I’ve lived and worked in London for the best part of 30 years, and I thought I had a sound knowledge of its culture and history. I’ve heard the gruesome stories of its past, who hasn’t growing up here? But tonight I saw the darkest side of London that I’ve ever seen.
I’m a firefighter so you can understand when I say that. We don’t just put out fires; we also see suicides, car crashes, and other traumatic situations. Sometimes they can be explained by simple human behavior, but sometimes even that falls short. The ones that leave me shivering in bed are the acts of violence on other people. Sure I know most of us are friendly, but once in awhile, you find that one person that is beyond all help. Beyond all saving.
As a lad, I grew up with a few friends that have stayed that way even with life pulling us in different directions. Throughout school, we were a close-knit group and even when it was time for some of us to go to college, we still kept in touch. Naturally, as we’ve grown older and had families of our own, we try to meet up any time possible.
A few years ago Paul moved to Australia, (the names have been changed to protect identity). Paul and his wife and kids come back to visit their family one every year, and a roundup of the guys is always on the cards. Tonight was one such occasion.
I had finished working a rota of four-night shifts and was looking forward to 4 days off. My wife already knew that I was meeting up with the boys, these things were planned months in advance, so I had packed some nice clothes to get ready at the station. Lucky for me I work at ______road Staton right in the center of London. After a quick session in the gym and a spruce up, I walked out the building feeling a million dollars and headed to the pub where we were all to meet.
David and Phil were already sitting at a table by the window when I entered All Bar One at The Old Baliey, so I used the universal hand signal for “want a drink?” and they both raised a Peroni glass in the air. After being served by a flirtatious waitress with a nose piercing, I was sat at the table catching up on old time when Dean walked through the door.
I hadn’t seen Dean in some years as he had missed several of our previous meetups, so you can understand that expectations for the night were now high. This had just turned into the one night when all five us were back together, and I planned to make it epic. It must have been an hour, three pints and six shots later before Paul walked into the bar.
There is a saying: Friends come and go, like the waves of the ocean, but the real ones stay around like an octopus on your face. I’ve always like that quote. Essentially, it means friends can go years without talking and then pick up where they’re left off. That was us right then.
The beer was flowing, and we just fitted back together like a Mechno set. At some point, a group of girls had joined us and the night seemed to go from zero to hero. We are all around our 30th, but most of us are still in pretty good shape. My jobs probably has me in the best condition of my life, and David has always been able to speak to the girls. While Phil is packing what most men could only wish they had, so they both do pretty well. Dean, well Deans was always the quiet one. Now just to set the record straight I love my wife and children and would never dream of cheating on her for another woman, it’s nice to flirt but that as far as it goes. For the other guys, well, I’m not their keeper.
At some point I noticed a black taxi pull up outside our window, some of the lads at work subdivide their career with driving a cab as it pays wells and also allows them the freedom to work they own hours. But the reason I noticed this particular taxi was that it was in exceptional condition. It could have been in a car show hosted by Jeremy Clarkson or even been a chauffeur for the wealthy or famous.
As it sat idly by the side of our window, the orange street light flicked off the blue pearlescent paint and flashed in my face; I watched to see if the dark tinted window would reveal the occupant that it hid. But as time went on, no one emerged from the cab, and the black windows hid the driver from view. I did see quite a few people try and hail the driver, but the driver didn’t lower the window and the orange taxi light on top of the cab was off. A while later I had forgotten about the mysterious taxi as a chatty redhead swung her red wine around wildly, and I tried to dodge the droplets that escaped like embers spat from a fire.
Before I knew it, the last bell had been rung, and we all got a last beer before talk turned to where we should go next. I had a day out planned with the missus and kids, so I for one wasn’t going any further. The train station was calling my name, and I was beginning to feel the tiredness setting in. Dean echoed my decision, and the other lads scoffed and tried in vain to lure us to a club, the girls on their arms wasn’t enough for both Dean and me, so we turned our attention to securing a ride to London Bridge Station.
