Something was moving near the gravestone. I could hear a low scritch-scritch over the hum of the city.
A small dark form crept out around the base of the headstone. There was a dim lifeglow as the small form busied about rooting in the weeds. Another vole.
I had waited for several hours as the night grew deeper and the moonlight, diffused by the smog, dimmed further. The shadows of the buildings around me grew longer as the darkness deepened. There were very few people out now. I can normally feel, for want of a better word, the presence of people and animals. I felt only a handful of people out and about now as well as the quiet sussurus of the cemetery before me. Most of the city had the sense to be asleep at this hour.
My senses were heightened as is normal for those out in the night. I could hear the vole despite the city noise as it was barely five meters away. My senses focused on the little creature momentarily such that I was quite startled nearly out of my own shoes when a loud thrashing noise suddenly broke the silence of the night. In a fraction of a second I whirled and fired in one smooth movement at the sinister black form that stood atop the gravestone to my left.
There was a loud crackling-ripping sound, like the air itself had torn open as the unweildy cannon that Mr. Footman had provided me with launched it’s deadly beam at the intruding presence that had made itself so clearly manifest. There was a startled, squelched shriek as the black form literally exploded in a cloud of . . feathers!?
I looked down upon the parboiled ruins of the hapless crow that had so startled me.
“Nice shootin Tex.” I muttered sarcastically to myself “There’s not a fowl in New Babbage that won’t fear the wrath of old shatterhand.”
I turned and walked away leaving the poor beast to its fate when a thought struck. I’d heard rumors associating Mr. Underby and crows in some form not long after I arrived here. I walked on, stepping carefully over the short fence as I thought to myself. I doubted it was one of his though, what were the odds? Sometimes a crow is just a crow after all. The odds are against you in life often enough that I quite liked the idea of them favoring me. I therefore decided to put more distance between myself and the cemetery in order to improve the odds for the little creatures therein.
I took a position about ten meters or so away from the cemetery fence and waited. The excitement of the encounter quickly faded and I found myself fighting sleep as the tedium dragged on. After some time I heard a growing rumbling noise. It was a trolley approaching from the pavilion. The people on it were the last group headed out for the night. Now only those unlucky enough to have all-night work ahead of them remained. The night wore on.
I had almost nodded off when I felt a presence. No vole or crow, this was distinct and all pervading, like the smog laying thick over the area. My skin crawled and I looked into the black cloud growing amidst the graves. It felt as if a great many cats were being dragged backwards across a giant blackboard. This thing was not from around here, I’d bet on that. In the center of the cloud a dark figure took form.
It had tentacles. I’d seen it before from a distance, but seeing it up close somehow drove that point home in a much more immediate way that a more distant view could not. It was still too dark to tell what it looked like, but it was clearly dressed in a black suit. It stood there as if waiting for something.
There was not a sign if life to it at all! Not even the peaked glow in a small sleepy lizard.
“Who are you!” I asked, not really expecting an answer. It didn’t defy expectation, instead it turned slowly to face me. “Well? Spea . . ah!” I jumped back as it moved quickly towards me.
It was faster than I’d thought and I was weighted down by the bulky power supply of the weapon I carried. I moved as quickly as I could while keeping the ‘rifle’ pointed in its general direction.
“Who are you?” I repeated. It’s only answer was to keep walking, fast as a man would jog, towards me.
It was around this time that I decoded to stop asking questions and start persuading. I depressed the firing stud on the weapon only to be greeted by a clicking sound. He was standing no more than an arms length away by this time.
I got a very good look at his face from this position. Well, at least I would have if there had been something there to see. His entire head was nothing but a featureless mass, a blank, generic, headlike shape.
He seemed to take his time. That was what saved me. As the tentacles came around to entangle me I felt a searing, icy, yet almost electrical sensation. I moved with a speed powered by sheer desperation and despite the bulky pack I managed to put several meters between us in well under a second.
It didn’t last long. He turned and advanced again. I fumbled the safety off and fired when he was about a meter or so away.
The beam lanced out and struck him square in the chest. There was no sound other than the weapons characteristic sizzling-ripping noise. He simply flew apart in a cloud of blackness which quickly dissipated. That unnerving presence was still here though. It wasn’t over yet. I looked about only to see black figure reappearing in the same place that he’d originally appeared. The weapon worked, but it only dissipated him. He then re-formed almost immediately.
There was no waiting next. He must have lost patience with the situation for he advanced, much more quickly than before. I barely had time to move out of the way as I fired the weapon again. It was a clean miss, though it did make him break off his attack and run over towards the trolley rails. I was about to fire again when he took a most prodigious leap and cleared not only the wall behind the tracks but the fence of the park as well.
It must have been a good 30 meters! Even on a good day and without this bulk encumbering me I would have difficulty even approaching that. There was no hope of matching it with the weapon so I ran to the stairs to give chase. I had a vague idea of where he’d gone even though my sense of him was not of any use at the moment. I ran as fast as I was able through the park and down towards the street in front of City Hall. I did not have to look far. There he was silhouetted against the
lights of the theater entrance. I raised the weapon to fire but he stepped through the closed doors before I could get a shot off.
I stood there for a second or two thinking. He might be there waiting on the other side of the door. If so he would get a shot at me when I opened it. Those burning tendrils of his had already left their mark once. I felt the presence move off, away from the door and deeper into the theater. I made to kick the door open and entered the building. He was not visible from the now open doorway. He was definitely still in the building though. I moved in, carefully keeping an eye out for sign of him. It wasn’t long till I found him apparently just standing and staring, if you can use the phrase for a thing with no eyes, at a painting.
I am stubborn sometimes, admittedly, so it was that I decided to try talking again.
“What do you want?” I asked. He stood there, again ignoring me.
Vexed by his apparent lack of interest, I approached to a few meters distance. This apparently succeeded in getting his attention as he turned and fairly leapt in my direction. I dodged again as best I could and fired as he passed by, running for the doors. The shot was another clean miss though it did sufficiently distract him that he only got in a light touch with one of those tentacles. There was that peculiar burning sensation again, almost like electrical current. I’d had quite enough of running about apparently at random by this point. I advanced, running after him and firing again as he headed out into the courtyard. The blast narrowly missed him, singing two of the tendrils that reached outwards from his back. Once out in the open he moved in again with that inhuman quickness. The damned thing was fast, that was certain!. I didn’t bother trying to dodge this time. It hadn’t helped and this had gone on quite long enough. Sooner or later he was going to get me if I kept it up. I fired into the rush, hitting him square in the chest once again. He burst into that cloud of blackness as before, the wind rushing past me as it dissipated.
I felt the presence fade away as well this time.
Apparently it was over, for tonight at least.