Evander couldn't breathe but they didn't stop running. The bus hissed, it's engine snarled, it's red brake lights glared and it lurched forward. Evander waved their arms but it was too late. The bus pulled away from the station and around the corner. Evander threw their bag to the ground and snapped out some sharp words. They kicked a rock so hard it hit the thick glass of the station. Making a sharper cry than Evander. Evander glared at the metal sourly.
They took a deep breath to calm themself. Staring at where the bus had been but wouldn't be back until the next morning. Evander scooped up and slung their bag onto their shoulder. Their hand travelled to their pocket to slip out their phone. The phone's home screen lit up with the time, weather and their most used apps; mostly games. Evander flipped through the screen to their contacts. They scrolled down the few contacts they had, then back up. Not knowing who to text. Ultimately they closed the app and opened up an instant messaging app instead. Here were all their friends both near and far.
The keyboard clicked as they typed out a message to all the people in their chat about how they missed the bus. Evander sat on the bench and waited. Tapping the sides of their phone screen. Waiting for any response. They couldn't bring themself to just ask for a ride. It seemed so manipulative to try and weasel a ride home from someone. They squeezed their phone tight. The phone went dark. If they didn't post anything else then maybe no one would think of them like that.
Evander pulled up their navigation and pressed home. A little blue line outlined the road they'd take home. The sidebar opened up to show how long it would take them to get home in three different ways. They were depressing estimates. It would be long dark before they'd even be on the right street. As a last hope they checked their messages. No one had responded, but their icons said they were online. Evander shoved their phone into their pocket. They held their bag a little tighter to them as they walked. The street lights flickered on overhead as the chill of the night wrapped itself around Evander. Entering their open jacket and making their skin prickle.
They had to pull their phone back out of their pocket at the intersection to check which direction they should turn. The navigation was taking them the fastest way which meant travelling down the highway. The city was well equipped to handle pedestrians, as such it had many walkways, paths and detours near or alongside the highway to avoid any accidents. Unfortunately, the navigation didn't really know that. Instead it tried to take them directly on the road side. It lagged and malfunctioned when Evander didn't walk directly on the side of the highway.
The highways had grassy green parks that were connected all throughout the city. Evander stayed on the main road and kept the highway within sight. Orange and yellows bled across the skies as slivers of the sun were peeking through the buildings on the horizon. Shadows drew long. Summer petals yawned closed atop the trees and the wild blossoms in the fields laid down in their beds. Jealousy ran through Evander's veins as they walked past. More than anything they wished they could be in bed and that they could just stay there. No buses that they had to catch, no job that kept them late.
Evander's shoulder slammed into another's and nearly knocked them to the ground. Their bag fell to the ground with a flat sound. They looked up to snap at whoever had shoved them so hard. The stranger was tall but almost entirely shadow, obscuring any detail of him. Even though Evander could clearly make out the details of everything else around them, he was void of anything definitive. Ice ran through their veins at his darkly shadowed face. They scooped up their bag hastily. Mind blank of all thoughts but one; danger.
"Where you headed?" His voice sounded like he'd swallowed broken glass. Evander didn't want to answer his question but couldn't speak. They only shook their head and mutely moved their lips.
"I said; Where are you headed?" He asked again. Turning to face Evander. They held their bag close to their chest as if the random work items would protect them from an attack.
"Home." Evander said. Their voice came out a lot stronger than they'd expected. They straightened their shoulders. Slowly backing up with sure steps that were ready to run at a moment's notice.
"Long way to go so late at night." He mentioned. He moved his hands from his heavy coat. Evander flinched but the stranger only brought from his pockets a pack of cigarettes. He pulled one out and held the pack to them. Again they could only shake their head.
"What makes you think it's far away?" Evander slung their pack on to their shoulder and the man shoved the cigarettes back into his pocket.
"You're travellin the highway." He brought out a lighter and flicked it on. He lit the cigarette in his mouth. A twisting feeling of horror, nausea and sick curiosity flickered with the lighter's flame as the light twisted the shadows of the man's face. For only a second in the light, he looked like a bare skull. No eyes, just empty hollow holes. No skin, just bare, crooked and almost sharp teeth.
"You must be far away from home. There's no residential areas for quite a ways down the highway." He continued around the lit cigarette. Evander was still shaken from what had to be only a trick of the light.
"I'm not that far from home." They whispered. It was hard to make their voice work the right way. They cleared their throat and repeated themself with confidence.
"I heard you." The stranger dragged his cigarette and blew blue tinged smoke. The wind blew the smoke away but Evander could still smell the bittersweet nostalgia of tobacco. They didn't know how to end the interaction. If it was even still active. So they began to walk away. Moving backwards to keep their eyes on the stranger.
"If you do have a long way to go." He started. Pausing to blow more smoke. "I'd recommend taking the train."
"I…" Evander started but the statement was so ludicrous they had to collect their thoughts. "I beg your pardon?"
"The train station." The stranger said. "Follow the tracks. They go all over the city."
"There's no train stations anywhere near my apartment." Evander said awkwardly. Realizing what they said their face flushed. Was he trying to get them to tell him where they lived? Had they already?
"Doesn't matter." The stranger turned away from them toward the darker half of the sky. "The tracks take you where you need to go. Just follow them and they'll get you where you're going." Evander's legs were filled with cement. He sounded insane. Probably was.
"I will consider that." Evander nodded with a forced smile.
"I hope you will. The tracks lead everyone differently." The stranger blew more smoke to the wind. The blue curls turned and twisted until they nearly resembled… No. They didn't resemble anything. It was nothing but the adrenaline of the moment.
"Thank you for the advice." Evander said definitively. They needed to go. They were tired from a hard, long day at a physical job that left them drained in every sense of the word. Exhaustion was making things appear that weren't there. They needed to get back to their apartment before they passed out under a tree. The stranger turned and walked away from them. Disappearing into the night. Evander stared down the sidewalk wondering if he'd ever really been there at all. They shook their head and rubbed their eyes.
The path ahead was still light between the trees but it led straight into the shadows of the city where the sun was quickly vanishing. It made them move quickly, gliding across the pavement. