Janet didn’t like Mondays.
She didn’t like them one bit.
This was the thought that often paraded insolently at the very forefront of her mind every Monday morning as she stood on the cold, windswept train platform waiting for the 7:29am to arrive. Her home town had only one train station, and it was unmanned and small. This meant that the only protection from the elements provided by the train company was a small metal shelter on each platform. Sometimes Janet was able to squeeze in there, and sometimes she was not. Janet thought that it might make an interesting study on territoriality to observe how jealously some people guarded what they perceived to be “their” bit of space inside the grubby little shelter. It was as if some secret auction had been held when Janet was not there and every last inch of each shelter had been sold to the highest and most zealous bidders. Janet didn’t have time for that kind of petty and silent passive aggressive commuter politics, so more often than not she left them to it and stood out on the platform, reading her latest book.
It was a cold and grey October morning, but mercifully it wasn’t raining, so Janet didn’t have to even think of entering into the realm of the silly little shelter fiefdoms that both amused and irritated her. She quietly read her book, trying not to think too hard about the stack of work left over from last week that would be smugly sitting on her desk when she got into the office. She looked up as the tinny and disingenuous voice of the station tannoy told the assembled commuters that the 7:29am was running five minutes late that morning and that they were sorry for the delay.
Typical, thought Janet.
After five minutes of more reading and occasionally stamping her feet to try and keep the cold out, the train pulled into the tiny, forlorn station. Janet looked with more amused irritation as several people stubbed out their cigarettes within full view of the various notices that reminded commuters that it was an offence to smoke on the platforms. She also observed, as she did on practically every train journey that she took, that many of the people on the platform crowded around the train doors before anyone on the train had managed to get off. There were a lot of things that annoyed Janet about her work commute, and most of them were the other commuters.
Janet waited for the usual dance of people trying to get off the train while others tried to get on at the exact same time to end before boarding the train herself. She found an empty seat next to a window and settled herself in for the monotonous journey into the city. There were four more stops to make on this line before everyone would disgorge at the main city station, making their individual ways to work or wherever, not caring who they hit with their bags or whose feet they trod on. Janet knew that she was not the perfect commuter, no one was, but the fact that she had noticed the various forms of inconsiderate behaviour of the average train passenger meant that she now saw it everywhere, and it drove her up the wall.
Janet continued reading as the train made its ponderous way through the faint morning mist. She reached the end of the chapter and replaced the bookmark to keep her place. Janet still had just under half of her journey left, but she preferred to leave her book at the end of a chapter, she was a bit of a perfectionist like that. She looked around the carriage at the assembled faces, most of them groggy and still waking up. As always, there was the all-too familiar click clack of someone seemingly working feverishly away on their laptop: another annoyance. Janet didn’t doubt that this person was quite probably busy, but she had always felt that you made a certain kind of statement by working on a laptop in a public place. She felt it smacked of trying too hard, and she smiled to herself at the thought that this morning’s laptop user could just as likely be checking their Facebook or playing Minecraft. People often made Janet laugh.
The train rumbled on its way and after a short while the motion of the carriage began to lull Janet into a doze. Her head rested against the window and her eyes closed.
Tap tap tap.
Janet jerked awake with a start. Someone had tapped the window, but as she looked around, receiving some curious glances from the people sitting nearby, she couldn’t see who could have done it. She looked at the man sitting next to her. Had he leant over and tapped the window she would have felt him press against her. She looked at the woman sat opposite her. It was possible that she could have tapped the window, but why? Janet looked out of the window and saw that they were still a good ten minutes away from the final destination, so Janet didn’t need waking up by any of her fellow commuters. Plus, the city station was the end of the line, so there was no chance of Janet missing her stop, and all of the hustle and bustle of people getting off the train would have woken her up.
So who had tapped on the window?
Janet continued to look about her with an air of confusion as she gathered her things and left the train. She made brief eye contact with a few people, but no one made any acknowledging motions or said anything about tapping on the window. Janet wondered on it for a few more minutes as she joined the throng on the platform, but by the time she walked out on to the street and began heading towards her office it had been pushed to the back of her mind. Once she was immersed in her day’s work, it was completely forgotten.
* * *
The following Monday came around, as Mondays always will, and Janet found herself once again standing on the platform waiting for her train. Again Janet had been denied a space in the shelter by the fact that it was already crammed with other commuters by the time she arrived at the station. She wondered to herself if some people got up ridiculously early on purpose just to stake out a bit of space in the hallowed realm that was the platform shelter. A light drizzle was making its insistent presence known, so Janet was too busy holding her umbrella to be able to read, which annoyed her. One of the only things, if not the only thing, that made her work commutes bearable was the fact that she was able to get through the seemingly endless list of books that she had promised herself she would get around to reading one day. Not being able to read of a morning didn’t set the day up well, in Janet’s mind.
The train was on time that morning, a blessing, thought Janet, considering the weather. She boarded the train, found a seat, and took out her book. She wasn’t far from the end of a chapter, so when she reached it she checked to see how long the next chapter was, hoping that she’d be able to read it in the remaining journey time. Unfortunately, the next chapter was a long one, and Janet didn’t want to have to stop reading part way through in case she got to a really good bit. Resigning herself to staring out of the window for the remainder of the journey, Janet stowed her book back in her bag and looked out of the rain-spattered window to the dreary morning beyond. The problem with doing nothing on a train journey, at least for Janet, was that before long she could guarantee that she would fall asleep, and today was no exception. Within minutes of her turning her attention to the window, Janet felt her eyes start to grow heavy. They drooped and closed as the train rocked her to sleep like a babe in arms, her head coming to rest gently against the smooth surface of the window.
Janet sat bolt upright, instantly awake. She caught eyes with a man sitting opposite her, who smiled.
‘You alright, love?’ he asked, genially.
‘Did you hear that?’ asked Janet, looking between the man and the window with a worried look in her eye.
‘Hear what?’ The man looked confused.
‘That noise. It sounded like…like something hit the train window.’
‘I think I’d have noticed something like that,’ said the man, chuckling slightly. ‘Bad dream, was it?’
‘No…maybe…I’m not sure.’ Janet really wasn’t sure. Had she dreamt it? It felt so real. She could still feel the part of her head where the impact on the window had happened. Like somebody had thrown something at the train and it had hit the window exactly where her head had been resting.
‘You sure you’re alright?’ pressed the man, now looking a little concerned. ‘You seem a bit shaken.’
‘Hmm? Oh, I just…got startled, I suppose,’ said Janet, wanting to end the conversation. ‘I’ll be fine.’
‘Fair enough.’ The man went back to reading his newspaper, but Janet noticed him shoot her the occasional glance. The concerned look had not left his eyes. Janet looked out of the window and tried to see what could have caused the bump on the window that she felt. Her hand reached up to the point on her forehead where the window had banged into it. That can’t have been a dream, she thought to herself, as her other hand touched the spot on the window where the impact had been. She recoiled in shock as her fingers came into contact with the glass. It was cold. Much colder than the weather that morning should make a window. With a frown, Janet moved her finger to another spot on the window and felt her chest tingle with adrenaline as the temperature of the glass rose from practically freezing to merely cold. Whatever had hit the window had been very cold.
Janet sat back in her seat and bit her lip nervously. She was starting to get a little worried. The bump on the glass was hard enough to wake her up and have her still feel the force of the impact on her head moments later, but no one else on the train seemed to have noticed a thing. It was just like…
Janet stiffened as the memory of the tapping on the train window the week before came back to her. She started to wring her hands the way she always did when she was scared. Her thoughts came to her in a confused tangle and the rising panic crept ominously up her spine. Was someone trying to mess with her? Janet looked about the train carriage and saw only the regular mass of commuters, all of them engaged in their own business; none of them paying Janet any attention. Janet looked again at the window and tried to calm herself down. You’re being silly, she thought to herself. It was probably some local kids messing about near the train tracks. Janet had read news stories of stupid kids throwing stones at trains and other such idiotic behaviour, but that didn’t explain why no one else but her seemed to have noticed that anything had struck the train.
Janet didn’t forget what had happened on the train as she walked to the office this time. She was so lost in thought that she kept bumping into people. As soon as she arrived at work, Janet went on the Internet to check the local news site to see if anything had been reported concerning vandalism on the trains that day. There was nothing. She looked on the train provider’s site to see if they had reported anything, but again nothing. Janet was finding it hard to concentrate at work that morning, and it was not going unnoticed.
‘Are you okay?’ asked a co-worker of Janet’s during the morning coffee break.
‘Hmm?’ Janet had been absentmindedly stirring her coffee and hadn’t noticed the woman approach her.
‘I said are you okay?’
‘Oh, yes. Kathryn, hi. I’m fine,’ said Janet. ‘Just a little distracted.’
‘I’ll say,’ said Kathryn with a smile. ‘I think you’ve been stirring that cup for five minutes, at least.’ Janet returned the smile but it felt false. No matter what she did she couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened on the train that morning.
‘Can I ask you something?’
‘Sure,’ said Kathryn.
‘Have you heard about any vandalism on the local train lines today?’
‘No, why?’ Kathryn looked a little confused.
‘On my train this morning. It felt like something…hit the train.’
‘Did the train stop?’ asked Kathryn.
‘Then it wasn’t a person.’ Kathryn laughed and Janet tried to join in. The laughter felt hollow and empty.
‘It’s strange though,’ said Janet, almost to herself.
‘No one else seemed to notice that it happened. And it was a big thump, like someone kicked a football at the train or something.’
‘And no one else said anything?’
Janet shook her head as she took a sip of her coffee.
‘Maybe you dreamt it. Did you nod off on the train? Happens to me all the time.’
‘I did fall asleep, I think,’ said Janet, uncertainly.
‘There you go then,’ said Kathryn, confidently. ‘It was just a bad dream, that’s all.’
‘I suppose,’ said Janet, but she wasn’t convinced. She kept thinking of the tapping from last week and the big thump from this week. She thought about how she seemed to be the only person who noticed that both things had happened, if they had happened at all. She also thought about how unsettlingly cold the patch of glass had been where the impact had happened. Her head had been resting on the glass as she dozed, so the glass should have been warm. It hadn’t even had been that cold of a morning. It was cold, yes, but there hadn’t been any frost on the ground and they hadn’t had any snow that year yet. The thoughts kept swirling around in Janet’s mind again and again. She kept checking the news sites and the train company sites for any word of any suspicious goings-on near or on the trains, but every day there was nothing. The more Janet thought about it the more frightened she became.
* * *
The rest of the week passed in a blur. Janet tried to shake the worry that was pressing down on her like an invisible weight, but it was no good. She silently cursed her mother and grandmother for passing on their trait of worrying over everything. Her brother would merely shake something like this off and not give it a second thought. She envied that trait in him. Janet, however, couldn’t shake this off. She kept thinking about both incidents and what they could possibly mean. Her mind wasn’t helping matters, though. It kept throwing up all kinds of paranoid fantasies, from the mundane to the outright bizarre. All of them felt plausible to Janet when she couldn’t stop the worry from closing in on her. Somehow, she was able to get through the working week without messing everything up and getting a roasting from her manager. That was all she needed, she thought on the Wednesday morning; a dressing down while all of this other stuff is rattling round my head.
While Janet had survived the work days, her time at home had not been as positive. She lived alone, unless you counted her cat, which Janet most certainly did, and she found herself obsessing over what had been happening to her on the trains almost every evening. Nothing seemed to be able to take her mind off of it. Trashy TV didn’t work; cuddling with the cat didn’t work; chatting with her friends on Facebook didn’t work. Also, she wasn’t sleeping well. Her dreams were getting unnerving, so she found herself reading into the small hours during most of the nights that week.
It was Monday again. It wasn’t raining that morning, but Janet was too distracted to read her new book. Her sleep patterns had become so restless during the past week that she had finished the book she had been reading and had tried to start a new one. However, her mind was so all over the place that she was finding it difficult to get into. Janet found herself looking furtively at the other people on the platform as she waited for the train. She was growing desperate for any sign of a culprit for what she felt was someone having a nasty little laugh at her expense. She wondered briefly if it might be her ex-boyfriend back on the scene, but that was unlikely. They’d been broken up for two years now, and the last she heard he was serious with someone else. Someone was doing something though; Janet just didn’t know who, or why.
When the train pulled in Janet was actually relieved to see that it was too full already for her to get a seat. She didn’t want to sit next to a window that morning, just in case. She wedged herself into a bit of space in the vestibule along with a few other people and settled in as best she could for the journey. She took a strange sense of comfort from the fact that she was standing that morning. This meant that she wasn’t going to fall asleep on this journey, so if someone was riding the same train as her and playing mean tricks then hopefully she’d catch them in the act.
Janet looked about her constantly during the journey, checking people’s faces quickly and surreptitiously. She didn’t want to draw attention to herself if she could avoid it, just in case there was someone trying to get inside her head. At one point in the previous week her mind had proposed the possibility that if someone was trying to frighten her that they might also be dangerous, and that was it. From that moment on that thought would not leave her alone. She had even contemplated calling the police. What would she have told them, though? She felt silly when she imagined herself talking to a dubious 999 operator about how her last two train journeys had been frightening for her, but that she might have dreamed them on both occasions. Janet started to feel a little better, but at the same time a bit ashamed of herself, as her rational side started to get the upper hand. She took a steadying breath as the train entered a tunnel.
That’s when she saw it.
It appeared in the darkened train door window for only a second, but its image was instantly seared across Janet’s mind. In the gloom of the tunnel a hideous face had flashed into view. Its eyes were wild and piercing. They stared at Janet with a look of pure savagery and malice. The mouth was a maniacal snarl; its lips drawn back to expose long and deadly-looking teeth. Only portions of the forehead, cheeks and chin could be seen, but the flesh looked pale and ghostly white.
It was gone as quickly as it had come.
The scream erupted from Janet’s mouth before she even realised it, bypassing her brain entirely. It pierced the docility of the Monday morning commute like a needle through a balloon, and all at once people were turning frantically to see what was going on.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ asked one commuter, looking at Janet with disdain as she tried to shrink away from the window.
‘Are you alright?’ asked another.
‘What’s wrong?’ and another.
‘Th-th-there!’ was all Janet could manage, pointing a shaking finger at the train door window. Everyone who could see what was going on looked at the train door but saw merely a train door. They had left the tunnel by now and the same dull landscape could be seen out of the windows. A few people tutted in annoyance and turned back around, convinced now that Janet was a lunatic or something. The man standing directly behind Janet placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
‘Take it easy – ‘ Janet spun round with wild, staring eyes as the man’s hand touched her. She suddenly felt threatened, hemmed in. She looked desperately into his face and saw only kindness. Her head whipped from side to side as she looked frantically about her. She both did and didn’t want to see the terrible face again. The memory of it was horrible enough, but the thought that she might be losing her mind was worse. Her muscles suddenly felt tight and overused, her tendons felt like they were wound up and ready to snap. Her breathing was rapid and shallow, her skin felt cold and clammy. She looked again into the face of the man who had laid a hand on her shoulder. He was an older man and he looked at her with a father’s concern.
‘It’ll be alright,’ he said, soothingly. ‘Just calm down.’ Janet tried to steady her breathing and the realisation of the scene she had just caused hit her full in the face. Embarrassment and shame now mixed with the fear and panic that was still firmly gripping her. She felt unhinged, like she was losing the plot. She collapsed into the man’s arms and sobbed heavily into his chest.
I’m going mad, thought Janet. So help me, I’m going mad!
‘There, there,’ said the man to whom Janet was now clinging. ‘I’ve got you.’ The man looked about him, a little embarrassed himself. He caught eyes with several other commuters. Some gave him appraising looks for helping the clearly distraught woman. Others looked as disdainfully at him as they had done at Janet. One man, however, sitting a little way down the carriage, hadn’t seen what had gone on, but he knew all too well what was happening. He briefly looked in the direction of the vestibule.
‘Found another one, have you?’ he said to himself.
* * *
After what had happened to her on the train that morning, Janet couldn’t face going into work. She rode the train into the city centre and got off like everyone else, but the remainder of the journey felt torturous to her. She wanted to get off the train and be away from all of the staring, accusatory eyes that she felt burrowing into her skin. She felt a sickening shame broil and fester in the pit of her stomach and she wanted nothing more than to go back home, go to bed, and pretend that the morning hadn’t happened.
Once off the train, Janet fought her way through the Monday morning throng and found a quiet enough spot where she could phone her office. She felt guilty for calling in sick when she wasn’t really, at least in her opinion, but she was so rattled that she felt she’d do more harm than good at work. She made her apologies to her manager, who was fortunately already in the office, and promised to be in the next day. She lied about why she needed the day off, but she couldn’t imagine telling anyone the truth. She felt silly even thinking about it. Whatever was going on was not something she wanted to discuss with other people, especially not her bosses at work. She needed her job, and she didn’t want to be thought of as weird, or worse, a liar. That was the worst part, thought Janet, as she made her way to the correct platform for the return journey. What if this is all in my head? What if I’ve just blagged myself a day off over a bad dream? Janet continued to feel ashamed and confused as she descended the stairs to the platform.
As soon as Janet was on the platform she felt the fear coil its way around her again. She’d been so wrapped up in her guilt of calling in sick that he had been on auto-pilot as she walked down to the platform. Now, the reality of catching another train after seeing that grotesque and terrifying face came to her in a moment of horrible clarity.
No, I can’t do it, she thought.
Janet turned smartly on her heel and climbed back up the stairs at a brisk pace. Although it would take over twice as long, Janet decided to take the bus home. This added a further worry to Janet’s already overburdened mind: the prospect of ending up having to take the bus to and from work instead of the train. Janet’s morning commute was already enough of a bother – frightening occurrences notwithstanding – on the trains without the noticeable extra amount of time she’d need to catch the bus and still arrive at work on time. She found herself torn as she walked to the nearest bus stop between two possible eventualities, neither of them particularly pleasant. She could either continue travelling to work on the trains and remain at the mercy of whomever, or whatever was doing its best to scare the life out of her, or she could start getting up before dawn to be ready to catch the bus. Janet didn’t want to have to do either, but as she waited for her bus no other sane solution came to mind.
Janet was so engrossed in her nervous thoughts that she completely failed to notice someone join the queue for the bus behind her. He paid the same fare as Janet, and climbed to the upper deck, the same as Janet. He sat a few seats back from her, glancing carefully at her every now and then as the bus pulled away from the stop.
Trying to steady her breathing, Janet’s mind was a whirl of activity. She was fretting over what she would tell her manager when she went into work the following day. She was worried about how she was going to get to work and whether she could face the trains again. She even began to wonder about whether she would need to start looking for a new job closer to home if the trains were no longer going to be an option. She gazed, unfocussed, out of the bus window as all of these thoughts flew madly around inside her head, not really looking at anything.
Then something caught her eye.
The bus was driving up a road that was flanked by a small wooded area on the left-hand side, the side that Janet was sat on. She went from absentmindedly peering out of the window to bringing her gaze into sharp focus in one heart-stopping, gut-wrenching moment.
No, not again!
Janet could see, amongst the trees, a figure darting in and out of view. It appeared to be running and it was eerily keeping pace with the bus, even though the driver had to be going easily over forty miles per hour. Its shape was somewhat indistinct, but it appeared to be human. It moved too fast though, and Janet could feel the panic begin to twist up from her stomach into her throat. Her hands tightened on the seat in front of her as her eyes remained fixed on the mysterious figure. She could feel herself grow warm and prickly as sweat began to push its way out of her skin. Her insides squirmed unpleasantly and she began to feel sick. Quickly, Janet darted her eyes around the top deck of the bus to see if anyone else had noticed this strange sight, but they were all just sitting there. Her lips were clamped down into a thin, tense line, as she returned her gaze to the window.
The face was there again.
Janet recoiled from the window as if it had suddenly caught fire. She toppled off of the seat and fell to the floor of the bus, frantically trying to get away from the hideous face that had appeared in the glass. This time it lingered there, sneering down at her like a mask of insane, babbling vileness. Its eyes were once again locked on hers, unblinking and loathsome. The bus came to a stop with a jolt and Janet was shoved along the floor with the force. Her eyes broke contact with the sickening face and when she looked back it was gone. Unable to talk, unable to think, Janet pulled herself to her feet and hurtled down the bus’ stairs. She barged passed people trying to get on the bus and fled down the street.
Before the bus resumed its journey, another passenger disembarked, and he walked off in the same direction that Janet had gone.
Interesting, he thought to himself as he walked.
* * *
Janet ran and ran, her mind a boiling mass of fear and panic. At first, she didn’t know where she was, but her natural sense of direction was somehow able to penetrate the terror that gripped her to her bones, and eventually she made it home. She fumbled clumsily with her keys as she reached her front door, breathing heavily and swearing profusely. Jamming the correct key into the lock, she wrenched her front door open, bolted inside and slammed it shut. She threw down her bag; let her coat fall on the stairs as she raced to her bedroom; nearly tripped over her cat and finally collapsed on her bed, dripping with sweat and more terrified than she could ever remember being. The tears came in an instant and Janet’s fists pounded into her mattress as she cried incoherently for what felt like forever.
Make it stop, she pleaded to the universe.
Just make it stop!
As Janet cocooned herself in her bed, crying insane and fearful tears, a lone figure rounded the corner of her street and walked casually up to her house. He was dressed in dark clothes and had his hat brim pulled down enough to conceal some of his face. He stopped at Janet’s door and looked about to see if he was being watched. He took a slip of paper out of his pocket and gently fed it through the letterbox in the middle of the door. He looked up at the house and returned to the street, walking back the way he had come.
