The night was going well for Joe McMahon. He had peeled off from the lads and was now giving two girls the benefit of his silver tongue. They were escapees from a hen party and only to happy to listen to his patter. Joe was confident that the night would end with him riding one or other of the girls. Or maybe both, they were clearly both interested and by the time he had poured a night's worth of drink into them they would be feeling a bit adventurous.
"Here girls", he said, "I'm going to have to nip out to the drinklink. I'll be right back - don't go anywhere!"
"We'll be waiting!" said the one of the girls whose name Joe thought was Laura, though he couldn't be sure.
"Don't get lost!" said the other, with a giggle. Joe had no idea what her name was, but she was the saucier of the two.
Joe gave them a wave and went out into the street. It was cold. The weather had turned in the last few days and it really felt like winter had arrived. Or maybe the weather was always like this when you went this far from Dublin. Either way the wind was cutting into Joe and he feared that at any moment it was about to start bucketing down.
Where was the bank machine again? The town was not a big one, but it had been daylight when Joe had last been outside. That was several pints of Heineken back as well. He wandered down the main street in a slightly confused manner. He thought of asking the locals for directions, but they did not look friendly. Any of them he saw on the street seemed to be either scowling at him or looking they were ready to snigger at him behind his back. Fucking townies, thought Joe. The whole local economy was based on bilking money out of people like Joe who were down for stag or hen weekends, but that did not seem to engender any love of visitors in the hearts of the locals. Joe suspected that if he asked any of them for directions they would either laugh in his face or give him deliberately false information.
So it was with some relief that the street suddenly became more familiar and he recognised the turn-off that led to the bank. Then the rain started, forcing Joe to break into a run lest he die of pneumonia before he realised his threesome dream with the two young ladies. At the machine, he replenished his wallet and turned to make his way back to the pub. He could go back the way he had come - but there was an alleyway beside the bank that looked like it provided a short cut back to the bar and the girls. In this kind of weather any saving of time was worth it, so Joe headed off down the lane.
Although the close walls on either side of the alley provided some shelter from the rain, the lane seemed to work as a funnel for the wind blowing through the town. The cold gusts cut through Joe, but the whistling and hooting sound was more unnerving. It sounded less like the wind and more like some kind of human or animal shrieking. It had to be some kind of acoustic effect of the laneway, Joe thought, but it did not stop him shivering from more than just the cold and the wet.
At least the lane was well lit and he would be out of the cold in a minute, back in the company of those two eager women. But just as that thought crossed his mind, there was a flash of light and then the electric lights in the laneway went out of action. A clap of thunder followed, making Joe jump almost out of his skin. He stumbled into something - a dustbin, he realised - and fell over, with the metallic bin clattering as it hit against the wall.
"Shite", Joe exclaimed out loud. He was soaking wet now and he could not see a thing. He started picking himself to his feet and fumbling in his pocket for his phone, which at least would have some kind of light. But he could still hear the sound of the wind and rain falling. And another sound, something else that he had not heard before, the sound of something coming up the laneway towards him. A dog, he thought desperately, but that was not the kind of noise a dog made. Where the fuck was his phone? He pulled it out of his pocket but in his haste it fell from his hand before he could use it to light whatever it was that was creeping towards him. Something big that was creeping towards him, something that seemed to be making hungry noises, something that was getting ready to feed…
Joe snapped. The adrenaline hit him like a thunderbolt, triggering a flight-or-fight reaction. He chose flight, running blindly up the lane away from the noise. But he tripped over another bin and went flying, hitting his head badly on a wall. Now he was slumped on the ground, dazed, but knowing that he had to get up and get away. But it was too late. He felt his leg being grabbed. He opened his mouth to scream, but something wrapped itself around his face, smothering him. Then he was being dragged by head first down the laneway, back the way he had came. The streetlights came back on, but for Joe things had already gone dark.