"Mark… Mark…" the ethereal voice called out through the misty expanse. The dark blue tinged haze swirled around him so thickly that he couldn't see anything around him.
"Mark…" it moaned again, a barely audible whisper. The voice was unearthly and sounded as if it came from all directions. He took a tentative step forward, trying to find the source of the ghostly presence.
"Who's there?" he called out to the eerie voice, but only the churning of the mist answered him. Where the hell am I? he thought to himself. A slight chill ran over his spine as though someone was watching him, unseen, causing him to jump and whirl around in sudden fear. He chuckled at himself for his own folly. There's nothing there, he thought to himself, I'm just imagining things
It sounded as though a light breeze had just blown through the endless world of swirling mists, but he couldn't feel any shift in the air. He whipped his head around in the direction from where he thought that he had heard the sound, catching a glimpse of something black in the corner of his eye.
"Who's there?" he yelled into the azure vapor-filled world. "I know someone is there!"
He heard that light, wind-like sound again and turned toward it. All he saw was a flash of wicked yellow eyes without pupils and a claw, darker than the darkest night hurtling toward him…
When Mark woke up with a gasp in a cold sweat. He glanced around the dark old room which had become his home for the last two years. The only other occupant was an elderly old man with white hair and a light scar across his cheek, a prize won in a bar fight during the man's youth, who slept soundly in the opposite corner of the room. Mark liked his privacy and tried to keep as few bums and other miscreants in his room as possible.
It was nearly dawn, so he decided to start his day early. Listening to the light snores of his fellow warehouse denizens, he sat up slowly and thought about the dream that had awoken him so suddenly. Normally his memory of dreams faded quickly, but this on remained vivid in his memory. The claw, so black it looked as though it absorbed any light that fell upon it, and the eyes… it made him shudder to even think of the cruel look of sheer hatred held in those amber eyes. Don't be stupid, he thought to himself, it was just a dream. I should be out looking for some cash, not thinking about that ridiculous dream. He told himself this as he struggled to his feet, making sure that he had all of his belongings in his beat up old black knapsack. If he left anything it would without a doubt be taken by one of his fellow inhabitants. He shuffled over to the old door which looked like it was about to come off its hinges at the slightest touch. He opened the door quietly, hoping that the hotheaded old man wouldn't wake up. He was too tired to deal with the quarrelsome old man and would likely end up putting his head through the thin wall if they got into an argument.
He made his way down the dark hallway, paying no attention to the sleeping forms huddled together under thin blankets, to what passed as a bathroom for the residents of the warehouse. It held only a single toilet, a sink and a cracked mirror, caked with dirt, but it was better than nothing. He was lucky that he had managed to get there before anyone else was up, since most mornings he had to fight with the other twenty or so permanent inhabitants as well as the numerous people who just stayed for a few days, to even get into it before noon.
He spent a few minutes shuffling around the closet-like washroom, performing his usual routine, and then strode out the door into the dim hallway. He walked out the heavy, splintering old wooden door, not bothering to make sure that there was no one waiting to ambush him to steal his meager possessions. The crooks in this area wouldn't think twice about attacking even the poorest and most decrepit of the homeless, but Mark really didn't feel threatened by them at all. Standing 6'2" with broad shoulders, long, straggly brown hair and an unshaven face, his visage was imposing enough, even without his impressive musculature to match. Earned back at the university, his powerful body had weakened somewhat over the last two years, but it still retained a good part of its powerful bearing. He might still have been back at the university had he not gotten involved with her. If he hadn't been so enamored by her empty promises and her looks, he might have realized what she had been doing. A soft moan pulled him out of his reverie. He turned around, just now noticing the girl huddled against the wall. Wild, long black hair cascaded across hunched shoulders, hiding half of her lightly tanned face. Her ragged clothes hung lank over her slim body, leaving little to the imagination. She looked to be in her early twenties, although it was difficult to tell since half of her face was covered, and living on the streets generally made people look older than they really were. Years ago he would have probably been more curious about her, but his past experiences had made him somewhat suspicious of the opposite sex.
With one last glance back at the sleeping young woman, he began his half-mile-long walk to crowded subway station where he usually ployed his "craft." The usually bustling city was still just waking up, most people still home and the storeowners just beginning to set up for the day. Strolling down the nearly empty street, Mark noticed the front page of a newspaper in a rundown looking old newsstand. "serial Killer Still at Large" read the paper's bold print above a picture of a gruesome corpse. Its clothes were shredded rags and the face could barely be discerned from the bloody mass.
