For Christopher Booth with love and thanks…
Dragged along the corridor by rough angry hands, I smell the mildewed and ancient paint flecking and peeling from the walls.
Drab and colourless; a dead, dusty grey and off-white.
The floors are a scratched and dirty white, deep rivets in the stone ground and carved by heavy machinery that has been pushed or pulled across this conduit between the cells and the questioning rooms.
This will be the fourth time I have been brought here.
The colour is slightly deader each time I witness this hallway, this monotonous, horrific and tiresome corridor.
The smell thicker and richer, the scent of paint lingering longer in my nostrils; swirling in the cortex of my mind for hours after.
At first, I noticed nothing; no smells no colour’s, no details, I was picked from my slumber in my tiny, darkened room, were I am accompanied by nothing but silence and bleak, empty space, a tepid quality of air, that is neither warm nor cold, but staid and still.
I am lay sleeping weakly in the pitch darkness before I am woken by heavy, careless hands that lift and pull me from the flattened stone bed and pull me backward through the hallway corridor toward the big grey door to the questioning chamber.
I am never questioned.
The door opens, silent and heavy, I smell a deep wash of colours and warmth before I pulled backwards through to a chair that is then spun round and I am blinded by the white, glare of the lamp.
Every time, before I see the light, I see the walls.
My only colour.
Deep, rich, lively blue.
The blue of the Center of the Ocean. Alive and full of nature and love, life and mystery circling in playful swashes of movement under the surface, and the deeper you go the bluer it is, a white speck of light above heralds the surface and the sunshine, but the blue tempers it and the world is vibrant with its azure charm and welcome.
This room is blue.
It is a blue that hurts my eyes, but warms my heart, the only burst of colour, before I am span, cuffed in and bound to this chair by faceless men who do not answer me or my questions, who leave the room as soon as I am turned and face to face with the light.
My eyes are pried open with delicate wire.
A thin tin that hooks my eyelids up, the light burning into my retinas and I am left here, asking question after question. Every one of them unanswered and hanging. I am screaming by the end of the time I spend in there, before the light is switched off.
How long I have been in here I could not tell you, but I am blind by the time I am grabbed, dragged and flung back into my cell where I howl and wail and scream all night long until the embrace of the Sandman takes me and I sleep, my dark, void of a room for the rest of the evening now a prison of blinding white, scorched angry on the back of my eyes.
Tomorrow is another day.
And I wait in quiet apprehension for the door to open and for me to be grabbed once again and follow the routine of the drab colourless corridor.
The white now a sharper shade, with a fuzzy edge, the floor a grey that sparkles and glints like granite and flint in starlight.
The scent of the paint richer in my mind now, swirling like a hurricane of aroma and a memory of a time I was not ever part of, where they mixed this paint, and I can smell each ingredient, a cocktail of chemicals and additives that clogs and penetrates my senses.
Before the door opens I take a final look, and soak in the details and the fug, then I am pulled backward through the big grey door into my blue haven.
My empire of colour and hue.
My Blue Room.
Hands tightly cuffed and strapped to the chairs charcoal leather.
I stare intently and dreamily to the wall of clear, clean blue.
I meditate on the colour, the only colour in my life and world.
Today the blue is lighter, is muted.
Still my blue, but, less defined, the volume reduced by twenty five percent.
I am still lost within its hypnotic allure. Regardless.
This blue heaven I crave.
It soaks over me, my mind creating illusions of ocean waves crashing down upon me and soaking me.
Stealing me away into the deep, folding brilliance of a tumultuous storm, I feel like a piece of drift wood turned and bobbing effortless and brittle upon the crashing turquoise waves that lumber, roll and crash asunder upon each other, leaving foaming, frothing flotsam and jetsam to dissipate and dissolve.
A liquid circle of life and death.
With me alone and alive, my driftwood self turning and bobbing peaceful and serene upon the surface.
The hands spin me round and the white, brilliant, bastard light stares me down as my wide, anchored open eyes are seared and singed inside my weary, screaming head.
Seconds, minutes, hours.
I no longer no what meaning or power time has.
The only power I crave is the power of the Blue wall, the power of the grey floor and the off white walls.
The silent, solemn darkness of my cell in the morning after I wake up… before this horror and torture begins anew.
No demands, no voices, never.
A silent inquisition of the commanding, accusatory light – and me.
My screams and my tears, my anger and my fury the only noise in the room.
The wails falling in deafened blue walls.
I am alone with the light once again.
Seconds. Minutes. Hours.
I no longer know what time is.
I no longer care about time.
Light and darkness, shades of lifeless nothingness…
The blue wall and the dark silence.
These are all I have. These are my mistresses.
These fragile things and the blinding white light that questions me and questions me and questions me, without ever saying a damn word.
I am guided me blind and sobbing backwards through the channel between the blue room and the black room – and I am thrown into the stone cell, onto my stone shelf and I am left alone with my solitary brightness.
The whole world on fire in white flame, the darkness burned away with a sheen and glow of white that will not leave my eyes.
Tomorrow is another day.
Finally the screams fall quiet and tamed, the whiteness drifts away and the blackness creeps back in, and I am soulfully silent and I am calm, awaiting the hands and the hallway and the journey from room to room.
Today the hallways walls seem fuzzier, the white now a mottled, blotchy graphite grey.
The floors are darker and deader, I struggle to see the rivets and canyons of scratched imperfection in the floor.
But I smell them.
The dirt between the scratches sings to me, its scent rich in bacteria and tiny flecks of skin and dust.
The paint peels more around me, and I can smell the adhesive in the chemical cocktail that allows it to stick and dry a shiny gloss.
As it peels from the sandstone wall, I smell the gloss spray new particles into the air with each wilt and curl of dying paint.
The grey door today seems black, shadow and contrast is broken, and I am struggling to make out the shapes of things.
The blue room beckons me in, but the colour now is a military navy blue, darker and more angry.
Less the sea and ocean of before, now a blanket of night, starless and devoid of mystery or life, its less inviting, it’s less mine. I am angry that this isolation of colour I clutch to for salvation is now sullied by darkness.
Have they painted over it?
Have the smeared it?
Do they know how much I need and long for this in my dreams and the gaps between torture and sleep?
The blue room is now cracked, like a fine china plate that you use only at special occasions, chipped and spoiled by a petulant child.
Hands bound, wrists tied, eyes wired, I am turned gently and slowly, the blur of blue, navy and dark, a stale night sky blanketed above – bleeding into the brilliant and furious white light, the millisecond between the wall and the light merging, I see my blue.
My heaven; a fine slither of blue ocean that suddenly is torn and wretched from my grasp and the light is forced white-hot and lustily into my eyes.
Screaming for a living once again.
And yet again I spill my guts and I give up my secrets and my lies and my truths and my desires and my heart breaks once more that I still do not know what I am here for.
The light follows me all the way to the cell as the hands of my captors carry me, I am slumped and defeated.
Silent today, no tears and no screams.
Everywhere I turn my head I paint white upon the contours of the walls I know are to my left and right, I paint perfect bright, burning white onto the rivets and scratches on the floor I know to be below my feet, every imperfection and scored violent chip and chink in the stone now painted with a white and flawless wash.
By my cell I stop the guards by planting my feet by the door, and stand myself up. They let go of my arms as I turn, and walk through the open door, and walk tiptoe toward my bunk shelf, step by step, through the open portal I instinctively know to be there, but which I cannot see.
All there is in my mind is a white hole upon a white vista of nothing, below a white marble looking sheet at the end of which is a white edgeless bed.
And I sit, staring at the perfect white shadows of the perfect white guards in my perfect white corridor, and I say…
“Please close my door. And leave me to my hell.”
That night I do not sleep.
And the blinding white does not leave me.
And I wait for the guards stood, ready for them when the door opens.
My eyes are red raw, I can sense it, tears of pink liquid are streaming from them – or so I picture and imagine.
The guards gasp errantly as they open the door.
They do not grab me as I am already walking out the door as soon as it is opened.
The walls are white, but a darker white that makes shapes and textures disappear and merge into a single fluid contour. I walk, gliding the surface, on a floor of shapeless white. Toward a portal that seeps a faint blue aura through a crack in the blue fluid tunnel.
I am stood before what was previously a giant grey door, and it opens toward a room of sky blue now.
The walls a faint, almost imperceptible sky blue.
I sit down on the chair that I am usually thrown onto.
And I wait for the light to be shone in my eyes, the chair turning, I catching again the thinnest slither of my blue as light meets wall and my eyes are forced into the void once more.
No pain, no hurt, no violent torture.
Just a calming wash of warmth.
