Ramsey Gardner was the last to exit the small train station of Turnpike Wood. The only other passenger, a young woman, had rushed out of the car once the doors had opened and he had witnessed her flying up the stairs and into a waiting car who had left the moment she had closed the door.

Nothing had changed on his old turf then. Hardly anyone from the city bothered to come out to this shit hole anyway, nothing happening here at all, probably even less than back in the day he had lived here as a teenager.

The fog was like a living entity, a cold wet towel softly touching his face and neck. Shit, he should’ve brought his thick coat but he’d be damned if he could remember where he had seen it last. Probably left in a pub somewhere.

Gardner put the neck of his dark jeans jacket up and retrieved a pack of fags. He took a long draw. It was fucking ridiculous that you weren’t allowed to smoke anywhere anymore. He’d never believed that passive smoking shit.

He made his way along the deserted streets of his former home village. The old convenience store showed new paint. He wondered if it was still run by that Paki guy, he had stolen more than just a few cans of beer there and he’d never been caught once. Yeah, those had been the good times.

A loud plonk stopped him in his tracks. What the fuck? Where had that come from? He turned around. The streets were deserted. He shrugged, mumbled some insult and walked on. If some cunt were looking for trouble they’d get what they deserve.

He doubted anyone would dare roaming the streets during this time. Only cowardly and easily spooked idiots lived here. Like his mum, uttering warnings about the ghoul who takes people and eats them alive. How could you be over fifty and still believe such shite? Because a few people had vanished during the years? He bet a few had fled their boring lives and boring wives – he sniggered at his good joke – to bury their heads in the coke-covered tits of a much sexier woman. Or some poor bastards had topped themselves.

He hoped his mum would still be up otherwise it’d take ages to make her come to the door, as she usually took a sleeping aid. He had not wanted to ever come back here but the truth was he was flat out broke. And he was in debt due to the fact that the arsehole he had played poker with had rigged the cards. No one was that lucky but they’d kicked him out of the backroom of the club when he had accused the guy.

He’d serve his mum the soppy story that his girlfriend had left him and had stolen the rest of his money and that he’d get a new job soon. Some shit that sounded believable and that she’d swallow instantly. And of course she would help her son, she had always done and this time wouldn’t be an exception.

He turned the corner, passing the Richmond house. Snobby cunts, especially their daughter, who had always thought she was better than him. He would’ve loved to get a glance at the house but the hedgerow behind the iron fence had grown considerably during the last years. He flicked the butt of the cigarette onto the sidewalk. All of a sudden he felt observed and quickly turned his head left and right. He could hardly see further than a few yards now. He shook his head and sighed. He wouldn’t let this folklore shit get to him. He undid his zipper, whipped out his cock and started pissing along the narrow wall surrounding the house.

There was a rustling in the thicket that came closer to him and he stumbled back, getting drops of piss onto his shoes and trousers. Fucking shit! He kept on cursing while tucking his meat away.

‘Fuck, mate, you’re looking for trouble or what?’ His words had been growled into the night with the necessary gravity. He watched the hedgerow closely and there it was again. Someone moved close to the hedge or even through the hedge. The noise seemed too loud in the eerily quiet street and whoever it was moved straight towards him.

He creaked his finger joints to prepare for whoever was advancing when he had the sensation someone was moving over the top of the tall hedge. He stepped back, looking up but he couldn’t see anything. The leaves of the hedge moved an arm’s length from where he stood and he held his breath.

He rolled his eyes when a fat ginger cat pressed its body through the thicket. Bloody hell, stupid mog. He’d give it a good kick once it had jumped down on the sidewalk. He tried to grab the cat by the neck but it was fast with its paw, hissing like a snake and drawing blood on the back of his hand with its claws. ‘Fuck!’ He pulled back his hand and already the cat was darting across the road, vanishing into the shrubs of the Martin’s garden. That is if the two old idiots were still alive.

He examined the damage in the scarce light the old street lamp provided. He didn’t have a tissue to stem the flowing blood from the scratches. Shit. He’d walk briskly to his mum’s house. She’d have a first aid kit. He grudgingly wedged his hand underneath his armpit and winced.

