The Mortician’s Boy – Extract 2

Leaving the mortuary, Toby is pursued by a strange creature…

Despite the comforting familiarity of London crowds, Toby decided he did not want to be jostled the entire way. He headed down a side street on a route that was technically longer, but would probably work out quicker.

Within a couple of turns the number of people on the street had dropped dramatically, and within two more they were empty. The air was still and warm, no breeze stirred. It somehow made the city smell worse than normal.

I can rely on London to be constant, Toby thought as he walked. A scrawny tabby crossed his path, stopping to mew at him in a squeaky voice. It was missing most of an ear and its tail had a kink in it about half way down. Toby grinned. Someone who looks more pathetic than me.

“I’m not stroking you,” he commented. “I bet you’re just infested with fleas.”

The cat mewed again, louder this time, then hissed at the sound of a dog barking in the distance. Its mangy fur stood up on end, and its tail expanded to twice its previous size.

“Well, stay safe, little creature,” he muttered, heading off. The dog barked again, somewhere off to Toby’s left. It sounded like quite a big animal, probably a guard dog in one of the nicer town-houses. Toby picked up his pace. The idea of a drink in front of the fire was growing more and more appealing.

There was a howl this time, and it sounded close. Toby had broken into a jog before he realised it. He stopped and forced himself to walk normally. I am fed up with being scared by things. There was no one else on the street. It was narrow, too small to get a carriage or even a pony-trap down. Brick walls stood on either side, windowless and dark. He could see people moving ahead, where it intersected with a busier road.

Something growled.

The sound was low and guttural. It spoke of sharp teeth and jaws that could snap through bone. Toby stopped. It was coming from something in front of him. No matter how hard he peered and squinted, there was nothing in the street ahead of him. He glanced over his shoulder but there was nothing there either. He took another step forward and the sound came again, loud and threatening.

Toby turned and ran.

Holding his hat to his head, he ran, not caring how ridiculous he must have looked. His feet pounded on the cobbles and his heart pounded in his chest, but neither were loud enough to drown out the sound of the thing that was following him. He could he hear the click of claws, the pad of heavy, muscular feet: thud-thud, thud-thud. It let out a howl that reverberated off every nerve in Toby’s body.

Toby ran blindly. The creature seemed to be constantly a few paces behind him, no matter how fast he went or where he turned. He swore that he could smell its foul, foetid breath, though that might have been his fevered imagination. He remembered the bodies in the morgue, cold and stiff with their hearts ripped out. Was that going to be his fate? Would Styles soon be preparing his corpse, Kitty prettying it up one last time? Who would take his memento mori? Who would even look at it?

He knew he could not run much further. Each breath he took felt insufficient to fill his lungs. There was a stabbing pain in his side and his legs felt heavier and heavier with every step. He had made his way back out to the main streets, but this did not seem to deter the creature. Toby could hear and smell it, even feel its presence behind him, chasing him down. He pushed through the people around him, elbowing and shoving as hard as he could. Some people allowed themselves to be rammed aside, through most complained loudly. Toby didn’t care.

He caught his foot on a cobble and he stumbled forwards, arms flailing. As he fell, he felt the cold certainty that this was it: his heart was about to be ripped from his chest right here on the street. Hot breath tickled the back of his neck and he felt something tighten around his throat. Time seemed to slow down, the voices of people around him sounding low and unearthly.

Something caught his arm. Toby cried out and shut his eyes. He did not want the last thing he saw to be this creature.

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