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
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.
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
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
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.
(c) Jeff Jones
I glance at my watch and note the time. I’m running late. I always seem to be
running late. If I’m going to make it to the drop-off point and back without being
caught, I am going to have to hurry. So much could go wrong. There are so many
Despite the chilly autumn air, I can feel beads of sweat trickling down the
side of my face and my cotton shirt clings damply to my back. I can’t worry about
my appearance now, all that matters is safely delivering my package and getting
back before those cold, heartless… No, calm down, don’t say it, don’t even think it,
you’ve got to watch your blood pressure, the doctor said so. Try and avoid stressful
situations he said. Well I guess I’ve failed that one.
There’s nothing else for it, my hands are tied, I’m going to have to take the
direct route through their territory. I should have left earlier, but I always know
best. Or so I think. The smart play would be to double-back, come in from a
direction they wouldn’t be expecting. They’d still see me of course, but by the time
they’d organised a chase I’d be clear. I could deliver the package safely and would
then stand a better chance of outrunning them on the way back no longer
burdened by any cargo. They’d be waiting for me, prepared, but I would fancy my
Another glance at my watch. Two more precious minutes have passed. I have
to decide, though in my heart I’ve known all along that I have no choice but to
make a run for it across their turf. There isn’t time for anything else.
I turn my jacket collar up, adjust my grip on the package and take a deep
calming breath just like my physiotherapist taught me. It doesn’t work, my heart’s
still racing, and my hands are clammy. Head down I emerge from my hiding place
and make a run for it, or a brisk walk anyway, running’s beyond me nowadays.
Moments after I emerge from the anonymity of the shadows, the sun decides
to finally make an appearance, illuminating me for all to see. The brief warmth it
offers is most welcome, but its betrayal of my presence isn’t. It’s like nature itself is
conspiring against me. I stop stock still like a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights.
I’m expecting to hear a shout of excitement as one of them spots me, if not from
one of their senior interrogators, at least from one of their scouts. But to my delight
and surprise, there is no shout, just the usual hubbub of noise one would perhaps
expect on a Tuesday afternoon.
Hope briefly flares in my heart and I dare to believe I can make it and strike
a blow for the ordinary man, and my pace quickens in anticipation.
I must be halfway across their patch now, maybe more. A small smirk of
victory – no it’s too soon for that – of hope then, begins to tug at the corners of my
A flicker of movement to my right. Was it real or imagined? I must keep
going, sanctuary is in sight, tantalisingly close. Stay on mission. Don’t be
There it is again. Somebody is there. I stop; my first mistake and turn to
look; my second. He’s been lurking menacingly in a shop doorway, one of the many
closed down shops that now litter our High Street, searching for a target and now
he’s found one. The hunt is on.
He’s onto me in a flash. From the moment we make eye contact my fate is
sealed, he knows it and I know it, but like any trapped or cornered animal fighting
for its life, I’m not going to go down without a fight.
Panic threatens to overwhelm me and after backing slowly away from him I
finally manage to break eye contact and try to make a run for it, but all sense of
direction has abandoned me, and I’m flustered into indecision. The world around
me has shrunk, suffocating me and claustrophobia has me in its vice-like grip.
Finally, I regain my bearings and resume my escape, but seemingly out of
nowhere his comrades have surrounded me and are closing in from all directions.
His sort never hunts alone, I should have remembered that. I’m trapped.
I nervously turn to confront my tormentor. He’s grinning and knows I’m
cornered. The game’s up. Judging by the wide-awake suit, expensive loafers and
trendy haircut, this one must be one of their most senior interrogators. This is
going to go hard on me. He won’t accept any excuses and will pursue me
relentlessly if I try and bolt. No point trying to appeal to his compassionate side
either, as his sort don’t possess one. Can’t in their job. They need to be ruthless,
dogged, determined. I watch anxiously as he reaches inside his double-breasted
suit jacket and I hold my breath, his eyes never leaving mine as he closes the gap
between us to virtually zero. I hear a gentle clicking noise as his Parker pen is
primed for action, much like its wielder.
Behind him, just down the other end of the High Street, I see a man in a
dark blue uniform slowly circling my car, no doubt salivating at the prospect of
issuing another ticket. If I’d just left earlier, if I’d just paid for my parking instead of
gambling by parking in one of the town’s ‘free parking for 20 minutes’ spaces. If I’d
just taken another route across the High Street.
None of it matters now. I could try pretending that I’m from Poland or some
other Eastern European country, but the last time I tried that the interrogator
himself turned out to be from there and I ended up looking a right fool. Better to
just take my punishment and get it over with. Resigned to my fate I drop my bag of
library books at my feet and look the young man in front of me squarely in the eye.
Guess this is one market research survey I’ll have to endure.
(c) Jeff Jones