Miles strode ahead, his gaze fixed on a point in the middle distance, trying to ignore the beggar gazing at him. The man sat on a pink blanket with a cardboard sign in front of him that read ‘Down on my luck, please help’, a dirty parka his only protection against the bitter November wind cutting through the underpass. The man held out both hands, palms up, trying to make eye contact
“Spare some change mate?”
Miles ignored him and made an obvious detour, hugging the opposite wall of the narrow tunnel.
It seemed like they were everywhere. Filthy tramps, begging for money to spend on cheap alcohol and drugs. Bastards probably got together and laughed at the idiots that parted with their hard earned cash every day.
They really annoyed him. Feigning helplessness and deference – trying to appear pathetic, but would stick a knife in you if your turned your back.
Every day he braved the gauntlet of homeless on his way into work. It was the only thing about his job that he hated.
Miles hurried across the open area between the interlinking subways that were the only way he could cross the busy city centre roads and get into his office. He kept his gaze firmly ahead, but strained to widen his peripheral vision.
There was another mound of blankets in the next tunnel, but there was no movement from its inhabitant. Still asleep after a hard night’s drinking, or maybe dead, he thought. He avoided the obstacle with ease, and within moments was greeted by a warm rush of air from the foyer of his office as he swiped his key card and the automatic door buzzed open.
His ordeal was over for another morning. Black coffee in hand, he sat at his desk, waiting for his PC start up and his day to begin properly.
“You coming Miles?”
He looked up and waved to Benjamin who stood at the end of the office, coat already on and eager to leave for the day.
“Be along in a minute mate. Got some paperwork to finish up first. Meet you in thirty?”
“Don’t be too long. It’s your big celebration after all. Can’t really get the festivities going until you show up. Besides, it’s Friday Night. Nothing on that computer that won’t wait until Monday.”
“See you in a while – don’t worry Ben, I won’t be late.”
The lights went out at the far end of the room, leaving a single spotlight illuminating Miles’s desk. He sat back in his chair and looked at the rows of figures on the screen. He had checked them over twice already and everything was perfect. After today he needed a few drinks.
“Screw it!” he said, and shut the computer down. He grabbed his coat and headed for the exit.
The sky outside was dark and the bitter wind lashed his face. He hunched his shoulders and pulled his coat around him, walking swiftly along the street to the ATM machine that stood outside a small convenience store.
A man sat on a blanket next to the cash machine. He wore a faded green woollen hat and a long army coat. His face was covered in a thick black beard and a skinny dog lay on the blanket next to him. The man looked up at Miles as he approached and raised his hands.
“Spare some change, mate?”
Anger flared. Could he not go anywhere without being harassed? He glared at the man.
“I don’t have any fucking money, pal. Why do you think I’m going to a cash machine?”
“No need to be like that, mate. I was just asking.”
Miles walked past the ATM and hurried across the road. There was no way he was going to take any cash out with that tramp sitting there. He would get a knife in the ribs the second he entered his PIN.
Rain began to fall, the wind driving it into Miles’s face like a thousand shards of ice. He left the main road and headed down a side street that would lead him to another cash machine.
The lights of the road at the far end of the alley were its only illumination. Shadows cloaked the doorways and litter danced on the frigid breeze, performing small pirouettes amongst the puddles.
Miles stuffed his hands deep into his pockets and hurried towards the lights when a thick phlegm filled cough echoed down the alley.
“Is there anybody there?” he called, momentarily frozen in place. The only response was the wind as it howled between the buildings.
A loud crash came from behind him and he spun around, fists raised. A scrawny cat glared at him, its back arching and the light turning its eyes into flat monochrome disks.
“Oh for fu… you scared the shit out of me, puss!” he said, laughing at himself.
Shadows cast by a dumpster began to shift and grow behind him, stretching across the floor under his feet. Miles spun around as the dark mass lurched forwards.
Filth caked hands reached for him and the stench of curdled milk and vinegar filled his nostrils. His stomach lurched and he took a step backwards as the claw like hands grasped his coat and pawed at his face.
“Spare some change, Dearie?” said the shape as it pawed at him, the hands leaving streaks of dirt across the side of his face.
The headlights of a passing car illuminated the dark alley and the face of his assailant flashed from the darkness. The old woman’s mouth was open, revealing sporadic black tombstones of teeth and a gray flaccid tongue. The rotten milk stench intensified and he realised it was her breath. One of her eyes was covered with an opaque white film. Weeping sores covered her skin, yellow liquid oozing from beneath the fresh crust of scabs.
“GET THE FUCK OFF ME!” he yelled and pushed the old woman away as hard as he could. She was surprisingly light and flew backwards into the dumpster, striking her head on the pavement as she fell. There was a sickening wet crunch, and black blood oozed from her head to mingle with the pools of rain water.
“What? Oh my god! Are you alright?”
He bent over the old woman and pushed her into a sitting position. Her one eye gazed into the distance and blood seeped from the side of her head and the corners of her mouth.
