I open my eyes and blink. There’s a stack of cheap plastic bins stacked up in front of me and in my hand is a mop, the head wrapped in cellophane. For some reason I seem to have been contemplating buying it, though I’ve never mopped a floor in my life. I look up and there’s an anxious Pakistani gentleman peering at me through the shop window, probably afraid that I’m about to do a runner and steal his mop. Do people do that? I mean, I know round here the thieves are mostly junkies, but would even they bother? It’s a mop. The price tag says £5 but who’d even bother?
I’ve seen a few armed robberies in this area and our thieves are indeed the dumbest fucking animals you ever ran across. Half get seen off by staff and passers-by because they don’t even know what to do with the weapons they brought. They can’t afford baseball bats, let alone guns, so it’s any piece of wood they picked up on the way, once even a plastic juggler’s club. That guy got pole-axed by a sixty-year-old bundle of Jamaican rage with a handbag—still the best thing I’ve ever seen, before and after losing my virginity.
Okay, so the other half tends to fuck people up pretty badly because they do have the first clue about which end of the hammer you hit people with, but the dumb ones are a fun distraction for the devil on my shoulder so I try to keep a lookout for robberies.
I put the mop down and turn around. I think it’s Tuesday, but it’s one of those dull autumn days where you can’t even tell if it’s morning or afternoon. The rain’s barely bothering to come down, it mostly seems to be hanging in the air so people walking under umbrellas still get it in the face. There’s a Chinese restaurant across the road and the tables look empty so maybe it’s early. I can smell something in the air, faintly sour and overripe, but the car fumes render it little more than a ghost scent.
The restaurant doesn’t have a name, or rather doesn’t have one I can read. There’s just a white sign with some characters in black; shiny and new but apparently not wanting to encourage customers too much by having a name most can read. Having met a few landlords round here, I’m not surprised. Half the shops are just fronts, tax write-offs and somewhere to launder the off-the-books cash they get in.
I look down. At least I’m wearing shoes today. It doesn’t matter if I’m asleep or awake; bare feet in a street where students puke and drop bottles most nights is never fun. Something niggles and I look harder. Those aren’t my shoes. At least I don’t think they are. I’m pretty sure, anyway. That doesn’t mean I didn’t buy them, I guess. They don’t look new so I could have picked them up in a charity shop. Let’s just say I don’t remember buying them. That happens a lot…
Read the rest of this story and eleven more nightmare-inspired tales in Shared Nightmares, coming soon!