Darkness Falls

A full moon illuminated the world from a cloudless summer night sky.  No street lights were lit here, nor did any light shine from the windows of the houses I passed.  Every now and then though, you could see the occasional dirty, yellow flicker of candlelight or the sweeping beam of a torch as a homeowner tried to navigate the darkness. According to the news the power was off, again. Another government enforced, country-wide programme intended to reduce our carbon-debt or something. More likely we just couldn’t afford the bill to Russia anymore!

I normally didn’t pay much attention to the news, too much doom-n-gloom for my liking but when I was out working I always checked it out just in case something was going down locally. Tonight I was glad I had, as I’d heard that in addition to the usual chaos caused by the power-out, a load of rioting had kicked off in town as a result of a pretty heavy-handed curfew that was in place because of that flu ‘thing’.  I’d of course taken part in my fair share of civil unrest when I was younger but it wasn’t really my scene now, there was just too much chance of getting your head kicked-in by over-enthusiastic coppers or by a fellow rioter caught up in the excitement.  There was also just too much CCTV knocking around these days and even though the street lights were off I’d put money that they still had power supplying the cameras!

So tonight with all the police tied up, Scrag had suggested that it would be the perfect time to pay back my debt to him with a little breaking and entering action.  I didn’t have much confidence that anything I did would ever free me from Scrag’s clutches but I was desperate and accepted anyway.  Hell, I might be able to grab a few little bonus items that I could fence myself later. I could maybe make enough to take the missus out for a slap-up meal or buy her a nice piece of jewellery and get back in her good books.

Anyway, focus. All I cared about right now was that no power equalled no burglar alarms and that the trouble in town kept any potential witnesses off the street and indoors, in fact except for me the world was deserted. In the distance I could hear multiple sirens and the background thrum of thousands of voices shouting, but the sound was distant meaning I had nothing to worry about nearby.

Walking up the empty street, I used my cheap slate to check the house numbers against the list that Scrag had given to me.  Scrolling down the screen I stopped at 73, this house looked like the right place.  The house was in total darkness and no candlelight shone from any of the windows.  Scrag had promised me empty houses, I just hoped his intel was good this time and not just based on him trawling bloody social network profiles again.

The house was a proper little suburban palace, a little faded around the edges maybe but it was still a big ole detached house with a massive garden chock full of trees and shrubs.  New-looking fencing surrounded the house on all sides boxing in a wide lawn that looked reasonably maintained, someone at least still cared here.  The only route in was a big iron double gate at the front of the house that opened onto the street.  Definitely seemed to be a place with lots to protect. There should be some rich pickings here, I could feel this was going to be my lucky night.

I walked carefully around the fencing surrounding the house, trying to stay out of sight from anyone who may be watching.  There was no light coming from any of the windows on any side, it really did look empty. Only one real way to be sure though, so I walked back around to the front of the house, opened the heavy gate, and proper brazen-like, headed up the front path and gave a couple of quick sharp raps on the front door and then waited.

If I got an answer my usual routine was to pretend to be selling God or windows and then just move on to the next house on my list when I was told to sling my hook.  Not tonight though, nothing, no response to my knock. Still no light or movement from the house at all, I pressed my ear to the door and concentrated.  Still nothing.  I walked back down the path making sure I re-latched the gate as I closed it behind me.

Healthy paranoia made me take another quick check of the house number against the slate, then I switched the device to airplane-mode.  It wouldn’t do to be mid-job and suddenly get a call, that would be very unprofessional of me.

As I walked up the side of the house again I faded into the shadows.  Amidst the darkness I took a load of deep breaths to calm me down, getting ready to leg it if need be.  From my jacket pockets I pulled a pair of kevlar industrial gloves  and put them on just in case there was any razor-wire or glass on top of the fence.

I pulled myself up the fence. No sharp surprises greeted me so I swung my legs over the top and paused  a few seconds in order to get a good squiz of the empty garden.  Silently dropping down onto a flower bed, I felt the soft crunch of vegetation beneath my trainers.

I crouch-ran across the back garden towards the back of the house. As I got closer I saw that the french windows a few metres along from the back door were slightly ajar. A moment of doubt flicked through my mind. Shit! The owners must have been in, that or they felt so safe behind their nice big fence they’d forgotten to close the french windows.  Committed to the job, I cursed Scrag with a host of colourful language as I reached the back of the house.

