this dead fuck, see if he has anything of value on him.” He turns to the other individual. “Kobie, make sure the coast is still clear.”

Kobie looks like he can't be bothered, but stuffs his hands into the kangaroo pocket of his white hooded sweatshirt and goes about it anyway. Len, on the other hand, is only too happy to do as he's told - especially as he's been addressed by his proper name, and not 'fatso' or 'bitch tits' or whatever other derogatory title Wiley can dream up.

Wiley watches Len get down on his knees and go through the dead man's pockets. “Make it snappy. We don't have all night.”

Len removes something from the rear pocket of the dead man's pants. “He's got a phone.”

“Everyone has a phone,” Wiley says. “Question is ... is it a phone worth having?”

Len fumbles around with the cellphone. “Um ... it's like...” He flips it open.

Wiley knocks it from his hand. “It's a piece of shit history, is what it is.”

They watch the phone go clattering under one of those fancy 4x4 trucks. Except Wiley. He's staring at the back of Len's thick head. “So keep searching him, you rotund fuck!”

Lencowers, believing Wiley is going to strike him (and Wiley will, if he doesn’t raise his level of functionality). He opens his mouth to ask what 'rotund' means, then thinks better of it.

“I ain't got no phone,” theperson in the Yankees jersey says.

Wiley looks at him. “Why don't that surprise me, Stan. Your idea of cutting edge tech is two paper cups at each end of a length of string.”

Stan hateswhen Wiley calls him by his proper name. When Wiley does that, it usually means he's pissed at him, or being sarcastic.Stanley Eugene Jacobs... What kind of fucking name is that? What the hell had his parents been thinking, to pin that shit on him? Infinitely better is the name Wiley dreamed up:Screwball(sometimes Screwy, for short). Most would find it insulting, to be called something like that, but not Stan. He's the first to admit he's a batshit crazy moon-howler.

“I hate when you call me Stan.”

“Relax, Screwy,” Wiley says, “I'm just messin' with you.”

“Yeah ... I knew that,” Screwball replies. “So, we gonna score some pussy tonight?”

“It's Friday night,” Wiley replies, “and what else are Friday nights for, if not for pussy?”

Screwball flips his Yosemite Sam cap back to front and begins to dance around like someone who belongs in a straightjacket rather than a Yankees jersey. “I just got sex shocks down my prick. You ever had sex shocks down your prick?” He starts to rub his crotch. “Man, I love them sex shocks!”


Page 2

Wiley wonders what they've been putting in the water down in Texas, and how much of it Screwball drank before his parents dragged him halfway across the country.

Len pipes up: “He's got some credit cards.”

“Credit cards are no good,” Wiley says. “We need cash.”

Len closes the wallet and puts it back where he found it. He hauls himself up. “He don't have any cash. Unless it's in his car.”

The car is a silver Ford Focus. Doesn't look like one of the newer ones - just like the prick's phone. Trust them to choose a guy with cash-flow problems.

Wiley contemplates rummaging around inside the glove box, and maybe even the trunk, then decides the chances of finding cash beyond the confines of the guy's wallet are slim. Also, he doesn't want to spend any more time in this parking garage than is necessary. Their little gathering must look suspicious, and the last thing he wants to have to deal with is some two-bit security guard eager to prove his worth. Lucky for them this place is one of those with the cheaper rates and, as such, doesn't have much in the way of closed circuit cameras or security.

His right eyelid starts to twitch again. Sometimes it irritates him so much he feels like tearing it off. He touches it in an attempt to stop its involuntary movement, but as soon as he removes his finger, it starts to spasm.

“I can see that,” Len says, staring intently.

Wiley scowls. “See what?”

Len points at Wiley's face. "Your eyelid. I can see it-”

Wiley punches Len in the face. Len makes a little yelp and hits the ground with all the grace of a hippo falling at the ice skating arena.

“Don't look at it then! You hear me! Don't you look at my eye or I'll skin you alive!” Wiley's voice reverberates throughout the parking garage's largely sparse interior.

Len cowers and outstretches a hand to defend himself. “I hear you! I hear you!”

Screwball draws heavily on the back of his nose and plants a thick loogie on Len.

For a few moments, all Len can do is stare, terror-stricken, at the green monster clinging to the upper left arm of his gray NYC sweatshirt. As soon as the initial horror fades, he cries out with revulsion and tears the top off.

Screwball laughs. “That shirt is the kinda thing only a tourist would wear.”

Len frantically wipes the sleeve against the car's front tire, all the while making distressed whimpering sounds.

Screwball turns to Wiley. “Why the hell we let this guy hang with us anyway?”

Wiley snorts. “He makes for a good whipping boy.”

“He's got bigger titties than a ten ton whore,” Screwball says. “Sometimes I even think about givin' them a little squeeze, just to see...”

Kobie rejoins the group. “Gayest thing I've heard all night.”

Screwball scowls at Kobie. “Hey, I ain't no homosexual!”

Clearly amused, Kobie replies: “Whatever, man.” He looks at Len, who's still wiping and whimpering. “Lenny's good for the junk food industry. Whenever he walks into Wendy's their stock market value increases five hundred per cent.” He flips up the hood of his sweatshirt and rubs his hands briskly together. “Feelin' the cold tonight.”

“September chill,” Wiley says. “Nips at your balls too if you're not careful.”

Kobie chuckles, then turns his attention back to Len. “Quit your blubberin', Len. Help me drag the body over there.” By 'over there' he means between the front of the car and the wall.

Len pulls his top back on and steals a quick look at the arm were the loogie previously clung. Only a damp patch remains.

Kobie grabs the dead man under the arms, being extra careful not to get blood on himself. “Grab his feet.”

As always, Len does as he's told.

Wiley and Screwball watch the two men place the body between the front of the car and the wall. Not the best hiding place in the World, but out of sight for the time-being; which is long enough.

Screwball's hands venture back down to his crotch. “I can't wait till we find us some pussy.” He gives himself a quick tug, almost like he's checking to see that everything is still present and correct. “Ireallycan't wait to get my hands on some of that soft stuff.”

Wiley looks at his watch; a tatty piece of digital crap with a worn leather strap. His mom gave it to him on the day of his sixteenth birthday, and that's the only reason he's still using it, almost seven years later. The display reads:00:20 am. He pulls a pack of cigarettes from the breast pocket of his green and white checked shirt and lights one up. When he's done, he hooks a thumb inside the brown leather belt around the waist of his jeans, and inhales deeply.

Exhaling smoke through his mouth and nose, he says: “Relax, Screwy. It may be late, but the night is still young.”

 

*

 

They end up in a strange little diner in Lafayette Street, Lower Manhattan. On the wall facing Michael is an analogue clock. It's designed to look like the Moon, and is currently displaying half past midnight.

Amber sits, staring at Michael's plate. The plate, in itself, isn't anything to look at, but the last chunk of an extremely rare steak cutlet, skewered on a fork and going round and round, mopping up the remainder of what had been two fried eggs, is fascinating to watch for reasons she can't explain to herself.

The steak eventually stops skating around the plate and finds its way into Michael's mouth. He nods, as though in agreement with some inner dialogue.

“You like that, huh?” Amber says.

“Oh yeah,” Michael replies. “This place is just too crazy for me. I love it - love the fact they serve breakfast twenty-four hours a day.”

Amber picks up the menu. The cover is completely black with a picture of the Moon at the top right corner. She flips it open.The Dawn of ManfromKubrick's 2001: A Space Odysseystarts to play. She closes the menu, killing the sound. “I'll say it's crazy. What is it about this place that does it for you?”

“The Moon,” Michael replies. “You got the Moon on the menu, and the menu plays space music when you open it. There's pictures of the Moon and astronauts and shuttles on the walls, and sometimes they even play space music over the speakers - well, I dunno if it's actually space music, but it sounds like music that belongs in space. Anyway, it's like being somewhere else.”

Amber interlaces her fingers and rests her chin on the backs of her hands. “Like being on the Moon, perhaps?”

“Yeah.” Michael takes a sip of his coffee - cream and two sugars. “It's like being on the Moon. You feeling it too?”

Amber doubts that sitting in a 24hr diner namedMoonCrestis at all like being on the actual Moon. The room is brightly lit and the staff seem friendly enough, and her small slice of Pecan pie served with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream and espresso hadn't been anything but agreeable.But... this isn't the Moon. This isn't even normal.

“I had you down as someone completely different,” she says.

Michael takes another sip of his coffee. “Yeah? How so?”

“Real expensive leather shoes, tailored silk shirt - black looks good on you, by the way - and designer jeans. You look a little upmarket for a diner.”

Michael nods. “It's true I do like the finer things in life - who doesn't, given the choice – but ... and it's a big but...” He pauses to finish his coffee. “I also like the Moon.”

Amber runs a finger around the rim of her coffee cup and gazes at the remainder of a light crema swirl. She hasn't really drank much of it. She never does. “Maybe you'll live long enough to help colonize it.”

Michael doesn't openly acknowledge that comment. Instead, he spends a few moments digesting his companion's outfit. “You look good in black yourself. I like the cuts all the way down the sides of your dress. Very sexy. Almost suicidal.”

Amber laughs softly and shakes her head. She's all teeth - pristine white and perfectly shaped. “You have a nice sense of humor.”

Michael gives an almost indiscernible nod. “And you have a nice nose.”

“A nice nose?”

“It has a quality about it. Makes you look full of mischief.”

“Maybe I am,” Amber teases.

“I don't doubt it,” Michael says. “Maybe the mischief came before the nose, and the nose grew out of it - kind of like Pinocchio.”

“Pinocchio already had a nose.”

“Really?”

Changing the subject, Amber asks: “So, what do you do - for a living, I mean?”

“I'm a freelance photographer,” Michael replies.

“I'm impressed.”

“That's what brought me to New York. I'm due to meet a client tomorrow. So far, I've only spoken with her on the phone.”

“I see.”

“Fits with my lifestyle. I get to travel, be my own boss, meet interesting people. It's good money, but the hours can be a grind - and I prefer to work nights.”

“Understandable.”

"I have a friend," Michael explains. "She's a pharmacist. Prepares a special cream for me that helps with the sunburn if I get caught out on those extra sunny days."

"Impressive friend," Amber says. "Those extra sunny days can be killer. She's very understanding of your condition. You mean a lot to her, I take it?"

Playfully avoiding that last question, Michael says: "I told her I have a rare disorder - which I do, when you think about it."

“Oh, I dunno,” Amber says. “It's not so rare.” Silently acknowledging the fact Michael avoided her question, she steers the conversation back to photography. "You ever do gothic shots? Old ruins ... cemeteries covered in fog?”

Michael can't help but smile. “More often than I care to admit.”

“God, you're so clichéd.”

“I know, right. What about you? What do you do?”

“I get by on looks.”

“Looks.”

“Uh huh. You'd be surprised what men are willing to do for a beautiful woman.”

“I doubt I would,” Michael replies. “But I admire your honesty.”

Amber purposely runs a finger around the rim of her cup again. “I believe the technical term for what I am isleech, or something to that effect.”

Michael holds Amber's gaze, but says nothing. He's enjoying this funny little game she's playing; the waltzing around the obvious, yet gradually getting there anyway.

“So,” Amber says, flicking her hair over her shoulder, “you have a second name, Michael?”

Amber's flick of the hair doesn't escape Michael's attention.Such theatrics, and clearly an attempt to distract him from her ongoing intrusion into his personal life. Still, he's having fun, and decides to dance with her a little while longer.

“Does it matter?” he asks.

“I suppose not,” she replies.

Amber rests her elbows on the table and looks to the window. She sees the diner's bright interior reflected in the glass. She also sees her own image staring back at her. She feels disconnected from it, like it isn't even her. So many lifetimes, so many different personas. She barely knows who she is anymore. She looks at Michael's reflection and notices he's staring at her. She imagines she can feel his gaze, stripping away her layers as effortlessly as peeling an onion.

Suddenly, she feels vulnerable. This vulnerability, however, is turning her on. She sits up straight and crosses her legs. “What's your real name, if you don't mind me asking - your original one?”

“It's old sounding,” Michael replies. “Much like yours, I'll bet.”

She presses him: “And?”

“Levagnion.”

“Levagnion...” Amber seems to relish the sound of his name passing her lips. “That's a helluva name.”

“I didn't choose it.”

“Well, I like it.” She outstretches her hand. ”I'm originally Amara. Pleased to formally meet you.”

Michael takes her hand. “Amara's a beautiful name – still sounds very modern. I think I met an Amara once, a very long time ago. Can't recall where or when, exactly.”

“Well it certainly wasn't me," Amber says. "I'd have remembered you.”

“I'll take that as a compliment,” Michael replies.

Amber smiles. “Speaking of names, I'm feeling like a change. Thinking of trying out Erika, or maybe Angelica or Rebecca. Or perhaps I'll go back to being Alyssa. I liked being Alyssa.”

“You like names that end with the letter 'A',” Michael observes.

“You noticed that,” Amber replies.

Michael sits forward in his chair. “What else do you like?”

Amber rises from the tableandto the invite. “Apart from fucking on rooftops?” She puts on her jacket and picks up her purse. “Come on and I'll show you.”

TWO

 

 

 

 


Page 3

00:45 am...

 

Screwball swigs out of a bottle of cheap wine and belches loudly. “Why the hell we always hanging out in the churchyard at Old Saint Patrick's?”

“I like the dead,” Wiley replies. “They don't gimme any grief.” He stubs out his cigarette on one of the gravestones then flicks it away.

The supposedly haunted cemetery is surrounded by a wall at least ten foot tall. Wiley can't imagine how it was ever remotely effective. Despite the size of the wall, despite the iron gates at front of the property, this place isn't at all difficult to get into. The cathedral, itself, evokes conflicting emotions within him. On the one hand, it was his sanctuary on many an evening; a place to escape his old man, and to draw closer to his real father and savior, Jesus Christ. On the other hand, he now associates the place with that need for escape, and the despairing feeling which accompanies it.

He turns his attention to the tenement block across the street on Mulberry, where he still lives with his forty-eight year old mother. He still dreams of making enough money, of being a success at something -anything- to get them out of there. Notwithstanding the fact the apartment is too small (you couldn't swing a cat in there without completely redecorating the walls with it), he swears he can smell his old man of late. The reek of an unknown specific brand of cheap aftershave mixed with Scotch whiskey is unmistakeable; like a signature from Hell. He even considers it might be his old man's ghost come back to haunt them. He wouldn't put anything past the bastard. Not even death.

Wiley has mixed feelings regarding the neighborhood he grew up in. Things are gradually changing, in part, thanks to various regeneration projects. Those behind such projects like to call it 'progress', but it isn't progress for everyone. It pushes up rents - meaning a lot of people who have lived in the neighborhood all their lives are forced to move out - and attracts middle-class vermin. He likes to think of this vermin as fakers. Their smiles are fake, their lives are fake, and even their orgasms are no doubt fake. He loathes the sight of them, and everything they stand for.

He turns his back to the tenement view and touches the small black crucifix hanging around his neck. He'll get himself and his mom out of here yet.

He still has faith.

Len sits under a fairly large tree, snapping twigs.

“Both my parents are dead,” he tells them.

“Weknow,” Screwball says. “That's why you're so fat and fucked up.”

“Is not,” Len replies. “I'm fat cuz I eat a lot, and I eat a lot cuz I'm unhappy.”

Kobie throws a peanut M&M at Len. “You're fat cuz you eat shit all the time.”

The M&M bounces off Len's head and lands in the soft grass. He makes a distressed sound, like he's just lost a hundred bucks, and frantically searches for it.

Screwball takes another swig from his bottle, then starts to violently splutter. He staggers over to one of the larger gravestones and hurls all over it. “Ugh ... went down the wrong pipe.”

“Fucksake,” Kobie says, “show some goddamn respect. Can't believe you're throwin' up on dead people.”

Screwball staggers over to Kobie. “I'm throwin' up on their stones, not them.”

Kobie pushes him away. “Git the hell off me.”

Screwball just about manages to remain on his feet, then points at Kobie and starts to laugh. “Man, you're so black under that hood all I can see is your eyes.”

Kobie reaches out and grabs himself a fistful of Screwball's Yankees jersey. He pulls the Texan so close he can smell the booze on his breath. “Don't you dare go racial on me.”

“I ain't no racist,” Screwball protests.

“Goddamn hillbilly.”

“Hillbilly? I can't even play banjo, so quit your rappin'.”

“There you go again,” Kobie snarls.

In a futile attempt to hide, Screwball reaches up and pulls the tip of his baseball cap over his eyes. “Wish my folks never moved me to this god damn jungle –shit, I never meant that one!”

Kobie raises a fist and prepares to pummel Screwball. “Okay, now you crossed the line!”

Wiley approaches the feuding duo. “Knock it off, girls.”

Despite Wiley's words, Kobie still considers turning Screwball's face into hamburger. After a moment’s thought, however, he decides against the action and releases him.

Screwball straightens out his jersey.

“You've had too much to drink.” Wiley snatches the wine bottle from Screwball's hand.

Screwball protests, and attempts to reclaim it.

Wiley holds the booze out of reach. “Stan ... I won't warn you twice.”

Wiley just called Screwball 'Stan', which means a line has been drawn that's not to be crossed.

Screwball twists his baseball cap back to front and shrugs - “Whatever” - then walks away on faltering legs.

Wiley sniffs the opening of the bottle ... then pulls back sharply from it. “Fucksake, what the hell is this? Smells like floor cleaner.”

“It's probably moonshine,” Kobie says.

“That's thegooodstuff,” Screwball sings. He steps behind a medium-sized gravestone and stops there. Moments later, a spattering sound can be heard and wisps of steam rise into the air.

“What the hell,” Kobie says, “he's takin' a piss on someone's grave.”

Wiley empties Screwball's bottle of toxic waste onto the grass then pulls something from the back pocket of his jeans. “Any of you guys got a MetroCard?”

“I got one,” Kobie says. “It's good for a few more days. My grandma lives over in Queens. I like to keep an eye on her. She almost brought me up.”

Len picks himself up. “I don't got one.”

“That's because you don't go no farther than the candy store,” Kobie says.

Len says nothing, merely scowls.

Screwball carefully pulls up his zipper; doesn't want to skin a rabbit; hurt like hell last time.

“Where you get the card?” he asks Wiley.

“Where d'you think? I bought it. Some of us have a job, even if it is a shitty one.”

Screwball flips his baseball cap again. “You never said what you do.”

“It's not important,” Wiley replies.

But it is important. Work is money, and money pays bills and allows him to buy things, however paltry. But there's no way he's ever going to tell any of them he works in a florist shop, doing faggy stuff like helping to display flower arrangements. That would be as bad as admitting you like to wear your girlfriend's bra and panties - not that he currently has a girlfriend. He's still working on that one.

“So what's the plan?” Screwball asks. “You gonna take a ride on a bus somewhere?”

“More like a train,” Wiley replies. He elaborates: "The cams at Union Square station ... they don't work - least not right now they don't.”

Screwball's face glows with delight at the prospect of non-functioning cameras.

“How the hell you know this?” Kobie asks. “I ain't doin' sumthin dumb only to be caught on tape.”

“Remember little Joey Costa?” Wiley asks.

“Yeah,” Kobie says. “He was a greasy little fuck - probably still is.”

“Well, I bumped into him early today,” Wiley says, “- and yeah, he's still a greasy fuck.”

Screwball finds that amusing, and starts to whoop it up real loud.

“Anyway,” Wiley goes on, raising his voice above Screwball's, “his old man works on security at the station, and Joe was tellin’ me that some of the equipment over there is temporarily out.”

“I was down there today, used the Broadway line,” Kobie says.

“Well, apparently the cams were out,” Wiley replies, “and probably still are.”

Len looks confused. “So what are you saying? That we cando stuffand not be caught?”

Wiley adopts his most devious grin. “That, Lenny, is exactly what I'm sayin'.”

“Count me the hell in!” Screwball hollers.

Kobie, however, doesn't look quite as sold on the idea: “I dunno, man.”

Wiley puts an arm around him. “We just fucked over some guy and you're worried about this?”

Kobie feels like reminding Wiley that, technically, he didn't fuck anyone over, that all he did was shift a body. “That was different. No one could see us. No cameras there, workin' or whatever. I'm all up for doin' crazy shit - you know that – but I don't wanna walk into no bear trap.”

“Nobody wants caught,” Wiley assures him. “But I swear to you, they're out - actually...” He fishes in his pocket and produces some bills. “I'm so positive we're onto a winner tonight, I'm gonna put my money where my mouth is and pay Screwball and Len's fares. We got nuthin to lose and everything to gain.”

“Wow,” Len says. “Thanks, Wiley!”

Screwball starts doing something that resembles a Red Indian dance, then falls over his legs.

Kobie looks at his feet, thinks things over for a few moments. He could certainly be doing with scoring some cash, through fair means or foul.

“Okay, let's do this then,” he finally says.

Wiley slaps Kobie on the back. “I knew you wouldn't let the team down.” He slips his MetroCard into his rear pocket. From the corner of his eye, he sees Screwball rising to his feet. “Okay guys, let's get outta here the same way we came in, get this night properly underway.”

 

*

 

They've been tracking this one guy for the last five or so minutes; spotted him soon after leaving the diner. He's clearly a bad apple. Amber already would go as far as to brand him a serial rapist. Not only can she sense it from him, she can smell it.

