Nik-note: In my gallery.
The three-unit train was stopped at Sandhills for longer than usual. At first, like the half-dozen other passengers in my middle unit, I was too tired to care. Then, when the pause stretched into several minutes, I wondered if an accessibility ramp was being deployed.
"Network North-West regret that, due to damage to the track signalling, this service is terminating at this station. Please collect your baggage and vacate the train. Network North-West regret..."
A dozen of us stumbled from the station, stood under the street light, woke our phones. We soon found there were no taxis to be had within the hour, sought alternate plans. A group of four students clad as LOTR characters made a few calls. Finding a nearby friend of a friend who would put them up for the night, they strolled into the side-streets. A pair of sassy witchlings summoned their dad who'd been waiting at the next station. A 'Wizard & WarLass' couple strode away via the underpass. Three unconvincing zombies of indeterminate gender located a late bar in the area, shuffled off.
I sighed. This wasn't the way I'd planned to end my Halloween gig. Upside, it wasn't raining. The night was still clear, but cooling unto mist. Downside, it was well gone midnight, and that was the last train which would connect to my bus route two stations along. If I was really lucky, I might still catch the last bus from there. If not, I'd have to walk several more miles...
I re-tied my shoe-laces, lifted my quilted winter jacket's collar against the cold and damp, set off into the night.
I'd only had a couple of hours notice, a text from my Aussie friend Jim Cobham. His FX guy had food poisoning. Would I step up ? Fifty, cash in hand, of course, of course ?
A Science Stream student, repeating a year due to ill health, I was poor, poor, poor. Fifty would be a 'gift from the gods'. I agreed by return, grabbed my 'electrical' tool-belt, headed into town.
I don't know why the club was called 'The Tract', but 'Cobber Jim' was a fair-dinkum DJ. He made that crowded Halloween venue bounce. Though the lighting and FX boards were unfamiliar, my hectic half-hour before the doors opened got a quorum working. I managed to add some more strobes and beams as the evening went on. I did make a few mistakes, sent a few spots and such the wrong way. Being Halloween, no-one noticed nor cared.
"Thanks, Tim," Jim said at the end, handing me the promised notes. "Owe you one."
"No big deal," I'd lied. "I'm just glad it went well." The truth, I would be able to eat and heat rather better this month.
Now, the night was getting colder, a growing haze around each isolated street light showing the forecast fog was drawing in. I thought some groups in fancy dress would still be going hither and yon. No, the hour and the cold had driven them indoors. I seemed to be the only person out. I'd seen no-one since leaving the station, nary a car nor taxi. My footsteps quietly echoed from the darkened buildings to either side. Up ahead, the lights on my side were out. I crossed the street, kept walking. Not too near the shadowed entries, of course. Urban Jungle 101-- Nest contingencies; be a *difficult* victim.
I came to a familiar junction, nodded with relief. I knew where I was. I was making good time. There was no obvious traffic, but I checked for low-flying ijits before crossing. The mist was thickening, might yet become a hazard to motorists. On foot, I could see far enough to be safe. The next stretch took me through a run-down zone, its few remaining shops and businesses hanging on despite the district's decline. Premises not boarded were heavily shuttered or grilled against the night. I passed one lonely 'late' Off-Licence, the weary proprietor hunched behind its bandit screen. Beyond that oasis, the night and mist closed in.
I kept walking, my steady stride gradually counting down the mile yet to go. My footsteps' sound had slowly changed as the mist thickened, the echo shifting slightly per each buildings' set-back.
A subtle doubling of that echo was my first warning.
I turned quickly. A dozen strides behind me, barely visible in the poor light, a tall, thin, black-clad figure came to a halt. Two similar, but shorter figures stood behind, almost lost in the mist and gloom. The tall figure stepped forwards. Very gangly, as if wearing 'lifts' or short stilts, he peered down at me. His eyes were entirely black, perhaps from FX contacts. His narrow, raw-boned face was white as a Geisha. If grease-paint, it was very well done.
"Evening !" I called politely. "Nice costume ! Brilliant make-up !"
He smiled. He had very convincing fangs. And, when he lifted pale, too-long hands, talons.
"Way to go !" I complimented him. "I'm headed for the bus station. You ?"
He took a step closer, then grabbed for my throat.
I went right, my left arm rising to sweep his talons wide. He blinked, made another grab. I swayed aside. Okay, my clothes stank of 'The Tract' and its free-flowing booze, but I was cold sober. He made a third grab. I simply backed away.
