DEAD ENDS

Suddenly, there is a creaking, a heavy clunk and a sound as if old gears are grinding. The door in the wall behind me is slowly opening and a thin column of light is cast on the wet cobblestones. The column widens into a golden parabola. Perfectly framed within it is the shadow of a tall man. 

Out of the light, a voice speaks:

“Well well my dears. What have we here then? Three against one? Now that’s not very sporting is it?”

The voice is cultivated, mocking – almost arch. I look up. The dog is snarling, lips pulled back against scarlet gums. It crouches flat to the floor, bristles on end. My assailants have backed away to the edge of the light and I can see my own fear and hatred now mirrored on their faces.

The voice above me tuts a question:
“And aren’t we a bit far from home boys?”

The dog’s snarls gain in pitch. There is a sudden movement – a hand stabbing outwards in a whip-crack gesture and the dog yelps and is catapulted backwards. It drags itself up whining and limping and in a moment is gone. The men shift defensively, half crouched and peer nervously upwards toward the figure.

Losing patience, the voice suddenly snaps and hisses: 

“Get away!”
It is a threat, not a warning and suddenly there is even more terror in the air. Both men stagger as if rocked by some force.  One covers his eyes.  They recover, turn and flee after the dog into the night. 
We are alone.

I look up to see a pale aquiline face staring out into the darkness with an expression of fury which of a sudden is replaced by one of curiosity – and then solicitousness. The figure looks down and stoops to offer an arm. I take it and pull myself up. I can faintly smell good tobacco, a beautiful and strange cologne and something other, something undefinable. We look at each other in the light. He smiles.

“Well! You look like you need a drink ”

Relief floods me. His gaze flits to the stain spreading across my trousers.
“Er.. and perhaps a change of clothes?”

Fear is replaced with embarrassment. Awkwardly, I try to tug my arm away from his but he holds it easily with a steely grip which is not to be resisted. I stand.
“Do come in won’t you?”

The invitation is pitched like an order.  He steps back into the doorway. Hesitating, I look behind me – back into the darkness beyond the alley almost as if I am looking back into my life before this moment. I pause a little longer and then I turn again. My rescuer’s silhouette is shrinking into the golden light. 

Very carefully, I step through the door and the world is changed for ever.