Maybe it was luck or pure coincidence, but as we stepped out the door the taxi I saw earlier fired up his engine and turned on his hire light. The pub was emptying pretty fast, and a guy with a super drunk friend tucked under his arm beat us to the cab. I saw him try the handle, but the taxi pulled off, leaving him cursing and picking his friend off the floor. I thought it was going to past us, but it didn’t, it stopped with precision next to Dean. Dean grabbed to handle and the door open, we both jumped into the gloomy interior, and I told the driver the destination.
I was pretty pissed by this stage, but I do remember finding it quite weird that the glass partition that separated the driver from us was blacked out with limo glass. Black taxi in London don’t have this feature, and I nudged Dean in the ribs and giggled something about being movie stars. Comfortable that we were in safe hands I closed my eyes for what would be a ten-minute journey.
As we approached London Bridge Station, the driver sailed through a green light and under the railway arches. The bump jolted me awake, and I saw Dean staring head with a face as white as snow. I didn’t think the ride had been particularly bad but by his hands clamped to the seats I must have been wrong.
Drunkenly I asked what was wrong and Dean murmured something I couldn’t hear. I asked again as the driver slowed and pulled over in a dark patch under the railway arches.
It was then that my drunken self-awareness triggered and I sat bolt upright looking around. We still had another 40 meters to the forecourt and didn’t know why the driver had pulled over early.
The fog in my brain lessen, and the blood in my veins went cold. Have you ever heard something on the edge of your hearing, like when you turn the radio down so low that you can barely hear it but you know it’s playing a song? Well, that what I thought I was hearing. It wasn’t until the engine stopped that I could listen to what was making the noise. Something was speaking at such a low level that I had to strain to hear it but what it was saying will haunt me for the rest of life.
The voice crackled and sounded hollow like it was being spoken from a deep well. As I listen, a mist like substance oozed through the payment window and congealed on th floor by Dean.
“You hurt her, didn’t you? You killed her, didn’t you? We know you did. She calls to us, they all do. All the little girls and boys that you hurt. Yes, we know what you have been doing, and we know what you were thinking tonight. Poor little Sarah, you were going to give her something tonight wasn’t you? Something no little girls or boy should have. Wasn’t you?”
Dean had succumbed to a blubbering mess as the mist rolled and boiled. I shrank as far from the thing as possible as the icy chill emanating from it cause goosebumps to run up my arms. The mist solidified into a grotesque decrypted old figure with no eyes and gaping wounds that littered its body. I couldn’t tell if it was man or women, the skin looked like sandpaper and its breath smelt like rotten flesh. I have seen some horrors as a firefighter especially mangled corpse from train suicides. It was like this body had been put back together from pieces that didn’t match.
Dean was nodding a whimpering as the demon asked him again about what he wanted to do to little Sarah. The beast reached out a hand to clamp Deans face as its chin dropped and stretched to a horrific proportion.
The demon wailed like a storm. Like a million bees swarming from a nest. Like a thousand voices screaming at once from one mouth. Dean screamed too as white vapor poured from his throat into the demon’s mouth. I started to pull the door handle and banged on the window, but no one was around to help or even hear us.
Deans face shrank and wrinkled like a deflated balloon until his bones protruded from his leather skin. I jumped back as his eyes popped and goo splatted the creatures face, but still, it drank his soul. Deans limp carcass crumbled in the seat and the demon closed its mouth and turned to me with gaping fleshy eyes. I begged, pleaded with the thing not eat me and it set the corners of its papery mouth up at the side, before wafting back to vapor and pouring again through the payment hole. Terrified I pinned myself to the seat as the engine fired to life and the taxi moved on.
I didn’t know what Dean had been up to and it mortified me to know what he had been doing. But he was always secretive and often didn’t come to the regular meet ups. Seeing his crumpled remains though. I shuddered again, both for what had happened to him and the justice for his victims.
I have never been so grateful to step out of a taxi then right then. As I fell onto the forecourt and the door slammed shut, I looked about as if in a dream. The cold paving felt fresh and solid, and I turned to see the taxi still at the curb. I somehow could hear a singsong voice from within as it pulled off and drove into the night.
“London Bridge is falling down, falling down.”