Night-time In the City...
an ePulp Adventure by
Steven W. Bentley
During the day the city was awake and active, a hive of men and women working, traveling, laughing, crying, loving and hating. It was a place of sweat and tears, and occasionally blood. It was choked with sound: the laughter of a woman, the grumble of a man, the cars honking, the newspaper boys calling out the bulletins, babies crying, mothers singing, typewriters and trolley cars, and the low grumble of the subway underfoot. Policemen kept the beat, watched over the masses, did what the law allowed to keep peace and order, cleaned up the mess when chaos spilled forth.
The evening was different. Then the city was bright lights and deep shadows, the promise of a meal, the blare of a radio program, a show at the theater or the movie house. It was young men and young women gayly laughing on a date, a husband and wife talking over dinner, kids still playing before bed. The cop on the beat taking his coffee at the local diner.
But the night, the darkness, the time when most good citizens of the city were resting for the next day, that was another world. That was the time of unscrupulous men and wanton women, scurrying about like roaches in the dark, scavenging off the bounty of the day. Thieves, and muggers, and rapists, and murderers. And other things that couldn't be believed by the sleeping masses. The detectives would do what they could, try as they might, to track down the culprits, but the crimes were so odd, so vile, so unbelievable, there was little the police could do to understand them, and the law...well, the law had no way to deal with these crimes.
But they were dealt with. Where they were born. In the darkness. In the shadows....
The little man scurried like a rat down the steps to the subway platform, quick and furtive. He stayed close to the wall, as a rodent keeps to the baseboard, and kept his head down, his hands in his jacket pockets. His hair was thin and greasy, his nose was large, and the pencil thin mustache he grew did not give him the look of the debonaire rake that he was attempting for. His suit was well-worn without being out of style, and if anyone had seen him, jittering on the platform, waiting for the train, they never would have suspected that he was a genius.
There were just a few people on the platform, though, and all but one were not aware of the little man at all. There were the three cleaning ladies from the big office building right above, finished with their chores, tiredly heading home. They talked amongst themselves, gossiping about the men and women that worked in the offices who they imagined had better lives than their own. There was the young couple, late from a show, having enjoyed their night out and still enjoying it. There was the old black station master, with his crisp uniform and stoic sense of duty, looking at his battered old pocketwatch, as if the timepiece alone kept the trains on schedule. And there was the pickpocket.
Tommy “Four Fingers” Nelson was watching them all, as invisible in the city as a man could be. He had only been caught stealing once, when just a lad, having decided to purloin a bit of candy from the old chinaman's shop on his neighborhood corner. The chinaman had seen him, caught him, and a wave of his meat cleaver had prevented Tommy from a future of being called Tom. Forever after on the block he had been Four Fingers.
Tommy watched the little man, his furtive movements, his quirkiness, his well-worn suit, and pegged him as a user, maybe an opium eater, but more likely a heroin addict by the way he twitched. It was the twitch that interested Tommy, and the hands, deep in the jacket pockets. Usually, someone only kept their hands in their pockets if it was cold (which it wasn't) or if they were holding onto something. Drugs? They could be sold, but this guy hadn't had a fix in a bit, and Tommy didn't know of a user who could stand to wait for it. More likely money, Tommy surmised, and made his mark for the evening, sidling forward to get in behind the little guy.
The station master clicked his watch closed and the roar of the train filled the station, the squeal of its brakes, and the rush of air as it ground to a halt before the group. The doors slid open, and they all shuffled forward.
At the entrance, Four Fingers made his move, stumbling into the little man, who instinctively reached his hands out to keep from falling, and in that instant the hand with only four digits dipped into the pocket of the jacket, snatched quickly, pulled away. At the same time, he stepped back through the doors which swished shut and the train lurched forward. The little man, shaking and sputtering, leapt to the windows, his greasy hair falling into his face, his eyes filled with terror.
Four Fingers looked questioningly at the small metal tube in his hand. It was a mere three inches long, with no discernible way to open it. It had a slight weight, and an odd feel, as if it was vibrating in his hand. As the train got further away, the vibration seemed to get stronger, until the tube was virtually shaking in his hand like a Mexican jumping bean.
Meanwhile, on the train, the little man thrust his hand into his pocket, groaned aloud to feel that the tube was gone from the left pocket, though he had it's double in the right. It had already begun the reaction, the trembling, and there was nothing the little man could do to stop it!
Staggering backwards he reached up for the emergency brake cord, but stumbled forward onto his knees before he could reach it.
Tommy found himself unable to move, unable to drop the little silver cylinder now clutched tightly in his fist, unable to do anything but fall forward onto his face, trembling in time to the vibration of the thing. He moaned, his teeth chattering loudly as his body began to contort and his eyes rolled up into his head.
The little man in the subway car was having the same reaction and the cleaning women were cowering away from him as his teeth chattered so loudly that they could hear them cracking apart in his mouth, and thick red blood began to spray, foaming first from his mouth then his nose.
Tommy's eyes were bleeding by the time the station master got to him, and the trembling was so fast in his body that, when the old man knelt down to turn him over, he was knocked back a good three feet, hitting his head on the concrete and rolling away from the vibrating body.
The young woman, forgetting her lovely date, screamed and fainted in the arms of her helpless, horrified beau who held her close and drug her back from the little man who was now spraying blood in all directions, as his very flesh began to dissolve and melt like hot wax from a candle.
The vibrating thing rolled out of the liquid mess that was once a hand with four fingers and off of the platform, but it went unnoticed by the station master as he watched the pickpocket dissolve before his horrified eyes.
By the time the train came to a stop at the next station there was only liquid in a great pool, surrounded by splatters of crimson and a rush of feet as those on the car scrambled to get away. The cylinder had already stopped it's vibration.
This was only the beginning...