The french windows were on a cheap security latch designed to let in air whilst supposedly stopping intruders, easily breached though with a slim piece of flexible metal I kept in my jacket.  I opened the glass doors fully, I pushed my way into the room.  Keeping myself low, I took stock of the surroundings. Row upon row of bookcases lined three sides of the room, clearly a home office or study with just one door leading out presumably into a hallway.  Immediately on my right, just inside the french window there was a huge wooden desk loaded with a chaotic mess of paperwork and then strangely, in the centre was a little ocean-of-order, in which sat a top of the line mini-Netbox, complete with an expensive flexi-screen.

I opened my jacket and pulled out the folded-up holdall I’d stashed.  Making as little noise as possible I unplugged power and the vis lead from the little box and left them where they were. The last thing I needed was to get my legs caught in an errant lead trailing from my bag, besides cheap replacements were easy to get. I pulled the Netbox free and carefully placed it in the bag, folding the screen into its smallest square configuration.

Looking around the room for other valuables to take I quickly discounted taking the large vis-screen. I definitely didn’t want a hernia from carrying that bugger, besides it wouldn’t exactly be discrete to walk down the street with that under my arm!

As I moved across the room I spied a slim media console under the vis. I crouched down and quickly undid the leads at the back, pausing only to open up the holdall to make room.  As I started to slide the unit out I stopped suddenly.  I was sure that I had just heard something. Straining my ears, I tried to pinpoint the source.  Nothing. Seconds stretched into minutes and just as I was about to write it off as my overactive imagination, there it was again.  It sounded like feet over carpet just outside the door to the hall.

I carefully set the console down inside the holdall next to the Netbox and moved the bag slowly towards the french windows so I could grab-n-dash if I needed to. I crept towards the study door and opened it, holding my hands against the hinges to reduce any noise.  I peeked my head out into the hall to be greeted by silence and almost absolute darkness.  There was just a shaft of moonlight coming through a small pane of glass in the front door.

The hall was empty. I waited again for what seemed like an age to hear the noise.  Then, somewhere on the floor above I heard what sounded like an animal panting.  Must be a bloody big dog, christ that’s all I needed.  I really hated having to hurt an animal but there was no way I was risking a bite, especially since I had no current med-cover and the last tablets I’d bought from a dealer to clear up an infection gave me the shits for days and bloated my face right up.

In fact violence of any kind wasn’t really my thing, although I knew how to take care of myself. After several short but informative stretches inside, you learn how to look after yourself and make sure that people know not to try and take the piss.  But sadly not everyone gets the message so I had a small hardwood club on my belt. Usually a quick swipe was enough to make your average pleb realise that it was best to just shut up and think instead about what else they could add to their insurance claim.  I  had also started to carry a stun stick with me on jobs but so far I hadn’t had to use it, I only really carried it after hearing stories when I was inside about how some homeowners liked to get frisky with the kitchenware.

Whether it was fear of the owner being home or just bloody hot in here I hadn’t realised that I was sweating like mad.  Slipping my gloves off and pocketing them, I wiped my clammy palms against my jeans before unclipping the club off my belt. I pushed the study door wide open as I stepped into the hall, club at the ready in case I needed to use it.  In the gloom I could see two closed doors; one on my immediate left which probably led to the kitchen, the other on my right next to the study.  With nothing waiting to jump out on me I walked into the hall and towards the wide staircase that dominated the hallway.

I looked up the stairs into the inky blackness at the top and steeled myself into making the climb. Animal or homeowner, I needed to find out where that noise had come from before looking for any more loot.  Walking slowly up the stairs I tried to avoid any creaky floorboards. As I got about half way up, a cold wave washed over me and the hairs on the back of my neck pricked up. There was definitely a swishing noise just ahead of me on the stairs, again this sounded like feet or paws across carpet followed by a soft panting, like a dog on a hot day.

Bracing myself to be attacked I waited again for what felt like an age but still nothing launched itself at me. Realising that I was starting to freak out I tried to steady my breathing and swapped the club out of one sweaty hand into the other and started to climb again.  Reaching the top of the stairs I was faced with a simple t-junction. Doors to my right all looked closed, but it was hard to be certain.  To the left, the doors on either side of the landing also looked closed but there was definitely a door ajar at the end of the hall. Weak moonlight spilled out into the hallway from the slight opening, I definitely hadn’t heard a door ‘snick’ closed so assumed that whatever was making the noise had gone into or come from that room.

I walked towards the open door angling my body slightly to make a slimmer potential target. My club was raised slightly above my head ready to swing down and I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins.  Maybe I should just bail, there were other houses on the list but my body clearly wasn’t listening to my head as I had already reached the end of the hall.

