Dawn was threatening, waving its red flag of war at the edge of the horizon.
Up aboveground, the good people of the world would be waking up, cleaning off their dreams, putting on their day-skins.
Down on the streets, the monsters were slipping back into the cracks, back into their basement caves. They cradled the last few night-time whispers, gathering them like grain before the storm, like fruit before the frost. The days could be so very long, down in the gutter.
It was a clear night, the sort where dawn would burn its way clear of the night time faster than expected. There were no clouds to shroud the world, to protect it for a few precious moments. And that sort of dawn would burn the creatures who thrived on the night.
Still, they lingered. It had been a lean night, too cold, too bleak for many passers-by, too deep into winter for much hope, for many shining dreams. They would be hungry through the day. They would start nibbling on what little they could see through the grates, if they went to their caves hungry.
And that way lay trouble. That way lay madness. One nibble, then another. One daytime theft, and then you were slipping out during the rain storms. One early riser grabbing too much, and then everyone was whispering in the ears of the nine-to-fivers.
There was a place for the monsters, and that place was in the gutters. Everyone had to remember that for the world to work properly.
They knew that.
And yet this little monster lingered, peeking out from under the stairs, waiting. It was a hungry troll, near to starving, for the big fears often eat first, and the little ones eat what’s left.
A girl stumbled down the street, feet sore, body exhausted, her short dress no coverage at all against the cold. Somewhere, someone made a noise like a wolf-whistle. Somewhere else, someone made a noise like a gunshot.
The little troll licked his lips. She was bright, and shiny, and full of hope, but the fear was beginning to overwhelm her. He could taste the tiniest hopes, and he licked at them, like a creature might lick at moss.
It scooted out of the darkness a little. She stumbled on a piece of ice and fell forward. The trolls, the monsters, the nightmares, all inched forward hungrily. If she fell…
The little troll snuck out a little further. If she fell, she would fall nearest its hole.
Fear surged in the woman, and hope. She could see the bus. If she could only make it to the bus on time, she could get home in time. If she could get home in time…
The little troll ate up the hope. Yes, yes. Wish for the bus to slow down. It’s always late, it’s always slow. Wish a little more. Run a little faster.
Run a little faster in those silly shoes. The road is smoother than you think. The road is fine.
The sun was rising, but she was right there, right there. The little troll reached out… just as the girl tripped and fell.
Dawn was the time for pushing things. The time for hope, and the time for fear. Dawn was the time when some people just vanished. Just fell into holes, the people said. Fell between the cracks.
Dawn was a lean time, but sometimes, the creatures underground got fat as the sun snuck through the clouds.
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