He stumbled through the cemetery, falling flat on his face in the dirt. Lifting himself to his knees, he spat out the soil and leaned back on his legs.
His vision was changing: he could discern miles of tombstones as if it were daylight, smell the damp wood of the tree barks, the flowers that laid on graves, the leaves and grass, and the pungent Thames River. The breeze that rustled softly through the grass was like the roar of a thousand oceans in his ears: a sound that made him cry out in pain.
Blood soaked his shirt; his hands were stained with it. His body trembled, but not from the cold.
Something scurried past him. He reacted on sheer instinct, snatching it up in his hands and with a ravage growl sunk his teeth into its warm, furry belly. The rodent squealed and squirmed until finally going limp in its assailant’s hands. He suddenly paused and stared at the mangled, lifeless rodent. With a cry of disgust he threw the creature aside and fell forward retching up the contents of his stomach into the ground.
Panting and gasping, he wiped the bile from his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. Leaning back on his legs, he lifted his gaze to the moonlit canopy and shaking his fists, shouted in agony.
"Rosette! Rosette, what have you done to me?"
She stood in the doorway observing her surroundings. Curious patrons turned, almost bothered by the snapping cold wind that blew through the bar. They stared at the young woman in black, backwashed by the dim alley light. The door creaked closed, shutting out the wind and customer annoyance.
The Cock & Bull was a backstreet pub still untouched by the curse of tourists that flocked to Canary Wharf since its renovation. On the wooden painted sign someone purposely changed the u to an a, thus making it Cock & Balls. Either the owner didn’t care or he found it just as humorous as his customers.
The place was old and quaint with a smattering of patrons one would expect to find at such an obscure place and the stale smell of ale permeated the air.
Raven crossed to the bar under scrutiny of customers wondering about the strange woman donned in ankle length black leather jacket that flapped around knee high boots. Around her neck a black wool scarf, on her hands fingerless black leather gloves. The windblown black hair was streaked in blue highlights; her bright, violet eyes lined and veiled like a raccoon. A tiny silver hoop glistened from the right corner of her bottom lip: worn to match the medium sized ones in her ears.
A paunch-belly barkeep approached her. "What can I get you, Miss?"
"Dark ale on tap if you have it." She ordered, the soft voice belying the hard exterior.
While waiting for her drink, she sensed someone watching: not the usual stare she received, but a cold, calculating one. She glanced to the left. The corner was too shrouded in dark shadows to make anyone out. Hearing the light thud of the beer mug on the counter, she turned, slapped down the money, grabbed the mug by its handle and strode to the far right corner of the pub, settling at a single table.
Slipping the two straps of the heavy equipment bags from her shoulder, she hooked them on the side of the chair, set down the ale and removed her scarf and coat, slinging them over the back of the chair. She reached around her, fishing the coat pocket for her cigarette case. Lighting up, she sat sideways on the chair, crossed her leg and leaned her head on the brick wall, closing her eyes as she took the first savoring drag.
The vivid images she recently shot were fresh in her mind. Raven was no stranger to the gruesome or macabre, but what she witnessed this evening shook her. She wasn’t sure if it was the crime or watching the helpless young woman have her neck torn open, being more concerned for the pictures she took than helping the girl.
From a young girl, Raven knew she was born different. She never got along with others, preferred the cold loneliness of the long winter nights and had a strong sensitivity to her surroundings. That sensitive gift enabled her to sense something would go wrong before it happened.
The so-called gift that Raven considered a curse eventually coincided with her chosen profession as a photojournalist. She wasn’t the norm of a photographer: she didn’t report to an office daily or receive mundane assignments. She chose her own hours and assignments, selling her photos to the highest bidding media under an alias.
Her pictures were eagerly coveted, for what made Raven stand out above the rest was they were taken of the crime as it happened, which in turn, aided the British authorities to capture and put away countless criminals. It was the reason for her strict animosity. Getting ID’d would be her imminent demise.
Not all saw her as a hero; most found her worse than the criminals she photographed, not caring for the well being of the victim. Some wondered if this mysterious photographer wasn’t the mastermind behind the crimes she photographed.
Raven drank deeply of the ale. She couldn’t afford to think about the helpless victims. She had a job to do. And, to do it, she needed to distance herself from any emotional bonds. She needed to eat like anyone else. At least, that’s what she told herself.
