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Estimated reading time — 14 minutes

The leaves seemed to fall slower, now that only a handful adorned each tree. The gnarled fingers of each branch were almost bare and the majesty of the autumnal colours had made way, shifting into naked trees that varied only slightly in colour. Browny grey, browny grey with a hint of black and just, plain old grey. The bitter early winter had jealously stripped away the vibrancy of preceding seasons and the near wasteland that would form the backdrop to daily life was almost complete. Just those last, determined leaves that had curled into dancing tubes now clung, with ever loosening grip in the wind, to the stark arms of their parent tree.

Serge Lipman, sucked on a cigarette and peered out of the windscreen of his parked car. Beyond the unfurling smoke lifting from the cigarette, the fog as he exhaled and the mist now steaming up the window, he could see very little outside. The light was fading and shapes in the distance began to darken and blur, one into another.

The 53-year-old account manager didn’t care about the view. He didn’t care for much at all. He was always angry with the world anyway so who gave a fuck if the darkness swallowed it all up and never gave it back? It had been a long day for him, and he was here for his reward. He had earned it. He had spent his days shackled to a desk, running through ‘accounts’ before forwarding them to the tablet of some debt recovery agent in a van, somewhere. He didn’t care where or who the company was intimidating that day. He wasn’t interested anymore. Even the small amount of joy he used to get from assigning jobs to burly men who were once called ‘debt collectors’ or even ‘bailiffs’, had long since fizzled away. He still got a little kick out of the occasional phone call he would receive. Some whiner claiming they couldn’t pay this or they were too broke for that. He would even crack a smile, revealing nicotine-stained teeth with great gaps between them, especially if he could hear the caller turning on the water works.


He didn’t take many calls now. Throat cancer had left his voice raspy and difficult to understand. His so-called senior managers made up some crap about not wanting to strain his voice whereas in reality, he knew, they deemed it too ‘intimidating’ for callers though Serge didn’t agree. He would use the husked tone to his advantage and force the rasp in his voice until phlegm bubbled in his throat and it sounded appalling to the caller. Not until he could see his younger colleagues turn pale at the sound emitting from his mouth did he think his voice sounded just right. Guttural, liquidy and coarse. Then he would unleash it on the caller, a fiery lecture on debt and how if they couldn’t afford it, they shouldn’t have rented it or something about prioritising. It didn’t matter what sob story they gave. Serge enjoyed hearing the torment in their voice, but even that pleasure was a rarity now.

Instead, he used his personal time to attend to his own rewards. He deserved it after all. He worked hard and now he sat here, in his car, excitedly glancing at his aging phone, the touchscreen thick with grease from his constant cigarette smoke and his hands, which were laden with nicotine stains and the remnants of a steak and kidney pie he had eaten an hour before, sodden pieces of which still clung to the broken molars at the back of his mouth.

According to messages he had shared over an online chat room that existed deep in the underbelly of the internet, his companion for the evening would be arriving shortly.
His mind flitted back to those messages as he counted down the minutes before he would have to go to the park bench by the notice board. The agreed meeting place.
Those messages, a warm grumble emitted from his throat as he thought about every word. Friendly at first. Almost innocent. He liked that. The innocence of the messages. The naivety of the replies. The questions. The constant reassurance. He felt a pang of pleasure from each one. Not the same pleasure he got from torturing debtors over his office phone. Not even the pleasure he got when he would send bailiffs to desperate people’s doors. No, this pleasure was more primal. More natural he considered. A pleasure men like him needed to feel. After the hours he had spent coaxing his young chat partner into meeting him, this was his well-earned prize.

The cigarette had burned down to a stub but still Serge sucked the last consumable vapours from it before he opened the car door to toss it out.

The cold, rural air filled his lungs, but his body no longer reacted well to anything that one could consider fresh. Fresh fruit, fresh water, fresh air. It would all be rejected with a hacking cough that would end with a jelly like blob being huffed from his mouth into a coffee cup at work or onto the stony ground out here at the Country Park.

As he stood, he steadied himself momentarily and brushed away most of an hours’ worth of cigarette ash and pastry flakes. He wiped the brown, sticky gravy from the corners of his mouth with his thumb and index finger before he ran all of his fingers through his thinning, greasy unkempt salt and pepper hair.


Looking around, the car park was empty. He visited this place not so long back, as he had heard about recreational activities went on here after dark that he could enjoy watching. He was disappointed that time only to be met by the site of a car with some teenagers stood around as they revved their engines, laughed loudly and smoked. One of them caught his attention, however. She was an attractive enough girl to make his breathing switch from shallow to heavy and cause the first beads of sweat to escape his thinning hairline and run through the valleys of his uneven, pitted face. He had waited in the shadows behind a weather worn notice board, hoping that she would be one of those girls he had read about, that others had shared stories about on his discreet, anonymous message boards. The girls who enjoyed the attention the boys would give them when they pushed their breasts forward, straining the seams of clothing already close to being too small. Those ready-for-anything hussies who wore the most immodest outfits to enrage their daddies but invite in all the lookers. Lookers like him.

Like Serge.

That time he had been disappointed. Tonight, he knew, he would not. No, he had lured her in, and she was keen. She had loved his pictures. His pictures that he swore blind he would never send to anyone else. Just her.

And it worked. In a few minutes they would meet. Serge would have his reward. His entirely deserved reward. His stomach grumbled at the excitement.

“Urgh” he exhaled. He was angry with himself all of a sudden. His Irritable Bowel Syndrome sent shards of pain into his abdomen. “Fuckin’ coffee” he rasped releasing a loose belch, cursing himself for drinking so much that day, knowing what it did to him. Knowing what he had in store for tonight. By now he was already at the same old weather worn notice board and he didn’t want to go back to the car for his pills. What if she arrived seeing him walk away? He didn’t want her to think he was getting cold feet. Stomach pain aside, tonight was going to be perfect.

He came to a stop close to the notice board, seeing the front of it up close up for the first time, noticing the faded posters and notices. There was also a rubbish bin into which he hacked up another jellyfish of phlegm before wiping away a trail of yellow saliva from his lip and dirty, grey stubble. He peered in briefly at the notices on the board, tacked behind a cracked plastic screen that no longer protected the contents from the elements.

There was something in there about cars being broken into, another one about dog mess. He sneered at the dog on the poster. He never liked animals, especially dogs. Horrible dangerous things with filthy habits.

Beneath that poster, almost half the size and handwritten, was a more recent but still worn looking notice about a missing dog. The family were sad, there was a reward and its name is, or was, Gamble and so on. Serge’s lips slowly parted with glee, exposing his row of yellow teeth. Good, he thought. One less of them.

His nose suddenly wrinkled uncontrollably. A stench briefly wafted across his face. Pungent yet familiar like a wet animal mixed with bitter mould perhaps. It reminded him of a very old coffee cup he had found at the back of his microwave at home. Infested with small flies, the cup was green with mold and the smell was bitter and dry. This smell wasn’t dry but definitely akin to mold. He sucked at the air with his wide nostrils, but the smell had gone, almost. Just a residue hung faintly.

He peered into the bin trying to make out what detritus was rotting away beneath him, but he couldn’t see for sure. It didn’t matter. He hadn’t chosen this location for romance. More convenience. The intimacy would come later where the smells would be more bodily, and to his liking, he was sure.

A sound behind him caught his attention. The rapid approach of heavy feet on the stony floor of the car park. For a moment, Serge’s pulse quickened and his groin felt a prickle of anticipation. He turned… this was not his reward.

Two large men dressed in jeans and tee-shirt accompanied a shorter woman with what appeared to be dirty blonde hair in a tight pony tail. One of the men, slightly shorter than the other and wearing a baseball cap with a slogan on that Serge couldn’t make out in the faded light, strode purposefully ahead. In his hand shone a small but powerful light trained solely on him. A camera.

The female now produced a camera too. He could see their faces a little better as the came within a few feet. Her face seemed older than he would have expected from someone wearing a track suit. In fact, the crows feet fanning out from the corner of each eye and the wrinkled top lip sported a blonde moustache of coarse fluff that softened the line of her philtrum certainly seemed at odds with someone who still wore ill-fitting tracksuits. She seemed angry, her face contorted and the bounce in her waddle proved her menace but she didn’t seem to be the leader.

That honour seemed to belong to the taller man. He didn’t carry a camera. Instead, he carried a folder, which he used to point in Serge’s direction. On his creased black tee-shirt, beneath a dusting of white coarse dog hairs, was emblazoned a large Brunswick Star that you would usually expect on the uniform of a police officer or even firefighter, but he was most certainly neither. Within the star were the letters Y, J and U in fonts that didn’t seem to match the formality of the star.

In a thick accent, the leader began with “Serge Lipman? Also known as Sergio_84?”.

“Yeah,” stammered Serge. “Well, Serge Lipman is who I am”. His blood had run cold at the mention of Sergio_84, his online handle. The same handle he had been sharing with CassieKitty08, the same CassieKitty08 who he was expecting but it was dawning on him that she wasn’t likely now to arrive. Worst still, maybe she had just arrived. He could feel his face burn and he was starting to feel unsteady.

“Yeah we know who you are, fella” said the leader, “and for your safety and ours we are sharing this with our audience [he gestures toward the camera held my the stocky man with the baseball cap] and they too will know who you are. Do you understand me?”

Immediately, Serge rushed to cover his face with his hands. He was so quick he even caught the tip of his nose with his nicotine-stained fingernails. However, the leader reached out and pulled his hands away.

“Again fella,” he boomed, “for your safety and ours keep your hands down and out of your pockets too”.

“Who…” Serge was interrupted as the leader carried on.

“My name’s Darren Lister from the Young Justice Unit, you may have heard of us?”. Serge shook his head, the lights from the bobbing cameras stinging his eyes. “I just want to ask you one question, fella…” a brief showy pause for affect, “how long have you been talking to young girls on the internet?”.

Serge’s ears burned and he could hear his own heartbeat amidst the thunderous rush of blood that seemed to drown out any other noise. “I, I… I don’t…”

“No point lyin’, ya dirty pervert” spat the woman with the fuzzy philtrum. “We know you ‘ave been”.

Darren Lister, sensing his companion’s professionalism was lacking and knowing it didn’t look as good on camera, intervened with a wave of his hand. “Lisa, love, it’s OK” he pleaded, “let’s see what he says, yeah?”. She huffed through her teeth and nodded, never breaking her stare from Serge, who was now shrinking down meekly.

“Have a seat fella” said Darren, “we’re not here to harm you in any way but for your information we have called the police and they are on their way”.

Serge momentarily looked into Darren Lister’s eyes before allowing himself to buckle onto the bench where he crossed his arms across himself and pulled his knees in tight. The cameras of Lisa and the man in the baseball cap could see the thinning strands of hair on his head and even the occasional flake of pastry caught here and there, transferred from hand to head earlier on.

Lisa lowered hers to get a better angle of Serge’s face. Her camera phone was the ‘live’ one giving social media viewers the up-to-date gawp. The other, in the hands of Baseball Cap, would be used to edit in new angle footage for the cleaner cut their editor would put together and upload later on, once he had finished his shift at a local pizza place.
Serge now tried to dial back the guttural voice and instead tried to come across as sympathetic, no, as pathetic as possible.

“I was just looking to find a friend,” he grovelled. “I survived cancer and I don’t have many…”

“Fuck that, you said some dirty shit to someone who you just wanted as a friend!” Lisa ranted before Darren could regain control.

“Why kids though, Serge?” asked Darren loudly but calmly.

“No, I, I didn’t know she was a kid” momentarily he gasped for air. “She said she was 18…”

“That’s not true though” Darren retorted. “We know it’s not true as you were actually speakin’ to Lisa”.

