Tell A Tale — Gothic Fiction

Creatures of the night By Victoria Elliott

Marcia edged past the couple kissing passionately in the doorway between her stairwell and the street. Wrapped in leopard print and pink feather boas and each other, impossible to see where one ended and the next began.

Across the street a billboard implored her to Unleash your wild side. She yawned; all night the surrounding area had unleashed its wild side while she tried to sleep in her top floor studio, fold down bed transforming day to night, according to the sharp-dressed agent who’d let the place.

In the street the last hardcore revellers shared the 4am grey light with street cleaners removing the detritus of another night in London’s fleshpots, cleansing the taint of the less salubrious night activities before the well-heeled suits hurried along these same roads on their way to offices, to move and shake. At least the dirt was honest. Smashed glass skidded under Marcia’s sensible cheap shoes, sticky with fluids best left unnumbered. Under neon that promised ‘girls girls g_r_s’ two women in torn tights and smeared make-up shared a cigarette.

Turning into Stevenson Row, Marcia had to strain to see. No lamps to light the way, and the skyline overhung with fire escapes and towering piles of rubbish waiting for collection. Still tired, disoriented by the changing light, for a moment she thought she saw one of the monsters of her grandmother’s youth coming towards her, blank face in a dark hood ready to devour her. She hesitated but as he came towards her, he came into focus, and she saw, not a strzyga, but the smudged death’s head face paint and the strained smile of someone heading home to forget the choices he’d made that night. In the night we can all become someone we do not want to be.

The last half mile was the best part of Marcia’s daily commute. Walking along the river, she saw what the city could be. It was a two-faced beast; it both repelled and enchanted.

She was a few minutes late; jolted up the steps past the discreet brass plate engraved with ‘Utterson & co.’ Even after two years she didn’t know what they did. Banking, or law, or something that required an anonymous black door, a tiny plaque and carpets that hushed voices and secrets.

But now she was all focus on finding the key in her bag; unlocking the Yale and the mortice lock; pushing open the door. So focused that she did not see until too late Mr Utterson himself, the senior partner, supposed grandson of the original Utterson, himself cadaverous and always grey, standing – no, occupying – the foyer. A raised eyebrow, his. A mutter of apology, hers.

Well, he murmurs, the vaguest movement of an arm moving her on, no rest for the wicked. Don’t forget under the table in the board room this time. The hairs on the back of her neck prickle and Marcia hurries on to do her job. At least dirt is honest.

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