She crushed out the stub of the cigarette and pulled out her laptop. While it booted, she reached into the other case and fished out a small, rectangular disk that she inserted into the side of the computer.
She blindly reached for the mug and frowned, realizing it a mouthful away from being empty. She glanced up for a barmaid and signaled her to the table. She handed the girl the empty mug. "Another dark ale."
The blonde nodded and walked away.
Raven studied the selection of thumb prints transferred from her camera, chose and edited the best ones and contacted her clients in the media. While waiting for responses, she wrote the editorial for the online weekly Gothic magazine.
"We all think we’d know what to do if we witnessed a murder: run for help, flip open our cells and call the police, some may even like to think ourselves heroes and try to save the victim. The truth is, most of us would stand on the sidelines and watch, mesmerized by the grizzly sight before us.
What would make us become so paralyzed? Horror? Or would it be that which appeals to our darker psyche?"
Raven’s fingers paused on the keyboard, realizing someone stood by the table and it wasn’t the barmaid. She lifted violet gaze on a young man with simple grin, holding a mug of ale.
"I intervened with the lady bringing your beer, so we can chat it up a bit." he explained. He took the chair from the empty table behind him and straddled it. "The name’s Kent. I saw you come in and just had to meet you."
Raven continued writing, ignoring him.
He stood and leaned over the laptop. "So, what is it you’re working on?"
Raven’s eyes flashed, "Your epitaph." she sneered. "Now get the hell away from me."
"I was just trying to be friendly." He indignantly barked.
"Well, I’m not acquainted with that concept." She lifted her mug of beer as he started walking away. "But, hey, thanks for the ale."
"Crazy bitch." he muttered.
"Ass wipe." she grumbled.
She drank more beer and lit another cigarette. She rested the burning stick in the ashtray and finished the editorial that she quickly edited and mailed onto the magazine.
Goosebumps pricked her forearms. She felt the cold eyes on her. She glanced over at the other side of the pub, but couldn’t get a sense of who it was or where the person sat.
The computer beeped, alerting Raven of a bid for the set of pictures for the early morning edition. She studied the offers, made the choices and made the transactions.
The barmaid returned to Raven’s table. "Ready for another, Miss?"
Raven lowered the top of the iBook, obstructing any chance views of her work. She handed the young woman her mug.
"And, could you not send over some passing jerk what spots you a few pounds?"
"Yes, Miss." she replied, chastised. "And, smoking isn’t allowed in the pubs anymore." she bit.
Raven spitefully lifted the burning cigarette to her lips blowing the smoke at the barmaid. The woman pursed her lips and walked away with the empty mug and her tip on the tray. "I dare them to say something to me about it." She muttered, savoring a few puffs. "It isn’t like I’m smoking up the whole room. And, with this motley crew, who cares?"
The computer beeped, signaling the confirmation of the financial transaction. Her work for the evening was complete.
As she closed down the applications, the barmaid returned with the ale. She turned off the computer and stashed it in its case, now sitting back to drink the last ale of the night.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as the sense of danger intensified. Raven wasn’t about to let the person intimidate her into rushing out of the pub, but neither was she fool enough to linger. She casually finished her beer, crushed out the cigarette and stood, slipping on her coat and scarf. Slinging the heavy bags over her shoulder she weaved around a few tables and out the door.
Shoving hands in pockets and head braced against the biting cold, Raven quickly strode down the dimly lit, cobbled alley. She sensed someone lurking behind and sped up her steps: the heels of her boots clicking loudly in the eerie silence. There were only a few more feet to the main street with its streetlights and traffic.
Without warning she was grabbed from behind and dragged back into the darkness of the alley. Raven couldn’t scream the assailant’s arm had her in a choke hold. She reached behind her, attempting to scratch her attacker’s face. She felt his skin under her nails. She dug her heel into his foot, but it did little to deter him. His teeth plunged into her neck, paralyzing her. She was being dragged to the ground, sucking and draining the life from her.
Raven’s head touched the cold, cobbled bricks. She couldn’t help think of the irony and justice of her death.
The attacker suddenly dropped her. She heard scuffing and footfalls running through the alley. Voices drew near muffled in the wind and then she surrendered to the oblivion that overtook her.