Hello.

Boots entrenched in a crusted case of sludge and broken bracken squelched their drunken path onwards into the black, a dark as thick as the bloke who walked through it. Not that he thought that, or would admit so. He was the king, royalty roaming with no castle to go home to. Did he like it? Did he fuck, but whinging wasn’t his style. He owned his status, he was accustomed to “his sort”. The “sort” the sober’d cross the road to avoid, or secretly wield a concealed key in their palm. No, he preferred to bait an easier prey (in nature, the famished would rather eat four somethings than one challenging catch). The rat-assed, the vulnerable, or the little lost child.

Shadows streaked across the park as the sun gave up on the day, the suited scum had had their chance. The diminishing light gave way and the rejected stepped forward in a sort of hopeless freedom where the nobodies can pick fights, lose teeth and drink to forget the whole debacle. That was the way he liked it. His eyes watched the potential targets scrapping away by the gates whilst he sat on the damp memorial bench, betting silently on who would be the victim of his unique brand of comforting. He swigged something more akin to turps than alcohol: an acidic lick to the back of his throat as it passed through rotting yellow teeth.

“Hello,” arose sweet and soft little voice by his side, which did not shock him so much as gently lure him out of his focus from the task at hand. His head turned to a pale little girl, in Sunday dress perhaps and a lost expression.

“Hello,” he drawled as he observed the new situation, and weighed and altered his evening’s plans in an instant. “Where’s your mummy?”

To this, the girl dropped her eye contact, a little ashamed or embarrassed at asking for help he thought. She must be worried. “Would you like me to walk you home?”  Her eyes of palest blue raised with a newfound glimmer of hope, and her lips could barely conceal an excitable smile. A little nod and it was agreed. The stranger- the absolute bloody stranger- would escort her home. Naïve or stupid, this was now just a simple course of events. Did she never hear of the big bad wolf, the hungry teeth of a stranger in the woods that little girls were warned about tucked in their beds? This time Little Red had saved him from donning granny’s piss stained intimates. This was quite literally a walk in the park. Think of which, he quickly surveyed the park they stood in. No one gave a crap. Or were conscious, at least.

Good.

He looked back to find that the girl had already started to walk ahead, though she stopped to make sure he wasn’t lost. A little odd: she seemed eager, not just to get home, but for him to join her on her way. Don’t question it, he concluded as he sidled up to her silently palms sweaty with a pensive tremble and a neutral smirk.

“Can we…?”

“Yes?”

“Can I show you something, Mister? I have something that might help you.”

“Help me?” A chuckle broke from his lips with a questioning lilt.

“Before you take me home. Follow me. Please, Mister?”

Weird. Normally he wouldn’t pander them, but even he’d admit that his process was becoming tiresome, like automatically slumping into a repetitive missionary position. A small change, a little risk, could be a treat. I’ll humour her, he mused, call it a last request. He could always purchase ice cream after.

Her detour took them into the city to North street and staring up at a crumbling complex, cheaply knocked together and stewing in its own filth. This deviation out into the open had initially made him nervous but again no one stared, nor whispered accusations like suspicious nonagenarians. They didn’t look too dissimilar as a pair, heck maybe he looked like a schlub worth breeding with. Once more, the girl had disappeared from his side and silently hovered impatiently by the door. He caught up to her, pushing the greasy grey door handle with grime deeply set in its grooves. The girl shot through the lobby way and leapt up the receding hotel-reject carpet. By now, the brat’s behaviour had reached peak irritation, had grated too much, had diverted his plans off course for too long. He pounded up the stairs after her.

Breathless, he grasped the chipped handrail as he tailed the child up into a decaying corridor. Clutching the wall he caught his breath, and upon inhalation noted a faint chemical odour amongst the airborne grime. The coldly lit corridor was long, apparently hastily wallpapered by maintenance and left untouched and peeling for the last seven years. One grubby door in a series of five was ajar. The child’s stubby fingers grasped around the edge, peeping with an intense glee exclusive to the eyes of children. Apartment 213. Impatience started to hit him in hot waves, allowing exasperated grunts to escape through breaths as he barged into the apartment.

The room he stepped into smelt like savoury bleach. The stench smacked him in the face instantly. It was empty save for a few essentials: a steel kettle, cleaning chemicals, and a polaroid camera resting upon a wooden side table. But the girl was gone. How? The little shit had been right there. Not enough time had elapsed for her to unclasp her hands from the door then hide. A blonde man turned the corner. His stoicly indifferent face expressed a muted confusion as he cocked his blandly attractive head.

“Hello.”

The intruder hovered, awkwardly seized as the ashy-haired man drank in his body head to toe like a strong margarita. The drunk blue eyes flashed suggestively. How unexpected, salty, delicious.

The girl perched on the mottled kitchen counter, idly swinging her legs as the machine drilled through her unconscious friend’s skull piercing and bit into soft peach flesh, spraying a fine dust of bone meal across the carpet as a circle of human mince gathered around the furiously spinning metal. She liked to stick around to observe the job being done, to confirm that the men had passed over, had stopped suffering. Fluorescent liquid sloshed the sides of the plastic tank wielded by the blonde man as he poured it into the open frontal lobe. It hissed as it cooked the fleshy build up around the hole, claiming the skull as its new vessel. She closed her eyes as choking cries frothed and gargled, content. What followed she didn’t much care for: adults had their strange addictions, some ate pills and others hugged many people under sheets or in the park.  She didn’t quite get it, but she had liked dolls when she was burdened by skin and bones and she imagined that they probably weren’t of interest to the nice blonde man with the drill either.

The smell akin to a stale aquarium and rotting tropical fish faded as the freshness of cold air and clean grass cut through the stink. She opened her eyes. Her legs now dangled from the damp memorial bench of the park. Coughs loudly spluttering blood and vomit rose by the overflowing bins. The unsuccessful brawler from earlier that evening had finally awoken, the acidic contents of his empty stomach hurling themselves across the gravel path. The little girl hopped off her seat with a kind smile. He was among the suffering forgotten. And she knew how to help.

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