As the door is shut, something I hear today for the first time, clearly, and I can hear four sets of footsteps walk away as well – where usually I would be aware of only the two men guiding and grabbing me, there is two more as well.
I smell the difference in air pressure between the corridor outside the blue room, and the room itself.
I can smell the sweat of the two guards, both shocked to find me stood and waiting, calm and no longer needing their assistance.
A sweaty, heady mix of fear and revulsion, of dirt and of machine oil.
The room itself smells of summer, a sun caked warmth that flushes and dances on your skin, the paint in here is fresher, by a fair few years than the paint on the sandstone walls outside the door.
The light is hot today, my skin prickles and I feel the hairs tingle and dance awake and alive on my goose-pimpled skin.
Finally, I can smell my own eyes, baking in the glow of this light.
Saltwater cooking on a soft white orb.
Whether my eyes have adjusted to the light, or am I dying, I do not know.
But though there are still no questions, there are no more tears either.
Except the feint, sweet pink lines that pour from my red eyes.
I cannot stop this if I want too.
It is part of me now.
Soon, the blue line of my heavenly escape is torn away, and only the white survives.
And after an hour and twenty five minutes – I know because today, with no tears, no screams and no terror, I count instead to keep my mind occupied and to help me build my plan of attack… I am freed from my bonds and I step up myself, and turn and walk out the room, down the corridor and toward my cell, stood waiting and quiet, before a guard can stop me.
I move like a ballet dancer, having remembered and borne these routine steps a million times, they are muscle memory now and I am not in control, my body drives itself.
The cell door is opened by a push from a guard to my left who has ran down the corridor and chased me.
I turn to him, and a smile, nodding a curt thank you.
I wonder what I look like after all this time, the light scorching in my face and pouring into my pried open eyes?
As I hear him gasp and swallow hard, and smell the flush of perspiration and horror from his pores. Which I hear open and exude the sweat, a feint pop and shove noise.
I smile wider, eyes open and lips apart to show my teeth.
I know them to be yellow and stained, I can smell the decay setting in the back molar, I can smell and taste each cavity and the sheen of tartar that coats them.
I walk through my door, and turn round, and smile again as the guard shuts the door fast and tight.
And I sit cross-legged in the white blinding beauty of my cell, and I finally see the edges and plan of the room in my blindness.
I do not sleep.
For the morning to come.
When it does the world is still white.
No shades, no shapes.
I am blind.
The door opens of its own power and accord, and I stand, and walk out to the corridor.
There is silence and emptiness and I am caught unprepared for the world of smell, the sounds and the physical feedback of the world at large.
It hits me like a concussive force, and I put my hands over my ears, I hold my breath to allow this sensory tidal wave settle down.
My eyes are burned out and useless, and I see nothing but the perfect glare of the light that has been forced upon me for – I do not know how long now.
I am drowning in emotion and sense and taste and scent and sound.
So I concentrate hard, and I push with all I have to block and grasp these senses, and control them, and with a scream that – to me – sounds like a shrill fire alarm, I force my body to crack and absorb these feelings and senses and then squeeze them to diamond in my belly.
I am in control, my chest pounding and heaving up and down, gasping like a drowning man for air, that now has a feint, bitter iron tang – this is fresh air – not before tasted like this, I feel it on the air stream, and follow it down the corridor, barefooted, padding gently toward the blue room.
The door is not there, instead, it is just an iron sheet blocking the access.
But to my right, I feel a tingle of cold, and realize that the end of the corridor has another concealed door I have never noticed.
The wall is pushed in, and a doorway exists, I feel with my fingers round the cool parting in the stone, and when I conclude the door is there, I push, and I realize I am outside…
I walk tentatively and raise my head to the sky.
I picture perfect blue skies and a warm ball of yellow… But in truth, all I see is white.
I imagine green lush grass under my bare feet, flowers blooming of every colour and scent, an intoxicating, beautiful aroma of life… But all I see is white, and all I can smell is decay, and rot and the stench of dead things.
I instinctively turn toward the door to go back, but already it is closing…
I grab an edge, but it is heavy and automated and my fingers will be shorn straight from the hand if I continue this futile pursuit.
A klaxon goes off.
And I can sense the red or amber light above me swirling round, I see nothing but white, but I can sense the thing spinning as I feel the burst of light upon my skin when it turns toward me, the klaxon shrill is deafening and I fall to my knees, back to the now closed door, and the smell of flesh in my nostrils.
