Drip, drip, drip.
Cool droplets of water dripped onto my cheek. The sensation of the water sliding down my face and onto my chest sent an icy shiver through my body. A dull ache throbbed in my temples, causing me to groan. Confusion washed over me as random, hazy thoughts buzzed about in my brain.
How did I get here?
I opened my eyes, letting the light of the bright neon sign above seep in. They stung, watering like I hadn’t seen daylight in months. I placed my hand over my eyes to shield myself, but the sudden movement sent a wave of nausea rushing over me and I swallowed bile.
After what seemed like hours, it passed. With my hand still covering my face, I opened my eyes again, peeping cautiously through the cracks of my fingers. Satisfied the lights wouldn’t burn holes in my retinas, I took my hand away. I gently turned my head and found myself sprawled across the alleyway floor.
“I feel like a truck has hit me... What the hell happened?” my voice sounded croaky and my throat itched like sandpaper.
My vision swam as I tried to sit up. I tried to massage my temples, but the pain still thumped through my head like a jackhammer. I lay back down, willing nausea to subside, still laying on my back I slowly looked about. The alley itself was small, dank, and smelled of stagnant water. Trashcans were upturned and rubbish littered the cobbles. The windows were in darkness. Nothing stirred.
What on earth was going on? Is this some sort of weird prank?
The realisation hit that there was no one here to answer. I strained my ears for any activity, any sound, but the place was empty. No hustle and bustle, no noise. The silence deafened me. As I was contemplating my very limited options, I glimpsed my reflection in the puddle I lay in. I was wearing a pale green nightgown that reached past my knees. My chestnut hair was damp with moisture lying lifeless and limp around my shoulders. It was like staring at a different person. My mouth hung agape, fear sparked in my eyes.
This is a Wizard of Oz moment. I’ve just landed in a nightmare part instead of the munchkin village. Fucking typical.
Pushing the worries aside, I used the trash cans to haul myself up onto my feet. Another rush of nausea overcame me. I stood for a minute on shaky legs, trying to recover my composure. Could somebody want to hurt me? Creepy Nick wasn’t happy when I turned him down for a drink, but was he a kidnapper in the making?
After the sickness subsided, I tried moving towards the top of the alleyway. Maybe the wider street could shed some light on where I was? I couldn’t escape the sense that something was off. It appeared real, but not and although I could touch and smell my surroundings, it was like a dream.
I’m not making sense. I guess I banged my head pretty hard?
“How did I hit my head?” My thoughts spilt out; I just couldn’t recall. I glanced up, guessing I’d fallen from the window above. But they had boarded everything up. Plus, the roof is too high to survive a fall from there.
Get a grip, Amara.
This had to be some prank by my workmates, forever renowned for being tricksters. Or Creepy Nick took the rejection harder than I realised? I worked as a courier on my bike so it was more likely they would let your tyres down rather than hit you over the head and dump you in a strange city. This one time they put chilli powder in the boss’s coffee, but we won’t go there. It hadn’t ended well.
“I need to figure out where I am and stop talking to myself.” I gripped the trash can to steady myself. With my other hand, I felt along the cool, moist wall, using it as a crutch to stay upright. My damp nightgown clung to my skin, causing me to be uncomfortable.
Shuffling along like an old lady, my bare feet trailed in the stagnant puddles sprinkled across the squalid cobbles. I disliked this place. No, I downright despised it. It chilled me to the bone. Tears welled in the corners of my eyes. What had I done to deserve this? As I reached the entrance of the lane, I stopped dead.
“Oh my god,” I said as I looked around me in confusion. I peered at the street before me. It was just the same as what I had seen in the alleyway.
A ghostly silence permeated the air. It seemed to echo along the abandoned road. The store fronts were all locked, no cars clogged up the road, no crowds to ask for help. How was I supposed to get out of here now? I had walked into a nightmare, or a highly weird hallucination.
The only light emerged from the windows and street-lights. Pale neon colours cast a peculiar kaleidoscope pattern across the pavements in front of them. The buildings were all toned, with strange shades of grey. It was like I had tiptoed into an old black-and-white photograph. Feeling steadier on my feet, I let go of the wall and sneaked into the imposing place ahead.
I shouted “Hello” hoping someone would hear my pleas, but my cries bounced off the bricks and travelled down the endless road. They went unanswered.
“Hello! Anybody there!” I ran to the nearest doorway, pounding on it. When they didn’t answer, I proceeded to the next. I got more frantic as I did so. The dead silence that met me was terrifying.
Dejected, I stopped in front of a grand ornate window, like the kind you would have in an upscale department store. Only there were no magnificent displays adorning the windows. The only thing staring back at me was my reflection. I let out a sob at the sight of me. My hair stuck up in places, and my red-rimmed eyes gave me a look of desperation. I sunk to the ground, putting my head in my hands. A howl escaped my lips; the tension eased from my body.
I was desperate, but resting here on the ground wouldn’t give me the answers I needed. What I required was a plan, and fast. I paused for a minute to let my mind clear. This might not be the best place to attract anyone’s attention. The streets had to be empty for a reason. I might be in the murder capital of the world and everybody was hiding in their homes. What if there was a crazed hit man on the loose?
Deep breath, Amara.
A deep feeling of dread formed in the pit of my stomach. How could I be so stupid, screaming at the top of my lungs? I pulled myself up from the ground. The air was becoming thicker, and I was struggling to breathe. I tried to slow my breathing, inhale, exhale. I repeated my mantra until I calmed down. My eyes darted from side to side. I took tentative steps until I found myself in an empty courtyard with a broken fountain sitting in the middle.
Where did that come from? It was an endless street a moment ago?
“Right, okay, I’ll just return to the alleyway then,” I said, turning on my heel. It had at least felt safe there. Out here I was just exposed. It was like I was being watched. Tiptoeing back across the cobbled lane. I inched forward until I caught a movement in my peripheral vision. I froze. Did I want to find out what was lurking behind me? However, curiosity got the better of me. It always did.