Hours passed, and eventually Janet wore herself out through crying. As the tears subsided she suddenly felt exhausted, wiped out. She didn’t intend to, but she ended up sleeping for most of the afternoon. It was getting dark by the time she woke up. The momentary serenity of the deep sleep that the exhaustion had brought on was eradicated in a second as the memory of the day’s events returned to Janet like a death knell. She went from languid and calm to tense and fretful in a heartbeat, and all at once the worrying thoughts and paranoid fantasies came galloping back to the very front of her mind.
What am I going to do, she thought desperately to herself.
Janet felt alone. There was no one whom she could turn to; no one who would believe her, at any rate. She thought of her family and friends and dismissed them all one by one as possible candidates to whom she could recount the strange and frightening things that were happening to her. The more she thought about it the more she wanted to talk to someone, anyone, just to be able to try and make some sense of what was happening. Enough had now happened that Janet was becoming convinced of one of two possible, and awful, scenarios. Either she was going mad and the incidents on the trains and the bus were symptoms of that, or she was being terrorised by some form of…ghost? Janet felt stupid and ashamed to even think of something like that. She was not a superstitious person by nature, so her mind was refusing to let her fully believe that what she had seen could be anything supernatural. The problem was that she couldn’t think of any other explanations that even came close to fitting as nauseatingly snugly as the theories of madness or the occult seemed to. Janet didn’t want either option to be the one that was actually happening, but she couldn’t remove the thought from her mind that it was becoming increasingly suggestive that it was either one or the other.
Janet sighed in tired resignation, completely unsure of what to do.
Scratch scratch scratch.
Janet jumped off of the bed with a start, her eyes instantly wide and her body rigid and tense.
Not here, she thought, wildly. Not in my home!
The door to her bedroom was pushed open gently by her cat, Heathcliff. Janet sagged with relief and sat back down on the bed.
It was just the cat, she thought.
Just the cat.
‘I suppose I’d better feed you,’ she said to Heathcliff, who looked up at her with his big, expectant eyes. ‘Come on then.’ Doing something normal, like feeding the cat, helped a little to calm Janet down. Heathcliff wound around her legs as she quickly prepared his dinner, giving him a quick stroke as she lowered his bowl on to the kitchen floor. She watched him eat for a few seconds and found herself envying his carefree lifestyle.
Oh to have no worries like you, she thought, as she looked at her cat happily munching away.
As she looked at Heathcliff demolish his dinner, Janet realised that she was still in her work clothes. They were now creased and caked in dried sweat. Janet suddenly felt grimy and she wrinkled her nose in displeasure at the smell of stale sweat mingled with her perfume that now seemed to fill the room.
I need a bath, she thought.
Janet made her way back into the hall, bound for the bathroom, but as she was about to pass the front door she noticed something lying on the mat. Thinking it a piece of post from earlier in the day, she absentmindedly picked it up. It was a piece of paper. Janet frowned as she turned it over. There was no address, so whoever had delivered this had done so by hand. As soon as Janet saw what was written on the paper she froze, her hand shooting up to cover her mouth. It read:
I can help.
Janet stood rooted to the spot, holding the piece of paper in her now quivering hand. Below the three words was written a mobile phone number. Janet read and re-read the short note, trying to think what it could possibly mean. It had to be about what’s been happening to me, thought Janet, shakily, but who sent it? After no one seeming to notice the tapping then the thump on the train window, then the hideous face in the train and bus window, and also the figure amongst the trees, Janet wondered who else could know what was happening to her. As always, her mind fought for supremacy in terms of which outlandish explanation was going to get a foothold and squat in her brain like a bad smell. Did someone genuinely know what was happening to her, or was this all part of the same elaborate and cruel joke that some misfit was having at her expense? Janet felt both relieved that someone else might be able to share some knowledge with her on this horrible situation and fearful that whoever sent this note might be the very same person who could be trying to, and succeeding in, scaring her out of her wits.
Janet looked at the phone number.
Do I call, she wondered.
Janet pondered for several minutes on whether to ring the number. Her mind raced with every conceivable possibility and eventuality. In the end, her desire to not suffer this alone won out and she reached for her house phone.
Janet was just about to start keying in the numbers when an odd feeling of caution came over her. Did she really want to give whoever had sent this note her phone number by calling from her house? Even though the note had been delivered by hand the thought of calling from either her landline or mobile filled Janet with a nasty, creeping dread that made her mind up for her. She replaced the receiver on the handset and decided to use the phone box at the end of her road. She had a weird moment of clarity as she wondered to herself when the last time was that she had used a phone box, but her mind was set. Even if this person, whoever it was, did know where she lived, she didn’t want to make it any easier for them to frighten her by giving them either of her phone numbers. Janet picked up her coat from the stairs and was about to leave the house when another thought came to her mind. She walked quickly into the kitchen and slipped a steak knife into her pocket. She had no idea if she’d have the courage to use something like that on a person, but she had been scared so badly over the past few weeks that she decided she wasn’t going to take any chances. Janet left her house and walked out on to the darkened street, hoping that the old phone box was still working.
Janet’s determination waned slightly as she stepped out into the evening darkness. Shadows blanketed the street, and Janet’s eyes darted nervously from one inky black corner to another, hoping that she wasn’t walking right into a trap. She gripped the handle of the steak knife in her pocket for some sense of reassurance and felt a little guilty for doing so. She had seen and read enough news stories to know that knife crime was a bad enough problem without her contributing to it, but the fear that now seemed to pulsate from her very bone marrow convinced her that to not protect herself was not an option. She took a deep breath and hoped that she wouldn’t have to even think about using the knife on anyone.
Seeing the light of the phone box at the end of the road, Janet quickened her pace. Her eyes still shot from shadow to shadow as she walked; her body still tense. The street was quiet, but Janet could see diffused light emanating from a number of living room windows. That made her feel a little better, knowing that if anything bad did happen all she had to do was scream and her neighbours would come and help.
After what seemed like far too long for such a short stretch of road, Janet reached the phone box. She pulled the door open and stepped inside, bathing herself in the harsh fluorescent light. It had been so long since Janet had last used a phone box that she had to read the instructions to know how much change to push through the slot. Fortunately, the varying pieces of graffiti that declared whose gang territory she was standing in or which number to call for the best weed didn’t completely obscure the phone box’s instructions, and Janet fished the correct amount of change out of her purse. Her mind racing, Janet had the oddness of clarity to marvel momentarily at the happenstance of her purse being in her coat pocket when she left the house to phone the mystery number. The pockets in her coat were deep, and therefore her purse had fortunately not fallen out during her mad dash from the bus stop to her house earlier that day.
Janet slid the last coin into the slot and breathed deeply.
This is it, she thought.
Janet dialled the number.
She placed a steadying hand on the small shelf in the phone box as the number rang.
‘Hello, Janet.’ The voice came from the other end of the line and took Janet completely by surprise. Her skin prickled with instant fear and she instinctively slammed the receiver down, ending the call. Janet turned around to face the door, ready to race home, when the phone began to ring.
Janet turned back around and looked at the ringing phone.
