Aaron winked at Rob and then opened his coat and produced two cans of Strongbow from the inside pockets.
“Fuckin’ result,” Rob said, grabbing one of the cans and cracking it open in one swift, seamless movement. Aaron had just shoplifted the cider from the off licence round the corner, something they both did several times a week, not just from the one off licence but from any and all of the shops around the estate – even the Tesco Express up by the roundabout, even though that had a security guard. Usually it was just some fat bastard on minimum wage, whiling away the day dreaming of having a proper job, but even if the guards clocked them thieving, Aaron and Rob would be on their toes and away into the back streets, where they would become nothing but vaguely recalled memories on a police statement. Nobody cared enough about the odd bottle of cheap cider to bother trying to catch them after the fact. It was all too easy for lads like Rob and Aaron.
“Need some fucking cigs, man,” Aaron said, producing one battered and lonely coffin nail, “This is my last one.”
You couldn’t nick cigs. They were always behind the counter and that meant the only way to steal them was with outright, brazen, robbery – and neither Aaron nor Rob were stupid enough to get into that much shit for a packet of fags. CCTV was everywhere these days – you’d be in the cells before you had chance to light a match. Shoplifting was one thing, robbery another thing entirely. Fuck that.
You might not be able to nick cigs but you could nick money to buy them, which was even better.
“Need some cash first mate,” said Rob, “I’m skint. Shall we sort something?”
“Yeah. Let’s share this tab and then we’ll get some money and buy some more. Get some more booze as well.”
Aaron lit the cigarette, screwing it into his downturned mouth as if it was life support. This was all they ever did – stand on street corners, smoking cigarettes and drinking cider and working out where – or whom – the next few quid was going to come from. Cornerstones of society they were never likely to be, but what else was there?
As Aaron passed the cigarette to Rob, an elderly man emerged from a house a few yards back down the street, locking the door behind himself. Rob watched the man walk down the path and onto the pavement, his back slightly bent. He wore a suit and an old-looking navy blue tie with some emblem or other embroidered on it. Rob thought he looked quite smart – smarter than most folk around these parts, anyway. He nudged Aaron. “Oi. Check that out.”
Aaron smiled. “Bring it on.”
The old man was walking down the pavement towards them. He walked with eyes downwards – like most folk did on the estate – as if checking the ground for potentially dangerous chasms. As he approached Rob and Aaron he looked up for a second, and nodded in acknowledgement. Rob needed no further encouragement. He sprung forward and grabbed the old man by the lapels.
“Alright Grandad? Why don’t you give us your fucking wallet and nobody’ll get hurt?”
To Rob’s surprise, the old man didn’t recoil in terror and immediately hand over his money, like they usually did. Instead, moving so fast that Rob hardly saw it, he pulled back his hand and slapped Rob hard across the cheek. Rob cried out but kept a hold of the old man’s jacket.
“You little bastards…” the old man started, but his speech was cut short by Aaron’s fist as it smashed into his nose. The old man fell to the floor, almost pulling Rob over as his grip loosened from the man’s lapels. Aaron started kicking, and Rob followed. The old man covered his head with his hands as the two young men rained kicks into his body. With every blow he cried out in pain. Rob bent down and grabbed at the man’s jacket. “Where’s your fucking wallet you old cunt? Give me the fucking money!”
Over the road a lady was pointing over at them and shouting. Two men came out of the bookmakers and she ran over to them, gesticulating over to where Rob and Aaron were mugging the old man.
Rob found the wallet in the old man’s jacket pocket, pulling away from the pensioner as he tried to hold onto it. Over the road, the two men were running towards them. “Aaron… let’s fucking go.”
Rob and Aaron turned and ran, off down the road and into the rabbit warren of alleyways and narrow streets that formed the estate. They heard shouting behind them and picked up the pace, heading down an alley behind a row of empty houses, their trainers slapping the concrete as they ran.
From nowhere, a gate banged open. An old tramp appeared in front of them, blocking their way. His matted beard hung halfway down his chest and his left cheek bore a jagged four inch scar.
“Move out the fucking way!” Rob shouted, glancing nervously behind him. He could hear their pursuers still shouting. They couldn’t be far behind.
The oldtramp grinned. “In bother are we? Come this way.”
He gestured into the gate he’d just come through, half bowing as he did so, like a court jester. The gate led into the back yard of a house that had been empty for years. This whole street was earmarked for demolition by the council, but like all the other projects round this way, the money had dried up – so the houses stood derelict, providing refuge only for local lowlifes, instead of the young families they had once housed.
Rob and Aaron looked at each other, weighing up their options.
The tramp grinned again. “I’d get a move on if I were you, lads. Sounds like you’re about to get done over.”
They went through the gate. The tramp closed it behind them and kicked a brick against it to keep it shut. “In the house,” he said, leading the way, “You can hide in here ‘til the shit dies down.”
