Strangers In the Rain.
By Nathan Mair
It’s four A.M. and it is raining; it’s the kind of rain that no coat or umbrella can keep you from the saturating drops hammering down from the early morning sky. I wandered through the soaking sheets of liquid misery, huddling myself against the worst of it as my well-worn coat and shoes did nothing to stop the chilly water from reaching my skin. I was heading home from a frankly dismal meeting of colleagues, the rain had started only moments after I had left and it was my ridiculous stubborn pride that had stopped me from going back; instead, on account of the pouring rain and my own ill temper, I had now become quite undeniably lost. I stood for a moment and cursed, mostly at myself for having been so stupid; I could have called a taxi from the house, I could have asked someone for a lift but as it was there was no one to ask and no phone from which to call.
A few aimless detours through unfamiliar streets lead me nowhere, I was now in some area of town that I had no memory of and I could see little chance of finding my way home. I knocked forlornly on one or two doors along the way, hoping that some kind person might lend a hand, maybe let me use their phone but every house on every street was as dark and lifeless as the roads beside them. I continued to walk, if only to try and work up some warmth to combat the soaking chill. Eventually I noticed a small light some way down the street. As I walked nearer to it the light turned out to be the weak but still blessedly inviting glow from a small bus shelter. The shelter was a simple few poles with transparent plastic panels between them and a small wooden bench inside, as crude as it was, to me it was nothing short of a miracle on this terrible night. I sat down on the bench and revelled in the sudden absence of raindrops, I was a long way from being dry and I had no idea where I was but that moment was as blissful as a warm bed.
I woke up leaning against the window of the shelter, the rain still falling relentlessly against the plastic. Three new people had arrived while I slept and although there was plenty of room under the shelter they all stood out in the rain. They were all completely hidden by heavy grey coats with yellow high visibility vests like those worn by workmen; their hoods were pulled up over their faces and their lower bodies were covered with black jeans and heavy boots, but who could blame them for covering up against weather like this? Several minutes of awkward, heavy silence passed. I stared at the figures, unsure if they were watching me or not. I looked for a timetable, hoping there was a bus due, but there was none to be found. I looked at my watch, anxious to know the time but it had stopped, the rain had soaked the mechanism. Mustering a little courage, I asked the men if they knew the correct time but there was not the slightest sound or movement from any of them. I shrugged and looked down the street, there was no traffic and the houses were still completely dark, similarly the horizon showed no hint of dawn. With no other option readily apparent I quietly returned to waiting, hoping for a bus to come by.
It seemed like an eternity in the company of the mute and immobile figures. With no traffic or people about it was impossible to judge how much time had passed. They still stood right across from me, still utterly motionless. I had become so uneasy that I decided enough was enough, even the rain was better than waiting here with these strangers. I got up from the bench and stepped out into the rain. Immediately the three men stepped towards me, making it obvious that I wasn’t about to be allowed to leave so easily. I looked into the hooded face of the one in front of me, his nose and mouth were obscured by a coarsely woven scarf, the only features to be seen were a hideous and disturbing pair of eyes; two terrible grey on red eyes with pin prick pupils. I slowly, gingerly stepped backwards until I found the bench again, not able to tear my own eyes away from those concealed within the hood of the creature before me. I sat down gently and tried to gather my thoughts; it was now clear that whatever these creatures were, they were not human and they had no intention of letting me just walk away from them.
I felt a terror long forgotten, it sang of the times when the wardrobe door in my bedroom swayed open by itself just a crack; as an adult I could tell myself that it was only the wind or that the door had not been properly closed but my vivid childish nightmares would conjure ghosts, bogeymen and demons hidden within. Here and now, so much worse than all those childhood fancies, was the real and certain knowledge that before me, under the rain and clouds, were the very demons I had imagined all those years ago.
I could feel my heart rapidly pressing against my chest over and over, my pulse hammering in my arms and legs. For many glacial minutes I sat rooted to the bench, as immobile as my captors. It took another eternity for clarity to form within my mind but when it did I moved as fast as I possibly could, the clear thread leading to only one idea: Escape!
I pushed myself with all my strength from the bench and dodged quickly to the left hoping to take advantage of the narrow space between one figure and the bus stop post. I cleared the two obstacles and dashed forward, there was a fleeting sense of relief; an almost joyous sense of freedom until I felt the cold, emaciated fingers of an inhuman hand close around the very human fingers of my own. The grip upon my hand was weak, the fingers that held me seemed quite fragile but for all the world I could not fight against them; the merest touch was enough to bind me, draining any will to resist.
The figure pulled me gently back as though carefully leading a child. It stood me beside the bus stop facing the road and moved both of its hands onto my shoulders; the remaining creatures joined us, one at either side. A light appeared at the far end of the road as a bus rounded the corner. It was an old single decker, the body work and windows were all thick with an oily black grime that turned to into a foul-smelling ichor as the rain soaked into it.
The bus stopped directly in front of us and the door folded back. The inside was similarly coated in the same filth that adorned the out. I looked up into the face of the thing that drove the disgusting carriage, into the same grey on red eyes but the rest of the cadaverous face was plainly visible between the hat and coat of the creature’s disturbingly jolly uniform. The thing at the wheel beckoned all four of us on and I felt a gentle pressure on my shoulders, softly urging my unresisting body onto the bus. The last of the figures stepped up into the bus, the doors folded shut and the bus moved off into the pouring, windswept night.
It’s raining again, a dark and heavy rain that soaks through to the very soul but I don’t feel the rain like I used to, not through my heavy winter coat. My two friends and I are waiting patiently and silently: waiting and watching as the rain-soaked man snoozes on the little wooden bench in the shelter. We have plenty of time to wait on this empty street where the time never flows. There’ll be a bus along soon, just as soon as he makes a move. One more who lost his way in his ignorance, one more to add to our numbers.
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