5 // VOID

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I stood in the alley behind the club, my back against the wall, inhaling deep gasping breaths and desperate to expel the aftershave and baby powder that I was sure was clogging up my lungs.

Oscar had that effect on people. Stay in his company too long and you couldn't breathe. I'd seen it on the faces of others, that strangled look of panic you only get when you know a predator is near, but I'd never experienced it before, not like this.

The air in the alley wasn't that much better than inside Oscar's office, thick with the cloying stench of piss and damp, where the rainwater had infected the base of the walls, but even this tasted better than inside. Close by, water was gurgling out of a broken moss-covered drainpipe, the grate below filled with sodden cigarette packets, remnants of club flyers and cig butts, forcing the water to overflow and stream across the alley towards where I stood. The water reached my feet and I numbly watched as it seeped into the open-toe front of my heeled shoes and I willed it to rise, to become a stream, a river, flood the whole damn alley and carry me under.

In my hand, the bag felt like a leaden weight, tying me down to this place, to Davey, to Oscar. But even then, even after everything Oscar had said and more importantly, not said, I thought take something, reach in and take something, swallow it down and everything will be okay, everything will be alright again. Exhaling, I leant my head back and it was then I spotted it. A security camera fixed right on the entrance where I was standing.

That's right, take a good look, you dirty bastard.

I couldn't stay there, I had to keep moving. Addi would be waiting for me at the pick-up point, although for the first time in ages, I wondered what it would be like to just keep walking and never go back.

With a resigned, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and wishing I could flip the bird at the camera, I hooked my arm through the bag handles and began to head down the alley towards the street, hearing nothing but the gurgle of the water as it faded behind me and the clicking of my heels on the uneven ground.

I hadn't gone far when I heard the footsteps.

They were faint at first, so faint that I thought it was just my own, echoing along the alleyway, then growing in volume, in urgency, and I had to look. Just had to. Whether it was that morbid curiosity or something else, something that ran darker, deeper, like a sixth sense you never knew you had until that moment, that awful moment when you know - you feel - that something is wrong. And I did feel it. Like the prickle of goose-bumps. Like the whisper of something cold along the back of my neck that made my hair rise. Like the ominous ticking of a counter down to zero.

And this was it, this was my zero and I had to turn. I had to look back.

I remembered then.

That face from New Year's Eve. That terrible, heart-stopping face that had sent me flailing to the ground. All of them, watching me, seeing me like I was seeing them.

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