Miles looked around. There was no one in sight. He laid the woman down behind the dumpster, tucking the edges of her blanket in around her before walking out of the alleyway and into the bright lights of the city centre. Behind him in the alley, a red stain started to spread across the surface of the blanket as the cold November rain fell from the bruised sky.
A wave of warmth and sound hit him as he opened the door to the bar. People looked up as he entered, before returning their attention to their drinks and conversations. Miles felt their eyes on him and a tight ball of panic grew in his stomach. Oh god – what if they can tell? What if they saw? What if they can see it on my face?
He turned to leave, needing to flee those accusing stares when someone grabbed him by the arm. He yelped and spun around. Benjamin smiled at him.
“Got here eventually then? You timed it just right, it’s my round. What you having?”
Miles forced down the fear and put on his best smile.
“Yeah, you know how it is, mate, work, work, work! It’s been a hell of a week – better make mine a double” he said, forcing the words out.
“Sure thing, Bud. The others are at the back, but you might want to clean yourself up first – you’ve got something on your face.”
Miles pushed his way through the crowd, a chorus of complaints following him. He flung open the bathroom door, his stomach churning.
The cubicle was occupied.
He heaved and clamped his hand over his mouth. Vomit sprayed between his fingers and out of his nostrils. He hammered on the cubicle door.
“In a second, Bruv, just finishing up.”
His throat burned and he gagged as a lump caught in his oesophagus. His stomach lurched again and he hammered on the door.
The door opened and a man dressed in a waistcoat over a designer shirt and a beret opened the door. The last traces of white powder were visible around the man’s nostrils. He wiped his nose and sniffed, then screwed up his face as the stench of vomit hit him.
“There you go, mate, all yours. Looks like you need it more than me” said the man, who hurried from the bathroom, his hand over his nose.
Miles threw himself into the cubicle and bent over the bowl, only to find that something large and fragrant was floating in it.
That was the last straw. Miles opened his mouth and emptied his stomach of everything he had eaten in the last day.
He emerged from the cubicle some time later, and staggered to the wash basin. He wiped the sheen of sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his coat. Placing both hands on the edge of the counter he looked at his reflection in the mirror.
He looked like a corpse. His eyes were sunken and his skin was like wax, shiny with a yellow taint. A streak of dirt ran across his left cheek and his hair was dishevelled and slick with sweat.
He ran the taps and washed his face, wincing as the soap stung a small scratch under the dirt. After a few minutes washing and thoroughly rinsing the taste of vomit from his mouth he felt ready to join his friends. Everything was going to be fine. No one saw him, no one knew, and no one would care about some dead tramp in an alleyway. It probably happened all the time.
Miles straightened his tie and walked back into the bar to find his colleagues.
The night became a blur of flashing lights and smiling faces. The nagging thoughts at the back of his mind banished in a flood of alcohol.
Miles leaned heavily against a pillar on the corner of the dance floor and tried his best to focus. He had no idea where his friends had gone, but that was not important. The woman in the red dress, gyrating to the music in front of him was taking up his entire attention. He smiled at her, and she lowered her head, as if shy, before dancing her way over to him, swaying her hips and running her hands across her sides and stomach.
His mouth opened to speak, but she placed a single finger on his lips and pulled him towards the dance floor; placed her arms around the back of his neck and pushed her body tight against his. He felt the warmth of her skin through his shirt, the pressure of her breasts against his chest. She tilted her head up, looking him dead in the eye and kissed him so hard that his lips hurt.
In almost no time, the music stopped and the lights came on. The woman leaned over and whispered “Take me home”. He was only too happy to oblige.
At the apartment door, she kissed him, her tongue probing, tasting. Her eyes revealed a feral hunger. He felt himself go hard.
Miles fumbled with the apartment key, staggering through the door as it swung open.
“Do you want me Miles? Do you want to be inside of me?”
“More than anything.”
Her smile widened and she pulled him gently by the arm into the bedroom. Miles turned to face her and yelped in surprise as she pushed him backwards, falling hard onto the bed.
His head spun, overwhelmed by the musky, floral scent of her perfume. She crawled up the bed towards him, her predatory eyes never leaving his until her body covered him, her breasts pressing into his chest and her crotch grinding slowly against his trousers. She pushed herself up on her arms, arched her back and pulled the red dress over her head, allowing her breasts to fall free. His hungry hands feasted on mounds of smooth flesh, thumbs teasing ripe raspberry nipples. She tore his shirt off, tossed it aside, buttons flying in all directions, then fell into his arms.
She snaked down the bed, tongue trailing and yanked at his belt. Miles gasped and felt that he might explode. He tried to fill his mind with the most un-erotic images possible – anything to distract him from the hands that were pulling his trousers and boxer shorts down his legs, taking his shoes and socks with them in one fluid movement. The clothing landed in a pile at the foot of the bed.
She stood up and arched her back, her fingers running through her thick hair. The gorgeous woman stood before him in only a pair of sleek black silk panties, running her hands across her own body and moaning softly.
“Do you want me Miles?” she repeated “Will you give yourself to me?”
