Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The shadow cast by the World - a short story

I consider myself a patient and tolerant person, but do you know what I really fucking hate about the homeless? The fact that they're always feeling so bloody sorry for themselves - and that the very last person they'll blame for the position they're in is themselves. You want to hear some of them - they'll blame their ex-wives, the police, cosmic-bastard-rays, absolutely anything - all conveniently forgetting the fact that they're more than likely an alcoholic with a lengthy police record, a medium sized gambling problem and a short temper.

I speak with some authority on this matter because I'm one of them and have been for the past two years. Although I don't blame society, fluoride in the water or even Tory Britain - I'm solely responsible for my own fate and I'd be an idiot to argue otherwise, although truth be told I'm an idiot anyway. I've got what they call an addictive personality ("Aye, addicted to being a cunt" my gargoyle of an ex-wife would bleat) which is where all my problems stem from. I can't turn down a drink or a bet when there's still money in my pocket, or there are people around to borrow money from - and over time those people dwindle in number because you're simply not somebody they like - or trust enough - to hang around with any more. And then your life crumbles like parchment - You lose your job, then your car, friends and wife. And finally hope.

I said I didn't blame anybody else, but I never said I wasn't allowed to feel sorry for myself. I've got so little left, you can at least afford me that dubious luxury. Soon I won't even have that left.

It was the early hours of yesterday morning that I found myself staggering drunkenly out of A&E, having been hurriedly patched up once again. A throbbing from my bandaged temple reminded me that some scumbag had knocked me to the ground for the handful of winnings I'd just collected from the bookies, taking the very last thing I owned in the world other than the clothes I was wearing. Some kind-hearted Samaritan had scooped me up from the gutter and dumped outside the hospital, and here I was, several hours later, clumsily wobbling down the street high on a heady cocktail of exhaustion, cheap booze and possible concussion.

I needed somewhere to collapse and even in my confused state knew that in these dawn hours all the usual haunts would be occupied. I staggered down random alleyways and paths, my course dictated by seemingly nothing other than whichever direction I drunkenly slumped towards with every crossroads or junction. And by chance and the magical powers of my beer compass, I found myself leaning against the wall of a long abandoned factory.

A rusted sign bearing a 20 year old telephone area code warned me of the security firm guarding the premises, so naturally I ignored it. A convenient gap in the rusted metal railings allowed me access to the premises and it took only minor effort to prise loose a length of warped and damp plywood allowing me into one of the buildings. With only the merest hint of the rising sun shining through my makeshift entrance, I staggered towards a far darkened corner and with my last vestige of conscious effort hoped that fate would be on my side to protect me from injury - and I pitched myself forwards.

My last thought then was one of relief. My fall was met by the corner of the room and as I slid slowly down it towards the floor, consciousness faded.

I recall stirring at certain intervals, conscious of the concrete floor on my cheek, the sound of my laboured breathing and the scent of decay and rust in the air. And another sound - unusual but not enough to cause alarm to sufficiently rouse me from my semi-comatose state - the sound of rubber being strained, of something membranous - something animate - moving and fluid in the pitch darkness.

Progressively the fog in my head dissipated and I began to wake from my slumber. I had only vague recollections of staggering here, the briefest of remembrances about where I was and the happenings of the evening before. I slid upright, the concrete wall against my back for support. The room was in absolute and complete darkness - I could vaguely hear the sound of daily activity outside but not a dot of sunlight could be seen. I was pretty sure I hadn't gone blind, so I'd been either moved in my sleep or even the plywood I'd removed to gain entrance must have been replaced.

Unsteadily, I stood up and listened carefully. The sound of birdsong outside and the distant sound of rush-hour traffic and - straining to concentrate - that anomalous sound again that Iíd heard through my slumber. It sounded as though somebody was faintly rubbing their finger across the surface of a balloon - that and a barely audible sound of something bubbling.

I needed to find a way out of here. I turned to the wall and placed both my hands against it and began slowly walking towards my left - My fragmented memories vaguely recalled how Iíd entered the room in the first place. Within moments I found my path blocked by something waist height ñ probably a workbench of some kind - I'd knocked something metallic from it which clattered noisily on the concrete floor. I gingerly placed my fingers on the benches edge and slowly followed it around until I was back at the wall. I continued with my delicately slow journey for a few minutes until I recoiled in surprise from the wall. What had been cold concrete had suddenly become crusted with something moist, something organic. I sniffed my fingertips - the scent was not unlike moss, but with a bitter coppery taint.

I steadied myself, cursing myself for being so skittish. This was an old damp and abandoned building - it wouldn't be beyond the realms of reason that there would be mould or moss on the walls. I took a deep breath and replaced my hands on the wall and continued onwards. The walls were damp but not overly so, the surface feeling a little like peach fuzz beneath my fingertips. Even through my boots I could feel that the floor had adopted a similar texture - and then I found myself treading on something that popped noisily under my feet.

Something liquid sprayed out, and the air was filled with the hideous aroma of something bilious. I found myself gagging on the scent and I found myself retching and trying desperately to hold back vomit. My hands moved from the wall to clutch my stomach which was by now churning violently. The sensation passed after a few minutes and I frantically breathed in deep mouthfuls of air despite the nauseating fragrance still present.

