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In the city, no one knows anyone. It’s ironic in a way because it’s the closest you can get to someone, mere millimetres away with a waft of their cheap aftershave burning your nostrils. You spend the hour long tube commute avoiding eye contact. You may see the same faces every day, in the cafe, the bar, the corner shop but keep them at arms length with pleasantries of weather and traffic based observations. For forty hours a week we are imprisoned in a prison cell of lowered walls and the blinking screens of emails and spreadsheets, we see our fellow captives more than we see our own families, know their faces better than our own reflections. But as the clock strikes five on that Friday afternoon, we can’t wait to get away from them and prolong the inevitable uncaring “how was your weekend” ‘s of Monday morning.
London is a swarming anthill with a queen only worshipped in the paper and coined form. People throughout the world flock to the teaming hub of social ignorance. But no one is reviled, shunned, ignored, blurred into the nothingness of your peripherals more than the homeless. No matter which city, province, television show or anecdote they is no greater stranger than the homeless man. Nameless, faceless, nothing but a blurred sign and an overturned hat you quickly walk by.
This is why I have chosen this form for my work. The anonymity of plain sight.
I start my day the same way many others with my role in existence do. In whatever semi sheltered nook or cranny I can find to ward of the cold. Having gathered what little belongings I own in my tattered hiking bag I walk to a few of the chosen locations. It’s a fine art you see finding the right begging stop, it has to be populated with the right kind of people but not get you in trouble with the chaps and chappettes in blue. Tourist locations like south bank are out of the question, they’re always well protruded to keep the foreign money flowing. Train stations like Waterloo and Kings cross can be of help, but you usually have to talk to people, and no one likes to be bothered while rushing for a train.
No, you need somewhere with the right balance and variety of people. I tend to chose the business district, outside the millennium bridge next to St Paul’s cathedral. Perfect mix of tourists, families, and my personal favourite, businessmen. I place myself outside the scientology building on my sleeping bag, dirty flat cap upturned in front of me. The crowds go by in waves, the occasional copper thrown in but never with any eye contact, or if there is then they quickly look away answering a non-existent phone call or the like. I merge with the looming buildings around me, after ten thousand years you’d think I’d get used human's lack of humanity but it still amuses me.
My people were tasked long ago with two simple tasks, to watch and to punish. Whom we punish is up to us, I don’t know who tasked me with this for it was too many lifetimes away. I do not know my kin save for the slight nod of recognition when our paths cross. All that I know is the urge that fills my mind constantly, and being a romantic at heart, I have developed a beautiful sense of poetic justice in my work.
As they pass me I see them walk by this homeless stranger, I know them instantly with a detail no one ever will. I see their lives, their thoughts, their desires, their decisions and indecisions, all that has befallen them, and all that ever could. And when the day is over and the streets are littered with the occasional vomiting drunk and scurrying screech of night busses, I ponder over these lives and what most deserving fate I shall choose for them. Some would call it unfair, others fate, but I assure you I am a clean monster compared to some of my brethren. Who’s appetite for destruction can destroy your life in the most undeserving ways.
Let us see who we have today shall we? Ah yes, the reason I come to the business district. Mr Paul McGowan. Five foot eleven and twelve stone one pound, expensive haircut to match his expensive skinny grey suit. He has worked hard to succeed in the trading business, at the age of 28 he’s enjoying his success and the freedom of a lack of family to weigh him down. Ah, there it is. Paul doesn’t seem to understand the definition of consent, he’s forgotten the meaning of no at least 3 times already and doesn’t see anything wrong with what he does. Oh Paul I know just the thing to cure this habit of yours, a tumble in the shower and paralysis from the waist down.
Who’s next? Hello Kathryn, a delightful fire cracker of a forty three year old red head. She always had dreams of finding her true love, has the case of romantic comedies on the shelf in her modest studio flat in Finchley. Problem for her was she was too busy devoting her life to charity work and fundraising, toiling away her youth for the benefit of others. Even now we share a smile as she puts a few pounds in my hat and whispers “God bless.” I think I shall bless you Kathryn. Enjoy the staff party next Friday, I know the bartender who’s been searching for the love of his life will enjoy spending the rest of his days making you smile.