A wave of heat and a foul almost meaty stench emanated from the room. There must be a radiator switched on full despite the warm summer weather. I slowly pushed the door open fully with my free, slightly trembling hand and saw what appeared to be a spare room. A jumble of boxes and what looked like crumpled curtains piled on the floor, all shadows and weird angles in the low light. There was no dog, nobody hiding up here, it was just a stinking hot room.

Cursing my overactive imagination I walked into the centre of the space. A flash of light caught my eye; off to a far corner there was an ornate dressing table complete with one of those fancy tilting mirrors. The glint came from what appeared to be a piece of jewellery sitting on the surface. Well at least I was about to be rewarded for having freaked myself out.  As I walked over to the dressing table something else caught my eye in the mirror. There was a fucking woman standing in the corner of the room right behind me! She was stood stock-still dressed in a long white shirt which looked like one of those tie-dyed things, the islands of white glowing softly in the moonlight.  Her long dark hair covered most of her pale face.  I realised almost with a start that the panting I’d been hearing was actually coming from the woman, her narrow shoulders rising and falling rapidly in time with the ragged sound of her breath.

All of a sudden she exploded into motion, God knows how she could move so fast as she literally flowed towards me, effortlessly leaping over the boxes between us.  Fixed to the spot in shock, all I could see was her mouth split inhumanly wide open, snarling at me as we collided. Our bodies tumbled to the floor and thrashed around, knocking the club out of my hand and into some dark corner.

As I grappled with her I realised that her hands and face were slick with blood! The meat tang I’d smelt earlier now saturated the air, it was all consuming and I could feel myself gagging.  In seconds, she was on top of me, jaws snapping at my face. I pushed my hand under her chin trying to angle her head upwards but she was so bloody strong it was all I could do to keep her from biting me.

I thrashed with my legs to try and lever her off me, bucking repeatedly and using my knees to cause her as much pain as possible.  I was screaming at her to get the fuck off me, spit flying from my mouth. Finally my efforts paid off and, almost snakelike, she rolled away to the side with a rumbling growl coming from her throat as she did.

I rolled away too and quickly got to my feet.  I found myself close to the heap of curtains but now realised in the moonlight that it was actually a goddamn body, totally eviscerated which explained the blood.  What the hell was going on?!  Woman forgotten, I puked automatically.  The next thing I knew I was flung on my back again as she piled into me, smashing into more boxes as we hit the floor and causing their contents to roll out.

Flailing around and each fighting for dominance, I finally pinned her down and for the first time I clearly saw her face in the low light. It was covered in blood and her eyes were just ‘wrong’, pits of pure black like shark eyes.  For a second my grip faltered.  Sensing this she started thrashing anew making a noise that just didn’t sound human, teeth smashing together as she sought to tear my throat out.

One hand pinning her down, the other fumbling for the stun stick in my jacket, I tried to simultaneously get it out, find the power switch and ensure the firing pins were orientated around the right way.  There, I had it! Saying a prayer for the first time in my entire adult life I pressed the device clumsily into her midriff and hit the fire button. Immediately I screamed and my back arched so viciously I thought my spine was going to snap.  I’d gotten the damn thing the wrong way round!  White fire seared up my entire left side, black spots danced across my eyes and bile filled my throat. The sound of her manic snapping was suddenly muted and our struggle felt like it was taking place inside cotton wool. Terrified I was going to pass out, I fought against the urge to just let the pain carry me away and bit hard on my tongue. Despite the sudden flow of blood in my mouth, the self inflicted pain quickly brought me back into the moment.

My now useless left arm hung at my side, caught under my body as I struggled desperately to hold her at bay with my good arm. She was now smashing her teeth together with such violence that some of them must have cracked and shattered because sharp little pieces of enamel fell onto my face.

With one hand under her jaw, my numbed hand swept around the jumble searching for a weapon.  Finally it closed on a reassuringly firm object about the size of an orange, risking a quick glance I could see it was a jade paperweight that must have rolled out of one of the disturbed boxes.

Without thinking too much about the consequences and not seeing much alternative, I brought it down as hard as I could on the side of her head.  The wet thunk as it connected almost made me vomit.  I brought the paperweight down again on her head, the solid jade cracked sickeningly against her skull.  Still she thrashed against me, so I smashed again for a third and then fourth time until she went still.  The fight, consciousness and possibly life itself left her instantly as she collapsed on me.  Stunned, I let the gore-smeared paperweight fall from my hand and it rolled to a stop a short distance away.

