“One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand”
We watched as the figure ran down the street towards the wicker basket. A dog, its hind legs covered in fresh blood, sat trembling inside.
“five-one-thousand, six-one-thousand, seven-one-thousand”
Stephen was perched behind the wheels of a car, down in the street. I was high up on a rooftop, watching.
“eight-one-thousand, nine-one-thousand, …”
Stephen ran from behind the car, his mace swinging behind him. In one motion he stepped into the figure’s path and brought the weapon down upon its head, smashing its skull. It dropped to the floor, still and lifeless.
I ran down the steps and reached the street as Stephen removed his mask and goggles, lifted the basket and used his shirt to wipe the rat blood off his small dog. Tim jumped up into my arms, his tail wagging.
“They’re getting faster,” Stephen said, his voice steady. He was out of breath.
I stepped into the street and walked back to where the creature had been when I counted ten. I’d made chalk marks on the ground every five feet. His foot had crossed the 200th mark. “Jesus. There’s been more of them, as well – that’s fifteen in a single week”.
A shadow crossed my friend’s face. “It’s getting colder. There’s a full moon on Saturday.”
I chastised my friend: “Surely you’re not suggesting any supernatural influence? You of all people…”
Just as I was building a head of steam, he interrupted:
“Their flesh is taking longer to rot because of the cold. The full moon means they can hunt us at night as well as during the day. I fear this is only going to get worse.”
I took an inventory.
“We have no weapons aside from your mace. Food supplies to last three weeks, maybe four. We have fortification but no plan. No hope.”
We were back in the low attic that had served as our home for the past three weeks. From here, we could see outside through two small windows, one at each gable end. The rest of the building had been secured against invasion with the iron bars I’d liberated from a building site at Stephens instruction. Under his watchful eye, I’d built three crude onion-skin layers of security between our attic and the world outside.
My friend was knelt by the fireplace, stacking wood into the grate. We’d decided long ago that the risk of the creatures spotting us – whatever they really were – was outweighed by our need to stay warm as winter approached.
His old black cloak bundled around his feet, sleeves rolled up over those short, stubby arms; my friend made a curious silhouette in the lamplight. Yet I’d discovered a rare impulse in him a strength of mind and body not commonly found in man.
The small flame flickered and grew, and eventually took. I filled the small kettle with water and set it to boil.
“Reason, John,” he said as he sat down.
Again, he responded to my curiosity: “Reason! We have our minds, our human faculties: the one thing they need but don’t posess. Even our frailty gives us strength, because we plan through necessity. We bob and weave and run rings around the poor fellows. Why, even when eat us we have hope.”
He chucked at this morbid thought. “They consume our flesh, but maybe it’s our spirit they’re after?”
The kettle whistled, Stephen Brown smiled, and the doorbell rang.