"Okay, Count, enough is enough," I told him. "Stand down-"
I did a double parry, sweeping his long hands high to either side. Lowering my head, I butted his chin. Dental stuff crunched. I brought up a knee, met his crotch hard, disengaged. He fell to the street in a silent heap, writhed briefly, slowly stood.
He shook himself. Before my eyes, his ruined face reformed. Jaws opened inhumanly wide. Fangs gaped. His fingers' talons spread like a Haast's Eagle.
He threw himself at me.
I went left, my right arm rising to guide his grab wide. He whirled, inhumanly fast. He back-handed my right shoulder.
"Oof !" It jarred me from neck to knees, knocked me sideways. Somehow, I stayed on my feet, backed away. Somehow, I managed to keep half an eye on those other two.
My right shoulder felt cold. I spared a glimpse, found my quilted winter jacket had three long rips. I could see my bright T-shirt through matching tears in my sweat-shirt. If I got out of this, they'd so cost to repair or replace.
"Enough 'Mister Nice Guy' !" I hissed. I fumbled under my jacket, groped an insulated screwdriver from the right side of my tool-belt. Only a hand-span in all, a slim cross-head, it was the longest I had. At least there was enough handle to hold with my fingers.
My gangly, inhuman opponent studied me like a big spider with an uncommonly interesting fly. He took one step towards me. He took a second, made a huge swipe.
My rising left arm's parry barely eased those talons past my face. Still, I had an opening. I went forwards, inside his reach. As those talons closed on my back, I rammed the screwdriver's point up beneath his jaw. I drove it home.
He froze. He seemed to tremble. His joints gave way. He tumbled, limp.
As I stepped back, his pale hands and face began to change colour. Within moments, they were a weird, almost luminous blue-green. Then they did begin to glow. The same unearthly glow showed from within his costume. A heavy, blue-green vapour leaked from his mouth, his collar, his cuffs. It spread, thinned, faded.
Without warning, his clothes collapsed. My screwdriver clattered to the street. His body was gone.
Slow hand-claps spun me around. There were two similar sprawls of empty clothes where the other pair had been, a dark-clad figure stood between them. I glimpsed a holster on one slim hip, a scabbard on the other. Further back, there was another, bulkier figure, beside a darkened, matt-black SUV and its shadowed driver.
First things first. I stooped, snatched up my screwdriver, retreated several steps.
Then, I found my voice. And, yes, it cracked a bit. "WHAT THE F**K ?"
Light tenor or real-smooth contralto, that reply was surely impossible.
"You're kidding... No ?"
"Evidence of your eyes. Well done, by the way. Nice moves. Dojo ?"
"College sport centre," I admitted. "Blue Tae Kwon Do, a little MMA."
"I'm at 'Hugh Baird'. STEM stream. Repeating a year due illness." My wits mostly caught up. "A vampire ?"
"Not your transmogriflying Hollywood variety. Much weirder."
I spared a glance for the three heaps of clothes, asked, "How weird ?"
"This type suck out your life-force. Soul, if you will. Death's usually logged as hypothermia. But, if they think they can get away with it, they'll drink your blood, too. And they do like to play with their food. We think emotion adds flavour."
"Nice..." I shuddered. "Which makes you ?"
"Paranormal pest control."
"Uh... 'Torchwood' stuff ?"
"Nah, no 'Timey-Wimey' tech. We correlate, locate, exterminate. Been hunting this prial for several weeks."
"Hmm." The season had brought its usual up-tick in dead drunks and rough sleepers. "What now ?"
"Okay, we have a match... Timothy Leary Brown, mature STEM student. Skilled with electronics and such, Straight-As ! Unspecified health problems ? Ah, heart valve replacements...
"You're 'Zipper Club' ?"
"You don't have an apprenticeship sponsor ?"
"Time out due ill health." I shrugged. "Be different after I get my HND. I hope."
"We could use your skills now."
"Timothy Brown, I've just watched you take down a deadly psychic vampire with nothing more than your wits and a small screw-driver. Either I swear you to silence, or I swear you in. Your call."
"Uh..." I gulped, then nodded rapidly. "I'm in !"
"I'm Jenny Jones, North-West Field Director for the Walsingham Institute for the Regulation of Supernaturals. Welcome to the club."
Word Count: 2139