That was the very first word that tumbled from the lips of the adolescent Brandon Manderson as he exited the bus at an empty stop. He supposed that whatever god or higher being that was responsible for the weather was in a frightfully foul mood for whatever reason that evening, as freezing gusts of wind bit at his exposed skin and fat raindrops battered his small frame like bullets, causing the dark curly hair that poked out from the hood of his bright red windbreaker to cling to his forehead. He gazed down at the smudged glass of his phone with pursed lips. It was fifty-two minutes past nine.
Brandon knew better than most not to walk alone at night, hell, he didn’t even like going outside all that much. He’d much rather be wrapped in his covers and stuffing his face with beef jerky whilst watching Friday the 13th for the twentieth time than endure this. Unfortunately, he had no other choice.
His brother had dragged him to yet another one of his useless parties despite his vocal protests. “Come on, Bran,” Ryan would say whilst shoving him out the door, “you’re fifteen. It’s not healthy to stay cooped inside all the time.” All the while Brandon would hiss and grumble like some wild animal being forced out of its den.
It was during this particular party that he had started to feel...strange. It had started when his stomach began to feel funny, like a thousand tiny dancers were waltzing inside him. Perplexed, he attempted to ignore it as best as he could, begging, praying not to make a scene in front of all of his brother’s classmates. Though, then came the pain. Bran felt his stomach cramp and his head throb with a thump, thump, thump. He doubled over, clutching at his searing belly. His anguish made enough commotion that almost everyone at the party was gazing at him. Some had gazed with concern, some with cruel amusement and some with bewilderment.
Fuck this. Fuck his brother. Fuck everyone. He’d wanted to go home.
However, when he had asked for a ride home, Ryan was too preoccupied gazing hungrily at a giggling brunette in his lap to give him any attention. Instead, he’d absentmindedly passed him some small change and shooed him off as if he were some stray nipping at his heels.
His mother had informed him earlier that day that he and his three siblings were to stay at their grandmother’s house over the weekend, as she was out doing some important errands for a friend of a friend and so would not be coming home until Monday morning. Brandon didn’t really mind that much though. He adored the woman, good ole’ Bess Tanner-Manderson. She was a lovely, lively old bird that let him play cricket in her back garden despite accidentally breaking one of her windows one time. He also thought she made the best chicken strips in the entire county.
‘You better be home early if you know what’s good for you, young man. Who knows what kind of horrid criminals and hoodlums wonder around late at night,’ he could practically hear his fretful mother’s constant nagging. He couldn’t bring himself to blame her for her protectiveness, though. He was the youngest in a family of four, the runt of the litter so to speak and in the little town of Red Moor, Leicestershire, being young and small was a dangerous thing.
It was on nights just like these that the stories his friends at school and relatives told him would begin to creep back up into his memory. There was the tale of the rusty door in the woods, the wailing woman, Jenny green-teeth o’ the lake and skinned Tom. But no tale had ever frightened him more than that of The Tall Man. Early in the town’s past, an inhumanly tall, long limbed demon-man with glowing eyes stalked the streets, perpetually hungry. He preyed upon any of the townsfolk that were idiotic enough to be caught out in the open past sunset, his favourite having apparently been children. No one knew where he had come from or what he was, just that he’d suddenly appeared one day and devoured dozens of people in a matter of months, leaving only mauled remains. A mob to destroy the creature was formed after a particularly tragic case involving the two young daughters of a tanner, but he had disappeared as mysteriously as he had come. Legend said that he was still out there, prowling the darkness.
Brandon would usually just laugh off stories like those, not even becoming a little bit startled when one of his older brothers, Dennis, dressed as the tall man and went around scaring the little ones. But night was a completely separate world from day. You couldn’t know what lurked in the crevices and cracks, what was staring at you from the blackness. You couldn’t tell whether the monsters were real or imaginary.
Now feeling slightly unnerved, he clutched one of the straps of his old backpack and tightened it before going at a quicker pace, cutting through Bannerman road and making a beeline for the shortcut through the woods.