Flesh and iron and rust and debris and bullet casings and sulphur and plastic and death.
And then I hear the voice.
“You have done so well.”
“You have excelled way beyond any of the previous test subjects. We really do applaud and wish you well on this next test… We are all so proud of you.”
The sound of a gentle female clicks over the tannoy killing the klaxon bleat, there is a buzz of static and then a click of the microphone a millisecond before silence, then her voice comes in a crackle of air and radio waves.
It’s quiet, not loud enough to hear beyond the doorway.
I spin round and round trying to get my bearings, but, I am blind and sense alone will not help me in this alien environment.
I push hard against the door and ask why I am here? What I am supposed to do?
I try and relax by thinking of the blue sky and the blue wall, and the ocean that was my haven.
But I instinctively know this world has red scorched skies, and dead brown earth, and oceans that are black and as crude as oil.
“We love you and we thank you for your sacrifice.”
The tannoy says.
And even before I taste the warmth of the breath before me, even before I hear the smack of the tongue and the crack of the teeth, I hear the heartbeat of the fifty or so things before me…
“Just think of the blue room. Think of the blue wall. Think of your ocean.”
The voice says.
“And know that we love you.”
The voice cutting out as the static gives way to the sharp, harsh klaxon bleat again.
Now blind, and deaf, I stand.
My back is against the doorway, the world before me white and dead. The sound of the creatures approaching and the grumble in their throats and bellies at the sight of me roaring as loud as the klaxon does.
I think of my blue room.
My blue wall.
And I scream and charge down whatever is coming for me.
Diving into the unknown as if I was diving into the cool welcoming embrace of the center of the deepest, bluest ocean.
Beckoning it to hold me safe…
Dedicated To Kate Vassalos – who gave me the title as part of her pledge to help in the creation and publication of the ONE MAN AND HIS DOGMA first print run. This story is dedicated to her with Love and thanks for allowing me reprint on this site...
You could barely see anything out of the window; it was so dark and lifeless outside. Lifeless but for the fast disappearing trees and bushes and estates that hid from view behind the branches as the train zoomed past on the way back to Oxford from London Paddington.
The show had been an amazing experience; the crowd so full of life and love; the venue was regal beyond description and the day was full of wine, laughter and love.
It was a good day.
Goodness knows that there had been plenty of bad ones recently, so this was a long one coming…
Palmer sat back on the hard, barely furnished chair and rested his feet on the one opposite him. He stretched out a deep yawn, trying his best to stifle the noise and keep it contained to his chest, but, the stretch felt good and so he let it all out loudly with a smile and a snorted laugh.
Hayley was sat opposite him fast asleep, she had passed out almost as soon as they departed Paddington, her head rested quietly on her shoulder, her chest rising slowly and calmly, drifting with the sleep people now.
Palmer had rested his foot under himself to keep himself awake; the awkward pose uncomfortable and aching.
He would deal with it whilst they flew at speed through these quiet country back gardens and villages.
Oxford was the end of the line, so should he fall asleep, at least he and Hayley would not wake up in the middle of Shropshire or Buckingham or somewhere equally as horrifying.
He had his book on his lap, open on a dog-eared page that marked his place in the story. His eyes were tired though so he could not focus, and the nagging ache in his knee from his pose distracted him further, but, it was all he could do to keep the sandman at bay.
Outside the window he could just make out the night. Deep blues and rich indigoes; intermittently a burst of yellow from a tall, semi hidden lamplight; the fleeting flash of a bedroom window, window purple or red behind curtains and nets.
The landscape indistinguishable, the world behind the glass furiously leaving as soon as it arrived.
In his mind he tried to play games to stay awake.
Counting the people he saw active in windows just glimpsed through thick branches and thicket. Or choosing two droplets of the light-heavy-light-heavy showers that cascaded onto the window as they travelled ever onwards, and guessing which would win in a race from one corner of the paneled glass to the other.
Losing almost every time.
Somewhere ten miles or so outside of Reading though, something strange happened which woke Palmer up in a cold stupor and shock.
Ice running over his skin and leaving goose flesh stood to attention in his usual smooth skinned norm.