They make their way along East 8th street, hanging back and attempting to look as inconspicuous as possible. The guy they're following doesn't look particularly threatening in his pressed white shirt and slacks, but then, perverts don't exactly come with a warning emblazoned in bright neon above their heads.

The creep is tailing a young woman wearing a green kimono-style top, leather knee-high boots and a tight black skirt so short it could double up as a belt. Where the hell she's going is anyone's guess, but judging from her unsteady gait, it's clear to see she's not long stepped out of an establishment with a liquor license.

She stops at the corner along Broadway. Under the radiance of the streetlamp, it becomes obvious she's a particularly attractive girl. Dark-skinned with an hour-glass figure and a mane of shimmering black hair, she's both imposing and vulnerable in equal measure.

She glances over her shoulder - perhaps instinct telling her something's not quite what it seems - then pulls on the black cardigan sweater she's carrying.

Whatever the reason for the girl's glance, the man pursuing her isn't taking any chances. He stops outside of The Bank of America, gets down on one knee and attends to an apparently loose shoe lace. And now he's looking overhisshoulder, perhaps also getting a tingly -something's-not-quite-right- vibe.

Even though there's nothing to suggest they're partaking in their own little stealth mission, Amber goes on the defensive and pushes Michael against a wall.

Michael's a little taken by the move, but isn't complaining. He eagerly meets Amber's moist lips, and slides his hands inside her leather jacket and around her waist.

“Who says we just let this guy be,” he says in between a mouthful of warm tongue.

“He's going to attack the girl,” Amber replies softly. She starts nibbling on Michael's neck. Her hand finds one of his shirt buttons and pops it open. Then it finds another one. And then another. Moments later, that very same hand is slithering around a tight lower abdomen.

Michael immediately feels a physical response stirring down below. “It's not our problem, though - the girl, I mean.”

“I'm still hungry,” Amber purrs, and pushes her tongue past Michael's lips.

Eventually coming up for air, Michael gasps: “You're not making this easy.”

Amber steals a look to her left. The girl is making her way into the road and the man is still feigning shoe lace attendance. Turning back to Michael, she says: “That little snack at the diner wasn't real food.”

“I worked my stomach for years to be able to hold and digest that stuff,” Michael says. “I actually quite enjoyed it.”

“Me too, but we're not like other people. We can't live off it.”

“I know that, but-”

Amber grabs Michael's crotch and squeezes. “Tell me you have some balls and that you're not one of those whining blood substitute pacifists.”

Michael gives an infelicitous shrug. “Well...”

Clearly disappointed, Amber steps back from Michael. She glances quickly to her left again. Her hair whips round and hits him in the face. “He's moving, come on.”

Michael considers telling Amber he's not a faucet she can turn on and off whenever she pleases, but opts instead for shutting-the-hell up.


Page 4

The young woman is now on the sidewalk across the street. Her stalker isn't far behind.

Amber pauses to let a yellow cab pass, then hurries into the road. She cringes at the sound of her heels clacking against asphalt.

The girl walks into a parking garage.

Amber knows this is where the stalker will strike. It's an ideal location. She reaches the other side of the street and feels a hand on her shoulder. She turns to see Michael standing behind her.

“You're really going to do this?” he asks.

“Yes. I am. I thought you'd be up for it.”

“It's been a long time,” he says.

Amber turns to walk away.

Michael grabs hold of her arm. “Hey.”

Amber pulls her arm free of his grip. “What?”

“I'm not trying to stop you. He's a scumbag. I get it. The World is better off without him.”

“It is,” Amber agrees. “Better off without them all.”

Michael's heart starts to pound with excitement. Did Amber just confess to being a serial stalker of rapists – and who knows what other kinds of degenerate scum - for food, and maybe even sick kicks?

The man they're pursuing disappears into the mouth of the parking garage.

“Anything else?” Amber asks. “Or should we wait for him to rape her?”

“The blood issue ...” Michael says, “it's not the only thing.”

Amber listens with growing impatience.

Michael goes on: “I haven't been around someone like you in ... well,forever.”

“You mean a woman?”

“No. I mean,like us. I think I might be out of practise.”

Amber takes Michael's hand - “Come on” - and pulls him towards the parking garage. “We can talk about it later.”

 

*

 

The young woman approaches a red Chrysler Sebring Convertible. Its soft top is up. Her body quivers. It's cold down in the parking garage, and not particularly well lit. She unlocks her car with the foband opens the door, but, before she can enter, a man in a suit pounces from behind and pins her arms to her sides. She opens her mouth to scream, but a hand is placed over it. Frantic, she kicks out.

The man says in her ear: “We're gonna have some fun.”

His breath stinks of booze.

“Fancy trading up?”

Still keeping a tight hold of his struggling victim, the man turns to discover an even better specimen of womanhood standing several feet in front of him. He spends a few moments checking her out. “What the hell are you supposed to be? Some kind of fucking vamp?”

Amber can't help but smile.

The man weighs up his options, then discards the girl.

She stumbles to the ground.

“You,” Amber says to the younger woman. “Get the hell out of here - not in the car. You're drunk.”

The man steps between the girl and the older woman. “She's not going anywhere.” He plunges a hand into his right front pocket and produces a knife.

Amber looks amused. She drops her purse. “You got what it takes to fuck us both?”

“Because of you she saw my face. She wasn't supposed to see my face. I can't let her leave -either of you.”

Amber advances with a well-measured step. "Pressure of your big city job just a little too much for you?"

“Stop where you are,” the man snaps.

Amber ignores him and takes another step. “I bet you've just been passed by for promotion.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

“You must be, what ... mid-forties?”

“I'm warning you!”

“Can't be easy. Your best years are behind you, you're full of insecurities and you can't get laid without force.”

The man has heard enough. Roaring with anger, he slashes for the woman. But the woman is fast, and effortlessly evades his attack. She then grabs his knife hand and twists it to such a degree it snaps at the wrist.

He drops the knife and shrieks like a little girl.

They always do.

Amber seizes the man by the throat and stifles his outcry - “Didn't think you had it in you” - then pushes him out of view.

The man's back slams hard against a wall. Moments later, this incredible, savage woman is sinking her teeth into his neck, and all he can do is stare, wide-eyed, at a flickering overhead florescent light.

His body gives an involuntary shudder and his bladder loosens.

Amber feeds for almost an entire minute. During this time, she doesn't so much as spill a single drop of blood. Once sated, she looks into the man's bleary eyes and coldly remarks: “I've had better – oh, and you've pissed yourself.” She then takes a fistful of his hair, jerks back his head and makes a cut on the side of his neck using the index finger of her left hand.

Blood spurts from the arterial wound on the man's neck. He sinks to his knees then collapses forward, shattering the bone in his nose completely.

Amber casually strolls towards her purse. She picks it up and pulls out her compact mirror. The area surrounding her mouth is clean and her lipstick isn't even smudged.Impressive.

The frightened young woman is huddled against the front tire of her car. She watches Amber approach. Her mascara is clumped and her eyeliner is running down her cheeks.

Amber crouches before the girl. “Here, let me see.” She puts a hand under the younger woman's trembling chin and starts to wipe around her eyes with a cleansing pad.

“Thank you ... for what you did,” the girl says. Her voice is timid and wavering. “I won't tell anyone I saw you.”

Amber finishes up and closes her purse. “Tell them the truth. Just give me fifteen minutes after you leave before calling the cops - don't take your car. You've had too much to drink.”

“Okay,” the girl says.

“Don't look over there when you get up. Not if you want to sleep. Understand?”

“Yes.”

Both women stand. The younger of the two is slightly unsteady on her legs. Amber helps her stabilize.

The girl thanks Amber again, then dips her head and hurries for the exit.

Amber watches her go. The girl doesn't look back.

“What will you do now?”

Amber turns to see Michael standing over the dead man's body. “What I always do. Disappear.”

“Mind if I tag along?”

“Why would you want to do that? You appear to have a life.”

Michael approaches her. “Not really. I'm a bit of a nomad, truth be told.”

Amber shakes her head. “You don't even know me. We only met about an hour ago.”

“That's what makes it all the more exciting.”

Amber looks hesitant.

“C'mon, go with the flow. Maybe it's fate.”

“I don't believe in fate.”

“But it was another woman I followed into the club, kept my eye on her the whole time. I thought you were her until I got up close.”

“Disappointed?”

“Nope.”

As nice as Michael seems – especially on the eye – Amber wonders if she really needs the baggage.

Perhaps that's exactly what she needs.

She turns from him.

... And then she senses it.

Michael watches Amber walk towards a silver Ford Focus. "Is everything okay?"

He decides to follow.

Amber approaches the front of the car. A pair of feet are poking out past the fender. “Seems I wasn't the only one spilling blood here tonight.”

Michael peers past Amber's shoulder. “So this one has nothing to do with you then?”

“I'm not a psychopath,” she replies.

“Relax. It was a joke.”

Amber negotiates her way past Michael and looks in the direction of the parking garage exit. “Can't you sense it?”

Michael looks nonplussed. “Sense what?”

“God, you really are out of practice. It's the same feeling I had tonight with the man who attacked the girl.”

“And?”

“Well, whoever did this - to this other man.” Amber folds her arms. “They're going to do it again if they're not stopped.”

THREE

 

 

 

 

July, 1994; Texas, USA

 

It was the dying moments of twilight.

Tufts of cotton-candy cloud drifted aimlessly across a magnificent burnt orange hue that was slowly being replaced by a deep indigo spread. Below the horizon, the World was quickly becoming enveloped by a ubiquitous blanket of shadow.

The silver Buick Skylark coasted along Interstate 10 at a leisurely pace. Shrinking from view in the rear view mirror was the town of Van Horn. Lying ahead: a flux of endless possibility.

Alyssa blew cigarette smoke out the window and gazed at the mountains to the north-east. They were now nothing more than indistinct dark shapes against an ever-changing backdrop. She noticed a little ash had fallen onto the bust of her black cotton tank top. She swept it off, then turned on the radio, hoping to find some decent music. Twisting the dial back and forth revealed religious babble, a discussion about World Cup soccer, and country music. Country music didn't count. Undeterred in her quest for the ideal sound, she flipped open the glove box and went rummaging for an audio cassette. An old album by The Carpenters fell out onto the floor along with some papers and a pen. She continued to search and found another tape - a ninety minute TDK one. It was wound about a third of the way through. Something was written in blue ink on an adhesive white paper strip stuck across the top:The Best Of Classic Rock.

It was just what the doctor ordered.

She popped it into the slot and cranked up the volume. Santana'sBlack Magic Womantrailed off before the familiar sound of Boston'sMore Than a Feelingfilled the speakers.

Alyssa put her arm out the window and tapped the side of the door in time with the music. Van Horn was non-existent in her mirrors now. She had spent the day there, holed up in a darkened room within a small bed and breakfast inn. She'd slept reasonably well, but, longing for nightfall, had found herself waking occasionally to gaze at an old analog clock on the bedside table. She hadn't eaten in almost a day - at least, not properly. This old car belonged to her last bite. He'd been an asshole anyway, and was now slowly rotting in a shallow ditch a few miles south-east of Sierra Blanca. Yes, it had been gentlemanly of him to respond to a damsel in need of a ride, but choosing payment in the form of a free trip down the love canal ... well, that had been a mistake.

He'd said his name was Bradley Evans, and he'd come on strong.

Evans...

She decided this would be her new last name. Alyssa Evans had a nice ring to it.

The Buick's beams illuminated the journey ahead. Painted lines in the middle of the blacktop came sweeping from the darkness, only to be swallowed up by the car's front bumper. It was a mesmerizing sight, if you stared at it long enough.

Alyssa took one last drag on the end of her cigarette then flicked it out the window. She blew the smoke past her cherry colored lips andlooked up. A smattering of stars shone brightly against the ink blue sky.

She welcomed the sight. It made her feel secure.

She drove for sometime, content as she listened to the music. Meat Loaf'sTwo Out Of Three Ain't Badcame and went, as did Van Morrison'sBrown Eyed Girl, but it was during the playing ofCover Of The Rolling Stoneby Dr. Hook that she spotted a car up ahead, stopped on the west-bound strip. It looked like a younger woman was in need of assistance. She considered turning a blind eye. She was heading in the opposite direction, after all, and it wasn't like it was her problem.

Then she thought of men like Bradley Evans.

She turned down the music and pulled onto the shoulder. The reflection in the side mirror was of a completely desolate stretch of highway. The road ahead looked exactly the same. She opened the door and got out of the car, then pushed her hands into the rear pockets of her jeans and strolled onto the median strip.

The girl she approached had ash blonde hair. It was tied back in a pony tail. She wore a bright cotton blouse and cut-off denim shorts. Cute ankle socks were visible above her sneakers. Alyssa reckoned the Bradley Evans type would approve.

The young woman watched Alyssa draw closer. She waved the small flashlight she held and called out, "Can you help me?"

Joining the girl, Alyssa asked, “What exactly happened?”

“It just died,” the girl replied. “While I was driving.”


Page 5

Alyssa walked to the back of the vehicle. It was a black Volvo 940 according to the badge. It looked like a better car than the one she was driving, but at least her car was operational.

She rejoined the girl. “Did you have the radio on?”

“Yeah,” the girl answered. “Kept cutting out before everything went."

“What about the lights on the dash?”

“They went dim. I guess that's when I realized I might be in trouble.”

Alyssa thought for a moment. “Mind if I take a look?”

“Go right on ahead,” the girl said.

Alyssa got behind the wheel and turned the key. Nothing happened. She got out of the car.

“Any ideas?” the girl asked.

“You do a lot of driving today?”

“Uh huh,allday.”

“Well, I'm no expert,” Alyssa said, “but in these temperatures, I'd say it's your alternator.”

“And that's bad?”

“Let's just say you're going nowhere without a set of jumper cables, and even then you're not going very far.”

The girl groaned and planted her rear-end on the hood of the Volvo.

A twinkling of lights further along the highway caught Alyssa's attention. Someone else was headed their way.

“You wouldn't happen to have them jumper things, would you?” the girl asked.

“I'm afraid not,” Alyssa replied.

A lie, of course. Alyssa had no idea whether she was in possession of a set or not. The Buick wasn't even her car to begin with. For all she knew, Bradley had a body in the trunk.

“Maybe this person coming has them,” the girl said.

They watched the automobile draw gradually closer.

“I'm Alyssa, by the way.”

“Oh, hey, Alyssa. I'm Julie.”

“Nice to meet you, Julie.”

Julie turned her flashlight on Alyssa. “I take it you're a fan?”

For a moment, Alyssa had no idea what Julie was referring to. And then it dawned on her. “Oh, this...” She pinched the fabric of her tank top. Under the KISS logo was an image of Gene Simmons in full theatrical make-up, sticking out his over-sized tongue. “I suppose I am - I mean,of course I am.”

Another lie. Up until she'd dined on Bradley, Alyssa had been wearing a light blue t-shirt. But, because he hadn't exactly went to the dinner table willingly, things had gotten a little messy. Luckily, there was a bag on the back seat stuffed with women's clothing - which is how she came to have on a tank top featuring a band she wasn't particularly fond of. What Bradley had been doing with a bag full of women's clothes was anyone's guess. Most likely he'd acquired it through an act of deviance. Whatever the reason, he'd gotten his comeuppance in the end.

“I'm more of a hip-hop fan,” Julie said. “Probably wouldn't guess to look at me.”

The approaching vehicle wasn't very far now. Alyssa expected it would stop or pass them by within the next minute. “Listen, can I give you a ride? There's sure to be a garage back in Van Horn.”

“That's where I'm headed,” Julie said. “But you ain't even going my way. Wouldn't be right to turn you around.”

Alyssa watched the glow of the approaching vehicle increase. “It's no problem, really. It's only a twenty minute ride at most.”

Julie opened her mouth to decline once again, then hesitated. “Well ... maybe.” She pointed her flashlight at her feet. “We'll see if this person can help first.”

Less than half a minute later, a small white truck slowed to a stop. A man got out. Illuminated in the vehicle's high beams, he looked to be in his mid-thirties. He wore a white shirt, jeans and boots, and had a black cowboy hat on his head.

“Anything I can do to help you ladies out?” he said.

Alyssa looked to Julie.

“I think its my ... alterator.” Julie said.

“Her alternator,” Alyssa replied.

Julie flicked her flashlight on and off. “Yeah, that thing.”

The man eyed Julie from head to toe, then put his hands on his hips and nodded slowly. “If you pop the hood I can take a look.”

“Sure,” Julie replied, and made for the interior of the car.

Alyssa watched her go.

“The name's Brian.”

His hand was outstretched.

Alyssa briefly shook it. “Alyssa.”

“Well, now, that's a real pretty name you got yourself there, ma'am.”

Alyssa folded her arms and forced a smile.

Just then, the hood popped.

“Okay then,” Brain said, “guess I'd better take a look.” He lifted the hood. “Say, I could use that flashlight. Light from my truck ain't cuttin' it.”

Julie appeared and handed it to him.

“Thank you, kindly ...?”

“Julie.”

“Julie - damn, that's another fine name. I'm Brian, in case you didn't hear.”

"Nice to meet you, Brian."

Brian shone the flashlight at the engine. He poked around and touched a few things; made the occasional grunt. Eventually, he lowered the hood and said, “It's difficult to tell in this light, but if everything's as dead as Elvis, we're gonna have to get you to a garage, Julie.”

“Shoot!” Julie said. She turned to Alyssa. “No offense, but I was kinda hoping you were wrong.”

“That's understandable,” Alyssa replied.

“Well, I'm headed in the same direction,” Brian said. “I could give y'all a ride.”

“I just stopped to offer assistance,” Alyssa said. “I have my own car over there.”

Brian looked across the median. He could barely make out Alyssa's car. “You're headed the other way then.”

“I was, but I'd be more than happy to drop Julie off at the next town.”

Alyssa looked straight at Julie; willed her to accept the offer.

“I dunno...” Julie said. “I really don't want to put you to any trouble.”

“It's really no trouble,” Alyssa insisted.

Brian handed Julie the flashlight. “Last chance for a ride to the next town if you don't wanna trouble Alyssa here.”

Julie took the flashlight and bit gently into her lower lip. She pondered her decision for a few moments, then said to Alyssa, “This gentleman's going my way. I'll just take the ride from him.”

Alyssa looked at Brian. He didn't seem particularly sleazy or threatening (he was even moderately good looking). But then, they never did. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, but thanks so much for stopping and taking the time.”

“It was nothing, really,” Alyssa said. “I Hope everything works out well for you.” She raised a hand as a goodbye gesture. “Take care.”

Brian tipped his hat. “You have a safe ride, Alyssa.”

Julie gave a little wave. “Thank you.”

Alyssa walked back to her car. Halfway across the median, she looked back. Julie was getting into Brian's truck. She hoped the girl would be okay.

She slipped inside the Buick and lit a cigarette. Blowing smoke out the window, she watched the truck peel off the shoulder and pass the stricken car. She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel and tried to ignore the gnawing sensation in the pit of her stomach. Nothing but a low hissing sound could be heard from the car speakers. She turned off the stereo and sat in perfect silence for a while.

Alone with her thoughts.

When she was through with her cigarette, she flipped it away and rolled up the window.

Julie would be okay.

Alyssa put the car into drive and resumed her journey to nowhere in particular. The distant landscape was indistinguishable from the sky.

Dark enough out there to get away with just about anything. Like hiding the body of Bradley Evans.

… Or perhaps Julie with the car trouble.

Alyssa spun the Skylark one hundred and eighty degrees and gunned the engine. The force of the acceleration pushed her back against the seat. She drove across the center median and merged with the road west.

What the hell had she been thinking? Letting an attractive girl - who didn't look a day over eighteen - get into a truck with a complete stranger?

And a man.

She kept her foot pressed firmly on the gas pedal. The needle swept past the 60 mph mark. Her heart was pounding. Why hadn't she listened to her gut? It had started to gnaw at her the moment she laid eyes on the truck's lights twinkling in the distance.

The needle climbed past 70 mph and crept steadily towards 80.

Still no sign of the truck's tail lights. They couldn't be that far ahead. Surely Brian wouldn't be doing anything like 80 mph.

Alyssa watched the needle crawl past the 80 mark. She hammered the steering wheel in frustration. "Come on, you fucking piece of shit!"

It was then that she noticed a light in the middle of nowhere.

It had to be the truck.

She twisted the wheel sharply to the right; cut across the median onto East Broadway then headed straight onto rough desert terrain. Dirt and stones flew under the spin of the tires, and rattled against the car's underside and bodywork. She crossed a small railroad track. Her teeth clattered and her spine quaked, but her foot remained firmly planted on the gas pedal.

Please, don't make me be too late.

When she eventually arrived at the source of the light, it was too late.

Alyssa threw open the car door and quickly got out. The ride across the expanse had been nerve-jangling. Her legs were trembling.

Brian stood in the glow of the truck's lamps. His hands and shirt and pants were covered in blood. He was still wearing his hat. He moved around the body of Julie. His motion was almost drunken. He was laughing deliriously.

Alyssa found herself paralyzed with horror at the sight of the girl's body. It lay spreadeagled on the desert floor, and was completely naked. The area between her thighs was nothing more than a bloody, mutilated mess, and her throat had been slashed.

“I cut out her secret place,” Brian said.

Alyssa looked up. The glare from the truck's headlamps dazzled her eyes. She squinted. Brian was holding a knife in one hand.

He moved in front of one of the truck's beams.

“I cut out her secret place,” he said again. “You wanna see?” He started to fish around in his right front pocket.