“Yes”. He could hardly get the words out of his mouth as he watched her slither up the bed, pressing her naked body against him. Her mouth found his and Miles closed his eyes as he became lost in the kiss.
Something was wrong. He noticed the smell first. A sour undertone had crept into her perfume, vinegar and old sweat. The woman’s silky skin had become greasy under his fingertips. He opened his eyes and screamed.
The beautiful woman had gone and in her place was the old hag from the alleyway. Her skin was grey, covered with dark blotches and weeping sores. Maggots writhed in the necrotic flesh, wriggling under the surface of her skin, escaping from their prison to fall, fat and bloated onto the sheets beside him.
The hag pouted and regarded him with her dead eyes.
“What’s the matter Miles? I thought you wanted me.” She said, pinning him to the sheets with superhuman strength and pressing her rotten lips against his. Her tongue forced his mouth open, slipping inside him. Her teeth crumbled, the fragments coming loose inside his mouth. A spasm shook the woman. Miles eyes widened in horror and he thrashed his head, trying to break the seal of her decomposing lips, to escape from what he knew was coming.
Her body shook once more and a wave of small wriggling bodies filled his mouth. Maggots! Sliding down his throat as the corpse disgorged its inhabitants into him.
He thrashed on the bed as the woman’s body began to shrink, drying up as its contents slithered into his stomach until only a rotten desiccated husk remained.
Miles sat bolt upright in his bed and screamed. Sunlight streamed through the blinds, hurting his eyes. The sheets were soaked with sweat, but there was no one else there with him. No decomposing monster forcing herself into him.
“Just a dream. The whole thing was a bad fucking dream!”
He felt like laughing, but a wave of nausea swept over him. He stank of stale sweat and his skin itched. Peeling the wet sheets from his skin, he staggered to the bathroom to clean himself up.
He swallowed a painkiller and looked at himself in the mirror. His hair was lank and greasy, plastered to his shining forehead. The scratch on his cheek was red and swollen, a yellow crust forming over the weeping fissure. He pushed it with his fingers and foul smelling puss oozed from the wound.
Miles turned on the shower and gasped at the hot jets of water. The itching covered his entire body and he scrubbed with vigour, relishing the brief relief. By the time he stepped from the shower his skin was red and tender, giving a painful edge to the incessant itching.
He dried himself and brushed his teeth, The toothpaste burned his mouth and provided a stark contrast to the foul taste that seemed to pool in his saliva. He spat into the sink. A dark red stain covered the white porcelain, splitting into orange strands under the running water. His toothbrush was covered in gore.
What the fuck?
He reached into his mouth with his thumb and first finger. His teeth were loose. All of them! He pushed against one of his molars and felt the fibres holding it in place tear. The tooth rattled into the sink before the streaming water washed it away. He spat into the sink again, spatters of blood staining the cold white ceramic. In the largest pool of blood, something writhed and thrashed. Something white and bloated. A maggot.
The details of the dream flooded back. His stomach heaved and Miles fell to his knees, his head over the toilet as he retched. A cold sweat broke out across his entire body and he was wracked with agonising spasms. When he had finished throwing up the toilet was filled with hundreds of squirming white bodies, floating in a lake of blood.
He pushed himself away from the toilet and screamed. His bladder gave out, releasing a stream of dark foul smelling urine that ran down his legs and pooled on the designer tiles. Maggots inched their way out of the acrid liquid and across the floor.
Miles scrambled from the en-suite into the bedroom. The walls dripped blood and the soaking wet sheets pulsated as thousands of small bodies moved beneath them. The itching skin started to burn and he could see movement beneath his flesh as the maggots devoured him from the inside out.
He grabbed a pile of dirty clothes, shaking them violently and staggered from the apartment out into the street, scratching as he pulled the combat trousers and sweatshirt on. Sobbing, Miles stumbled out into the city, leaving a writhing white trail behind him.
He had no idea how long it had been since he fled his apartment, his old life. None of that mattered anymore. He sat on the blanket and scratched through his heavy overcoat. One of his filth encrusted fingernails peeled off and a maggot wriggled from the exposed flesh. Miles took a long swig from the bottle of cheap cider and poured a little onto its white body. The alcohol acted like acid and the creature dissolved into a frothing red stain. He took another swig and felt the itching begin to subside.
A river of people flowed past him, heading through the underpass on their way into the office. Among them was a familiar face – Ben! Ben was his friend. Ben could help.
Miles reached out to him as he passed and tried to call out his name. Ben did not even look; just threw a small handful of change onto the blanket, the coins skittering across the cold concrete floor. Miles lurched forwards, grasping the precious coins before anyone else could steal them. He turned back to his friend but Ben had gone, lost in the flowing tide of humanity.
Miles vision blurred and he felt a tear run down his face. No – not a tear – another fucking maggot! It crawled out from behind his eyeball and was creeping down his cheek. He crushed the creature between his thumb and forefinger and took a long drink from his bottle. Miles sighed and finished writing his sign on a torn piece of corrugated cardboard. It read “Please Help!”
No one did.