Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Year's Toast


Chapter 16 of Release by Nicole Hadaway.

This chapter of Release published with permission of Vamplit Publishing, all rights reserved

NEW YEAR’S TOAST

Neil walked down the cold, damp London streets. It was shortly after three in the morning, on what was now, officially, January 1, 1945. You couldn’t tell, really, that the New Year had been celebrated at all. Morale was rather low in London after nearly five years of air raids, bombings, evacuations and blackouts. Neil himself had finished his shift at the air raid siren station and was now headed to his mate Mark’s place for a subdued celebration. He couldn’t wait to get a taste of the black market whiskey that Mark had managed to get, for his hands were nearly frozen; this entire winter it had been so very cold.

So Neil walked along the deserted streets lined by terraced houses, thankful that the moon was still bright enough so he could find his way around without tripping over too many curbs or bumping into lampposts. It was bad enough that he’d had to serve as an air raid warden, but the fact that they gave him the night shift for that night was just intolerable. Though when he thought about it, a few scraped knees and cold fingers was a small price to pay for having escaped an entire war of army duty.

He’d been lucky that the injury on his right hand, received when, at the age of five, he’d stuck them in the meat freezer at the same time the butcher had decided to close the case, thus chopping off three fingers, had been his ticket out of serving in the army. He couldn’t very well shoot a gun with only two fingers on his dominant hand. Britain had still made him ‘do his part’ by manning the air raid sirens. God, the noise those things made; even though he wore earplugs, he didn’t think his hearing would ever be the same. Still, better than being a corpse on a Normandy beach, like his brother.

Neil pushed the glum thoughts about his brother from his mind by looking around at his surroundings. He’d left the part of the neighborhood where houses and apartments abounded, and now entered the warehouse district. To fill the silence, which only made him think of his brother more, Neil started to whistle, concentrating on the tune.

As he sucked in a breath to start another verse, he heard the flutter of wings behind him, like a bird or maybe a bat, which was odd, as there was nothing to attract birds on this street in London. There were no trees or fences for them to perch on, just the unlit streetlamps, like the one he’d just bumped into, and the warehouses that kept wartime supplies, such as the plethora of gas masks that all London citizens carried, even the babies. When he thought about it, the warehouses were probably perfect places for bats to nest in. Yep, that had to be it.

Neil mused on how he’d never seen a bat before, and he wondered if perhaps they minded flying about in such cold weather. He thought about turning on his lamp; the cowl over the top of it made the light shine downward, so it shouldn’t attract too much attention. Then he remembered that bats might be attracted to light, and he didn’t want the bat to get caught in his hair. He’d heard that bats could be awfully nasty if they flew in your hair – they got caught in it so badly that the only way to get them out was to shave your hair off. He had a bad enough time with women as it was; he didn’t need to be bald as well.

The fluttering over him stopped, and Neil heard what he thought was a low, soft thud! behind him. He turned around, partly out of curiosity and partly out of fear – did something just knock the bat out of the sky, why would it drop to the ground like that? Switching on his handheld lamp, Neil slowly, cautiously looked behind him.

There was no bird or bat, but a man, standing about ten yards away from Neil, well out of the glow of the lamp. In the moonlight, however, Neil could make out the man’s features; he was tall, with curly, dark brown hair, and light, piercing blue eyes that Neil could see as if they were only a foot in front of him in full lamplight. The oddest thing was that the man was standing with his hands on his hips, watching Neil, nonchalantly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do. They stood like that for a few moments, staring at each other, until the man smiled, and started to laugh, slightly throwing back his head at whatever he found amusing.

Neil was worried. The war and the bombings had chased most of the crazies out of London, but this one must have stayed on for some reason. So he turned back and started walking briskly, hoping that Mark had left his door unlocked. Neil hadn’t bothered to turn off his lamp, let them fine me if they want; even better, I’d welcome a bobby right now to keep that nutter away from me. Mark’s small apartment was above a warehouse at the end of the street, about fifty yards from where Neil was now. He was thankful that he didn’t have too far to go to get away from the crazy bloke and out of the cold, which was hurting his throat and lungs as he sucked in air.

Neil hadn’t traveled very far before his breathing, heavier now from his increased pace, hurt too much, he slowed down. Forcing himself to breathe quietly, Neil listened for any sounds coming from behind him. Nothing. The absence of noise made him hope that he was no longer being followed. Neil chanced a look behind him, shining his light broadly around, and saw with relief that the crazy man was gone. Probably gone back into the warehouse or something, he reassured himself. As he turned his head back towards Mark’s apartment, a dense fog rolled past him. He coughed for a few minutes, thinking it was odd that the fog had suddenly appeared like this, out of nowhere, in the middle of these warehouses. But that’s London for you.

The fog cleared, and Neil could see ahead of him. An icy frisson of fear ran from the tip of his head, down to the bowels of his stomach. The crazy bloke was now in front of him, leaning against a building wall between Neil and the safety of Mark’s place. The man’s casual air was gone. He suddenly stood up straight in one movement, which was very strange because he hadn’t even bent his body. It was as if invisible wires had pulled him into a standing position. Then the man started walking towards him as if he expected Neil to just stand there and wait for him.

There was no way Neil was going to get messed with tonight. He hadn’t made it this far through the war, with its air raids, rations, and the threat of Nazi invasions, only to meet his end at the hands of some crazy on a back street of London. No sir, not tonight, especially not on New Year’s Day.

Neil dropped his lamp, and then made two moves simultaneously. He turned to run – he was a pretty fast runner, and had kept in shape. He also pulled out his pocketknife and opened up the blade. He didn’t want to get into a fight; it had been ages since he’d been in one, and with his right hand he was well aware of his handicap. However, just in case…

Neil’s foot had barely touched the pavement when he was stopped dead in his tracks again, as there was now another man, one who seemed to have been standing behind him this whole time. A blond man this time, with pale skin, yet very dark, almost black eyes. A Nazi – oh my God, they’ve made it here! he thought in a panic. Before he could think of his next move, the man opened his mouth and, speaking English without any accent asked, “Hey Cray – how much longer? Daylight’s not too far away.”

“Awww, Denny, relax! They’re on double daylight savings time here,” an amused voice called out from behind Neil.

Neil heard a whoosh of air and before he could turn around, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

He turned towards the hand on his shoulder, and found himself staring into pale blue eyes. Eyes that seemed to bore into Neil, forcing him to drop the knife, which he’d been holding out, poised to strike. The man reached over with his other hand and took the knife, tossing it to the side, saying, “You won’t be needing this, friend and we’ve our own ways of getting your flesh and blood.”

Neil knew he should have been afraid – he was afraid – but he couldn’t move; for some reason, he was rooted to his spot. One part of his brain screamed fight, fight, fight!, but the rest just wouldn’t allow it. Maybe it was because he knew the man was strong and he could feel that his shoulder might break from the crazy man’s grip.

It did break. Neil heard a loud snap! and felt the pain shoot forth from his shoulder down his arm and across his chest. Through the pain, he thought he heard someone say, “Sorry chum, but I like it when the marrow gets into the blood, with the adrenaline. Makes it tastier.”

Neil tried to scream, but something was at his throat, almost strangling him. He felt the fire of his shoulder meld with the burning at his throat. All he could do was look up at the bright light of the moon as its white aura quickly engulfed his entire body.

1 comment:

ddurance said...

Sounds like a death grip, probably best not to fight that. lol

Deidre