Jack Mckay huddled in the cold midnight street with a pale green sleeping bag encasing his lower half. Spindled trails of light reflected off the gleaming roads from damp lampposts. But the cold wasn’t what gave Jack his nightly jitters—not by a long shot. The small flame bewitched his green eyes just below the bent spoon full of rose-gray powder. This last week of panhandling had been kind to him. It was likely shit quality riddled with impurities, but that was irrelevant. He had an itch, so why waste what the good Lord delivered? “Might leave a wee aftertaste in your gob, but you’ll enjoy the ride, trust me.” The dealer had assured him—as much as a dealer would.
A little further down the pavement was another homeless man draped in a tan blanket. He was sitting upright with his face buried between his knees. Jack knew him as Graham Wilson, a neurotic character he had met in the queue for the shelter off Crimea Street before they reached capacity and shooed everyone else away.
A man was approaching dressed in some thick woven coat and Rupert Bear trousers. His footsteps sounded strange against the asphalt, clop-clop-clop as if he were wearing a pair of tap shoes. A large black tweed hat covered his face. He bent down to Graham and mumbled incoherently to him. The two exchanged mumbles for a minute or so before Wilson nodded. In the corner of his eye, Jack watched the two disappear into an alleyway. Probably going to suck him off for alcohol pounds, Jack thought to himself.
Once the powder became a gooey black puddle, Jack dipped in the needle tip and drew up the ethereal fluid of the angels. His arm was permeated with collapsed blood vessels too narrow and bruised for use, but he still had a few good ports left. He spied a surviving vein among the scarred landscape and slid the needle in slowly. One pull of the plunger to check for blood and then a slow push forward until the black substance disappeared. First, his arm tingled as though someone lit a fuse in his venous expressway. Then all at once, an extracellular stimulant erupted into a euphoric surge. Pure illusory pleasure coated his brain like thick warm wax. The jitters stopped. Glasgow, with its year-round Atlantic gales, with its Victorian tenements and modern skyscrapers, no longer existed. And for a moment, his thoughts reached the peak of the vast universe.
Then the screaming started; it was a horrible shrill of horror. It came from around the corner and sounded like it was pouring straight out of Graham’s throat. Through his veil of dazed elation, Jack couldn’t drown it out. Someone needed help—his help. He lumbered over the walkway and rounded the corner before his drug weighted thoughts could catch up. As he reached the narrow gap between two tenements, the ululating stopped.
Double yellow lines ran across the side streets edge with a few bin wagons under the orange glow of a streetlamp. There was no trace of the two men between the chipped brickwork. The pathway was a dead end of dilapidated windows, only one way in or out where Jack stood. Still not entirely at his wits, he stepped inside where Graham and his screams dissipated. An odor of wet trash and rusted iron perforated the air.
A drain cover was lying next to a void in the asphalt. Jack peered down the exposed pipe. Assisted by the orange light, he could make out something lying at the bottom of the chute—a mangled human hand. Two fingers were missing. The palm was for the most part peeled away from the exposed tendons in a ghastly fold. Jack stumbled backward from the sight and nearly vomited the universe from his body. Without another thought, he barreled out of the area as fast as his legs allowed.
To say the vile image of that disfigured hand smothered Jack’s thoughts was an understatement. Every night after the incident, he tried fruitlessly to expel the repeating scenarios of Graham Wilson sitting on the same street corner like him, followed by the clop-clop-clop, then the screaming. Why those sounds? Why wear those shoes? Maybe the dealer had snuck some hallucinogenic kick in his merchandise. It’s difficult to trust your eyes with a mind as high as a kite during Hurricane Bawbag. Jack was too afraid to tell the authorities, let alone to check that dreadful place again.
Russell Gresham—one of the few souls left in his social circle who wasn’t a peddler— was the only one he could tell. He had several years over Jack and had been sleeping rough in Glasgow far longer. His face was a contoured map of wrinkles with a scruffy walrus mustache beneath a jutting nose. In his earlier years, he had been gamekeeper for deer, before the Parkinson’s worsened and one bill after another went unpaid due to the alcoholism.
The two squatters often slept and conversed in the rickety upper level of a condemned corner row house off Greendyke Street. Any passerby would notice the mounds of accumulated garbage and the front door covered in violation notices. The corridors were dark and unheated, and uncovered bulbs protruded from the ceiling fixtures over bare wooden floors and uncurtained windows.
“I’m going to tell ya’ something about Glasgow,” Russell told Jack, only it came out more like Glasgee. “What you saw was a shame—a heavy shame. But when you’ve known these streets as long as I have, the ‘Dear Green’ city starts to look a hell of a lot less green. Every town has its dark corners, but Divill-be-damned if we don’t have some wicked ones.”
Jack’s spine was firmly against the wallpaper that peeled off like dead skin. Russell and his ramblings could no longer reach him. They were nothing but white noise and incoherent whispers in the faraway glades of his thoughts. But these glades were not green; they were as dark as the cavernous depths that always waited for him. Newton’s old dictum, what goes up must come down. Could he pull himself out this time around? Not without a hollow metal fix. He needed it now more than ever before. His veins were hungry. The guilty pleasures were like an insufferable ringing in his ears enough to drive anyone dog mad. Mad enough to tear out your eardrums, just for the silence to return and the cravings to cease. His sanity was screaming, just like Graham Wilson’s mutilated hand.
“They found a liver bobbing around in Hogganfield Loch; could’ve belonged to that fellow you heard,” Russell muttered, scooping a spoonful of cold vegetables and losing the majority from the hand tremors. “Didn’t take livers fer floaters, but I guess you learn something new every day.” Jack’s fleeting attention made him crack a contemptuous smile as he clutched one of the empty aluminum cans.
The can fell by Jack’s head snapping him out of his pitch-black trance. “Don’t beat yourself up, Laddie,” Russell laughed through stained grinning teeth. “Even if you went to the polis, they’d have taken one good look at you and told you to scramble. Nobody believes rough sleepers, let alone the junkie ones. ‘Come quickly; Sawney Bean is painting the streets red!’ I’m sure that’d digest well.”
But Jack would not find his solace for another four nights, until his next fix behind the deserted good yards of the Great Eastern Hotel. The large piece of property that loomed over Duke Street had long fallen to ruin. A rough sleeper from nineteen hundred times would have been able to call this place shelter, before storms and tenacious winds withered its structural integrity. Portions of the roof had collapsed, and its halls were vacant and uninhabitable. What remained of the hotel was a structure stripped down to its inner shell, more to preserve its character than anything else.
This dose couldn’t hold a candle to the last batch, no thanks to that fangled tooth dealer. It was so far diluted and inadequate that all he got was a mild spark of pleasure for roughly five seconds or so. What a fucking joke, Jack seethed. But at the very least it was enough to grant him some sleep for the night. The ringing momentarily fell still and was replaced by the sound of running water.
It was coming from the Molendinar Burn that emptied into a lower culvert in between two perpendicular walls. The burn’s flow surfaced briefly for a few yards beneath Duke Street and then disappeared yet again into the underground channels of Green Glasgow’s veins where it would eventually reach the Clyde. Across the gap, on the west side was the car park of a business center, surrounded by an eight-foot metal barrier.
“—Sammy!” The shout woke Jack. A woman with a black coat and faded teal trousers was scouring the goods yard. She looked to be in her late twenties with short ruffled auburn hair. Judging by the high-pitched whistles and the “Here, boy!” she was either looking for a dog or someone off their head. Come to think of it; maybe he had seen a dog sniffing around the area before he shot up.
A bark resonated from the burn. The woman scuttled toward the ledge and slapped both hands over her kneecaps. “How did you get down there?” she sighed. An excited bark was the response. Jack watched her approach the caged ladder to their right that was attached to a rendered cement wall and topped with a safety railing. She carefully descended the steel rungs until she fell out of sight. After the quiet splash of her shoes, Jack crept forward and peered over the ridge.
The Auburn girl was tailing a soaked Labrador that splashed around her in happy trots. What was once bright yellow fur was now sopping and clotted with mud. No dog could look more content. “What has got into you?” She shouted with a partial laugh and hiss of annoyance while the cold water rolled over her heels.
“Need a hand, Lass?” Jack called down to her.
“We’re fine. On your way, please,” she said with a denoted sliver of passive aggression, not so much as batting an eye to him.
Just as her fingers were about to hook the Lab’s green collar, it veered away and galloped downstream, straight into the culvert. “Sammy, No! No!” she screamed, making chase and stopping at the foot of the tunnel where her voice echoed back to her. She paced the air passage back and forth like a wooden duck in a shooting range. Another bark reverberated off the brick-lined walls. Finally, after several attempts to coax the dog out, she sloshed her way inside. “Little fucker,” she jeered.
Jack shuffled down the closest bank and cautiously dropped into the canal. Fresh cold water straight from the north-east seeped into his shoes. He stood beneath the stone arch at the mouth of the passage where the girl entered. It almost looked like a bullet shot right through Duke Streets crotch. “You find him?” He called into the black corridor. Traces of her voice bounced back to him, still calling for Sammy.
Once he stepped inside, it was almost as though a trip plate of events triggered all at once; an abrupt sequence that would leave Jack Mckay waking in the middle of the night glazed with sweat and holding in the screams for the rest of his life. The calls for Sammy stopped and erupted into a blood-curdling shriek. The girl’s silhouette flailed out of the darkness toward him followed by a clop-clop-clop A shadow reached out and collapsed on top of her.
Something was there, a large hunching amorphous shape. Waves of acrid bacterial odors flooded Jack’s senses. Without thinking, he pulled the lighter from his pocket and flicked the small flame to life. Through the dim light, he could see a bloated mass of wrinkled skin. Several limbs with hooves twisted entirely backward held up the bulk of its barrel-shaped body. Dripping hair that resembled pondweed stems encompassed its muscular neck with yellow patches of fur. Deep heavy breaths wafted out of its elongated muzzle anchored deeply into the girl’s shoulder. Something snapped from its brawny neck: a green nylon collar. Jack then realized the overall size of the being was growing, and the yellow blotches of fur were dissolving into its black mane.
“Why,” A rickety voice squeaked out of her gray spectral face. Her words creaked out with a weight of sanity about to be pulled to pieces. “Why aren’t you helping me?” The corner of her mouth perked up in a caricature of pure madness.
The hooves began to scrape against the rutted floor, following downstream. She was being dragged away into the imperceptible bowels of the underworld. For a moment, the paralysis left him as he dived forward and gripped the woman’s hand. The lighter plopped into the water and bathed them both in blackness. He pulled with whatever strength his welted arms could collect, but the black skin—or whatever it was—stuck to her like viscid black tar. The sharp incisors in her shoulder clenched even tighter until a yielding blood vessel popped. Blood peppered Jack’s face and made him lose grip.
He fell backward into the burn as it seeped into his lower regions. That was when he locked glances with the human-like irises. Two slits of golden embers that held a cold light behind them. The sort of way a God would look at a fly: unmoved or concerned. Go ahead; watch to your heart’s content, my friend. Who will believe you anyway? Piss emptied from his bladder. In one fearful convoluted swoop, Jack turned tail and fled out of the culvert’s throat, deafening out as much of the woman’s screams as he could.
He ended up in the vacant lavatory of a nearby park. Footsteps of mud and dirt residue smudged the monolithic flooring. The petrified face of sagging skin and dark telltale eyes stared back at him. His skin had long lost its radiance, and after tonight, it would never return. Red pocks streaked across his face, still wet and smeared. He cupped his trembling hands with water and smothered his face. Blood wreathed down the cracked porcelain sink and threaded down the drain.
Did you see it? Yes, you did. Are you sure? Damn fucking sure. Twice now the screaming had come, twice now people have disappeared. Those horrible eyes bored into his skull and left repeating thoughts of how gold can look so cruel. He could tell the authorities, but what would that do? They couldn’t deny someone’s disappearance, but as for the cause, he may as well show up stark naked to the station to give the chief a big slobbery kiss. This must be what waist-deep in shite feels like, he thought.
Russell was right, and for the time being, he was the only one Jack could trust. He sneaked into the foreclosed corner house through a gaping window. On the upper floor, Russell was nestled over a stained mattress and lightly humming in his sleep. Jack shook him awake.
“What the feck!” he bellowed and swiped dazedly in the air.
“Russell,” Jack’s skinny outline spoke to him, “Sawny Bean is painting the town red.”
“Are you hawked up on the needle? Bolt ye bawbag!” Russell snorted and began to turn over. That was until he smelled the blood. “Christ, what did you do?”
“It isn’t mine.” Jack exhaled through the gaps between his pale fingers. “Someone else’s, the woman it took away.”
Russell’s protruding nose wrinkled. “What do you mean ‘it’? What are you on about now?”
“Something was inside of the Molendinar Burn.” That was as far as his tongues deadlock allowed. Somewhere in the membrane of his thoughts was an aimless speck of wounded clarity. Never speak it, never seen it, right? He wished it were right. Then he could run away from these things that would surely drive him insane. But no, it was too late for the gift of ignorance. “I think it was a kelpie.” The words floated out of him.
One eyebrow rose and crinkled Russell’s forehead from his congested expression. “Water horses aren’t real; they are tales for bairns.”
“I know what I saw,” Jack exclaimed with the density of a stone pillar. “And this kelpie was not lookin’ to offer children rides to their watery doom. It can change its shape. That’s how it lured the young Lassie, that’s how it lured Graham Wilson. It’s real Russell, and it feeds just like you and me.”
“Yer arse is out the window. How would all of Glasgee not be on its haunches if an actual Kelpie were swiping people from the street?”
“The burn,” Jack explained hastily, “It’s been moving beneath the city, all the nooks, and crannies that run straight through Hogganfield Loch into the city. It finds someone alone and then takes them away. You said it yourself; this town has dark corners.”
Russell grunted begrudgingly. “Say you were right,” He derisively grumbled, “And something was hiding in the pipes. What could a junkie like you do?”
Images of that woman’s petrified face were acutely sowed in Jack’s mind, alongside the butchered hand, alongside the sardonic embers. “Kill it.” he breathed. “I have to kill it before it happens again.”
Russell kneaded the bags beneath his eyes and drawled out a weighty groan. A portion of his sleep-deprived brain wanted to slap every piece of nonsensical gibberish out of this dafty fool. The rest could not deny the blood, as much as it wanted to. Jack Mckay was a forlorn and hopeless heroin head, but he was no murderer. The look in his dread stricken face reanimated a distant memory for Russell, back into the depravity known as Bellgrove Hotel.
“’bout three years ago, I fell on desperate times and took to the Bellgrove Hotel. You’ve never seen squalor like that hell hole. Rats infested the courtyard and our five by ten-foot rooms with barred windows. The stairs and the moldy corridors reeked of urine and vomit, and emptied cider and vodka bottles were left in the corners. Residents would smoke joints and drink themselves unconscious while the staff left them unattended in pools of their filth. The owners were banking around a million or so a year in housing benefits.
“One night, a wee old leddy burst through the door looking white as the tail of a ptarmigan. She was crying fer help, saying something pulled her daughter into the sewer drain. One of the staff—some African mannie—threw her out into the street. We barely had any room for ourselves. To this day, I wish I had helped her, but my spirits were too hobbled. A few days after that, a small pair of lungs turned up in Hogganfield Loch.” Russell stood up from the bed and crunched his neck to the side. They could both hear distant thunder outside. He walked over to the pile of bags with a graceless gait. “I thought she was off her head. Frankly, I still think you are.”
Jack watched him fumble through one of the swollen black bags until he pulled out a small box. He returned to the bed and rested the black box over his lap. “But Divill be damned if they fish your parts out of that loch.” He unclipped the metal holders of the box and opened its contents to Jack. “The shakes have made my hands pooched nowadays, so I don’t have much use fer it.” A Glock seventeen pistol lay there in its container with a box of Winchester silver tips shoved next to the grip and trigger. “But if you’re talking out your fanny flaps and stick up a bank, then forget my name, Aye?”
A biting gale rolled over the large kettle pond of Hogganfield Loch. It was one of the four large bodies of water in Glasgow Park left behind by ice age giants. This was the paramount source of the Molendinar Burn that bled into the city.
Thunder mumbled lowly from the overcast clouds hidden behind the night sky. Jack walked along the tarmac path that encircled the lochs outer edge, the pistol loaded and securely in his pocket. Doubt consisting of [i]where to look or what to expect[/i] harassed the loony bravado he called confidence. It felt like finding a needle in a haystack full of ravenous snakes. A needle he wanted in the worst way possible about now. For all, he knew the Kelpie was lying merrily in the middle of this damned lake enjoying the fruits of its labor.
He glanced over the shallow stretch of water and met a small wooded isle situated at its center. The isolated piece of land acted as a sanctuary that any buzzard or wildfowl could nest in. He followed the trail to the southern corner of the loch, closest to the wooded islands sandy beach. Unfortunately, the only way to reach it was to trek through the watery gap between shores.
He stared at the waters glittering ripples from the wind, hypnotized by its alluring seams. Perhaps if he swam like a madman, it would be over in a minute or so. But even sixty seconds could separate the dead from the living. He’d be nothing less of an oblivious swan waiting to be pulled under, ripe for the picking. But if his theory was right—and he had every reason to doubt himself—the Kelpie came here to finish feeding. Frankly, he wasn’t even sure if it needed to eat for necessity. Those tapered gold eyes weren’t hungry; they were egotistic. After all, gods only eat and drink for pleasure purposes.
Finally, the madman made up his mind and traversed into the cold with the pistol held over his head. It was shallow enough for his feet to slop through the clumps of sand and submerged both shoulders. A sudden shock ripped through him as a long slender reed ran up his pant leg and filled him with frightful visions of a glistening black mane. He propelled himself against the Langmuir currents expecting at any moment for a set of powerful jaws to rend the flesh from his ankle and drag him into the black bubbly abyss.
The sand slanted upward as he reached the wooded island and pulled himself ashore. Fingertips smothered in soft, sticky earth never felt greater. A streak of lightning flared across the sky and released a thunderous crack that would have given Taranis and his six-spoked wheels a run for their money.
Jack retreated into the dense layers of shrubs and thick undergrowth. Mature oak trees loomed overhead housing many nests. Other than the birds, plants were the dominant species here— he somewhat hoped anyway. The farther he traveled through the foliage; the lack of human disturbance became evident. There was no chiseled path nor signs to follow. If any soul went missing here, they’d disappear into the soil forever. He scrapped the thought for now.
The greenery soon opened into a clearing, probably somewhere in the island’s center. Thunder rumbled a low-pitched growl above him, but there was a different sound behind it—the sound of sobbing. Someone was close. Ugly roots of fear and relief of another human presence branched throughout his system. He couldn’t allow himself to stop now, not after everything he’d witnessed. Even if he survived this night, the uncertainty would inevitably kill him.
The wails led him to a sloped woman curled up vulnerable against one of the lofty oaks. She whimpered as her auburn-colored head hung between her knees.
“Miss,” Jack spoke softly in-between her convulsive gasps.
The pasty, sickly-looking girl, floundered against the bark. “No, Please!” She shrieked with anguished blue eyes. A patina of cuts and bruises covered her body; most notably, the torn fabric over her left shoulder revealed grooves of missing flesh. It was the Auburn girl! Jack couldn’t believe she had survived.
“It’s okay,” He said and slowly drew closer to her. “I’m here to save you, Lass.”
