I Know I Am, I’m Sure I Am
The sun burned away into the sparse, frozen wasteland as two figures moved through the fading light of evening, their shadows looming over the snow-covered ground. It was January on the outskirts of Riga; cruel and beautiful.
A squat, middle aged man led a young woman from a large wooden house, marching her through the snow towards a little wooden shed a hundred yards away. The girl was beautiful; slender, almost fragile in stature, dark, wavy hair flowed to the small of her back. Her skin, unblemished and porcelain, accentuated the darkness of her deep brown eyes; sad, beautiful orbs, almost black, accustomed to witnessing pain. His hand gripped her arm, fingers boring into her biceps like iron rivets.
She tried to wrench her arm free and run, but he was too strong for her. He hooked his arm around her neck and drew her to him as she struggled, pinching her bicep and making her cry out.
‘No you don’t’ he hissed into her ear. His breath was hot and smelled of vodka and cigars. He dragged her to the shed, her feet trailing in the snow. ‘I’ll come and get you in the morning,’ he said as he opened the wooden door and shoved her inside, sending her sprawling onto the floor beside a stack of kindling. ‘If you weren’t so fucking beautiful, I’d have cut your throat by now.’
He fumbled around in his pocket for the key to the padlock on the door. ‘Have you taken my key?’ he demanded. Dragging her to her feet, he checked her hands and her pockets, wondering if she’d taken it in the struggle outside. But it was nowhere to be seen. He must have left it in the house; he had been drinking heavily since noon. Muttering, he slammed the door and slid the three bolts outside. She wouldn’t be able to get out, but it was best not to take any chances. He’d go and get the key.
Inside the girl scrambled off the floor, dusted herself down and sat on a stack of logs. She heard the bolts drawn, but no padlock. A slight smile touched the corners of her mouth and her eyes shone brightly in the gloom of the shed, no longer dark, but, just for a moment, they burned an incandescent yellow. Her pupils narrowed to sharp black slits, then the smile faded and her eyes returned to normal; sad and lonely as she regarded her makeshift cell
The man trudged back to the house with the intention of returning to lock the shed. He’d just have a seat by the fire for a while first though, warm himself up a bit, maybe have a quick drink; put some fire back in his belly.
He poured himself a drink and sat down by the fire, the flames from the hearth and the spirit warming him inside and out, making him sleepy. Really, she couldn’t get out, and it was so warm inside. She’d be fine.
‘Trust me, this place is gonna be worth the trek out of town’ said Gary Ferguson as he led his companions away from the bustling hub of the city’s nightlife. At Ferguson’s suggestion, the heavily drunk stag party were trudging their way through ankle deep snow to a brothel far outside the centre of Riga. Their feet crunched loudly as they marched beneath the inky sky, the moon peering down at them from a gap in the thick blanket of clouds overhead.
They’d travelled to Riga on a stag party, attracted by the allure of cheap flights, cheap, strong beer and an easily accessible sex industry. This was the second night of the trip and having recovered from their hangovers, they were heading away from the neon glow of the city to what Ferguson had been assured was a brothel staffed by extraordinarily beautiful women.
The landlord in the George & Dragon Fun Pub, an establishment that catered exclusively to boorish British tourists, had told him about the place the previous evening. Geordie Paul, the landlord of the George, and a feral weasel of a man who hadn’t visited Britain for over twenty years let alone the city of Newcastle he so often eulogised, had informed Ferguson that speaking as a patron of many such establishments, he had never visited its equal. ‘Exquisite, mate’, he’d said. ‘Absolutely unbelievable, you’ll think you’re at a fashion show full of supermodels.’ Such was his enthusiasm and reverential tone when describing the place that Ferguson was determined to experience its delights for himself.
To his relief, Paul Keane, the groom, agreed to the expedition immediately. He’d already enjoyed the company of three working girls since arriving in Riga, and was keen to make the acquaintance of as many as possible before he returned home. He considered it only proper that a United Crew top boy should have the best of send offs before he was consigned to the monotony of marriage. A good drink, a good fuck and a good fight; it was what they were here for.