"Guy's still out there too!" a businessman, judging by the immaculate suit, with short blonde hair said to the owner of the kiosk.
"Yep, and they don't even know who been doin' it. It's the sixth or seventh one and they still don't know who been doin' it," said the owner, a swarthy, balding middle-aged man. "they better find that psycho soon. My daughter been complainin' ev'ry night that she wants t' go out, but I won't let 'er 'til he been caught."
Mark casually pick up one of the newpapers lying on the pile, taking one glance at the preoccupied owner before striding off, paper in hand. He flipped through the pages to the article on the serial killer, and read it while he made his way towards the subway station. The article explained how some old man had gone out for a walk one night and never returned home, only to be found early the next day as a bloody mess of rags and flesh. They didn't have any witnesses or evidence of any sort and the only connection to the succession of other murders was the similar circumstances.
About once or twice a week Mark would go out on late-night ventures for some extra cash or, when he had the money, to pay a visit to one of the "working girls," as they liked to call themselves. With them, you could get what you wanted and then leave without the risk of emotional attachment or pain as long as you paid their fee. Despite the threat posed by the serial killer, Mark felt no need to stop his nighttime pursuits. He was confident that his burly frame would keep him from being a target. Although, he thought to himself, it wouldn't hurt to stick to the more well-lit parts of the city. Mark's confidence did have its limits.
Rolling up the newspaper and shoving it into his already full backpack, Mark made his way down the stairs to the subway station. He looked around briefly, trying to pick out a likely target among the constantly moving sea of humanity. Seeing no ideal prey, he decided to sit down for a while. He waited on the bench as people flowed in and out of the crowded train station, until he noticed an old man of about 70 or 80 wearing a black suit walking by while delicately inserting a fat, brown wallet into his back pocket. Perfect. The snooty old man won't even realize it's missing 'til I'm long gone.
Getting up and positioning himself behind the old man, who had stopped to pay for a ticket, he prepared to retrieve his quarry. He felt a sudden rush of adrenaline as he slipped his hand into the man's pocket, and caught the thick wallet between two steady fingers. Slowly, Mark lifted it, but just as it was about to come free of the pocket, the old man started to walk away. The man felt the movement in his pocket, and whirled around, staring in shock at the brawny young man behind him. Mark quickly pocketed his prize and hurtled up the stairs, followed by the old man's screams of "thief!"
Mark ran up the street and flung himself into a deserted ally, three blocks from the entrance to the subway. "Well that didn't go quite as well as I'd hoped," he muttered under his breath. The old man's screams had probably caught the attention of the security guards so there was little chance of him being able to go anywhere public without the chance of the police after him, since they already knew that he was in the area. He was already wanted for numerous other petty crimes, and of course there was always the problem in the past which had put him on the street in the first place. Wouldn't have had that problem if I hadn't gotten myself involved with that bitch Cara.
Deciding to forget about the problem with the police for now, Mark brought out his reward for his efforts. He opened it, hoping to find a huge wad of cash, but found only a set of membership cards to various resorts and clubs and a pile of credit cards, which would be completely useless since he would have already disconnected.
"Shit," he murmured, wondering what he would do now that he had no money, and he couldn't go out and look for another victim when the police were undoubtedly looking for him. Sitting there, thinking about what to do, Mark eventually fell asleep.
"Dammit!" Mark spat groggily when he realized that he had fallen asleep and that it was now nearly night. "Guess I don't got a choice 'bout if I go out or not tonight."
Glancing around quickly to make sure that the cops weren't there, he walked out of the ally and began wandering back towards the old abandoned warehouse. Although he wasn't especially fond of the old man who he shared his room with, he was hoping that he could borrow his knife for some extra insurance from the killer on the loose. It's not like I'm scared or anything, he told himself, only half believing it.
Opening the shoddily-made door to the warehouse, Mark made his way up to his room. The small room, which was in reality only a large closet, was dark when he first opened the door. Closing the door, he waitied for his eyes to adjust to the near-darkness and walked over to his corner, only to find that someone was already there. The old man was absent, but it wasn't uncommon for him to go missing for a night or two. The intruder looked up at Mark, staring with eyes that showed nothing but inner turmoil that shone through the gloom. It was the girl who he had seen sleeping against the warehouse wall outside that morning!
"Who're you?" he asked cautiously.
