He looks down at his hands; which are in need of a good scrub and trembling slightly. It is getting late and he feels like calling it a night but he can feel something is going to happen the hunt is still on.
Looking up his gaze is met with the familiar steady flow of pedestrians moving past. Some stumbling slowly past taking everything that Oxford Street has to offer in; others harassed and hurrying, eager to get underground and onto the tube to get home and away from the doddering tourists.
There was one last group who were always the most interesting, those under the influence. Either slightly staggering trying to keep it together after one too many with some fellow office workers or already too far gone and clearing a path as they stumbled forward too drunk to manage to do anything let alone get to home. As eclectic as it is and bizarre at times Oxford street was where he hunted, he had no choice.
Snapping out of the daydreaming he got back to work, he had become very adept at it over the years. Quickly scanning faces as they doddered, hurried or stumbled towards him; checking for the telltale signs of a potential victim.
It was getting close to the time when an opportunity normally presented itself, without taking his eyes of the crowd he felt for the blade hidden up his sleeve. Satisfied, he keeps scanning quickly moving from face to face. Wait, he switches back, having noticed something ever so subtle.
Focusing on the young woman, everyone else faded into the distance. She was powering towards him with a purposeful stride; obviously still new to working life in the city. Trying to adopt that cold, uncaring London look; that eventually became “the cold, uncaring London look”. The look that pretends not to notice and actively avoids anything unnerving; namely people like himself.
She is wrapped up for the winter night woolly hat and scarf, hands stuffed in her pockets. Probably in her late twenties, doing quite well for herself if the clothes and bag that clearly contained a laptop or serious pile of files were anything to go by.
He slid the dagger further down his sleeve, so it was closer to his hand; primed himself for action.
Headphones in, volume up, eyes forward, a path through the crowd picked; committed. Annie fought her way down Oxford Street towards Bond Street Station. As was often the case the joy she felt when she finally managed to get out of the office dissipated when she was forced off the unreliable tube and back up onto the streets. The tube may be busy and you had to fight your way every inch of the journey but at least everyone was playing by the same rules, up here on bloody Oxford Street you never knew who you were up against, tourist, drunk or just a nutcase.
Then the familiar sound as her music faded and a call took its place, she knew who it was before accepting the call. She was bloody late:
“Hey Jen, on the way promise, she said.
“On the bloody way, you should have been here an hour ago and if you are taking calls I expect you are walking up to mine now” her best friend Jennifer was pissed, she had planned this meal for a couple of weeks and Annie had promised multiple times she would be there on time and not rock up when she was serving desert again.
“Bloody Neil again Jen, I cannot take much more of his shit. Literally coming up to 4 pm and he dumps a bunch of urgent work on my desk and then buggers off home. I need it first thing in the morning Annie sorry” She says putting on an awful mock male voice.
“You have to stop letting that twit walk all over you Annie, I know it is your dream job but that doesn’t give him a pass for treating you like shit, Jen said, “Any way where are you and how long till you get here?”
“Sorry got kicked off the bloody tube at Oxford Circus again, just fighting my way down to Bond Street. Half an hour tops, promise” Annie said.
“I will hold you to that and a bloody good bottle of red, no cheap shit this time, Jen said and hung up. The music faded back in and the volume up almost drowning out the drone of the double-deckers as they crept past at a slower pace than most of the pedestrians.
Bloody Neil what was she going to do about that prick of a boss? She drifted off slightly dreaming up a few cruel scenarios to get him off her back.
A chill shooting down her spine pulled her away from her daydreaming. She looked ahead and everything looked slightly hazy, in fact she felt slightly hazy too. She stumbled slightly and quickly tried to correct herself so as not to get any unwanted assistance from those surrounding her. Her knees were feeling really weak, she felt like she had climbed a mountain made her way back down again and decided it was a good idea to attempt the ascent again.
Then she was hit with another strange sensation; like she had walked through a very old room and had cobwebs over her face and in her hair. She brushed her sleeve over her face instinctively to remove them, sending another chill down her spine as a result. What was going on, she had only had a cheese and pickle sandwich for lunch so it could not be anything she had eaten; she was shattered but nothing new there.
His stare was fixed upon the target now there was no denying that she was the one; the signals were all there. She was clearly fighting something and at the moment the struggle was more to stop anything happening to embarrass her amongst her co pedestrians; more of a casual fight against the distress she was feeling.
She had clearly lost control of her balance, he could see her knees folding in too much and the confusion on her face as she tried to keep herself upright and composed. He readied himself, pushing himself round from his seated position with his hands on the floor ready to pounce; trying not to look too much like a sprinter waiting for the fire of the starting gun. It was crucial that he did not draw any attention to himself at this point; his timing had to be perfect.
She had moved to within a few metres of him now and she no longer had any inhibitions about those surrounding her. She was frantically rubbing her face whilst at the same time trying to maintain her balance. The cold street of London had even started to stir in response, others walking her way started to consciously move away from her whilst trying not to look her way in the hope they could get far enough away not to be pulled back to offer any assistance and scupper their plans as mundane as they may be.
