A city never sleeps. Not really. The arteries of its roadways pumping with traffic through the night. Its streets quiet in the small hours, but never deserted. Always alive.
But in the suburbs, life never gets much beyond a doze. The sleepy world of families living the dream. The dream of white picket fences and two point four children. It barely had a pulse. Especially at night. Especially in late autumn.
Cerberus Park sat on the corner of 5th Avenue and Alexander. A perfect barrier between the sleepy suburb and the raucous university sorority houses which lay beyond its deep pine wood. That, if anything, was the blight on the area. The students. Despite petitions and complaints, the only bus stop in the area sat square outside the 5th Avenue Local Foods Market. Busses ferrying excitable bands of girls out in the early evening, to return in small groups hours later. Drunk, singing and vomiting their way back through the park to their beds.
The locals remained disgusted.
Steve was not.
He’d picked this night, this perfect night for his latest trip to the park. Everything that the locals hated about the returning girls, Steve loved. Drunk, loud and, even better, loaded. For the sorority houses of Cerberus Park only housed the rich ones. All bling and iPhones. On a good night, he could make over a thousand fencing the stuff from one girl. The jewellery, the watch, the bag, sometimes even the shoes. If you had the eye, the job was easy.
Young in life the decision was made for him to become a criminal. Not due to lack of opportunity or a bad home life, but simply because Steve saw others as an opportunity. In his youth his parents had sent him to a therapist. Sociopath they decided. Lacking empathy or understanding of the impact on others. Then there were pills and workshops and meetings and groups and so he left. One morning his father came to wake him and found him gone. Along with the money around the house, as well as a good part of their bank balance and some of their credit cards too.
But that was years ago. They wouldn’t recognise him now. He’d worked hard to get in shape, shaved his head, even gotten some ink to hide that this was the exact type of area he’d grown up in. The tattoos served to warn the world that he was a predator. A latter-day Robin Hood on the prowl, stealing from the rich but without the interest in the poor. He was clever though, oh yes. Always planning and checking the area. Never going armed. Never hurting anyone. Well, no more than he had to. But this wasn’t through kindness. It’s the smart play. If you hurt Daddy’s little angel or, god forbid, killed one, the police took a very dim view. In fact, they had a habit of chasing you down. For that reason, it was always only robbery, never too violent and nothing creepy. Steve wasn’t a pervert. Just a hunter and a business man.
He’d been to Cerberus twice before, once in spring and again in early summer. The pickings were good. With no fraternities in the area there were rarely any macho heroes to contend with. The park was more of a wood, dense pine trees deadened all sound within and blocked prying eyes. Only a single trail cut through the trees to the sororities beyond which twisted and turned before dropping down into a hollow in the very centre of the park. The only building in the woods was a small brick shed set back from the path at the bottom of the hollow. With all the money in the area, every effort was made to make the path safe. Lights lined it and panic alarms were in place at regular intervals.
Stepping from a bus in the early evening, the late autumn air was already cooling. The night held the promise of clear skies and a deep frost. Perfect for what he had planned. The cold air would keep most people at home and in the warm. It didn’t worry Steve, he’d come bundled in a thick winter coat, camouflage trousers and warm boots. The only downside lay in the frost itself, it’s hard to stalk your prey when the ground crunches with each step. But, he’d work around it. Blessed as he was with a weak jaw and friendly face, people tended to not see him as a threat until it was too late. Especially if they were drunk.
The first job when he arrived was a quick walk through the cold shadow of the trees to cut the wires from all the alarms before using stones to break the lights in the hollow. Whilst there he had a quick check around the shed. Finding it locked and with his chosen ambush spot ready, Steve headed back out to the main road.
Standing by a dumpster in the alley beside the food market afforded the perfect view of the bus-stop on the road opposite. Shrouded in shadow, Steve stood and waited, unmoving for hours. The only sounds coming from the few birds fluttering and other small animals within the trees, disturbed by the bright lights on the path or each other.
