by A. J. Ellico
In the heart of the city where the people never sleep, there was always light. Like blood, the citizens flowed through the sidewalks and the streets coagulated thoroughly with cars. It was, “always sunny in the City of Mundy,” as the old folk would say. Wars are a thing of the past as peace has reigned the nation for a decade. With a mien of gold, the skyline glimmered strongly throughout the seasons.
But, where there shone light, there bore a shadow--a place for the darkest of things. And, in the City of Mundy, its spot of night laid North of Oaken Avenue, on the right side of Gunningham Street.
A bicycle shop, not the biggest nor the small, sat on the Eastern side of the road. It did not sell old bikes that were cheap or new bikes that were posh--bicycles for the average guy or gal. An elderly man named Sam--just Sam--owned the local shop. He dwelled a flat above his store for longer than anyone could remember. If one were too ask him, he would say that he “was here since the city was only six years old”.
Next door to the left, housed a fancy cafe, which spanned to the adjacent street of Daine. Named “Arnold’s Cafe”--owned by the Arnold Erney--of course--it was quite the bistro to be. Every day, many people, at least fifteen or so, gathered to drink their coffee of choice: cappuccinos or macchiatos, mochas or americanos, or a double espresso to taste.
On that street of Daine, behind Mr. Sam, resided a bakery with no name. Mr. Tim Allan was the sole baker, a young man of great skill. He was new to the city, arriving merely four years ago. Within a couple blocks away, people would be drawn by the scent of his freshly baked bread. Tim was one charming man; he made many regulars with his pleasant atmosphere.
What existed between these men was a terror no one could ever imagine.
The space in the middle of the three buildings was just wide enough for one to walk through without squeezing. It was less than a metre from wall to wall, but a little more than half. It was a passageway from Gunningham Street to Daine Street--or vice versa. It was also a passageway that the most courageous souls would not so easily use. If one wanted to reach Tim for a loaf but found themselves on Gunningham Street, maybe they would stride through Arnold’s Cafe if they do not mind a slight stare when they do not intend to buy a cup or--be forced to--or stroll South to Oaken, and East to Daine. Never though, would someone use that alleyway for a shortcut. It was common knowledge and all played their part in ignoring its existence. Even the three owners of the three buildings it surrounds acted oblivious to the horror beside them. Nobody mentioned it, and it was better that way for the people of Mundy. There are legends--of course--of heroes and fools who dared to step foot into the desolate alley. Some said the sun never illuminated the long corridor. Even in the height of noon, when the big, brass, burning ball gloated directly overhead in the clear sky of blue, the alleyway remained in the ownership of darkness. A group of the population claimed that the alleyway was not always in existence; that the buildings broke apart as a crack to hell when the devil sent demons into the world. The young whispered these rumours whilst the adults merely shook their heads, concealing a shivering fear.
But, you are curious, there is no doubt you will agree. What truly lurks within this alleyway, or is all the fright manufactured by imbeciles nevertheless. Well you are about to find out! When you, walk into that alleyway, the curtains will be taken in the autumn wind.
Now, why will you do such a thing? This you might ask yourself for you just heard, no souls dare to enter here--bravest nor the dumbest. But, you are curious, you say. Is that why you stare into the void like a startled cat? That curiosity crushes all instinct in you. The pull grows whilst your body turns towards the hole in the wall. Like the force of a black hole it grows heavier. The sunlight seems to be eaten away the longer you stare. Are you there?
You stand in solitude on the sidewalk beside the bicycle shop and the fancy cafe. It is closing in on noon and normally, like your peers, you should be having lunch with your friends. The Gunningham Street, usually choking with pedestrians, is a vacuum. Only a wisp lays here and there--you being one of these wisps.
You spin your head to your left, to your, and to your right; you are all alone. Did you just turn your head full circle as if your neck was a faulty axle on a bicycle wheel? You can not recall moving your body. There are eyes on you. You look at the bike shop window but only the blinds of the closed store meet your sight. It is Sunday so Old Man Sam is likely sleep or chatting with Mr. Erney next door over a cup of tea. You look back into the alleyway and you take your first step.
A mucky smell enters your nasal cavity. Something small like a rat scurries at your peripheral vision. A feeling crawls to you that the light is dimming but you do not dare look up, fearing you will not see the twelve o’ clock sun.
Five steps in and the silence hits you like a cannonball of blades. There should be noise from the streets, the sound of honking cars and sounding trucks. With swift, you turn around and see that everything is still there. Back turned to darkness, you experience a chill in your heart. Spinning around, you look into the alley again. You freeze. But, your body, continues to move.
Your feet sinks into the dirt. An unsettling sense falls upon you that the two walls are that engulf your sides are closing in as you progress through the passageway. You outstretch your arms, touching both concrete blocks to reassure yourself that it is still the same width as when you entered. The surface grazes your fingertips like running sandpaper. It feels alive.