What do I do, she thought.
They said my name!
They know me!
Still the phone kept ringing. Almost every impulse in Janet’s body was telling her to run; to sprint back home, lock the door and hide herself away. Her hand was on the door handle, gripped tight, but she didn’t run. She didn’t open the door and flee.
No, she thought.
No. Too much has happened and I want…no I need answers. Janet took another long and steadying breath and slowly she picked up the receiver.
‘Hello, Janet,’ said the voice, again.
‘H…h…hello?’ stammered Janet. ‘Who are you?’ Janet scanned the darkened street as she spoke, straining to see anything amiss.
‘Someone who knows what you’re going through,’ said the voice in a soothing and calm tone. Whoever was on the other end of the line, they didn’t seem at all concerned about what was happening to Janet.
‘How do you know what’s happening to me?’ asked Janet, her knuckles turning white as she gripped the phone receiver harder and harder.
‘Because I’ve seen it happen before,’ said the voice. ‘I can help make it stop.’
‘You…you can?’ A small ray of hope appeared in Janet’s mind, but it was not without an accompanying feeling of caution and fear.
‘How do I know that I can trust you?’ asked Janet, in what she hoped were firmer and bolder tones than she felt.
‘At this moment, you don’t, but if you want to learn more about what’s been going on then I advise you to listen to me.’ Janet felt torn. She both did and didn’t want to hear what this person had to say for fear of it either being some sick joke, or worse, for fear of it all being true. Janet’s desperation to make sense of what she was going through was strong enough to spur her on.
‘So what is happening to me?’
‘I don’t think this is something that we should discuss over the phone. Especially not a public telephone.’
‘How…how did you know I was…?’
‘Using the phone box at the end of your street? What I do necessitates a watchful eye, and I foresaw the possibility that you may not have wanted to contact me from your own numbers.’
‘What you do? What do you do?’
‘What I have to tell you can’t be done like this. We have to meet.’
‘Do you think I’m completely stupid?’ asked Janet, a small but noticeable fire entering her voice. ‘I don’t know you from Adam! You could be anyone!’
‘True,’ replied the voice, in the same irritatingly smooth tone. ‘I could indeed be anyone. However, who I am is the only person who is going to be able to offer you an actual explanation as to the, shall we say, strange goings-on that you have been experiencing of late. Your caution is well-founded, and I commend you for it, but rest assured you are quite safe from me.’
‘Why won’t you just tell me what’s happening now?’ Janet felt like she was whining, but every single ounce of common sense in her body was screaming at her not to agree to meet this stranger, whoever he was.
‘Because I have information to back up what I can and will tell you. If I simply tell you over the phone then you have only my word to go on, and as you so rightly put it, I could be anyone. However, if you consent to meet with me, at a location of your choosing of course, I can bring the literature I have amassed to prove that what I tell you is the truth.’
‘I don’t know,’ said Janet. Her resolve was starting to slip, but a large part of her still felt like it was a very bad idea to further entertain this weirdo.
‘Look, there is nothing more that I can do during this conversation to convince you of anything. However, I assure you that if I had wanted to I could have gotten to you at the train station, on the bus, and even in your home.’
‘You…you were following me?’ Janet suddenly felt violated, intruded upon. ‘How dare you!’
The voice at the other end of the phone sighed.
‘I only followed you when it became clear that it had started up again and that you were the newest target.’
‘I’ve said too much already. Please, if you want to learn what’s happening to you then you must meet with me. Anywhere you choose and I will be there. I will come alone and unarmed. I swear to you that I am not trying to trick you, but no one else knows what is happening to you, and no one will believe you if you tell them.’
That was true, thought Janet. She recounted all of the bizarre and frightening things that had happened to her and she pictured herself trying to tell people. She cringed at the thought of the looks of pity and amusement that she would receive. As much as she really didn’t want to get involved with strangers who could be up to anything, this man was the only person so far who had acknowledged that anything was happening to Janet. She fingered the handle of the steak knife in her pocket and thought that if he was willing to meet her on her terms then hopefully she could remain safe.
Janet sighed again.
I can’t believe I’m about to do this, she thought.
‘That is up to you. I understand that this is frightening, so I want you to be as comfortable as possible. Name the time and place and I will be there with the answers you seek.’
‘How well do you know the city?’ asked Janet.
‘Well enough,’ replied the stranger.
‘Do you know Blossom’s?’
‘The coffee shop?’
‘I do. That’s the one next door to the Police Station, isn’t it?’
Janet paused. She had deliberately chosen somewhere close to something reassuring that could and would help her if she needed it. The stranger knew what she was up to. Janet gripped both the steak knife and the phone receiver and hoped that she hadn’t shot herself in the foot.
‘Yes, that’s the one.’
‘Clever,’ replied the stranger. ‘Whatever it takes to make you feel at ease. When will you be there?’
‘Tomorrow,’ said Janet. ‘Tomorrow at noon.’
‘Until then,’ said the stranger.
‘Wait. How will I recognise you?’
‘I’ll recognise you.’
‘And what do I call you?’
‘My name is Robert. I shall see you tomorrow at noon, Janet.’
Robert ended the call, leaving Janet with her thoughts.
* * *
Janet wrestled with the swirling mass of information and questions that had arisen out of her conversation with the man called Robert. Safely back in her house, she found herself going round and round in mental circles as she debated with herself as to whether she was actually going to meet with him. Replacing the steak knife in her kitchen, Janet thought briefly of taking it with her, but she quickly dismissed that idea as asking for trouble. She’d felt guilty enough carrying what was essentially a deadly weapon to the end of her road, so the thought of taking one all the way into the city centre was branded extremely foolish by her more rational side. Besides, thought Janet, if I do go, we’ll be next door to the Police Station, so help would only be one panicked cry away.
She also hoped, more so perhaps, that she wouldn’t need to call on anyone for help. The part of her that was making the case for meeting with this Robert was hoping that he was on the level, and that meeting with him would help her to at least understand the situation she felt trapped inside. After going back and forth inside her mind for what felt like all night, Janet finally decided to meet with Robert and get some answers.
Janet had her bath and tried to get some sleep. Because of the stress she felt, brought on by the terror of the last couple of weeks, she had taken some of her annual leave from work, so she allowed herself the opportunity to sleep in a little. However, due to her sleeping most of the afternoon away, and her mind being so occupied, what little sleep she did get was restless and broken. Janet didn’t feel particularly rested when it was time for her to get ready to head into the city.
The issue of how she was going to get into the city had been preying on Janet’s mind since the moment she made the decision to meet with Robert. She thought about getting a taxi, but that was cost prohibitive. She toyed with the idea of calling a friend or family member for a lift, but that was out of the ordinary for her, and she didn’t want to have to explain herself to anyone she knew for fear of sounding ridiculous. As much as Janet didn’t want to, the train or the bus were the only two realistic options for her. Janet’s insides squirmed unpleasantly as she decided that the train was going to have to do.
Fear seemed to thrum through her body as Janet walked slowly on to the train platform later that morning. She deliberately waited to take a later train so as to avoid the morning commuter rush. If something was going to happen again she didn’t want it to happen on a packed train. A hopeful thought flitted across Janet’s mind that perhaps this, whatever it was, only did what it did at a certain time of day, or on a certain train. Janet felt silly for trying to rationalise something that she had no clear understanding of, and the incident on the bus had shown her that whatever was tormenting her was not limited to the 7:29am train.
