The dull thumping of the gears against the rails combined with the dim lighting had lulled most of the subway passengers to sleep. I stood by the door, leaning against the pole that held me up. My eyes wandered to the window above the blonde head of a pregnant woman reading a maternity book.
Lights sped alongside the tunnel walls, their monochromatic illumination casting the shadows across the carpeted floor. The movement hurt my eyes within seconds, forcing me to look elsewhere.
My hand automatically reaches into my pocket for my cell before remembering that it’s dead. Dropping it into a toilet tends to do that, or so I learned this morning.
The P.A. system cracked to my right. As the automated voice began announcing the next stop, the lights cut out, plunging the entire car into inky darkness teeming with the nearly invisible faces of the other passengers. I could almost make out the large nose of the elderly man seated beside me.
Until it disappeared.
And the lights came back on but the voice did not return.
And neither did the old man’s face.
My knees gave out as my body flung itself backwards in a desperate attempt to escape. Shock waves ran up and down my spine from my tailbone hitting the door but I hardly noticed. My senses were too overwhelmed to process the pain.
The faces of each and every passenger had gone horribly blank. No noses, eyes, mouths, cheekbones, dimples, eyebrows. Nothing. The colors of their skins swirled in the space, as though some kid was playing with a picture on photoshop.
One by one they turned towards me. One by one their nonexistent gazes shifted to look at me. I could feel it.
The shifting of the lights on the carpet stopped abruptly as the train lurched to a stop. The screech of gears grinding against the rails was the last thing I heard before silence consumed the space. My heartbeat became thunderous yet for a moment I fear it would stop.
Breaths froze in my lungs. The pressure on my chest cut off my air supply. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the people around me, especially the pregnant lady. There was something absolutely eerie about the lack of emotion above the bulging stomach being caressed by a soft, gentle hand.
In a flash she disappeared along with the others. Emptiness stole their place though the memory lingered in the forefront of my mind.
The solitude amplified my heartbeat as my sweaty hand reached out to the pole on my right. My legs shook incessantly as I kicked and scrambled to stand.
The floor was stable beneath my feet yet the room spun. Grey seats hung from the ceiling above my head and white lights stood beneath my feet.
I took a step and fell into one of the seats, sending the world spinning back into position. My head felt clouded by the impossibility of the reality and my eyelids threatened to fall over my eyes.
Seconds tick by. For a moment reality feels far away, concealed behind a thick wall of smoke.
Then the buzzer shattered my eardrums, bathing the space in a dull red glow. The doors across from my rattled open, revealing the dark tunnel outside.
My legs leap out before my mind can even stand. I land hard on the edge of the rails, the impact sending jolts of pain through my legs.
Fall. Roll. Turn around.
Nothing. The lights in the subway flicked then turn off.
Blood drips from the open doorway, glistening as it splatters to the ground. Shrouded in gray smoke.
Something slumps forward in the doorway. Big nose, small eyes, grey hair. The old man who had been sitting beside me lay on the floor, blood lining his face as the red light washed over his wrinkled features. Blank gaze fixated on me.
A scream tears from my throat. My body scrambles backwards over the fingers digging into the loose dirt. Legs flailing wildly I try to put as much distance between the subway and myself.
Dread wrapped around my limbs for a few slow, horrendous seconds I could not breathe. I could not move. Paralyzed.
As frozen as the old man’s dead eyes.
Then it broke.
And my hand found the back wall. I pulled myself up and wrenched my body to the side, facing the nearest station. The lights hardly illuminated the front tip of the conductor’s car.
Stumbling on numb legs I sprinted towards it. The atmosphere was cold and thick around me, clinging to my skin and weighing me down. The passing lights on the walls slowed to a painfully sluggish pace.
I didn’t dare look behind me. The fear of something lurking behind me was enough to lock my eyes directly in front of me, fixated on the edge of the tiled platform ahead of me.