A wave of revulsion hit Alyssa. She raised a quivering hand to her mouth.

Brian produced a lump of gore from the pocket. He held it out to Alyssa, then started towards her. “Cut it straight from her. Now she'll be no more trouble.”

So much horror witnessed in Alyssa's long lifetime - some of it up close, some of it from afar; some of it dealt by her own hands, some of it dealt by the hands of others - but only once had she felt as utterly numb, as completely wrought with guilt as this.

Somewhere in the distance, a dog howled. It was such a mournful sound, and seemed to sum up the scene entirely.

Brian started to sing a slightly tailored version of theBad Boystheme song from the television show,COPS: “Bad girl, bad girl, watcha gonna do? Watcha gonna do when I come for you?”

He stopped advancing, then closed his eyes and laughed hysterically. When he reopened them, Alyssa was gone.

He spun around. “Where the hell'd you go!”

He staggered back towards Julie's body, then stopped and scanned the darkness. “Brian ain't finished with you yet, y'hear?”

He threw his handful of Julie to the ground in a fit of rage, then whirled; was sure he'd felt Alyssa breathing down his neck. “Goddamn you, cunt, where you at?”

The distant, plaintive cry of the dog could be heard once again.

“I'll cut out your secret place and feed it to that damn dog!”

The hairs on the nape of Brian's neck stood on end. He turned quickly. Alyssa was standing in front of him. She slapped him hard across the face. His head whipped to one side and his hat flew off. “What the fuck!”

And then she was gone again.

“Show yourself!” he yelled, and slashed his knife at the cold night air.

Behind you.

Brian spun. Alyssa was there. She slapped him harder this time – with so much force his legs almost buckled.

“Jesus H Christ!” he spat, and raised a trembling hand to his face.

Brian.

He turned again, and this time Alyssa slapped him so hard he staggered to one side and tripped over his feet. He struck the desert floor and wailed like a hysterical child.

“No more!” he cried, and thrust out a hand to protect himself.

But Alyssa was nowhere to be seen.

The dog continued to wail. It sounded closer than before.

Brian picked himself up. He thought he saw something, but wasn't sure what. All those slaps had caused his eyes to water. He blinked several times. Gradually, two small lights came into focus. They hovered in the darkness.


Page 6

He muttered something to himself and moved cautiously to investigate.

The darkness embraced him.

Drawing closer, he realized they weren't lights at all. They were eyes. Bright eyes, illuminated like fireflies in the night.

“What the ...?”

Alyssa pounced seemingly from nowhere and knocked Brian onto his back. He landed hard in a cloud of dirt. Air gushed from his lungs and the knife bounced from his hand. She straddled him and opened her mouth.

There was just enough light in the area for Brian to discern what looked like fangs; long, pointed fangs. His face became a contorted mask of terror and he choked on a scream.

Alyssa's eyes sparkled brightly, then turned an intense red. She sank her teeth into Brian's neck, puncturing skin and drawing blood.

Brain's arms flapped by his sides.

When Alyssa pulled back from Brian, she took with her a large chunk of his flesh. She spat it to one side and wiped her mouth with the back of a hand. It painted a bloody smear across her cheek.

Brian's body violently convulsed. Blood filled his mouth and bubbled around his lips. He coughed, decorating his face with crimson droplets.

Alyssa wasn't finished. She sunk her teeth into the other side of Brian's neck and began to gorge on the warm life fluid which filled her mouth.

Brian's movements gradually became less convulsive, and eventually he lay motionless.

After awhile, Alyssa sat up, panting. Her ire had faded, and she felt tired and vulnerable.

A dog came padding from the darkness. Caught in the glow of the vehicle beams, it looked almost otherworldly.

Alyssa rose from Brian's mutilated corpse. She gazed at the impoverished beast and conveyed a silent communication to it, and then wandered off into the darkness, leaving behind everything but the burden of guilt.

The dog waited until the woman was almost lost to sight before approaching the man's body. It licked at his face and neck, and then lapped at the puddle of blood just below his trachea.

Soon after that, it began to tear strips from him.

After a time, the animal stopped and scanned its surroundings. The woman was nowhere to be seen. It felt a pang of sadness for her. When their eyes had met, it had peered beyond her veneer, and saw only emptiness. And something else it did not understand.

It now wished to communicate gratitude to her for saving its life.

A low whine escaped its throat. And then it buried its snout in the man's neck and continued to feast.

FOUR

 

 

 

 

01:28 am...

 

Screwball stands at the far end of the Lexington Avenue Line platform. His feet are positioned at the edge of the yellow safety strip. He looks at the opposite wall. The tiles are cracked and dirty. In some places, they've broken off the wall completely.

Wiley walks up behind him and slaps him on the back. “Watch you don't fall over.”

A cry escapes Screwball's lips and he almost loses his balance.

Wiley grasps hold of his friend's jersey and holds him steady.

Screwball places a hand over his thumping heart. “Jesus fuck on a popsicle, thought I was gonna fall.”

Wiley grins. “Relax. You're in safe hands.”

“Hey,” Screwball says, “check out what I found in the trash.” He fishes around in his pocket and pulls out a wrapped condom. “Ain't even used.” He's positively glowing with excitement. “Crazy what some people throw away, huh?”

“Youusethose things?” Wiley asks.

“Well ...I dunno.”

“Screwing with one of those,” Wiley says, “feels like someone's numbed your prick with Novocaine.” He hears the distant sound of an approaching train and peers into the tunnel. No sign of it yet.

Screwball makes a discontented grunt and pops the condom back into his pocket.

Kobie and Len come strolling over.

“So, what's the plan?” Kobie asks.

“The plan,” Wiley replies, “is her with the ponytail.”

Further along the otherwise empty platform is a woman who looks to be in her mid-twenties. She's wearing a pink off-shoulder top, skinny dark wash jeans and white pumps.

“Yeah, she's cute,” Kobie says.

Screwball grabs his crotch. “She's makin' my sausage go all tingly and my meatballs shrivel.”

“What if she gets on the train?” Len asks.

Wiley's eyelid twitches. He raises a hand to it. “What the hell do you think? Why the hell you think I bought you the ticket?”

“Oh, okay,” Len says.

“No, not okay.” Wiley grabs one of Len's titties and twists it.

“Ow,” Len wails.

“Hey,” Kobie says, nodding in the direction of their intended target. “She's with some guy.”

The guy Kobie is referring to seems to be about the same age as the woman. He has blonde floppy hair and is wearing jeans and a loose-fitting oatmeal colored sweater. Wiley thinks he looks fairly capable, but reckons it's nothing a knife and a few threatening words can't easily handle.

“He won't be a problem,” he tells them. “They never are.”

“Looks like Justin Bieber,” Screwball says.

Kobie disagrees: “Nah, Bieber ain't blonde, and this guy's built like a motherfuckin' linebacker.”

Screwball chuckles. “Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus.”

“She don't look nuthin like Miley Cyrus,” Kobie says.

“I'd still fuck 'er,” Screwball replies. “I'd fuck 'em both.”

Kobie looks at Screwball in disgust. “You'd fuck Miley CyrusandJustin Bieber. You're sick, dawg.”

“Jesus Christ,” Screwball says, and whips his hat around. “I'd fuck Hannah Montana and this here girl. I wouldn't go screwin' no Justin goddamn Bieber. I ain't no pedophile.”

“Bieber's eighteen now,” Wiley says. “It’d be perfectly okay if you wanted to.”

“But,” Kobie says, “Miley was a kid when she was Hannah Montana, which would then mean you have pedophile tendencies after all.”

“Now hear me out,” Screwball says, raising the level of his voice to compete with the sound of the arriving train, “I don't give a damn whether he's eighteen years old or eighty years old. I have no desire whatsoever to fuck Justin Bieber. And Hannah Montana is god damn Miley Cyrus and she's all grown up now. I ain't no kiddie fiddler, got that!”

Slowing to a halt, the number six train floods the platform with the usual cacophony of clattering wheels, spitting brakes and general high-pitched squealing. A gush of wind accompanying its arrival encircles the group.

Wiley watches an empty potato chip bag go tumbling past his feet.

"You sure those cams ain't working?" Kobie asks.

They all look up at one such camera.

Wiley leans against one of the columns. “Fuck knows. But at least the subway cars ain't rigged - not yet anyway.”

Kobie shakes his head. “I dunno, man.”

The moving platforms extend, bridging the gap to the train. Exterior doors open and the intended target and her capable boyfriend stroll into one of the cars.

“Okay, fellas,” Wiley says, “time to go.”

Each of the men step into the nearest car. Wiley's the last to enter. He steps inside, then does a double take back at the platform.

Kobie sits on one of the light-blue molded plastic seats. He notices Wiley look back outside the car. “Wassup?”

Wiley shrugs. “It's probably nuthin.”

“Don't look like nuthin.”

“Thought I saw a woman,” Wiley elaborates, “from the corner of my eye, hurrying across the platform. Thought she was comin' our way for a moment. Wasn't there when I looked again.”

“That all?” Kobie says.

“I kinda got a weird vibe from her. Dunno why.”

“She's gotta be on the train somewhere,” Screwball says, leaning against a full length handrail. “Maybe we could, y'know, do her, too.”

“Who the hell you think I am,” Wiley says, “John Holmes?”

The PA speakers burst to life with a pre-recorded male voice:Stand clear of the closing doors, please. This is followed by ading-dongchime.

The doors close behind Wiley.

Kobie stares at his feet, and says again: “I dunno, man.”

The train pulls away from the platform.

 

*

 

Amber claps her hands. “Youjustmade it there.”

“Thought I was going to get caught in the doors,” Michael says.

“Highly unlikely,” Amber replies.

“Still.”

Amber drops her purse onto the nearest seat. “Oh, stop being a big baby.”

Stand clear of the closing doors, please.

Ding-dong.

“A big baby, huh?”

“A big baby,” she says again.

“And are you in the habit of fooling around with babies?”

She gasps. “You'reawful.”

The train pulls away from the platform. The sudden momentum, albeit slight, causes Amber to stumble into Michael's arms. His top three shirt buttons are undone. She gazes at his smooth chest then slides her arms around his waist.

Michael opens his mouth for her.

“You're cold,” she says between kisses. “You need to feed.”

“I already am,” Michael replies.

“You know what I mean.”

“I haven't done what you're suggesting in a while.”

“And why is that, exactly?”

“Because people areus. It's cannibalism. There was a time when it was difficult to live any other way. It was survival. But now-”

Amber places a finger over Michael's lips. “Save it. I don't doubt you feel that way. But you're not being completely open with me.”

Michael takes Amber's hand. It's so soft, and stirs long buried memories. He looks past her and sees the interior of the car reflected in the window. He sees himself. It makes him feel uncomfortable.

“It's easy to make mistakes,” he says.

“We all make mistakes,” she replies.

“For sure. But there are some mistakes that aretrulymistakes.”

Amber looks into Michael's eyes. She can see he's holding onto something painful. “You're turning this car into Room 101.”

Michael sweeps his memories aside - “Sorry, my bad” - and smiles.

“You've got a great smile. Anyone ever tell you that?”

“Constantly.”

Amber delivers a playful slap to his arm. “Narcissist.”

Michael chuckles. “You really are a tonic.”

“A tonic for what?” she asks.

It's not a question Michael finds easy to answer. He shrugs. “You remind me of someone, from a very long time ago.”

Amber slings her arms around his neck. “I hope it's a good memory.”

“It is,” he replies. “Mostly.”

“Room 101 again,” she cautions.

“Okay, I get the hint.”

Amber kisses him again.

Michael returns Amber's affection. She has a quality he finds intoxicating. He turns her around, removes her leather jacket and throws it across the seat. He wraps his arms around her waist.

The lights in the car briefly flicker.

Amber lifts Michael's hands and places them over her breasts. She pushes her rump against him.

“Tease,” he says, and kisses her on the neck.

She tilts her head to one side and moans with pleasure.

The reflection in the window catches Michael's attention again. He closes his eyes. A flood of memories wash over him. He attempts to resist, but they're so overpowering that, before long, he finds himself lost to another time, and to another woman.

FIVE

 

 

 

 

1701; Kovolosia, Eastern Europe

 

Levagnion ran into the forest clearing with his female companion. He held her hand tightly; never wanted to let it go.

“I am out of breath,” she gasped, slowing to a halt.

“I can see that,” Levagnion said, and gazed upon her heaving bosom.

“Keep your eyes guarded,” she chided, and pulled up the bust of her long dress.

“You are not going to be able to hide those,” he remarked.

She placed her hands over the tops of her breasts. “Oh no? And why is that?”

“Because I am going to dothis!”

He began tickling her.


Page 7

His companion cried with glee and backed away from him.

“You think you can escape me?” he said, moving forward, his hands like claws, poised to strike.

“I shall die trying,” she replied.

Levagnion pounced. The woman cried again with delight. He slung his arms around her waist and spun her until they both toppled to the soft forest carpet.

They lay supine, breathing heavily. Overhead, clouds drifted idly across the moonlit sky, like nomads, doomed to wander and never to settle.

The woman sat up and wrapped her arms around herself. Her exuberant chestnut hair spilled across her shoulders. “It is getting cold.”

Levagnion propped himself up on an elbow. “Is this an invitation, my darling, Rinnae?”

“An invitation to what?”

“An invitation for me to envelop you.”

Rinnae looked amused. “I have no need to hide my intention, Levagnion. If I want you close, I shall command.”

Now it was Levagnion's turn to look amused. “You shall command?”

“I shall command,” she said again, faltering in her attempt to keep composed.

“Has anyone ever told you, woman, that you are such a tease?”

“Ummm, let me think ...”

Levagnion could contain himself no more. He reached forward and brought Rinnae's head close to his own. Her lips were warm and moist. He could feel a stirring in his loins.

After some moments, Rinnae pulled back from Levagnion to catch her breath.

“Your father,” Levagnion said. “Do you think he will give blessing for your hand?”

Rinnae looked to the surrounding forest. The wind was getting stronger, and caused the treetops to sway. “Does it matter?”

Levagnion placed a hand on Rinnae's cheek. He turned her gently to meet his gaze. “Of course it matters. It is everything.”

Both fell silent, their eyes conveying so much more than mere words ever could.

“I know how much you wish for father's blessing,” Rinnae eventually said. She ran her fingers through Levagnion's shoulder length hair. “But what he wants is irrelevant. I am yours, regardless.”

Levagnion took hold of Rinnae's hand. It felt so delicate, like the petals of a rose.

“What have I done to deserve you?” he said.

“Everything,” she replied.

Their lips met once more.

Noticing movement from his peripheral vision, Levagnion brought an end to their interaction. He looked across the forest clearing. Three men came strolling from beyond the treeline.

Rinnae, too, observed their approach. “Perhaps we should leave.”

“It would be so obvious of us,” Levagnion said. “And besides, there is nothing to suggest they mean us harm.”

Despite this, Levagnion raised himself.

Rinnae followed his lead.

Arriving before the couple, the man at the head of the group said, “No need to get up.”

Levagnion and Rinnae said nothing, merely surveyed the men.

The man who had just spoken was the smallest of the three (although he was of average height). He was wan of complexion and had close-cropped black hair. His attire consisted of a white shirt that was ruffled at the neck and cuffs, and tight-fitting breeches. A costly looking pair of brown boots were strapped tightly all the way up his calves. The man standing to his right was the complete opposite. He was built like a bear, had unkempt hair and boasted a shaggy beard. His otherwise bare torso was clad in a tan waistcoat which looked like it had been fashioned out of animal hide. Below the waist, he was clothed in loose-fitting pants and a regular pair of boots. Interestingly (or disturbingly), he had a curled whip clipped to one side of his belt. The third man (they assumed it was a man) made no sound whatsoever. He was an unnaturally tall person, and dressed from head to toe in black. He wore a long coat with its collar upturned, and a wide-brimmed hat. His face was completely hidden in shadow. He stood with his arms folded.

All three men cast a considerable presence.

“It is a beautiful night, is it not?” the smaller man said. “Perhaps a little warm.” He flapped the neck of his shirt to fan himself.

His chest appeared to be completely hairless.

Rinnae took hold of Levagnion's arm. Levagnion could feel the unease in her grip.

The man laughed softly. “Where are my manners?” He extended a hand to Levagnion. “My name is Areon. Areon Fae.”

This Areon Fae person had a voice like velvet, yet there was an undercurrent to his tone Levagnion found displeasing. Shaking Fae's hand, he couldn't help but notice the considerable length of the man's fingernails, and the fact he was as cold as death itself.

Fae inquired: “And I am pleasured to be in the company of...?”

“Levagnion.”

Fae nodded courteously, then extended his hand to Rinnae. “And the name of this delightful creature?”

Rinnae looked to Levagnion. Fae's hand hovered before her, waiting.

“Rinnae,” she replied. She took Fae's hand, but gasped and immediately withdrew her greeting.

Levagnion knew it was a reaction to how cold Fae was. It was wholly unnatural.

Fae regarded his hand for a moment, then turned to his companions. “Truly wonderful names.”

The large man with the whip grunted.

Levagnion exchanged an uneasy glance with Rinnae. Part of him wanted this man, Fae, to bring an end to the theatrics, and just get on with whatever ill he and his men intended to serve.

“I should be going,” Rinnae said. “It is getting dark. Father and Mother must be worried.”

Levagnion despised seeing Rinnae intimidated like this, and began to harbor feelings of resentment towards the trio.

“Please, do not feel you have to leave on our behalf,” Fae said. “I enjoy your sense of style. The tight black corset worn outside of the dress ... particularly enthralling.”

“The look of a whore,” the man with the whip commented.

Fae looked amused. “Ignore my friend. He is somewhat lacking in etiquette.”

“What do you want?” Levagnion asked, his delivery nowhere near as assertive as he had hoped.

"Want?" Fae said. He looked Levagnion straight in the eye. His gaze was raw and unsettling. “I want for nothing.”

“Then we shall be going,” Levagnion said. “Come, Rinnae.”

Fae reached out and took hold of Levagnion's forearm. “It would be a mistake to turn your back on me. This warning I shall offer only once.”

Fae's digits felt like icy tendrils around Levagnion's arm; and his grip ... a sheer indicator the man possessed considerable strength.

Levagnion looked to Rinnae. She was poised to leave, but stood firm, waiting for him to take the lead; to do something strong; something capable.

Regardless of what action was taken from this point, Levagnion doubted this encounter would end amiably. Feeling he had nothing to lose and his dignity to maintain, he said to Fae, “I would be grateful if you would unhand me.”

Fae said nothing for a moment; merely gazed at Levagnion through piercing eyes.

“Very well,” he said finally. “You have made your decision.” He released Levagnion's arm.

Levagnion took Rinnae by the hand. "Come."

They turned their backs on Areon Fae and his men, and walked briskly. Home wasn't far beyond the treeline.

“You could have spared yourselves a lot of pain and suffering,” Fae called after them.

“Just walk,” Levagnion said. “We are almost there. As soon as we enter the forest, run.”

Rinnae squeezed his hand. She understood.

However, at that very moment, an inexplicable thing happened: Fae's men came walking from the forest treeline in front of them.

The couple stopped abruptly and turned to one another.

Time seemed to slow for Levagnion. Rinnae's every movement, however imperceptible, suddenly became meticulously detailed to him. The ends of her hair lashed her striking features then settled around her exquisitely sculpted shoulders. She blinked. Her lashesflapped like the wings of a butterfly and her glorious blue eyes shone with confusion ...and fear. Her lips parted to say something.

A question, perhaps?

An ominous shadow rose up behind Rinnae. It was Fae. He raised a hand high above his head and splayed his fingers. His long nails looked entirely lethal in the cold light. He met Levagnion's gaze. His eyes twinkled with malevolence. Pallid lips curled back over porcelain-white teeth.

Levagnion looked on with a mixture of incredulity and dread. He opened his mouth to cry in protest, but only a nightmarish drawl surfaced.

Fae struck with relentless savagery, raking Rinnae's back and rending her soft flesh; spilling the very essence of her life onto the forest floor.

The wind howled in harmony with the sound of Rinnae's agonized scream. Overhead, dark clouds began to gather, like silent witnesses to the horrors unfolding below.

Rinnae stumbled forward into Levagnion's arms, but before he could embrace her, Fae reached out and stole her into his possession.

Fae's men appeared on either side of Levagnion. They grabbed his arms and restrained him. He struggled fiercely to break their grip, but his expense was to no avail.

Fae threw an arm around Rinnae's waist and gripped her delicate throat. He squeezed it, breaking skin.

Rinnae cried with pain. A rivulet of blood trickled from the wound on her neck.

Levagnion looked upon Fae with loathing. “I shall kill you if it is the last thing I do!”

“Perhaps I shall give you the chance,” Fae replied. He intensified his grip on Rinnae's throat. “What say you, my dear?”

Rinnae, clearly in discomfort, said nothing.

“Revoke your emotional contract with this man,” Fae said to Rinnae. “Come freely with me ... and I shall let you both live.”

Rinnae looked to Levagnion. Her eyes were filled with tears.

“Do it.” Levagnion said.

Rinnae shook her head and offered a resolute, “No.”

“Admirable,” Fae said. “But this only makes you more desirable.”

Levagnion pulled on his arms.

“I shall present you with the offer one last time,” Fae said. “Join me willingly, or you both shall die here.”

“Rinnae,” Levagnion said. “I am begging you.Live!”

Rinnae looked to Levagnion. “Levagnion...”

Levagnion fought with everything to free himself. “No, please, Rinnae!”