If I can just get through the train journey, Janet thought to herself, I can hopefully find out what’s been going on.
But then what? A nasty little thought bloomed inside her mind, like a weed poking out of a cracked paving slab. What are you going to do with whatever answers you come away from today with? Are you going to fight this thing, whatever it is? Is this Robert going to help you slay the dragon? Janet tried to ignore this nagging thought as she saw her train emerge from the distance. Her body stiffened as she attempted to prepare herself for the journey ahead.
At this time of day the train was practically empty. Janet found a seat, away from a window, and tried to steel herself for any strange occurrences. There was no chance of her falling asleep on this journey, she was too alert. Janet’s eyes were quick, her brow knitted. She showed her ticket to the conductor, looking up hesitantly in case his face somehow morphed into the hideous death-mask that had shown itself to her on two previous occasions. The conductor was just a man, and Janet felt a little silly as he walked away. She slid her train ticket back inside her purse and settled back down in her seat…
The sound was like claws of ice down Janet’s spine. Her whole body became rigid with fear as she scanned the train carriage.
In the window was the face: the same hideously ugly, snarling face that had pierced Janet’s mind with its malicious, cold fury twice before.
It was looking right at her.
Janet could feel her body tense even further, so much so that it began to hurt. She suddenly felt hot and prickly as fear sweat erupted all over her body, making her feel uncomfortable in her seat. Janet could feel a scream in the pit of her stomach. It wanted out; it wanted release. Janet began to shiver as the initial hot feeling turned to nasty, seeping, cold dread. She fought the urge to break the monotonous silence of the train journey with an ear-splitting scream. It was hard, so very hard.
Janet looked at the face.
It looked right back at her.
And it smiled.
Janet shut her eyes tight. She concentrated on her breathing and tried to restrain her panic. Her hands gripped the arm rests of her seat, her knuckles like hard little stones.
Go away, she thought.
Tentatively, Janet opened her eyes.
The face was gone.
Janet relaxed a little as she felt a moment’s victory wash over her. It didn’t dispel the fear, but she was nevertheless proud of herself for not breaking down. As the train wound its way further towards the city centre, Janet breathed hard and long, trying to steady her nerves. The fear sweat had made her feel clammy and unpleasant, so she fanned herself a little with a nearby newspaper.
Good girl, she thought to herself.
The rest of the train journey passed without incident. Janet was still tense and scared, but the fact that she had kept herself together while under the maniacal glare of that horrible face had made her feel the tiniest bit better, if only for a moment. As the train entered the city centre station, Janet busied herself with exiting on to the platform. She had fifteen minutes to get to Blossom’s, which was more than manageable, so she started on her way.
The train sat motionless on the platform, some of its surfaces having fallen foul of various forms of graffiti. On the window in which Janet had seen the awful face, there was a new word scratched into the pane’s surface. It simply said:
* * *
The man known as Robert was sitting in the café when Janet arrived at Blossom’s. He didn’t stand out, but as soon as Janet walked through the door he rose from his seat and approached her.
‘Thank you for coming,’ he said, extending a hand in welcome.
Janet shook his hand weakly, not saying anything.
‘Come. Sit.’ Robert led the way to the table he had been sitting at. On the table was a leather portfolio. Robert motioned for Janet to take a seat. Once Janet was settled, the young waitress walked over, her pen hovering over her small notepad.
‘Can I get you anything?’ she asked, brightly.
‘Coffee, please,’ said Janet, numbly.
‘Right away.’ The waitress jotted down the order and made her way back to the counter.
‘So,’ said Robert, looking at Janet carefully. ‘What would you like to know?’
‘Everything,’ said Janet, feeling that it was a bit of a silly question. ‘What’s happening to me?’
Robert took a sip of his drink before he answered.
‘The same thing that has happened to countless others.’ His tone was even and matter-of-fact. They might as well have been discussing the weather.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Janet.
‘You are not the first,’ said Robert. ‘I hope, however, that you may be the last.’
‘The first what?’
Janet swallowed hard. The word victim hung in the air like a lead weight as the waitress brought over Janet’s coffee. Both she and Robert smiled their thanks at her and returned to their conversation, once the waitress was out of earshot.
‘So this is all real?’ asked Janet, still hoping that this might all be some nasty joke. ‘I’m not going mad?’
‘If only it were that simple,’ said Robert, a faraway tone entering his voice. ‘But I am afraid you have been chosen.’
‘But chosen by whom? That’s what I don’t get. Who’s doing this?’
‘Not a who. A what.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘To put it plainly, what we are dealing with here is not human. As a matter of fact, it is possible that this…thing is as far from human as you can get.’
‘But…but it can’t be an animal,’ said Janet, feeling that she was losing the thread of the conversation before it had really got going. ‘The face I saw…it…it…’
Janet stopped talking as the memory of the face slammed into the front of her mind with blood-curdling clarity. She closed her eyes again and tried to fight the panic that she could feel twisting its way through her body. She heard a piece of paper being slid across the surface of the table.
‘Does it look like this?’ asked Robert.
Janet opened her eyes and looked down.
Staring back up at her from the mundane piece of A5 lined paper was a pencil sketch of the very face that had, less than an hour ago, appeared to her for the third time. She shut her eyes again in response and breathed slow and deep for a moment or two.
‘Well? Is it?’
Janet nodded without opening her eyes.
‘I thought so.’ Janet heard the paper being retrieved and she opened her eyes again. She saw Robert looking at her and she felt a little ashamed for closing her eyes at a picture.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, timidly.
‘There’s no need to apologise,’ said Robert, soothingly. ‘I’m sorry for having to remind you of its grotesque appearance, but I had to be sure. I hope you understand.’
Janet nodded again.
‘Good. Well, what I can now tell you is that you are indeed being terrorised by the same entity that I have been involved with these past few years.’
‘Involved with?’ Janet frowned in confusion.
‘I have been studying it,’ said Robert, motioning to his portfolio. ‘I’m afraid I can’t tell you where it came from, or indeed how it came to be, but if I was to hazard a guess I would say that somehow evil itself has found a way to personify in physical form.’
‘Evil?’ said Janet, unable to hide the note of incredulity that rang from her voice. This was starting to sound like something from a horror film, but the sketch was spot on. The piercing eyes, the snarling mouth, everything. The only way that Robert could possibly know what this thing looked like was if he had seen it himself. Janet still found the concept that evil had taken a solid form a little far fetched, but Robert looked at her almost as if he was reading her mind.
‘I know, it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?’
‘Believe me, that’s what I thought at first. Then I started to hope it was ridiculous. Before long, though, I came to realise that whatever it is, it’s real.’
‘What does it want with me?’ asked Janet, dreading the answer.
‘It wants to kill you.’
Janet stiffened noticeably in her chair, her eyes instantly wide.
‘But that is why I am here,’ said Robert, reassuringly. ‘That is why I contacted you.’
‘Can you…can you help me?’ asked Janet, a definite quaver in his voice.
‘Yes, I can help.’ There was something in Robert’s sure and confident tone that calmed Janet a little. The fact that something was out there that wanted to kill her was still rattling horribly around inside her head, but Robert seemed so calm and collected. Janet hoped that he knew what he was doing.
