Echo

Friday night shift was always busy. Echo was a small bar, just around the corner from Dawn Street Cinema, and across the street from Dawn Park. Bianca looked up from the drink she was preparing as the door opened again.

It was him again. The same man every Friday. His skin was pale green and faintly mottled, his hair was a mess of dark green reeds, permanently damp and dripping onto his shoulders. His shirt was never wet.

She nodded at him once and went back to the ice tea, careful not to look over at him again. He always came in for Tori. Well, that’s what they said. He sat in her section, he ordered her specialty, he only came in on her shifts. Tori had liked the attention, but she would love attention if it came from a group of pigeons in Dawn Park.

“He doesn’t know she’s not in tonight, then?” Foster elbowed her on his way from the kitchens, nodding at the nameless regular.

“Well, it isn’t like her… you okay working her section?” she asked, sliding the Long Island Ice Tea down the bar to the young woman with the bright peach-coloured spikes for hair.

Foster shrugged nonchalantly and sashayed his way in between tables, laden with plates of hot food. The man made her feel clumsy and oaf like, the way he could make it from one end of the room to the other so gracefully, and then set down his load with an effortless flourish. She realised she was staring and hurried to take another order.

Tori never missed a shift. She needed the money, though she hated the venue. She and Bianca had never been friends, but they were friendly. Bianca mused about her absence for a while, imagining extravagant excuses for the girl that got more and more crazy with each idea. In truth, that was how Bianca spent most of her time. In thought. Daydreaming. Imagining. Whatever you want to call it.

“He’s staring at you.” Foster was back. He raised a dark eyebrow and drew her out of her reverie. The man was in fact watching her. Scrutinising her in the same way he used to watch Tori. Bianca shivered.

“What does he want?” she muttered, more to herself than to Foster. The guy had always given her the creeps. Not that that was unusual in Echo, you get a lot of odd characters on the midnight and early am shifts. But still.

She clocked off early, changing in the staff loos and waving to Giles, the owner, on her way out. It was 2am, and the city was as alive and moving as ever. She stomped her boots on the partially frozen pavement outside a few times, hands shoved deep into her coat pockets, scarf wrapped tightly. The chill bit and lashed at her face, her teeth felt like blocks of ice. She’d forgotten how warm Echo’s heating was, and how wintry the air outside had been earlier that evening.

Her flat was only three blocks down, so she walked. The nearest underground station was across Dawn Park, that was the route Tori took after her shift, through the darkened gardens. Bianca had never liked it. She briefly worried about Tori, but shook off the feeling. She probably had a cold or something. Everybody had one at the moment.

Last month she’d had a fever, had still come in. Giles had sent her home. But she needed the money.

“Spare a light, miss?” The girl had to be barely sixteen, skinny and sick-looking. She had ratty, fair hair and thin clothes that looked like they hadn’t seen the inside of a washer in months. Bianca shook her head and kept moving, out of the cold.

Tori would turn up.

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Park

It was quiet. The kind of quiet that makes you worry, makes you imagine all sorts of dangerous and horrible things lurking somewhere out in the dark. No insects chirped and chattered like little gossip mongers here, as they had only a moment before. No cars could be heard from the busy midnight street not yards from the park’s edge.

It was quiet, and Tori was uneasy.

She paused, one heeled foot on the path, the other on the grass. It was darker there, thick and black, pressing darkness. She shook her head. Get it together, girl, she told herself, and firmly set her other foot down on the damp, away from the gravel path. The thin heel sank straight down through the squishy earth with a squelch.

As soon as she had left the path, it began.

Distant drums beat heavily somewhere through the trees, deep and pounding. The bass reverberated in her chest, matching her speeding heartbeat. The same sound, every Friday night. Every time she walked home this way. She’d never had the courage to investigate.

But tonight she was emboldened by the Fainting Joker’s warm tingle, by the success of the day… she felt stronger tonight, more alive. This time, she’d find out what the silence meant. What the drums meant.

Her gait became more frantic and stumbling the further into the dark she ran. Surely the park was not so deep. It had looked smaller from the street. She kept moving, following the eerie drumming. It refused to get any closer.

And then it was upon her. So loud she had to clamp her hands over her ears. There was still no light, still no movement, just horrible, pounding, ear-destroying sound. It was everywhere, in her head, in her nose, her airways, clogging her up like a tangible gas. She screamed, and was drowned out completely by the painful music.

She wanted to run. To turn around and get out of there, back to the safe street. She wanted to run all the way back to that tiny little dive bar she had been so ashamed to call work. She’d live the rest of her days at Echo if that decision would get her away from the park.

A sickly hand grasped at her, she felt fingers close over her mouth and nose, smelling of salt and mint. It felt like a frog had reached out for her in the pitch blackness.

She screamed again, and found that she could not breathe. Another sickening, moist hand had closed around her windpipe. She fought, kicking and scratching and biting and scraping. She thrashed like some monstrous panicky fish. But slowly, the cold travelled from the hands into her blood. She began to freeze, to die.

She sank her teeth into the hand one last time, tasted salty blood. Then the cold reached her heart.