“You—you’re the one that left me to die!” She screamed hoarsely.
“Aye, you’re right, but here I am.” He traced the forested area with a cursory glance. “Where has it gone?” He inquired.
She shook her head and started to bellow. “I—I don’t know. Everything was dark and wet. Something wouldn’t let go of me. It dragged me deeper and deeper. Where is my dog? Where is Sammy?”
“I can’t say, but right now you need a hospital.”
The Auburn girl pointlessly attempted to upraise herself with trembling noodle legs. “I can’t; it hurts too much. My ankle feels twisted.” She wined pitifully.
It couldn’t be helped; Jack knelt beside the girl and hoisted her arm over his shoulder. Her petite body leaned into his. In this position, he felt as vulnerable as she was. Did it already know he was here? Was it baiting him for a two-for-one deal? Despite the possibilities, this woman needed medical attention. He’d have to make that wager.
They traversed through the hedges towards the border where Jack came in. The thought of crossing that water now felt like suicide, but what choice did they have? None, the quiet voice of reason whispered. “What’s your name?” He asked through the wet strands of short hair atop her head. Talking, yes talking would help.
She didn’t answer.
“Quite a nice heap of shite we’ve ended up in, eh?” Jack said with a makeshift chuckle, holding whatever sanity existed in an upside-down world. She still didn’t answer. Despite his constructed machismo woven from self-assurance and resolve, something wasn’t right. The woman had a dainty light-weight look to her, but she felt heavy. Almost like a gravitational pull only affecting one of them. The weight of her steps thumped the ground.
Her arm resting on his shoulder seized around his neck. A scar of lightning fire ripped through the sky and illuminated the entire loch for an instant. He looked at her, and she looked right back. Blue eyes no longer greeted him, only golden embers. Something wet and clammy clung to Jack’s arm. Her pastel skin took on a runny gelatinous texture like a doll in a microwave. It climbed over his shirt and suctioned to him. The fabric of her clothes lost their texture and now resembled vaguely colored gelatin. The viscous goo-like secretion that once made up her body crawled over his arms, his torso, and started up the neck. Her eyes were infatuated with him and harbored an almost coy assertion. I win, they said.
Two booming flashes illuminated them. One from the storm, the other from the pistol stowed away in Jack’s pocket. The flytrap substance released him while the silhouetted shape of the girl collapsed to its knees. The rough outline of her dissolving figure was sputtering heavily from the newly opened hole where her throat and the silver bullet were acquainted. Her color blackened to a pitch residue. That pungent fungal smell was back and stronger than ever. Muscles in its back contracted and then bulked together like an interweaving tumor.
But Jack wasn’t done yet. Two more shots opened the creature’s expanding back. It gurgled out a droning moan. Spouts of white which reminded him of star jelly jetted out of its wounds. An eerie satisfaction suffused through him. “So, gods bleed, do they? How does it feel?” he yelled through a fixed rictus grin. By now its mouth and nostrils had elongated into a flat muzzle with projecting razor-edged canines.
Beneath her was the muffled pop of several ribs being pulled out of place and curved outward. She was getting larger, more cylindrical. The bones in her arms and legs were forcefully extending. Her toes and fingers shriveled away into slanted cone-shaped stubs.
Another round tore straight through its fleshy jowl. And then two more in its hind leg joints. The creature squealed piercingly like a banshee. It reared its triangular head backward where Jack caught sight of its eyes filled with crystallized fear. The universe coursed through his veins once again and transcended his mind to an unsurpassable threshold. He had met the enemy, and by the saints, this day was his! “Send me another!” he screamed to the tempest sky. “Send another ignorant god to put down!”
The large chthonic horse raised itself upward, still bleeding the star jelly profusely. Its powerfully built muscles leaped into a four-beat gait. Clumps of earth kicked up in Jack’s face from its twisted hooves. He gave chase to the monstrosity with his pistol deadlocked on its fleeing figure. “Where are you off to, I thought you enjoyed the hunt!” Jack cackled as he madly fired off more shrapnel in its direction.