On a wide stretch of rail, where the track suddenly opened up into a five berth gravelly yard, and continued this way for a mile or so, where the windows bright square painted itself bright upon the ground in the pitch dark, and the well lit cabin became a sudden contrast to the darkness outside, Palmer saw approaching a man walking down the tracks, in a blue pyjama suit, unbuttoned to the breast, hair straggly and nutmeg brown, hands as white and alabaster as a bone china set, and barefooted and bedraggled.
The man came into view about twenty yards down the track, but as soon as he caught the first peek of the figure, time slowed down to a crawl as the train went past him.
Palmers hand planted fingers outstretched and flat palmed on the glass, and he shifted off his sleeping leg and awkwardly crooked knee to see better the man who approached on the tracks; thin and tired-looking, the track was stone strewn and wet with dew, and the man so close to the cabin that Palmer could have touched his face had there not been glass.
The figure staggered in a shamble and a stride that made Palmer think of drunkards falling out of alehouses at closing after some wake or other for a departed friend.
Made him think of the students in the local union who would collapse half dead from lock-ins at 2am in the brisk winter mornings - no doubt going to lose marks for the lectures they would inevitably miss the next day.
He held the window pleadingly in both hands, his forehead touched the glass and as he passed by the man in slow, frame by frame emotion, the man turned and looked directly at the Palmer, his eyes were red with tears and his hands were wet with what appeared to be blood, or oil, or some other rich viscous fluid.
A moment passed between the two men. The one on the tracks held a hand high to touch Palmers flat hand, to mimic the gesture and as he did, Palmer watched as agonizing second after agonizing second ticked by – then – mere centimeters from the glass the concept and creature known as “time” – as was its flirtatious, deadly way – snapped back to speed again, with a jolt the train whiplashed the man on the thin service track, span him in a whirl of torn fabric and a flash of white into the murky darkness, or under the track and wheel of the thundering carriage.
A splash of black oil slashed across the window.
Palmer’s eyes opened wide in horror and shock.
He did not know what to do.
He was thrown by instinct from the window at the snap and force of time starting again, catching up with itself, and shuddering him back into life so confusing and terrible it was like a stab to the heart.
He tumbled from the chair to the floor on the centre walkway of the train.
Hayley’s leg under him she sat upright in a shock of pain and looked confused and annoyed at the rude awakening, rubbing her eyes, trying to make sense of the clammy skinned, red eyed, frantic boyfriend who now stood and searched in false hope of an emergency cord or alarm, which he smashed the glass on and pushed as soon as he located it above the doorway of the middle carriage by bike stand and toilet.
The train shook violently and then stopped…
A screech of brakes and the shuddering halt of the weight to a dead stop, Palmer fell again at the physics of the movement, landed at the feet of an angry looking red-faced inspector.
“Just what the bloody hell do you think you are doing?”
She said, spitting a half chewed sandwich at his feet, that she had been chewing on before the alarm had been pulled.
“There is a man… A man on the tracks.”
The inspectors eyes shot to alarming size, a bead of sweat swelled and dripped down her greasy forehead and on her pickled, sunbaked skin.
“Where?” she muttered in anxious shock.
Palmer pointed to the back of the train… his finger shaking.
“Back there. Just now… a minute, maybe less… He was on the tracks.”
The inspector heard this last line as she had spun tail and started already to head to the cabin to radio control and advise of the accident on the line.
“The same stretch of track.” She thought.
“The same damned stretch of track”
What was this?
Four this month?
She opened the door, heavier than it appeared, and entered the cab and touched the drivers shoulder, he was already sobbing.
He said. Turning half toward the woman.
“Again.” She said, and squeezed his shoulder.
* * *
The rain was bursting between heavy and light and somewhere in-between. Never resting on any one pulse for long, then, stopping all together.
The night air was crisp and cool, not cold. June had set its claws into the year, so it was fresh and smelled like approaching summer, even this late, you could smell the cut grass and the berries on the leaves, the faint pop and zing of rape seed and the honey sweet smell of blooming flowers in the fields behind the tree line on the far side of the gravel yard just over the three sets of tracks that shadowed this service track, narrow and long, that nudged the main track eight feet between them.
He had been walking for a while.
His feet had stopped hurting soon after he made the walk from his driveway, down the sloping grassland and into the stations car park.
He climbed the wrought iron gateway that was locked at 9pm every evening.
He pulled himself over the brick wall that stood five or so feet high and had creeping ivy climbing the surface.
Finally he casually dropped down from the platform of the quiet, closed, resting station and walked along the tracks.
