Thursday, April 15, 2021

Dead On Time by Jeff Jones

 Jim instinctively hunched as the bitingly cold wind sliced through him on the exposed platform, making him shudder. The drop in temperature had been as drastic as it had been sudden. He turned his jacket collar up and not for the first time that evening, cursed his reluctance to ever drive again.

 Rubbing his gloveless hands together to keep warm, he glanced around at his surroundings. Although the station appeared deserted, the feeling of  being watched persisted, the eerie silence only punctuated by the monotonous rhythmic clunking of the platform clock hanging overhead. 

He stared longingly down the track even though he knew his train wasn’t yet due and was just about to relieve the monotony by once again pacing the length of the platform  when a noise to his right startled him. He turned just in time to see an empty tin can  skimming along the platform’s surface towards him.

Convinced it was just the wind, he  allowed himself to relax, but immediately tensed again when he saw that none of the other  detritus littering the platform was moving. The wind had momentarily subsided.

Somebody had clearly kicked the can and Jim once again scanned the vicinity, positive now that he wasn’t alone. Still he couldn’t see anybody. Suddenly aware of just how vulnerable he was, Jim slowly backed away.

Whilst he’d welcome some company, even if they didn’t feel comfortable talking to him, an aggressive drunk or a group of boisterous teenagers were the last thing he needed. 

He didn’t want to become another filler piece for his local newspaper. Another statistic that the public had become almost desensitised to. He silently prayed his train would soon arrive. 

Whoever had kicked the can had chosen not to reveal themselves and that only served to fuel Jim’s anxiety. 

Still backing away, he eventually collided with something hard and unyielding and he  cried out in alarm. Jim spun round, his briefcase raised in front of him as a shield, though what good it would do he had no idea. He let out a small, nervous laugh of relief when he realised it was only a lamp post.

 Glancing round he saw that he was now outside the waiting room and was shocked to see the silhouette of a woman through the frosted glass to his right. How she had got past him and into the waiting room he had no idea, but the chance for some company was something he couldn’t pass up. Sometimes there was safety in numbers. He just had to be mindful that she was a woman alone and would be apprehensive of his intentions. It wouldn’t do to scare her.

He tentatively opened the door and stepped in, but the room was empty.

Jim could feel his heart racing but before he could dwell on her impossible disappearance his attention was drawn to the sound of approaching footsteps outside. Still confused but eager to see who was out there, he turned and left the waiting room only to be confronted by an empty platform. The toilets were locked so other than the waiting room there was nowhere they could have gone.

Despite the cold Jim could feel his cotton shirt clinging to his damp back as he cautiously made his way along the platform. He was determined to find whoever it was that was taking great delight in tormenting him. 

He stopped abruptly. Although he hadn’t heard footsteps this time, he just knew that somebody was close behind him. He could sense it. The first thing that struck him was the terrible smell of decay. Then he could hear laboured breathing and finally he felt someone’s breath on his neck. 

The meagre contents of his stomach felt like they’d turned to liquid as fear threatened to paralyse him.

 Convinced he was about to be mugged by some meth drinking vagrant, Jim mustered the last of his waning courage and spun round with fist raised poised to strike, but again nobody was there.

A child’s laughter drifted through the still night air and he thought that he caught a glimpse of a young girl turning a corner further up the platform near the waiting room he had just left. He hurried back in their direction, desperate to speak to them. More laughter followed, first from the opposite platform and then from behind him. Still he saw no one.

His mind sought to calm him telling him it was just kids pranking him, but something didn’t sit right.

 Visions of that night threatened to overwhelm him, but somehow, he managed to calm his emotions. He could have just left and tried to find a taxi, but something compelled him to stay.

He rolled his shoulders trying to ease the tension, but anxiety and fear weren’t about to release their grip any time soon. The silhouette in the waiting room had been too large for a child and how would a young child’s breath reach his neck? Was an adult with them, encouraging them, orchestrating it all? And how could they disappear like that? There were too many unanswered questions.

If the children were alone, he knew that he’d never be able to board the train and leave, despite their behaviour towards him. What if something happened to them? If he read in the news some days later that a child had died after larking around at the station, he’d never be able to forgive himself. 

Again. 

If something happened to them like… like… He smothered the memory before it could take root. He couldn’t afford to relive that incident not now, not ever.

Its approach unnoticed, a train suddenly hurtled through the station causing him to cry out in shock, throwing wrappers and empty polystyrene cups in the air, the draught it caused making him wobble on his feet. He had been perilously close to the tracks. He turned to face it, watching as the mostly empty carriages raced past, the few faces he saw within nothing more than anonymous momentary blurs. 

His train would be here soon.

When the last carriage had passed, he found himself looking at a young girl on the opposite platform. Though he continued to stare, his brain refused to accept the gruesome image before him. Her dress was torn and splattered with blood and a bone protruded from her left arm, under which she somehow cradled a cherished dolly. She was staring at him, her bruised and cut face expressionless.

Jim stepped back trying to put more distance between him and the image he knew couldn’t be real, but the sound of the waiting room door opening behind him made him turn. Once again nobody was there. When he looked back the girl had also disappeared. 

The sound of running footsteps coming over the footbridge paralysed him with fear, but as quickly as they had appeared, they vanished again. A few seconds later a football bounced down the stone steps onto the platform in front of him. Terror constricted Jim’s throat and his heartbeat at an alarming rate. He stopped the ball with his foot and looked up just as a young boy in a bloody and shredded football shirt came racing down the steps towards him at a speed that shouldn’t have been possible. 

Fright became panic. Jim screamed and turned to run but blocking his way was a young woman. She too was covered in blood. Her neck lolled at an incongruous angle to the rest of her body. Screaming again and desperate to evade the horror show around him, Jim lost all perception of the platform edge and stumbled backwards onto the tracks.

He landed heavily and cried out with the pain. His left leg was bent under him and he had no doubt it was broken. Judging by the searing pain his right shoulder was dislocated. 

Tears streaming down his face he looked up hoping that someone somewhere had seen him fall or heard him cry out and would come to his rescue, but no one did. Instead his gaze fell on the woman and two children. They were standing on the platform edge staring down at him. No, that was wrong he realised, they weren’t standing, they were hovering, perhaps six inches off the ground. The boy had the football tucked under his left arm and they were all smiling. Their clothes were no longer bloodstained, and their bodies were unblemished just like they’d been before he’d killed them in a hit and run accident several months before. If he hadn’t reached over for his phone... If he hadn’t tried to text… If he’d just kept his eyes on the road…

Jim lifted an arm to reach out to them, to plead for help but as one they all slowly glanced to their left. Hope fluttered in his heart when he thought that perhaps they’d seen somebody coming to help him and he followed their gaze. 

Instead his train was finally here.


© Jeff Jones

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