The weather on that fateful day was cloudy and cold, the odd shower sprinkling the people in the street as they hurried about their business.
For Kevin, this was just another reason for not going out.
He sat in his bed-sit, his hands clasped tightly around a mug of hot tea, nursing it as he sat staring out of the window at the people below; people in their rain coats with umbrellas, jostling one another to get wherever they were heading as soon as they could.
One man stepped off the pavement into the road, landing in a puddle that had been much deeper than he expected. His body language almost shouted as he removed his foot, soaked up past his ankle, waving his arms and shaking the soggy appendage in a desperate yet futile attempt to remove the water from his shoe.
“Why me?” he seemed to be asking.
Why him indeed?
Never mind the unfortunate man in the street, why did he have to go out today of all days?
Worse still, why had he agreed to go to that place?
* * *
The place in question just oozed despair, misery and hopelessness. It was a place that had associated with it a madness that could unbalance even the strongest of people, but backing out now would mean trouble…
His agreed time was four-thirty that afternoon.
The clock on the cheap chipboard dresser with its mock teak print and cracked mirror showed just two as it slowly ticked away the seconds like a dripping tap, its sound hollow and inescapable, marking time like a procession to the gallows.
The closer it got to the time he needed to leave, the more agitated he became. Cold sweat beaded on his brow as he wrung his hands, the fear of that place mounting in his mind until…
He donned his raincoat and checked umpteen times for his keys, turning over in his mind his need to go. Could he not just forget it and curl up in bed?
Taking a deep breath, he opened the heavily sprung fire door and made sure it locked behind him, after checking one last time for his keys and headed down the stairs.
* * *
Outside seemed just as unwelcoming as he imagined - made only worse by the fact that at the end of his journey, that dark old place lay waiting, already taunting, whispering to him.
He trudged up the darkened street, meandering his way through the masses of people who were either shopping or simply trying to make it from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ in as short a time as possible on a dreary, winters afternoon.
That place intruded itself into his head again as the people thinned and less of his brainpower was required to negotiate them. Images of people he knew who had been there popped into his head - a motley bunch to be sure, and all of them sad, beaten individuals whose experience had not left them enriched, but quite the reverse.
The rain started to fall, first as a fine drizzle that seemed to be able to permeate to the skin, followed by a more persistent rain that ran down his face, dripping from his nose. It ran down his arms and into his pockets where he tried to keep his hands warm from the biting cold and it dripped from his trouser-legs and into his shoes.
By the time that place came into view, his feet made squelching noises, as if he was walking through mud, while his hair lay plastered against his face, cold droplets of rain even making their way into his ears as he battled the weather and his own fears.
* * *
Darkness had fallen by the time he reached that place, darkness that fell like a cold velvet blanket over everything. The orange sodium glow of the street lights seemed to be pinched out as the rain obscured the beams, making everything seem darker still.
He stood for a moment outside the imposing edifice, looking fearfully at the gothic arch of the entrance; the stained stone that looked somehow diseased by the cars, the weather and time, his heart thudding in his chest.
He pushed his fingers through his soaking hair, the cold rivulets of water, running down his neck, inside his collar, and making him shudder involuntarily as he took the first step towards that place.
Inside, the small vestibule was lit by a single small, naked bulb, yellowed and flyblown, swaying slightly in the draft that accompanied the opening of the door. Shadows swayed in time with the movements of its wan glow, conjuring all manner of evil trolls, imps and heaven knows what in the darker recesses.
A wide stone staircase led upwards into the darkness above and beside it, a dusty, aged sign had been screwed to the wall, the heads brown with age and rust that stained irregular elliptical smudges on the once white board.
Upon the sign were several words above a red arrow that pointed up the staircase.
Department of Social Security - 1st Floor.
Thanks to Gabi for editing
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