The Midnight Mayor - By Kate Griffin
Don’t give me all this hokum about the Midnight Mayor. You tell me there’s a man who is the chosen protector of the city? Who cannot die so long as the idea of the city exists, who carries burnt into his flesh the mark of the city and hears the dreams of the stones themselves? You seriously want me to believe that the Midnight Mayor is real and out there in the night keeping us safe from all the big nasties that are going to gobble us up, then the first thing you should do is tell me what these nasties are that I need so much protecting from.
- M. Swift, “The Midnight Mayor and Other Myths” - Urban Magic Magazine, vol. 37, June 2003
Prelude: The Heavy Metal Spectres
In which a sorcerer is surprised to find himself cursed, burnt, branded, chased and condemned without any apparent reason and in the wrong pair of shoes.
The telephone rang.
After that . . .
. . . it’s complicated.
No room for anything else.
Time went by.
Don’t know how much. Watch fused to wrist; burnt. No clocks. Mobile phone somewhere in my bag, but my bag wasn’t on my shoulder. Wasn’t near at hand. I raised my head. Drying blood crackled like velcro. I saw my feet. They were wearing someone else’s shoes. It took a minute to remember why.
I raised my head a little higher.
My bag was on the ground. It had fallen some distance away, spilling paint cans and old socks. Above it swung the telephone. A dribble of blood was running down the receiver and splatting droplets onto the ground. The blood was mine. There didn’t seem to be any other candidate.
I put my head back down on the concrete, and closed my eyes.
More time went by.
It started to rain. Proper night-time rain, that sensed the wind chill and wished it was snow. I found that my left arm, the one that hadn’t answered the phone, would obey basic commands. I said twitch, it twitched. I said check for anything broken, and it checked. Nothing was broken. Even the blood running down the back of my neck was melodrama. There’s two kinds of head wounds - the kind that look worse than they are, and the kind that kill you. Not dead; not again.
I let my left hand relax.
The wind was blowing the rain in at a 45-degree angle. In the gloom it was visible only as a sheet across the sodium-coloured streetlamp at the edge of this patch of concrete nothing. There was a drumming on the roofs and a rumbling in the gutters as three weeks of unswept dirt was washed into the grating. The rain was a blessing. We turned our shaking right hand up to the cool water and let it wash the blood off our fingers. Then, as it started to seep through my coat, shivering and the ache of deep-down cold began to replace the burning pain.
The decision to get out of the rain meant getting up.
Hercules didn’t have anything on us; Muhammad Ali would have been impressed.
We got up.
Halfway there, my knee slipped on the wet concrete. My right hand hit the rough grain of the floor, and we nearly screamed.
The Terminator would have given up and gone to bed by now; the Knights Templar would have called it a day.
I got up. My world swam between blood-red and sapphire-blue. A dying streetlamp buzzed like a mosquito. Water had pooled in the plastic bubble that held the bulb, casting rippling shadows over the black-silver street. I staggered to the phone. My bag was a faded satchel made of plastic fibre pretending to be cotton. I picked it up and slung it over my shoulder. The phone swung uselessly on its cord. From the speaker it made the loneliest sound in the world:
Beeeeeeeeeeeppppp . . .
Wedged around the telephone itself, in the gap between machine and wall, were cards offering:
**PERKY PLAYFUL BLONDE**
THINKING OF ENDING IT ALL? CALL THE SAMARITANS.
I had a scarf around my neck; I noticed one end was scorched. I pulled it tighter and tucked it inside my coat, an off-beige colour turning off-brown in the rain. Our head hurt. Our everywhere hurt, so many different parts demanding attention that it was hard to identify any single one. In my bag there was a first-aid kit, showing its wear. I found a bandage and wrapped it round my right hand. All I could see was blood, rain, and angry purple flesh puffed up so thick