Friday, May 6, 2011
FICTION: FINAL NIGHT By Michael Casey
According to the clock tower, he had awoken at the stroke of midnight. According to his fob watch, he awoke at fifteen minutes past. He didn’t care which one was telling the truth, he just wanted to get away from where he was, as fast as possible. He rose from the gutter and scanned his environment. The street appeared to be dead, which was how he preferred it. It felt as though he had broken his left toe. His ribs felt broken as well but he couldn’t be sure. He was still able to limp, which was something to be thankful for. The street didn’t look familiar. If it didn’t look familiar then he hadn’t been there before and if he hadn’t been there before then there was a good reason. He had walked through the city countless times before, he knew a lot of the roads but there were many that he had never been down, many parts of the city that he never dared to venture.
His best bet was to find a train station. If he could make it to one before the last train left the city then there was a chance that he could ride the night out without any problems. He walked along the middle of the road, it was either that or stick to the footpath. Both were pretty poor options, the footpath made it so that he could be snatched from the shadows and the middle of the road made it so that he could be seen more easily. He figured that by walking along the middle of the road he would at least be able to see his attackers coming, hopefully anyway.
He didn’t know that he was heading north; he didn’t know where he was, in relation to where he wanted to be. He would have preferred to have been home in bed, away from the City’s potential. There weren’t many shops along the road and of course, none of them were open; there were no profits to be gained by staying open after dark in such an area. There were rundown apartment blocks along the road. All of their lights were off; the residents didn’t want their abodes to draw attention, to stand out in the dark.
He came across an arcade and decided to walk down it. There was nothing exceptional about the design, he just liked that he couldn’t see where it ended. The path was large enough for a car to travel along but too narrow for trucks. It was lined with shuttered residencies that sat atop closed store fronts.
He walked along the passageway for what seemed to be a short period of time. There were other narrower arcades that digressed from the one that he was on, but he didn’t go along any of them. Eventually, he came to a desolate street containing rundown buildings, on both sides; another portion of the city that he couldn’t recognize. He hunched in to the collar of his trench coat and headed north.
The howling wind stopped him from hearing the engine. It wasn’t until he saw the black van creeping slowly around the corner that he realized that he should have stuck to the shadows of the footpath. He ran to the doorway of an abandoned shop to his left. It’s darkness, a place where attackers might lay, now a potential bastion.
The driver of the van either didn’t notice him or didn’t care; the van rolled slowly by. When it was out of sight, he continued along the street. The sight of wild dogs in the road ahead persuaded him to turn back; their silhouettes rose from the ground, their bodies still and rigid and their ears pricked. One barked and the others joined in. A few trotted in his direction. He wasn’t going to walk amongst them. He would leave them to their territory.
The wind died down, the streets became silent. Every now and then he would hear commotion from the distance. Sometimes it sounded close by, sometimes far away; the clashing of objects, the jamming of instruments, the whirring of machinery, the yelling of men, the barking of dogs. When the sounds came from close by he headed in the opposite direction. He didn’t know which direction was home so he couldn’t tell if he was going off course.
Figures emerged from the doorways every now and then. Most of them scurried away like rats but some stood still and observed. There was no point in running. If he ran, they would be more likely to pursue. If he acted nonchalant, like he was capable of taking care of himself, then maybe those around him would believe that he could. It was a hard act to pull off convincingly, considering that his side was hurt and he was limping, but it was the best he could do.
He came across the entrance to a subway station. Some stations were safer than others but he didn’t know which; there were so many and up until recently he’d never had cause to remember. It didn’t matter if it was a statistically dangerous station or not, if there was no one around, he would go in.
He ducked in to the darkness of a doorway, across the road from the entrance. He scanned the street and rooftops to see if anyone was watching him. There didn’t seem to be so he limped across and walked down the steps.
The name of the station was one he had not heard of. He made his way through the desolate concourse and then on to the closest platform. The poster of the train line, on the wall, had been torn down in parts and painted over in others. He could see the station that he wanted to get to but he couldn’t see how many were in between it and the one he was at.