You stop but the sound of your footsteps stop two seconds too late.
A click echoes throughout the corridor. So slowly, you look to your left and more towards the previous street. It looks no different than the path now behind you towards Daine. Both lead out. Like being trapped in a tempest where the centre lays calm, you idle in a storm of light; in the middle is pure darkness.
To your right appears a figure--a shadow. You stare at it, shivering. The black spot on the bricks of the cafe expands its reach. Noise rushes you from all directions but, you hear nothing. Something comes behind the shadow. Someone comes behind your shadow--behind you.
The butt of my rifle strikes the back of your head. You fall unconscious on the cold dirt.
You are a rusted steel beam on a railroad, laying motionless--bound--to the Earth. A train is running over you. All you hear--and feel--is the cycling thumping on your welded head and, you experience no pain. The train continues its stampede, its cargo the angels of hell. Your skull shakes faster with each passing metre of the horrid locomotive. The iron in your veins drives into your brain like a flock of sharply beaked vultures. Now, with the frequency of a screeching violin note, the pounding rises by an octave. It is now a loud, ominous ringing. There are the last of the metal carts. The horns explode--its final wheel rockets from upon your pulverized bones. Faster than any train could spin, the soldiers of pain invade your mind. You scream but, only a weak crackle emits from your gritted teeth. Oh, you are awake.
I watch you squirm on the cement floor like a wilting rose. So sorry for the claw-like bounds of rope around your wrist; they must feel quite sore. I grab you by the shoulders and prop your ragdolled body against the chilling, stony wall--a different wall. You are drastically disoriented. My voice sounds familiar, but your vision is turning. I will remain unknown for a few more seconds--or hours as it will seem to you.
Once you are fully awake, you will observe the haunting room we lay in with a still silence. It is cold. As the ability to feel pain returns to you, the ache upon your scalp intensifies and, you smell one pleasant, calming smell. Turning your head, your sight slightly returns as well. A dying figure sitting against the wall appears in the centre of your view. It stares at you you at it. Is that me? Hah! No. I still have both my two arms.
You scream--rudely. His name is Eddy, another curious fellow such as yourself. I think he is a lawyer.
When you finally begin truly thinking, you will probably panic in an uncontrollable frenzy. You have only a few more seconds of cognitive thought before I cradle you to sleep again. Can you recognize the smell now? Mmmm yes! The aroma of bread!
Welcome to the bakery!
You finally look at me and I glow in the darkness with my kind face. I love that look of confusion and fear. Not to worry just now, I will not start with you for a couple more days; Eddy here will take some time. For now, just lay back and enjoy the display.
Every cook has their secret ingredients, mine is bones and blood. It surprises me how much people utterly adore the taste of blood. Add a little in the batter or boil it into a dry powder. Mix it easily and evenly with eggs. Strawberry strudels sell swelly in the unpleasant winters. We offer gluten-free goodies as well for all your dietary needs. Ground bones make a suitable substitute for flour; sweeten with sugar, add a drop of golden colouring, and you got a tasty, calcium-rich treat for everybody. Oooo! And, the mouth-watering pastry sausage rolls--not to forget those--they are a best seller.
Now I must apologize. I have not properly introduced myself. My real name is not “Tim Allan”--of course! But, you may call me “Timothy”; it is an alias I have not changed for a while. You can also call me Death. And, do not worry one bit; I am experienced in this field.
Now it is time for you to go to sleep. You are beginning to get just a tiny bit loud. I hold this syringe and a vial of clear liquid. This potion should quiet you down to a peaceful stasis. You were starting to mumble and fumble about--way too much. With my endless smile, I kneel onto the stone floor beside your trembling cadaver. My smirk strikes you like the spear of Satan. I tap the side of the syringe and a swarm of bubbles float to the top of the glass cylinder. A miniscule drop of sedative collects itself on the tip of the needle as my gloved fingers pushes the rest of the air out the syringe. We would not want to squeeze gas into your bloodstream. Honestly, I have no idea what happens but I have heard it hurts. It is habit. I wave the needle into your open mouth and hover it above your tongue. The drop lands. How does it taste? Sour, I bet. One guy told me it tastes like gasoline. We had quite the laugh. Who the hell drinks gasoline? After that, being very aware of my guest’s preferences, I only served him his favourite drink. And, by serve I mean funnel down his throat--of course. I sure do miss him. Though, I am not sure you can taste anything in this state. Grabbing your limp arm, I search for a vein. I am not really the best at this, still needing a bit more practice. But, I will do my best for you. Oh, there is one! I hope there is still enough of this in your system because I might hit a nerve--which will hurt. Poke. I inject the aqua vitae into your bloodstream. Choo! Choo! There goes your train of thought. Back to the railways you go. Goodbye now; I will be back soon. I promise.