"Who're you to be barging in here and asking me that?" she retorted in a voice that quavered slightly, revealing her nervousness. She sat, now wearing a yellow, hooded sweatshirt that was so big on her that it covered her legs down to her knobby knees.
"I live here, and this is my room."
"Well that old geezer said that I could stay here for the night," she answered after a moment's hesitation.
"Fine, but who are you?"
"I'm Cleo," she murmured bitterly into the darkness, as though she didn't want him to hear.
"Hmph," he grunted in acceptance, not bothering to offer his own name. "Where'd the old guy go?"
"Aren't you gonna tell me your name?" she asked, ignoring his question.
"Mark. Now where did 'e go?"
"How the fuck should I know? He just left without sayin' anything."
"Ugh, whatever. Why did he invite you in anyway?"
"Heh, how should I know? When I came to this shithole today, I wandered in here and 'e told me that I could stay in here for a while, then he just left," Cleo replied nonchalantly. The fact that the old man had left her there alone annoyed him. Although he was cautious of women, he still clung to the chivalrous ideals taught to him as a child and the fact that she had been left alone while there were so many vagabonds who would be only too happy to have her for their own purposes irked him to no end.
"Okay then… well, stay if you want, but don't be surprised if I come back in the middle o' the night. This is still my room and I'll come and go as a please."
"Whatever you say, big guy," she said with a wink, suddenly going from mildly obnoxious to downright flirtatious.
After relieving one of the gang members who had decided to stay at the warehouse for the night of one of his knives while he was asleep, Mark set out to look for another victim. He wandered into the park which usually held a good number of people, especially right after dark. There was a group of college kids, some of them right around his own age, who were already half drunk and would make ridiculously easy targets, but Mark hesitated. It wasn't right to take money from people who weren't even able to see two feet in front of them, not to mention that most college students needed all the money they could get.
Deciding to leave the intoxicated students alone, Mark looked around for prey that wouldn't start his conscience screaming in his head. Spotting a fat old man with an equally obese woman waddling up the dark path, Mark started walking toward them.
"Oh, excuse me, I'm sorry," he muttered as he bumped into the pudgy man while slipping his hand into his pocket, grabbing the wallet and walking by as though he was in a hurry to be somewhere. Perfect. Opening the worn leather wallet, Mark pulled out the modest wad of cash, threw the penniless wallet back at the old couple, and ran off, listening to the cries of anger expressed by the old woman. Apparently the wallet had landed in her puffy, almost afro-like hair. Chuckling to himself, Mark ran off looking for a place to count his earnings. He found a green picnic table under a lamp that flooded the area with light, on the opposite side of the park. Counting over $200, Mark decided that he didn't have to worry about finding another source of income. This much money will last me a whole week, maybe longer, he thought to himself.
Just then, he heard a light noise coming from the nearby woods. Whoooo… It sounded like the wind whistling through the gnarly old trees which had already begun to lose their leaves in the cool fall weather, but there was no wind. The memory of the dream he had had the night before came flooding back into his mind. That's the same sound from my dream! he realized. Stop being stupid! his rational side told him. It was probably just a squirrel or something. Then, he heard the noise again, this time slightly louder and closer. Whatever it was, it definitely wasn't a squirrel. He felt that tingling sensation of being watched again, and a sudden iciness crept up his spine, making him shiver. Trying to convince himself that it was just his imagination, Mark flicked out the knife that he had hidden in his left boot and slowly rose to his feet. Glancing around nervously, he took one step forward and was thrown off his feet by a crushing impact. He tried to get to his feet, but was sent sprawling once again by another blow, seeing nothing but darkness and a flash of gold. His attacker grabbed him by the back of his neck, slashing at his back with what felt like blades that were both scorching and freezing at the same time. He screamed in agony as he was hurled into a tree trunk with a sickening crack which shot waves of pain throughout his entire body.
His mind swimming, Mark barely noticed when his body was lifted to look into the dark face of his assailant before the killing blow. They had moved just outside of the range of the lamp, but he could still just make out the long, straight, almost feminine white hair and golden eyes which shone with a flickering hellish flame in its dark face. In a sudden moment of lucidity Mark remembered the knife which he had somehow managed to keep clenched in his blood-streaked fist. With the last of his remaining strength he plunged the short dagger into the humanoid creature's arm, causing a shower of jet-black blood, mixing with his own crimson blood as the creature let out an unearthly scream of fury. Still roaring in rage, it dropped Mark's now limp body to the ground and disappeared into the thick foliage of the woods surrounding the park.