Hands were on my shoulders and I found myself being dragged backwards, a grubby oily hood pushed over my head. I hadn't even had time to acknowledge what was happening before my hands were tied behind my back and I was pushed to the floor. I kicked out a foot and connected with something that cried out in pain, and tried to shuffle backwards. Something heavy struck my face and I fell back, and then my legs were tied.

Barely able to struggle now, I found myself being dragged by my ankles across the room. Even though the pitch darkness my captor navigated with ease - I could feel myself moving past objects - my prone body clipping the odd thing briefly - and then the surface I was being dragged across changed from concrete to rough carpet and I was thrown against a wall.

I heard the sound of a heavy metal door closing, a light switch being flicked on - and then dull brown light permeated through my hood. At least I wasn't blind, I remember thinking. The very tiniest of the most infinitely minuscule of small mercies, all things considered.

I sensed somebody approaching and the hood was unceremoniously ripped from my head. I blinked, my eyes unaccustomed to the light. A silhouette stood above me, details becoming clearer as the uncomfortably silent seconds passed. It was a tall and thin man, clad in a featureless navy blue boiler suit. His hair was short, white and neat, his face angled and gaunt, eyes hidden behind a blindfold which he slowly and carefully unwrapped from his head.

The blindfold now fully removed and carefully placed into a pocket, he crouched in front of me. His eyes were small, the pupils a piercing grey.

I craned my neck and looked beyond him at the room. We were in a long abandoned windowless office, bereft of any furnishings save a torn Playboy 1993 calendar (July, Brunette, Fake breasts) hanging from a cracked eggshell-blue wall. The room had two solid doors, one of which led back into the room I'd just been unceremoniously dragged out of. Both doors looked relatively new in comparison to their surroundings.

I watched in silence as he got back to his feet and removed a large padlock from his pocket, walked over to the factory door and fastened it securely. He switched off the light in the room we were in and I heard him push on the door a few times to check the effectiveness of the padlock. A murmured sigh, and then the light was switched back on.

I hate uncomfortable silences. I tend to have the habit of breaking them by blurting out the most inappropriate things, but this was an odd position to be in. What's the acceptable etiquette for knowing what to say when one has been bound and dragged around a room? I could bear the silence no longer.

"Who the FUCK are you?", I screamed, struggling to free myself from my tight bonds. 

"I'm the caretaker", he replied in a dull monotone that betrayed not a speck of emotion, "and you're a trespasser."

"I'm sorry I broke in, but.. but I needed somewhere to sleep", I muttered, "and I thought this place was abandoned. Call the police, if you have to, and I'll get out of your hair. I was attacked last night and I wasn't thinking straight.. I could -"

His hand leapt to my collar and in a single effortless move on the caretakers part I was hauled up and pushed against the wall. He quickly leaned in, his face next to mine, angry mouth flecked with spittle, a hateful expression on his face.

"Did you see them?', he roared, "When you broke in.. DID YOU SEE THEM?"

"I didn't see anything - It was dark when I broke - when I came - in. I was pretty much dead to the world so I - anyway, did I see what?"

The caretaker relaxed his grip and I slumped back against the wall. He turned his back to me, straightened himself, and stared at the padlocked door.

"Compared to us, they're quite new here.", he said, his voice now perfectly calm, "but they thrive in the dark places. They grow there, but they're quite quite vulnerable until - until they're ready. If you even see them, they'll die. They only continue to exist through our ignorance. They arrive here in the unseen places - the cracks between the worlds - and gain their sustenance by existing in the places that we do not know, the places where we do not look."

"What are you talking about?", I asked, now convinced that the caretaker was quite insane, "What are new here? What's growing?"

"Given time, they emerge.", he continued, apparently oblivious to the fact that I had even spoken. His expression was that of a man reciting well rehearsed lines, his forehead furrowed in concentration. "They're quite beautiful, it's been written. And they will harvest us all - and Man will wish that he had paid closer attention to the world around him. To the wasted unseen places. And these beautiful specimens are so very nearly ready."

There was silence for a few moments. He stood there, his back to me, and I sat there - confused and afraid. An uncomfortable silence again, but one which I felt I incapable of breaking. I simply didn't know what to say.

And then, at once, he was on me. A glimpse of a raised fist above me, and then darkness again. Unconsciousness and I seemed to have become quite familiar friends in the past few hours.

I awake, still in darkness. A cold unforgiving concrete floor beneath me, the familiar violent bilious scent filling my lungs. My hands and feet are now untied and my fingertips drag across something damp and warm. It feels like a sheet of thin rubber, the surface contoured with thin veins. I drop it, and then hear the sound. Shallow breathing from in front of me, and then behind. And to my left, and to my right. The sound of claws being scraped across metal workbenches.

And just before they are upon me, I think of the abandoned places in the world. The factories, the flats, the railway buildings, the basements and the sewers. The ignored places where man does not look.

The places where man will soon not dare look.


  1. Wow- that had me on the edge of my seat! Excellent.

  2. Thank you very much - thats much appreciated :)


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