The ground frulled.
Alan tried to keep up but it happened too fast, so he allowed gravity to pull him down onto the footpath.
He congratulated himself on wearing his heaviest coat, which had been cushioning his frequent falls. But, that was being drunk for you.
Alan got to his feet and stumbled toward Burden Place, the squat block of apartments silhouetted against the moonlight.
“Spooooky,” giggled Alan, to nobody in particular.
He heard a skittering behind him –ragtap – on the concrete, gathering speed. He spun around, but his legs couldn’t keep up, and he collapsed onto his backside.
A black umbrella rolled across the street, toward him.
Strange – he couldn’t feel any wind. Then again, he was out of it.
The umbrella twitched and scrabbled.
He picked it up, waving it round as he resumed his stumble.
“Singing in the rain,” he slurred, “I’m singing in the rain!”
In moments he reached the heavy glass doors, decorated with fresh graffiti and fumbled at the keypad before making his way up the stairwell to the third floor.
The umbrella nested deadweight in his grasp.
The lights on the third floor corridor flickered dimly before extinguishing altogether. So much for maintenance.
The door to Apartment 3F was a patch of shadow and after having to dig through his pockets, searching for the key, Alan struggled to find the keyhole.
He felt a tug on his other arm and turned to see what it was.
The umbrella trapjawed outward and Alan didn’t have time to scream.
“Did you leave this thing out here?” called Phil from the front door.
“Thing?” asked Roger.
“Not mine. Must be Alan’s.”
“He’s still not back,” mused Phil, returning to the kitchen bench.
“Probably fell asleep at the bar,” laughed Roger, enjoying the feeling of the soap bubbles playing around his fingers. The breakfast dishes clinked against each other.
“He needs to take more care of himself, I reckon.”
“One of these days he’ll get himself killed. Hit by a car, or something.”
Roger thought back to his Uncle Pete and how nobody in his family had been particularly shocked when the news came that Pete had been run over.
“You alright?” asked Phil.
“Yeah, just thinking … what did you do with the umbrella?”
“Chucked it in Alan’s room. Which is funny …”
“There was an out-of-place umbrella down at 3H too,” said Phil.
“And how is Ms. Brovnik?”
“Don’t know – she wasn’t home. And the door was unlocked and this big, old umbrella was just lying in the hallway.”
“Did you lock up when you left?”
“Well – no. I thought she might not have a key, so I closed the door, but left it unlocked. It’s not like there’s much worth taking in there. I left the umbrella up with the groceries though – bit of a hazard just lying on the floor.”
“Maybe she’s looking to clear the apartment a bit?”
“I bet we’d be roped in – have you seen past the hallway? It’s like London after the Blitz.”
Roger laughed. “Perhaps she’s experimenting with that home brew of hers.”
“Oh god,” said Phil, “that stuff should be banned.”
There was a sudden sound from the hallway – a juttering rasp.
“What was that?”
Another sound – something thrackled venomously.
Phil got up and padded down the hallway.
“It’s coming from Alan’s room.”
“Oh,” answered Roger, not knowing how else to respond.
Phil moved further off into the apartment.
Silence – then, a muffled shout.
“Phil?” called Roger, alarmed.
“Phil? Anything wrong?” The cutlery suspended in the water knocked against his still hands. He stepped back from the sink and went to follow Phil, but Phil was nowhere to be seen.
There was no sound.
Thrackle. Plap. Twitch.
Heartbeat building, Roger pushed open the door to Alan’s room.
The doors swung open and Marlene hurried into Burden Place. Outside was the kind of cold that clung to your cheekbones. Marlene hated this weather, but then, she hated lots of things – her job, her clothes, her ‘friends’.
Pausing briefly at the letterbox – full of nothing, of course – Marlene stomped up the few stairs to the first floor and resigned herself to another Saturday spent doing nothing. She needed help.
“Help!”ruggle ruggle ruggle
Marlene turned to see where the cry had come from. 1C? 1E?
