Susan quickened her pace as she made her way through the dim alleyway. Her clothes were drenched with sweat made worse with yet another sticky night of summer. She glanced nervously over her shoulder, which was enough to make her lose her footing on the rubble and waste scattered and left to fester around this forsaken place she had found herself in. She tumbled forward into a pile of trashcans, the sound of crashing metal overpowering the low hum of voices far away. Fragments of a long discarded bottle gashed into her arm as she landed spread-eagled in the decomposing garbage, followed by the screech of startled rats scampering away into the shadows ahead.
“What the hell’s going on out there?” screamed a voice from inside one of the terraces. She grabbed for her handbag and struggled to her feet, groaning in despair, the blood from the wound causing a large crimson stain to quickly form. There was no pain, that would come later.
Tears streamed down her face as she hammered her fists against the door where the voice had come from, a glimmer of hope suddenly entering her heart, “Please!” She screamed frantically, “Help me, there’s a group…”
Her words trailed off as she heard a sound from out of the darkness. A footstep? She couldn’t tell, but her imagination was playing tricks in her mind and the images of cold steel sinking into her gut caused her hackles to rise. Craning her neck she listened intently, but heard nothing except the yapping of a dog which had been woken by all the commotion. Turning her head sharply at the sound of a key turning in the lock she sighed in relief, regaining some composure as the door swung inwards. She was greeted with the quizzical face of a short, middle aged man,
“What’s up love?” he asked, draining the last dregs from a beer can. She opened her mouth to speak, but another voice, female, coming from a room within interrupted asking who was there. The man turned slightly, shouting, “I don’t bloody know; some woman. Never seen her before.” He smiled warmly at Susan and said in a comforting voice as he ushered her inside, “Come in, you were saying?”
Swallowing hard she spurted out, “I’m being chased by some gang… they’ve been following me.”
“Yeah,” he began as he swung the door closed, “we get our fair share of those around here. Listen, don’t worry, I’ll give the police a call. I’m sure they’ll…”
His words were cut short by a soft voice of another man which suddenly appeared from nowhere, “You’re a sneaky little thing aren’t you, dear?”, he said, with more than a hint of sarcasm. He had already reached out making sure the door stayed open, his huge frame blotting out the light coming into the corridor. Susan found herself face to face with the barrel of a Smith and Wesson. The legs gave way, a wave of panic sweeping over her causing her to feel giddy, “Nooooooooo!” She screamed, seeing one of her pursuers for the first time.
Then in a blur of motion the older man, who had recovered slightly from the intrusion, lashed forward at the dark figure. He grappled for the gun as the two men stumbled backwards into the alley. It fired once sending molten lead aimlessly into the night sky before it fell, skittering across the ground. A startled yell from within the house followed, his wife fearing the worst; but Susan didn’t wait to find out what would happen, she just wanted to get away and stumbled out fleeing the scene in all the confusion, running blindly ahead into the night. She heard shouting and cursing behind her, but didn’t dare look back.
At last she came out onto the street, finding herself momentarily blinded, squinting against the huge neon signs which lit the place up as if it were daytime. Bewildered, she looked around as people jostled past, chattering excitedly as they explored the night life. Everything was in full swing, it almost seemed like another world coming from where she had been. She was quickly brought back to her senses as the hurried footfalls of people running came echoing behind her.
Heading into one of the many discotheques she grabbed a handful of notes from her bag, throwing them at the attendant, “Hey! Your change!” yelled the spotty teenager, but ignoring her she went through, greeted with the deafening drone of the latest sounds as she waded into the packed dance floor, seeking to throw whoever it was off her trail. She felt awkward, but tried to dance anyway, hoping she wouldn’t be noticed in the gyrating swirl.
She saw two men entering the club. Surely they weren’t among those who had been following her. Yet they weren’t mingling, instead scanning the room for something. Her heart sank as one of them pointed in her direction; was that a twisted grin on his face? Like a moth after the light she came to the faint glow of an exit sign and yanked hard on the steel handle. It resisted for a second before crashing open under her weight, the music churned on muffling the sound, bodies swaying deliriously to the cacophonous beat.
Susan breathed hard, gripping her injured arm, hardly noticing the light drizzle of rain, which for many had come as welcome relief in the heat. She had emerged into a narrow back road which wound itself amongst towering buildings, dilapidated after years of neglect. Most of the vagrants in the city had made their home here and could be seen holed up for the night in the nooks and crannies.
“Penny for the poor?” whispered an old woman, deep wrinkles creasing her face as a light smile played on her lips. Susan shook her head disconcertedly, tramping onwards into the ruins of a warehouse. The music from the club became clearer for a moment as the the door opened briefly. They were closing in fast. Why were they so intent on getting her? After all, she hadn’t done anything to them, just another woman on her way home to her apartment. How many other people had gone through this torture because of these bastards?
