No one went outside at night. No one but Vesper. Spectres roamed the streets after sunset, deadly to all who came into contact with them. Vesper liked the night and the ghosts had ruined it for him. Since they had risen from the river, there was nothing to do; no bars opened and people dared not open their doors past dusk.
Vesper stalked the apparitions from the rooftops, following their purposeless tracks around the city. Their outlines were humanoid, but they seemed incapable of communication. Twice, they had followed him up staircases, but ladders were beyond them and when he had leapt from the roof of one building to the next, they had fallen, leaving a shimmering, fibrous mass on the pavement.
By sunrise, most returned to the river, melting into its depths. Some oozed into the storm drains. Vesper set traps, blocking their exits from alleyways and watching them burst into tendrils of smoke when the sunlight sliced through them. It had given him the idea for the Sunblade, a device more impressive by name than by appearance, simply a metal bar with two strips of ultra-violet light running down its length. However, its efficiency as a deterrent to the spectres couldn’t be disputed; one touch from the Sunblade and they were smoke.
He jumped onto the moss-covered roof of a warehouse which dominated the docks, abandoned since the spectres arose, but a good place to hunt them. A group of the creatures caught his attention, drifting in and out of the building through a crack in the door, their forms merging and dividing. The roof below Vesper’s feet gave an unearthly creak, sending them into a frenzy, their smoky outlines obscuring the walls as they searched for a way to reach him. He stepped away from the edge, the creak turning into a crack. A vibration beneath his feet made him jump but too late as the panel he was standing on shattered, sending him crashing into the trusses below.
The Sunblade fell from his hand as a hard beam struck him in the stomach. His fingers gripped the edge for support as he watched the blade tumble in a kaleidoscope of flashing lights. He looked down as smoke began to rise, the spidery silk forming across the floor where the blade had struck another group of spectres. That was when he heard the scream.
The voice was muffled and Vesper had to heave himself onto the beam to see its source. Down below, on the warehouse floor, there was a young woman, her hands fixed behind her back and a red scarf tied around her face, stifling her panicked cries. The Sunblade lay at her bare feet, the only thing keeping the spectres from touching her.
“Hold on. I’m coming!”
The young woman flailed, reaching for the Sunblade with her feet as Vesper stepped between the trusses, searching for some way to climb down. The drop was too far to survive uninjured and the roof too high to reach. His only sensible option was a tall stack of wooden crates at the far side of the open space. Each bent seemed further away than the last, the drop below worsening in his mind.
The woman’s screams grew louder as he moved and he looked behind to see that she was safe. Moonlight penetrated the warehouse through the broken skylight, highlighting the stream of spectres falling through the hole. Vesper swore to himself as he dropped onto the crates, his weight breaking the lid of the first and splintering wood in another further down the pile. Straw fluttered in the air around him as the lid caved.
Around the warehouse, the spectres were moving, converging on the crates. Vesper straightened and searched for a clear path. He leapt to another, shorter stack, making his way towards the woman. As he moved, the spectres followed, chasing the sounds he made. The woman fell quiet as he came closer, shaking her head.
She was pale, her fine hair almost white and her limbs too skinny. The soles of her feet were black with dirt. Her wide, grey eyes stared at Vesper as if he were a ghost himself. He reached down to untie the scarf, her hair burning his skin like acid as it brushed the back of his hand.
“Get away from me!” she shrieked as the scarf fell loose. “Let me go!”
Vesper took a step back, climbing higher onto the crates. “I’m trying to help,” he replied.
“Liar!” She reached again for the Sunblade, only this time Vesper saw she was not trying to grasp it; she was trying to push it away. Silver tears streaked her face.
“I won’t hurt you. I promise.”
Vesper moved towards her again, reaching for the ropes binding her hands. He ignored the sting of her hair, the vivid white marks appearing across his skin and the woman’s protests, focussing on loosening the knot. She pulled away from him as soon as she was able, but did not run.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “Why are you doing this?”
“My name is Vesper,” he replied. “The spectres – they would have killed you.”
“Then why haven’t you?” She looked around. “I’m trapped and you’re obviously stronger than the others. So kill me.”
Vesper frowned. “I’m trying to help you.”
Vesper shook his head. “Whatever.” He looked up at the broken skylight. “It’s nearly light anyway. They’ll be gone soon.”
The woman sank to the floor, squinting as she looked up at the sky. More tears streamed down her cheeks. “Please don’t do this.”
“Don’t torture me. Please. Your weapon is just there. Make it quick.”
Vesper glanced at the Sunblade and back at the sky, his mouth agape. “You’re one of them?”
“Human?” She nodded.
“No.” Vesper shook his head. “I’m human. You’re a spectre.”
The girl laughed. “If you are human, prove it.” She held out her hand. “Touch me.”
Vesper reached out for her, his fingers burning as they made contact with hers. Her voice split his ears, his own throat raw as he too screamed. Memories flashed through his mind: stalking the spectres night after night, his mother and sister laughing, an old woman he didn’t know, pale and thin in a hospital bed, the room dark around her and an unfamiliar young boy, his skin turning to ash in the sun.
Concrete filled his vision as he pulled away, his hand still consumed by the sensation of fire. The woman lay beside him, her chest heaving and her arm outstretched, thick black veins showing through her pallid skin. As he pushed himself up, he saw his own skin was the same, only the veins were white.
He began to push the boxes, building a fortress, trapping the woman inside and shutting out the light. The sky was already turning blue outside and the other spectres were disappearing. Vesper glanced at the woman curled up inside, her skin luminous in the gloom. For the first time, the shadows made him feel nauseous. Covering the entrance with another box, he turned away, scooping up the Sunblade as he crossed to the warehouse door.
Vesper squinted as he stepped into the morning sun. It had been a long time since he had ventured outside in the day. Around him, people were beginning to fill the streets. He could just about make out their limbs through the black smoke that surrounded them.