A Little Tale
Even though I’d largely given up smoking, I always had one before going to bed. It was like bringing the shutters down on the day, for me. Come spring, summer, autumn or winter, I’d stand by the door to the conservatory, open it, light my fag – then dream off into the twilight, while I puffed away.
Some days it would be pelting it with rain; others a haunting wind would hiss through the crevices and cracks of the world, or I’d be especially blessed with a warm calm summer night, buzzing with the clicks and clacks of orchestras of insects – minted in a heady perfume of flower and fauna – and, every once in a while, illuminated by the gleam of a full silver moon, slathering everything with a soft milky wash.
On occasion, it would be pitch black staring out into that garden – the stars buried in the dome of the sky, like the pushed pins puckering the leather of an old thinking chair; the lights, in the houses round and about, would be out – and the undergrowth, at the end, daubed in thick menacing chunks of deep shadow that over-active imaginations would populate with creatures that had pulled themselves clear of some Max Ernst painting and were hiding out there, waiting.
During such nights even weary senses would sharpen to within an inch of their ancestry – all of those primal chemicals discharging into the various points of the system… eyes alert, even under the spell of nicotine – and hearing poised to pick up even a pin drop; everything geared to thinking – geared to looking, seeking, sniffing.
I would naturally feel a little unnerved, wondering what beaked entity – seven feet tall, with arms like whipping fire hoses – was going to slink out from the places where the light was the dimmest and drag me back into the canvas. Parts of the human brain never stop being five years old – or thirty five thousand.
On the night when it happened, I don’t remember feeling any of this.
I was just quietly smoking my last cigarette, periodically tapping the ash away, when the cherry burned top heavy. It was late spring, heading into summer, and Charlie – the big daft tabby from next door – had been darting about as the sun went down, trying to catch the first juvenile flies in the lengthening lawn grass. He’d long gone by then, though, and there was just me and a foil moon flashing a dim half-light across the garden. No sound noticeable – even a distant dog barking absent – and not even a meek wind. It was slightly later than usual, sometime in the magic hours when the daytime world is left to beautiful abandon.
Suddenly, the small hedge to the right of the patio twitched.
Even though it was well past his bed time, I half expected to see Charlie emerge and acknowledge me with a momentary glare of his green headlamps, before galloping off somewhere. But whatever it was appeared feline only in that it had four limbs, a body, and a head.
‘It’ wasn’t a bird – or a small rodent, though was probably no bigger than a hedgehog – or wood pigeon. In fact, ‘It’ looked more like me – a person – than any other species; mammal or avian.
‘It’ stood upright on two legs and appeared to be holding a long, thin shaft, with (what I could see of it) a kind of hammer-head on the end.
I sensed that we’d locked eyes – even though ‘Its’ features were completely bathed in shadow – and got the distinct feeling that ‘It’ was as surprised – and unnerved – by the encounter as I was, standing in some confused pose between ease and attack.
A billion sketched thoughts squeezed themselves through the various regions of my mind but, before I had the chance to act on any of them, ‘It’ was gone, and the dog-end of the fag was burning my fingertips.
© 2015 Sam Slattery
Sam loves writing short stories, spoken word, rap, off-beat prose, silly songs, film scripts, and music reviews for online publications.