Whilst Ferguson looked forward to the Sweet Kitty Club immensely, his greatest lust was violence. Earlier that day, he’d purchased a flick knife in a street market and hoped to use it during the course of the evening. Out in the sticks there would be no police or CCTV cameras nearby. It would be easy to escape undetected. The thought of cutting someone excited him, and the concept of being free to do anything to anyone and be confident of getting away with it excited him even than the trip to the brothel. By the time any victim was found, the stags would be far away among the thousands of other tourists in the city centre, maybe even back home. He would be a God; unstoppable, answerable to nobody, maiming and killing on a whim. He grew hard as he fingered the handle of the knife in his pocket.
All five members of the stag party were members of the United Crew, a football hooligan firm that unleashed mayhem in cities across the country. Garbed in the standard hooligan uniform of counterfeit or stolen designer threads, and all with shaved or bald heads, their tattoos – of which they boasted many – differentiated them. They were all in their early thirties and veterans of many bloody encounters with rival firms; storms of fists and kicks, snarling hatred of their opponents and of themselves. Despite their present good humour, they were ready to fight at the slightest opportunity. They had debated the idea of getting a taxi to the club, but decided against it in the hope that on their way there they might encounter some locals that’d be up for a fight, or failing that they could set about some locals whether they were up for a fight or not.
They had already marked up one victory for the firm on their way back to their hotel the previous evening. In a takeaway food shop, Craig and Jason Daniels, brothers of ill reputation and the most sociopathic members of the party, had wrongly accused two local men of pushing in front of them in the queue. Unmoved by their protestations of innocence, the Daniels attacked them. The others quickly joined the affray and the two men were beaten to the ground and kicked and stamped upon repeatedly. Their handiwork complete, the group left their bloodied victims unconscious on the pavement and sauntered back to the hotel laughing and munching their burgers. Ferguson had kicked one of the men so hard in the face that one of his eyes had become detached from the socket.
Now he hoped further opportunities would present themselves on the walk out of town. As they trudged through the bitter January night to the Sweet Kitty Club, their breath puffed out into the freezing air in boozy silver clouds, the gaudy lights of the city fading to a soft glow behind them. The few lampposts at roadside were mostly faulty and they stumbled on in almost total darkness, anxiety building in some of the stags. The reality of being alone in such a desolate place in a strange country was beginning to lose its appeal. What if they did meet a gang of locals, a firm for the local team, perhaps, and were outnumbered? The predators would become the prey.
Eventually, all streetlights were left behind as they strode beyond the bounds of the city. Gnarled, hoary trees, lined the road on either side, their bark shining silver in the night, their branches stretched forward, grasping for the drunk, the lonely and the wretched that trod the road to the Sweet Kitty Club. They could hear the occasional cries of animals in the fields behind the trees. Their calls, mournful and sporadic, seemed strange and unworldly in the darkness. A deep, plaintive moan sounded from a few feet away from them making Andy Johnson, the most nervous member of the party, jump back in fright, letting out a startled gasp. The others broke into nervous laughter.
Ferguson, determined to keep spirits at a level befitting a stag party, began a chant that was soon joined in by the others.
United till I die
United till I die
I know I am, I’m sure I am
United till I die
Their voices rang out through the night, raucous and defiant as they marched with renewed vigour, their anxiety almost forgotten. The song died when they spotted a faint red glow coming from behind the trees on their left, telling them they had almost reached their destination. ‘Right, gentlemen’ said Ferguson ‘we take a left here down this path, and we’re there. Let’s get some fuckin’ shagging done!’ This was met by roars of approval by the others and they turned down the narrow, stony lane towards the light. Trees pressed in tightly on either side, and they walked in single file, stumbling and jostling as they went.
Eventually, the trees gave way and they saw the Sweet Kitty Club in the clearing ahead. It was a sprawling single storey wooden cabin that had been extended a number of times as business grew, with annexes to both sides of the original building. Unlike the sex clubs in the city, there were no neon signs advertising the services available inside. If you’d made it this far, you knew what you were in for.
‘Well, this looks like the place’ said Paul, ‘I’ll see you losers later.’ He strode purposefully to the door, eager to get there first and ensure first pick of the ladies. It was only fair considering he was the one losing his liberty. The others piled in behind him.