Cold, brittle, sharpened stones under his bare naked feet.
Speaking to him in sharp stabs of Braille.
The stones telling him all would be ok, everything was going to be ok.
He walked on.
The cool nights air his mistress.
* * *
Palmer and the driver exited the train, the two dozen or so people in the five carriages were planted on the windows, leaning against them and peering out into the darkness, watching the torchlight waving and flashing over surface and ground, slashing across the side of the train looking for any proof or evidence of a collision or impact.
The night air was damp with a building threat of rain and the smell of a summery electrical storm.
The driver looked scared witless, Palmer had noticed, his hand shook slightly, the torch in his fist wavered and vibrated with reluctance and a preoccupation Palmer could not put his finger on.
Behind the two of them, the inspector walked with her torch lighting the trail behind them, she gently padded backwards, on tip toes, her torch inspecting the parts of the train that may have been missed, flashing the beam under the carriages and onto the roof, her breathing was heavy.
Occasionally she would swing the beam flying to the hedgerow on the far side of the wide track system, Bright eyes would flash and fade in seconds, witnesses from the bushes of this strange pantomime.
The inspector cut a look back to the driver, who shook his head and carried on walking.
Palmer missed this, dedicated to the train alone.
He stopped with a gasp.
A burst of cold mist blew from his mouth.
The night air catching his breathe and reforming it into icy fog before his eyes.
Below his feet was an oily substance; it had been spattered hard and sticky across the side of the carriages. It was all over the stones and gravel and under the carriage it dripped hard and thick, viscous, syrupy globules of it splashed from the wheels and the engines mechanism.
Stuck to the side of the train was a scrap of material, it looked just like the white and blue pinstripe of the man’s pyjamas.
It was ripped and stained heavily, yellow and brown and black from the tar.
It flapped absently in the night air.
Palmer reached for it his hand barely an inch away before the driver’s hand came shooting from the dark and grabbed his wrist gently, but with purpose.
“Don’t do that…” The driver said, staring at Palmer intently.
He lowered Palmers arm to his side, and brushed his shirt into a flat uniform neatness. He adjusted his own tie, and looked at the fabric, and then to Palmer.
“It would be bad for you to touch it… believe me.”
He waved his torch at the side of the carriage and along the next ten meters or so behind. The tar was all over the side and more fabric, ribbons of the material, torn and broken, ripped and sticky with the colour and intensity of the fluid.
The ooze dripped and ran down the side of the train like a treacle, forming pools of the liquid in the gaps between the stones, edging the side of the track itself, colouring the ground a black diesel hue.
Palmer looked at the floor, and caught the shimmer of rainbow in the liquid, he swore he saw it retreat at the flash of torchlight, and swell again as the light was waved elsewhere.
He looked up at the window, and staring out at him was Hayley.
She looked down and held her hand out fingers apart, palm flat, much like Palmer had himself when he saw the man on the track.
He looked up and waved a bleak, half smile.
Hayley smiled tired and confusedly back.
Palmer reach up to place the hand on the glass and mirror her gesture.
The oily tar that had slashed across the window was now wet an dripping, and as he put his hand against the glass he touched it.
there was stabbing pain, a burst of a sting – like a bee or wasp had let loose their stinger, and as he went to move his arm from the window, he felt something reach out and touch him, holding it still. He felt a cool grip take his wrist, he spun to tell the driver to get off him, but the driver was further down the track and speaking in whisper to the inspector.
He looked at his arm in the windows soda light – and he saw the shadow of the man from the track reaching out as well, in mirror of his own arm, the two images, one real, the other some ghost afterimage, looked like an unfocused cinema screen showing a 3D film, then the two arms blended and merged, and it was no longer his arm reaching out, it was the man on the track.
It was no longer Hayley looking down on his, hand splayed out in welcome on the window…
It was his own.
He was seeing what he had witnessed from inside, living the experience outside.
The ghost of the man on the track his suit.
Caught within the moment of the impact.
* * *
Bare feet on stones felt heavy and hard.
Cold and numb.
The man walked on. Each stone or shard of sharp glass or pebble that pierced into his flesh was a message. A unique and alien braille that was as easy to read under his feet as it would be for a blind man under fingertip.
“Walk on” it said.
“Walk on and on and ever onward.”
The message would then sing lyrical to him.
Every step a new stanza in the song edging the man onwards and onwards and ever onwards along the quiet, dark, midnight track.