I arrived at it after what felt like an eternity. My hand reached for it on its own. Fingers outstretched the tiles felt smooth against my skin.
I hardly had the time to catch up to my hands before they were pulling me up onto the platform. The headlights of the subway behind me illuminated the empty lobby, the thick rectangular pillars casting deep shadows across the dirty tiles.
My own shadow danced along the wall as I sprinted towards the steps. Black as night and just as sinister I couldn’t resist glancing towards it.
And instantly wishing I hadn’t.
Black tendrils slippery like ink crawled across the advertising posters. I couldn’t tell if they were real or imaginary.
The stairs lurched before me, mostly hidden in darkness as little light trickled in from the outside. I took them two at a time before making the mistake of looking back.
And seeing them all.
In a row they stood, faces horribly blank once more with one small difference. Thin streams of blood descended from their foreheads down to their chins, tracing the facial features that had become invisible to me.
None of them moved. They merely stood, facing me with blank, eyeless stares. I stared back at them, unable to tear my gaze away. My own movements felt controlled by the somehow, as though they were keeping me locked in this equilibrium.
Shadows leaked out from beneath their feet. They inched towards me, creeping up the stairs. The black mass was only centimeters away from my feet when the spell finally broke and I fell backwards, scrambling up the steps on my hands and knees.
I felt the fresh air of the world above the ground on the top of my head first and that was enough to lift me to my feet, sprinting into the cold wind.
Buildings rushed past me as my feet slapped against the pavement, footsteps echoing in the crisp night air. The road sat devoid of cars and no people walked beside me. It was as though the entire town had disappeared — vanished into thin air.
My apartment was only a few blocks from the subway station, a fortunate coincidence that sent a surge of hope and adrenaline pumping through my veins. My legs were moving so fast I could hardly keep up. My body overcompensated in leaning forward and I tripped, shands shooting out in front to catch me.
The impact sent convulsions through my body as I rolled over my right shoulder, wincing at the pain in my twisted ankle.
The world spun. I tried to stand only to fall back down. The pounding in my ears obliterated my hearing, only furthering the sense of panic in my veins.
Blurred vision frantically surveyed my surroundings. The utter lack of movement in the windows to my left and the lifelessness of the street to my right served as cold reminders of my solitude.
I felt something touch my foot. A cold sensation shot up from my heel to my hip like a bullet of ice.
I turned around to the see pregnant woman’s fingers wrap around my ankle. She pulled, drawing me closer to her and the thick black mass writhing behind her.
I kick and twist but her grasp held strong. Blood spews from a gaping hole in her stomach, soaking through the hem of my trousers.
I felt the malevolence saturating her aura and that awakened something in me. A surge of power course in my veins and I wrenched my leg away, scrambling backwards until I managed to stand.
I took off running and never looked back.
The apartment door slammed behind me before I could feel the exhaustion weighing me down. The air was hot and stale but it had never tasted so sweet.
I sank to the ground, leaning against the door. A humorless laugh escaped from deep within my throat, clashing with the tears streaming down my face.
By the time I’d calmed down I wanted nothing more than to go to bed and sleep away the remnants of this nightmare.
I stood and limped to the bathroom, wincing at the pain in my ankle. The mild throbbing was the only concrete reminder of the incident but even that would fade soon enough. Then I’d be able to pretend that none of this had ever occurred.
Though I’m definitely not taking the subway ever again, I thought with a light, nervous chuckle. I’d just take a cab to and from work or carpool or something.
I turned the lights and the water on simultaneously the second I entered the bathroom. The rush of water mesmerized me, the sound a welcome change to the silent atmosphere I’d endured.
Cold and refreshing the water felt so soothing against my burning face I hardly noticed the stinging of my raw palms. I let my thoughts drown in the mundanity of the task for a moment before reaching for a towel.
My eyes wandered up to the mirror.
Behind me stood the conductor of the subway.
Faceless and bloody.
Shrouded in black.