With each bus, he tensed, breath held to see what it disgorged to sidewalk. As the night wore on and got colder, he began to think this wasn’t his night. The few girls who did get off where either in big groups or too sober to be worth the effort. He’d gotten greedy going after a sober girl once, it turned out she was some sort of martial arts expert. That little error had left his balls and jaw aching for a month. Never again.
In the dark Steve shifted uncomfortably, the cold was really starting to bite now. He looked down at his watch, 2:15am. Damn. It wasn’t looking like tonight would work out. A shuffling noise made him look up. A small pile of papers at the mouth of the alley rustled and, as he watched, a huge rat emerged, pulling out some lump of food it had found inside. Pausing, it began to chew and quietly eat whatever it found within.
Looking back to the woods, a smile played over Steve’s lips. Launching from the trees, a small owl, eyes locked on the oblivious rat, began to glide through the cold night air. Silent, deadly, Steve toyed with the idea of making a sound to startle the rat but changed his mind. The street vermin had it coming. It’s only the natural order of things.
The owl sped up now, reaching the road, close to its target. From nowhere another bus, so fixed on the drama in front of him, Steve hadn’t even heard it coming… and neither had the owl. The bird hit the windscreen with the smallest thud and a puff of feathers. The small body launched up in the air and across the road landing with a thud in the gutter just in front of the alley. Dead.
Startled by the sound, the rat crouched low, then left its meal and began to slink over to the owl’s body. Nose twitching, creeping slow, cautious but enticed by the scent of fresh meat. Closer and closer, Steve found his breath coming faster as the rodent approached the body of the predator. The tables now turned, the hunter now the victim. Shaking his head, he stepped forward and swung a kick towards the approaching rat but wasn’t even close. The rat had turn and bolted away at the first sign of movement. Steve stood, looking down at the dead bird, his breath misting in the cold air and a clammy sweat began to form on his back. What the hell was up with him? Shaking his head, he looked away from the bird and back up to the entrance to the wood.
A figure stood in the entrance facing away from him and he froze. A girl, quite short, small build, long black hair and wearing skin tight jeans with a vest top. Silly bitch must be freezing, she didn’t even have shoes on. No bag, unfortunately, but at least a phone and some cash stuffed in her bra he’d bet. She was weaving as she stood, shoulders hunched, and her head bent forward. Drunk or stone by Steve’s guess.
But where did she come from? Not the bus. That hadn’t stopped. He hadn’t seen her on the street before. the park? That must be it. She must have walked out whilst he was watching the rat. But what was she doing? Coming out? Waiting for friends?
Steve took a step back into the shadows, careful not to make a sound. Even so, as his foot moved, the girls head whipped around to the side, her head tilted back. Even from across the street Steve could hear her sniffing the air. Short snuffling noises then one look, deep breath in. She paused, standing tall and rigid, unmoving. What was with this girl? She must be on something. Just as quickly as she turned, she turned back and started walking into the wood. Bare feet crunching on frost covered floor as she began to sing. Steve couldn’t make out the words, but her voice was clear and beautiful. She didn’t sound drunk or high. Spreading her arms out she began to dance to her own song. Moving gracefully down the path, reaching the first corner and disappearing from sight.
Steve hesitated, this one looked like trouble. He could say why, but it just didn’t feel right. He drummed his fingers on his leg, contemplating leaving and going home empty handed. Realising he’d been staring down at the owl, he shook his head again. Jesus. Really? He was going to run home from some strange little girl? No. Not tonight.
Looking back at the wood the singing paused as the girl giggled at something, her laugh high and slightly cruel. Yeah, he wasn’t running from her. Steve moved silently across the road and into the wood, his footsteps crunching in the frost as hers had but sounding unnaturally loud.
He paused as the bad feeling returned. The sound seemed louder as the wood was silent. Where previously there had been the sound of animal and birds, now all was silent. The residents of Cerberus Park all seemed to be hiding. Damn right, a hunter stalked the woods tonight. Steve rubbed his chin and smiled nervously. Damn right.
Setting off at a slightly faster pace, he needed to make up ground to his prey. Getting to the first corner, he peered around in time to see the girl disappearing around the next. She let out another giggle that seemed to chill Steve’s blood in his veins. He could hear her beginning to sing again, light and happy. Almost seeming to call him. Who was he to argue? Setting off for the next corner at a jog, the hollow was getting closer.