All eyes and the second camera switched to Lisa who smugly twisted her smiling lips into a tight purchase and her head nodded rapidly causing her camera to jiggle for the viewers at home.


Her camera stopped jiggling and she seemed to zone out of the situation briefly, addressing the watchers online.

“Hiya Jake, welcome back Love. Sha’ thanks for watchin’ babe. Good to see you. Ah, thanks Gary. We do try, Love. I know yeah, dirty one this, guys” she yammered.

Serge’s head was swimming. He was scared, embarrassed and angry all at once. He also knew he was caught and he felt trapped in.

“We do it for the kids, guys” she declared. “If we don’t, who will, eh?” all the time watching the viewing figures creep up and smiling.

“What the fuck is that?!” spoke Baseball Cap finally.

Darren paused and stood up straight. “What’s up, Paul?”

“Eurgh, that fuckin’ smell” he raised his sleeve to his nose, allowing the camera to lose focus just for a moment.

Serge hadn’t noticed the stench return. In his head he had been vanishing down a tunnel, hoping it would save him, the deeper he got. But now, that vile smell had returned, stronger now and it had acted like smelling salts, slapping him back into the real world where bright camera lights shone into his eyes.

“Oh aye, for fuck’s sake, that is fuckin’ rank” whined Lisa, her gravelly voice sounding like a broken siren as she choked on the pungent smell that thickened the air. She, Paul and Darren glanced at one another then around them, using the phone camera lights for torches. They narrowed their eyes, peering into the darkness around them.

In the daytime this place sat at the Northern tip of a national forest. The small car park was surrounded almost entirely by thick stringy grass up to the knees and tight formations of trees that stretched miles upon miles back beyond the horizon. There was a poorly maintained picnic area just behind the notice board, primarily consisting of two decrepit picnic benches and space for a third. Then there was the single lane track that passed for a road that everyone present that night had negotiated. Here and there the narrow gaps in the trees widened slightly to allow ramblers and dog walkers into the woods.

At night, it was a surreally different world of all black. It was impossible to see much without light and even the camera phone flash lights weren’t piercing the curtain of gloom particularly far.

This wasn’t an ideal place, Darren had considered. During their so-called live-stings, he preferred his quarry come to him in a place he knew well. It was safer that way, he reasoned, he could control the situation better and they could guarantee that all important phone signal for streaming their activities. In this place even Paul, the groups quiet enforcer and fan favourite, had complained out loud about reception on his phone even though his camera wasn’t live.

They had relented to Serge’s dogged persuasion on the message boards as he claimed the place would ‘give them privacy’ and it would be ‘romantic’ for their first date. The terminology used sickened Lisa but she had kept up the ruse, eventually agreeing to meet on his terms. Tonight, it was a mistake that would haunt everyone’s last few seconds on Earth.

As the team peered beyond the reach of their meagre lighting, searching for the source of the reek, they had seemingly forgotten their operation and the live audience that had tuned in for some social media justice. Paul and Serge had detected the sound before the others and it chilled them to their core.

Thwump. Thwump. Thwump.

Vegetation cracked and rustled at the approach of the sound.

Thwump. Thwump. Thwump.

The pace quickened now and Serge, still cowering with his bony knees tucked in tight with his nicotine and grease stained hands holding them in place, suddenly saw movement. A reddish-brown colour reflected in the weak lights.

Eye shine.

Fairly distant but savagely bright and gaining like a speeding train.

Thwump. Thwump. Thwump.


Everyone could now hear it and stared wide eyed and frozen in place, at the gap in the trees from where a great, blacker-than-night behemoth bore down on them.

Thwumpthwumpthwumpthwump CRASH!!!!

From the gap barrelled an enormous form that clipped a tree as it hurled itself and sent shards of bark in every direction! Its eyes burned through the shadows, one particularly bright, absorbing the light and spitting it back out like flames! The other was duller, perhaps unseeing, giving the immense head a cycloptic appearance.

