The night had promise. I never knew what that promise was, but ever since I was young, it called to me. As a boy, I used to sneak out of the house and go for long walks, reveling in the way that streets looked so different in darkness, at the animals that came out to poke through the rubbish and the strange and different sounds which permeated the unsilent night.
All that said, I could never put my finger on what drew me to the night. Sure, I can wax lyrical about the abandoned moonlit streets and the peculiar sounds and sights of the hours of darkness but in truth, that was never what led me to roam after nightfall.
That fascination with the nocturnal continued through my teenage years and student days, often getting in the way of my schooling or a normal social life, whatever that means. Taking jobs that allowed me to stay up late, from working at 24 hour convenience stores to being a security guard in an office block – as if someone was going to attempt to steal a building full of budget stationery and out of date computers – allowed me to indulge my preference for the hours of darkness and take long walks through abandoned streets lit by the halogen glow of streetlights or little more than the moon.
Nowadays, that meant working behind the bar of a late night club, an employment which still left me with several hours of darkness to enjoy before the unwelcome dawn chased me to bed.
Tonight’s shift had been a quiet one. There had been a strange mood amongst the clientele over the past few weeks as stories of assaults had turned into what seemed to be an especially brutal serial killer preying on the nighttime streets. There was talk in the less-responsible newspapers and blogs of an indiscriminate murderer who’s peculiar kink seemed to be for evisceration and making a real mess with their victims. None of this was confirmed by the police or broadsheet press but nobody could miss the forensics tents and police tape which had been all too obvious of late.
Naturally, this has caused people to become a bit more careful with fewer folks deciding to stay out late and get a little unwise with drink lest they run into the so-called Night Artist, who’d gotten his tabloid moniker because one wag had said he was painting the town red…
So, it had been a pedestrian shift with just a few regulars in at the bar and the DJ pretty much giving up any pretense at trying to play floor fillers early in the night. That meant that the usual post-closing tasks of cleaning the bar, sweeping the floor and making sure the toilets didn’t have any illicit occupants – be they passed out or amorously engaged – didn’t take as long as usual and soon he was pulling his jacket on and heading out into the night, with the notion of taking a long drive into the country rather than go for a walk.
On the way to his car, parked two blocks up from the club, he heard a shout from an alleyway. That wasn’t especially strange at this time of night but as he passed, half expecting to see some homeless folk arguing over a favoured spot he saw a large male figure in a long black coat pushing a girl against a wall, with the girl struggling but unable to shake off her assailant.
On account of some sense of duty, he shouted hoping that the attacker would flee as usually happens when such nighttime attacks are interrupted, but instead the tall figure turned while still holding the struggling girl against the wall and glowered at him.
He was shocked by the figures gaze, eyes like burning coals smouldered in a sallow face that seemed sunken in shadow. A long moment passed as the figure looked at him and seemed to be measuring him the way that a lion views a sickly calf which has become separated from the herd.
The girl moaned, still struggling but ever weaker as the attackers grip remained close around her throat. The motion was enough to break the moment and the attacker looked back to the girl.
Despite every instinct which told him to flee, he stepped forward again and shouted, telling the attacker to leave the girl alone. The burning eyes again fixed on him, now devoid of their questing curiosity but instead filled with annoyance and the dark figure moved suddenly, advancing upon him with the now unconscious girl tossed aside like chaff to impact against the wall and slump to the ground.
He found himself unable to move, to flee and he watched the attacker approach with a sense of terror that strangely turned to an unlikely serenity. Suddenly, a flashlight pointed into the alley and two police officers appeared at his shoulder having been attracted by the shouts.
The attacker, limned by the high power bulb of the flashlight was revealed as a tall, powerfully built and well dressed man in a long coat, with a gaunt face and shock of raven dark hair who paused, smiled and opened his arms in the universal gesture of supplication.
The first police officer looked between the two men with a curious look, clearly judging based on their appearance but his female colleague looked past the tall man and saw the girl stirring deeper in the alley, with the crimson splash of blood showing on her face. Immediately she shouted and told the tall man to stand against the wall, but he moved impossibly quickly, shoved her into the other side of the alley and then charged towards the two men knocking both down and by the time they had regained their feet, he was nowhere to be seen…
He was taken to the nearby station to give a statement, which backed up by the girl’s testimony that he had interrupted an assault and possibly saved her life resulted in a quick release back into the night, on the proviso that he remain available to answer any further questions the investigating officers might have.
Again, he walked to his car, although by a different route, not wanting to pass the alley where the incident had occurred. The police had noted his impression of the attacker’s intense gaze and remarked that the girl had said something similar but they were far more interested in the mundane details such as his height and clothing, with one officer remarking that such characteristics are often attributed to violent attackers as a more civilised mind struggles to rationalise the incident.
Putting the memory of the burning eyes and shadowed aspect down to tiredness or a trick of the light, he got into his car and turned on the ignition. A short drive into the country would clear his mind and then he’d turn in for a longer sleep than usual. Perhaps he had been burning the candle at both ends and taking his proclivity for a solitary, nocturnal life a little too far.
He switched on the radio and tuned it to a night-time drive station and reversed out of the parking spot, taking the turn that led to the expressway and out of town into the hills. The drive was soothing, the abandoned night time streets fading smoothly from the orange lit urban aspect to the silver glow of the moon on this clear night, with his headlights picking out the road markings and the eyes of deer and tails of rabbits by the roadside as he sped by.
The shock of the incident had almost passed as he approached the river, tributary to the larger watercourse which flowed through the city. He smiled as “Don’t Fear The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult came on the radio, laughing lightly at the irony.
Tapping the familiar beat of the song onto the steering wheel, he saw a flash of movement in his mirror and looked up to see the fiery gaze of the attacker peering back at him from the rear seat. He started to shout and turn as the figure lurched forward and he felt arms with a steely grip grasp at his arms and a sudden piercing sensation in his neck. His foot pressed down on the accelerator as the force of the assault turned his hands on the wheel and the car started to slide just as they approached the bridge.
The vehicle hit the barrier side on at fifty miles an hour and the poorly maintained metal was no match for the impact and peeled apart, allowing the car to tumble over the edge and into the river.
The attacker had been thrown forward by the impact and into the windshield, yet persisted with their attack as the car started to fill with water. He fought back but the shock of blood loss and the cold water filling the car took his strength away. He could see lights shining down through the water behind his attacker, blood pouring from small wounds in their face as they lunged in again to bite at his neck at he blacked out…