The collar of my shirt is soaked through, and my feet are sweating so much that it feels as if I’m walking through a swamp. The girl behind the counter asks me for ID, and I take out my provisional driving licence. The photo of me on it makes me look much more threatening than I actually am. Behind me somebody enters the shop, and although I almost flinch, I ignore them. It’s one of them, anyway; all I can do is ignore them. They’re part of the problem, but there’s nothing I can do about it.
The girl behind the counter nods and hands me the box, along with my ID. I know that there’s something coming. If I’m not prepared, it’ll be my own fault. Yesterday morning, the shapes in my coffee only confirmed my fears. I read the signs loud and clear.
Out in the streets, car horns are honking and people are shouting and there’s a group of teenagers on the steps of the library. They’re even stopping us from reading now. There’s no end to this cycle. Sweat drips down my sides, my back, my chest; my forehead glistens, my vision is hazy. Last night, I couldn’t sleep. My fan is broken, and open windows are not an option. There was a robbery opposite to mine last year, and you know what kind of people the ones who committed it were. Because what else would they be. I won’t let them take my sense of security away, or stop me from meeting my girlfriend when she finishes work.
I need a new lighter, so I go and buy one from the corner shop. The man behind the counter doesn’t need my ID, because he knows me. But still he looks at me with dark eyes. I’m not like him. Everybody knows I’m not like them. Only my girlfriend and I are the same. I’m here because of her. Part of me wonders if it’s worth it in the long run. Something’s coming. There’s no escape from it here. The streets are too full.
Every night, they wander the streets. The streetlights turn off at two in the morning, and the noise it makes wakes me up without fail. They crackle out, a burning noise like heated kanthal wire in water. Those out in the streets, the light makes no difference to them. Neither does the heat. People like us, we don’t do things like they do. They don’t respect us. They treat us like we’re the outsiders, like we’re the savages. They should turn around, right around, look at themselves, and they should hang their heads and see the truth. People like us, we’re the civilised ones. We both know it.
There’s something big out there. It’s angry. It wants respect. It wants closure. It wants our heads. I don’t blame it. We’ve lost our way, we’ve lost our common sense and decency. We’ve let every kind of ilk into our lives, and we’re going to suffer for it. Something’s out there. It’s coming soon. Even though I understand why it will do what it must do, I still have to be prepared. Because I want to keep my head. I want to keep my sense and my rationality. I’ve always had those things; they’re the only things that have kept me alive these years.
I miss my home. I miss my parents. The people who live in my hometown are those that understand what it means to be a human. They aren’t like the people here. I don’t have a home here. I don’t have a home anywhere. It’s too busy.
A young man in a baseball cap and a tracksuit asks me for a cigarette. His eyes are small and nervous. My hands wander my pockets. I have two boxes for this situation. I wonder which one is most appropriate right now. I decide on the cigarettes. This guy doesn’t seem too bad. But I know his friends are, I know they are. I can see them standing across the road. Wearing the type of clothes you’d expect them to wear. They’re looking right at me. The guy takes a cigarette from the outstretched packet and walks off. Not even a thank you.
I’m keeping myself in a routine of walking around outside most days because I have to. When my girlfriend is at work, I have nothing to do indoors, and I know that if I become complacent and keep myself indoors, lying in bed, the worms inside my head will fester and rot out my ability to think straight. I need to keep the worms at bay. So I walk the streets, as I am now. There are mirrors everywhere: car hubcaps and shop windows, a distorted vision of myself staring back, my eyes visibly twitchy and uncomfortable. A sight of panic on the outside, but inside I’m feeling calm, alert but calm, ready for when it comes.
I’ve got some cash in my pockets so I go down by the river and have a coffee, sitting outside at a table that looks out onto the almost rainbow-tinted water, and I smoke a cigarette with slight hesitance, holding the smoke in my lungs for slightly too long with each pull, trying not to blow the smoke in the faces of the passers-by, especially when they have children. A young boy walks with his parents, his black hair just slightly out of place, the careful but offset pacing of his steps guiding him over the cobbles and back to the safety of flat ground. He looks over at me for a second as I stub out my cigarette and apologise to him in my head. He is wearing a coat better suited to winter weather, just like my old cape. I called it my cape erroneously, thinking at the time that a cape was anything that you kept wrapped around you to protect you. In summer I would wear it just as daily as in autumn or spring or winter. You just get used to the heat after a while.
Walking down the riverbank leads me to a small and oddly-shaped pub, and inside everything feels cramped in an unusual but almost comforting way, as if the entire building has been shrunk but not in an immediately noticeable manner. The pints there are surprisingly cheap, and I start to drink more than I had planned to. My girlfriend calls me and says she’s going out with her work friends when they finish. I tell her that it’s fine. I have another pint.
By now the sun is finally starting to set, dragging itself towards the horizon as a sick person might crawl across the floor of an abandoned hospital, clouds as falling scalpels that dismember the dying sky. I get off the train with crumpled pace, nodding as best I can at the railway staff by the main door. The alleyway curves behind the station, away from my usual route but calling my mind as the quicker path, now walking down it and smoking a cigarette and stumbling slightly and knowing that something is coming.
I see them at the end of the alley. Behind me, police lights spark past, too fast and too far away. The shadows have still not fallen fully but in this tight street they loom far enough. The young man in the baseball cap looks at his friends and says, That’s him. They do not smile, and they walk towards me. My hand reaches into my pocket, fumbling past my keys and the scrap of paper with my girlfriend’s address on it, too late to learn it by heart now, the mistake has been made. The boys now in front of me, four of them, one of them now smirking slightly, looking to each other, one of them smoking a cigarette, no, a joint, I can smell it, all of them seeming cool but their hesitance giving away their lack of surety.
The box is open. I slide out the knife, legal to own but not to carry, the handle feeling as firm and certain as it had looked in the shop window. I make it seen to them. They don’t seem to care. I feel like being sick. I should throw my keys or just swallow the bit of paper with that fatal address. I should lunge now and take them by surprise. Kill or be killed. They are ready. They haven’t said a word. They don’t want my stuff while I’m alive. I gave that kid a cigarette. He didn’t even thank me. And now this. It’s an outrage. They shouldn’t even be here. They’re traitors and trespassers. They’re sick, they’re a moral abomination, a sign of how far we’ve all fell. There’s nothing I can do. Nothing that ends well. No sign of hope or semblance of chance of quarter in their eyes. They are dead inside. The one in the middle, grey hoodie on and black running trousers, his skin darker than it is in this light, pulls something from his trousers. It’s bigger than a knife.
But then there’s that sound behind me. A glare of light. They stop moving and stare up into the sky. I turn around. Of course. It has arrived, just like I knew it would. The light engulfs the alleyway, a brightness of indescribable colours and patterns, the enormous sound both piercing and entrancing, a siren of the times to come, here to deliver us and purify us from that which has kept us down in the gutter for so long. It stands a mile high. Its noise tells us that it is here.
[I wrote this story in early June, 2016. On one hand, it was part of an ongoing project with the aim to write a series of short stories inspired by songs (since abandoned). This one was based on Lovecraft in Brooklyn by the Mountain Goats – and, as such, is also inspired by H. P. Lovecraft’s life in Brooklyn, as well as his stories. But I also feel like this piece was essentially a reaction to the events going on in my country at the time – whilst not being overtly political, it could also be seen as an examination of certain mindsets. Make of it what you will.]