The entrance led into a large lounge with a well stocked bar to the right, a blazing log fire to the front and two red velvet sofas on each side of the fire. Half a dozen girls in various states of undress were draped over the sofas sipping cocktails, others perched on the tall wooden stools around the bar chatting to customers; mostly they were businessmen in suits. Ties loosened and wedding rings removed, they flirted with the girls, convincing themselves that their boasts about their jobs and their cars were impressing them.
The stags stood gaping for a moment, their eyes devouring the beautiful women around them. Geordie Paul had spoken true; the trip, as promised, had brought them into the company of women they would never usually even dare to hope of attracting. Of course, they were going to have to pay for their company, but that was of minor importance.
Incense drifted lazily from cones above the fireplace, mingling with the scents of perfume and smoke from the crackling wood fire. Paul awoke from his stupor first and stumbled towards one of the girls on the sofa; a beautiful blonde in a tiny pair of hotpants and a skimpy vest that failed to contain her chest. Seeing his approach she stood up gracefully, winked at him, took his hand and led him wordlessly to one of the doors that lined the walls. She moved lithely, her hips swaying seductively from side to side. Paul lumbered drunkenly after her, turning round to give a slavering grin and thumbs up to the others.
One by one, they coupled up. The Daniels brothers opted as usual to share a girl between them, while Ferguson opted for a beautiful brunette. His gormless grin showed he clearly felt justified in his decision to persuade them to make the journey from the city. Eventually only Andy was left, a deliberate plan on his part. Unbeknown to his companions, he had not indulged in the services offered in any of the sex clubs the group had frequented. He had no desire to cheat on his girlfriend, whom he was thinking seriously about proposing to, and had so far managed to avoid it without raising the suspicions of the others. This had taken its toll on his wallet, if not his conscience. To keep up appearances, he had gone with a girl each time but had then told her he just wanted to talk. Tonight he’d decided to hang back until the others had gone then make his way outside for a cigarette. He’d make his way back indoors in time for them finishing their pleasures, and they’d be none the wiser.
Ignoring the glances of the remaining women, he made his way back outside. He was keen to find somewhere that wouldn’t be visible from any windows, so headed to the rear of the building. After the warmth of the lounge the cold hit him immediately, biting fiercely at any exposed flesh. He pulled the sleeves of his coat down to cover his hands and put up his hood, yanking it forward to cover as much of his face as he could. When he arrived at the rear of the building, he was pleased to find that there were no lights shining in the windows and that there was a small wooden outhouse a hundred yards or so away, probably used to store firewood.
He made his way carefully over the short distance to the outhouse, the darkness growing as he moved away from the glow of the Sweet Kitty Club. To his surprise, he found the door bolted closed with three strong iron locks. He drew the bolts back on each one and stepped inside. The darkness was now absolute. Slightly discomfited, he fumbled in his pocket for his cigarettes and lighter. He managed to retrieve one of his last few smokes from the crumpled pack, put it in his mouth and lit it. He drew deeply on the cigarette, letting the flame die out as he exhaled smoke through his nose. As he did so, he heard a movement very close by. There was something in here with him, something moving in the darkness. Rats, probably.
He flicked the lighter back on, casting a shaky orange glow around the grimy interior of the shed. Keeping his thumb pressed down firmly on the gas, he slowly turned to where he thought the noise had come from. Sat on a pile of chopped firewood was a beautiful young woman. Her eyes, large and full like dark moons, gazed into his. He let out a cry of shock and dropped the lighter, stumbling backwards and banging his head on the door frame.
‘Jesus fucking Christ!’ said Andy, his heart hammering in his chest. ‘You scared the fuck out of me, what are you doing out here in the dark?’ He used his foot to feel around on the floor for the dropped lighter, but couldn’t find it.
‘It’s here’ said the girl.
‘Well light it then’ said Andy.
The flame appeared again, and the girl became visible in the flickering amber light, her dark eyes fixed on him. She was perhaps nineteen years old, slim with raven hair, and skin that was so pale she seemed to shine slightly in the gloom. Although dressed plainly in skinny jeans and a thick woollen sweater, she possessed an exquisite fragile beauty.
