An excerpt from

As The Crow Flies

Dave Hutchinson

Extract from ‘A Dream Of Locomotives’

The phone keeps ringing. I don't dare answer it; don't even dare take it off the hook. I would unplug it, just to stop the noise, but I'm afraid the monster would sense the lost connection, know it had found me. Found itself…

Twelve floors down, the noise of the traffic drows out the rain's sizzle onto streets that have become gritty imperfect mirrors for the lights and the neon. Twelve floors down, people are leaving West End theatre bars and returning to their seats after the interval. Buskers are ploughing Leicester Square cinema queues, harvesting the odd coin here, the odd note there, from credit-minded American tourists unused to handling real money. Diners in fast-food houses are staring out through huge windows at pedestrians who pass by in the dark and the rain like strange forms of life in the ocean.

Twelve floors down, strippers are going through the old routine in smoky rooms. Lovers are meeting, arguing, splitting up. The Fusion Gang are unbuilding parked cars and telephone booths, leaving the components neatly stacked on the pavement before deliquescing back into the night.

The stupid thing, the really stupid thing, is that I still have the burner Ballinger gave me. I should have stripped out the batteries, smashed its chips, and dumped it in a wastebin or a skip, or shoved it among a pile of rubbish bags outside some restaurant, and just walked away from it. But that would be like a deaf man throwing away his hearing aid. Even if he never wanted to hear anything ever again.

Because I would, quite honestly, put on the headset one last time, to eavesdrop on some theatergoer, some lover, someone drinking Chateau Petrus at Langan's, just to make sure there are really human beings still out there. Except…

Except there is a monster out there too, among the bright lights, the net of communications which binds us together. If it thinks it's found me, it will kill me, the way it killed Ballinger, a wink of light and hi-tech shrapnel, wickering fragments of metal and silicon and carbon composites like tiny razors fired from a riot-gun. I know it will. I would, in its place.