It’s too early and too cold. Pins and needles twinkle on the frosty ground as I try to stomp some feeling into my numb feet. The sodium street lamps pour out a flat, heavy light, dotting bile-yellow pools throughout the morning darkness. Half-dead but almost awake, I’ve wrapped myself up as best I can, the layers of thin clothes now somehow less than the sum of their parts. I’ll have to raid the lost-property at the bar if I’m to survive winter. At least one of my eyes is open but I haven’t gathered enough energy to lift my head, tucking it instead into the folds of scarf tied around my neck, thin streams of smoky breath crawling out through the folds and trailing behind me. Fortunately the walk to the bar is not a long one. Very convenient, especially for my boss who calls me whenever she needs someone last minute. Busy night. Low on beer. Emergency delivery. So in I go. Way too early and way too fucking cold.
The bar’s just off the main strip, tucked into a back street behind a glitzy cartoon of a hotel. I’m across the street from the hotel’s entrance when I see the brewery truck pulling out onto the main road. The fiend is trying to leave. I make a break for it, sprinting across the street and waving my arms to get the driver’s attention. Frigid air creeps up under my clothes and wraps around my chest. Something collides with my leg and clatters behind me. My breath catches as my legs slip out from under me and I almost stack it face-first into the road, only managing to stay upright thanks to my flailing arms. The bastard driver laughs. I give him the finger through a cloud of relieved breath, then point down the ally. He nods and begins to back the truck up.
Behind me stretches a trail of scrap metal, wires and springs. And there’s somebody stood at the far end of it. A clockwork somebody. It’s staring at me from behind a pair of small mirrored sunglasses, wearing a suit of cogs and wires and metal plates. Stretching out behind it’s left shoulder is one gleaming copper and brass wing, dense overlaid shards of twisted metal feathers and a series of gears and cogs set about it’s joint. The thing’s face is gold with a bulky lower jaw hanging from it’s bolt ears. A tarnished machine underbite and a human nose looking out over the jagged parapet of cruel metal teeth. There are wires and cables in place of hair, parted in the centre and hanging straight in the still, clear morning. It must be some street performer getting set up. One of the human statues. It’s just staring like they always do, but there’s just it and me in the cold yellow dark. I realise I’m staring right back, panting. Clouds of my hot breath tumbling through the crisp air. Not a hint of movement from the clockwork thing.
“Sorry.” I say, pointing at the scattered machine parts, then the street behind me. “I had to stop the guy. The truck. Emergency delivery.”
It just stares back, unmoving. Slices of street light reflecting from it’s clean contours and dissecting the thin air. It’s head is hung low, so that it’s Frankenstein bolt ears are level with its shoulders. Like it’s waiting to charge.
I take a step towards it to help pick up the scattered junk when a blast of noise clamps around my head. I jump, nearly spilling into the road again. The truck’s horn. He’s getting impatient. The clockwork thing doesn’t react.
“I gotta go.” I tell it, taking a step back. “Sorry again.”
As I back away, it’s head begins to turn, following me down the street. There’s a terrible noise like twisting, tearing metal that minces the inside of my head. I turn and sprint to the ally, the shrill, metallic scream rising as I run. A wave of relief hits when I round the corner and the noise stops. I don’t look back.