Donny did not quite die.
|Our lot used to hang out there, when we were kids. We weren't a gang, just wannabe gangstas, being cool, being bored, congregating in the Acacia Road underpass, earphones in, mobile phones out. We drank cider because it didn't stink up your breath like beer and we couldn't afford vodka. Some of us vaped, the sweet clouds making fast disappearing shapes. Jack 'n' Jill nicked fags off their carers and shared ciggies, pretending they were spliffs. I puffed with everyone, just to be cool. When I got home, I used mouthwash. Donny straight up said he weren't stupid and refused. When Boz turned up with a packet of real grass, Donny grabbed it, ripped it open and threw it to the wind.
'Yer....' Boz knew a lot of words. He yelled them as he launched a meat sandwich at Donny. It missed. Donny stuck out a foot, Boz went over and face planted. When he got up, there was blood streaming out of his nose. Dave made a funny noise and keeled over. He never could stand the sight of blood. He never even put ketchup on his fries. In the fuss, Boz legged it. I just caught sight of his face as he shot up the steps. It were all kind of twisted and his teeth were as white as ice. Shortly after we all drifted off home.
The next day, after school, we all met up, as usual. This time Jack 'n' Jill weren't there, they got caught smoking and had a dentention. Bill turned up with his sneer stuck over his face and started chatting up Ayesha, who did the cool, so what man? thing. She really fancied Bill. After Donny. Everyone fancied good-looking Donny. Then Boz came down the steps with a great, white plaster over his nose. He had his hands in his pockets and was sort of hunched over. His eyes were as wide as a shark's mouth, lined with white teeth. My mouth went dry. I guess so did everyone else's. Too dry to say nothing.
We flattened against the underpass walls, just wanting to melt into them. Not that Boz noticed. Those golf ball eyes had fixed on Donny. There was sweat running into them, making them redden. He shambled over to where Donny was propping up the wall and stood in front of him. I could hear echoes from the rasp in his throat.
In slow motion, Boz pulled out a long kitchen knife. He had held it in his trouser leg, the pocket sliced out. It was stainless steel, pointed and as sharp as acid. The fist wrapped around its black handle had white knuckles, the thumb sticking out sideways. There was a flash as the blade reflected light. Then it was sheathed. In Donny's stomach. I saw Boz's mouth make a grin. Then he twisted his weapon and tried to free it. It was stuck.
Dave passed out.
Boz snarled at Bill. Then sauntered away as if nothing had happened.
Donny died before the ambulance arrived.
Our lot only went back the once, as a gang, to lay flowers near the spot. It was still taped off, so we had to leave them at the top of the stairs. Dave went all wobbly because he saw a great stain where Donny had bled out. Ayesha, Jill, Bill and Mel wept buckets. When I went to put my pathetic bunch of daffodils on the growing heap, I glanced down to the open maw of the underpass. Donny was lounging against the wall, his grin just for me. He mouthed a word.
Me and Donny, we was the same. Cousins under the skin. Only he was careful and only hunted out of our town, but then, his family had money and he could travel. Me, I was stuck in a slum flat with dad drinking away his problems. Mum had hoofed it when I was little. Dad said she was a stupid cow. And a thousand other things. So, no money, no travel, no guidance until Donny caught me feeding. He showed me how to be 'discrete', as he called it. Being small, I had always picked my fruit as low as I could. Cats, dogs, a sheep if I was lucky. He showed me how to source humans and I began to put on weight and grow muscle. But I still looked small.
Boz was the first to bring a wreath to Donny. I got him before the cops picked him up and used my new garotte to stop his breath long enough to knock him out. Once he was tied up I could deal with him. Even so, getting him to the underpass was a nightmare for me. When he came round, it was a nightmare for him. Seeing a feed is not pleasant. Being the food of a hungry ghost is a thousand steps worse. At least it leaves no trace. Not even a soul.
Now I'm a sort of vigilante. Ghosts don't care what pharmaceuticals are swilling about the bloodstream. So I bring the dealers, the low lifes, those beyond redemption to lay a wreath for Donny. I'm a bit more picky for me. It is easy enough to hitch a lift. If the driver behaves. They live. I still look like I'm twelve. If someone tries it on, then Donny gets another wreath. With the internet, it is easy to be groomed. There's lots of food out there, if you are discrete.
Then a newspaper announced that the council are going to revamp our neighbourhood. They will fill in the underpass and put crossing lights up. Once dad was oblivious, I went out the window, as usual, and slipped down to see Donny. He was hungry and not happy that there was nothing to eat. Keeping a careful distance, I told him the news. He went all silent. When he spoke, I could see his fangs. I wonder if ghost venom is as potent as live venom?
'The bonds that tie me to this place will be cut.' It was a soft whisper. 'I will be free.' When a hungry ghost looks into you, it can turn your innards to ice. 'You will be free from me.'
'But...' I didn't understand. 'I don't...' For the first time, ever, I knew what they meant by an evil smile.
'And you can be human again.'