The last thought that passed through Serge’s mind before a hot maw, filled with enormous two-inch teeth surrounded his throat completely and proceeding to burrow in to his sweaty, poorly kempt flesh, was ‘my reward’.

His cancer blighted throat popped beneath the unbearably strong jaws, shredding it to a gaping hole through which blood and the yellow vomit Serge was about to spew bellowed through.

The bite, though fairly precise, had snagged bone, effortlessly removing the jaw bone from the skull allowing it to swing freely from Serge’s bloody face. In amidst the wound his dark tongue flopped like a single, slimy searching tentacle.

Lisa had found herself now at the rear of the creature, trapped. Pinned to the floor by it’s great back foot. Whether by accident or design it had pinned her by the head, the huge pads of its foot pressed down on her face. Her wide, panicking eyes peered out from between it’s claws. Her nose completely crushed flat. She couldn’t breathe, nor could she move. She could feel the weight gradually increasing as the beast shifted the weight onto its hind legs as it raised its forward claws to burrow into Serge.

She felt bone painfully cracking below her eyes, her very structure fracturing beneath the foot. She tried to scream, instinctively thrashing at the monster animal. Her camera phone, now strewn off to her right, gave off enough light to illuminate just a small portion of the underside of the creature. Thick, black fur gave way to the almost hairless, lighter belly. It wasn’t enough to even begin to identify it, even if her brain still retained the capacity for cross referencing animals she had seen in zoos or on TV that would fit the size, speed and power of this gigantic animal.

Besides, even if she wanted to answer the question of what this terrifying thing was that was standing on her, it would have been too late as, with a hollow, wet crunch, her time ran out.
Lisa’s head gave way under the pressure, her face collapsing in to a pulpy crater. The 33-year old’s features, her nose, mouth, cheekbones and eyes, sank to the back of her skull, crushed and mixed into the squelching brain matter that broke up between the toes of the titanic furry black foot.

Serge too was now expired. His mutilated body now appeared as little more than a visceral, crimson nightmare. Even in the dim white light of Lisa’s camera phone the steam emitting from several huge gaping wounds lifted into the chill, night air like the escape of his corrupt soul.

Paul was already dead though his wound was outwardly much less severe, comparatively. He had been forced backwards by the weight of the creature as it barrelled through, striking the group down like bowling pins. He had survived the initial impact that had caused the back of his head to contact the corner of the bench, the impact of which, even through his baseball cap, causing the skull to crack but still leaving him alive and barely conscious. However, he didn’t survive the follow up knee from the animal’s right, hind leg as it crushed him against the thick, railway sleeper bench. His battered head now rested completely at an unnatural angle on the bench. His neck wasn’t so much broken as shattered and the muscles tenderised in an instant leaving no support for his cranium which flopped back and came to rest like a dropped marionette. His baseball cap still rested atop his shaved dome, though now torn and bloodied at the site of the initial impact.

Darren still lived and he crawled, awkwardly, slowly across the rocky ground of the carpark. He knew he was injured but he felt nothing but cold and fear as his fingers clawed for purchase to drag himself away. He inhaled dirt from the ground but dared not spit or cough for fear of attracting the attention of the assailing horror.

He needn’t have bothered.

Behind him, the animal, illuminated from beneath by the discarded phones, had finished with the others and was stood still, strips of skin and flesh dangling from its blood-soaked mouth, its great red eye spying on Darren as his futile efforts to escape had barely earned him a fifteen-foot head start. It regarded him, seemingly relishing the moment, sniffing the blood and terror in the air.

Darren, delirious with fear, scrabbled through the dirt, his breath shallow, his head swimming with pain and confusion, his ears filled with a throbbing roar of rushing blood, echoing the rapid beat of his pulse. All the while he was oblivious to the cunning, deliberate, gradual stalk of the fiery-eyed beast.




And a final, crunching, pulverising THWUMP.

Credit: Dave Cash

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