Every protagonist has their antagonist--and here comes mine. You would easily remember him as I have introduced him before all this action happened. Did you think you were the main character? Hah! I am he! And, the hero always wins.
You shake. Someone is shaking you--shaking you--your entire body. He booms his mighty voice at you to wake from your drug-induced coma. It sounds as if he were shouting but, he is weakly whispering--and must.
From the daunting binds of hell, the train hits you. God takes you up in his hands and bludgeons your body back upon the overworld.
I am a reckless man; please pardon my clumsiness. Now I might lose you, just when we were starting to know each other. Through the oblivion, your faulting eyes register the face before you. Old Man Sam glares, peering into your pupils and stabbing into your soul. He unbinds the knot amongst your tremulous hands; and, so carefully I tied that rope. The old man stands and swears in astounded disgust when he looks into the dim corner of the room where Eddy lays. He pops a blister on his hand and drops blood upon the rock flooring.
He scampers towards Eddy. You attempt to regather your bearings. It is warm but you feel so cold. Your legs wobble as you try to stand. As you collapse onto the stone floor, the pain quakes throughout your body. The old man returns, supporting the armless man at his shoulder. With your head on its side, you witness a drop of the old man’s blood land slowly on the ground in front of your eyes; an utmost, up-close, beautiful view of the liquid--that shining, sienna red liquid--crash into its tranquil state of dead. My apologies, I am getting a little carried away.
“Gods!” the old man croaks, squeezing his bloody finger, “you better get up quick, kid!”
Your muscles, once refusing, start to comply.
“I can’t carry you both,” Mr. Sam coughs, “Not at my age.”
Eddy groans a laugh.
I, at the moment, am serving a lovely customer. You all are causing quite the inconvenience. Not just for me, but these people’s ability to buy--with great prices--my delicious pastries--spiked with people. I give this little girl her treats and shoot a smile at her mother. It is almost time to close; thankfully, it is Sunday where I retire early.
The sun hovers a hair over the horizon. With the sky still barren with clouds, we are spared from the dreads of rainfall. It is already a stinging cold at this hour. Imagine if it was not as dry as it is. Ice will be a great pain for you--you may slip, fall, and break your collarbone. Not that it occurs frequently in front of my shop or something. Many of the people, who now teem throughout Daine and Gunningham, have not the capacity of bringing a jumper. But, if you were ever in such a frozen situation, you can warm your stomach in my bakery--literally too.
But, that has ended now and I walk towards the glass front door. Turning the ‘open’ sign--now the ‘closed’ sign--I gently remove my apron and lock the bakery for the night.
I hear something that I should not be hearing--you.
Old Man Sam leads the two of you silently--but not silently enough--up the concrete stairwell. Eddy, now able to walk on his own, follows closely behind you. Now you may be wondering how this old man came to deliver the armless man and the fool from my generous hospitality. It is rather blatant if I say so myself. Still have not got it? Hah! Maybe you do have the brain of a fool. Why else would a man run a bicycle shop with no wife or offspring to take the reins when he inevitably will die? Surely a well man must have retired with a sufficient sum of savings--unless he is broke. This older bloke has a story that is more pathetic than yours. How did he open my backdoor? A poor foster child he was use to steal bikes for extra pocket money. One gets good at picking locks that way. The vermit would have been like me if he was not so foolish to get caught. Thrown into a barrack where he was moulded into a country soldier only to dessert us in the Great War. There is so much like his type that they could not even place the coward in prison as it was up to its capacity. He was transferred to another city which was pretty new. He came into the county prison when--guess--the city was only six years old. You see, his bike store is his attempt at reconciliation. How disgusting. Nevertheless, he will be no more.
You three musketeers reach the top of the stairs. Old Man Sam turns to both of you with his index finger covering his mouth as if it could make you all quieter. Like a ghost, he opens the door to the main floor. The wooden board turns like quicksilver without a squeak. He waits. You wait. Eddy waits. Nothing.
The room is just as any innocent bakery backroom will look like. A worn out, but fairly decent oven lays across from you. Two cedar tables, a mixing machine, and bags of flour all rest on the clean, tile flooring.
Turning back towards you, Mr. Sam motions for you both to follow. I must advise you not to in this case; you will not like to go where he is going. As he slowly steps through the door frame, he revolves his head back forward.
And, almost as smooth as water, my knife sinks into the old man’s dying heart. So little effort I had needed. He meets my eyes as they will be his final memory. Still with the handle in my grasp, I urge him sideways and he drops flat onto the white tile floor. I am not even certain my blade struck his heart as his body is much deformed. He might have died of a heart attack instead when he saw my handsome smile.
