Tendrils

Like fluffy cotton wool, dyed grey and absorbing the sounds and smells of the world about, the fog descended on the city. Where it went, they went, silent footsteps down the streets and alleyways.

She is walking all alone, her confidence worn outside in the studded tattered vest with the patches of half a dozen angry punk bands on the outside and with the unbrushed, unwashed hair, dye faded over months, shoved under the dark beanie. It was the brash conversation with a friend, speaking of illicit things in a tone so loud people three back could hear, to this suddenly quiet person slipping down streets alone; it was this sudden change between that had attracted them.

Those that crept beneath the cover of the fog were the ones of legend that had been preying on the solitary, the weak, or those that would give them sport; these others had been driving the fog for thousands of years, feeding from the luckless around the Thames and in the deep, dark forests that the Hellenic and Celtic feared for exactly these predators and tricksters of lonely places. For centuries, they had drawn the fog with them like a screening cloak, used it for play and to disorient.

The girl turns, a sneer on her face. “All right. Who’s there?”

Her voice drowns in the muffling mist. A clang echoes by her feet, and she shrieks as something leaps out. A cat, a grey streak against the ground, yowling as it runs, as she should. But she lets go of her breath with a gush and laughs at her stupidity. But that feeling of eyes on her still lifts the sensitive hairs at the back of her neck, gets her heart hammering.

She continues on her way, distracted by the noise behind her, like a thousand autumn leaves tumbling together and crunching.

“Whoever you are, cut it out and piss off. I can defend myself, and I am not afraid of you.”

It’s like a hiss, the sound of their laughter, like the howling winds sneaking through a chink in the brickwork, chilling you to the bone.

The girl stalks onward, determined to get out of this alley. Ignoring all her instincts, the fear flooding through her veins with the adrenaline, she presses on.

Around her, tendrils of mist probe at the edges of her vest, tangle the strands of her hair. She jerks, a puppet dancing at the pulling of their strings.

“Who are you? Leave me alone.”

Frantic now, she stumbles into a run, desperate for the cross street she knows is ahead. Coalescing from the mist in front of her, swirling atom by atom, the shadowy figures form, laughing at her panic. Their shapes are grotesque, twisted, gnarled and deformed; millennia of their depravity transforming their outward appearance to match what lay within.

With taloned limbs, they reach as one, hissing with laughter as she screams and jerks from them. Surrounding her now, fog in between a barrier from the outside world, they creep in as she spins like a top, searching for a weak point. With a ferocity they enjoy, she launches herself at the littlest one, her fists flailing.

A bag drops to the ground with a thud. Above, a window opens, a head pops out. There are no more disturbing sounds. Shuffling painfully down an alleyway, an old man long down on his luck finds a bag. He rifles through it, takes the few notes, looks around. He drops the bag again, and scuttles off, tugging down the beanie and wrapping the jacket tight about him, cherishing the anonymity.

From the fog they watch. And they wait.

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