He ran with his head bowed, his shoulders hunched, long strides, jumping puddles where the water pooled. The rain beat hard on his head, flattened his hair to his scalp and ran down his nose and chin, down his neck too, but it couldn’t make him any wetter. He was soaked already, clothes clinging to his skin and dripping. Against his chest he held a parcel, had closed his jacket over it and his arms. If he fell he wouldn’t be able to save himself, would fall right onto his face, crack his nose against the pitted tarmac: Best not fall then.
Easier to think it than to do it; the soles of his shoes were worn to baldness, the road shiny-slick, the sopping cuffs of his trousers flapping around his ankles. Rain, thick and greasy, torrents of silver like fat, round coins, dripped into his eyes and gave the streetlights halos of sparks and comet-tails. He had to keep his head down so he wouldn’t be blinded, turn his eyes from the lights and fix them to the ground ahead.
A solid weight hit him, crashed against him, driving into his shoulder. He felt his foot slip, helpless as the parcel flew out of his arms, brown paper tearing. As he hit the ground, with a thump that cracked his teeth together, so did the parcel, exploding, cascading white pills over his legs and into the torrents of the gutter where they bobbed then sank, sank like the dread that pooled suddenly, heavily in the pit of his stomach. Bile flooded his mouth, anger, pain in his tailbone, jarring up through his back where it lodged at the base his neck and made him want to scream in frustration.
He pushed himself up and opened his mouth to shout at the man who was standing there. The man who’d run into him and broken his hold, turned to shit what he’d worked for and hoped for and longed for. What he’d waited all day for, bribed and begged and given blood to have.
The sirens screamed then, drowned any words. Danny remembered; he’d heard them before, hadn’t listened, hadn’t worried because they’d been far away. They’d gone silent, or he’d stopped hearing. Now they wailed, panicked and hungry, lamenting, thrumming against his eardrums, spikes of noise that entered his head and echoed, bounced about in his skull. The dim streetlights exploded into brightness that made all shadows stark and clean, the rain slashing diamond spears.
In this light he saw the man’s face, how his cheeks were pitted with the scars of a red rash, how his eyelids were folded down, swelling sores against his eyes. Bile came into Danny’s throat again and he was swallowing puke, retching as shudders of disgust ran through him, as his skin crawled and he remembered the warm heaviness of the man’s body against his, how a breath had raised up the little hairs on his neck.
Sick, sick man, outcast and running, a Trick, a disease, a dead-man walking.
A series of sharp cracks, echoed instantly from the walls, deafening even above the sirens and the man grew himself a third, bloody eye. It winked, leered, dribbled out gobs of red. The two brown eyes beneath it pleaded for something, for a moment more, for life. His mouth fell open, jaw hanging loose. Crack again and one of the brown eyes vanished into black.
“Run,” the man groaned as he dropped onto one knee. His body was too heavy for him, a slack and dragging weight. The sound he made when he dropped was the crack of broken bone. He still stared at Danny, kept him fixed to the spot. How could he run, with someone looking at him like that? Like all the world, the rain, and flow of blood would stop.”You’ll run...”
Another crack, a light dimmed and Danny ran. There was something on his lips that wasn’t rain. Rain washed and he spat, but still he could taste the blood.