A long plaintive wail emanated from the cardboard box. Whether Jacob had seen the box or heard the cry first, he could not be sure. But he was certain that the pitiful sound came from the box. Immediately he was regretting taking the short cut from the Burger bar to the car park. He had always felt uncomfortable using it after dark. The passage between the Record shop and the Butchers was only just wide enough for one person and it was badly lit with a single bulb. Where it opened out behind the shops, anyone could be hiding in the dark, out of sight of the High Street, hardly visible in the shadows from the vast empty car park.
Still he had something else to worry about this time because there was that cry again, audible above the sound of the fans on the refrigeration unit at the back of the Butchers shop. It was a heart wrenching sound of loneliness, pain and hunger, that brought back memories of childhood punishments, when Jacob's mother locked him in his bedroom without any dinner or supper. He could hear her voice even now, all these years later, "You disgusting little monster".
What was that awful sound? What should he do about it? Leave it probably, let some one else sort it out. Nobody had helped him when he was locked in his bedroom or in the dark under stairs cupboard, shivering in his wet pajamas, his cries drowned out by his mothers ranting and the loud rumble of the washing machine.
The cry went on long and pathetic, rising and falling in pitch. It was probably some kittens, the abandoned and unwanted offspring of a family pet, discarded by a callous owner. If it was and if he opened the box, what then? He would then feel responsible for them, would have to take them home. No, better to leave them for someone else, not his problem. But the cry was echoing round the alley, echoing inside his head. There was something about it that sounded almost human. Perhaps it was a baby shut in the box, he thought, in the dark.
He couldn't leave a baby shut inside a box, alone in the dark. Jacob knew how that felt, to be shut in, how you could not breathe, how you begin to sweat, how you could feel the blood rushing and roaring through your temples and the contents of your stomach rising in your throat. The waves of panic that wash hot and cold through the body.
And Jacob knew if there was any chance that it could be a baby, he had no choice but to look inside the box. He was within a foot of the cardboard box when suddenly there was a slight movement from the box and the crying ceased. All was quiet except the hum of the fans in the butchers shop wall. The top of the box was sealed with wide brown parcel tape, Jacob managed to get his fingernail under the end and peeled off the tape in one go. Pulling open the flaps he stared into the shadowy darkness, trying to make some sense of the shape within. It didn't look like a baby, in fact there seemed to be more than one set of eyes blinking back at him. "Kittens, I was right the first time" he thought, reaching in with both hands to pick one up. Taloned hands grabbed both his wrists, sudden and vice like, searing pain shot up his arms.
He yelled out and tried to pull away. The claws pulled back, hard and sharp, digging into his flesh and forcing him off balance. Jacob realized that there was no way he could stop himself falling head first into the cardboard box. As his head entered the box more small clawing hands grabbed at it, pulling at his hair and ears. He felt the sharp talons enter his nostrils, dig into his neck and shoulders. Even as his chest passed into the box Jacob was aware of the wet and warm, strangely comforting feeling spreading through the front of his trousers.
Then as the claws pulled the rest of his body down into the darkness, he felt the hot and cold waves of panic running through his body. As he struggled for breath, the blood roaring in his ears, his shouts of terror began to subside, turning first into a whimper, then into a long plaintive wail.