‘You said that this isn’t the first time that this has happened,’ said Janet, hoping that learning more about this creature would give her more insight into how to beat it.
‘That is correct.’
‘And does it always want to kill?’
‘From what I have seen, yes.’
‘And it’s succeeded?’
‘Then how come I haven’t seen or heard anything about this on the news? People being killed would be covered by the media, surely.’
‘But you have heard about it,’ said Robert, taking another sip of his drink.
‘I have? How? When?’
Robert reached for his portfolio and opened it. Inside were several newspaper clippings, all of them about the death of people who had been hit by trains. Robert turned the portfolio around so that Janet could read.
‘Each death that I know about has been officially attributed to a train related accident.’
Janet grimaced as she looked at the articles.
‘The media either say that a person was hit by a train, or that they jumped in front of a train, but that is because that’s how it’s made to look.’
Janet continued to read, her brow furrowing.
‘So wait,’ she said after a few minutes. ‘You’re telling me that every person who’s reported to have been hit by a train was really the victim of this…this…thing?’
‘No, of course not,’ said Robert, as he took back his portfolio. ‘People do genuinely get hit by and jump in front of trains, sadly, but that is why these victims are never looked into more deeply. It’s simply ruled as an accident or suicide and filed away forever.’
‘So what does it do? Throw people under the trains?’ Janet was starting to feel ridiculous, and the suspicion that Robert was behind a possible elaborate hoax was gaining new ground in her mind.
‘Hardly. From my experience, the victims tend to throw themselves under the trains as a means of escape.’
‘I’m afraid so.’
‘Escape from what?’
‘Escape from it. I don’t know what its name is, or even if it does have a name, but fear appears to be its main tactic.’
‘So it…scares people to death?’ Janet felt stupid for putting something so potentially horrific in such simple terms, but Robert nodded.
Janet didn’t know what to say. She sat for a moment or two trying to make some rational sense out of what she was being told. Nothing worked. Whichever way she looked at it, the situation was bizarre and frightening. The information that Robert provided made it sound plausible, but the concept of evil personifying itself was too far fetched for Janet to fully accept. What she could not avoid accepting was what she had seen. Up until meeting with Robert, Janet might have been able to convince herself that everything that had happened to her was all part of some hallucination or mental breakdown, but seeing the sketch of that face had forced her to confront the horrible possibility that it was all true. The more Janet thought about it, the more confused and frightened she became. Robert was looking at her, waiting.
‘You…you said that you could help,’ said Janet.
‘And I can,’ said Robert, nodding.
‘Are you willing to do what it takes to end this?’ Robert’s face looked grim and set.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Are you willing to meet me again?’
‘Again? Why? What for?’
‘I said I could I help you, and I can. However, I cannot do anything right this second.’
‘We must meet it on its terms.’
Robert drained the last of his drink and continued to look into Janet’s eyes.
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Can you meet me tonight? At the railway station?’
‘What is this?’ asked Janet, suddenly getting angry. ‘First you ask me to meet you here, which I do, against all common sense, and now you want to meet again?’
‘I asked you here today to see if my suspicions were true and that you really had been chosen. You recognised its face, which means you have. It only shows its face to its victims, but now I must ask you to meet me again so that we can put a stop to this. Only then will you be rid of it forever.’
Janet looked away, confused, frightened and angry. Why her, she thought. Why anyone? Wasn’t the world full of enough bad things without the very spirit of evil picking people off at random? Janet could feel the sting of tears behind her eyes; she wanted to cry. She wouldn’t allow herself to, not in this public setting, not in front of Robert.
‘This is so strange,’ she said, partly to herself.
‘I know it is. It took me so long to come to terms with it myself.’
‘Hang on a minute,’ said Janet, her head turning quickly back around to face Robert. ‘If you’ve known about this thing for long enough to study it then why hasn’t it killed you?’
‘I’m afraid that’s one question I cannot answer,’ said Robert, sighing. ‘Just as I don’t know where it came from or what it may call itself, I cannot say why it has not claimed me like it has all the others.’
‘So why haven’t you tried to stop it from killing other people?’
‘I have. Believe me, I have. However, you can imagine how little people want to hear from you when your tale is as strange as mine.’
Janet didn’t have a retort for this. She pictured Robert trying to do with others what he was now doing with her and imagining the reactions he must have gotten. Now all of those people were dead, and if something wasn’t done, she’d be next.
Janet took a deep breath.
Janet’s face instantly betrayed her inner thoughts. Robert nodded in silent agreement.
‘I know it’s a tad cliché, but it is necessary. If we are to end this, we must go back to where it began with you.’
‘But the first thing I remember happening was on the 7:29am train. If you say we have to go back to the beginning then why are you asking me to meet you at midnight?’
‘Would you rather try and explain to the morning commuters that you are battling with the very personification of evil?’
Janet went to speak, but closed her mouth again and allowed Robert to continue.
‘As I said, it sounds cliché, but midnight is truly our best time. I know this is not easy, but if it makes you feel any better you can come armed with anything you feel is necessary.’
‘Will that work?’ asked Janet, thinking back to the steak knife that she had taken out with her the previous night.’
‘Against it? No. But, if arming yourself against me will ease your mind at all then by all means do.’
Janet sighed heavily. Weighing up her options, she didn’t feel as if she had much choice.
‘So, you want me to meet you at my local station, or do you mean the main city centre one?’
‘Your local station. It was there that this whole thing started. It is there that it must end.’
‘What happens if I don’t show up?’
‘Then it will continue to hunt you until you lose your mind. I take no pleasure in telling you this, Janet, but this really is the only option.’
I really can’t believe I’m doing this, thought Janet.
‘Okay, I’ll be there. But, if this is some sort of joke then I swear to God…’
‘Trust me, Janet. This is no joke.’
* * *
Robert left Janet with her thoughts after their midnight meeting had been arranged. Janet ordered another coffee, mainly to keep the waitress off her back. She needed some time to sit and process everything that had just happened, along with what had been happening to her over the past few weeks. Janet really didn’t want to meet Robert, or anyone, at a small unmanned train station at midnight, but she also really didn’t want someone or something preying on her until she either lost her mind or killed herself, or both. As Janet drained the last drops of her second coffee, she settled on the grim fact that if she was going to do anything decisive about what was happening to her, then she was going to have to see what this Robert could potentially do to help.
I hope he can help, she thought to herself as she left Blossom’s. I really do.
Janet didn’t want to have to think about what she was going to do if Robert couldn’t help, as for now he seemed to be her only chance.
* * *
Janet spent the rest of the day in the city centre. She was still on annual leave from work, and she didn’t want to travel on public transport anymore than she needed to. Whenever she thought about this she came back to hoping that this clandestine meeting at her local train station would put a stop to this whole thing once for and all.
Janet browsed and window-shopped her way around the city all afternoon, trying in vain to take her mind off of the strange goings-on that had befallen her. Nothing provided enough of a distraction, and more than once she walked into someone while lost in thought. When evening arrived, Janet went to one of the many restaurants that lined the city streets. Normally, a meal out in the city was a treat that Janet looked forward to, but as she sat there alone, eating her food, she had the strangest sensation. She felt like a prisoner in one of those old black and white films, eating their last meal before being led off to the electric chair. Janet would have found the comparison funny, had she not the persistent leaden ball of cold dread in the pit of her stomach that made her feel like every convict she had seen in every prison film she’d encountered.