“…I love you.”

Areon Fae grunted, then drew his razor-sharp nails across Rinnae's throat.

Levagnion screamed with a mixture of pain and fury. At that same moment, the sky split open and rained woe upon the Earth.

Fae withdrew his arm from Rinnae's waist.She dropped to a curtain-fall of Heaven’s tears.

Levagnionheld Rinnae’s unshakably loyal gaze until she struck the ground and her eyes fell shut.

Fae looked into the sky. He took pleasure from the sensation of raindrops striking his face.

“You shall die here tonight,” Levagnion said to Fae through gritted teeth. “If it is the last thing I do.”

Fae snapped his head forward and hissed like an incensed serpent. His exaggerated canines glistened in the pale moonlight.

He pointed at Levagnion. “Release him!”

Fae's companions did as compelled.

His arms now free, Levagnion wasted no time. He rushed forward and caught Fae in the chest with his shoulder.

A gush of air escaped Fae's lungs. He twisted to one side and staggered backwards.

Levagnion struck Fae across the jaw with the back of a clenched fist.

Fae's head snapped to one side. Blood flew from his mouth.

The large man with the whip motioned to intervene.

“Stop!” Fae commanded.

The man backed off.

Levagnion knelt beside Rinnae's body. Her throat was bleeding profusely. He slid a hand below her head and raised it slightly. Blood trickled from the side of her mouth. He wiped the fluid away with a thumb and felt air pass her lips. He placed a hand upon her chest. Her heart was still beating, albeit with diminished fervor.

There was still a chance he could save her; make everything right again.

He lowered her gently then erected himself before Fae. “I am going to kill you.” He curled his fists into balls and looked at the other two men. “I am going to kill you all.”

“Words,” Fae scoffed.

Against the wind and rain, Levagnion mounted a stern stride in Fae's direction.

The side of Fae's mouth curled into an insidious grin.

Levagnion threw a punch, but Fae snatched his fist out of the air and twisted his arm, causing him to bend forward in submission and cry with pain.

Fae exerted further pressure on Levagnion's limb, imparting extended discomfort to the man, then released him.


Page 8

Levagnion made immediately for Fae, but Fae no longer occupied the space. Because of this, he stumbled, lost his footing and went down on the wet grass. He twisted onto his back. The tall man in the long coat and hat was standing over him. His coattails flapped fiercely in the wind.

“Allow me,” he said politely, and extended a hand. His fingers were long and bony, and his wrist, incredibly thin. His skin was ashen.

Levagnion ignored the gesture and got quickly to his feet. He backed away, making some space between himself and the man.

“Then straight to business,” the man said. He threw open his coat, revealing a black leather sheath attached to a thick leather belt. The sheath was situated to the right of his waist. It housed a formidable looking blade. He reached across and gripped the haft of the weapon with his left hand, and remained as motionless as a statue.

Levagnion's gaze was drawn to the blade. It had a fierce, serrated edge, and was at least as long as the man's forearm.

“All I ask of you,” the Bladesman said, his voice stern, “is that you spare me none of your rage.” His eyes burned like the late evening sun. The rest of his face remained obscured in shadow.

The drumming of Levagnion's heart filled his skull. His hands were trembling. He was scared. But he was also very angry.

With a loud roar, he rushed the Bladesman.

The Bladesman sprung into action, withdrawing his weapon and slashing it upward in a wide, diagonal arc.

Levagnion anticipated the move at the last moment; dug the heels of his boots into the softening earth and pulled back his head. The blade cut through the air before his face and lacerated his left cheekbone.

The momentum behind the attack left the Bladesman momentarily off-balance.

Ignoring the burning sensation in his face, Levagnion seized upon the Bladesman's vulnerability. He stepped forward and drove a powerful uppercut into the shadowy area below the brim of the hat.

His fist connected.

The Bladesman's hat flew off and he stumbled to one side. His head was long and narrow, and completely bald.

Levagnion motioned to further engage his adversary, but stopped abruptly when the Bladesman drew back his lean lips to form a snarl which uncovered what looked like terrifyingly long fangs.

Levagnion wondered what manner of demon possessed these men. What he was looking at seemed incomprehensible. For generations, stories had existed regarding hellish creatures which came out at night to feed off the misery of the living. He had always thought these tales to be the conjuration of the ignorant. And yet now, to his amazement, these superstitions seemed so glaringly true. Assuming he survived the night, his life would never be the same again.

The Bladesman gestured to attack.

Levagnion leaped to the side in a bid to avoid whatever was coming his way. He landed hard on the ground. Air escaped his lungs in a gush. He twisted his torso. Visibility was becoming difficult. He squinted to see against the force of the wind and rain; could only just make out the Bladesman's arm, readying a throw. Realizing what was about to happen next, he rolled. Moments later, the Bladesman's weapon pierced the earth beside him. Without hesitation, he gripped the haft of the blade and gathered himself quickly to his feet.

The Bladesman came towards him with long, confident strides.

Levagnion swung the blade at his assailant's head.

Instinctively, the Bladesman held up a hand to protect his face. The weapon's serrated edge bit into flesh and bone, severing the main four digits of his hand. But it didn't stop there. Propelled by the sheer force of Levagnion's attack, it carried onward, and became deeply embedded in his left cheekbone.

The Bladesman's eyes grew wide with surprise. Copious amounts of blood spurted from his disfigured hand.

Levagnion tore the blade free of the Bladesman's face. The weapon's small razor teeth scraped bone and tore flesh.

The tall man shrieked and fell to his knees.

Levagnion prepared a finishing strike, but, before he could execute it, there came a cracking sound and his arm was suddenly unable to move. He strained to see against the tumultuous elements, then noticed his wrist was bound by the end of a whip.

The whip was pulled, yanking Levagnion's arm. He spun. The burly man in the leather waistcoat began reeling him in.

Levagnion found freeing his arm a difficult task. The whip was wrapped around his wrist several times. He dug his heels into the earth, but it made little difference. This new attacker was too strong.

A flash of electricity briefly illuminated the sky, and, in that moment, his assailant looked like some sort of devil.

Levagnion frantically hacked at the whip with the blade.

The man issued a determined grunt and started to reel faster. His neck muscles bulged.

Levagnion felt his heels slide against the forest floor. He pulled on his arm with all his might, rendering the whip as taut as possible, then started to saw at it with the blade's serrated edge. In mere moments, he would be close enough for the man to reach out and snatch.

The combination of sawing and tension on the whip caused it to suddenly snap.

Levagnion lost his footing and landed on his rump.

The broad man discarded the whip and made for Levagnion with lumbering footsteps.

Levagnion scrambled to his feet and turned to run, but he wasn't quick enough. A powerful hand clamped the back of his neck. He struggled to free himself, but it was no use. He could feel his attacker's breath on the back of his head. Thinking fast, he drove the tip of the serrated blade towards his own face and pulled his head to the side.

The weapon met with something solid.

The grip on his neck loosened.

Levagnion stumbled and turned.

The large man staggered backwards. The blade was deeply embedded in his mouth. He reached up and gripped the haft; pulled on it, but it wouldn't budge. The serrated edge of the weapon was locked against his teeth. Blood ran from the sides of his mouth and filled his throat, causing him to make a choking sound.

Levagnion rushed forward and struck the haft of the weapon with the palm of his right hand. The force of the blow drove the blade further into the man's mouth. It dislodged teeth and sent the tip protruding out through the back of his skull.

The man went down on one knee. He looked at Levagnion with incredulity.

Levagnion gripped the haft of the blade with both hands, twisted it to one side, then tore it out the side of the man's head.

A profusion of blood sprayed into the air.

The man gave an agonized roar and raised his trembling hands to his mutilated face.

Levagnion flipped the sharp edge of the blade and brought it sweeping back towards his enemy.

The man's expression turned to one of horror ... a mere moment before his skull was completely cleaved in half, just above the brow.

Levagnion felt his stomach heave. He had to get back to Rinnae. He gathered his bearings and scanned the forest clearing. It was difficult to make anything out against this maelstrom of nature.

The heavens rippled with thunderous malcontent, then lit a brilliant electric-blue. The flash briefly illuminated the surrounding area.

…Illuminated the Bladesman.

He came running towards Levagnion, through the wind and rain; had secured his belt tightly around his wrist, minimizing the blood loss from his wounded hand. His wide-brimmed hat sat on his head once more, and covered his face in shadow.

Levagnion felt his stomach knot with tension. He gripped the haft of the blade with both hands and, digging his heels into the soft earth, adopted a stance of readiness.

Within striking distance of Levagnion, the Bladesman issued a shrill, bloodcurdling cry.

Anticipating the Bladesman's arrival, Levagnion swung his weapon, but mistimed the attack. The blade found only air.

With Levagnion momentarily at a disadvantage, the Bladesman slashed at his adversary with his remaining hand, and found flesh.

Levagnion cried in response to a searing pain in his right arm. He almost dropped the weapon.

Almost.

He brought the blade up swiftly in a diagonal arc, and felt the tip of it catch his assailant's face.

The Bladesman hissed and slashed at Levagnion's torso. Once again, he succeeded in tearing cotton and rending flesh.

Levagnion clenched his teeth and swung blindly for his assailant. He struck nothing, and staggered to one side. Exhaustion was beginning to take him over.

The Bladesman's tall figure loomed before Levagnion. He spread his arms wide and readied the long nails on his functional hand for one final assault.

Rainwater dripped from the brim of his hat.

The sky flashed, highlighting the demon's burning eyes and hideous fangs. His savagely wounded face was truly a nightmare to behold. In that one moment, however, nature provided Levagnion with a perfect point of reference, and, with every ounce of strength he could muster, and at blinding speed, he thrust the weapon into the underside of the Bladesman's chin, and drove it up through his mouth and into his brain. The attack carried so much force that the tip of the blade pierced the top of the tall man's skull and lifted his hat.

The Bladesman gave a throaty squeal. He gripped the blade's haft and fought to free his skewered head.

Levagnion staggered past the doomed figure.

It didn't take him long to locate Rinnae. She was exactly where he'd left her. And she wasn't alone. Areon Fae was kneeling beside her.

Dismay hung heavy in Levagnion's heart. He had hoped Fae had gone.

“Such a strong woman,” Fae said, rising to his feet. “She really is quite something to behold.”

Levagnion stopped several feet from Fae. His breathing was labored. He didn't think he had it in him to fight another one of these infernal creatures.

“She will die, of course - and soon,” Fae went on. “Unless...” He approached Levagnion. “Unless you choose life for her.”

Levagnion regarded Fae with suspicion. “Why would I choose otherwise?”

Fae stopped before Levagnion - “We shall see” - then snatched him by the throat and pulled him close.

Levagnion resisted Fae with everything he had, but this man - or whatever he was - possessed so much strength ... Levagnion felt like a child in comparison.

Fae opened his mouth wide and sank his teeth into the side of Levagnion's neck.

Levagnion cried out and continued to resist ... then yielded.

Once satisfied, Fae withdrew.

Levagnion dropped to the ground.

“In recognition of your will and determination,” Fae said. “I give you the gift of eternity.”

Levagnion dug his fingers into the damp earth. He looked up. Fae was barely visible in the darkness.

“Use it to save your woman,” Fae said.

Lightening blanketed the sky.

Areon Fae was nowhere to be seen.

Levagnion crawled to Rinnae's side. He cradled her head once more. Remarkably, she still breathed. But her life was fading fast.

I give you the gift of eternity.

The gift of eternity...

But how?

All Areon Fae had given him was misery.

Unless...

Levagnion once again recalled those exaggerated tales of creatures that lived in the shadows and leeched off the living; demons which looked like men, but which lived forever under the burden of a terrible curse.

Exaggerated tales ... these things were no more an exaggeration than horse and cart.

He looked to Rinnae. Her life was hanging by the grace of each passing moment. He turned his attention to his wounded right arm. His shirt sleeve was in tatters. Blood dripped from the ends of his fingers.

If his blood was to pass her lips ... or if he mixed it with her wounds...

I can put everything back the way it was, Rinnae.

He brought his bloody hand close to the wounds on the woman's neck. Blood dripped onto the grass. He hesitated; questioned hisright to make this decision for her. If this worked, if he wasn't too late, she would forever walk the Earth.

...like Areon Fae and his kind.

He touched the hair on the top of her head.

“I do not want to lose you,” he said falteringly. Tears filled his eyes. His hand trembled by her neck. If he did this, he would have someone to accompany him on his long journey, and who better than the woman he loved?

A parting sigh escaped escaped Rinnae's lips. The decision had been taken from him. She was gone.

A cry caught in Levagnion's throat. The realization that his hesitation had lost Rinnae was almost more than he could bear. He pulled her head close to his chest and wept until he had no more tears to shed; sat with her in the forest clearing until the wind and rain ceased and the sunlight pierced the horizon. He would have sat longer had he not found the light of the new day intolerable. It forced him into the forest, to search out the darkest recess he could find.


Page 9

And there he remained, wrapped in unrelenting sorrow, until hunger drove him out under the hood of night.

To feed.

 

SIX

 

 

 

 

01:33 am...

 

Wiley walks over to the subway car end door and peers through one of its two windows. The neighboring car is completely empty.

“You're not allowed through those,” Len says. “They're locked.”

Wiley turns from the door. “I can't believe you just said that, you stupid, bulbous fuckhead. You think I can't see the lock? Or the warning stickers on the door?”

Len wears a blank expression.

“If I wanna go through the door,” Wiley goes on, “I'll stick my knife between the handle and lock and perform a little magic.”

Screwball gets up and slaps Len across the head.

“Ow!”

“I'll give you sumthin to 'ow' over,” Screwball says.

Len scowls. “You just did.”

Wiley mutters something to himself then turns back to the door. The two panels slide apart a few inches then close again. “What the hell?” He takes hold of the handle and opens the door. “Well whaddaya know, it ain't even locked.”

“Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll all be open,” Screwball says.

“Only one way to find out,” Wiley replies. “Come on.” He slips through the opening.

The second car they enter is occupied by two couples. They seem to be together, and look warily at the four men. Wiley and company give each of them the evil eye, and continue their journey. There's only one person in the third car they pass through: a gray-haired old man. He's sound asleep.

The group is midway through the next again car when the train begins to slow to the usual symphony of brake noise. A pre-recorded female voice informs them they've arrived at Astor Place. Soon after that, the exterior doors open onto the platform and they're told the next stop is Bleecker Street.

Wiley peers into the neighboring car through a side window at the end of the aisle. “I can see them. They're still seated.”

Screwball pokes his head out of the train and looks both ways. “Place is as dead as Kobie's sex life.”

“Fuckin' asshole,” Kobie grunts.

Stand clear of the closing door, please.

Ding-dong.

Screwball steps back before the door closes. A poster by the side of the door for after sun lotion catches his eye. More specifically, the bikini clad girl in the picture catches his eye. “Some god damn titties on that,” he mutters.

The train pulls away from the platform.

Kobie stuffs his hands into the large front pocket of his hoodie. “You sure 'bout this, Wiley?”

Wiley is still gazing into the next car, and doesn't appear to hear Kobie.

“Just ... I still got this feelin',” Kobie goes on, “and it ain't good.”

Wiley turns to the others - “Okay, let's do this” - then opens the end door.

Kobie reluctantly follows.

The man and woman occupying the adjacent car immediately look intimidated.

“Well it's never good news, is it?” Wiley says. “When a bunch like us enters your subway car.” He flicks open his switchblade.

The man and woman get up from their seats.

Wiley nods with approval. “Glad to see you're as enthusiastic to get this party going as I am.”

“Please,” the man says. “What do you want? Money?” He reaches into his back pocket.

Kobie brushes past Wiley. “I'll take your money.”

The man opens his wallet. He pulls out some bills and hands them to Kobie. “Here, take it.”

Kobie snatches the cash. “That all you got?” He peers into the open wallet - “Whatever” - then walks away, counting.

“So he's got what he wants,” Wiley says. “Now I want whatIwant.”

“I - I don't have anymore,” the man says.

“Oh yes you do,” Wiley says. “Behind you.”

The man shakes his head and feigns confusion.

“Step out, girl,” Screwball says. “Come on, don't be shy now.”

The woman steps out from behind her boyfriend. She holds onto his arm.

Screwball flips his baseball hat in reverse. “Now ain't that better. What you wanna go hidin' for anyway? Pretty girl like you.” He turns to Wiley. “I'dsogive her fuck pain.”

The boyfriend squeezes his girlfriend's hand. “It's going to be okay.”

“Gimme your names,” Wiley says.

He's met with silence.

Wiley holds the switchblade in front of his face. “Names. Now. Or so help me, I'll cut you.”

“J- Jeff.”

He looks to the woman. “And?”

The woman looks away.

Wiley steps close to Amanda. “Hey, bitch, don't you turn away from me.Name.”

“It's Amanda,” she replies.

“Amanda,” Wiley says. “That's gorgeous.” He turns to the others. “I'm taking a stiffy over her name, can you fuckin' believe this?"

"I sure as hell can," Screwball says. “I got a little chunky goin' on right now.”

Len is looking at his feet. He's either oblivious to what's going on or he's trying his best to ignore it.

Wiley notices a teddy bear key chain dangling from one of the belt loops on Amanda's jeans. It has a pink sweater on.

“What's this all about?” he asks, and examines the bear closer.

Amanda remains silent.

Wiley lets go of the chain. “You don't think you're a little old for teddy bears?” He looks the woman over, then slides an arm around her waist. He ventures his hand down over her rump; looks at Jeff; dares him to intervene. Jeff does nothing, but Wiley can see he's fighting hard to hold himself back.

“Please ...” Amanda croaks.

“Please what?” Wiley says.

Amanda looks away, but there's no escaping what's going on. She can see it reflected back at her in the window.

“Please what?” Wiley says again. “Please, more?” He slides his hand lower. “You want more of this?” He senses Jeff is about to make his move. He isn't worried. If loverboy tries anything, he'll be smiling out of his neck. Wiley moves his face close to Amanda's. She's refusing to look him in the eye. “I bet you like it rough. Straight-laced bitches like you always do.”

“Just stop it!” Amanda shouts, and pushes Wiley away.

Wiley's response is an angry one: “You fuckin' bitch, I'm gonna-”

The train begins to slow.

“Shit,” Screwball says. “Station comin' up.”

“Already?” Wiley says. He signals to Kobie. “The door at the far end. Make sure no ones gets on.”

“I'll get this other one,” Screwball says. He squeezes himself past Amanda, deliberately rubbing his crotch against her. “Excuse me, ma'am.” He grins at her, then positions himself in front of the exterior door.

Wiley points his knife at Amanda. “I'll deal with you in a moment.”

Jeff notices the crucifix around Wiley's neck. “How can you be doing this? You're a Christian.”

Wiley punches Jeff in the stomach.

Amanda cries out and jumps back.

Jeff doubles over and holds onto a hand rail for support.

“Don't you dare question my faith,” Wiley barks. “You hear me!”

“Please,” Amanda pleads. “Just let us go.”

Wiley grabs Amanda by the pony-tail. “I'll let you go alright. Just as soon as I've finished with you.”

Bleecker Street Station glides into view and the car speakers spark to life with the usual information.

“Len!” Wiley barks.

Len snaps out of his trance.

“Over here. Watch this one while I take care of the girl.”

Len just sits, blinking.

“Move!” Wiley shouts over the sound of the slowing train.

Len springs to his feet and hurries along the aisle.

Wiley pulls Amanda by the hair and forces her face first against a window. She presses her palms against the glass and rests one of her knees on the seat below. Wiley pushes himself against her. “Just you stare at the wall out there and think of flowers or whatever it is you women think of. I'll be finished in no time.” He closes his switchblade and tucks it into his back pocket.

“Please, don't do this,” Amanda says.

The exterior doors slide open and Screwball pokes his head out. A few moments later, he comes back with: “We're all good, boss.”

“Hear that?” Wiley says in Amanda's ear. He reaches round and unzips her jeans. “No one's gonna disturb us.”

Stand clear of the closing doors, please.

Ding-dong.

The doors slide shut and the train pulls away from the platform.

Jeff sizes Len up, and, apparently not thinking much of the overweight man in terms of being an obstacle, decides to make a play for Wiley.

Big mistake.

Len tackles Jeff and pushes him against the end door. The air escapes Jeff's lungs in one big whoosh.

Screwball starts whooping with excitement. “Way to go, Lenny!”

Wiley's stuffs a hand down the front of Amanda's jeans. His other one is roaming under her top. “You look good in pink.”

Amanda tries to wriggle free.

“I got something pink,” he whispers in her ear.

The lights in the car briefly flicker.

Amanda stops struggling.

“I bet you have,” she says quietly.

Wiley caresses the flat of Amanda's stomach. “Bet I have what?”

“I bet you have something pink,” she says, her face still pressed against the window.

“You fuckin' know it,” Wiley says. “Here, lemme show you.” He withdraws his hands from her and unzips his pants.

Jeff closes his eyes. “We're supposed to be here.”

Screwball laughs. “What in the hell?”

“We're supposed to be here,” Jeff says again, his eyes still closed.

Screwball lifts his hat and scratches his head. “Whatever you say, weirdo.”

Wiley starts to remove Amanda's jeans.

“I want it hard,” Amanda says. “Hard and fast.”

Wiley pauses with his prick in his hand; can't quite comprehend what Amanda has just said.

“Really hard,” Amanda says. “Like you mean it.”

Wiley feels a numbness wash over him. He steps back from Amanda.

