Jake jumped as the hand grabbed his shoulder. He looked round. A man, immaculately dressed and groomed, was grinning on the escalator behind him. It was Matt, one of the traders he'd met in the morning.
"First day took it out of you, eh?!"
Jake smiled politely. "It was a little tough, I guess."
"Course it was!" Matt said as they stepped onto the platform of Canary Wharf's cavernous Underground station. "The weak must be scared off at the earliest opportunity. They get in they way, and are bloody useless." He slapped Jake on the back. "You seem okay, though."
Jake said nothing and headed to the line of people waiting at the platform doors. A train was rushing into the station.
"Where you staying?" Matt asked.
"With a friend in Clapham. Hopefully I'll get my own place soon."
The doors opened. They followed the line of people onto the carriage.
Matt grinned. "If you're as good as me you'll soon be able to get a place like mine!"
As the doors slid shut Jake decided to take the bait. "Where's that?"
"Waterloo. A penthouse, right by the river. City views like you've never seen!"
Matt's arrogance was had annoyed Jake from the moment he’d met him. As the train pulled out of the station Jake looked around. The other passengers were sitting or standing quietly, their faces buried in their phones, Kindles, tablets or free papers. To his relief Matt pulled out his phone and quickly became absorbed with his emails. With a rising whine of its engines the train accelerated out of the station and into the tunnel beyond. Jake allowed himself a smile. He'd done it. He'd secured a job at one of the world's top investment banks in the world's top financial centre. And here he was heading home on the Tube, London's famous transport system, along with others who'd probably felt the same as he did once. He wondered if he would ever become as arrogant as Matt.
The train began to slow and a female voice announced the next station as 'Canada Water'. The moment it stopped the doors opened. Several suited workers got off, pushing passed a short but very wide looking figure waiting outside. Once it was clear the figure, wearing a thick brown cloak and a deep hood, staggered into the carriage and took up a position near the doorway. The figure was breathing heavily, each breath accompanied by a deep and wet rumbling noise.
As the doors slid shut and the train moved away Jake continued to watch the figure. He grimaced as a pungent odour, a mixture of stale sweat and death, found its way to him. The figure shuffled around by the door, staring down at the floor. The other passengers kept their distance, but otherwise ignored it. As the train accelerated the figure crouched down, looking at the floor. And then something long and black shot out of the hood, hitting the floor with a wet slap. It retracted back into the hood leaving sticky residue. Jake, astonished by what he had just seen, continued watching as the figure stood up and threw back its hood, revealing a bloated leathery face, cratered with scars and lined with deep wrinkles. It looked directly at Jake, its deep black eyes wide and bulging. It smiled, baring chunky brown teeth and rancid gums.
"Don't make eye contact, you idiot!" Matt said in a loud whisper.
Jake whispered back. "What the hell is it?!"
"A growth. It'll be dealt with. Ignore it."
"You've seen one of those before?"
"They often get on at Canada Water."
The growth was face-down to the floor again, its sloppy tongue exploring every scrap of dirt. The train announced the next station as ‘Bermondsey’ and began to slow.
Matt continued. "They started appearing when they were tunneling this line in the nineties. They're the remnants of some troglodytic civilisation, some say."
Jake watched the growth as it shuffled around. There was now a significant amount of sticky saliva on the floor. "That’s incredible. Why haven't I heard about them?"
Matt didn't answer. He was absorbed in his emails again.
The train drew to a halt and the doors opened. A man, dressed in a black suit and helmet, stepped into the carriage. He aimed a small pistol at the growth's back and fired. The growth shrieked as a red dart thudded into its cloak. It turned and snarled at the man, and then pushed out a deep and sustained fart. The man kicked the growth hard on its thick flabby chin forcing its rotting teeth to clatter together.
There was an announcement. "Due to a passenger incident in carriage four this train will remain in this station for a few minutes. Apologies for any inconvenience this may cause."
The growth was still snarling and drooling profusely, but it seemed to be weakening. The man kicked it again. With a final moan, and a guttural burp, the growth slumped sideways. It vomited quietly; spreading litres of steaming brown sick across the carriage floor, and then it lay there, snoring and wheezing.
Jake grimaced at the potent stench that now filled the air. He watched as the man in black, aided by another who had just arrived, dragged the cloaked mass of the creature off the carriage, leaving a smear of vomit in its wake.
Another man stepped onto the train, this time dressed in white. Using a large vacuum cleaner-like device he efficiently sprayed and cleaned the carriage floor. The welcome scent of disinfectant soon wiped out the foul smell of the growth.
Within a few minutes the bizarre and grotesque episode was over. The other passengers remained engrossed in their devices, seemingly indifferent to the whole experience.
With an accompanying series of bleeps the doors slid shut. The train accelerated out of the station.
Matt looked up from his phone and stared at Jake. Jake's sense of stress and unease must have been obvious. Matt grinned. "Relax! Welcome to London."
The Jubilee Line suffered minor delays for the next thirty minutes.