Ruth Perry removed the key from the lock, and paused as she checked off her mental list for locking up for the night. Lights and computers were all switched off. Back doors and exits – all locked. All reachable windows – closed and locked. Only this door had been left, and now it was locked as well. Inside was completely empty; she had looked under every desk and behind every bookshelf.
She tucked the keys safely away in her deepest pocket, thinking over what was causing her to be so rigorous in her security measurements; that boy.
Every morning, when they opened the Basurham public library and checked the CCTV, they saw him. A boy aged about seventeen, who had somehow got in each and every night. He didn’t steal anything, which she thought was odd. In this town, almost every seventeen-year-old boy stole something, especially when surrounded with books, computers and other valuable items. But this one… he just read some of the books by torchlight, and went to sleep on one of the chairs. Then he’d wake up and just… vanish. Literally, vanish, into thin air. It was like he didn’t exist… except for the imprints in the chair cushions and the books out of order.
The first time she saw the recordings, she thought it was a trick. But he’d kept appearing, night after night for at least a week now, and no-one could identify or explain him. He didn’t fit anyone in the police’s records, and there was no-one who could recognize him. Phil said he could be a ghost, but then - the librarian snorted - Ol' Phil Foster would say that.
She shook her head, smiling slightly to herself, and walked briskly away to catch her bus home, confident in her assumption that she had finally foiled the mystery.
Inside, all was quiet for a few minutes. Then, there was a soft thud of feet landing on carpet. The noise of a slight rustle and fumble in pockets, and a torch flicked on. The boy was there, ragged clothes covering a slimness that belied his strength. His chiselled features cast hard shadows over his face, but his eyes shone through the shadow, as if they amplified the light that entered, and cast it out in radiances of green.
Slinker liked libraries. They made a change from abandoned buildings and street alleys for sleeping in, for one they were generally warm and comfortable. They were considerably harder to sneak into at night, he had to come in chameleoned now or he’d risk the librarian recognizing him. He’d just spent the last half an hour or so lying flat, and invisible, on top of a tall bookshelf, staying as quiet as possible. Now, he had the next eight hours or so to rest.
By torchlight, Slinker made his way to the literature bookshelf, and picked out a book for himself. Having not gone to school for the last six or seven years, it was probably a good idea to try and learn as much as he can; yet another reason why he liked libraries.
He settles down to read 'Lord Of The Flies' by William Golding.
In the intervening seven years since his escape, Slinker had been slowly meandering around the place, not really with any purpose but a vague and now long faded hope he might find his family again. In this intervening time, he had lived on the streets. When he first escaped, he did consider going to a foster home. But he couldn't. He simply could not bring himself to reject his family like that. Instead he'd learned to fend for himself.
He'd had to learn to fight very fast. People hadn't expected a ten-year-old on the streets, and they certainly hadn't expected that boy to be able to fight. But it was exactly those same people who found out that an invisible ten-year-old with a very precise knowledge of the anatomy, and where it hurts most, that found out differently. Now that he was seventeen, people expected him to be able to fight. Although, they still didn't expect him to win, and especially not to win before they even saw him.
It wasn't difficult to get what he needed in the way of food and clothes; especially when no-one could see you getting it. The tricky part was trying to put it back, to do something good in return. He felt it was wrong to just take from society, not because he supported the authorities. In fact, he fought the authorities quite a lot. No, he gave back simply because it was right. And he gave back in the only way he can, by keeping an eye on criminals in the area. You say 'vigilante', he says 'good Samaritan with fists'
A scream filtered through the library windows, and Slinker looked around in the direction it had come from; looked like it was about time to be a good Samaritan again. The scream came again, and he carefully put the book away, and leapt into action.
The librarian may have locked all reachable windows, but Slinker was well practised at getting to the unreachable ones. In three bounds he was hanging by his fingertips at the top of the tall windows, torch in his teeth, pushing them open. These windows were usually opened by a long pole, and in other circumstances he may have used it, but he didn't indulge that method today. This was quicker.
The window popped open, and Slinker, now chameleoned, swung onto the rooftops and ran along to where the screams were coming from.
Reaching the alley after a short sprint, he looked over the edge of the building, and sees a large man locked in combat with a younger girl, about his age. She was fighting back, and she was fighting with spirit, but it wouldn't be long before she was either over-powered or things turned nasty.
Slinker never enjoyed fights, especially being stuck in them. As far as he was concerned, if his opponent got a chance to swing at him, the fight was a failure. He always preferred to be invisible during a fight, catching the enemy out with either a pressure spot, or the old fashioned way.
Scrabbling around for a distraction, he threw a loose tile at the guys head, and started climbing quickly down the side of the building. The tile smashed on his head, and the man staggers backwards, clutching his head and staring up at the building. The girl conveniently chose exactly this moment to kick him, very hard, in the shin.
The man yelped, and swung wildly at the girl. His fist connected with the side of her head, and she fell against the wall. The man suddenly moved his hand, and a small but heavy blackjack slipped out of his sleeve. He moved towards the girl, raising it up for a heavy blow to her head... but he whipped round as a hand tapped him on the shoulder. No-one was there. The man paused, befuddled. Who the hell tapped him on the shoulder, then? The heavy metal cylinder suddenly jerked out of his hand, and drew back for a blow. The man's eyes widen, but before he can make a sound he is struck hard on the side of the head by his own weapon. Lights explode in front of his eyes, and he falls on the hard ground, unconscious.
The girl stirred slightly in her position slumped against the wall, her raven dark hair falling like a curtain around her face and masking the developing bruise on her temple. She slowly looked up, and her keen - deceptively keen - brown eyes take in the scene around her. The unconscious would-be criminal was lying on the floor, and no-one else was in sight.
She jumped and gasped slightly at a soft voice spoke into her ear. “Are you all right?”
She scrambled to her feet, fists raised and looking around wildly.
“Who the hell are you?!”
The voice paused. The next words contain a hint of incredulity.
“You can't be...?”
A thin laugh comes out of the air.
The girl paused as well. Her slim figure was tense with fear, her clothes soaked with sweat from the earlier fight.
“Who are you? I can't see you!”
She twisted round, looking up and down the dark alley. Suddenly, a figure appears where she was certain there wasn't one before, and she darted around to put her back to a wall, facing the figure, and raises her fists defensively. She evidently had some knowledge of fighting, judging from her stance.
“Don't you dare come near me! I'll fight you!”
The figure held up its hands, and steps into range of the dingy sodium light between him and the girl.
“I'm not going to hurt you. Unlike that last guy.”
The girl sees his ragged clothes, the sharp edges to his face casting a shadow over his eyes. Infuriatingly, he's smiling at her. Actually smiling.
The girl hesitated and grudgingly said “Thanks for helping out, whoever you are.”
The figure laughed slightly. “I thought you wouldn't recognise me...”
The girl narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “What are you talking about? I don't KNOW you, I've never even seen you before!”
The figure halted, in the middle of the light. The shadows have moved aside, and she saw the glint in his eyes... and she stopped mid-sentence. Almost forgetting her potential danger, she stepped forward to look deeper into the eyes. It was like looking into a tunnel that she was falling into, surrounded by vivid greens. They weren't a colour of green, they were THE colour of green, the definitive shade of green that all other shades were mere imitations.
They seemed familiar to her. Almost like part of a long-repressed memory.
The figure stepped forward once more, his face fully illuminated in the light. The girl gasps suddenly as the memories come rushing back at last. The figure, the face, those eyes...
“Recognise me now, Charleigh?”