I heard the sound, loud in the still of the night.
Well, it wasn’t exactly still… Cars went by, people huddled down against the cold, lights were on in houses and shops were closing up for the day. Shutters were pulling down, the windows’ eyelids closing for their night-time slumber.
In winter, when your breath takes form and your hands battle your money for dominion in your pockets, the night takes over from the day at a time just when everyone actually needs it. To walk form work or school. To drive home. To feel safe.
But, though that world was spinning down to rest, the cold made the air crisp and clear.
And sound travelled on it like a surfer on a wave.
It was… odd.
You know when you recognise a voice, but can’t place whose it is? It was like that, except no-one spoke. It was more than simply a random noise, slipped from the dark. It had substance. Ownership.
But… I couldn’t place it. It was, in fact, out of place. Unusual in that you wouldn’t and shouldn’t hear it whilst walking down a street in the evening.
It was… eating. Crunching with a side order of slurping.
I stopped. I was the only one. Other pedestrians went on the way, some alone, some in couples or groups. One or two looked at me as if I was a mad for stopping so randomly. As if I’d insulted them by daring to waver in my walking. They continued on their way, however. Unheeding and unhearing.
The alleyway sucked the light from the atmosphere, hungrily devouring it, seemingly gaining sustenance from the illumination – a deeper darkness in contrast to the glow of the streetlights. It felt heavy. It felt, somehow, material.
The sounds of hunger were not coming from the night, however. Thankfully. Well, I suppose ‘thankfully’. They were coming from further in. Further back.
They would be, naturally.
I should leave it. It’s a dog. A cat. Maybe a lion, for all I knew, escaped from a travelling circus.
No, it was none of these. Not even the lion. It wasn’t so random. It didn’t feel like an animal.
Perhaps some homeless man huddled in the shadows, hiding from the cold and the world. If so, I’d offer a few coins and be on my way. The mist of our combined breaths would mingle, akin to a shake of the hand as I did my good deed and felt a little saintlier.
In for a few coins, in for a pound of flesh…
I pulled my hands from my pockets, where they’d been duelling with a couple of fifty pence pieces, with a two pound coin being the referee. All the better to defend myself, my dear. Just in case, you know?
The cold air nibbled at my fingers like tiny Piranhas and I wanted to shove them back into my jeans. I didn’t, though. Nor did I carry on walking. I was being drawn in, my curiosity overpowering my reason with a face-hugging pillow.
I waded through the cloying darkness, the sounds of feasting making my own stomach grumble in sympathy. My eyes adjusted quickly as I walked, enough that I could avoid the empty beer cans and puddles of what I assumed wasn’t simply water.
There was a big bin. A general waste container for the businesses around. Practically the size of a skip, with bulging black bags piled around it, the bin watched me as I approached. I felt it judging me.
“Idiot,” it was thinking.
I tended to agree, but I couldn’t stop my feet as their steps carried me on.
Then, I saw.
On the floor, a woman. Or what was left of one. The darkness deemed the scene worthy of allowing some moonlight in. I could see her long hair. I could see the swell of a breast beneath her coat and a heel, snapped from the sole of the shoe she was wearing, hanging loosely.
I could see a pool of blood spreading, reaching towards me, beseeching me to save her. Too late. I could tell. The gaping hole at her waist was proof enough.
That was the sound. That was what was being eaten.
The figure bent over her, crouching, heard my gasp before I’d realised I’d uttered one. It stood quickly and turned to me, blood smeared across its face.
I always thought they were just in the movies. Along with vampires and werewolves and witches. I always thought they were something to shoot in the games on my phone.
I always thought they’d have dead eyes, too. Their brain would have rotted away taking all but the need to eat the living along with it.
That’s what I thought.
I was wrong.
They’re not just in the movies.
And their eyes aren’t dead. They have a fire in them. An intent. A hunger.
The zombie lunged.