“I want you to fuck me so hard the window breaks,” she says.

Kobie's saying something from the other end of the aisle, but no one appears to be listening.

Len is staring at Jeff. He looks bemused. “Why's he keep saying 'we're supposed to be here'?”

“Hell if I know,” Screwball replies.

Kobie speaks again; louder this time: “Wiley, hurry the hell up and do what you gotta do!”

Amanda turns from the window and faces Wiley. She looks down at his already shrinking penis and smiles.

The lights in the car briefly flicker.

Wiley's mouth opens and he blinks in disbelief. Standing before him is a several years younger version of his mother. She's wearing a lemon dress with pink flowers and has her hair tied back in a pony-tail. But there's something about her eyes ... something wrong. She moves close to him; so close he can feel her breath.

And it's cold.

The blood rushes to Wiley's head. Suddenly, he can't feel his feet, or the prick in his hand. He reaches up with his free hand and grasps the crucifix around his neck.

“Just like your old man,” his mom says. “all faith and no works.”

“Mom? ... no, I-”

“No excuses, Jason Wiley. You're a chip off the old block.”

Wiley shakes his head. “No. Ihatedhim - I still do.”

“Hate him?” Mom says. “You are him!”

The lights in the car briefly flicker ... and then they go out - along with the LCD information and notice displays - and the entire train is plunged into darkness.

SEVEN

 

 

 

 

July, 2005; Mulberry Street, New York

 

Dad slammed the bottle of beer on the table so hard its contents frothed over and ran down the neck.

I flinched. He was in a foul mood again, like he was almost every night; and he was drinking, like he was almost every night. This meant someone was going to be on the receiving end of his fists by the end of the evening. Mom for sure, and probably even me if I didn't 'behave'.

I looked over at the TV. A bunch of cops were pinning some smackhead to the ground. Another reality show. I had no idea which one. There was far too many of them, and they all looked the same.


Page 10

Dad threw himself down on the shit-brown sofa and tucked a hand into the waist of his work pants. And there he sat, a greasy human splodge in a pasta-sauce stained undershirt – or wifebeater, to be completely and utterly exact.

“Fuckin' criminals,” he grunted at the TV, then reached for his beer and took a lengthy swig.

That's it, you old fuck. Refuel your crazy person.

“Jean!” Dad called.

Mom appeared in the doorway moments later. Her hair was tied back in a pony-tail and she was wearing a lemon dress with pink flowers. I didn't know what kind of flowers they were supposed to be; wasn't much of a flowery person.

“You call me?” she said.

“No, I called the fuckin' Pope. Get me another beer.”

Dad shot me a look. “What the hell you lookin' at?”

I decided it was best not to engage the bastard with eye-to-eye, and switched my attention back to the TV. One of the cops was speaking to the camera. He looked smug as fuck.

The old man changed channel. John Wayne appeared in full cowboy gear. He changed channel again. A re-run ofThe Simpsonspopped onto the screen. I hatedThe Simpsons. The yellow fucks. Thankfully, the old bastard hated it too. He flipped through the channels and settled on one of those shopping ones. They were trying to sell fishing gear. Dad never fished. He couldn't catch a turd in a toilet bowl. Why the hell he'd stopped on a channel with a couple of guys talking about fishing line was beyond me.

Mom returned with a cold beer. She'd opened the bottle for King Fuckhead.

Always eager to please.

“Well put it on the fuckin' table,” he said to her in a tone that was so par for the course it almost went by unnoticed.

Mom did as ordered, then turned to leave.

“Wait,” Dad said. He emptied the remainder of his current bottle into his overweight belly then handed it to Mom.

She took it and went away.

I'd like to take that fishing line they’re selling and wrap it round the cunt's throat.

“So,” Dad said, turning to me. “You been laid yet?”

I just looked at him; could feel my face turning red.

“I take it that's a no.” He coated the inside of his throat with beer. “You even kissed someone? By someone I mean a girl. Or am I bringing up a fag?”

I hated my old man.

“Why are you talking to me like this?” I said.

Dad sat forward and -yet again- slammed his bottle down on the table. The table - a crappy oak thing we've had for decades - was covered with scrapes and other assorted dents and chips, most of them caused by him slamming stuff down on it. The slam tactic was clearly supposed to intimidate me. It worked. I jumped back in my chair.

“I'll talk to you as I see fit. I own you, you little shit.”

He had that crazy look again; his eyes all wide and staring. He rarely never had it, because, like I said, he rarely wasn't drunk. He continued to stare for a bit. I had no idea what he was thinking; half expected him to go on about my hair again (which had reached my shoulders). I didn't know where the hell to look, so I kind of looked everywhere. The people on TV were still trying to sell us fishing gear.

Dad emptied more beer into his gut, then sat back.

I often fantasized about stabbing him. We had some cool knives in the kitchen. There was this big one in particular, looked like something from one of those slasher films. I often thought about slitting his throat with it or stabbing him repeatedly in the chest. Or maybe just doing it all.

I was thinking about it now.

Dad investigated his bottle. He was already halfway through it. Almost time for Mom -the slave- to make another appearance. He sat quiet for a while, watching the sell-o-vision guys line up fish hooks with a tape measure. I had no idea why the hell it mattered to measure everything on these shopping channels. I bet the male presenters constantly measured their pricks.

“Jean!”

There he goes again.

“Jean!”

Mom appeared in the doorway. "Another beer?"

“Pour me a Scotch.”

Oh Jesus, no.

Mom looked like she'd just been gut-punched, and hard.

“Are you sure you really need that?” she said. Her voice sounded distant and frightened. She already knew the answer; already knew what the response was going to be, yet she had to ask anyway.

Dad sat forward and looked around at Mom. He slung an arm across the top of the sofa.

“C'mere,” he said.

Mom just stood in the doorway, nervously fumbling around with her hands.

“I saidcome here.”

Mom slowly approached the back of the sofa.

“Round the front,” he said.

I wanted to look away.

Mom rounded the sofa and stood by the table.

“Hey - don't you want that Scotch?” she asked, her voice faltering.

Dad handed Mom his beer. “Drink it.”

Mom shook her head, forced a smile. “I - I'm not really in the mood.”

“I saiddrink it.”

Mom's fake smile faded. She took the bottle from Dad and raised it to her lips. Her hand was trembling. She took a little sip.

“All of it,” he said.

She tipped more beer into her mouth and down her throat. She didn't like the taste and made a face.

I looked away for a moment. The floor lamp in the corner of the room caught my attention. Something was fluttering inside the dented bright cream shade. Probably a moth. They were always getting in.

“Sit down,” Dad said to Mom.

“You sure you don't want that Scotch?” she asked, no doubt regretting she ever questioned his request for the poison.

“What I want is for you to sit down.”

She placed the empty bottle on the table and did as she was told.

Dad was going to do something horrible to her. I didn't know what, but I knew it was going to happen. My mouth was dry and my heart was pounding. Would he notice if I sneaked away?

Only one way to find out.

I quietly got up from my chair and headed for the door. I expected him to ask where I thought I was going. But he never did.

I made it safely to the bathroom and bolted the door. There was a small plastic cup by the sink. I filled it with water and took several gulps. After that, I splashed water over my face and stared at my reflection in the medicine cabinet. I could barely connect with the image staring back at me. On the surface, I was growing up fast - sixteen years old in a couple of months - but inside I still felt like a little boy.

A nerve in my upper right eyelid began to twitch. It had never done that before. It felt strange. I focused on that eyelid in the mirror. I could see it spasm. I reached up and placed a finger over it. When I took it away, it started to jerk around again. I didn't like the sensation, and hoped it would soon stop.

I decided to pat dry my damp face.

There was no hand-towel on the rail.

Typical.

I dabbed my face with my navy blue t-shirt instead.

I'd escaped the living room, but things weren't much better in the bathroom. I needed all the space I could get - felt like I was drowning in the sound of my old man's verbal abuse - yet here I was, locked in a room not much bigger than a fucking phone booth.

I looked around. The once bright shower curtain was full of damp spores and green paint was flaking from the walls. The cheap linoleum under my feet was worn to the floorboards.

I wanted to tear down the walls and scream; ran my fingers through my hair and paced the small area.

It suddenly occurred to me that Dad wasn't shouting or going on the rampage; wasn't sure if this didn't freak me out even more. I pressed my ear to the door. I could hear him saying something. I could also hear Mom. She wasn't loud, but she sounded like she was being hurt.

My heart started to hammer. What the hell was he doing to her now?

I took my ear away from the door. My fists were clenched. I'd never felt so angry and frustrated in my life. I imagined myself throwing open the bathroom door, retrieving that big psycho knifefrom the kitchen and storming into the living room and stabbing that fucker until he bled through to the apartment below.

Fuck it.

I opened the bathroom door and stormed into the dark hallway just as I'd imagined. I hesitated at the entrance to the kitchen. Incredibly, some of my bravado was already fading. I could hear my parents a little better now, but mostly Mom. She kept making these weird sounds. I was terrified to discover what Dad was doing to her, yet my curiosity compelled me to confront whatever was going on.

I was trembling so badly I felt like I might piss my pants.

Before I knew it, the dimly lit living room was in front of me. The moth was still beating its wings inside the lampshade, immaculate people were still trying to sell stuff on the TV (we'd reached the tech hour by the looks of things) and the place was still a clusterfuck of assorted stuff like clothes and shoes and books and newspapers and cups and dirty plates.

It was all so fucking depressing.

Mom was nowhere to be seen, but I could still hear her. She had to be lying flat on the sofa. I could see King Fuckhead. He was turned to one side and was looking down - no doubt at Mom. He seemed occupied.

I stepped quietly into the room, then took a few more steps. Fuckhead noticed me. He stopped what he was doing. I didn't say anything, but I took another step. Mom's head came into view. It was on the armrest of the sofa. Her face was flush and her eyes were wet with tears.

What the fuck?

Dad raised a bottle. The neck of it was covered in blood. He grinned. “Go get yourself a beer, kid. We're playing spin the bottle.”

The realization of what was going on struck me so hard that the room began to simultaneously tilt and spin. I turned and stumbled for the doorway. I was going to be sick.

I made it to the kitchen before a major stomach spasm served up my dinner. Strings of spaghetti and chunks of meatball along with a side of spicy sauce splattered into the sink. I wiped my mouth with the back of a hand and looked over at the knife rack.

I decided then and there I was going to kill that motherfucker.

I burst into the living room clutching the biggest kitchen knife we had, and, propelled by a rage so intense that the only thing occupying my field of vision was my abusive father, I ran at the sofa. In that very last moment before I thrust the knife into his neck, he turned and looked at me; and I think he understood that he'd went too far this time, and that he was going to die.

Eyes wide with surprise, he clasped a hand over his neck and got to his feet.

I rounded the sofa and readied the knife to stab him again.

“Jason!” Mom shouted, sitting up.

I froze.

“If you stab him again they'll take you away.”

I looked at her. My eyelid was still jerking around.

“We can make this okay,” she said. She glanced briefly at my old man stumbling around. “I'll say I did it.”

I looked at her with alarm and shook my head. There was no way I could let her go to prison for what I had done here tonight.

“He's tortured us for years,” she said. “Physically and mentally. Tonight I'd just had enough. They can't prove otherwise. We’re around the same size and weight. We just need to get our story straight and stick to it.”

Dad, already completely saturated in his own blood, staggered against the TV and knocked it over. It landed on its back. The screen went dead.

Mom got up from the sofa. I could see spots of blood around the crotch area of her dress. My stomach burned with anger. She moved cautiously towards me. “Jason, honey, please ... put down the knife.”

Rather than doing what Mom requested, I increased my grip on the handle and looked at my old man. He was still lurching around with his hand stuck to his neck in a feeble attempt to stem the flow of blood. He was making choking sounds and blood was coming out of his mouth.

Mom reached out cautiously to take the knife from me. “It's not too late for this to be okay.”

Dad fell against a bookshelf, then into the lamp. The whole lot was sent crashing to the floor. The moth went fluttering overhead.

Mom touched the hand I was holding the knife with. “Don't let him ruin the rest of our lives.”

I felt tears forming, and fought to hold them back.

“Honey ...”

She took the knife.

I didn't resist her.

“It's over now,” she said.


Page 11

Emotional floodgates opened, and years of torment mixed with an overwhelming feeling of relief swept from me in one huge gush.

Mom dropped the knife and threw her arms around me.

“It's okay now,” she said. “Let it out.”

And that's exactly what I did. Until I had no more to give.

Over in the corner, Dad lay dead. Judging by his fixed gaze, his final image had been of me and Mom, finally free of his reign of terror. But there was something else in his eyes; something perversely proud; like I had finally lived up to his expectations after all these years; had finally become the kind of son he'd always wanted.

I looked away from him and continued to hold Mom tightly, and promised to myself I'd never be like Robert Wiley.

No matter what.

 

EIGHT

 

 

 

 

01:42 am...

 

Amber and Michael have discovered that passing between cars is possible, and are in the process of doing just that when the lights go out.

Holding open the end door, Amber turns to Michael. “Something's not right. Can't you feel it?”

Michael looks at Amber with a blank expression.

“God, you're hopeless,” she says.

“Not entirely,” he replies, grinning.

Amber sighs, then passes into the next car.

A concerned looking older woman wearing a mid-length woolen mauve coat approaches at the sight of the couple's entry. She's clutching a brown leather bag like it's made out of gold or some other precious metal.

“The lights have went out,” she says. “And the train's not moving at the right speed.”

“It's probably just an electrical problem,” Michael replies.

Amber makes her way past the gray-hairedsenior citizen and continues along the aisle.

“Maybe we should wait for the lights to come back before going any further,” Michael says.

“We don't know they're coming back,” Amber replies. She opens the end door. “You coming?”

“Take me with you,” the concerned woman says, and clutches Michael's arm.

Michael looks from Amber to the woman. “I don't think that's necessary. Best you remain seated until you reach your stop.”

He pats the woman's hand.

The woman refuses to let go. She has a rabbit-in-the-headlights look about her. Michael wonders what her story is; why a woman her age is alone on a train at this time of night - or morning. He looks to Amber for guidance.

Amber shakes her head and exits the car.

“Lady,” Michael says, “I think it might be dangerous up ahead. It's best-”

“Danger?” the woman says, her eyes wide with alarm.

“Well- no. I mean, yes, but ... can't you just stay here?”

The woman digs her nails deeper into Michael's arm. “I'm scared.”

“Okay, come with me. But stay behind. If anything happens-”

“Happens?”

“You know what, nothing's going to happen.” He pats the woman's hand again. “Just stay close.”

 

*

 

The train passes Spring Street station without stopping. It's a sight which leads to a sharp increase in Amber's unease. Not bothering to wait for Michael to catch up, she moves quickly to the end of the aisle and exits through the door.

In the next car, a girl is sitting with her hands folded on her lap. She's wearing a denim jacket on top of a white cotton blouse, and a long, brightly colored flared skirt. She's all alone and staring ahead, as though mesmerized by the motion of the tunnel lights darting past the windows.

Amber's approach catches her attention.

The girl gets up from her seat and meets Amber at the midway point of the aisle. Clumsy looking black ankle boots are attached to her feet. “Did you see that? The train didn't stop just now. And the lights have went all weird.”

“Hard not to notice,” Amber replies.

The girl bites gently into her lower lip and twists a multicolored beaded necklace around one finger. “I had an argument with my boyfriend. He drove away and left me stranded in the street and I didn't have enough money for a cab, so I had to get this train. And I left my cellphone in his car. I'm terrified riding the subway at night.”

Amber reckons the girl can't be older than eighteen. “Your boyfriend's an asshole. Dump him.”

The girl continues to twist her necklace. “Well ... I'm kinda pregnant.”

Amber looks at the girl's tummy.

“Oh, I only just found out,” she says. “won't be showing for an age - hey, you wouldn't happen to have a phone on you, would you? So I can call my mom, let her know I'm okay? I should've been home by now.”

Amber realizes she's left her purse and jacket a few cars back. “Crap, it's in my jacket, and I put it down in another car. I can go back for it.”

“Uh, it's okay, it's not that big a deal. It's not like I haven't been out all night before.”

“Tell you what,” Amber says, “I'll need to fetch my things before we leave the train anyway. You can call her then.”

“Sure,” the girl replies.

The speed of the tunnel lights flitting past catches Amber's attention. “We seem to be running slower now.”

“Do you think we're stopping?”

“I don't think so,” Amber replies. “At least, not yet. It's like the train's gradually running out of power or something.”

“Maybe the driver's stopping to fix the problem with the lights.”

The girl's eyes are bold and blue, and she has punchy little cheekbones, a button nose and pronounced dimples – and, of course, she's a blonde. Amber believes it's just as well she has this whole cute thing going for her, because she sure as hell doesn't seem too bright.

“I think he would've stopped at a station to do that,” Amber replies.

The girl ponders Amber's words, then blurts: “Maybe it's a terrorist attack.”

“I think we have more chance of being invaded by aliens from outer space than being attacked by terrorists,” Amber says.

“You think it could be aliens?”

“No- I'm not suggesting we're being attacked by aliens, or that I even believe in them. I was just saying-”

“Have you ever saw a UFO?”

“I … don't really know.”

“I saw a UFO once,” the girls says. “It was shaped like a cigar and was long and vibrating.”

Amber looks bemused. Was this conversation really happening?

“Anyway,” the girl goes on, “one moment it was there, the next ...poof. Gone.”

Amber forces a smile. “That's usually the way.”

“Yeah,” the girl says. She sweeps her bangs back from her face. It does little good. Her ash blonde hair is clearly in need of a trim.

Amber offers the girl her hand. “I'm Amber, by the way.”

The girl takes Amber's hand. “Wendy.”

“Pleased to meet you, Wendy.”

Meeting Wendy, all alone and vulnerable, and exchanging names and a handshake, Amber can't help but be reminded of Julie with the car trouble, outside of Van Horn.

There are some things you never forget.

Just then, Michael and his uptight lady companion enter the car.

Relief sweeps over Amber. Even though she only just met him tonight, she's already feeling considerably more assured in Michael's presence.

“Michael, meet Wendy,” Amber says.

Ushering the woman accompanying him towards Wendy, Michael says: “Hi, Wendy, meet Barbara. Barbara, meet Wendy. Now, if you'll excuse me, ladies, I need a word with my wife.” He takes Amber by the arm and pulls her to one side.

Amber yanks her arm free of Michael's grasp. “That was rude -and your wife?”

“Ssh,” Michael says. “I had to get you away. I need to talk to you.”

“About?”

“This ... you don't think this has anything to do with what happened at the parking garage, do you? There's surveillance cameras everywhere these days.”

Amber glances past Michael to make sure the other women aren't within earshot. “I hardly think the cops would have the driver randomly mess around with the train - and besides, it's too soon for them to have caught up to us. This is something else.”

“Anything to do with the trail we followed?”

Amber thinks for a moment. “I don't know.”

The lights in the car briefly flicker.

The flickering catches Michael's attention. “Remember a few minutes ago ... when you asked if I felt anything out of the ordinary?”

“Yes?” Amber replies.

“Well now I'm beginning to.”

 

*

 

01:42 am...

 

“Shit, what the hell's happened to the lights?” Screwball says. “And just as things were gettin' good!”

Wiley frantically tucks his penis into his pants. He can hear Len blubbering excitedly and Kobie yelling expletives from the other end of the car. He looks along the aisle and sees Amanda coming towards him through the darkness. She doesn't look like his mom anymore. She's completely Amanda again.

And yet she isn't.

He pulls out his switchblade and flicks it open. “Stay away from me, bitch, or I'll fuck you up!”

Amanda wraps her fingers around a vertical hand rail and takes another step towards Wiley. The light from the tunnel flashes across her face and, for the briefest of moments, she doesn't look pretty at all. Her hair is straw-like and all over the place, and her mouth is drooping, as though it's melting. And then there's her eyes ...dear God, her eyes. Each eye is completely black with a bright yellow elliptical pupil.

Wiley feels his legs turn to Jell-O. It doesn't matter that Amanda looking like some kind of monster lasted only an instant. The very fact that shedidjust turn into something hideous means she'd be no less threatening a sight dressed as a Catholic schoolgirl with her hair in bunches and a lollipop sticking out of her mouth.

He backs into something and turns with a startled cry.

It's Kobie, come to see what all the fuss is about. “What the hell's wrong with you, man?”

Looking over his shoulder, Wiley says: “We gotta get out of here. She isn't human. Her boyfriend has to be the same.”

Bewildered, Kobie shakes his head. All he can see (and not very clearly at that) is a non-threatening woman coming towards them.

Wiley leaves Kobie where he's standing and heads quickly for the end door.

Kobie watches Wiley go -dude's went fucked in the head- then turns his attention back to Amanda - who is suddenly standing right beside him.

And she looks anything but human.

Before Kobie can react, Amanda grabs the back of his head and rakes his face with wickedly long fingernails.

Blood sprays onto her face.

Kobie's screams fill the car.

“Kobie!” Screwball yells, and fumbles for a handrail. He trips over something big and lands face first. His baseball cap topples from his head. “Jesus fuck!”

Shadows generated by the lights from the tunnel dart back and forth through the car's interior.

Screwball manages to discern what he's fallen over.

It's Len.

He crawls over to the big guy and gives him a shake. “Hey, Lenny, wake up.”

No response.

He gives Len's face several light slaps. “Come on, I think Kobie's-”

Screwball realizes his fingers are wet. His hands begins to tremble. “Lenny?”