‘Thanks’ said Andy, a slight stammer in his voice. ‘Are you alright, what you doing out here?’ he asked, beginning to wonder if she was hiding out here for some reason. Perhaps she’d been assaulted by a customer, or the owner of the club. He sucked heavily on his cigarette again.
‘I’m not well. Best I stay here’ she said, her voice heavily accented. She lit an oil lamp she took from a shelf behind her and light spilled forth, illuminating the whole of the outhouse.
‘If you’re not well, shouldn’t you be in bed?’ said Andy.
‘No. If I not well, I make other people not well’ the girl said, her eyes leaving his for the first time. ‘Best you go too.’
‘Why, what’s wrong with you?’
‘It is Old Moon. Always the worst time. Since the man in Sarajevo.’
‘What man? What do you mean Old Moon?’ said Andy, both fascinated and a little nervous of this strange beauty. It was a full moon tonight; perhaps that’s what she meant.
‘Old Moon is in January. My…sickness is always very strong then, very…catching. February is Hunger Moon.’ She looked at him strangely.
‘Right’ said Andy, who had no idea what she was talking about. ‘Is there anything I can get you? A hot drink, a blanket? Anything?’
‘Just go now. Please’ said the girl and blew the lamp out.
Andy obliged, stepping outside confused and a little angry. Clearly that girl had been forced out there by the management of the club because she had some kind of ailment they didn’t want passed on to customers. What that ailment was, he couldn’t guess, but he was going to get some answers. The owners of that fucking brothel were going to let that poor girl inside or there was going to be trouble. He had no doubt that the place was probably run by criminals, but he had the firm there to back him up. Looked like they may get a fight tonight after all; better still he was going to be the hero, saving the damsel in distress. He grinned and lit another cigarette. Just one more before he marched in there and confronted them.
The thick blanket of cloud above was clearing; stars glittered in the perfect dark. The moon, full and fecund, was revealed as the clouds dispersed. Living in a big city he rarely got to see the stars at home, just the filthy orange glow of the street lights reflected in the sky. He took a long hit on his cigarette, tilted his head back and exhaled, watching the smoke twirl and dance in the pale light of the moon.
The outhouse door opened behind him. He turned round, hoping the girl had finally seen sense and would come indoors. What he saw was no longer a girl, at least not a human one. She crawled from the doorway on all fours, a hideous retching noise coming from her mouth that was part bark part moan. Her skull was transforming, stretching and growing, the bone creaking and popping as its shape became canine. Huge, vicious incisors tore through her gums, her eyes slowly changed colour becoming bright yellow, burning with pain and anger. Her body convulsed as bone, muscle and flesh refashioned into a new form, tearing and cracking sounds punctuating her agonised cries. Thick, wiry hair sprouted all over the beast’s body, its long canine tongue lolled from its grinning maw, drool and blood dribbled into the snow. A thing, an abomination, a werewolf padded towards him, lithe and predatory.
No trace of the girl and her anguish could be seen in the beast’s burning eyes. It knew only hunger; the desire to bury those dripping incisors into flesh, to rend and tear with the curved yellow claws that sprouted from its paws. To feel hot blood boil from the openings it made, bury it’s snout into the twitching meat and fill its belly.
Andy almost made it to the Sweet Kitty Club before the thing brought him down.
The others finished their pleasures and one by one made their way to the bar to order a drink before heading back to the city. When Andy still hadn’t appeared after an hour, they assumed he must have headed back on his own. None of the girls they asked knew where he was, so he certainly wasn’t still busy. They tried to call his mobile, but it rang out. Texts – increasingly abusive as they waited – went unanswered.
‘Well isn’t that just like him to fuck off without telling us’ said Paul, who as groom expected to be consulted on such things.
‘Probably shot his bolt after thirty seconds. Fuck him, let’s head back’ said Ferguson, laughing.
They made the long, freezing walk back to the bright lights of the city and spent the night in the bars and clubs guzzling cheap beer and making wildly optimistic passes at the local women. Still Andy was nowhere to be found. They half expected to find him propping up the bar waiting for them in the George & Dragon Fun Pub where they’d spent a large proportion of the previous evening, but Geordie Paul confirmed he hadn’t seen him since yesterday.
