James Harwell stumbled as he dragged himself to the door. His friends all burst into laughter as he propped himself up against the door frame, holding onto it for support.
“Oh, look at the new Sergeant, can’t even hold his drink, how the hell do they expect him to handle an axe!” Ainsworth yelled out.
James gave a little chuckle.
“Ok boys, I need to get home, the wife will be furious with me,” He said, already hearing her shouting at him.
“The night is still young, Sergeant Harwell, lets have one more drink!” Dalton called out while trying to perform a salute.
“At ease, soldier. I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” James said with a wave and the entire bar gave on last cheer.
The cool night air hit James in the face like a fist, sobering him up a bit. “I might have had one too many,” he said to the empty street.
More than once he was forced to stop and take a few deep breaths as the alcohol tried to force its way out of his body. Each time he was satisfied that it would stay in his stomach he continued walking.
When he was halfway down the street he peered into a store.
“Out of business” a sign hanging in the window read in big black letters.
“Another one closed down,” he sighed heavily.
He remembered fondly when this was a safe part of the city. When, even this late at night, the streets were filled with talking people and flooded with light. Now, most of the buildings were dilapidated and the streets were dirty and dark. He still didn’t know how the bar managed to stay open. The day it closes will be a dark day for the Guild Guard indeed. A child appeared out of the darkness running directly towards him. The boy crashed into him, taking him off his feet. The world spun for a few moments until the alcohol in his body settled. He managed to pull himself up, his anger building but the boy was already running off again, laughing his head off.
“Damn kids these days,” he muttered. “What are they even doing out this late?” His anger faded quickly as he kept walking down the empty street enjoying the cool breeze. Every step he took echoed in the deserted cobblestone street.
His foot snagged on something and he fell onto the hard onto the ground.
“What in the hell,” he said looking around. He saw a sniggering figure standing in one of the alleyways. For a moment he could have sworn it looked remarkably like the kid that had run into him just a few moments ago. The continued sound of the boy laughing quickly dispelled the thought from his mind. He picked himself up from the ground and started walking towards the child. With every step, the child laughter became louder and his rage became stronger.
“Come here, you little brat,” he growled picking up the boy by the scruff of his neck. “Not so funny anymore, is it?” He asked as the boy stopped laughing.
The boy suddenly burst into tears. James was taken aback by the sudden tears and put the boy down.
“Stop that,” he said irritably, but the snivelling continued.
“Where are your parents?” he asked. “What are you doing out this late at night?”
The boy didn’t answer and just looked up at him. Up close James could see that he wasn’t well-groomed: dark brown hair combed away from his dirty face, he wore a pair of black shoes, a white button-down shirt and a jacket. The shirt had become dirty with wear and the brown jacket was missing a few buttons. He felt guilty and foolish asking where his parents were. Any child out this late at night must be an orphan.
“You shouldn’t be out here alone; it could be dangerous–” James started to say in a soothing voice.
At the sound of this, the child doubled up in laughter, the tears from earlier forgotten. James gave a nervous chuckle at the quick change in mood. He stood up, looking at the child as his laughter turned it more of a cackle.
“Stop that,” James said, placing a hand on his breaching axe. The laughter once again stopped.
“Finally, I wasn’t sure how long I could keep him here”, the boy said, looking behind James. James turned around, unsure who the child was talking to. Standing in front of him were three children, all with the same brown jacket and dirty shirt. Hair combed exactly to the side. The same pale blue eyes looking at him. The same devilish smile on their faces. They blinked, one after the other but as they blinked their eyes changed colour, matching the same shade of brown as his. Their features slowly morphed, their flesh becoming liquid and twisted around their faces, shaping to match his features. His smile looked at him, mirrored on the faces of a child’s body. His mind went into overdrive, unable to comprehend what was happening. Acting more on instinct, he sprinted down the dark, empty street. He only made it a few feet when another group of children appeared, all exact replicas of the first child, blocking his path.
“How could this be?” He whispered.
One boy with a big smile walked out to the front of the group.
“You look confused, mister,” it said in a calm voice. “Would this help to tell us apart?” The boy pulled off his face and dropped the blob of skin to the ground. A bloody mess looked at James: it had long, fanged teeth, bloodshot eyes and the facial muscles were clearly visible. Blood dripped from its head, and its smile broadened as it saw the horror and disgust on James’s face.
The thing pulled out a knife and looked at him, hungrily. James reached for his gun, pulled it out of its holster and shot the boy-thing right between the eyes. Without missing a beat he turned his gun, aiming at the next boy but before he could pull the trigger it charged at him with a knife. He dodged a slash, surprised at how fast the boy moved. He pulled out his breaching axe and swung it in a wide arc, but the boy ducked, the axe missing its head. It slashed again catching him on the arm. Small drops of blood dripped onto the ground and James jumped back, out of its reach. He raised his gun but out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of movement. He turned around just in time and pulled the trigger. Another boy-creature was charging at him but his shot hit it in the chest, creating a gaping hole. It looked at the wound, gave a weak smile and collapsed.
The creatures soon surrounded him so he holstered his collier army pistol and took hold of his axe with both hands.
“Come get some!” He shouted, swinging his axe around, trying to keep them at bay. All of them were laughing that horrible laugh. There was a shift in the air and he whirled around. He dodged just in time as one of the creatures swung an axe that looked exactly like his. James roared and countered, landing a blow squarely in the creature’s head, pieces of skull exploding from the wound. From a side alley, he could see more of them looking at him. He turned down another alley, trying desperately to get to a populated area. He realized too late that one of the creatures were waiting for him and he ran right into it. James tried decapitating it but he missed and the creature jumped onto him. He shielded his face as the thing clawed and scratched at him, drawing blood. James threw out a blind punch that caught the creature on the hinge of the jaw and sent it sprawling. When he got up the rest of the creatures had caught up with him. He panted heavily trying to catch his breath. A breaching axe materialized in each of their hands. They had hungry looks in their eyes as they slowly walked up towards him. He took a deep breath and with a mighty roar, he threw his weapon. The axe flew smoothly through the night air and crashed into the chests of one of the creatures. The remaining creatures hesitated for a second, which gave James just enough time. He turned around and ran down the alley again. He unholsters his gun and fired a few shots behind him, hoping to slow down the creatures.
Light flooded his vision as he entered a busy part of town. He blinked a few times to clear his vision. People walking down the streets were looking at him with strange expressions. Covered in blood, face torn up and his hands still grasped his gun tightly.
“Official Guild business!” He called out to the people looking at him. “Nothing to worry about.”
He rushed home, wondering how he was going to explain to his wife what had happened.
As he walked into the door he could hear her yelling already.
“Late again, James!” she screamed, “How many times do I have to say it-” she stopped mid-sentence when she laid her eyes on him. “What happened?” she asked as she ran towards him.
He wrapped his arms around her, embracing her. He never wanted to let go. He smelled her perfume as he buried his face in her neck. They stood like this for a few minutes, not saying anything. When he finally let go, she looked at him with tears in her eyes. “Get me a glass of water and I’ll explain,” he said exhausted. After a few minutes, he felt someone moving around the couch.
“Hi daddy!” his daughter said in a happy sing-song voice. “Hi sweetie,” he replied. He was so glad this night was over. His daughter moved closer and stood in front of him. He opened his eyes sleepily. Before him stood a boy, with black hair combed to the side, a worn down white shirt and pale blue eyes. The boy gave a toothy grin as James pulled out his pistol.