18: Heralds


I’ve started smoking again. Not because I even like it or want to; purely for the excuse. Marina has a strange respect for smoking – she considers it something of an art-form – and it is the only reason she will accept for slipping quietly away for a few minutes when on duty. Sometimes you just need some respite, a moment of calm…

So here I am, in an alleyway, in the dark, in the drizzle, by the bins. They’re overflowing and generous of fragrance.

And I prefer it to in there. Another fabulous shindig, drink flowing, armoured smiles, hidden agendas, all artifice and persiflage. Exhausting.

I’m not so much smoking the cigarette as holding it, admiring the curl of smoke drifting into the night.

I almost jump when I realise I have company in the shadows. Two eyes gleam oddly in the gloom, momentarily flashing green.

They belong to a fox. Not a straggly, malnourished scavenger, but a full-bodied, confident brute.

He observes me calmly, weighs me up, decides he could take me if necessary.

He advances, surveying the detritus surrounding the bin, selects a morsel he deems acceptable, and slouches calmly away with his spoils.

For some reason, the brief encounter leaves me unsettled.

The door behind me opens, revealing Marina. I hastily raise the cigarette to my lips, but discover that it’s betrayed me by going out. Marina smiles resplendently, always a dangerous sign, and produces a lighter from her tiny handbag. I relight my cigarette, and then bow forward demurely to light the one Marina is holding out to me in her red-taloned fingers.

“Have you noticed how the foxes are becoming much bolder?” I fluster, hoping to distract her from having caught me skiving.

“How do you mean?” She gives me a hard look, letting me know she’s on to me.

“The urban foxes; they used to stalk the shadows. If they saw someone approaching, they’d bolt for it – scurry under a car, jump over a wall… they aren’t afraid anymore. They stand their ground. They stare you down.”

“Kit, darling, are you afraid of the little foxes?”

“No, no –”

“Good. Because there are many things more scary than foxes for you to worry about it. Some of them are inside this building, waiting patiently for you to honour them with your presence.”

“Yes, right. But, don’t you think it’s odd?”

Marina is making short work of her cigarette, sucking the life out of it with a vengeance, the orange glow illuminating her carefully drawn-on face. She looks at me seriously, almost pityingly.

“Foxes are the least of it,” she says eventually. “Haven’t you felt how the wind is changing? There have been heralds. You should learn to discern them, to read the signs and take heed.”

“What signs?”

“They’re all around: The foxes. This shitty, unseasonal weather – fucking hail in May! Saharan dust. Dead crows everywhere. People turning to the far right. The tide is turning.”

“Heralding what?” I demand.

She smiles, pleased by the effect she’s had on me with her foreboding proclamation. She crushes her vanquished cigarette again the wall with a flourish.

“Come on, dream-boy. You have work to do.”

She opens the door, spilling brightness into the dark space, ushering me in.

“What does it mean?” I ask again, firmly. “What’s coming?”

She strokes my lips with a hard red fingernail.

“Bad things,” she says sweetly.

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