When they stumbled back to the hotel at 4am, they decided if Andy was there they would wake him up and push him around a bit, pay him back for ditching them. Paul wavered unsteadily as he fumbled around unlocking the door. Eventually he managed, and they rolled in one by one.
‘Andy, you fucking little c….you fucking little cunt, where did…where did you fucking go, you fucking little cunt?’ slurred Ferguson. ‘
‘I’ll fucking cut you, you cunt’ added Craig
He flicked on the light switch but the room remained dark. ‘Fucking bulb gone’ he muttered to the others.
‘Nah, that’s better. Will shit him up more in the dark’ whispered Craig and lumbered towards Andy’s bed. He tripped over one of the many items of clothing strewn on the floor and stumbled noisily, steadying himself against the wall.
The noise awakened the occupant of Andy’s bed. Two burning yellow spheres appeared in the gloom and a guttural growl came from the blackness. Inhuman as it sounded, it seemed to form words. Words that its mouth clearly was not designed to speak, garbled and indistinct words from vocal chords made to howl and snarl.
‘United till I die’ it seemed to say.
The beast rose from the bed.
To give them their due, the others went down fighting and never let United down. Ferguson waded in first, charging at the beast, ramming it in the stomach with his head, trying to take it to the floor. He’d been in enough rucks to know a fight is won or lost on the deck, and assumed the same would apply whether fighting man or beast. If he could take it down, they could fall on the thing; stab, kick and stamp the beast into submission. Sound in theory, but unsuccessful in practice, Ferguson’s strategy failed him. His head bounced off the beast’s lithe, hairy torso with no damage caused. Roaring in fury, it backhanded him across the face; smashing his front teeth and bursting his top lip, blood, teeth and tissue splattering the walls as Ferguson was launched backwards, onto the floor. The others, knowing it was futile to run, steamed in, their battle cries loud and defiant. One by one the beast overcame them and tore them asunder; limbs, innards, and jugulars were ripped from their twitching bodies. Lost in savage abandon, the thing gorged itself on the choicest parts, tearing at bloody, ruined flesh to sate its hunger.
‘Andy?’ muttered Ferguson between his remaining fragments of teeth.
The beast turned, its eyes blazing at the prey that dared to interrupt its meal. It dropped Paul’s lower intestine with a wet splat on the tile floor and lurched towards Ferguson.
‘Andy…that’s you isn’t it?’
The beast grabbed him by the throat and dragged him to his feet so they stared directly into each other’s eyes. Slowly it drew him nearer, exposing his neck ready to tear out his throat. ‘Andy, will we…be like you?’ whispered Ferguson. The beast paused for a moment, nodded, and then tore Ferguson’s throat open, arterial spray painting the nicotine-stained ceiling dark red.
A horrible grin spread over Ferguson’s face as his life’s blood drained away.
February, Hunger Moon.
An Excerpt from a live broadcast on Sports TV:
‘Welcome everyone to our midweek evening football special. This truly is a vital fixture for United as they look to beat an in form City side and halt an alarming run of defeats.’
‘Yes, Martin. It’s a beautiful clear winter evening, the crowd are out in numbers, should be a fabulous game of football.’
‘Absolutely, Andy. Real pressure on United manager Don Graham, he may well be howling at that full moon if his side lose again.’
‘Ho ho. He’ll be howling outside the job centre if his team don’t start performing for him, Martin.’
‘Here come the teams and the crowd are on their feet to applaud them’
‘Yes, the United fans are really going crazy in the away end; you can see how much this game means to them.’
‘Yes, they really are…I’m not sure if there’s a disturbance in there. Oh my….there seems to be some kind of large dog in there. More than one….four or five of them’
‘Yes, Martin this is most unusual. They…’
‘My GOD! They’re screaming in there, the…the animals are running amok. Attacking people. Oh, dear God. That little boy’s throat has just been torn out. The blood…oh Jesus, the blood.’
Cut transmission. Now!
‘The blood…they’re tearing them apart. They’re on the pi…’
Cut fucking transmission! Cut, cut, cut fucking CUT!