From the bush greedy eyes were peering and watching and witnessing this mute mans journey down the dark ribbon of metallic track.
Silently, pink lips smacked hungrily against red lips and white teeth glimmered in the darkness.
The midnight shadows had awoken and were on the prowl, dizzy with hunger, they stalked their prey down the track.
The man walked on.
His feet ached, but they relayed the message from the cold stones without question. This sharp braille telling him he was ok, he would be alright, that there was love and escape and an end to the pain and the ache and the questions at the end of the track… That he was going to be ok and this would soon all be over and he would be full of light and happiness and love.
The man believed it all, despite his aching feet, despite the cold biting into his flesh as if he was food for the frost, despite every fibre of his mind screaming that he should turn around and ignore the voices - that this was all a trap and he had to wake up…
He believed the stones and the Braille and the message it sent.
He had no choice.
The stones, the darkness, the hungry eyes from the sidings had him now and he could no sooner end this journey as he could stop the Earth from spinning.
As he walked his skin began to feel tighter on his bones, his muscles were gripped and stretched taut against the skeleton. His skin was turning white like fine rice paper, like a pearlescent shell.
His eyes were wide open, unable to blink, and he could feel the redness and the tears freezing onto his cheeks; his auburn nutmeg coloured hair bedraggled and messy becoming brittle twigs in this midnight freeze,
the rain dripping from his skin like water off oiled glass.
He marched on, toward the lights that were visible up the track.
The approaching juggernaut.
The teeth chattered and chittered in the bushes.
The convergence was about to happen.
And they would finally feast…
And maybe, just maybe, another evening bounty would make itself apparent.
So the hunt could begin anew.
* * *
A burning sense of Déjà vu rippled through his bones and Palmer forced himself to pull away from the window, but he couldn’t.
Instead, he felt himself pulled backward, through a split in the crease of reality, and he tumbled into a milky whiteness as the world shuffled around him like a deck of cards in some gargantuan gods hands.
And the world rearranged and then was shuffled into prominent shape again around him, and he was sat on a different train, wearing a suit of muted navy blue, he was holding in his hands a copy of some broadsheet paper.
Outside of his window he could see there was a moon high in the sky, a slither of crescent hung wearily and sharp in the weak, thinned out clouds.
And on the track, in front of the train, there was a woman walking down the side-track, naked and staggering.
As before, the world slowed down, and the connection of eyes between the man and woman lead to a moment of frozen time, hands reaching toward each other, before the snap of reality pulled the world back to normal speed and the fragile, thin, beautifully white, waxen skinned woman span with such ferocious force, that he was sure he could hear her smash like porcelain against the impact of the train.
Oil splashed and spattered against the glass window, and the man jolted for the emergency stop as the train rattled to a jagged halt, and the man and inspector and driver ran to the tracks, and the same routine played out.
The world turned again to white as the deck was shuffled again, and Palmer was thrown off the window and landed hard onto the gravel, his hand bleeding from a puckered circle of bites on his palm.
Like a limpet or a leech had drawn his blood.
The driver and inspector ran down the track toward him lights flashing.
Palmer was confused and dizzy, he could see Hayley holding her mouth in shock, and she bolted for the door.
“Stay there Hayles!” he screamed to his beautiful, confused, teary eyed girlfriend.
“Don’t come out here, stay right where you are.”
He raised his hand to stop her, and the palm was red with the pucker of the bite, and droplets of oil and tar and blood dripped from his hand.
The inspector and driver stopped in their tracks as he raised the hand to them, and helped himself up with his other free arm.
They held their mouths and backed away slightly, worried, upset and sad looking.
“What the bloody hell is happening? What did we hit?” Palmer demanded.
The driver looked at him sadly, his mouth downturned and quivering for an answer.
“It must have been an animal or something… that’s all.” He stammered.
Palmer lunged a step forward his hand raised the blood more apparent now, his whole hand laced with oil and flecks of the tar.
“An animal?!” he shouted.
“A bloody animal? What kind of animal bites like this, eh?” and he grabbed the driver with his uninjured hand and pulled him close to the wounded palm.
The driver tried to shake free but Palmer was stronger and held him by the scruff of the neck and waved his hand in front of the drivers terrified face.
“You tell me what kind of fucking animal can cause a bite like this… go on? Tell me what the hell is happening here.”
