Stepping out onto the sodden pulpy mess that had once been a welcome matt on the house’s doorstep, he shot furtive glances into the darkness. Low, shallow breaths rattled out from his mouth as he peered down the street, straining his eyes to make out any movement.
Satisfied there was no immediate danger, he slowly crept down the path with careful, deliberate steps. The concrete slabs beneath him had long since been overrun by weeds and moss, stepping stones proving no match for the irrepressible advance of vegetation.
The gate at the end of the path lolled against a low, disintegrating brick wall like a drunk. The hinges were rusted through and shorn off where the metalwork had collapsed. Easing the gate out of his way, he moved out onto the pavement, head up and alert to his surroundings.
Scuttling to his right, keeping low and close to the wall, he settled under a lamp post. Shards of the glass bulb and cracked plastic casing crunched under his feet in the darkness, frayed cables hanging down like grasping tentacles above him.
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying to plan his next move. The grind of glass against concrete picked up drawing the attention of a dozen mechanical eyes. Lenses swivelled in his direction, apertures adjusting to bring his face into focus and loyally beam the images back to feeble, burned out monitor screens in long abandoned control rooms.
At the end of the street he found himself on, the tarmacked road met another, larger highway. Lacking a better plan, he pushed off away from the broken street light in the direction of the junction. The hanging darkness of the night-time not only enhanced his fear of what could lay in wait for him either ahead or behind him, but also forced him to take greater deliberation in his steps to try and avoid the puddles of stale rank rain water that had collected in the nocks and crannies of the paving. Keeping dry was out of the question, but keeping from his feet from getting soaked could at least keep the worst effects of trench foot at bay. At least until he found a sanctuary where he could dry out.
As he pushed forward through gently yet unrelenting drizzle of rain, he became aware of his temperature rising. With each forward motion, his arms felt heavier and his eyes more weary. A thick, acidic taste filled his mouth and the air he inhaled crackled with electricity. He slowed and turned to look behind him. The heat intensified, the acid burned at his tongue more fiercely.
Down the street, past the house he had escaped from, a slender cloud of green light appeared to hang in the air, approximately in the centre of the tarmac. The cloud throbbed rhythmically, lurching closer.
Unsure of what was approaching him, he peddled backwards into the middle of the street before ducking low next to the decaying corpse of a car, which had been parked neatly by the kerb decades ago and hadn’t moved since.
He tucked his body behind the car and craned his head around the corner, straining to look closer at the apparition. As it drew level with the house he awoken in, he could make out more details.
Within the green cloud stood a tall, thin woman. The woman wore a raggedy suit, quite unlike anything he had seen on the city dwellers he had lived with. Nor did her apparel have any resemblances to that merchants or bandit gangs that roamed the area. Her hair was lank and scrapped back away from her face. Her lips were pursed and her sharp, hawkish eyes seemed fixed in the middle distance between him and her. The vivid, luminescent cloud seemed to emanate from her clothing rather than her skin.
He rocked back on his haunches, baffled by what he saw.
The woman staggered forward once more, dragging her left leg limply behind her. She turned to face the house. She stood before it, the cloud gently swirling around her.
He watched her as she watched the house, each seemed transfixed by their respective target.
As if caught by a gust of wind, the cloud puffed up dramatically and the woman slumped herself around in a 90 degree turn. Her eyes were now locked directly with his. She tottered slightly to balance, then staggered forward, maintaining eye contact. The acid swelled in his mouth.