There was something about the old homeless man. His eyes – they were the deepest of deep blue, almost hypnotic in their intensity. His gaze was entrancing. Rob and Aaron stepped in through the back door, and as it swung shut they could hear a commotion in the alley as their pursuers ran past, thwarted for now.
Facing them was another tramp, this one clean shaven but with the same piercing blue eyes. “Lads,” the first tramp said, “This is Lenny. I’m Alf. You boys must be wanting a drink, yes?”
He thrust a can of lager at them. “We share here,” he said. “What’s ours is yours.”
Rob and Aaron weren’t going to turn down free alcohol, especially when they’d just left two cans of Strongbow on the street in their haste to run away from at best, a kicking, or worse, a trip down the cop shop. Aaron smiled. “Nice one mate,” he said, taking the can of super strength beer and popping the ring pull. There were four filthy mattresses laid out on the floor in what, Aaron assumed, used to be the living room of the house. He sat down on one of them, raised the can to his lips and took a deep swig, before holding it out to Rob for his friend to do the same.
They sat there for what seemed like hours, chatting to the two tramps who, it turned out, were alright. Rob and Aaron thought the two other men were a good laugh. They told the two lads a string of filthy jokes. They shared another of their cans with them, and then as the darkness began to draw in, Alf produced a handrolled cigarette. “Check this out, boys,” he said, “Northern Lights. Homegrown skunk.”
Rob giggled. “How the fuck does an old tramp like you get hold of skunk then?”
Alf touched the side of his nose with his finger. “Let’s just say we have some sympathetic friends. Some people like to help the homeless in any way they can. Anyway,” Alf passed the spliff over to the two boys, “Since you’re our guests, you can have first go. Like I said, we share here.”
Rob opened his eyes. The early morning sunshine was doing its best to break into the house but all that came through the council-erected steel shutters over the windows were a few thin needles of struggling light. The room was still in half-darkness.
He lifted his head from the mattress. His head was pounding. Rob couldn’t remember much past smoking the spliff the two tramps had given them. It must have been strong stuff – everything after that was blank. He hadn’t intended to stay in the house for that long, let alone fall asleep on the grotty mattress.
He hadn’t slept well – his sleep had been punctuated by a series of vivid nightmares. There had been screaming, and blood. Lots of blood. The two tramps, Alf and Lenny, had been in it, and those freaky blue eyes of theirs had been even more intense than before. He remembered something in one of the dreams where those eyes had changed, morphed into dark slits, like the eyes of wolves. Aaron had been in it too. Horrible. Rob supposed it must have been the skunk – shouldn’t have smoked so much of it, should have passed it on sooner.
Rob tried to sit up, but couldn’t. He could move his head, but nothing else. He grunted and tried again. He couldn’t feel his legs. His pulse started to accelerate – was he sick? As he struggled to get his body to work, he heard Alf’s voice.
“So, you’re awake then are you, you little shit?”
“What? What the fuck? I can’t move. Help me.”
“Like picking on the elderly do you?”
Alf leant over Rob’s face, waving a piece of card with a picture on it. It was a bus pass, from the wallet of the old man he and Aaron had mugged on the street the night before. Alf’s face came into focus. There was something wrong with it. His beard was matted with red gunk and there was blood smeared around his mouth and face.
Rob started to shout for help, his body still broken down. He thrashed his head from side to side, trying to wake himself up. This was another nightmare – it had to be.
Then Alf lifted his other hand and he was holding something in that, too. Not a rectangular card this time but something bigger. Something Rob knew well.
Alf lifted up Aaron’s severed head and held it over Rob’s screaming face. Aaron’s mouth was stretched into a permanent scream that would never stop. Bits of fat and gristle hung from the jagged neck below his head. Veins dripped their last remnants of blood onto Rob’s clothes. His screams grew louder as he looked back at Alf, saw his mouth opening and saw inside a set of sharp, pointed teeth that had not been there the night before. They were red with blood – Aaron’s blood.
Rob never heard him move, hadn’t even known he was in the room, but without warning Lenny appeared on the other side of him, hissing into his ear, “We’re the oldest of all, sunshine. You should watch out for the old ones.”
His teeth were the same, wicked and razor sharp, and his eyes – oh God, his eyes – were like a wolf’s.
Rob closed his eyes and screamed again and again as Lenny and Alf fell upon him, their teeth closing around his throat, ripping and tearing, his hot blood spewing out of his neck and down his chest.
Pain, shattering pain, and then, Rob felt nothing more.
Alf and Lenny shared their young feast, and ate well. Outside, the streets looked much the same as they always did, save for the absence of two young delinquents who would no longer be bothering anybody at all.
Bio: More from Nick Boldock at http://www.nickboldock.co.uk