The witching hour was rapidly nearing and the sky was a thick coal blanket that stretched out like a canvas, and he could see the few stars barely shining through the tiny pin-holes of the fabric. The moon was fat and white and full, hiding behind a thicket of grey clouds. It glared down at him like an angry eye, silently judging him. There were barely any cars about, perhaps two or three per every fifteen minutes and the ancient lamp-posts that sat at either side of the street slowly grew dimmer as he walked past and revealed the multiple worn-down houses and shops that were ruined by the war.
After a while, he gave a sigh of relief as he glimpsed his location. It was just shy of a hundred yards in front of him through a clearing in the trees. Just a little further, he told himself, treading faster on the dirt road. Just a little bit further, and I’ll be home. I’ll be safe.
A sound akin to a child’s scream penetrated the night air. The boy’s ears immediately pricked at the noise and he froze in place. There was a subtle rustling coming from the bushes on his far left, subtle enough that he could tell the culprit was trying to be careful but not subtle enough for him not to hear.
Quietly as he could, he reached for the compass he had kept in his pocket from maths class earlier. He pulled it out and thrusted towards the empty air in what he had hoped was an intimidating manner.
“Come out and fight asshole!” he exclaimed. He tried his best to sound threatening, but the tremble in his voice was clearly audible to anyone listening.
For what felt like hours he stood defiant as it felt as if the world suddenly came to a stop, waiting with sick anticipation as beads of sweat travelled down his temple despite the cold breeze that whistled through the trees.
A few moments later a creature bounded out of the bushes and stared up at him with large green eyes. The feline limped its head as it observed him, the gold medal attached to its bright blue collar reading ‘Boots’.
I got all worked up over a stupid cat, he thought, relieved. Brandon grinned and stepped towards it, reaching out to stroke its illuminated orange coat, only for it to hiss at him and disappear back into the undergrowth within seconds.
Bemused, he placed his ‘weapon’ back and continued on his way, a little more weary than before. The forested area that surrounded him seemed to grow darker and more sinister the further in he went. The sounds of nocturnal life gradually became more and more scarce and he could clearly see the moon through the branches above him, stealing his resolve.
The next rustle was different from the first rustle, as this one had sounded much closer and much, much heavier, as if whoever was hiding was trying its best to keep up with him. So he decided to sprint through the last stretch of land that separated him from civilization. Bad idea. As he ran, one of Brandon’s oversized hand-me-down sneakers got caught on a snag and he landed flat on his face. He let out a small cry of pain as a small crunch was heard as blood trickled out of his now-broken nose.
“Shit,” he cursed. Hissing and groaning, he turned on his back and struggled to his feet as he felt the tears gathering, the unbearable pain searing through every fibre of his being. Rubbing the mud, grime and blood away with his sleeve, he finally allowed his eyes to open. Though what he saw immediately made him wish he had kept them closed.
There a few feet to his right standing large and proud amongst the dozens of trees was the tallest man Brandon had ever seen. He stood at eight feet if he was correct. His face was chiselled and eerily symmetric and he wore an old blue three-piece suit that made it appear as if he had walked out of one of those old gangster films that his grandfather enjoyed watching from time to time. His pale eyes glowed like flashlights and his nose was long and narrow. Though his most peculiar feature by far were his hands. They were freakishly large yet somehow incredibly thin, ending with long, bony fingers resembling the talons of a bird of prey. They constantly fidgeted as he glided like some wraith towards him.
He grinned his terrible grin, his lips retreating to reveal a long row of sharp, pearly white teeth that looked perfect for tearing into flesh. His flesh. He reached up with one long arm and took off the fedora which obscured the top half of his unnervingly pleasant looking face. He extended his clawed hand as if in greeting, smiling maliciously all the while.
“Are you well, lad?” the stranger asked in faux concern. Brennan wrinkled his nose in revulsion. The man’s breath reeked of rotted fish, of curdled milk and bad eggs. As his eyes began to tear up he tried his hardest not to gag, but it proved easier said than done.
He wanted to run. He really did. He wanted to run far, far away and not stop until he couldn’t run anymore. But he couldn’t. His feet were stuck to the floor like glue. He felt like a deer in headlights, the man gazing at him with such an intensity that Brandon swore that he felt his blazing orbs burning into his skull.