But Len isn't going to reply to Screwball, or eat another peanut M&M or drink gallons of soda in a day or look at a pretty girl and wish he wasn't a loser ever again, because his throat has been torn out, and that makes him about as dead as dead can be.

Fear causes Screwball's bladder to momentarily loosen and a little bit of urine to spurt out of his prized pecker.

First those screams of Kobie's, and now Len ...

Something is killing them.

 

*

 

Wiley hurries into the adjacent car and sees Spring Street speed past the windows.

The slumbering old man he had passed several minutes ago is now on his feet. “Whatever's going on in there” – the man points at the door Wiley just came through - “I don't wanna know.”

“The train's not stopping,” Wiley says.

The old man digs his hands into the pockets of his dark, quilt-lined coat. “I think we went past my stop a long time ago.”

Wiley's sure there's a double meaning in that statement. He looks at the old fella. He's not a very tall man - five-eight at a stretch - and has a face that looks like it's partied in Hell and lived to tell the tale.


Page 12

“Mister,” he says. “I think we're in big fuckin' trouble.”

The door at the far end of the aisle opens and a small group of people enter the car. Wiley recognizes them as the couples he and his merry men eyeballed before.

“Anyone know what's going on here?” one of the men asks.

Wiley tucks his switchblade into his back pocket and approaches them. “You gotta go back the way you came. There's fucked up people back there.”

He looks over his shoulder.

No sign of Amanda yet.

“Fucked up people?” one of the men says.

Wiley attempts to usher everyone out of the car. “Come on, we gotta go.”

“Wait a minute,” the other man says. “I'd really like to know what you mean by 'fucked up people.'”

Both men have on dark suits and have more than likely had a swell evening on the town with their attractive girlfriends. Wiley is certain, however, that all good things are about to come to a swift end if they don't perform a u-turn, and soon.

“There's these people back there,” he explains, “...two of them, and they're fuckin' maniacs. I think one of them might have killed a friend of mine - judging by his screams.”

Typically, one of the girls - the blonde one in the red strapless dress - gasps.

“Screams?” guy number one says. “And you left your friend back there?”

“Look,” Wiley says, “if you wanna be a hero, be my guest. You all can go touch base with it for all I care. All I know is, I'm gettin' as far away from it as I can, and that means goin' back the way I came.”

“Wait a minute,” guy number two says. “You just called one of these 'maniacs' anIt.”

“Why don't you go see for yourself,” Wiley replies.

“I think we should go,” the blonde girl says. “I'm getting scared.”

“Me too,” the taller brunette in the sexy little black number pipes up.

“You know what,” Wiley says, “I don't care what you people do.” He looks to the old man, who's seated back where he was before. “What's your name, mister?”

The old man looks over at Wiley. He has the look of someone who barely gives a crap anymore. “Jack.”

“Jack, you comin' with me?”

“You think if I just sit here and mind my own business they'll pass me by?”

“I don't even know if they're headed this way, but you heard my friend scream, right?”

The couples wait intently for the old man's reply.

Jack hoists himself to his feet. Not the easiest of tasks at his age.

Wiley approaches Jack to offer assistance should he need it. “You can call me Wiley.”

Jack looks at the young man and manages a smile. “Then lead the way, Wiley.”

“Hey, look, the train's slowing down,” guy number two says.

The blonde girl grips his arm. “Maybe we'll be able to get off now.”

Just then, the door at the opposite end of the aisle opens and Amanda enters the car.

“Not soon enough,” Wiley says.

Amanda - looking like Amanda as opposed to Amanda-the-thing - stumbles forward and drops to her knees. Despite a lack of light, it's clear to see she's the image of distress. Her pink off-shoulder top is torn, exposing a black bra cup, and her hair is all messed up.

Immediately, one of the men rushes to her aid.

“No!” Wiley shouts, “Don't go near her!”

Discarding Wiley's advice, the man helps Amanda to her feet. “It's okay, I got you.” It's then that he notices the blood on her hands and face. “Oh my God, you've got blood on you.”

“It's not her own blood,” Wiley says. “You gotta get away from her.”

Now it's the second man's turn to ignore Wiley. He, too, motions to help the distressed woman, but his brunette girlfriend holds him back. “Becky, what are you doing? I can't just stand here.”

“Gary's with her,” Becky replies. “And besides, what if this Wiley guy is right?”

“Jesus, Becky, does she really look like a maniac to you?”

Becky refuses to let go of her boyfriend's arm. “Still. Just hang back. For me.”

Amanda's sobbing quite loudly. She tries to talk, but her words come out broken and incoherent.

Gary leads her to a seat. “Take it easy.” He sits her down. “Try to catch your breath then tell me what happened. It might also help if you give me your name.”

“She's called Amanda and you're gonna fuckin' die,” Wiley says.

Amanda wipes her eyes and takes a deep breath as suggested. “My name's Amanda, and...” She takes another breath to help maintain her composure. “And they raped me.”

Alarmed, Gary asks: “Who did this to you?”

Amanda looks directly at Wiley - “Him and his friends” - and then she bursts into tears.

“Fuck this,” Wiley says, and pushes past Becky and her boyfriend. “I'm not gonna die with you all.” But, before he can reach the door, he's hauled back by the scruff of his neck.

“Oh no you don't.”

Fucking Mister Becky, trying to play the hero.

Wiley fumbles around in his back pocket for his blade - something that isn't easy when you're being pulled backwards.

Mister Becky, who must be packing quite a bit of muscle under his suit top, spins Wiley to face his accuser.

Amanda continues to provide details between sobs: “They muh- made me do...” - deep breath - “suh- sex acts on them.”

Mister Becky squeezes Wiley's neck. He has a hand as big as a shovel and a grip like a tightly wound vice. “Is this true? Is that what you're running away from? You and your gang assault this woman?”

“She's lying!” Wiley protests. “Jack, you heard the screaming.”

“Oh yeah, I heard screaming,” Jack admits, “but I don't know who it belonged to.”

Amanda says quietly: “It was my boyfriend.” She sniffs. “They killed my boyfriend.”

The blonde girl gasps.

“Is that where all this blood is from?” Gary asks.

Amanda nods her head.

Gary looks over at Wiley and curls his fists into balls. “You dirty motherfucker.” He turns his attention to his blonde girlfriend in the red dress. “Sheri, move away from him.”

Sheri moves away from Wiley and joins boyfriend Gary's side.

“Man, you're all in so much trouble,” Wiley says.

“You threatening me!” Mister Becky barks.

“Steve,” Becky says. “Calm down. We don't know what happened.”

“I think we got all the evidence we need,” Steve replies. “This guy and the rest of his gang are up to no good – speaking of which, where the hell is the rest of your group?”

“They're probably all dead,” Wiley replies. “Just like you're about to be.”

“That's it,” Steve says, gripping Wiley's neck tighter than ever, “keep it up with the threats, see where it gets you.”

Amanda, head hung low, says something.

Gary moves his ear close to Amanda's mouth. “What was that?”

Wiley surreptitiously slides his switchblade out of his back pocket.

Amanda repeats herself, but she's speaking so quietly it's still hard for Gary to make out what she's saying.

Gary looks to Sheri, but she's just as nonplussed. He lays a comforting hand on Amanda's shoulder. “I'm afraid you're going to have to speak up.”

Amanda's sobs fade and she looks up at Gary. The lights from the tunnel flash briefly across her face, highlighting her puffy eyes and runny mascara. And then, suddenly, those same eyes blacken over and the pupils turn yellow and elongate.

Before Gary has time to react to what he's seeing, the Amanda-Thing thrusts its long, blood encrusted fingernails into the underside of his chin.

It stands erect and lifts him off his feet.

Sheri starts to scream.

Jack, apparently, still does give a crap. He brushes past Steve and makes for the end door.

“I told you!” Wiley shouts, and flips open his knife. He takes advantage of Steve's surprise and twists free of him.

Steve has no idea what to respond to. Too much is happening all at once.

“Fucker,” Wiley spits, and thrusts his knife into Steve's throat.

Steve's face contorts. He clasps one hand over his throat and reaches for Becky with the other.

Becky screams and steps away from Steve.

Wiley stabs Steve repeatedly in the belly. “You had to play the hero, didn't you, fuckface.”

Panicking, Becky pulls open the end door and quickly disappears.

Steve falls to his knees. He's covered in blood.

“Outta my way,” Wiley grunts, and pushes him over, then, without bothering to check on the fates of Gary and Sheri, follows Jack and Becky through the door.

Gary's still on the end of the Amanda-Thing's grip and is violently kicking and flailing. Blood is running down his neck from where the creature's fingernails are embedded in his flesh.

“Let him go!” Sheri yells.

She steps forward, looks like she's about to engage the Amanda-Thing.

The Amanda-Thing reaches out with its free hand and clamps its nails into Sheri's face.

Sheri clutches the Amanda-Things arm and tries to pull herself free. “Get off me!”

The Amanda-Thing digs its thumbnail and end finger into Sheri's cheeks, gouging flesh and drawing blood. It's index and middle fingers find her eye sockets and sink into them. One eye is displaced and the other punctures, spurting its aqueous humor.

Sheri's tortured screams flood the car.

The Amanda-Thing sneers and increases its grip on Sheri's face. This forces the woman's nose flat, breaking it, and fractures the bone below her eye sockets.

Sheri abruptly falls silent.

The Amanda-Thing simultaneously releases both its victims.

Sheri's lifeless body crumples to the floor of the car and Gary lands hard on his back. He starts coughing and moaning. The formidable shape that is the Amanda-Thing looms over him. He raises a hand as a feeble barrier. “Please, I don't wanna-”

The Amanda-thing plunges one of its hands into Gary's stomach. The man's frenzied wailing is like music to its ears. It reaches all theway in, finds his spine and wraps its digits around it, then gives a powerful yank.

Gary's body jerks clean off the floor. There's a look of absolute horror in his eyes, and then -snap- his spine breaks and his body goes limp.

The Amanda-Thing holds Gary suspended for a few seconds, then releases him to the floor.

Beyond the train's windows, Canal Street drifts silently by.

 

*

 

01:43 am ...

 

Screwball is on his hands and knees and fumbling around in the dark for his hat. There's a sense of urgency to his movements due to his usually none-the-wiser internal voice telling him to hurry the hell up or he's going to be killed.

He lays a hand on something, but it's not his hat. It's a sneaker. And it's not empty.

He looks up.

Jeff is standing over him. He's intermittently highlighted by the external light from the tunnel. And he looks different.

Jeff stares at Screwball through luminous yellow eyes which feature black elliptical slits. His mouth spreads into an unnaturally wide grin. There's no teeth and gums behind the grin. Only darkness.

Now what in Jehovah's name is this thing?

Not since childhood, sitting in front of old re-runs ofThe Howdy Doody Showon some skanky cable channel, has Screwball felt so completely overwhelmed by fear. That god damn puppet and clown have a lot to answer for.

The Jeff-Thing utters something - it makes no sense; sounds like an ancient language of some kind - then reaches for Screwball.

And now Screwball reacts; can be as slippery as an eel when he wants, and the want has never been greater. He draws back quickly into a sitting position then springs to his feet.

The Jeff-Thing mutters more of its ancient mumbo jumbo then retreats behind a wall of impenetrable darkness.

Screwball scans the aisle looking for some sign of the Jeff-Thing. “Where the hell'd you go?” Calling the Jeff-Thing out like this is more a sign of nerves than anything else. He curses under his breath and carefully steps back over Len's body.

The lights in the car briefly flicker... and the Jeff-Thing reappears, standing a mere couple of feet in front of Screwball.

Screwball's heart skips a beat. It's an odd sensation bordering on unpleasant. He cries out and turns for the end door. Despite it being dark, he finds the handle straight away.

Is that the Jeff-Thing breathing down his neck, or is it his imagination?

He squeezes himself into the next car and holds the door tightly shut behind him. He peers through one of the glass panels. The lights in the adjacent car momentarily flicker, highlighting the Jeff-Thing standing in the open doorway and staring ahead through its weird reptile eyes. Its mouth opens wide and what looks like hundreds of small insects pour from the black void.


Page 13

Not insects, but spiders.

Screwball gives a panicked cry and holds the door as tightly shut as he can. The only thing he finds more terrifying than Clarabell thefucking clown is spiders. He looks down at the floor. It's too dark to see anything, but he imagines the arachnids have gotten past the gap between cars and are somehow flooding under the door. He rapidly stomps his feet.

“Stanley.”

Screwball stops stomping. Someone just said his name from the other side of the door.

“Stanley, you there?”

The voice is unmistakeably his father's. But Screwball's father didn't raise no fool, so the obvious question is: how in the hell could Joseph Eugene Jacobs be on the other side of this door when just moments before it was a spider-spewing monster?

“I ain't lettin' go of this door,” Screwball says. “Whatever you are, it ain't workin'.” He looks through one of the windows. There's no sign of anyone or anything.

“Stanley, open the door. You gotta let me through.”

“The hell I do,” Screwball replies. “You ain't my dad, and even if you were, I hate you.”

“Stanley, you gotta understand, we moved to New York for you. There was nothing for you back home. We gave you a golden opportunity."

"You didn't gimme shit. You made me and Mom move here becauseyouwanted to be closer to that airline whore you was screwin' - and stop calling me Stanley. You know how I hate it.”

No reply.

Screwball looks through the window again. “Hey, you still there?”

The lights in the car briefly flicker.

“Screwy, it's Wiley. Open the door.”

Screwball doesn't so much as twitch.

“Screwy, open the goddamn door. It's insane out here.”

“I can't see you - how do I know you're you?”

“For fucksake, Stan, Amanda is after me. She's not human. She's killing everyone. Now open the fuckin' door or I'm gonna die!”

“I still can't see you.” Screwball says. “You gotta try and lemme see your face.”

A few seconds pass, after which, Wiley's unmistakable silhouette appears in the doorway opposite.

Screwball sighs with relief and pulls open the door. “Man, thank Christ it's-”

The LCD information and notice displays spring to life and the lights in the car begin to flicker rapidly.

Screwball's blood turns to ice and his skin goes all prickly. It isn't Wiley standing in the opposite doorway, it's the Jeff-Thing, and it looks like a living abomination. It steps into the car and holds onto either side of the door frame. Its fingernails are now so very long.

“Do you want to know why your father ran off with a whore?” it says in a baleful tone. “He did it because you were the result of his seed, and he couldn't bear to look at you.”

Screwball shakes his head and backs away.

“He did it because he always wanted a little girl, something he could love in his own special way.”

“You shut the hell up!” Screwball shouts. “My dad is a lot of things, but he ain't no child abuser!”

“It's why your mother slit her wrists, tried to kill herself.She knew, Stanley.”

Screwball slams his hands over his ears. “I don't wanna hear this!”

The Jeff-Thing's mouth drops open and the tip of a black tongue slithers into view.

By this point, Screwball should be running. He knows it, he's even telling himself it, yet there he stands, strangely hypnotized by the flickering of the lights and outlandish events playing out before him.

The Jeff-Thing's tongue is now protruding beyond its drooping mouth - only, it isn't a tongue. It's the head of a snake.

“What in the hell,” Screwball mutters. He has no idea what kind of snake he's looking at. All he knows is that he's terrified of it almost as much as he is, spiders.

The snake drops to the floor with a thud. Screwball stares at it with a mixture of disbelief and horror. He looks up and sees another snake head appear from the widening abyss that is the Jeff-Thing's mouth. This one is thicker than the last, and immediately issues an incensed hiss.

Somewhere inside Screwball's mind, a decision has been made: enough is enough; it's time to skedaddle. Snapping into action, he turns and sprints along the empty aisle to the sound of his heart drumming inside his head. No more trying to keep thisthingat bay. He's going to run and run and run, and, in the meantime, pray to God that something gets in the way of himself andItbefore he runs out of train.

 

*

 

01:48 am ...

 

A solitary soul standing on the Canal Street platform throws his arms up into the air when it becomes apparent the train isn't stopping.

Barbara looks worried. “This isn't right. Why isn't the train stopping?”

“Maybe the driver's dead,” Amber replies. “Took a heart attack at the controls.”

“Even so,” Barbara says. “The people who oversee all the trains on the different lines can cut the power, stop the train, even re-route it. Why aren't they doing anything? We could crash into the back of another train if this keeps up for very much longer. I know about this kind of thing.”

Michael can see Barbara is quickly working herself into a frenzy. “Maybe they're trying. Maybe there's something happening that's temporarily beyond their control.”

“Why don't we just pull the emergency cord?” Wendy asks.

“Because you're not supposed to,” Michael replies.

Wendy looks confused. “But isn't this an emergency?”

“You're not allowed to use it for this sort of an emergency.”

“He's right,” Barbara says. “You're only supposed to use it if someone gets caught between the doors - or between cars, God help them

Wendy touches the small metal door in front of the box encasing the brake. “It doesn't make any sense that we can't use it for other stuff.”

“Please, Wendy, don't,” Michael says. “If you pull it, we'll be locked in with no way out until the cops arrive.”

“But wouldn't that be a good thing?” Wendy asks.

“It wouldn't be good for me,” Amber says. “I killed a man tonight.”

Amber's statement is met with blank stares from both women. Michael, however, haswhat the fuckwritten all over his face.

Wendy starts to giggle. “You're really funny.”

Amber smiles. She can afford to. Despite Michael's words, she knows the engaging of the emergency brake can't keep either of them on board.

Barbara clutches her bag to her chest. “Well I don't think it's funny, joking about killing people.”

“As long as it's just a joke,” Michael says. He throws Amberone of those looks.

Amber responds with a wink and a smile. “We should keep moving.”

One by one, they step into the adjacent car. Michael is in the process of helping Barbara safely inside when someone else enters at the opposite end.

“He doesn't look too happy,” Amber comments.

The young man in the #44 Yankees jersey comes striding boldly towards the group. “Am I glad to see you people.” He glances over his shoulder. “You won't believe what's been goin' on.”

Barbara grips Michael's arm. “I think we should go back.”

Michael gives Barbara's hand a squeeze. “It's okay. Let's hear what he has to say.”

“What's been happening?” Amber asks.

“There's ... these things ... look like people but they're not. Girl is called Amanda and the guy is called Jeff. Spiders and snakes come outta Jeff's mouth and he has these real funky eyes – like lizard eyes - and he can pretend to be your friends and family, talk just like 'em.”

Amber folds her arms. “I'm sorry, that's just way too random for me.”

“I think this guy's on drugs,” Wendy says.

“I resent that remark,” the young man says to Wendy. “Booze, I'll yield to, but drugs ... they don't inflate my boat. My name's Stan, but my friends call me Screwball.”

“Okay,Stan,” Amber says.

Stan gets somewhat uneasy at the sound of his name. “I insist you call me Screwball - or Screwy, even.”

Amber leans over to Michael and whispers in his ear. “The parking garage.”

Michael gives a near imperceptible nod.

“I think we should all get as far away from here as possible,” Screwball says. “Cuz all your worst nightmares are comin'.”

The door at the end of the aisle opens and a man enters the car.

Screwball instinctively steps back. “Aw shit.”

“That's our worst nightmare?” Amber says. “A guy in a sweater?”

Wendy giggles.

“It ain't funny,” Screwball says. “He killed my friends.”

The man remains motionless at the other end of the aisle.

Still clutching her bag to her chest like it's the most precious thing in the World, Barbara says: “I don't like this. I don't care about their stupid regulations and rules. We should pull the emergency cord.”

“That's a good idea, lady,” Screwball says. “But first we gotta make some space betweenusandIt.”

Michael looks to Amber for guidance on the matter, but she can offer no good reason as to why these people shouldn't isolate themselves from a potential threat.

“But it's just a normal guy,” Wendy says.

Screwball makes his way past Wendy. “That isanythin’ but a normal guy. And why the hell's he just standin' there? I'm tellin' you he ain't normal.”

The man suddenly makes strides towards the group.

“Okay, he's movin', but he still ain't normal,” Screwball says.

A wave of gooseflesh erupts the length of Michael's body. There's something about the person approaching them ... an unmistakeable feeling the passing of decades can't wash away. “We need to get out of here.Now.”

Amber looks quizzically at Michael.

“There's no time,” he tells her. “We need to move.”

Screwball exits quickly through the end door. Barbara and Wendy closely follow.

“Go,” Michael says to Amber. “I'm right behind you.”

Amber touches Michael's arm in a show of affection, then leaves.

The door closes over behind her.

...Daniel...

Did Michael just hear that? A name he'd used some time ago, spoken like a whisper in his head?

Of course he did.

He steals one last look at the approaching figure. Part of him wants to remain, to confront the enigma head on. There's questions he desperately wants answered; one in particular that has burned at the forefront of his mind for decades, and he dare not let the opportunity pass. However, he never ignores his instincts, and, currently, they're telling him to retreat and reorganize. If not for himself, for the sake of the others.

He turns to follow Amber … and then it happens: somebody, somewhere on the train, employs the emergency brake.

Unprepared for the sudden jolting of the train, Michael lurches to one side. The cacophonous sound of the air-brakes floods his ears.

The lights in the car flicker then remain on. The LCD information and notice displays also illuminate.

Michael lunges for the door.

There's a click.

The electronic locking system has engaged.

All doors are now sealed shut.

 

NINE

 

 

 

 

December 29th, 1940; London, England

 

The landscape was awash with flame.

Daniel had never seen anything like it. The bombing raids had been running for the last few months now, but the damage done this evening was altogether on another level. If the Germans kept on going like this, he feared there would be little of London left to salvage.