Janet looked at her watch as she pushed her empty plate away; it was still only 8:25pm. After paying for her meal, Janet went and sat at the bar to wile away some more time. She ordered a glass of wine and sat staring morosely into its deep plum depths.
‘Cheer up, love; might never happen.’ A man in a suit was sat next to her at the bar, surveying her with a lopsided grin. Janet forced a small laugh in response but continued to stare into her wine glass. The man in the suit, realising that was all he was going to get from Janet, moved away from the bar to bother someone else.
If you only knew, she thought to herself. If you only knew.
Lost in her thoughts, Janet sat at the bar and waited for the time to tick by. She had decided that she was going to hail a taxi to take her to the train station at 11:00pm. It would take roughly half an hour to get to the station, and that would allow Janet to hopefully arrive before Robert. She still didn’t fully trust him, so she didn’t want to give him the opportunity of getting to the station before her and setting some kind of trap. Janet’s insides squirmed at the thought of this, a feeling she was getting used to now, and she continued to alternate her faraway gaze from the clock hanging on the wall of the bar to her wine glass.
Soon, she thought. Soon it could all be over.
After what felt like an eternity, the bar started to wind down for the night, and Janet saw that it was nearly 11:00pm. She finished off the last of her wine, left the restaurant, and hailed a taxi. She knew the ride wasn’t going to be cheap, but she didn’t care. She assured the taxi driver that she did indeed want to go to the train station at this time of night; she lied and said that she lived right next to it and it would be easier for him to find the station as opposed to her house. Not wanting to pass up a fare, the driver shrugged and took Janet off towards her meeting.
You’d better be there, Janet thought as the taxi wove its way through the late night traffic.
* * *
‘You sure you want dropping here?’ asked the taxi driver one last time, as he pulled into the small and deserted car park of the train station.
‘I’m sure, thank you.’ Janet paid the fare and stepped out of the taxi, sweeping the immediate area with nervous eyes.
‘Okay, but be careful,’ said the taxi driver, as he gave Janet her change. ‘You get home nice and safe, you hear?’
‘I will. Thanks.’ Janet smiled weakly in gratitude as the taxi pulled away. As soon as his rear lights were out of sight Janet suddenly felt very alone. She looked at her watch and saw that it was 11:35pm. She looked up and saw, with a start, that there was someone standing under a nearby lamppost.
It was Robert.
‘Hello, Janet,’ he said, calmly. ‘Thank you for coming.’
Janet swallowed nervously. She wasn’t sure if she was glad to see Robert or not.
‘I…I thought you wanted to meet me at midnight,’ was all she could think to say. She felt stupid for saying it, but his sudden appearance had thrown her more off guard than she already was.
‘I do, but I had a feeling that you would be early, so I made arrangements to be so myself as well.’
‘Well, what do we do now?’ Janet felt as if it was someone else speaking for her. The words she spoke felt clumsy and awkward in her mouth.
‘Let us go up on to the platform and wait.’ Robert motioned to the walkway that led up to the platform that, ordinarily, Janet would use to get to work.
Janet stiffened as Robert said this. She knew that was why they were here, but now that it was happening she wanted to be anywhere but at this empty train station so late at night with a man she barely knew. Robert seemed to sense her apprehension.
‘Please. It is the only way.’ Robert extended his hand, signalling for Janet to walk with him. She hesitated for a moment, wondering whether to go with him or to turn around and run. This thought was quickly chased up by one of her having to live with the fear of being terrorised by whatever it was that had singled her out for the rest of her life. Wanting to end this nightmare, Janet stepped forward and walked with Robert on to the platform.
The wind rustled louder on the platform than down in the car park, and Janet felt a shiver run through her body. She looked at Robert, who now seemed nervous himself. He looked about him, as if he was checking for something. His calm and collected demeanour seemed to have been replaced by nerves. Janet didn’t like it. If Robert was nervous, that made her more nervous.
‘Are you alright?’ she asked, tentatively. Up until this point, Robert had had all the answers, and that had reassured Janet somewhat. But now, he seemed on edge.
‘I will be, soon,’ he said.
‘What happens now, then? What do we need to do?’
‘For now, we wait.’
‘But how will we know when it’s time?’
A few moments of strained silence followed. Robert continued to look up and down the platform, and Janet found herself following his gaze with trepidation. She both did and didn’t want to see something. She wanted, more than anything, for this whole ordeal to be over, but at the same time she didn’t want to have to deal with the thing that had been stalking her. The idea frightened her, and she was completely unsure as to what she was supposed to do if and when it appeared to them. Robert hadn’t told her anything about how they were going to beat this…thing, and that made her more uneasy.
Janet stopped talking. Something had changed. She wasn’t aware of it at first, but something was definitely different. Then it hit her: the silence. The wind seemed to have died down to nothing, but that was not all. All of the background noise: the traffic, the birds, everything, had gone away. It was as if the world had suddenly been put on Mute. Once Janet had noticed it the silence pressed in on her like a thick velvet fog. It was almost deafening.
‘It’s happening,’ said Robert, his manner now much more excitable.
Janet looked about her, the panic starting to twist its way around her body. She couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but the complete lack of sound was more frightening than any piercing scream or blood-curdling cry could ever be. Janet spun on the spot, trying to see what it was that made Robert say what he had just said.
Then she turned to face Robert.
And that’s when she felt the wind.
It appeared out of nowhere. It blew cold and fierce into her face, whipping her hair back and spreading her coat-tails out behind her. She squinted and tried to focus on Robert, who had not moved.
He was smiling.
‘What’s going on?’ she screamed. Her voice broke through the night like a bullet. The wind, though strong, seemed to make no noise. The ferocity of it began to sting her eyes, and they started to water. She wiped them clear with the back of her hand, and when she blinked them open again Robert was standing much closer to her.
‘It’s here,’ said Robert, his voice seeming to penetrate Janet’s very thoughts. She took a step back from him, but he advanced on her again.
‘Stay away from me!’ shouted Janet, fear now coursing through her body.
‘I’m afraid I can’t do that,’ said Robert, with chilling nonchalance. ‘Once it chooses its prey there is no stopping it.’
‘You…’ began Janet, her eyes widening with terror.
‘I offer you her in my stead!’ shouted Robert, his gaze leaving Janet’s and fixating on the sky. ‘As it has been before, it is now. Take her and spare me!’
‘Robert, what…’ Janet felt the wind increase in strength. Her clothes flattened against her skin, her shoes scraped along the concrete platform. Her mind shrieked in abject terror, her limbs aching from the force of the wind.
‘I am sorry, Janet,’ said Robert, who stood firm in the midst of the ripping wind. ‘It has to be this way.’ Robert placed his hands on Janet’s shoulders and looked her calmly in the eyes.
‘Please!’ she screamed.
Robert gave a shove.
Janet, and the wind, were both gone.
The normal sounds of the night returned. Birds began their night-time chorus once again, and cars could again be heard on the nearby roads. Robert stepped on a small dot of blood that sat on the concrete of the platform and smeared it into obscurity.
He then shrank into the shadows.
Until next time.
- December 2014