Monday, September 8, 2008

The creature in the pail

One evening you stay out too late and it's ten minutes to midnight. You reach the train stop and realise your wallet's gone; probably that man who bumped into you earlier took it. The tracks beneath you shiver as other trains pass by. You dig your pockets but there's not enough money to get a ticket. There's no one else around. You go up the staircase to the street to see if there's anyone around, and beneath a flickering street lamp you see him. A man wearing a coat and a scarf with black glasses. He has a red pail in front of him. Something about him beckons you to approach. You step close, checking the watch. There's five minutes to go. The ground shudders again. The air is cold, and you can see why he's shivering.

You ask the man if he has a dollar, and if he can loan it to you for the ticket for the train. He looks at you, and says no, but he thinks there is a dollar coin in the pail in front of him. He says you can put your hand into the water and dig it out.

You stare down into the water of the pail, and in the black water you realise there's something inside. Something sleek and dark and coiling. You can't see exactly what it is, but you can see as it moves about, a coin at the very bottom of the pail, flickering and enticing.

"Does it bite?" You ask the man.
"When it's hungry," the man replies.
"Is it hungry now?"
"It hasn't eaten for two days."
"What does it eat?"
"Oh... anything and everything," he says, smiling, his hands still buried in his pockets. You can't see his eyes.

"The coin is yours if you put your hand in," the man says.
There are about three minutes left. Your hand is poised just above the pail. The black thing inside appears to be squirming more. You ready, and stick your hand in, and suddenly there is an electric sting in your fingers, like they have been pricked.

"What did it do?" you ask.
"I don't think it did anything," the man replies. There are patches and holes in his jackets, and his glasses seem to be cracked, but you can only see the fine web of lines if you lean close.
"You better hurry boy," he reminds you.
You get ready, aim for the coin, and stick your hand down. There is a loud splash, and you dig at the coin. You think you have it, and you feel string-like tentacles gripping at your hand. You pull your arm out quickly, and open your palm victoriously, but there is nothing.

"I guess you missed. Water does that," the man says.

The black thing inside is twisting and turning, making increasingly rapid circles. You can see the coin move towards the center of the pail.

"Quickly. Quickly," he says. You can feel the last train approaching. The ground is shuddering and ripples radiate in the pail.

You close your eyes and stick your hand in. The creature has closed its coils around your arm. Your fingers dig at the coin. You are sure you have it now. You pull your hand out and feel it being tugged. For a moment, you look into the eyes of the creature that has your arm, whose tentacles embrace it as though black string had been poured all over. It opens it's mouth, gasping.

You have the coin and the creature disappears back into the water. The man laughs and you run to the staircase, insert the coin into the machine which gives you a ticket. You run pass the gates and just manage to get through the train door before it closes shut. Only then do you dare look at your arm, and notice that it is bruised and black, and covered with fine bites and cuts, as though it had been dragged through glass, but that is nothing compared to the sight of the creature that had your arm in your grasp a minute ago, with it's sharp, pointed teeth, ready to cling and eat and devour.

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