Someone had hit him. How and why was anyone's guess, but there he was, on the floor, face in the mud, head spinning. His left side was aching, and ribs felt well and truly boot-kicked. As fast as he could, which was way-off warp speed and more snail pace, Hoody struggled to his knees.
He had to get back on his feet and sort the bastard who'd decked him. That was how it was. Hoody took no shit from no-one, and no-one in the city had ever dared diss him or his mates, and no one got the better of his gang. Leastways, never spat more than blood if they tried it on..
Back on his feet he swayed, and wasn't feeling so good.
The ground started moving as though coming up to meet him, and every fucking thing around felt alien. He tentatively touched his upper cheek . . . It was tenderised much like a well-hammered steak. He wondered if his attacker had come at him through a nearby hedge and jumped him with a weapon.There was no doubting a weapon had been used. No way did Hoody go down on a mere punch.
He shook himself dog-like; sense of place difficult to ascertain . . .
It took a minute or two before his brain engaged with sense of place, let alone direction of where he was headed prior to wack to side of his head.
The road through the village was thankfully quiet and street lamps to guide his way. It was past chucking out hour at the local pubs, and the car parks were empty. True enough, he'd had a drink or two in both pubs. Maybe more than a few pints in each one. He couldn't really remember that far back in time. In any case it would all be piss in the wind on the long walk back to grandma's cottage, and the ancient place itself had a habit of disappearing. The gateway to the cottage he'd walked past in the dark unseen a couple of nights back, and had walked up and down looking for it, and then bloody fell through it like it swallowed him.
If grandma was to see what state he was in right now she'd harp on about not going drinking without a Jack O'Lantern aloft, and giving it her all with 21st century devilish twist.
Anyhow, grandma was quite cool most of the time, so long as he kept to the agreed contract of his living with her. Thing was, though, a major poo-doo could be in the offing. He was two hours past his agreed time for lock-in and hadn't phoned to let her know he was running late.
While battling the unpleasant predicament of feeling unsteady, plus likelihood of confrontation on his return, three teenagers were almost upon him before he noticed them heading his way. They didn't look like they were up for trouble.
But, maybe they weren't as innocent as they looked. Maybe one was the slugger who'd bashed him and had then legged it to get reinforcements. Worse still, he was aware of laughter as they drew nearer. He braced himself, expecting the worst. This time he was ready for all of them. These country boys were about to regret having messed with a city hood.
He reached into his pocket for his blade.
What happened next was unexpected.
As the three drew level, one of the lads asked, 'Hey. You all right, mate?'
Blood gushed to cheeks. He'd wrong-minded the lads, and replied in a nonchalant manner, 'Yeah, tripped over a darn cat.'
The village boys went on their way, chuckling and one of their number was heard to say, 'Tripped over a cat my arse. The dickhead was so up hisself on booze he kissed that road sign a good'n.'
If he was back home Hoody would have gone after them. Thing was, though, Hoody getting into a scrum had to be thought through. Out here in nowhere land he was on his jack shit lonesome and no mates at his back.
He turned at the next T-junction and headed out into open country.
He had a long walk ahead of him, and could barely see his white trainers let alone the road and high-banked-hedgerow The lane devoid of street lamps and barely wide enough for a four-wheeled vehicle, it was easy to imagine the average city dude would be scared shitless: what with hazards like roadside ditches; high banks and low branches; not to mention potruding tree trunks enough to fell a man walking blind without a torch. Blood curdling noises, too, were often heard and cause enough for a city bloke's flesh to creep and pulse to race.
He wasn't scared of the countryside. Never had been . . . well, not since he was little and used to hide under the bed covers when a screech owl was heard hunting outside the house where he used to live: before his mum moved away.
He'd been born a country boy, and his mum and dad had owned a smallholding back then. Not that he could remember much about that time in his life. Even when he tried really hard to remember what had happened and why his mum had taken him away from his blood dad and found him and his sister a new dad, it was impossible to put the pieces of his early life together. It was all a jigsaw to him.
Yeah. Hoody had had a shit life and no control over his infant destiny, but his teenage years had been a rock party in comparison. He'd taken control and did what he wanted, when he wanted. Now he was in shit street big time, and some crackhead baron's heavies on his case and nowhere land seemed a God given place to be.
He trudged onward and back to his grandma's home, sense of unease prevailing, like someone or something was tailing him.
His blood ran cold. He stopped, looked back along the lane. Fairly bloody pointless action in pitch darkness, but hey, better to face the enemy than be wacked from behind.
He waited . . . Not a sound.
At least he wasn't about to be hammered over the back of the head.
He strode onward, heard a scuttling sound back along the hedge a little ways. But when he stopped and listened, it came across as more of a fast-shoe shuffle like a loping animal and implying something bigger than a rodent.
He knew about rodents. He had a pet rat. And if that thing was a rodent it was a big 'n. He peered into the blackness, couldn't see a damn thing and decided to yell a battle cry, then legged it until his breath became short and sharp. Finally forced to a staggering pace. What ever the thing was, he could no longer hear it.
He was in deepest darkest backwood country for chrissake.
The thing was probably a fox or badger, and likely just as scared at having an intruder on its ward as he was in thinking IT was out to get him.
IT, whatever IT was, was sure to be legging it in the opposite direction by now.
Drawing in much needed breath, rumours about a big black panther like cat came to mind. He'd read reports of sightings in the area. But it was all bullshit put about by drunks and mad old ladies saying their pet pooches had been had by a snarling beast hiding in the shadows.
He kept walking, but still he had the feeling he was being followed. He stopped and listened, and not that far from where he was standing a sound indicative of something quite large coming through the hedge and down the bank a few feet behind him sent a chill ripple down his spine.
Whatever it was had caught up with him, standing off, its breathing audible and not in the least laboured.
Was he being stalked by a big cat?
copyright Francine Howarth 2010
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