“I said,” hissed the man, inching closer. The boy stepped backwards until he hit the tree behind him. The man stole the opportunity and grasped both his wrists roughly and placed them above his head, leaving him helpless to defend himself. He squirmed and kicked and squealed, though it was no use, the man was a lot stronger than he looked. “Are you well, lad?”
“What do you want?” Brandon groaned in fear and loathing. The man simply chuckled and lifted an elongated finger, dragging it across the boy’s cheek in a slow, deliberate manner. “A little...sustenance…a...little...meal?” he replied hoarsely, as if every word was as laborious as the last. It opened the soft flesh and left a trail of scarlet to travel down his caramel skin. Then he leaned forward until they were nose to nose and then licked off the blood with his long tongue whilst moaning in pleasure.
“Pretty boy…tasty boy,” the stranger mused to himself in a hushed tone, wrapping his bony fingers around his throat. Brandon, trapped in utter shock, couldn’t respond and went limp. This brought a glimmer of victory to the man’s shark-like eyes. “I’ll have lots of fun playing with you, and perhaps afterwards you could provide me with a nice, tight hole to stick it in. God, you look like a loose one.”
Brandon didn’t dare speak nor breathe, else the man would kill him right there. This is it, he thought somberly as warm tears flooded from his eyes. He's going to kill me., he’s going to kill me, he’s going to kill me, he’s going to kill me, he’s going to kill-
It was then that the light of the moon shone ahead as the clouds had finally dissipated. Brandon gazed up at the fathomless ink sky as its soft, nurturing glow washed over him, his expression making a gradual change from terrified sadness, to bemusement, then finally to an uneasy calm. Slowly raising a hand, the boy wiped the hot liquid off his face and to The Tall Man’s astonishment, popped his stained fingers into his mouth one by one and moaned happily at the euphoric taste of the substance on his tongue, as if he was licking chocolate off his fingers.
“What the fuc-” But before the man could finish his sentence he glimpsed the boy’s eyes. They were glowing a bright yellow. Not human eyes, however. They were an animal’s eyes, a demon’s eyes, the shade of mustard and lemon curd. That was strange, he could have sworn they were teal just a few moments ago. He became even more bewildered when the boy gave him a smug grin, showing his pearly, sharpened teeth that looked far too canine.
“What's the matter, old man?” Brandon asked mockingly in a voice that wasn’t his own. “Afraid of the big bad wolf?”
And for the first time in a thousand-thousand years, The Tall Man felt a hint of fear, a hint that there were others out there more monstrous, more powerful, more many than he. He turned to escape back into the undergrowth, only to discover the boy’s now clawed hand grasping his wrist tightly.
“My, what big teeth you have,” he said nervously. For such a small boy, his grip was iron.
“All the better to fucking eat you with,” Brandon snarled as a bestial growl rumbled through his chest.
The Tall Man could do nothing but watch in utter horror as tufts of black fur sprouted from his skin like flames and covered him completely, his clothes ripping and shredding, his anatomy becoming more and more lupine. His small nose elongated into a long, hairy snout and two large pointed ears burst out from the crown of his head as the ones at his temples shrunk until they had completely disappeared. His tail bone grew until it exploded into a big bushy tail and The Tall Man swore he heard his bones crack and groan as he fell from his hind legs and collapsed on all fours.
Some behemoth demon-wolf stood before him now, its glare equal parts spiteful and hungry. It was his turn to be frightened now, his turn to feel cornered and alone. He stood rigid as it circled him, its nose sniffing up at the air greedily.
It pounced on him suddenly, knocking him onto the floor and stealing the air from his lungs. Its powerful jaws immediately started ripping and tearing at his clothing, then into the soft, pink flesh, attempting to get to the sweet entrails which lay just underneath. The Tall Man opened his mouth to scream, but the beast was faster and clamped its giant maw around his throat, puncturing his windpipe and causing copious amounts of black blood to pour out from his orifices. As he lost consciousness, he stared half lidded at the compassionless golden eyes before him, the owner of which was devouring him alive, piece by piece.
Then his vision grew dark and The tall man was no more.
Pride roaring in his chest from his first ever kill, Brandon licked the monster’s blood from his lips before throwing back his head and let out a hearty howl into the night sky for all to hear, calling out for mother moon and not caring one bit whether he would be caught out in the open.
He changed his mind. Tonight was the best yet.