A Fox in the Night
Rufus awoke shuddering from a dream in which he had been running down twisting passageways in a cave formation. The curtain billowed in the breeze from the window, open even though it was well into winter. Cold sweat on Rufus’ skin turned colder as the draught hit him, but he ignored it and left the duvet sprawling over him just below his navel. Attempting to shake away the last of the dream, he stared around at the small room, the pitch darkness resolving itself to a smoky grey as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He could just make out the shape of the desk on which he had left his briefcase and the chair next to it. He picked up the sound of a tap running in the bathroom and slowly the noise of it took over everything. He tried to ignore it, to force it out of his mind, to slip back into sleep hoping that there would be no caverns this time, but he could not.
He rose from the bed; one foot hit the carpet, the other landed on a pillow that he had dislodged from the bed in his sleep. How long had he been dreaming about caves and passageways? Come on, Rufus! As he pushed open the bathroom door he saw that he had left the light above the mirror on. He crossed to the ornate sink and silenced the tap with a firm twist of his wrist, putting all his anger and frustration from the dream into it. Silence took over from the running tap; a blissful relief. ‘I look tired,’ he thought, looking at his reflection, and then he laughed cynically to himself. I am tired. Overworked.
He flicked the light above the mirror off and found his way back to the double bed that dominated the hotel room. The curtains hung slightly open, disturbed by the breeze. He wandered over to it and peered out at the city, at the multitude of lights still shining like stars in the darkness. There were no lights on in the building across the street from the hotel, except the occasional blue glow of a computer screen that had been left switched on. The streets were just as quiet – he couldn’t see anyone on the streets around the hotel. The only thing that stirred was a scrawny fox, which slinked out from behind a row of bins to claw open a discarded bin bag and investigate the contents.
Leaving the fox to its investigation, Rufus turned away from the window and moved back to the bed. He lay there in the half-light that spilled through the curtains and tried to recapture sleep. Thoughts whirled about his head, some running annoyingly across his consciousness, others lurking infuriatingly just out of sight. He rolled over onto his back and tried to ignore them. It seemed to work; he felt his limbs go heavy and dull images began to present themselves as the beginnings of dreams. He relaxed into them.
A light flickered momentarily across his closed eyes and he snapped awake, looking round for the source of it. A red dot danced across the headboard where his head had been. Instinctively, he rolled left out of the bed, moments before there was a crack and thud of a bullet passing through the window and into the bed. He crawled cautiously to the end of the bed and reached up, sliding his hand under the pillows. His fingers closed around the cold, familiar handle of a pistol and then brought it inch by inch towards him. He edged it closer, thinking that any moment another bullet could rip through the window to take his life. The red dot moved around the room, searching for him, but he stayed ducked low behind the bed.
Finally, the pistol was free. He crawled with it to the foot of the bed and looked for the red dot. It had not followed him, moving instead between the bed and the chair upon which his clothes sat. He would have to leave without them. Slowly he edged towards the desk and took down the briefcase, before running at a crouch to the door. A bullet cracked optimistically through the desk and he heard the window pane start to crumble in on itself.
He did not look back, but opened the door a crack, peering into the lit corridor, pistol at the ready. It was deserted. Cautiously, he edged out of the door, hiding the pistol between the briefcase and his bare stomach in case there were civilians walking the corridors. He moved quickly to the stairs, taking them two at a time, and then exited the hotel through a fire door. The night air bit at his flesh and his nerves screamed. He quietened them, ignoring them, and moved forward leaving no trace except for the vapour of his breath. The tarmac was rough under his bare feet.
At the edge of the building he listened tentatively, but could hear no movement in the alleyway beyond. Satisfied he rounded the corner into the alleyway, keeping low, trying to avoid moving too quickly in case an ambush waited for him at the alley’s end. Something moved in the shadows, knocking over a bottle, which rattled noisily on the concrete. He levelled the pistol, squeezing the trigger, before he saw two bright eyes watching him from near the ground. Just a fox. It ran ahead of him and he followed on behind it, smirking slightly as it quickened its pace. When it reached he alley’s end it ran towards the road, hiding itself beneath a parked car. Rufus followed suit, crouching low to avoid the possibility of a bullet out of the darkness.
No fire came. Rufus looked towards the office block, but could see nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that indicated that someone was pointing a rifle at him. No red dot of a laser sight presented itself to him. He looked towards the hotel, picking out the window in the room where he had been staying. Lights flashed across the half-closed curtains – Rufus was sure they were torches. He smirked to himself once more as he thought of armed men finding only his discarded clothes; not him and not the briefcase. A lucky escape.
The fox bolted across the road towards another alleyway. Rufus gave the window one last glance, and then followed the animal. The night enveloped them both.