The train I’m riding pulls into my station, and I emerge into the night air.
Artificial light fills the space and cold licks at my face. My hands are deep in my
pockets. I ascend a flight of stairs, enter the ticket office, which smells of piss and
leave it again into the bleak town and my walk home. My shift at work finished just
under an hour ago and 10 o’clock is approaching. The evening shift suits me as
mornings do not agree with my mental state.
I take a left and head up the hill, repeating my daily motions. Cars hurtle
up, over taking me and vanishing from sight. All I need to do is put one foot in front
of the other and I will arrive home. Left foot, right foot, repeat, counting one, two,
three, four, over and over again. Un, deux, trois, quatre, and eins, zwei, drei, vier,
using multiple languages in an attempt to break up the monotony of this walk. I
focus on my breath, to stop myself hyperventilating, breathing in for a count of five
and out for seven. The air is fierce and freezing, the hairs inside my nostrils stand
on end and I feel a soreness there but it is nothing compared to the stabbing pain
in my lungs. This walk has not made me any healthier. I feel like I am dragging my
organs behind me in a net bag, trailing them across the pavement. My skeleton is
tired without a decent set of muscles to back it up. I just need to get to the lip of
the hill and the rest is easy.
The hill does have a benefit though. It is well lit by orange street lamps, and
car headlights. I can see clearly; the buildings are in focus. My house keys are in
my right pocket, I give them a gentle fondle. They reassure me, but on this road, I
do not need them yet. A hatchback zooms past me, whipping up a wind that
flutters through me. My coat seems to be pointless; I try to tell myself that I am
warmer for it, but it is almost as if I am naked.
I’ve made it to the top, I’m moments away from turning off the main road
and into the residential area. My lungs breathe a sigh of relief. I feel my shoulders
slump and relax. The cold continues to batter me, but I no longer have to contend
with the natural incline muddied with tarmac. I am by the Citizens Advice Bureau,
the cream paint is peeling. I wonder, not for the first time, if they used indoor paint
by accident. I also wonder if one day I should visit this place as a client. My life is
held together with spit and hope, wrapped in frayed string, ready to snap. I find it
hard to believe that these people can help me. They haven’t even used the right
I scuttle past into the thin one-way street that bears a clutch of houses and
a pub, the First and Last. Such an apt name for this chapter in my life. I have come
full circle to this walk. There is one street lamp casting a silvery glow, but there are
infinite shadows. Less than ten minutes until I approach my front door, but a
hundred lives separate it from me. I hold the key a little tighter.
To my left is a cobblestone path with hedges overhanging into the walkway. I
sense something there, in the dark. I force myself to maintain my speed. I want to
shout out, to turn and look, try and see what I am up against but if I show, even
for a second, a change in mood the thing in the shadows will react and I cannot
predict that. I like to walk in dead straight lines, but I will allow myself to deviate to
the right, put some distance between me and the hedge, at a glacial pace. The key
digs into my palm, just in case.
The key is warm in my hand, I haven’t let it go since I got off the train. In my
mind’s eye I can see it, gold and unremarkable. I run my fingertips over each of its
teeth. They are reassuring and sharp. The nose of it has a long fang, which with the
right amount of force could do some damage. I could drag the key across someone’s
throat, stop them from hurting me. I touch the circle at the top, and grip it, the
teeth pointing downwards. I withdraw it from my pocket, like a gun from a holster
and aim upwards. An assailant is likely to be taller than me, but if I jabbed in this
direction I would fail. The teeth need to point heavenwards so they can meet their
target and mutilate. I rotate the makeshift blade and retreat it to my pocket. It
would be no good if they knew I held a tiny weapon. They’d go for my hand first and
I would crumble.
I have made it to the last street, I have two minutes before I am at the front
door. The key is ready to slot into the lock, turn and enter and freedom. My other
half is behind the door, as is my dinner, probably some freezer food, a veggie
burger and wedges. I am so close to salvation. There are four street lamps here,
glaring silver. I count them, one, two and nothing, three is out. Four is lit, but
three. Three has died. This is not a good sign. I swing my head around, but fail to
take anything in. I can see the houses on the ridge, of course, but not their
trademark features. Though, I know them in my head I am not taking them in with
my eyes. I hold my skull still, focusing on the shape of it, the hole where the eyes
and nose sit, the dome of my forehead. Something tangible and internal.
The dark pool cast by the burnt out third street lamp is ahead. My eyes
widen, horror clasps my throat, there is something or someone there. I can see my
front door, but the figure is between me and it. I try to keep moving but I know I
have slowed down. I veer left, aiming for the silver glow cast by the fourth light, still
trying to keep my attention on whatever it is I can see. The reality is I can barely
see it, but it can see me I am sure. It seems to have turned its head to follow my
movements. I have seconds to get to my door, but each second is a potential
turning point. The figure lunges toward me. He is mere feet away and I can make
him out. He has long scraggly hair, reaching his chin, a tracksuit jacket, which is
torn and baggy jeans, with a chain. He is almost on top of me now. Fight or flight,
fight or flight. A wave of heat crashes through me. I yank the key from my pocket,
brandish it and swing my arm at his throat. I have one shot to connect.
I hear a pop, and feel the key rip through the flesh, pulling it apart creating
an unnatural hole, like those ones heavy smokers need, but to the right. Dragging
downwards trying to open the wound further, I pull the key back. Blood spurts
forth, covering my hand and the key is drenched. It pours down the man’s throat.
He gasps, a strangled hiss, an attempted scream. Then he drops to his knees and
more blood bubbles between his lips, overflowing. He is a red fountain, the sticky
thick liquid pooling around his body. He falls face first to the tarmac.
Action films have taught me to “always shoot him again”. I have no gun, so
instead I rain down a torrent of kicks to his sides, the softest part I can reach
without touching him. I am wearing heavy leather shoes, not the best for inflicting
injury but if I can get enough power behind it, I can ensure he will not get up
again. I swing my leg over and over, he makes no sound. With each hit more blood
gushes from his orifices. He will not be getting up again. I wipe the key on his
I take a deep breath, in for seven out for ten and repeat. I feel eerie, my mind
like a dark desert, void and at liberty. Statistically, I am now less likely to be
assaulted again. I can rest easy for now. I step around the now lifeless figure. Walk
down a few steps, put the key into the lock and turn. Home free.
(c) Victoria Huggins