As quickly as the confusion had enveloped her it left she regained some composure but she was now moving like she was sleepwalking; the only give away being her eyes that were wide with fear. A Haze had started to cover the edges of her separating her from everyone else on the street; he knew it was almost time to move and he needed to act fast.
Annie knew she was on Oxford Street still but barely recognised it; she was alone, she knew she was walking but had lost control of it. All she could hear was her feet slapping the pavement at a rhythm that she did not recognise, she could feel her heart beating in her chest faster and faster. It was like these were the only two sounds in the world competing to be the only sound. She tried to fight it but had nothing to offer almost like she had been pulled a foot away from her physical self. Then she started to feel and hear something else.
The feeling of cobwebs was back again but this time they were thicker almost like a fog, she could feel them start to cling at her mouth and nostrils as if they were trying to find a way inside her. Then the cold on her again, this time not shooting down her spine but like frozen fingertips were walking up over her shoulderblade.
Then a voice so close it felt like it was in her ear:
“Don’t worry my pretty Eve, slow down, let yourself go, I will help you to drift off and forget about your worries, you will drift forever” The voice was sickly but strong and accompanied by something imitating a laugh but failing.
The fingertips kept moving faster now like an animal clambering over her shoulder up onto her cheek. She felt the pressure as her face was pulled to the side, she fought it but again it was as if she was fighting from outside of herself with no control over her movements.
As her head was pulled sightly back and her head almost tenderly pulled to the side she caught sight of something. It was almost human-looking, sharing some similarities in terms of structure but that is where the comparison ended. The eyes were sunken deep into the skull rather like a statue of a neanderthal she had seen in a museum as a child, the eyes were almost completely white it was just the slight variations in the shade that highlighted pupils and irises.
It spoke again “Oh my you are a pretty one, I should wait but it would be rude not to taste you hear and now, just a drop”
She felt her mouth open to scream like she had never screamed before but nothing came out. She watched as the creature’s mouth which was already naturally wide opened up to expose a mouth full off teeth. The only way she could describe it was like watching a great white’s mouth open and move as it threw itself out of the sea to catch a seal. Then darkness.
He had to move and quickly, he saw her mouth open to scream and her head moving backwards in a very natural way. He pushed himself off the ground, stunning a few of the people closest to him, he put his arms around the girl as if moving in to catch her from falling. He pushed the knife out of his sleeve and up into the dark shape behind her and heard a squeal that was barely audible.
She was like a dead weight in his arms, had given up struggling and all he could feel was the tug of something else trying to drag her back not willing or ready to let go of its prize. He pulled the knife out and pushed it back in harder and twisted, the opposing grip slackened ever so slightly giving him a small window of opportunity. Gripping onto his other forearm around the woman body he pulled back with all of his might and felt her body freeing from the opposing grip. Falling back onto the cold pavement the girls toppled on top of him. He took the chance to safely conceal his weapon, shifting up and around and held onto her so she did not fall back onto the pavement.
He held her there, held her tight and squeezed her whilst talking in her eye to bring her round “It is ok, it is ok, you are safe now”. That feeling of euphoria that came over him when he saved someone did not last long it never did. A hand pulling on his shoulder as if he were a sack of rubbish being pulled away.
“Oi mate, what you doing with her” he turned around coming face to face with a boy dressed like a man who took his hand off his shoulder as soon as they made eye contact.
“Nothing mate, I saw her collapsing and came to help” he replied trying to keep his composure and not draw any attention to the strength that just came out of a crumpled figure in the doorway, weakness was his mask, the knife which could easily make the mask slip was safely hidden back up his sleeve.
“Well, you can leave her now mate and go back to whichever doorway you came from,” the young man said. This was his cue, his escape route; it helped him detach himself from the events that just happened, slip back into obscurity.
Doing just that he walked off and settled into a new doorway. The rest of the night was quiet, as it often was when he had some success early. He didn’t and couldn’t save them all, that was always the hardest part; watching them get dragged off into whatever dark fate befell them.
He stayed there for the rest of the night, as he always did, waiting for the light to creep back in giving the famous street a few hours of rest before the feet starting pounding the pavement again as rush hour started.
Patting his coat around his chest he felt for breakfast, yes it was still there. He pulled out a half-eaten burger that he had wrapped back up and kept tucked after some half-drunken office worked had decided to toss it away before jumping on a bus.
He ate his cold breakfast and watched as the street came back to life and the steady stream of buses started to clog up the street, moving along more slowly than the pedestrians they had been built to carry.
It was time to move on and get some rest, his task was over for the night, and he would be back just before the evenings rush hour started pushing people back to their warm houses. Pushing himself up out of the doorway he picked up his life-saving piece of cardboard and moved on.
He knew people were looking and some were no doubt laughing at him. It got to him sometimes, why he spent his nights watching over these thoughtless people. Well until somebody else started, he was the only man for the job and besides it gave him purpose, albeit a very ill-rewarding one he thought as he burped back the taste of his free breakfast.