A free short story inspired by Frank Miller’s Sin City
A five minute read, which contains Spider-men…
The rain hammered down like nails from an iron-shod sky and ricocheted off the pavement, soaking everything that it touched, including the hunched form of McDuggan, his body pressed hard into the side of the alley wall, as if trying to merge with the bricks themselves. A brief flash of lightning lit the alley for a second and McDuggan pressed himself further into the shadows, as he spotted a tall, spidery figure standing at the far end of it. Although the thing’s face was hidden from view, McDuggan knew from the jerky movements of its head that it was looking for him and would not rest in its search until he had been located and subdued. The figure took a step into the alleyway and then paused, its head twisting to one side as if it was listening to a high-pitched dog-whistle or an inaudible radio transmission. Then it turned on its heels and made its way back onto the main street, oblivious to the mass of water that was crashing down around it.
McDuggan breathed a sigh of relief as the figure vanished from view and then realised that he had been holding his breath during the entire encounter. Why they were picking on him, he had no idea. All he knew was that he had to get back to his apartment and send the transmission before five past midnight, otherwise the people that depended on his regular updates would be without news. And without news, they would likely start jumping to conclusions; bad conclusions. Once that happened, McDuggan knew that he would have no more followers and would effectively be on his own. The mysterious spider-men would see to that.
Inching himself away from the safety of the wall, McDuggan glanced up and down the now deserted alleyway. Then pulling his hat down low over his face, to the point where it nearly touched the upturned collar of his sodden raincoat, he set out into the storm, moving as casually as he dared, all the time his heart thumping in his chest like a bass drum accompanying a marching band.
The apartment was only three blocks away, but it might as well have been three miles. As he joined the main street, his feet splashing on the waterlogged side walk, he spotted more and more of the spider-like figures, most of them standing on the street corners, or loitering in the shadows, patiently scanning the passing crowds, all of them looking for him and him alone in the mass of sheep-like bodies that were braving this foulest of nights for unknown reasons of their own.
A sudden impact spun him around, as a passer-by bumped into him and it was only because he was already terrified beyond belief that he didn’t cry out in shock and surprise. He did, however, drop the small metal stick he had been clutching and spent a few frantic seconds scrabbling in the folds of his pocket to regain his hold on it, lest it slip onto the ground through a hole in the fabric and be forever lost in the sea of side walk flotsam that oozed to the surface of the city’s streets whenever a downpour occurred.
Avoiding the temptation to look up, which would surely have led to him being spotted by the spider-men, McDuggan instead, hunched his shoulders and continued on his way, doing his best to melt into the crowd as he wove between the seething mass of damp bodies, drawing ever closer towards his goal. Up ahead was a familiar intersection and beyond that, another alleyway, which would take him directly to his apartment and the relative safety that it promised.
As he neared the intersection, he cursed to himself. The lights were against him, so he would have to wait with the others until he was able to cross. Standing there, looking fixedly over the shoulder of the person in front of him, McDuggan suddenly froze. Not daring to shift his gaze, he felt the strange static-electric tingle of one of the spider-like figures standing right next to him. This was it, he thought, as his heart began pounding once again. What to do? If he broke cover, then he would be spotted for certain and having seen how many of them were looking for him, he knew without a doubt that he would be captured and taken away to face who knew what fate. But standing right next to the thing was also surely tempting fate to a ridiculous degree? It was only a matter of time before the spider-man glanced down and spotted him, and then he would be done for as well.
Instinctively, McDuggan felt his body tense as it readied itself to either run or fight. With his heart now hammering even louder than the pouring rain and struggling to keep his breathing under control, McDuggan was about to make his move, when the lights changed and the crowd surged forward, carrying him along with it. A few quick sidesteps and he had put a few feet between himself and the spider-thing. Moving with the nonchalant grace of the seasoned city dweller, but still very much aware of the spider-man’s presence behind him, McDuggan allowed himself to drift towards the waiting alleyway that would take him home. Timing the ebb and flow of the crowd to perfection, he slid out of the mob and ducked into the alley, pausing for a moment to see the spider-man carried helplessly on past him, unable to navigate its way out of the pulsating throng of bodies.
McDuggan suppressed a smile, then ran down the alleyway. The sound of his footsteps echoed off the walls, as he splashed towards his apartment. With the rain now starting to ease off, he was relieved to see the familiar dark-green doorway of his apartment block appear before him. With one last glance to make sure that he wasn’t being watched, he rammed his key into the lock. To his surprise and horror, he didn’t need to turn it, the door was already open. As it swung into the lobby, a tall, spidery figure appeared and loomed over him. Without pausing to think, McDuggan punched the creature as hard as he could, into what he imagined was its stomach and smiled in grim satisfaction as the spider-man doubled over in pain. Shoving it to one side, he made his way to the stairwell and taking the stairs two at a time, not daring to look back, finally made it to his apartment. To his intense relief, the door was still locked. Obviously, the spider-men had found out where he lived, but not discovered the actual apartment. Why it was that only he seemed able to see them was a mystery to McDuggan, but one that could wait to be pondered upon later. There were more important things to be done, like getting into the apartment for one; his keys were still in the door downstairs! McDuggan reached above the door frame, fumbled for the spare key and within seconds was inside the apartment, where he shoved as much furniture behind the door as he could. He had no idea about the intellect of the strange creatures that were pursuing him, but had little doubt that they would soon start trying the keys that he had left in the main door in the various locks of the apartment building. It was now only a matter of time before he was discovered.
With the door barricaded as best as he could, McDuggan reached into his pocket and withdrew the small metal stick from his coat pocket. He made his way into the living room, then stopped dead as his eyes fell on the screen of the computer on the table that sat in the middle of the bay window. The display read 00:06. He was one minute late! The stick dropped from his hand and bounced on the wooden floorboards, as the sickening realisation struck him. He had missed the transmission deadline. There was no point in sending the update. No one would read it. The information that he had fought his way across the city for was old news now. Pointless electronic garbage. Nothing more than that.
With the exception of his footfalls, the apartment was silent, as McDuggan made his way to the tiny kitchen and took out a beer from the refrigerator. Then there was a thud, as he slid down the wall of the living room, to face the hallway beyond. McDuggan took a swig of beer and belched as the gas hit his stomach. Then he took another and wiped away the moisture from his top lip. A thin smile crossed his face and he moaned softly to himself. Now all he could do was wait. It didn’t matter about the spider-men. He had missed the deadline; his followers would already be leaving in droves. By the morning, there would be no-one left. Yes, the news mattered, but only the latest news. Some young upstart would already be taking his place, even now, mere minutes after the deadline had expired.
So, come on you spider-freaks, thought McDuggan, as he reached inside his coat and withdrew a mean looking, stub-nosed pistol from its depths. Come, do your worst. Devour me whole, or piece by piece if you must. I’m ready for you, whatever you are. I’ve got nothing to lose anymore.
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Image credit: Frank Miller, Sin City (Fantastic graphic novel and movie).