All she wanted to do was collapse upon the floor, her limbs nearing exhaustion, but she mustered what little strength she had left, fearing what would happen to her if she was captured.
“Ugh!” Came the moan of a figure wrapped up lying on the floor, who Susan had accidentally trod on in her haste. Pausing, she saw dozens of figures curled up, difficult to see in the gloom, covered in worn blankets and cardboard. Crawling into a niche formed by the rubble of a collapsed floor above she found comfort among several other occupants who had retired there for the night. The stench was almost unbearable, but she snuggled in between them pulling an infested blanket over her body, hiding herself from the world.
A police siren wailed outside as it turned into the road, but Susan was too petrified to move. Maybe it would scare her pursuers off, but whoever they were, they had already entered the building, hushed voices moving within the abandoned warehouse, “I think I saw her over down there,” said one.
“Right,” said another, “check it out, I’ll search down here…”
More comments followed; she couldn’t be sure, but there were at least a half dozen distinctive voices circling around like vultures trying to weed her out. The homeless were also murmuring among themselves, but she wouldn’t find any help from them; most had come straight out of asylums, thrown onto the streets because of drastic cost cutting and left to find their own ways. Her only hope would be to use them for cover.
Susan had never tried to be so still, rooted to the spot like a terrified rabbit. The voices slowly moved away and she gave a slow sigh of relief. However, she was prepared to wait for hours, after all she had seen her fair share of movies where the victim comes out of hiding too soon. But hope quickly faded as they began getting clearer again as they retraced their steps and Susan found herself cringing with despair, wanting to shrivel up out of existence. For the first time in her life, lying there in the filth, she clenched her hands and prayed. She found herself making promises to be a better person to someone whom previously she had had little concern with; only now like so many others in her hour of need did she bother.
Mumbles of protest came from the residents as their make do bed clothes were cast aside, each face being quickly yet methodically checked over. A few minutes appeared like hours until they came to where Susan lay,
“Right then you lot,” came the stern voice of a man as he bent and yanked at the coverings of someone near to Susan.
“Oi! What d’ya think you’re doin’?” the sleepy figure moaned, “Can’t a guy get some kip around here?”
His questions went unanswered. Susan thought her heart would burst from her chest it was beating so hard. Next moment the rags were pulled aside, leaving her feeling suddenly exposed. In a last desperate move she scrambled to her feet, throwing a handful of dirt and grime at a pair of narrowed eyes which glared upon her like fiery coals. She was already heading up the slope of fallen rubble behind her, frantically trying to keep her footing on the lose debris. Angry shouts followed her up, but she was already rolling down the other side as several shots rang out. Frightened screams accompanied the chaos, the whole place suddenly alive and moving with panic stricken bodies.
“Did you get her?” It was the same voice which had spoken only a short while ago in the alleyway.
“No, I don’t think so,” came the reply, at the same time trying in vain to clear his vision, cleansing tears streaming down his cheeks.
Susan trundled on as best she could, past a group of cloaked figures warming their hands next to a glowing brazier, and over a small woman who looked up at her gormlessly, gently rolling her head spastic fashion. How she wished she could become one of these outcasts, fading out of existence where no one could find her.
A crumbling stairway twisting up to the first level seemed to offer some protection and she ran up, and then again up the next flight; but turning the corner she found herself for the second time that night staring into the dark barrel of a gun aimed squarely between her eyes.
“Freeze!!” Yelled a wiry man, his close set features burrowing into her.
Susan turned, maybe she could make it down the stairs, but any hope she had was crushed as several men greeted her emerging at the bottom of the landing below, each training guns upon her slight figure.
“What do you want?!” She cried in desperation.
“I think you know what we’re here for.” the lanky man replied.
“It wasn’t meant to happen yet,” she thought to herself, “but it’s now or never…”
She dived into her handbag, “Hold it!” He shouted, but she didn’t listen. Kaa-boooommmmm! He fired once, the blast hurling her backwards like a rag doll into the air, fragments of bone and flesh splattering the walls; the momentum sending her clean over the steps where she plummeted into one of the men, knocking him over like a skittle before coming to rest in a twisted heap, a pool of blood spreading quickly over the cool floor. She twitched feebly, her arm flopping to her side, the pen she had taken from her bag rolling from her lifeless fingers.
Detective Inspector Marsh came down the steps, and felt for the non-existent pulse of the terrorist. Glancing at the others he said knowingly, “Is that it?”
One of his colleagues reached down and picked up the innocent looking object, examining it carefully. He slowly nodded his head, “Huh, all this for a pen,” then disarmed the deadly, miniaturised, thermonuclear device.
Written by Jason Jordache
First published on the original Infinite Frontiers website, 2002