At the next corner Steve looked around and found the girl standing still in the middle of the path. Right by the final turn to the hollow. How had she got there so fast? It was longer than the distance he’d just jogged, but he was breathing hard now, and she was still. Thinking about it, he couldn’t see any mist from her breath at all. The wood was even colder than the street tonight and every breath he let out created a cloud before him. But her? Nothing. Even though she was still singing softly. Nothing.
Again, she began to move, this time with even more exaggerated dance. Spinning her way down the path, arms outstretched, voice louder with her indistinguishable song. Calling him forward, goading him on. Looking passed her, Steve could see the darkness of the broken lights ahead.
Nearly. So close.
She disappeared around the corner into the dark, her song on the air. Steve set off after her, quickening his pace, his feet crunching on the ground. She’d best have some good stuff on her. This better be worth it. Of course, it would be, look at her.
Even as he ran up the path, not caring about the noise he made, the feeling that something was wrong was getting so much worse. His breath was coming in short, sharp gasps now, not from the run, but something else. And the sweat was running down his back. Something was wrong. The path before him was even and flat, where were her footprints? When she danced, he only heard her voice, not the frost beneath her feet. What about her face? When she spun her hair seemed to move to hide it. Unnaturally flowing to obscure her features. Now as he thought, the only thing he did see were her eyes. Dark eyes in the mass of hair. Dark eyes looking straight at him. In his mind Steve screamed at his body to stop. Willed himself to be still. But still his feet pounded on the path. Closer to then around the corner, moving down the dark slope and into the hollow. All around him her song filled the air.
Then it was gone. Silence flooded back into the wood as Steve came to his senses. He shook his head and found himself stood at the deepest part of the hollow, the shed off in the darkness to his right and, in front of him, the girl. Her back to him and within arm’s reach, she stood like a statue.
He couldn’t recall anything after the corner. How had he come to be here? Why hadn’t she reacted to him? Why didn’t she run or turn to face him? Confusion turned to anger. Whatever she’d done to him wouldn’t change anything, she was his now.
Reaching out he grabbed her shoulder spun her around. She moved easily, seeming to spin on the spot to face him. Her hair hanging low over her face as he grabbed her throat.
“Okay, enough of your games bitch, give me everything you’ve got.” His voice sounding weirdly loud and scared even to himself.
She didn’t move or respond. Just stood there. She didn’t seem scared. It was like she was waiting. But what for? She wasn’t even breathing hard.
In fact, she didn’t seem to be breathing at all. His hand on her throat began to sweat as Steve registered how ice cold her skin was and that he couldn’t feel a pulse. Normally his prey would be begging, pleading and with their heart pounding. Not this one. Her throat was like stone, ice cold and motionless.
The fear returned to grip Steve, his eyes going wide in the dark as his mouth went dry. What the hell was going on? Releasing her neck, he tried to step back, but she was faster. Her hands grabbing his outstretched arm, one of her small hands taking him by the elbow, the other latching on to his wrist. He flinched at their ice-cold grip, her nails biting into his skin as she pulled him back close looking at his forearm and the tattoos curling over it. He tried to pull away or break free, but she didn’t even seem to notice.
“I like your tattoos.” She said, her voice casual and friendly. “Do you have anymore? How about on the other side?” Before he could answer, she rotated his arm by twisting his wrist right over. The movement was quick, irresistible. The bones in his forearm didn’t stand a chance. Secured at the elbow by one of her hands, the movement of his wrist caused them to strain then shatter under his skin. Steve felt it happen and could see his hand facing the wrong way, but no pain. Nothing. Just shock. “Oh, no, none on this side.” She said, her voice conversational and just a little disappointed.
She turned her face up towards him, eyes closed and for the first time he could see her face. Even in the dark of the hollow and through his shock he could see she was beautiful, full lips and delicate cheek bones. Then she opened her eyes to reveal blackness making him gasp. Not eyes at all, just pitch-black sucking in the light of the world and Steve with it. His gasp making her smile, her lips parting to reveal sharp, needle like teeth.
