The Stranger

The stranger was walking. It made a change.

It was late evening in early winter and the night was cold but dry. All around him the lights of the bars and shops of the city centre glared and glowed, a stream of colours flowing around him under a starless black sky. People passed by, couples and groups, a few solo travellers, mostly young people, mostly heading home. The only sounds to be heard were the heels of women’s shoes and transient conversations and occasional guffaws. He walked on, passing the late night food outlets, smelling onions and tomatoes and spices and meat, always meat.

Nobody looked at the stranger. He did nothing to attract their attention.

The route he followed took him through the alleyways and hilly streets that formed the little village at the centre of the city, and then out towards the east. In the city centre, people had been lively and chatty, and the place seemed warm and welcoming. Now, as he moved further east, there were fewer people, and they kept their heads down or looked straight forward, avoiding eye contact. It became quieter. It seemed colder.

After a while he came to a big island, a distribution point for traffic coming to or through the city. A footbridge spanned the entire roundabout, it’s walkways radiating out from the centre of the island like the spokes of a giant wheel. He climbed some steps to the footbridge and walked across, above the stream of traffic. Leaning against the railings, he paused for a few minutes to watch the vehicles coming off the Parkway. A beautiful woman in the passenger seat of a Jaguar looked up as the car she was travelling in passed under the footbridge. She smiled, perhaps at him. He turned and watched as the car drove out towards the motorway. She didn’t turn round. He stood there for a while, listening to the drawn out roar of tyres on tarmac, smelling the poisonous leavings of cars and buses and lorries and bikes. An ambulance flew into the city, blue lights in a maniac swirl, its siren sounding like a toy. When it was out of sight he started walking again.

Coming off the footbridge, he climbed up an incline and on to a long, straight road. Red and white lights from the traffic on the dual carriageway streamed below him on the left. On his right he passed a modern church that was dying and a working men’s club that was already dead. A many-floored block of flats stood behind the church and the club that had been built to serve them. Every window was darkened or covered with curtains or blinds. Lights shone in just a handful of the living spaces. The only thing moving on the street was a black and white cat searching for mice. The cat paused and sniffed the air as the stranger came closer before slinking away, ears pricked backwards, listening.

The stranger came to a junction with a side road. As he approached the junction he heard a voice. He looked around to see where it came from but he couldn’t see anything. He stopped for a moment. The voice came again.

“Help.”

It was a man’s voice, but there was weakness in it, and it trembled.

He looked around again and saw a long, thin arm lying on the pavement a little way along the side road. There was hedging along the side of the road and the arm stuck out through a gap. He hesitated for a moment and then saw the hand twitch. 

“Help me,” came the feeble voice.

The stranger ran up to the gap in the hedge. As he bent down to the figure that lay on the ground, the twitching hand shot up and fastened around his throat. Another hand joined it and dragged him head first through the hedging. The stranger was pushed to the ground, his head bouncing off the tarmac before his face was pressed down into the dirt and gravel behind the hedge, out of sight of the road. A weight landed hard on his back and forced the air out of his lungs. His left arm was trapped under his body, the other twisted up behind him and held tight in a strong, bony grip.

 

Get the full story in Mortality Tales. 

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