He took a seat on a nearby bench and waited for the next train. There were no timetables to be seen and all of the machines around him had been smashed in to pieces. He would wait for half an hour and if a train didn’t come then it would be a clear indication that he had missed the last one.
After around ten minutes the sound of a train came from down the tunnel. He rose to his feet, ready to board if the carriages seemed safe and ready to escape if they didn’t. When the train entered the station he scanned through the windows to see that all the carriages appeared to be empty. He entered the first carriage; he figured that it would probably be the safest considering it was closest to the driver. What the driver would do if any trouble came along, he didn’t know, he had high doubts that the driver would come to his aid.
He felt relieved to be on the train. Now all he had to do was sit the night out and pray that no one dangerous got on. A few stations went by and no one did. Just when he was starting to relax, a man boarded the last carriage. He froze momentarily when he saw the man’s face and then quickly made his way over to the door. He escaped the carriage, just as the train departed. The man on the train noticed him; they made eye contact through the window before the train disappeared in to the tunnel.
He had a feeling that the man would get off at the next station and come back for him. He didn’t want to stick around to see if his feeling was right. Due to caution and cowardice he left the subway station and emerged on to another street that he couldn’t recognize. He figured that he could gage the general direction of the train line. There was a chance that he could make it to the next station on foot before the last train arrived, provided the last train wasn’t the one he had just gotten off.
He limped throughout the streets. The roads didn’t follow the path of the railway, but he had a vague sense of which way he needed to go. The buildings made the journey longer; they were obstacles, there to block his escape, keep him imprisoned amongst them.
He came across a portion of railway that was above ground. A station was at the other end of the street, the entrance lay underneath an arched bridge. It was a few hundred metres ahead. He limped alongside the tracks. The sound of a train’s horn came faintly from the distance. He turned around but couldn’t see the train; the buildings were blocking his view.
He limped as fast as he could towards the station. The street became brighter as the headlights of the train came up behind him. He hurried under the bridge; not bothering to check the security mirrors on the corners for any would be assailants. He entered the entrance and moved up the ramp, leading to the platform. The train departed as he arrived. He watched it disappear in to the night.
There was a silver box attached to the wall near the entrance. It had a button that, when pressed, caused an announcement for when the next train was due to depart from the station. He pressed the button and waited for the announcement. It didn’t come; he knew what the silence implied.
It was a long walk home and even though he now knew the general direction, he didn’t know if the streets would allow him passage. He could follow the tracks, they would definitely take him to where he wanted to go, but the idea of walking through pitch black tunnels was not an appealing one. He considered hiding somewhere until dawn but decided against it. Hiding places turned into traps quite easily, places to get cornered. His best bet was to keep moving.
He left the station. After a while the sound of a Motorcycle’s engine emerged from the silence. It became louder and louder. He couldn’t determine which direction it was coming from but he could tell that it was getting closer. He ran over to the darkness of a doorway and waited. The engine’s noise reached a crescendo as a rider roared along the intersection ahead.
The sound of the engine became quieter. When it had disappeared in to the silence he emerged from the darkness and continued. The roads twisted and turned. It didn’t take him long to get lost, not that he had ever really known where he was in the first place. He couldn’t tell which way he had come or which way he should go. He kept on walking; it felt more productive than just staying still.
The car park appeared as he turned a corner. It was large and ominously empty. He decided to cross over. Newspapers blew around his feet. When he was almost at the other end, a black car sped through the Southern entrance and skidded to a halt. He knew that the car had stopped because of him, he could sense it. The back tires span fiercely before the vehicle charged. He limped as fast as he could towards the Northern entrance.
The windows were tinted; he couldn’t see who was inside. He ran out on to the footpath and along the street. The car followed, driving up on to the footpath. He cut through an alley and ended up in a street running parallel. Rather than follow him down the alley, the car turned at the next corner, in an attempt to cut him off. He could hear it approaching so he ran back down the alley to the street he had just come from.