Pushing her off, I tried to stand yet fell down almost straight away on my arse.  Now winded but well and truly amped up on adrenaline, I manically shuffled backwards as far away from her as I could, struggling to get my ragged breathing under control. I sat there against the doorframe, my left arm blazing with pins and needles as I tried like mad to rub some real feeling back into it.

I was so screwed, I’d killed someone. It didn’t matter that she was clearly a loon, who the hell would believe what I’d just seen? I was looking at a seriously long stretch inside this time, my DNA would be everywhere.  I’d have to go on the run although with no cash or real contacts outside the city I didn’t rate my chances.

In the centre of the room her body started to twitch. Her ruined face raised slowly, looking directly at me. Letting out a godawful howl of pure rage she moved towards me on her stomach in an insane crab-like motion across the carpet.

Still on my arse, I let loose a stream of invectives and pushed myself backwards and out into the landing just as she reached me.  With all my strength I pulled my legs back towards my body and fired a double kick straight into her face, causing a horrific rifle-shot snap that resonated through my body as far as my chest. Immediately she was still, face down on the floor at my feet.

I had no idea how long I sat there sobbing but eventually convinced myself that it was over, at least for now. I slowly got myself to my feet using my arm to brace myself against the wall, my hand leaving a black smear on the paintwork.  Checking myself, I’d definitely been bitten, the bitch!  A really deep wound, right on that fleshy bit between thumb and forefinger.  It hurt like hell, the pain lancing up my arm wasn’t just the effect of the stun-stick, somehow in the chaos she must have gotten a bite in.

Wanting to get the hell out of the house, I stumbled down the landing and stairs and almost collapsed into the study.  A piercing cry sounded from above.  In a panic I crashed through the room pulling books from the shelves and stumbling around the furniture towards the french windows, totally forgetting that I’d left my bag right by the door.  Moving too quickly to dodge it, I tripped headfirst into the garden taking a kaleidoscopic tumble to the hard ground.

Lying on my stomach I spat out the grass from my mouth and quickly got to my feet. I pushed off like a pissed sprinter, racing towards the fence and not stopping until I’d pulled my aching body up.  As I looked back at the house my final view was a silhouette of the woman standing at the french windows.  Her head was tilted unnaturally flush to one shoulder as she let out a frustrated scream.

I had no idea how she could still be standing, let alone be alive and right now I didn’t care. I basically fell over the fence and with my jelly legs finally giving way I slumped down on the pavement. I had no energy to get much further and heard no sounds of pursuit from behind me in the garden.

I really wasn’t feeling too good. Without even realising it was about to happen I puked again, right down my front. My blood seemed to be boiling and my throat felt swollen to the point of permanent closure. I couldn’t quite work up the energy or enthusiasm to undo my coat and let the night air in.

Shadows flickered in the corners of my vision.  My eyes were hot and itchy, snot was flowing freely down my face. Although the streets were still empty, there was the noise of a thousand voices pounding in my head that was driving me crazy.  I could just about turn my head, my neck now felt so swollen that it triggered a random memory of being a kid and having glandular fever, after everything else tonight I was coming down with that bloody flu.

Time dilated, I was well and truly numbed from sitting on cold concrete for hours.  The sirens I’d heard earlier now sounded much closer and I was sure I could hear screams or shouting from somewhere nearby.  People now seemed to be out in force, standing in little islands-of-one or small groups at the end of their paths.  As time went on I could see pushing and shoving starting, with several of the groups seeming to come to blows but I was too far away to figure out why.

My breathing seemed to be slowing down and a deep calm settled over me. My mind suddenly seemed free of everything and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why I was sitting on a cold pavement in a part of town I didn’t recognise. This wasn’t my patch, what had I been doing here?  Feeling like I should have answers to these questions, instead I was swimming in a sea of total apathy.

More time passed. Still I lay there at the base of the fence, unmoving. Happy to just go with the flow, I drifted on a warm river, sailing downstream. The pain I had been feeling had just…just… I dunno gone away.  My heart stopped then, the last thing I saw was a lone cloud drifting past the face of the moon, my eyes tracking its meandering path.

Soon after my eyes opened again, something new looking out.  Scanning the street I took it all in, drinking down every last detail in greedy gulps.  I was seeing the world for what felt like the first time.  Then, slowly but surely I get to my feet, feeling the burning furnace of need raging in my chest.  My strong hands and jaws were flexing in anticipation of what was to come.  I turned and started running towards the screams, towards the blaring sirens and into the darkness that had fallen.

Copyright: Si Donbavand 2014

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