It was an anonymous alleyway. A mere 6 feet wide, each side bleak brick without doors or windows. The left hand side reached up 3 storeys blocking out the world southside. The 18th century windows tax had put paid to any portals which lacked a view. Their bricked up outline was still visible on each floor. The right, the side of the now derelict town cinema, strove similarly heavenward. Two tall, unbroken, slightly bulging, aged walls. No gates opened onto this rear passage. There was no place for anyone to hide. No place for anything to be hidden.
It was a forlorn, empty place, not even a wheely bin in sight, nothing for birds or rats. When rain fell, its moisture stayed here for days, the sun’s rays touching it all too briefly. This dampness fed the only living inhabitants the lichens and moss which encrusted the north facing wall, turning its once red brickwork into a mosaic of orange and green, black and grey.
It was a dark foreboding place. Even on a clear day, the sky was only barely visible if one stood mid-alley and looked up. At night, the meadows end was ominously black whilst the town end held only the faint flicker from a street light – not one of those modern solar fluorescent LED jobs, but an old fashioned box lantern type reminiscent of Victorian stage plays. Its timeless elegance stood on the far pavement, squarely facing on to the alley, like some sentry on duty. Behind it more modern relics had been parked so long they had become part of the unchanging and so unnoticed townscape wasteland.
On entering the alley, Mac always felt chilled. A claustrophobia steadily invaded his body and seeped into his bones sending chills down his spine. His black serge soaked up the dank night air. Time stood still every night for his 600 metre walk. Two minutes, which felt more like an inescapable ten. The first time he’d done this beat he’d walked it from town end to meadows end. By god that was a cheerless place. So eerie he’d reversed his beat the next night and now only ever walked it in the other direction. The Victorian lantern acted like a lighthouse beacon, guiding him home.
Tonight, with the mist and earlier snowfall, the lane was completely white, like the train of a bridal veil. His were the first footprints of the night. The lantern’s slightly orange light shone softly, like some ghostly religious iconary in the night sky, a virginal lorelei beckoning him seductively to enter her boudoir. For a moment he was transfixed, caught in an ethereal dreamland. And then he saw it. Right in the middle of the lane.
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