As he made his way through the city, he occasionally heard the car screeching around corners. Whenever it sounded as though it was close by he ducked in to the shadows of a doorway or passage.
He could feel her eyes before he heard her voice. “Hey.”
He looked up to where the voice had come from; a small circular window on the second floor of an apartment block. The lights were off but somebody was home. Leaning on the windowsill was a woman who looked to be around his age. She didn’t seem to mind that she was drawing attention to him; she was safe in her castle.
“You don’t look like the kind of person I usually see walking around these parts at night.”
He looked around the street to see if anyone was coming and then looked back up.
“I’m looking for somewhere to stay until dawn.” he replied. “Do you have a couch I can sleep on?”
“How do I know I can trust you?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” He replied. “But I know that you do.” The woman disappeared in to her apartment. He assumed that she was coming downstairs to let him in. Their exchange would have surely caught the attention of at least a few people in the neighbourhood. If she didn’t emerge soon, he would leave before anyone else came along.
After a couple of minutes he heard the latch being unlocked. The door leading in to the block opened enough for him to get through. He went through and the woman closed the door behind him and locked it. They were in a long narrow hallway, lined with doors. It felt good to be inside. It felt as though he had left the dangers of the city at the doorstep. The woman led him to the stairwell at the end of the hall.
“So why were you out on the street?” She asked, as they ascended. “Are you homeless?”
“Yes.” He replied. It was better just to lie and leave it at that. He didn’t want to go in to the tale of his night.
When they reached the second storey they walked down the hall, to the last apartment. She unlocked the door and invited him inside. The quarters were larger than he expected; a spacious lounge room, a small kitchen and two closed doors that presumably occluded the bathroom and her bedroom.
“Take a seat.” She said, walking in to the kitchen.
He walked over to the circular window and peered down to where he had been, moments earlier. The street was dead, not a pulse to be detected.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” came her voice, from the kitchen. “That would be nice.” He replied. “Thank you.”
“How do you take it?”
“Milk and one sugar.”
He continued to stare out at the street. Through the silence he heard the sound of the kettle. It called out and after a few moments she quietened it. A few moments after that she emerged with a tray, atop of which were two cups of tea and a plate, covered in biscuits.
She placed the tray on the coffee table. He sat down on the couch in front of the coffee table and she sat down on the chair on the other side. They didn’t say anything as they drank their teas. He looked around. The furniture was old and there were bookshelves, filled with dusty old books. Everything around him seemed antiquated; it was as if he had entered a bygone era.
After finishing her tea the woman went to fetch him a quilt and a pillow, from her room.
“Help yourself to anything in the kitchen.” She said as she gently placed the bedding on the arm rest of the couch.
“The bathroom is just over there.” She said, pointing to the closed door.
He nodded and said ‘Thankyou’. She went to her room and closed the door. He finished his tea and then walked back over to the window. The street was still dead. Raindrops had started to fall from the sky. It didn’t take long for them to start pelting down on the surfaces in the city. A jagged streak of lightning illuminated the sky. A crack of thunder followed a few moments later. On the street below he saw a man running along the footpath, trying pointlessly to escape the rain. It could have been him, he thought.
The storm continued until the early morning birds started to sing. The last raindrops fell before the sun began to rise. He hadn’t gotten much sleep; whenever he was about to drift under he would waken to the sound of commotions on the street. He didn’t mind, he felt secure and comfortable.
He left the apartment before the sun had risen. There was a pen and notepad on the coffee table so he left her a note. It was still dark out but there was enough light to see. The first trains would be running soon if they hadn’t started already. He headed down the street. A street cleaner could be heard in the distance. It made him feel safe.
He walked around for a while, finding nowhere that looked familiar. He didn’t come across any stations or any bus stops; he had not managed to escape from the bad side of the city. When he eventually came to a part of the city that he could recognize, he didn’t feel reassured. It was where he had awoken many hours earlier. He looked up at the clock tower to see that both hands were reaching out to the number 12.