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
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 paint.
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 jacket.
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.
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