That Halloween had started out just like any other. The annual after-work costume party kicked off early in the evening, rapidly descending into an alcohol fuelled frenzy as inebriated skeletons and zombies danced the night away, while the vampires tried desperately to get off with the scantily clad nurses. The other denizens of the night, those who had come dressed as something other than the undead - like the inside-joke-costumes and the mock-costume of Geoff from Admin - sat in the corner, explaining to one another the inspiration for their outfits and exactly why it's supposed to be funny.
Unlike previous Halloweens, Alice Carroll had decided to leave the party early. The turning point for her came somewhere between King Kong throwing up on her shoes, and the party-goers spontaneously deciding to go trick-or-treating. At one o'clock in the morning. In the east end of London. As far as brilliant ideas were concerned, this was not one of them. Alice could only see a group of drunk Halloween caricatures knocking on people's doors in the small hours of the morning turning out badly. Having rinsed the last of King Kong's vomit from her formerly bright yellow shoes in the kitchen sink, Alice brushed back her blonde hair and put the comically springy antennae of her sexy bee costume back on her head. Throwing her denim jacket around her shoulders, she took her leave.
She'd managed to leave the party with very little hassle. Alice had let her flatmate, Rachel, know she was leaving, to which Rachel had responded with an ‘aw, no, you should stay!’ before drunkenly dancing off in the direction of Frankenstein's Monster. Other than that, everyone else seemed too wrapped up in their night to notice the girl in the yellow-and-black striped corset leaving. Alice walked through the crowded hallway, pushing though groups of chatting ghosts and werewolves, squeezing past the wholly unsettling sight of Marilyn Monroe making out with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and slipped out of the door and started walking down the road. She was thankful she didn't have to keep explaining she was leaving to everyone she passed, but it did feel a little surreal going straight from the packed house party to the quiet of the streets without really saying goodbye to anyone.
The walk home was an old and familiar one. Alice had moved to Islington scarcely a year ago, but she had already found the roads that made her feel most at home. Her favourite part of the walk home was up through an old street just off of the main road. It was the kind of old, side-alley street that would host a farmers market on Wednesdays and an antiques fair over the weekend, and had a distinctly quaint, Old London feel to it. It felt like a small bubble in the city, separated from the rest of metropolis, and seemed perpetually stuck in the past.
For Alice, it was a homely street; it was where she frequently bought her fresh vegetables mid-week and where one weekend she had bought an old mantel clock for a fiver, only to discover upon getting it home that it didn't work. However, this night, on Halloween, in the cold of winter, when no other person was about - save for the roaming parties patrolling the main road an alley or two away - there was something eerie about this old cobbled street. Alice's every footstep echoed off of the aged, soot-covered brickwork. In the distance, she could hear the noise of those continuing their pub crawls out on the main road, and that distant sound of the crowd made her feel safe, yet vulnerable too.
She walked through the empty streets back to her flat, boggle-eyed springy antennae bouncing annoyingly as she went. The sexy bee costume had been a dare, a forfeit for having to work a slightly longer shift and turn up late to the party. It had never really occurred to Alice exactly why the sexy bee costume existed; it wasn't the most intuitive of sexy costumes. Most bee drones lived out their entire lives as virgins, and queen bees were hardly renowned for being gentle lovers. And upon stinging their victims, honey bees leave their stinger behind, ripping out most of their internal organs in the process, leaving them to die a slow and painful death. In fact, Alice thought, there was very little that was traditionally sexy about bees. It also wasn't the best choice of costume for walking home on a cold winter's night, but here she was in the stripy corset and black lace tutu, walking the cold, dark streets of Islington.
Maybe it was the in-depth thoughts she was having about bee costumes, or the mild detachment from reality caused by more jellied-vodka eyeballs than she'd care to count, but Alice had failed to notice that she was being followed. A short distance behind her walked a man, hunched over, his head low and a hood pulled down over his face, shambling his way along the cobbled street. He stumbled on the uneven road, and stopped in his tracks when Alice eventually turned to look at him. The man stood eerily still, like a waxwork come to life, and although she couldn't see his eyes, she could feel him watching her. The noise from the nearby main road had fallen silent, as if everyone had suddenly decided to call it a night, and a haunting quietness hung heavily in the air. It was as if the world had abruptly ground to a halt. There wasn't even the faintest whisper of a breeze. The night was perfectly still.
Alice carried on, quickening her pace. She was a good five minutes walk from home, but she really didn't fancy being in the street with this man for too much longer. One of the streetlights ahead of her flickered uncertainly. She could hear his footsteps behind her, uneven and clumsy, but gradually speeding up. His footsteps matched hers. She didn't want to provoke anything by breaking into a run, but she quickened her pace. She continued to walk faster and faster, almost approaching a light jog. The man sped up also, and Alice could feel her heart pumping rapidly in her throat.
Suddenly, something slammed into her. She was pushed to the wall of the street in one whirlwind motion, winding her as she hit the hard brick surface. The force that had pushed her moved away, and she turned around, staggering and dazed from the impact. As she struggled to regain her balance, she saw the man who had been walking behind her charge past at full pelt and come to an abrupt stop. He turned slowly, unnaturally, and out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of another person. A tall figure silhouetted against the orange glow of the streetlights, dressed from head to toe in black, a greatcoat flowing down to his ankles, and a fedora-style hat perched on his head.
‘Run!’ The silhouetted figure shouted, gesturing frantically towards one of the nearby side-streets. Alice stood for a moment, dumb-founded, and watched as this other man squared up to her initial pursuer. The hooded man moved towards them, slowly, purposefully, and his head juddered unnaturally. For a brief second, the streetlights dimmed, leaving the alleyway in darkness. With a buzzing sound, the lights struggled back on. The man in the coat and hat turned to her again and waved his arm frantically in the direction of the street. ‘Go!’