Unfortunately--for me, you feel a rush from behind you and Eddy attaches his teeth into my neck. Pain slithers in my head and it is highly uncomfortable. His tackle--you can say, disarmed me--threw my rifle and knife onto the floor.
Do you want to kill me? What are you going to do? You can be like my old friend here, Mr. Sam, and ditch your companion for the backdoor, or you could kill me. Pick. A sword or a pistol? Hurry because an armless man can not hold me back for that long. His breath is sickening and he is breathing it into my collarbone.
You choose a third option. With great speed, you take a rolling pin upon a wooden table, where I mend my bread. You have quite a sense of humour. What better way is there to hit a baker then with his own baking utensils.
You slam the pine club into the back of my head, almost hitting your armless partner and I fall. You and Eddy dash towards the exit. For a while, you struggle to open it but eventually you do.
Now, usually I am the one who knocks people unconscious so it will be great irony if I were to pass out myself. Did you really think a kid like you can do any damage to me? There you fail.
Like a train, the sound of the opening, metal door slams into your eardrums just as you fall back into the alleyway. For a second you stifle in fear when walls meets your eyes both left and right. Quickly, you understand your location, the gap between the bakery and the bike shop. But, that second you also turn to Eddy and you hear another sound. Eddy collapse onto your body. You feel the blood dripping down your neck and you see through the bullet hole in his head as he leans his bleeding corpse on your surprised face. You scream.
Eddy drops dead as you run. You abandoned him. You failed him and his blood is on you--literally too.
So, you run. You reach the corridors’ intersection. Should you go left or right? Please! Does it really matter? So you choose left conveniently, back to Gunningham Street. You are running the fastest you can possibly attain. But, the warping passageway becomes smaller yet longer like a thick elastic band threatening to snap.
Mr. Erney grabs you by the arm and in shock you take a moment of astonishment before any sort of struggling. You twist your body side to side, but Arnold holds you like a vice.
By the way, Arnold is my dear brother. Where do you think he gets all his meat and bread. In fact, he is the reason I do what I do. Arnold believes in some essence that human bodies hold that will subconsciously improve the flavour of food. You see? I am not the crazy one in the family; I am sane! I am merely providing support for my insane brother. His cafe becoming a popular place for the people in only a year of opening only reassures Arnold that his mad theory was correct.
He begged me for forgiveness when I escaped the P.O.W. camp--which he got me into when I saved his life. Lonely, with his brother in the hands of the socialists, it drove him crazy. He was of wealth when I arrived with great lenity--for he was my dear brother. With some negotiation with the small, next-door law office, I was able to open my wonderful bakery--and by negotiation, I mean murdering. So we got to work. And then, you came to ruin it.
Do you see it now? Our businesses may need to be put on a pause but, we are mostly fine. I, as matter of fact, am ready for such an inconvenience like yourself. You see, you are now the infamous “Alleyway Monster”. You were the one who dwelled this alleyway and caused the disappearances of all those innocent people. We can easily get rid of Eddy and frame you for the death of poor Old Man Sam. Quite the absurd idea you may say. Who will believe a child committed all those terrible crimes? Really? The strange kid who would not join his friends for lunch and instead be oddly curious to those haunting tales of “The Alleyway” will do such a thing? Hah! And, over my reputation and popularity, with the support of the famous Arnold Erney, who was such dear friends with the late elder bike shop owner; not a soul will doubt your guilt. The night is young and the streets are as busy as they are through the clock--sans eating time of course. And, out of all of us, except Eddy--of course--you are the one with blood splattered across the face. The gunshot is drawing in quite the crowd.
Now unfortunately, Arnold is not quite the muscle. With your mindless flailing, you elbow poor Mr. Erney in the groin. His hold weakens for simply a second which was enough time for you to escape his captivity.
I do not like the idea of regrets but, you did not choose the right--in the context of both correctness and direction--way, back to Gunningham Street where you were almost caught. If I were you, I would have choose to flee towards Daine. Not only would you have retained your life but, you will have the bragging rights to say, “I have walked through The Alleyway!” If Mr. Erney did not appear to the west to block your path, technically, you did not complete the accomplishment for you only went halfway and ran back in cowardice. Even with you free, heading to reattempt that achievement at this moment, I must apologize for you made it a tiny bit easier.
You are running towards the middle; towards me. I do not think you can honestly be fast enough to run through before I reach the centre. At that moment, I will yell in fright, for the “Alleyway Monster” is attacking me with a knife in his hand after it enjoyed bathing its face in the blood of its victims. Then I will take my gun, toss the blade onto your just-shot body as if you had dropped it, and slay the demon that as been terrorizing our peaceful civilians.
Genius, is it not?
Who will reach first the T-section? Maybe a train will block your liberty before you are able to past, maybe a collision. I wish you godspeed--and of course--I will see you there.