Frank had meant to make the place more secure, he just kept forgetting. But every time he opened up his barbershop and found one of the local bums sleeping on his floor it was a reminder that he had to do something about it. He had shutters that pulled over the front of the shop which he unlocked and lifted every morning – as he’d done today. It was the rear where there was a problem. The back door was just secured – or not as the regular break-ins suggested – with a padlock. He’d call someone today, he promised himself – get a proper door ordered, with built-in locks . But first he was going to have to kick another vagrant out and fumigate the place before his first customer rolled in looking for a pre-work short-back and sides.
The guy on Frank’s floor looked rough and smelled even worse – like something had crawled into his pocket and started rotting. His face was washed out white; another drunk with problems who thought Frank should share them.
‘OK pal, wake up, you can’t sleep here.’
Frank gave his uninvited guest a gentle tap with his foot to rouse him.
The sleeping man bolted upright and stared at Frank with vacant eyes, his long lifeless hair stuck to his face. If drink was the only poison he was under the influence of Frank would be surprised.
From his upright position the vagrant didn’t move. He was alert, like a guard dog woken by a sound at the window. Tense arms held him up like he was ready to pounce. Frank half expected him to start growling.
‘Come on, pal, you’re going to have to leave. I’ll have customers coming in any minute.’
‘Is it morning?’
The voice surprised Frank. It wasn’t that of a man sleeping rough. There was authority to it. He’d asked his question in a way that suggested he demanded an answer – it was more than a mere enquiry about the time of day.
‘Yes, it’s almost eight o’clock.’
Hearing the time seemed to root the visitor to the floor, he stiffened.
‘I’m staying here. You’ll just have to pretend I’m a customer.’
Frank was starting to get spooked by the man on his floor. There was no way he could stay in the salon – the smell was going to be tough enough to get rid of once he’d left, there was no way of masking it with him there.
‘You can’t stay.’ Frank was wary, but it had to be said. ‘The smell alone will put the customers off. If you’re not going to leave by yourself, I’m going to have to call the police.’
‘I really don’t want you to do that.’
Frank was spooked by the vagrant’s tone. It didn’t suggest he was concerned about the police but more the consequences for Frank if they were called.
‘Really? So… you’ll go then?’ Frank was nervous now, stumbling over his words. He couldn’t work out what, but there was something different about this guy. He’d kicked out rough sleepers in the past – plenty of them. He’d never really thought about it. There’d never been an issue – most had gone without so much as a word. He’d even given a couple a few coins for food as he’d sent them on their way. This guy was different.
‘I can’t go, not right now.’
‘Look, it’s quiet outside. Whoever you’re hiding from isn’t out there. I need to open my shop in a few minutes. Now if you’re on the run from the police or hiding from someone, do you really want my customers coming in and finding you? Better to go now and find somewhere quiet. Right?’
The vagrant was on Frank in a flash. There had been no time to move and yet he’d somehow closed the gap between them. Frank felt his eyes widen and his pulse quicken. The vagrant’s breath was putrid as he stood large over the barbershop owner.
‘I can’t leave now.’
The demanding voice now boomed at ear shattering volume. Before Frank knew anything about it, the vagrant had snapped his neck like he was twisting the lid from a jar, letting his body slump to the ground.
The vagrant looked to the front of the shop. Shutters up and door still open from Frank’s entrance. Frank had been right – the street outside was quiet. The vagrant walked with caution to the shop front. With one quick yank he pulled the shutters down leaving the unit in darkness. He slammed the door and the glass shattered.
The skin on his hands and face smouldered with blackened burn marks. His face contorted in pain. He had a minute at most. He bent to his knees, the pain reaching his core and radiating from there.
Was there time?
He crawled to Frank’s lifeless form. He’d been dead for just a few seconds. There was hope. He sank his teeth into the dead barber’s throat and drank. The blood was still warm… still alive.
The vagrant’s skin healed. He slumped against Frank’s lifeless body and slept. He’d move again when it was dark outside.
Bio: Aidan Thorn’s short fiction has appeared in Byker Books Radgepacket series, the Near to the Knuckle Anthologies Gloves Off and Rogue, Exiles: An Outsider Anthology, The Big Adios Western Digest and Shadows & Light as well as online at Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers, Thrills, Kills and Chaos, Near to the Knuckle, Pulp Metal Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Spelk and The Flash Fiction Offensive. His second short story collection, Urban Decay, is published by Grit Fiction and out now.