“Help!”ruggle ruggle ruggle
1E … Mister … somebody-or-other. But he was old and she could mark it down as her ‘good deed for the day’.
She pulled open the front door and stopped.
Terror held the moment.Scratch.
The old man was on the ground, reaching toward the door. An armchair lay tipped behind him. It was like a fall, an accident, a slight injury … but … no. No.
An umbrella had seized the man from below the chest, like a snake swallowing a mouse.
It didn’t make sense – the umbrella wasn’t … large enough …
Marlene wanted to scream – Run! Get out! – but her mind was fixed on the question of how exactly the umbrella was … eating. For itwas eating. Sprattle. The man writhed helplessly as the umbrella zurved around him like a perverse eel.
Marlene turned to flee, find help, anything – and an umbrella dropped from above the door and spineshackled around her.
“I didn’t mean it!” screamed Cassie.
She could hear them outside, in the apartment – frendle, drash – stents crackling as they wurvelled closer.
“It was a mistake,” she sobbed, hunched up against the toilet, “and I’m sorry.”
The white tiles on the floor reminded her of the place where it had happened – as cold as the winter morning and white like the sky outside.
“What else was I meant to do?” she called out to them, pleading. “He left and if he ever came back …”
They were dactrylling across the floorboards.
“So, I had to do it. I had to let it go. Didn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl, yet. You see? I didn’t wait! Didn’t take any chances!”
As if yelling would do any good.
Wurvel, wurvel, ragtap, wurvel.
She had sinned, like her mother had said and now they had come for her –scratching and spithering through the half-light of the afternoon.
“Leave me alone. I didn’t have a choice.”
She sat and sobbed as they tore away at the hole in the door.
George had shut himself in like the radio had told him.
The room was warm enough, and he had water and food, didn’t he? He hadn’t boarded the windows – he’d put in special glass as soon as he moved into the neighbourhood. What would it do against umbrellas? Wait and see.
He sighed. drit drit.
If Evelyn hadn’t gone and he hadn’t moved to Burden Place… but thinking like that wouldn’t help.Plap. Rawl.
Outside, in the dark, the creatures brewstered. He supposed they must be creatures – they moved of their own accord, didn’t they? They sprattled. They hunted. They ate their fill.ruggle ruggle.
The radio hadn’t said where they were from. Not that he cared.
About an hour had passed when he heard them enter the apartment, ragtapping a checkered stalk, rustling and warbling hollowly.
He wouldn’t fight. Shouldn’t, really.
Que sera, sera.
They moved closer to the study door.
Soon, he would be with Evelyn. That was good, wasn’t it?
Crackle, spither, bloor.
As they burst, frowling, into the room, George realised that he didn’t want to die.
Warren had never had to use the knife before. They gave it to you at the appropriate ceremony – a mark of rank, a symbol … nothing more. But here he was, slashing through undulating ranks of thrackling fabric and zurving metal, looking wildly for an exit.
Ragtap ragtap crackle frowl.
He thought he heard someone call – “Captain!”
Was there anyone left?
The enemy ab-blagged toward him en masse, he gripped the knife tighter. Command should bomb the city – that’d put paid to the blighters.
He felt sharp stents pulling at his legs and something tearing into his arms as he fought off the thing clinging to his face.
This wasn’t happening, he tried to tell himself as he fell to the floor and they lackfluttered over him. Denying the truth of the enemy didn’t lessen any of his agony as they began to feed.
Am I the last?
I suppose I must be.
I can hear nothing but them.
Thrackling outside in the dark.
Scratching greedily toward me.Crott blag rawl.
Maybe I could fight.Spither. But I have nothing to fight them with.
An old shovel against the garbling, juttering, plague.
I should look outside, shouldn’t I?
S–spither thrackle–s–see what’s left of the place.
Nothing outside – other than them.
Scuttling umbrellas, heaving, zurving, warbling. Upscuddering they are, brewstering through the shadows …
Sprattling as the world dies around them.
Spikescrambling dark-winged toward us.
Mouths opening –