Instead of his familiar stop, Dax stumbled above ground at Blackfriars instead, emerging to a cold night with mist unfolding gently. With a groan he realised he had spent twenty minutes travelling in the wrong direction. It was the final punctuation on a truly awful day.

Slowly, he walked across towards Blackfriars Bridge, and leaned on the railing, looking out over the Thames, which ran dark and slow as oil through the night. Across the rippling water, the grey, romantic shadow of St Paul’s was sketched out. Dax could see the red lights at the tops of the Canary Wharf towers blinking, dim in the mist.

Resting on the railing, he closed his eyes, wishing he hadn’t drunk quite so much. Well, forget it. He’d go home, sleep it off. The thought of curling up under a blanket for twelve hours had its appeal. And he would call Rita, too, so he could apologise. He’d think of some excuse.

With a tired grin, Dax turned away from the river and began wandering down along the bridge. The cool air was nice in its own way, and the quiet was balm after the noise of the club. He raised a hand to his head, wiping at the moisture on his face.

And froze at the eerie sound that echoed through the night.

His heart caught in his chest. No more, he silently pleaded, no more today. Please?

Maybe I imagined it…

The sound came again. Not an animal sound – it was almost mechanical, like the shriek of metal on metal, but there was something animal about it, something sly and cunning. Dax’s imagination rapidly painted in under-sounds like gears meshing together, servomechanisms whining, then it went quiet.

What the hell is that?

He looked downstream, but no boats disturbed the sleek surface of the Thames. Cold sweat sprang out on the back of his neck. The mist was getting thicker – he could see nothing.

“Hello?”

There was a crash. Then another. And another. As if some huge and terrible steel beast was hunting him, running towards him on heavy feet with razor claws, ready to gouge and tear at him.

It was the last straw. Dax’s nerve snapped. With a yell he turned and ran, ran from whatever that sound was coming from. He sprinted along the bridge, expecting something hideous to reach down from behind at any second and cut him down. The crashes were coming faster and faster, getting closer –

Through his panic, Dax realised he couldn’t outrun it. That unseen horror was gaining on him. There was only one escape.

With strength born of terror he sprang at the railings. His feet balanced there for a wavering instant, before he jumped, falling towards the depths of the river below, plunging into it like a stone.

He splashed desperately, trying to keep his head above water, but fear made him clumsy, and he gulped down water, coughing and choking. He had never been a strong swimmer, even without alcohol and medication in his system. His clothes waterlogged, and despite his struggles he was dragged down, down beneath the surface.

The last thing he heard before his ears filled with water was nasty, mechanical laughter, echoing in his ears from everywhere and nowhere. And then there was no more air.

 

 

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