It only takes a delicate nudge to get the desired effect you see. No judgement, no flaming sword of vengeance or plague of frogs raining down on their flat shares. Just a tube delay so they miss an interview for a job that wasn’t right for them. A computer virus when they’ve bullied the intern too many times. Finding a fifty pound note to pay for the children’s food that week. Always subtle without a sign of influence.
There was only once.
For a number of weeks my newspaper bedding had been tarnished with the tales of the disfigured remnants of what were once humans. Bit and pieces had been washing up on the Thames, with no seeming pattern to the events and no real end in sight. I paid the tales no heed. While this may be my city it’s inhabitants are not my people, I felt nothing at these stories as I only take delight in forming my own. It’s my job to use these people as ink to my poetic interventions in their stories, and I do my job as an editor well by remaining that, an editor not invested in anything but my job.
So I went about my business as the tales in my bedding grew worse, I could feel the effect in the population. The blood dripped from the ink and fueled their quickened steps and fearful minds. Less tourists and emptier streets at night made my work annoyingly sparse. Maybe that’s why I did what I did? Was it boredom? Something to ease the monotony of millenia of work, or something else entirely?
He moved by me swiftly, with a relaxed low shouldered pace, without a care in the world. It was the ease that made the images which flooded my mind somehow worse. The delight in every second of the arduous journey to death he inflicted upon every victim, the laughter and ecstatic glee of this madman as he would eat parts of them in front of their very eyes. No discrimination in his descent into hell, all ages genders and creeds had been slowly devoured by this creature. I had seen devils and demons and met the man who sits on the throne of fire myself, and even they would have been sickened by this man. I felt a rage rise being my eyes, a desire of hateful retribution I had never felt before. I was stunned at myself, frozen in place by this alien sensation. Yet the knowledge that he had an infant still alive persuaded my body to move.
As I rose my homeless robes shifted into the garments of a business man and I set forth ten steps behind him. I followed him to the back of St Paul’s and into the tube station. I could feel his thoughts, his pace quickened as if he knew he were being followed. He turned and I shifted into an overweight Nigerian lady, he turned back and scanned through the oyster machine. I followed and was lead onto the tube. He was still nervous, I had to change my forms three times as he changed tube lines, finally arriving at Brixton. My mind was the definition of clarity, focused on the singular thought of this man’s elongated end at my hand.
When we arrived outside his flat I was done with the charade of disguise. I saw him in my thoughts, close the door and move over to his work room. Once a living room he had sound proofed it with the triangular patterned foam squares tiling the walls. The floor was metal, and furniture sparse save for the singular table in the centre of the room where his tools lay. Stripped clean and reeking of bleach it had the feel of a hospital, an operating table of sorts. Yet the waiting room replaced by chains and only patient the young girl sobbing at her foreboding demise.
She wasn’t scared, it was well beyond that. Her eyes where white clenched knuckles, refusing to open to the living nightmare of her current life. As I appeared in front of her she shriveled at the presence of another in the room. I saw her clutching her arm close to her. The stump where the hand used to be. She had suffered enough for 10 lifetimes, still a fraction of what I would inflict on him. I placed my hand on her forehead.
“Sleep.” I muttered and she vanished, to wake in the embrace of a hospital bed. She wouldn’t remember any of this I ensured.
He opened the door and froze in silent terror of my darkened form. Unburdened by disguise I discarded my illusions for the first time since time began. Clothed in flame and blackened wings of pure soul destroying beauty I set upon this excrement stain upon creation. I had always performed my task, no deviation, no protest not a single breath put out of turn in all of time. Surely he would grant me this one form of true punishment. This inhuman knew a truer hell than the one I sent him too. Every second of was a forever of excruciation, my poison tipped wings permeating into every cell of his being. Flowing through the veins and capillaries into every organ, every inch, into the space where his long absent soul lay.
And in that eternity, only moments passed. And it was done. He was now a blood soaked smear in this disinfected former torture chamber. And I felt something I had never felt before. A tingling in my fingertips that spread to the edges of my smile. Satisfaction, like the unknown Lords of creation had finally used me as a tool to inflict my true purpose. I blinked and once more I was the homeless stranger.
I took the rest of the day of and wandered the great capital city for hours. The flame in my eyes had subsided and I saw the true beauty of this wondrous place. And that night in my humble sleeping bag, I slept as soundly as a maturing infant in its mothers womb.