The Beast ripped through the thicket and leaped into the loch with an explosive splash. Jack skidded to a halt just an inch from the edge and bombarded the disturbed water until the click-click-click of an empty magazine. “Come back anytime, you big Jessie. I’ll be waiting right here, you fucker!” He screamed, unhinged and hysterical. He sloped backward and fell flat on his back. A sensation of raw, unfettered joy bathed his frantic bliss. And for the first in a very long time, the jitters ceased.
Russell Gresham was lying between a doorway with a sheet of cardboard pinned behind his spine and another tucked beneath his sleeping bag. It was a humid sundown with a few light rain outbreaks that left the pavement cold and wet. His panhandling cup grossed four pounds, big tippers today. The deplorable foreclosed house he had temporarily called his own was remarkably put back on auction and sold. But rough sleeping rough was nothing to a soul like his.
Slow-paced footsteps approached. Russell didn’t look at them; it may put off potential alms. ‘Come on, let’s hear that charity’ His inner voice implored the stranger anticipating the lovely clink.
“By hell, have I lost it?” the stranger abruptly spoke.
Russell lifted his eyes to the astonished face of Jack Mckay—or someone that resembled him anyway. But that unchastened face couldn’t belong to the Jack that he knew. It was too bright, too much life in the cheeks. The clothes were also too clean. He was sporting a gray fleece jacket, dark green trousers, and unblemished sketchers.
“Well, if it isn’t my favorite ne’er-do-well.” Russell chuckled glancing at him up and down. “Got all the muck and gunk out of your system?”
His animated cheeks creased to a broad smile. “Most of it,” He laughed and bent towards Russell, “A few still linger here and there, but I’ve reduced it.”
“And how did you go about that?”
“Drug Crisis took me in. They got me on methadone to stop the cravings. It was hell’s bells, worst nights of my life, but eventually, the urges lessened, and I was able to quit the needle. Next thing I know, I found a warehouse job.”
“So, that is what ate you up,” Russell said. “I thought fer sure it was your imaginary Kelpie. Has it bitten your arse yet?”
Jack’s tongue lapped around his lips. An empty searching expression impeded his glowing smile in a thousand-yard stare. “Not since then.” He muttered.
Russell still remembered that night six months ago, when Jack returned; swamp drenched to high hell and a white plastered face like a nun who’s kissed St. Andrew himself. That deep-seated look wasn’t crazy, more so enthralled. “I got rid of it,” he muttered from the floor with the empty pistol lying over his knees. “Sent the bastard back to the watery hell it crawled out of” That was the last Russell saw of him. He figured that maybe Jack’s monster had caught up with him. But there was one other thing; no further organs were found drifting in Hogganfield Loch since then.
“—and it wasn’t imaginary,” he added during Russell’s recollection. “Perhaps I am crazy, but let’s say I was to believe what I saw. Because whether I do or don’t, that won’t change the fact that two people died kicking and screaming in the dark by something that was—and still might be—lurking in that loch.”
Russell shrugged passively and shot an incredulous look. “Goes to show, tighten the hinges and there will still be a few screws loose. Speaking of which, you still owe me fer those silvers you wasted.”
“I owe you a lot Russell, more than you may tolerate,” Jack said as he rose to his feet and extended his hand to him. “Come with me.” That solid stone tone was back.
Russell blinked, “What are you on about now?”
“Get off the streets and come with me.”
Russell blinked again and this time shook his head. “No thanks, Lad. I’ve seen all there is to shelters, can’t say I’m inter—”
“Times are different,” Jack interrupted him, his outstretched hand not wavering. “Things aren’t perfect, but they certainly aren’t the same.”
Russell stared at him, at first flabbergasted, but then something else. To this day, he still isn’t sure what prompted him to take Jack’s hand. But if he were to wager a guess, it would probably be the look in his eyes. They were the kind of eyes that cherished their freedom, the sort of eyes that were able to defeat their monsters.
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