He cast his gaze skyward.

Another wave of planes, only barely caught in the sweep of inadequate searchlights, flew overhead. Their collective engines made a sound like the relentless drone of angry bees, and almost entirely drowned out the intermittent rattle of anti-aircraft fire.

There came a loud explosion in the distance.

This was the music of madness.

Daniel made his way through the swirling smoke phantoms which haunted London's largely empty streets. He'd passed St. Paul's Cathedral not ten minutes ago (it had still been intact, although he very much doubted it would survive the night), but was finding it increasingly difficult to pin-point his location. In part, this was down to him being a relative stranger to London, but mainly it was because of the sheer magnitude of Germany's incendiary assault. It was disorienting, to say the least.


Page 14

A lorry came speeding into view. It stopped outside a burning post office. A small group of men got out and hurried around to the back. Moments later, they reappeared, and began spilling sacks of sand onto the burning premises.

Daniel wished them success with that.

Instinct propelled him to continue in the current direction he was heading. Surely some recognizable landmark would catch his attention soon. He crossed the road and continued with haste down a dark, narrow street. His long woolen coat flapped behind him. He had to get back to Nellie as quickly as he could. She was his godsend in surroundings largely unfamiliar, and would be all alone, and certainly full of concern - more for his safety than for her own. She was like that, bless her.

Minutes passed, and one street led to another, and, contrary to his belief, it began to seem like he was becoming completely lost in this suffocating, tightly woven labyrinth. Perhaps instinct had failed him on this occasion.

It would be a first.

A fire engine turned the corner at the top of the road. Daniel stepped back and watched it until it sped out of sight. The jangling of its bells rung in his ears even after it was gone.

In the lull that followed, he thought he heard the sobbing of a young woman, or perhaps a child. He stopped, tuned out all other sound and narrowed his attention.

There it was again, coming from the husk of a building torn asunder by a previous bombing raid.

It was certainly a child, and female.

He crossed the road and ventured into the ruin's skeletal remains, moving gingerly so as not to frighten the youngster. Despite the care taken, charred sticks and various other debris crunched underfoot.

The weeping abruptly stopped.

Even though his eyesight was exceptional in the dark, Daniel found himself having to squint to discern the whereabouts of the girl. Eventually, he located her. She was huddled in a corner with a teddy bear in her arms.

Drawing closer to her, he said, “It's alright, I'm not going to hurt you.” Despite his sincerity, the words rang hollow in his ears, and an echo of guilt reverberated deep within him.

The child stared back at him. Her glistening eyes glowed in contrast to her blackened face.

Daniel stopped a few feet from the girl and squatted. “Where are your parents? Are you all alone here?”

The girl said nothing, and withdrew into the corner as far as she could. Daniel guessed she was no older than seven or eight, and couldn't help but notice how tightly she was hugging her teddy bear; like it was all she had left in the World.

“What's the bear's name?” he asked.

The girl's reply, when it finally arrived, had an edge of wariness to it: “It doesn't have a name. It isn't real.”

Her voice was as soft as tissue paper.

Tissue paper was so easily torn.

“But it is real,” Daniel told her. “God gave everything in the universe life - you, me, the trees, the birds, all the animals and even teddy bears.”

The girl wiped her eyes with a sleeve of her dirty red sweater, then looked down at the soft toy in her arms.

“Let me see,” Daniel said. He pretended to think of a name when, in actual fact, he already had one. “Why don't we call him Mister Bear?”

The girl stared back at Daniel through large, bewildered eyes, then blinked twice in rapid succession. Daniel wondered what events must have taken place to separate her from her parents; to render her alone and helpless, and seeking refuge in this ravaged structure.

He had to get her out of here. This entire area was considerably less than safe.

“I don't know how to tell you this,” he said, “but I'm a bit frightened by all of this bombing, and I really could use a friend - someone to look after me. I'm new around here, you see, and I seem to have gotten myself lost. Do you think you could be my guide for the night and help lead me to safety?”

The girl's only response was to bury her face into the side of her teddy bear's neck.

Daniel felt his spirits plummet. He had apparently failed to gain the youngster's confidence. So what now? He couldn't possibly leave her here, but neither could he drag her, kicking and screaming, out into the open street - even if it was for her own good.

Just then, the girl raised her head. She smiled at Daniel. Her eyes gleamed in the darkness. “I've decided that me and Mister Bear should both be your friend and look after you.”

Daniel's heart soared. The girl couldn't possibly know how much her words meant to him; how much he needed her acceptance.

“Thank you so very much,” he said, his joy clearly apparent.

The child got to her feet.

“Here,” Daniel said. He removed his woolen scarf. “You must be cold without a jacket.” He wrapped it around the girl's neck a coupleof times. “I'd offer you my coat but I think it would swallow you whole and we'd never be able to find you again.”

The girl giggled.

Daniel took the child's hand and escorted her out of the building. They stepped into the street. Visibility was only marginally better outside. He subtly tugged her hand in the direction he thought they should go. He tried not to make it apparent he was leading her (after all, it was he who was supposed to be lost), and hoped he would spot a familiar landmark or location soon. Achieving this, the plan was still to reach to Nellie's place. Once there, they'd get the girl cleaned up and make sure she got a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, Nellie could set about finding her parents - assuming she still had parents (he'd wait till she was settled in before questioning her again as to their whereabouts).

“We need to know each others' names if we're going to be friends," Daniel said. "I know Mister Bear's name, but I don't know yours.”

“It's Amanda.”

“Manda?” Daniel quizzed. “That's a weird name.”

“I saidAmanda.”

“I think I prefer Manda,” Daniel teased.

Amanda giggled and whacked Daniel with Mister Bear.

“My name's Daniel. But I also have a secret name.”

“A secret name?”

“Yes, but I only share it with my very best friends.”

“Oh.” The girl looked a little disappointed.

“Don't worry,” Daniel said. “Since you're helping me tonight, you and Mister Bear automatically become very best friends.”

Amanda gave a gasp of excitement. “Tell me it, please!”

Daniel pretended to check there was no one within earshot of what he was about to tell the girl.

“My secret name,” he said in a hushed voice, “is Levagnion.”

Amanda frowned. “I don't know if I can say that name. It's very odd.”

Chuckling, Daniel looked at his small companion. “My secret name comes with special powers.”

“Really?” Amanda said - and then she caught herself. “That sounds a bit silly.”

“I know, but it's true,” Daniel replied.

“What powers do you have?”

“Let me see,” he said. “I can see better in the dark than almost everyone else, and cuts and bruises – even broken bones - heal very quickly.”

“Can you see in daylight?” Amanda asked.

“Of course I can,” Daniel said. “Although very strong sunlight can often hurt my eyes and make my skin itch.” He decided not to tell the girl that, in actual fact, intense sunlight burns him and can be deadly.

“And are those pointy teeth also part of your powers?”

That one caught Daniel a little off guard. “Well, yes. I suppose they are.”

“Do they help you eat better?”

“As a matter of fact, they do.”

“Can you fly?”

“No.”

“Why is your voice strange?”

Daniel couldn't help but be amused by the girl's ongoing interrogation. “I was born in Eastern Europe, but I've picked up various accents from here and there.”

“What's that place like?”

“Eastern Europe? It's mostly beautiful - breathtaking in places, as a matter of fact - but it can be extremely cold in winter.”

“Even colder than England?”

“Muchcolder than England.”

Amanda wrinkled her nose. “I wouldn't like it there. I hate the cold.”

Daniel stopped at the end of the road. He really wasn't recognizing his surroundings at all. He looked to the lamp posts and buildings; anything that might have a street sign on it.

Amanda pointed left. “I think we should go this way.”

“What's this way?” Daniel asked.

“My house,” Amanda replied.

"Are you sure?"

She nodded.

Once again, Daniel fought the urge to ask Amanda about her parents, deciding it would be best to wait until they got to her house - if, indeed, she knew where her house was.

“Alright then, we go this way.” He scooped the girl off her feet and sat her on his shoulders. “You and Mister Bear can steer me better from up there.”

Daniel followed the girl's directions. He wasn't quite sure where her navigation was leading them, but she seemed to know where she was going. Occasionally, he would spot a rat scurrying from the shadows. These rodents, ever cautious but never afraid, seemed to be the true denizens of these dark and troubled streets.

“I like it up here,” Amanda said.

“And what about Mister Bear? Does he like it up there?”

Amanda looked down at the war torn teddy bear sandwiched between her chest and the back of Daniel's head. “I suppose so.”

“You suppose so?” Daniel said. “Don't you know?”

“Not really,” she explained. “It can't talk.”

Daniel found Amanda's sobering response so funny that he was overcome with uncontrollable laughter.

Uncontrollable, that is, until a third party showed up.

The figure stepped out from the shadowy doorway of a nearby pub and adopted a lop-sided stance.

Daniel stopped abruptly. He felt Amanda's grip intensify. She sensed it too: something wasn't right with this person.

"You alright up there?" he asked.

“I'm scared,” she replied.

“Don't worry. I won't let anything happen to you -orMister Bear.”

The girl smiled, despite her unease.

Smoke from a nearby burning property curled around the dark figure's legs.

“Are you just going to stand there?” Daniel asked.

The person offered no response.

“Maybe we should go back,” Amanda said.

“Perhaps,” Daniel replied. But, before he could decide either way, the shape side-stepped back into the pub doorway and was lost to the blackness therein.

Daniel approached the doorway with caution.

“Is it gone?” Amanda asked.

Daniel found the girl's choice of labeling -it- rather interesting, and decided to allay her fear to some degree. “Probably just a drunk. He's gone now.”

Gone, except: in the place where the figure had stood, the air was heavy with an unpleasant caustic odor that drifted like an idle spirit with no better place to be.

“But where has he gone?” Amanda said.

Daniel looked up at the girl. “Back to drunk land.”

Amanda giggled. “Funny upside down face.”

“Pardon?” Daniel said.

“You have a funny upside down face,” she replied.

“I have, have I? Well, from where I'm looking, you have a funny upside-”

Daniel's mind violently exploded with white-hot pain. He staggered to one side and lost his footing at the edge of the curb.

Screaming, Amanda clutched Mister Bear close to her chest and braced herself.

Daniel landed by side of the road. The palms of his hands stung and various other parts of his body throbbed, but this was nothing compared to the burning sensation which enveloped his back. Despite this, his only concern was for for the girl.

He twisted onto his side and tried to locate her. “Amanda!”

The pub's windows and doors exploded loudly onto the street, showering the pavement with pieces of glass and wood. Tongues of fire lapped at the edges of torn and jagged frames.

Amanda shrieked in response to the blow-out, allowing Daniel to spot her. She was sitting in the middle of the road, several feet from him, nursing a scraped knee and still clinging to Mister Bear.

The dark figure from before stood in front of the pub. It spread both hands. Extraordinarily long fingernails uncurled against the fiery backdrop.

The explosion from within the pub hadn't been the result of an incendiary drop. Thisthinghad caused it. Daniel had no idea how he knew this, but he did (he found that knowledge often came from everywherebutthe five senses).

He got to his knees and fought to remove his coat. It would only encumber him. The muscles in his back spasmed and burned, causing him to wince. He tossed the garment aside and struggled to his feet.


Page 15

“Your back is all blood!” Amanda shouted.

“Keep well back!” Daniel called to the girl.

The wraith-like figure started in the direction of Amanda. It moved with serpentine fluidity; an eerie and unnatural motion which caused the hairs on the back of Daniel's neck to bristle.

Whatever this thing was, it wasn't human.

Daniel quickly positioned himself between Amanda and the shadowy figure.

The figure stopped. Its body language seemed to convey fascination in regard to the man's move.

Daniel's eyes twinkled in the gloom, and then turned ruby red. He drew back his lips into a snarl. He couldn't allow this thing to reach the girl. It was time to act.

The Shadow-figure reacted quickly to being attacked. It lashed out with its right hand and pierced Daniel just below the left shoulder. It drove its razor sharp nails all the way into its adversary's flesh.

A tortured cry escaped Daniel. Blood from the wound spread out across his cotton shirt. He gripped his assailant's wrist and attempted to remove its nails, but they wouldn't budge. Whatever this thing was, it possessed considerable strength. With a determined roar, he gripped the Shadow-figure's throat and squeezed hard enough to crush a man's windpipe.

But this was no man.

The anomalous entity's reaction to Daniel's assault came in the form of mocking, guttural laughter.

Daniel gritted his teeth and attempted to summon his left arm into action. The pain from his shoulder was incredible, and the limb felt heavy and numb.

With relatively little effort, the Shadow-figure plucked Daniel's hand free of its throat ... and then snapped his wrist.

Daniel unleashed a roar that was filled with as much rage as it was pain. He swung his head at the Shadow Figure and sunk his teeth into its neck. A thick, oily substance filled his mouth, causing him to gag.

“Oi, what the bloody hell is all this!”

Someone else had arrived at the scene.

Daniel pulled back from his assailant and fixed his gaze on the fast approaching policeman. Inky fluid ran down his chin.

Amanda ran to the officer. “A monster is attacking us!”

The policeman stopped before the girl. “Did you just say 'a monster'?” He looked to the two brawling individuals. He could barely make them out against the burning pub.

“Take her away from here!” Daniel shouted, then turned all of his mental and physical focus to his tingling arm.

Muscles flexed ... fingers twitched ... his arm jerked into action.

Daniel drove the palm of his left hand up into Shadow-figure's right elbow. A loud snap followed and the entity's nails slid from his shoulder.

The figure stepped back from Daniel, and, from no discernible mouth, spat, “Mandaaa.”

Manda: the word Daniel had pretended to hear when Amanda had given her name. This thing must have been following them even then.

The policeman approached the affray with his truncheon held firmly in his grasp. “Right, break it up you two.”

The Shadow-figure turned to the uniformed man. Luminous yellow eyes with long black elliptical slits suddenly opened.

The blood drained from the policeman's face.

Daniel's broken right wrist had healed. He threw a punch at the entity's head. It connected, but it felt like he was hitting a sandbag. Shock waves tore through his injured left shoulder. He staggered to the side, clutching his arm.

The Shadow-figure swung its broken arm in front of its face. There came a loud click, and the fractured joint re-connected. The figure flexed the spidery digits on the end of its limb.

Daniel looked to the dumbfounded policeman. “Hit it!”

The man just looked at Daniel.

“What are you waiting for!” Daniel yelled.

The policeman jolted into action and swung his truncheon at the 'monster'. He struck it across the skull.

The entity's head whipped to the side. Nevertheless, it stood its ground, and looked at the officer through narrowing eyes.

“Hit it again!” Daniel shouted.

The Shadow-figure tore the truncheon from the policeman's hand before he could launch another attack.

A cry escaped the man's lips and he fumbled for the whistle around his neck.

The figure brought the truncheon down on the policeman's head with so much force, it completely flattened the man's dome-shaped helmet and smashed his skull.

Small fragments of bone and brain matter, intermingled with blood, spurted from inside the helmet and ran down the policeman's face. The whistle dropped from his mouth and he keeled over.

The Shadow-figure locked its sights on Amanda. “Mandaaa!”

“Amanda, you've got to get out of here!” Daniel shouted.

Amanda dug her fingers into Mister Bear's chest. “No, I won't leave you!”

The entity swung the truncheon at Daniel's head.

Daniel successfully avoided the attack, then lunged for the Shadow-figure. He sunk his teeth into its throat and gripped the back of its head so it couldn't pull away.

Its skin was cold and waxy

The truncheon clattered to the pavement.

Keeping his jaw firmly locked, Daniel tossed back his head and tore a large chunk out of the figure's throat.

A loud screech ripped through the air.

Daniel spat the dark flesh to the ground, then spat again to clear the foul, vitriolic taste from his mouth.

The Shadow-figure clutched its throat. Its bright yellow eyes were wide with whatever it was capable of feeling.

Daniel made a little space between himself and the figure, then planted the sole of a heavy boot on its chest. With a grunt, he pushed it back into the burning pub.

Screeching once again, the abomination reached out to grasp onto something, but found nothing.

Daniel watched bright hungry flames consume the bizarre, supernatural entity. In all his years, he had never saw such a thing. It was like something straight from Hell.

He approached Amanda. “Are you alright?”

Amanda nodded. Her face was ashen. “I thought it was going to kill you.”

“Not me. I have special powers, remember?” He flexed his left shoulder. “Already healed, see?”

“Daddy told me there was no such thing as monsters. Why did he lie?”

Daniel hardly knew where to begin. “He didn't lie. I'd have told you the same thing not fifteen minutes ago.”

Amanda lowered her head and looked at her feet. “I thought I was going to lose you, too.”

…lose you, too.

Then something tragic had happened to her parents.

Daniel squatted before Amanda. He cupped his hand below her chin and gently lifted her head. “Hey, listen, why don't-”

Amanda released a bloodcurdling scream and covered her face with her hands.

Mister Bear dropped to her feet.

Daniel turned to see the truncheon come swooping down on him.

“Daniel!” Amanda cried.

Daniel lay face down on the road. He craned his neck and looked up. Blood from the crack in his skull ran into his right eye, partially obscuring his vision

The Shadow-figure had Amanda by the hair and was dragging her away. The girl thrashed and kicked; fought with everything she had to free herself. She cried Daniel's name one last time.

And then she was lost to darkness.

Daniel reached out, but found only Mister Bear. He drew the cuddly toy close. He had failed; failed to save Amanda.

He had failed to save himself.

Drifting to the drone of the continued incendiary attack on the city of London, Daniel wondered if he would ever see Nellie again. Sweet Nellie, standing barely five foot tall, but towering with love; her silvery hair, and every line on her face, a testament to her wisdom.

Nellie smiles at him. She is letting him go.

Go back.

Back to where it all went wrong.

It all went wrong a very long time ago.

Daniel's mind begins to roam. It takes him on a journey though a forest blanketed in an ominous fog; a forest full of dead trees with crooked branches. This forest eventually gives way to a large clearing, in the center of which stands a house of considerable size. On the uppermost floor, a window is open. His mind's eye carries him through this window and into a room with a stained oak floor. He sees the flicker of candlelight; sees an art canvass depicting a unicorn basking in the glow of the sun; sees a four poster bed and a young girl below red satin bedsheets.

Then, before consciousness lapses into darkness

... he sees Mister Bear.

TEN

 

 

 

 

01:51 am...

 

Michael turns to follow Amber … and then it happens: somebody, somewhere on the train, employs the emergency brake.

 

 

01:48 am...

 

Wiley moves rapidly through the train. Every now and then, he looks back nervously over his shoulder. He has no idea what he's going to do when he's run out of cars and Amanda has finally caught up with him. Despite this concern, the person at the forefront of his mind is Becky. She watched him kill her boyfriend, and can't be allowed to leave the train alive. Amanda can take the blame for both her and her boyfriend's deaths.

He looks back again. Still no sign of Amanda.

Canal Street Station passes by.

Wiley wonders what will happen at the end of the line. Will the train keep going until it crashes? Or is there some kind of auto mechanism that will bring it to a stop? He supposes he'll find out soon. In the meantime, he could kill for a cigarette.

He sits down and rummages through his pockets. Even something smoked down to the tip would satisfy his craving at this point. Sadly, his search comes up fruitless. He puts his head in his hands and wonders how everything got so fucked up so quickly tonight. He thinks about Jeff and Amanda; wonders what the hell they are. Then he thinks about his mom, and how dearly he loves her. This, in turn, steers his thinking back to Becky. If Becky manages to get off the train and talk to the cops, she'll ruin everything. With that in mind, he picks himself up and resumes his pursuit.

The next car is empty, but the one after that is the end of the line - the end of the line for Becky, that is. It's the car behind the operator's cab, and Becky is there, standing halfway along the aisle. Her face is highlighted from the glare of her cellphone. She looks frustrated.

Jack is standing beside her.

“Low battery?” Wiley says. “Or just can't get a signal?”

He flicks open his knife.

“Stay away from me!” Becky cries.

Jack steps in front of the frightened woman.

“I don't wanna hurt you, old man,” Wiley warns.

“Look,” Jack says. “It was crazy back there. Things got confused. None of us are really sure what we saw.” He turns to Becky. “Am I right?”

Becky just stares at Jack.

Jack pushes for the desired response: “Am I right?”

“He killed my boyfriend!” Becky retorts.

“Yeah, well your boyfriend assaulted me,” Wiley says.

Becky gasps with incredulity. “Oh my God.What?”

“He laid his goddamn hands on me. Accused me of raping that monster bitch.”

“And for that you stabbed him?”

“Too fuckin' right I did.”

“You're insane!”

“Okay, now hold on,” Jack says, raising his hands.

“Fuck this,” Wiley snaps.

Suddenly, the emergency brake is engaged.

Becky let's out a scream over the clamor of the brakes, and grabs hold of the nearest rail. Wiley does the same, but without the vocal drama. Jack trips over his feet and hits the floor.

Before long, the train has pulled to a stop in the middle of the dimly lit subway tunnel. The lights in the car flicker, then remain on. The LCD information and notice displays light up.

Someone exits the driver's cabin. She's pushing a phone into the rear pocket of her jeans.

“Took me ages to figure out how to stop this thing,” she says in a casual manner.

Straight away, Wiley recognizes it as the woman he caught sight of running across the platform at Union Street station.

Becky gathers herself and rushes over to the woman. “This guy is trying to kill me!” She points at Wiley.

“Oh really?” the woman says. “And why would that be?”


