The Dark Streets Below

I am the fine line that shouldn’t be crossed.

I am the final judgement, the one that all people fear.

I am the vengeful knife in the dark, bringing balance to your sins.

I am –

“Dale to checkout three, Dale to checkout three.”

I am Dale.

By day, a mild mannered cashier at your local supermarket. Ready with a smile and a nod, unjudging of the bucket of Vaseline and bottle of vodka in your trolley, unblinking in the face of your eye rolling disdain, tolerant of your screaming children and loud phone conversations. A ruse, a cunning ruse, to keep you safe from the darkness that lies within me. Because at night, when I’m not working nights that is, I am… The Avenger…

“Mate, I know it gets boring here after a while but seriously, you can’t sit there talking to yourself like that. It makes people nervous.”

Shit. I’m talking out loud again, a bad habit that no amount of long nights on the sharp edge of societies blade can fix. Luckily he doesn’t know the truth. To Steve, checkout team leader, I’m just another co-worker, meekly trudging through the day with no higher hopes than a pie and a pint when I clock out, no greater fear than my card being rejected.

“Dale, we were at the pub quiz last night, granted it was a close finish but that’s not exactly the bleak underside of society is it? And you’re still talking out loud.”

Oh Steve, you poor, soft-hearted fool. Ever blind to the darkness that lays just beyond the happy picket fence of his perception, held back by the things I do, the places I go and the parts of myself I give up to protect his serenity. He’s a reminder, a reassurance that those parts of myself I surrender to protect those around me aren’t lost in vain.

“Whatever. Quiet today isn’t it? Was quiet yesterday too, and the day before. Always seems to be quiet these days, funny that.”

Steve keeps talking. Steve always talks, in the silence he can sense the danger, the danger I live with in every waking hour. The danger that haunts my dreams and sets fire to my nerves as I walk through this clean cut, sterile world, pretending there’s no filth lying beneath the surface. I ignore him, when I can, he’s my ward, but the chatter drags me back to a time when I was an innocent, like him, a complicit yet blind witness to the human detritus of the underworld that surrounds us.

“Dale, I know you might not be the best person to ask, but there’s never really anyone else around is there? Do you, erm, do you think it’s a little weird? All this? I mean, I know you talk to yourself, you’ve always done that, I’ve never minded. You’re a good worker after all, never late, never off sick, very polite and we all have our little quirks don’t we? You must have noticed though that we’ve been here, alone, for six months now? And that’s a little weird right? Even last night at the pub, it was fun and all, really, great laugh but the old place did seem a little, you know, burned down…”

Steve shouldn’t think, I can see the hamster wheel of his mind spinning erratically behind those bovine eyes of his. Childlike in his ignorance, desperate for me to comfort him with simple truths and easy lies. Although he does have a point, not that I’m not used to it and all, being the unshakeable warden of humanities dark underbelly and everything, but the pub did seem a little… destroyed, yeah.

“And my house, you know, you’ve been there, do you remember it being mostly rubble at all? I don’t and it seems like the kind of thing I’d have noticed, I mean we only had the decorators in a year ago and they did a proper job, skirting boards and everything. You live up on the estate don’t you, that’s gone a bit… flat too.”

A suburban idyll, Steve’s pebble dashed fantasy of cosy tedium, a precious dream held far more delicately than he could ever know. Although I admit, there has been a touch of the scorched wreck about it recently. Which is a bit strong, even for the rising tide of scum and criminality that haunts this town. Not to mention that my settee used to be on the tenth floor but not it seems to be at ground level. Surrounded by chunks of blackened concrete.

“Even here, right, even the supermarket used to have a lot more in the way of walls and roofs and running water and… people… things like that. Not that I’m complaining, it’s a good job and all, bit of a grind but they promoted me and I’m glad of it, remember that’s how I paid for the new car. Still though, bit of an odd one eh?”

I don’t want to go on and nor does Steve, I can see tears gathering in his dull, naive eyes as the truth claws at the door to his soul. I turn away, an end point to the dangerous path he was starting to wander, a path only I can walk – my body trialled and tested enough to bear the burden.

“There was that mushroom cloud too. I know you said it was just swamp gas but I’m fairly sure there aren’t any swamps around here and even if there were it did look pretty, well, nuclear didn’t it? I don’t mean to be a dick either but your skin has been flaking off a fair bit recently too. I know I’m no picture myself and I’m not one to bring these things up but you’ve got to wonder haven’t you? Haven’t you? I mean if there’s been an apocal-”

“Steve, mate, could you not just shut up for a bit? I’m on my break in a minute.”

“Yeah, of course mate, of course. We’ll, er, say no more about it then I suppose.”

Sometimes I think Steve’s a bit of a tosser but that’s not a very Avenger-y thing to say. Besides, he’s still the boss. And my innocent ward, I think I’d go a little bit wrong in the head if I didn’t have him to protect from the dark morass of human corruption.

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