“What’s up, Steve, don’t you think I am beautiful?” she said with mock annoyance, letting going of his ruined arm to put her hands on her hips. As she let go his forearm bent in the middle and the pain arrived. Steve screamed in agony as the pain roared through his body. Steve moved his good arm to cradle the other as he backed away from her. She raised her eyebrows and laughed, “What’s up? Don’t you want everything I’ve got now?”
Steve’s mouth worked but no sound came out as he backed away, one step at a time before nearly falling over as he back into something. Turning, he saw another woman behind him. Where had she come from? He’d not heard anything.
A little taller and broader, the new comer had the same black eyes and pointed teeth as the other and was just a beautiful otherwise. “Excuse you.” She said with a deep, husky voice and vicious smile.
Steve scrambled away from her backing towards the shed. “Please… please…” he managed finally. His mind reeling from the pain and trying to make sense of what he saw.
The two women moved to stand next to each other, facing him as his attacker spoke. “Please what? Would any of your ‘prey’ benefited from please? I think not. And it won’t help you, I am afraid. You see, you’ve been ruining our fun. Cerberus Park is ours, this is where we hunt. When you come here to steal handbags, less girls come in and more police patrol. We can’t have that. So, what do you suggest we do?” She asked.
“I… I can go. Not come back. You won’t see me again. I promise. Please.” Steve pleaded, backing away from the women as they slowly followed him.
“There’s that word again.” Said the other woman, “You were told it wouldn’t help, weren’t you? Besides, we’re hungry. I think you can solve that for us, don’t you?” as she spoke the two women began to change, fingers and nails lengthening as their jaws broadened and grew more powerful.
Steve didn’t wait to see more, he turned and ran. By backing up, he was now a few steps from the shed, he covered them quickly and yanked on the door in desperation. He let out a bark of relief as it opened, throwing himself into the blackness of beyond the door and pulling the door closed behind him. He held the door hand and leaned against the door as it shook with two impacts.
“Oh Steve, that’s not fair. Come out and play.” Teased one of the things through the door, scrapping her nails down the wood as she said it. Steve shuddered and pressed his head to the door onto something cold and hard. A bolt. A locking bolt on the inside of the door. He didn’t hesitate. Letting go of the handle, he grabbed the bolt and slid it home into the frame. Running his hand down he found another a slammed that home, before slipping down to sit on the floor and letting out a sob of relief.
The two creatures laughed through the door at him.
“He found the bolts.”
“Yes, yes he did.”
“Locked them up tight, didn’t he?”
“Oh, oh he did, yes.”
Steve screwed up his eyes in the darkness, resting his head against the door. Trying to ignore them, it would be light soon, someone is bound to come. They had to. They’d come and save him. They would.
“I wonder if he’s asking himself why the shed was locked when he came around earlier?”
Trying to catch his breath, he remembered his phone. It was in a pocket. Which one? Which pocket, Steve began to pat his pockets. He’d call the police, he’d done nothing wrong. They’d help. That would shut these two up.
“No, I don’t think so. I also don’t think he’s asking why there are locks on the inside.”
“No? He’s not too clever, is he?”
God wouldn’t they ever shut up? There, the inside pocket where it always was. He smiled in the dark and started to undo his jacket.
“Oh, he remembered the phone, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he did. I think he’s going to call the police.”
“Oh, I hope so, it’s been a while since I’ve had a police officer.”
In the darkness, Steve pulled his phone from his jacket but with shaking hands he dropped it as it came out of his pocket, skittering away across the floor of the shed. Through the door the creatures heard, both screeching with laughter. Steve snapped.
“Fuck you. Fuck you, you bitches. The police will come. I’ll call them, and they’ll come. And until then? I am in here and you two are locked out there. So, I can wait all night. Fuck you!” he screamed into the dark.
There was silence beyond the door for a few heart beats. No sound at all. Then, through the door “You’re right, we two are locked out here…”
Steve froze and whimpered as he felt something move by his ear and the softest of whispers said “…but there are three of us.”