He gritted his teeth as he kept to the right hand side of the lane. He approached the Village Café, a lame name for that sad place filled with old farts and students. He glanced at the dark windows trying to see if the old furniture inside had been refurbished. He could make out a few tables, chairs and the long counter. A shadow jumped from behind the counter and he flinched. No, that shadow had been a reflexion in the café window and it moved straight towards him. He whirled around, his heart pounding. He was sure he had felt a shift in the air, as of someone racing past him. He exhaled when he realised he was alone on the street. He wondered why he acted so spooked. He had probably just seen the owner cleaning up? He craned his head and brought his head closer to the window but the inside of the café remained dark and without any further movement.

He swallowed and his dry throat clicked. He lit another fag, his hands shaking slightly. He needed a drink and scowled. He hoped his mum had at least a few beers at home. If he was lucky that half-empty bottle of cheap whiskey was still stashed behind his bed. Had he emptied it last time he had been there? Was it four years or longer he hadn’t shown his face around here?

Man, his hand really throbbed. He had reached the Johnson’s house. He sniggered thinking about how he had always kicked the shit out of tiny Billy Johnson and stolen his money. The trees in their front yard had grown considerably. Something rustled through the fallen leaves behind one of the trunks. There, he was sure he’d seen a tail but people surely didn’t leave their dogs out? Maybe he’d get his occasion for revenge sooner than he’d expected. That fucking cat wouldn’t know who kicked the living shit out of it.

He retrieved the slim jackknife from the inner pocket of his jacket and with a click the blade snapped forward, eager and ready. He sneaked onto the Johnson’s lawn, checking the windows at the front were all dark. Still, he used the trunks of the trees as cover. ‘Here, puss, puss…’ He carefully moved to the tree where he thought he’d seen the cat’s tail. He crouched down, brought his right hand with the knife in position and stabbed forward. The blade cut only through darkness. No cat. ‘Fuck.’ He was about to straighten up when something on the grass caught his eye. What was that? A toy? He put his knife away and fumbled for his mobile phone, employing the flashlight. He stumbled back, half crouching and half walking like a human crab. Why the fuck was there a blood-stained human ear on the Johnson’s lawn?

He put his phone back with a trembling hand. That goddamned village and its stupid stories had messed with his mind. He was starting to see things.

He staggered down the road, muttering to himself. The street lamps showed him the road ahead was clear and he exhaled. He stopped underneath a cone of light, lit another cigarette and took a long draw. Something wet dropped into the collar of his jacket, a fat splotch. He wiped at the skin and his hand came away with some stinking smeary mucus and he retched. What the…? Had the shadow of the lamp moved its position? He looked up but he didn’t see a dove or crow or…

He looked down on the street. His shadow on the tarmac was wrong, too wide and too long. And what was that smell? He stood rigid, even the tiny droplets of wetness in the air seemed to hold their breath.

He knew it was bullshit. There was a homeless man standing behind him or worse, a fucking copper. He could deal with both. He tried whirling around but he moved much slower than he’d have wanted. The space behind him was empty and a relieved sob escaped his mouth. He just wanted to get home to his mother now.

He turned and noticed the light of the streetlamp had weakened. He looked up, his mouth opening when he saw the misshapen thing hanging down from the post. Before he could scream a hand came forward, broken sharp nails digging into the soft flesh of his cheeks. The half-melted face of a creature came into focus, one of its eyes hanging loosely out of the socket by the optical nerve. The clothes of the beast were torn and encrusted with what looked like the skin that had disintegrated into the fabric.

He tried to retreat, but his feet wouldn’t move and he weakly pawed at the monster’s arm with his hands. With a swift move the thing’s head shot forward, the wide mouth exposing rotten teeth that barely hung on to the gums. He felt the eyeball squishing against his cheek, right before the teeth sunk into the soft flesh around his mouth.

He screamed but all he could hear was a low wail. He struggled. His emaciated attacker was strong and held on to him. The pain was searing and he retched and retched. It withdrew its mouth, seeking for another soft spot to gnaw on, which it found around his right eye socket. It worked its teeth deeper and deeper and when his eyeball popped with a sickening squelching sound Gardner’s bladder let loose and the warmth on his legs was the last thing he ever felt.