A light drizzle settled in and, as Berenson walked home from an unremarkable job in the city, the darkness began to fall over London in November.
From office to tube and from tube to the beginning of his walk home, he was content enough. Even with the grey evening, the drizzle was refreshing on the skin after a day in the office. He observed familiar faces on his way, nods of acknowledgement and, to a certain extent, he fancied, of understanding. The day had gone tolerably well.
Walking up the final small spiral staircase from the tube station, though, Berenson was struck with an odd feeling: of the familiar being just a little off beam. He couldn’t put a finger on it, but it made him shudder. Thinking carefully, the white tiles looked perhaps a little yellowing; the steps altogether dustier. Now and then, he felt someone brush against his shoulder, but yet he had no sense of someone quite so close to him as he made the final ascent to the street. Again, he shuddered.
Walking in the direction of home, he stepped first into the everyday sight of a London street, with its selection of shops. He bought an evening newspaper, rolled it up and put it under his arm. Again, the shops looked a little different. There was an unseemly and garish quality to the lighting and the bright displays of goods, even in the small newsagents where he stopped every evening. He had never noticed that before, always enjoying the convivial warmth of the shops and shopkeepers as he walked home. He reached the end of the road, where shops began to give way to the residential streets. Berenson had an odd feeling – almost like the warmth of someone’s breath on his back. He shook it off. “Maybe,” he thought “I have one of my heads coming on. I’ve been working pretty hard ” But the feeling did not abate: it grew stronger and more disconcerting, accompanied with an inchoate understanding of something slinking his way.
Rounding the corner into his own street, it occurred to Berenson that he had yet to turn round. To have done so would have been to give credence to what he thought a foolish sensation. So he walked on. But, as he did so, he was conscious of the increasing closeness of another individual and, also, of footsteps behind him. Yet, when he stopped, so did the sensation and the hoof taps. It was true: they did sound very like a shod horse striking a road. Moving on again, walking more quickly, the steps and the individual kept pace with him. Looking around, he had the bizarre sensation that he was seeing everything as it always was – but through a glass darkly. And that, if he were to call out, no sound would issue forth.
Walk on, walk on. Did he hear a laugh behind him? Was the breathing full and throaty? And did the man behind him identify himself as Berenson when, unable to bear it any more, Berenson looked back?
Daylight saw Berenson travelling, as usual, down a pleasant city street and past shops doing brisk trade and on the London underground. All was well. But tonight a story would appear in his newspaper about the diligent, well respected man, found cold and dead in his street last night. And the man who cut him down would, while there was time, sit in Berenson’s favourite chair and tweak at what we know of our everyday familiar world. He would shuffle off his steel-tapped shoes, brush a little lint from his fine dark suit. And he would laugh. And soon he might come for you.