Dave Blake looked like a heartless thug. The kind of shaven-haired creature who would rob old people of their savings and use violence against them if he felt it necessary.
You have, of course, heard that appearances can be deceptive? Not in this case. What you saw was what you got. A cruel, evil, heartless, vicious thug. He did rob old people and he did hurt them if he felt it necessary. Or if he wanted to.
His mother claimed to believe that he never did anything wrong. She did not really believe that. Mrs Blake’s attitude was “as long as he hurts other people and robs them, why should I care?” She was frightened of him, but could not understand that it had been her upbringing of him that had, in the main part, resulted in her son becoming what he was.
In the pub one evening he had heard an interesting tale. The story of an old man who lived by himself in a quiet suburban road. The old man was a mystery to his neighbours as he had always seemed to have been an old man. In the pub they had tried to guess how old he was. 80? 90? 100? 120? More? No! Not possible!
They could not decide. The one thing that they had decided on was that he was a very wealthy old man and that he kept something of great value in a large, locked wooden box in his living room.
Blake decided that he wanted it. And what Blake wanted, he generally got.
He staggered from his bed after his mother had left for work, and he got dressed and left the house. The road where the old man lived required a brisk walk of ten minutes. Suddenly, it seemed, he found himself in front of it, looking at the house.
Some criminals who prey on the elderly use subterfuge, fraud or distraction. Blake didn’t. He relied upon the fact that most old people never bother to chain their doors. They would trustingly open them and Blake would rush the door, using his strength and bulk to knock them backwards.
He would slam the door shut behind him, grab the terrified occupant and force them to hand over their valuables.
Generally the whole sordid operation would take only a couple of minutes. By some evil luck, he had never even been questioned by the police, never mind charged with any offence.
Something in the back of Blake’s mind warned him not to enter the house. There was something foreboding and mysterious about it, even though it looked just like the other houses in the avenue.
But Blake was scared of nothing, so ignored this warning from his own sub-conscious. The last time that Blake had felt frightened was when he had been 12 years old and his mother had woken him in the middle of the night to help her bury the corpse of his drunken lout of a father, after he had given her the last beating he had been able to mete out to anyone.
Blake had helped her dig the hole and by the light of a simple lamp made from a candle in a jam jar, they had readied themselves to push the body into the hole in what had been the flower bed in the middle of the garden..
Then the 'corpse' of Blake senior had gasped and the eyes had opened wide in terror and it had grabbed the ankle of Mrs Blake with an iron grip. Before he had had a chance to think what he was doing, Blake junior had smashed the spade down on his father’s face and skull again and again, until it was a flattened, unrecognisable jumbled blur of bloody mangled flesh, gristle and bone.
They had tumbled the body into to the grave, thrown the soil over it. They then tamped the soil down. Scrubbing and washing off the dirt and the blood and attempting to scrub away the years of mental and physical abuse. But there are some types of dirt that just can’t be washed away, no matter how much soap and water you use.
Even now, 16 years later, Blake always spat on the flower border whenever he went into the back garden. Some hatreds never die.
But now he was outside the house of the rich old man. He steeled himself –strange. He never usually felt nervous- and knocked on the door.
When the old man opened the door, Blake’s experience kicked in. Suddenly he was in the house and bundling the old man into the living room of the house, which was just to the right of the front door.
He grabbed hold of the man in a tight grip, placed a knife at his throat and said: “Where’s your treasure, you stupid old git?”
The old man –HOW old was he?- gasped out: “I have no treasure. Please leave us alone.”
Then Blake saw the box. It was an old wooden box which actually occupied one of the corners in the room. “There’s your treasure, you old liar!” He thrust the old man across the room.
It was then that the old man’s dog came into the room. It was a moth-eaten Alsatian that seemed as ancient as the old man. But the dog saw what had happened. She gave a deep growl and launched herself at Blake. The old man screamed something in a language that Blake could not understand. Before the dog could do any damage, Blake had plunged the knife deep into its chest. The dog fell to the floor with a cough.
The old man was surprisingly fast, but not fast enough for Blake and within seconds he, too, was lying on the floor beside his beloved companion, his life ebbing away.
He looked up at Blake and said: “You want the contents of that box? Very well, then. You may take them. But know this… the consequences will be upon your own head.” He slumped onto his side, dead, lying against his dog's corpse.
Blake walked over to the box. It seemed to hum with a sort of energy. He touched it and it was as if he had received an electric shock. He began to feel a sense of unease, almost as if he was sickening for something, as his mother would have said.
He shrugged the feelings off and tried the box. Pity! It wasn’t even locked! He opened it.
Nothing was in the box.
Nothing came out and wrapped itself around Blake like a blanket.
Nothing had ever frightened Blake so much.
Nothing made him gasp in fear.
Nothing made him fling his knife across the room, be-gripped with a nameless dread.
Nothing made him run out of the house and nothing made him run as fast as he could, away from the house.
Nothing was following him. Flee! Run! Escape from nothing! Escape from nothing or nothing will get you! Run from Nothing!
The shaven hairs on his head stood up, the hairs on his body stood up. Nothing was scaring him like nothing ever had.
Eventually, he stopped running from Nothing. He leant against a wall, gasping as his sweat-soaked body pulled in lungfuls of sweet, fresh air. He could taste blood in his mouth.
It was then that he heard it. The sound. It was like no sound he had ever heard before. It was like thousands of knives been drawn across the flesh of thousands of bodies. He suddenly knew that Nothing had been replaced by something. Fearful, almost against his will, he turned round and saw, walking towards him, but at a distance, the old man and his equally ancient Alsatian dog.
They were coming towards him. Purposefully. With a bleat of fear Blake began to run again. He did not know where he was running. He did not care where he was running. Every so often he would glance back over his shoulder. They were still there. Still following. Even though they were walking slowly, they were still catching up with him, slowly. Implacably. Relentlessly.
Blake fell down numerous times, but he always bounced back up, scrabbling to his feet.
Passers-by saw a wild-eyed young male, bloodied and battered, running as if his life depended upon it.
Eventually he glanced round and saw… that they had gone! He sobbed with joy, and turned round to see if he knew where he was… and he saw them, in front of him. Waiting for him.
He got ready to run again, but his heart literally exploded in his chest and he fell to the pavement at the side of the road, dead before he hit.
“We are getting too old” the old man said to the Alsatian as they sat in the living room of their house. The box that had contained Nothing was no longer there.
“We should not have allowed that creature to get in here. Still, no real harm done. Nothing saw to that. Someone will come and deal with Nothing in a short while.
“I have sent a transmission to home. They’ll be giving us a new assignment, soon. A period of regeneration and then another world to act as overseers, on. Who knows? Maybe on our next assignment we can serve in a true forms as man and wife.”
The Alsatian wagged her tail. She would miss her tail, she decided. After all, she had had it for such a long time.
Meanwhile, as Mrs Blake mourned her son by drinking whisky in her lounge, Nothing was in the back garden of the Blake house. Something began to stir, deep beneath the flower border…