Commute (Part 4 of 6)
‘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.’
- December 2014