The irony is, Kathy Swanson, Detective Inspector with the Cardiff police, isn’t even on duty when she hears the scream and sees someone bolt from an alleyway like the hounds of Hell are nipping at their heels. Her own heels are a hindrance in giving chase; they’re too high to run in and the person fleeing the scene is out of sight before she can even consider removing them. She’d been out to dinner with friends, glammed up in her dressiest outfit and strappy high-heeled sandals rather than wearing the sensible low heels that constitute her usual footwear. Just her luck.
Unable to chase after what could either have been a criminal or a possible victim, she opts instead for finding out what’s going on in the alley, pulling her phone out of her handbag as she goes, just in case it proves necessary to call for assistance.
She wishes she had a better torch than the mini one on her key ring, which though bright, offers only a narrow beam of light. It’s just about enough to see where she’s putting her feet as she steps cautiously into the unlit alley, but not enough to illuminate anything very far ahead, meaning that by the time she can see what’s lurking there she’s already far too close for comfort. Perhaps checking things out hadn’t been such a good idea after all, but she’s a cop first and foremost; she couldn’t simply ignore a possible crime in progress.
Its face is hideous, and she has a horrible feeling that this nightmarish creature isn’t merely someone wearing one of those rubber masks that covers their entire head. Its skin looks too genuinely creased and wrinkled, the teeth too believably sharp, and more than would fit in a human mouth anyway. The eyes are small, deep-set, and wary, like those of a cornered animal, but it’s dressed in a drab one-piece boiler suit and heavy boots, so it must be intelligent; animals don’t wear clothes, but… If it’s not human, then what is it?
Cardiff is a city of weird happenings. Kathy wasn’t born here, but she’s lived here long enough to have heard about, or been otherwise involved with, a fair number of inexplicable events. This beats them all. It makes her think of the bodies that have been found with their throats ripped out. Is this creature the cause of what have up to now been explained away as some kind of animal attacks? If it is, where does that leave her?
Even if she’d been on duty it wouldn’t have helped much. She’s not on an armed response team so she doesn’t carry a gun, and in fact has never so much as held one. She has no way of defending herself against this creature, and can’t even run without bending down to un-strap her sandals and take them off first. Despite all her years on the police force, she’s never felt herself as close to death as she is right now. Why couldn’t she have just called for backup first? Or would that have resulted in more deaths than merely her own?
She’s still frozen to the spot, just a few feet between her and the monster, too scared to even think of moving and her heart all but gives out when bright light suddenly fills the alley and the silence is broken by shouts and the sound of running feet. The monster turns away with a guttural moan, shielding its eyes with an upraised arm, then lopes away with a very inhuman gait, disappearing into the shadows. Kathy tries to spin around, not really knowing what that will achieve but hoping to see her probably unintentional rescuers. Unfortunately for her, one of her heels catches on something, twisting her ankle painfully and pitching her sideways. She feels rather than hears the heel snap off just before her head connects solidly with the brick wall. After that, there’s only darkness.
Kathy regains consciousness to find herself lying on the cold pavement, her head resting on something soft. She’s not at all sure where she is, can’t remember much of anything after leaving the restaurant… She opens her eyes but everything’s a bit blurry.
“Take it easy, don’t try to move,” an unfamiliar voice tells her. “I called an ambulance; it should be here soon.”
“What happened?” she asks the young man she now sees crouched beside her. He isn’t wearing a jacket so that must be what’s under her head. Thinking of her head brings to her attention that it’s throbbing painfully. So is one of her ankles.
“I didn’t see, you were already lying here when I found you, but from the looks of things, you caught your heel in a drain and hit your head when you fell. I think the bleeding’s almost stopped now.” She notices there’s a bloodstained handkerchief in his hand. Makes sense; head wounds bleed a lot. “I probably shouldn’t have moved you, but your legs were in the road and I was worried about what might happen if a car came along. You were right on a blind corner.”
Kathy recognises where she is now, about halfway to her house from where the bus dropped her. The nearby corner is a notorious blind spot, but even people familiar with the area often don’t slow down. She’s attended more than one accident there. “No, you did the right thing. Thank you.” Tripping over and knocking herself out; of all the stupidly embarrassing things to do! She probably shouldn’t have had that third glass of wine with dinner.
“No problem.” He smiles down at her, then turns his head to look down the street. “I think I hear the ambulance.”
She can hear it too, in the distance but rapidly getting closer; the loud sirens are making her head pound even more than it already was, and trying to think is like mentally wading through syrup. She probably has a concussion.
The ambulance pulls up and the sirens shut off, much to Kathy’s relief. She vaguely hears the young man explaining what he thinks must have happened, and exactly what he’s done, and then one of the paramedics is talking to her, asking questions, her name, has she been drinking, does she remember what happened? She doesn’t, not really. She has a vague recollection of fear, probably from when she felt herself falling, then pain as her head hit something very hard, no doubt the pavement, but that’s it. The paramedic assures her that’s not unusual with a head injury. She may or may not regain those memories. He also tells her he thinks her ankle is just sprained rather than broken, which is lucky. Her sandals are ruined beyond any hope of repair though; the heel that broke off is apparently wedged so tightly in the grate of the drain that it’ll probably take pliers to get it out, if removing it is even possible.
As she’s being loaded into the ambulance, Kathy thinks to look for her Good Samaritan, the pleasant-faced young man who stopped to help her. He’s dusting off the jacket he loaned her as a pillow and gives her a smile and a little wave before setting off down the street. It’s not until the ambulance is almost at the hospital that she realises she didn’t get his name. She would have liked the chance to thank him properly. He could have just walked on by, or robbed her as she lay there unconscious, but he did neither; she still has all her jewellery, her phone, keys, and purse, complete with all her bankcards, are still in her handbag, untouched. She wishes there were more honest, decent people like that in the world.