Page 16

“I saw him kill my boyfriend,” she replies.

“Ugh, get over it,” the woman says.

Becky cocks her headto one side - "Huh?" - and then she dies.

The woman casually strolls past Becky's collapsing frame. Her hips swing like a pendulum. She discards her handful of the girl's throat and licks her fingers.

Still dazed and on his knees, Jack shakes his head.

The woman stops before the senior citizen - “You'll thank me for this if there's an afterlife” - then takes a fistful of the old man's silvery hair, yanks back his head and slashes his throat with a swipe of a long fingernail.

Wiley's stands rooted to the spot. His mouth is agape, his eyes are wide and the words 'what the fuck' are prominent in his thoughts. He can barely comprehend what he's seeing. First Amanda and Jeff, and now this person. He feels like he's hitched a ride on a train bound straight for Hell.

Jack clutches his throat. Blood gushes between his fingers and runs down his neck. He looks up at the woman, tries to say something, but the only thing to leave his mouth is a crimson spill.

The woman stares dispassionately at the old man, then lets go of his hair.

Jack remains on his knees for a few moments, then falls forward.

The woman approaches Wiley. Her nostrils flare. “You haven't seen her.”

Wiley shifts uncomfortably. “Maybe I have.” He finds the woman's accent odd. She sounds kind of American, yet doesn't. Maybe she's Canadian.

The woman's unblinking stare bores straight through Wiley's skull. “No. You haven't. You're of no use to me.”

Wiley doubts he has ever saw anyone more beautiful than the ice-maiden standing before him. He reckons she could stare down a volcano with those pale gray eyes, and kiss a grizzly bear intosubmission with those perfectly shaped lips. She's not particularly tall - standing roughly five foot eleven in what appears to be four inch heels - but every curve, every bump crammed into those sexy tight black jeans and dark blue, lace-trimmed tank top, is impeccably proportioned.

He believes she could be the eighth natural wonder of the World.

“Are you going to put your little knife in me?” she asks.

Wiley doesn't know what to say. He's feeling immensely intimidated by this incredible, deadly woman. “I- I dunno. Do you want me to?”

He can't believe he's just said that. What a stupid fucking line.

The end door behind Wiley suddenly opens, which can only mean one thing: Amanda has arrived. He hopes Ice-Maiden and Amanda-the-thing aren't together. That would be extremely fucked up.

The woman pushes Wiley to one side and strolls towards the disheveled looking newcomer. "Didn't anyone ever tell you you're supposed to knock before you enter a room?"

Relief washes over Wiley. Clearly these two have never met. A pity that one killing the other will only solve half the problem.

The Amanda-Thing curls its fingers around a full-length handrail. It glares at the approaching woman through tight black eyes.

“You couldn't scare me if I gave a damn,” the woman says.

The Amanda-Thing lashes out.

The woman seizes the Amanda-Thing's attacking limb and twists it until it dislocates at the shoulder.

A low rattling sound escapes the Amanda-Thing's throat.

It slashes with its other hand.

The woman snatches her assailant's remaining functional arm and pushes it against the handrail. There's a loud snap, and a large shard of bone pierces the skin at the elbow pit.

A loud shriek tears through the car.

Clearly aggravated by the Amanda-Thing's volume, the woman says, "For fucksake," then rams its head through the nearest window. That not being punishment enough, she drags its face across the jagged glass at the bottom of the frame then snaps its neck.

The Amanda-Thing slides off the seat below the window and flops to the floor. Its face is full of broken glass. Dark fluid oozes from its wounds.

Wiley staggers from the driver's cabin; feels like throwing up. He's saw some crazy shit in his time - perpetrated much of it.

But that...

The woman approaches him. Her layered mahogany hair flows freely across her shoulders.

Wiley points his knife at her. “Keep the fuck away from me!” His hand is shaking. “I mean it. You're fuckin' crazy!”

“I prefer Laura to crazy.” She stops a mere few inches in front of Wiley; can feel his trembling breath disturb the air in front of her face.

Wiley drives his knife into Laura's stomach - watches her face light up with surprise - then removes it, disbelieving he actually got away with the move.

Laura stares at the wound. When she looks back up, her eyes are on fire. She sneers - "You just ruined my top" - then grips Wiley by the throat.

Wiley thrusts again with the knife, but this time Laura prevents him from wounding her.

“You do realize it hurts when you do that,” she says.

... And then she snaps his wrist.

Wiley screams. His right eyelid begins to rapidly twitch. The knife drops from his hand and clatters to the floor.

Laura digs her thumbnail into Wiley's throat and punctures flesh. Blood spurts from the wound.

Wiley's continuing scream becomes choked. He tries to free himself from Laura's grip. But it's no use. This woman is well on her way to killing him. His vision starts to cloud over.

Laura watches with fascination. It never fails to amaze her how fiercely most people fight to retain their pathetic existence. She notices the involuntary movement of the young man's eyelid - “Here, let me fix that for you” - then drives the index finger of her other hand into the eye socket.

An agonized wail squeezes its way past Wiley's constricted throat.

Laura continues to push her finger into the socket. The eye punctures completely, spilling aqueous humor down her victim's cheek.

Wiley falls to his knees. His entire body violently spasms and his bladder loosens, and then he collapses onto his side, twitching.

Laura squats beside Wiley's quivering body and wipes her hands on his shirt. “I don't gain any pleasure from your suffering.” She lays a hand on his head and runs her fingers through his dirty blonde hair. “Your body has went into shock. It'll all be over soon.”

Wiley gurgles. Blood runs from his open mouth and leaks from the wound on his throat.

Laura notices the crucifix around Wiley's neck. She stands upright - “Be with your God now” - then turns and walks away.

Through his remaining eye, Wiley watches the woman leave. The door at the end of the aisle is locked due to the engaging of the emergency brake, but it isn't a problem for her. She somehow forces it open.

No sooner has she gone, he hears movement, like shuffling, then the sound of broken glass crunching underfoot.

The Amanda-Thing comes lurching into view. Its torn pink top and dark wash jeans are stained with inky fluid. It shuffles down the aisle like a badly operated string-bound marionette. Its head is hung low and its face is obscured behind a lengthy tangle of dark brown hair.

The lights in the car briefly flicker.

Wiley whimpers. He finds and holds his crucifix; prays for death to come before the Amanda-Thing reaches him. To his dismay, that doesn't happen (perhaps God has abandoned him due to his numerous transgressions), and the strange, demonic woman is soon standing over his still beating, still breathing body.

The Amanda-Thing jerks its right shoulder, snapping its dislocated arm into place. It then swings its limply hanging, broken left arm in front of its torso. There's a clicking sound, and the arm retains its position in front of its body. Slowly, it lowers the appendage. No longer is there a shard of bone jutting out through the elbow pit. After a few seconds, a small piece of glass drops from behind its hair and bounces off one of its pumps.

Wiley tightens his grip on the crucifix and squeezes shut his eye. He listens to the sound of several more pieces of glass fall to the floor. Eventually, the sounds stop, and all he can hear is the frantic beating of his own heart. He lies there for almost a minute before curiosity gets the better of him and he's forced to take a look. To his horror, the Amanda-Thing is on its hands and knees, and staring straight into his face through its freakish eyes.

His bloodcurdling screams travel the length of several cars.

 

*

 

The train pulls to a stop in the middle of the subway tunnel.

Michael pulls on the handle of the end door. It's locked. He can easily force it open if he wants, but decides this is a golden opportunity to confront an unforgettable part of his past without interruption.

He turns.

The thing in the form of a man - apparently named Jeff - is standing at the midway point of the aisle, glaring at him through reptilian looking eyes.

“There are so many things I want to know about you,” Michael says.

The Jeff-Thing digs its nails into its sweater and tears it apart, revealing a lean, muscular torso. Its mouth widens into a black, toothless grin.

Michael wonders what's going to happen next when a rapping sound comes from behind.

It's Amber, peering through one of the glass panels on the door opposite.

“I'm okay,” Michael says with his voice raised. “Just stay there. Keep those people safe.” He turns away from her, not wanting to keep his back to a potential threat for any longer than is necessary.

The Jeff-Thing discards its sweater then uses the thumbnail of its right hand to make a deep score in its chest. It cuts itself frompectoral to naval. A thick, black, lusterless substance quickly spreads from the opening, and coats its entire body like a second skin.

It's a sight that sets Michael's nerves on edge. Despite it still having on jeans and sneakers, this was exactly how this thing looked on the harried streets of London many decades ago.

“Ask,” the Jeff-Thing says.

Michael is surprised to hear the creature – or whatever it is - speak, but doesn't hesitate to do as requested. “What did you do to the girl?”

The Jeff-Thing takes a few moments to answer. “Isn't there something else you'd rather know first?”

There's something about the Jeff-Thing's voice that unsettles Michael. It isn't obviously sinister … and yet it is.

“... like how I got here?” the Jeff-Thing continues. “What I am? My name?”

“I'm not interested,” Michael says.

“Oh, but you are,” The Jeff-Thing replies. “I know you better than you know yourself.”

Michael clenches his fists. “I'll give you one last chance to tell me what happened to the girl.”

The Jeff-Thing points at Michael. “Youhappened to the girl, Levagnion. Just like you happened to the first one.”

Overcome by anger, Micheal rushes the creature. Moments later, it flops to the floor with a broken neck.

Michael stands over the Jeff-Thing's body, his fists still curled into balls. He didn't find that satisfying. Not by a long shot. “Get up. I know you're not dead.You'd better not be fucking dead.”

Amber's calling to him again. Her voice is muffled. He can't make out what she's saying.

“It's okay - I'm okay,” he calls back to her.

The Jeff-Thing's body twitches, then rolls onto its back. Something begins pushing its way out of its mouth.

It's a snake.

Michael stares at the emerging serpent with a mixture of alarm and disbelief. He starts to back away from it.

The snake slithers across the Jeff-Thing's arm, towards Michael. Its eyes glimmer with malice.

Michael glances briefly over his shoulder. He's running out of aisle. He looks back at the serpent. It's not like any snake he's ever seen. It's almost five foot long and completely black, with a thick red stripe extending from snout to tail.

Sensing it has its prey right where it wants it, the snake rears itself as high as it can go. Its underbelly is bright yellow.

Michael readies himself. A bite from a regular snake, no matter how venomous, can't kill him. This, however, is no ordinary snake, and he has no idea what the consequences from a bite might be.

The snake springs suddenly.

Michael reacts at lightning speed. He catches the serpent mid-flight - directly under its head – then quickly sets about exerting pressure behind its jaws.

The snake's mouth is forced open, revealing a set of formidable looking fangs.

“You call that fangs?” Michael says. “I'll show you fucking fangs.”

He pulls the snake's body taught then sinks his teeth into it. Foul tasting fluid spurts into his mouth. It brings back unpleasant memories of London.

He rips a chunk out of the snake then spits it aside. The taste is so bad he almost gags.

The serpent writhes in his grip for several seconds before going limp.

He drops its body to the floor then wipes his mouth.


Page 17

The Jeff-Thing sits up. Its head rolls forward then connects back onto its spine. It looks straight at Michael. And then it stands up.

“What's going on in there?” Amber calls.

Keeping his gaze fixed on the Jeff-Thing, Michael replies: “It's hard to explain, but everything is under control.”

He's aware he's being optimistic.

“What did you do to her?” Michael says.

“What?”

“Not you,” he calls to Amber.

He approaches the Jeff-Thing. “I want to know what you did to Amanda.”

The Jeff-Thing offers no response. It just stands, unmoving, like a statue.

“Ineedto know,” Michael says.

The lights in the car briefly flicker.

Frustration gets the better of Michael and he strikes the Jeff-Thing square in the face with his fist.

The Jeff-Thing's head jerks back, but it stands its ground.

Michael hits it again, this time with greater force. And then he hits it again, and again and again.

“Tell me!” he roars.

The Jeff-Thing unexpectedly lashes out at Michael. It's right hand sweeps in a wide arc.

Michael realizes he can't respond in time, and braces himself for contact.

Contact happens, but it isn't half as bad as he'd feared. He backs away, touching his face. His fingers are damp with blood, but the wound feels strangely superficial. And then he notices a nearby handrail that's broken in two. Both halves are still connected to their sockets, but are bent and protruding forward - particularly the top half. The creature must have blindly torn through it when it attacked, reducing the effectiveness of its strike.

The Jeff-Thing lunges for Michael.

Michael dodges its attack then slams his hands on either side of its head.

Its mouth opens wide in protest.

“You had your chance to talk,” Michael says.

He rams the back of the creature's skull into the protruding upper half of the handrail, then pushes until the end of the pole comes out of its mouth.

The Jeff-Thing's eyes grow wide and an airy, hissing sound escapes its throat. It reaches back with both hands and finds the rail, then tries to push itself free.

Michael plunges his hand into the Jeff-Thing's stomach and reaches up. If it has a heart, he'll find it.

Suddenly, hundreds of small spiders, each of them red and black, come flooding from the creature's mouth.

Michael's flesh prickles. He's none too keen on spiders - especially ones coming from the mouth of something as fucked as this. His initial instinct is to get as far away as possible, but he stands his ground, determined to remain with the Jeff-Thing until he's ripped its beating heart from its chest.

The spiders swarm across the Jeff-Thing's blackened torso. They're highlighted only by their red abdomens. Some of them scamper onto Michael's arm and start biting him through his silk shirt.

Trying his best to ignore the attacking spiders, Michael manages to locate the Jeff-Thing's throbbing heart. He wraps his digits around it and tugs.

It doesn't move.

A loud banging sound comes from somewhere behind him. He can't spare a moment to look around and see what it is.

Hundreds of spiders are streaming up his arm now. Their bites are like a multitude of stinging pin-pricks. At this rate, it won't be long before they're all over his face.

The Jeff-Thing, still gripping the rail with both hands, manages to push its head forward a few inches. The end of the protruding pole disappears into its mouth.

“Come on!” Michael cries, and pulls at the Jeff-Thing's heart with every ounce of strength he has left.

The organ tears free, and to the sound of a shrill, almost deafening cry.

Michael throws the beating black heart to the floor and starts to frantically sweep spiders from his arms and torso. He rips open his shirt, popping several buttons in the process. His body is covered in stinging red bite marks.

“Michael.”

Michael turns. It's Amber. She's standing right in front of him. The banging sound from before must have been her forcing her way into the car. “They're all over me -help me get them off.”

Amber grabs Michael by the shoulders. “There's nothing there.”

Michael tries to shrug Amber away, but she holds him steady.

“It's all in your mind, Michael. Look again.”

Michael looks at his torso and arms. Suddenly, there's not an arachnid in sight. Not even a single bite mark. “But I saw them ... and the snake...” He looks past Amber. There's no sign of the dead reptile at the end of the aisle.

Amber has shifted her attention to the impaled body behind Michael. Its eyes are closed and its arms are hanging limply by its sides.

“What the hell is this thing?” she asks.

Michael shakes his head. He's almost disappointed it's dead. Now he'll never know what became of the girl, Amanda. “I don't know. I've never seen anything like it.”

A lie, of course. But now isn't the time to try to explain his previous encounter with the creature. He looks at his hand. It's coated in the strange oily substance. He wipes it on his jeans.

Amber notices the wounds on Michael's face. “You're hurt.”

Michael touches the tender area around the deep scratches. “I'll heal. I always do.”

“Hey, are you sure you're okay?”

“I'm just a bit shaken.”

“I was worried for you there.”

“Worried for me?”

Amber looks into Michael's eyes. She finds them entrancing. “People like us ... are unique. When you find one, you shouldn't let them get away.” She feels a not exactly unpleasant fluttering sensation in her chest. It's something that scares and excites her in equal measure. “...especially if a connection has been made.”

Michael strokes Amber's cheek. “And we've certainly done that.”

“That wasn't the kind of connection I was referring to,” she says flatly. And then she warms to the memory and smiles. “But, yes, I suppose we have.”

Michael puts his arms around Amber and pulls her close. He can feel the beating of her heart against his chest. Part of him is afraid of this connection they're making. Connections are fragile, and ones like this don't break without causing great emotional suffering. He kisses her; feels the responsiveness in her every movement. She needs this as much as he does. “Listen, I have to tell you something.”

“Can't it wait?” she says softly, then brushes his lips with her own.

Michael pulls back gently from Amber. “You're not the only one running from something.”

Amber looks quizzically at him.

“Sweet Jesus you gone and killed it!”

Screwball comes strolling down the aisle. Wendy is with him.

Amber steps back from Michael. For a moment, she doesn't know where to look. She isn't accustomed to opening herself up, and the last thing she needs is an audience.

“Oh my God, whatisthat?” Wendy says.

Michael feels Amber's unease; understands it. He turns his attention to the Jeff-Thing. “Thatis the one million dollar question.”

“Don't matter what it is,” Screwball says, making his way past Amber. “It was fucked up and now it's dead.” He pokes a finger atthe Jeff-Thing's shoulder and peers into the hole in its chest. “How the hell'd it get all black? Its skin feels like leather.”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Michael replies.

“Where's Barbara?” Amber asks.

Wendy aims a thumb over her shoulder. “She stayed in the other car.”

“Wise decision,” Michael says. “This would give her nightmares.” He notices Wendy looking at his chest. It's flattering, but he'd rather he was able to button his shirt. Not much chance of that now his buttons are lying scattered across the floor.

The lights in the car briefly flicker...

Wendy looks at the lights and fidgets nervously with her hands. “I hate when they do that.”

…and then they go out completely. As do the LCD information and notice displays.

“Aw shit,” Screwball says.

For a moment, no one says anything. Amber finds the silence immediately overbearing. “When we get out of here, I think I'll take up smoking again.”

“Those things'll kill you,” Wendy says.

“Highly unlikely,” Amber replies.

Just then, Amber feels someone brush past her – or, at least, she thinks she does. She turns and bumps into Michael. “Sorry.”

“Everything okay?” Michael asks.

“I thought someone came past me just then.”

“Wasn't me,” Screwball says. “Haven't moved an inch.”

“Me neither,” Wendy adds.

All of a sudden, the lights in the car come on. So, too, do the LCD displays, informing them that the train's next stop is a station they've already passed. They're then told over the loudspeaker to stand clear of the closing doors, despite the fact they never opened.

Referring to the lights, Wendy says: “I hope they stay on.”

“It doesn't matter,” Michael replies. “It's time we got out of here.”

Barbara is standing at the end of the aisle. As always, she's clutching her bag.

Michael steps in front of the Jeff-Thing, blocking it from Barbara's view.

Amber approaches Barbara. The woman looks tired and frightened. “Are you okay?”

“I got scared,” Barbara replies. “I saw something.”

Barbara saying she 'saw something' intrigues Amber. She places a reassuring hand on the woman's shoulder. “What did you see?”

The woman hugs her bag tightly to her chest. She looks reluctant to say. “I think I saw a ghost.”

“A ghost?” Amber says.

“It ran straight past where I was sitting. When the lights went out.”

“Can you tell me where this ghost came from?”

“From here,” Barbara says. “This car.”

Amber ponders Barbara's words. Is it just coincidence this woman claims to have saw a ghost around the same time she, herself, believes someone brushed past her? Possibly. It's not as if the current climate on the train isn't the perfect brew for paranoia.

Barbara peers past Amber and sees the others talking.

Amber wonders what's in Barbara's bag; what could be so valuable for her to guard it the way she does. “I can't help but notice the way you hold your bag.”

“I mustn't lose it,” Barbara responds. “Never.” She looks straight at Amber. “My Harold is in here.”

“Huh?”

“His ashes,” Barbara explains. “They're in a jar. In my bag.”

“Oh ... right.” Amber says.

“It was probably his ghost I saw before,” Barbara goes on. “He used to work here, on the trains. This was his shift, the late shift, and on this line. That's why I'm here. He loved his job, lived for it. I like to bring him back every so often.”

Amber feels a wave of empathy wash over her. She knows the feeling of deep loss; the kind loss you never seem to get over. And yet, in time, you do. But Barbara doesn't have the kind of time she needs. Not because she's old, but because there are some losses that take more than one lifetime to come to terms with.

“I'm sure it was Harold,” Amber says. “Come to show he hasn't forgotten you.”

Barbara eyes fill with tears. She nods and smiles, and hugs her bag as if it was Harold himself.

Just then, the door at the opposite end of the aisle opens and Wiley enters the car.

Screwball's face lights up. “Oh my God, look who it is!” He hurries over to Wiley.

Wendy exchanges a look with Michael. This friend of Stan isn't looking so hot.

“Jesus,” Screwball says, taking a better look at Wiley, “what the hell happened to you? Your eye's all fucked up and you're covered in blood.”

“My eye...” Wiley says. He raises a hand to the missing eye. His eyelid twitches and a small red and black spider scuttles from the blood encrusted empty socket.

“Jesus,” Screwball says, pulling back.

Michael turns to Wendy. “Go.Now.”

Wendy doesn't need telling twice.

Amber's hurrying in the opposite direction. “Wendy, take care of Barbara.”

Wendy nods and continues past Amber.

Joining Michael's side, Amber says: “The parking garage. He's one of them.”

“He's more than that now,” Michael replies.

The Wiley-Thing reaches up with its left hand and grabs Screwball by the throat. It draws back its lips and forms a black sneer. It has no teeth or gums.

Screwball holds onto Wiley's outstretched arm and tries to pull himself free. “Help!”

Michael motions to aid Screwball, but Amber takes hold of his arm. “Is he worth it?”

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