“Twenty-Six Minutes Past Nine”

Julian J. Alexander
4 min readAug 19, 2021

The minute hand on the cheap analogue clock lags just behind the twenty-six-minute mark, its gluey components pulling it ever closer to the scrap heap. Ewan Stevenson turns his head back to the paper cup that almost overflows with pitch black coffee, and he takes a swig of the scalding liquid, revelling in its pleasant acidity and warmth as it travels down his throat. He had run late that morning, and the disapproving glances he was receiving from his manager every time she left her office to walk to the printer were a constant, unneeded reminder of this.

He had stumbled off the tube at Green Park twenty minutes ago, and all the while his brain had been repeating a confusing reel of images and inebriated moments from the night before like a scratched disc. There was the weathered green sign for that pub just down the road from Euston station, and Dan spilling his drink while in the middle of an enthusiastic ramble. Any conversation Ewan tried to recall turned to mush. He thought maybe Kerry had stolen a roadwork sign after ten too many beers, but he wasn’t sure.

If Ewan hadn’t found himself sinking into the train seat with a thumping headache and a ravenous need to hunt through his backpack for ibuprofen, he might have found himself perplexed at the curious behaviour of an under-dressed man at the back of the carriage. While Ewan was at war with the remaining contents of his stomach, other passengers had found themselves uneasy as they observed a skinny, balding forty-something man outfitted in nothing more than a stained white vest and a pair of boxer shorts, seemingly gazing without thought at the colourful map of the London underground that adorned the top of the carriage. No one dared ask him what he was doing, or if he was alright. No one asked even as the already off-putting varicose veins on his arms and legs began to turn an alarming shade of red, or when clouds of white consumed any trace of colour left in his eyes. Ewan had hurriedly dragged himself from the carriage by that time and was oblivious to the scene that erupted almost as soon as the train was plunged into darkness as it travelled onwards toward Bond Street station.

Now, he sits blankly in front of a wall of text, groggily combing it for mistakes to correct so it could be deemed worthy of being slapped on the front page of tomorrow’s Central London Daily. The story is some throwaway tabloid nonsense that Ewan finds himself resenting more and more with every clumsy word. Truth be told, Ewan had resented his editing role for a long while; he was sick of reading about bar closures and local celebrities that the writers tried so very hard to sensationalize.

Tucked away in a corner on the third floor of the office building, Ewan is completely ignorant to the wall of carnage that is rising up from the mouth of Green Park tube station and spilling onto the streets. The word “wholeheartedly” is misspelled as “wholeheartidly” on the fifteenth line of the article. He sighs and takes another small sip of coffee, omitting the “i” and replacing it with an “e”.

One and a half miles away on Bond Street, a bartender wearily cleans glasses in preparation for a 12 PM opening. Like Ewan, she is unaware of the violence that has erupted in pockets all over the city. She checks that the CCTV camera on the exterior of the building is in order, dismissing the cries down the street as local youths or mid-morning drunks. At the end of Bond Street, a male figure in a tailored suit dashes out into the street from the underground. His skin is a sickly yellow, his face a painting of a child’s nightmare. In his eye sockets sit two foggy white marbles, surrounded by a network of sores and burst blood vessels. Viscera stains his previously immaculate suit, and gore trickles from the corner of his mouth. When the train had pulled into Bond Street ten minutes prior, he had been staring at his wristwatch, tutting as he finally heard the mechanical squeal of the train after waiting five minutes longer than he was used to.

“Gonna be fuckin’ late again” were the last words he said as he looked up to see the ghoulish horde pressed up against the windows of the carriages like starved hounds, eager for blood, having lost every shred of their humanity in a matter of minutes. Now, he wonders Bond Street amongst the infected flock with that same hunger burning inside him. He retains little from the life he had before. He mutters “Gonna be fuckin’ late again” over and over, but it means nothing to the primal creature that has commandeered his mind.

Ewan is finally drawn away from his task to the third-floor window by a crescendo of loud babbling and cries that are not unlike the swell of voices heard at a football match. His curiosity turns to horror as his vision is filled with a scene of insurmountable violence. A man in a black hoodie stands atop a parked car, tilting his head back and letting out a chilling, feral screech as the bloodthirsty masses surge and writhe below him, each one desperate to be the first to sink their teeth into new prey. Ewan backs away from the window in shock as the man’s empty stare meets his gaze, and another shrill howl rips through the air. Gasps of terror resound around the office as the inhuman horde slam into ground floor doors with no regard for injury.

Ewan falls into his seat in a daze. One and a half miles away, the bartender hastily bolts the doors with shaking hands. A newsagent cowers soundlessly in his tiny flat, and an elderly man looks to a statue of Christ with wavering hope. Too pre-occupied with the mundane to see it coming, the world we knew ended at twenty-six minutes past nine.

--

--

Julian J. Alexander

Writer of short stories, largely in the realm of horror and the weird (with occasional deviations).