The inspector started to step backwards, her torch slowly dropping and a flicker of convulsive fear on her face.
Both the driver and Palmer noticed her turning in sudden fright and stood mute and confused as she bolted down the track away from the train only to be suddenly ripped and wrenched from the track by darkness and thrown into the bushes.
Violent shakes and growls and flashes of silver eyes peered out as the Inspector screamed horrifyingly and then a crunch and silence.
She flew from the dark track as if catapulted from the gravel itself.
A single scream echoed into the shadows.
The driver gently shook himself from the grip of Palmer, Palmer dropped his hands to his side and pulled a hankie from his pocket and wrapped it quietly and efficiently round his wound, he shone his torch toward the track where the inspector had been thrown to the bushes.
“What the hell is going on…?” was all he could say.
The oil and tar and splashed fabric had oozed together and was now pulsing toward them on the track, from behind them in the bushes they heard the growl of a creature.
Whether one extraordinarily loud and angry creature or the small growls and grumbles of ten thousand tiny ones – it made no difference.
The bushes were alive, the track was alive, and whatever had consumed the man who walked the track, and the woman who had haunted his journey, and the countless other journeys before – had made themselves known and were no longer prowling or hunting - they had decided it was feeding time.
Palmer grabbed the drivers collar and pushed him toward the train.
“Go… Go now… we need to move!”
They turned toward the door of the train to make a run, but blocking their way was a fragmented, shattered shell of the pyjama wearing man, like a twisted marionette, hanging from invisible strings, the parts of his ragged, smashed body held together by the tar-like substance that dripped and leaked thick and wretched from the cracks of his skin and his ragged, ripped clothing.
The figure pointed at Palmer.
Upon its shattered and ugly fractured face a grimace of need, of want, of famishment.
And reached for him jagged and sharp fingered.
Palmer reflexively parried the grab and kicked out with his leg and took the broken shell of a man down, where he shattered into a million tiny pieces, like the thin fragile shell of an egg.
The tar like substance popped like yolk cooking on a griddle, and splashed the Driver and the carriage, the driver gave a scream, and then suddenly was flung high into the treeline, as if the tar had lassoed and trebucheted him.
Palmer jumped over the broken remains of the shell-man, and grabbed onto the rail of the door, in front of him was Hayley, who reached out and grabbed his arm, covered as it was in ooze and tar, there was a sudden convulsion as the bite ran through her flesh and she bounced back as if shocked and crashed into the far door of the carriage.
Palmer ran to her, grabbed hold of her body, the pain in his hand was intense and throbbing now. Hayley was unconscious and her arm swelled as the tiny pock-marks of the limpet bite dotted her arm like needle marks.
The sores spelt out a pattern that read like Braille upon the skin.
Palmer did not know what it meant, but felt the language of the wound speaking to him.
“Time is up.” It said.
And the lights in the carriage went out one by one.
The carriages were full of two or so dozen screaming, anxious, terrified people.
The darkness permeated the air like a thick soup of confused fear; the silence was foreboding and horrendous.
A single approaching light shone in the darkness ahead.
Palmer could see the shadows it created on the track from the open door.
He stepped out, calmly and quietly onto the dark track – aware of the eyes and the teeth glistening in the trees and the slither and trickle of ooze all around him.
He looked up the track and saw the light approaching, fast and angry.
It looked like another train, the speed was awesome and breath-taking, but, there was no train.
It was ghost lights, and below it, teeth, chattering and chittering away.
Palmer closed his eyes.
And below him, even through his socks and shoes, he could feel the braille of the gravel speaking and pulsing through his skin.
“Time is up.” It said.
“Time is up.”
“We feed now.”
And the light smashed into the train and carriages with such force and unrelenting anger that it was ripped to shreds as though made of paper.
Palmer held his hands up to guard himself instinctively, stupidly, as if such a gesture could help in the wave of a million nuclear explosions.
The light seared onto his skin and he felt its expert sharpness cut perfect incisions to his core, every inch of his skin shredding and folding back to muscle and sinew and nerve and bone and marrow and then – to the idea that was once Palmer, the concept of the man, the psychic shadow of what was once a man was all that remained.
A wisp of an idea.
The last thought running through Palmers mind as the track, the treeline and the train were obliterated in light and hunger was simple…
“I wish we had of driven to London now.”
There was nothing.
Just darkness, and silence and cold.
The feast over as soon as it had begun.