She didn't think to question the man's orders. She ran. The bee antennae bobbed up and down irritatingly in front of her face as she sprinted away. She didn't stop to catch her breath as she ran, and even sacrificed one of her shoes to the night as she continued to sprint as fast as she could through the winding alleyways. Behind her, Alice heard a loud zap and the crackling of electricity, and she turned to see the street behind her illuminated by a bright blue flickering light. She squinted at the bright light for a second, and carried on running in the opposite direction, away from whatever that was, and, unwittingly, away from home. She had not been down these roads before and, in her panic and confusion, she had lost all sense of direction.
Rounding a corner, she slowed her pace to a jog and eventually came to a stop. She leaned against a wall, struggling to catch her breath as a mix of panic and exhaustion overwhelmed her. Looking around, Alice tried to get her bearings. She was in a back-alley, the narrow street lined with old, scorched brick walls, and every few feet sat small piles of black bags. The way was lit by only a few dimly glowing street lamps, giving everything a gentle orange hue. Alice reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone, fumbling with the screen-lock as she tried to calm her sudden rush of nerves. She flicked her way through the pages of apps and prodded at the Maps icon impatiently, desperately hoping the GPS could tell her what road she was now on.
Location settings disabled. Insufficient data.
‘Shit,’ Alice muttered under her breath. She tried calling Rachel, but it didn't matter where she stood – there was no signal. She sighed in frustration, and shoved the phone back into her jacket's pocket.
As Alice stood there, perplexed and alone and more than a little bit frightened, a tall figure loomed out of one of the pitch-black alleyways and stepped into the dim, orangey-yellow glow of the street lamps. She let out a slight whimper when she caught sight of the ominous silhouette. The figure stood for a moment, and she recognised the shape of the coat and hat.
‘Sorry about that,’ the figure spoke in a calm and friendly voice, the greatcoat billowing out behind him as he made his way forward. As he came closer, Alice knew for certain it was the man from a few moments before, and although it seemed like it would be a good idea, she didn't feel compelled to start running again. The man leaned against the wall next to her. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Really? Do you think I'm okay?!’ Alice immediately exclaimed, staring almost accusingly at the man. ‘I've been followed home by some creepy guy, been pushed into a wall, run from a fight, I've had King Kong throw up on my shoes – one of which is now missing – I'm cold, I'm tired, I'm dressed like a slutty bee, and I don't know where I am any more. Am I okay?! You bloody tell me!’ Most of Alice's fear and panic had converted itself into anger. She just wanted to get home and be done with the night.
The man simply looked deep into her eyes, and smiled kindly at her. ‘I'm sorry you had to experience all that,’ he said, far too calmly for Alice's liking, ‘these kind of things, they shouldn't happen. Difficult to keep on top of it all at this time of year, of course.’
She glared at him, and got the first proper look at the man since he'd rather abruptly slammed her into the wall earlier. He must have been in his mid-to-late-twenties, possibly early thirties, and a little over six foot tall. His scruffy, mid-length dark brown hair flowed out from under his hat and rested on the upturned collars of his overcoat. A silver talisman, a five-pointed star inside a circle, hung around his neck and rested on his chest. It looked as if he'd decided to dress as a contemporary Van Helsing for Halloween.
‘What? What are you talking about? What was all that back there, and who the hell are you?!’ Alice asked, still on the offensive. ‘And what about the other guy?!’
‘One question at a time,’ the man said wearily. ‘First of all, that was something which crossed the threshold from another world and into this one. I came to send it back.’ Alice simply stood staring at him, incredulous. He continued. ‘This is one of those strange supernatural stories people read about online or in Esoteric Express. Most people dismiss these stories as myths, rumours or hoaxes,’ he chuckled, ‘if only they knew.’ He was incredibly matter-of-fact about the whole affair, and Alice couldn't help but wonder if this was all some kind of elaborate Halloween joke. ‘It's gone now, though. Back to the Void space where it belongs. At this time of year, the veil between worlds is incredibly thin; easy for them to cross the threshold, but kind of easy for me to send them back too.’ He straightened his lapels with the air of a man congratulating himself on a job well done.
Alice stood silently for a while, just staring at this man, taking in everything he was saying, but refusing to believe a word of it. She shook her head, and with a sarcastic ‘yeah, right!’ she began to hobble away. She took off her remaining shoe to even herself out. She'd had more than enough of this evening, and wasn't going to put up with much more of this nonsense. She just wanted to go home.
‘No, you're quite right. It's all hard to believe. Too far-fetched,’ he retorted, and tipped his hat in her direction. ‘Have a good evening.’
Alice turned to give him a snarky response – her evening had been far from good – but he had vanished. It was as if he'd evaporated into thin air. I've definitely had enough of this evening, she concluded, and scurried back the way she'd came, hoping to find her way back to somewhere she recognised. It didn't take long for her to find somewhere vaguely familiar, and once she'd got her bearings, she headed straight for home.
Almost falling through the door to her flat, Alice stumbled in, overcome with stress and fatigue and alcohol, and she unceremoniously flopped herself onto the sofa. She had barely taken the ridiculous bee antennae off of her head before she fell asleep, and drifted off into a strange and uneasy night's sleep.
That night, her dreams were haunted by strange visions. Of tall men in overcoats fighting demons in hooded jackets, of a giant gorilla climbing the Empire State building with a yellow-and-black striped shoe, and of bees with weirdly cartoon-y eyes on springs, dancing seductively. It was not the best night's sleep she'd ever had by any means.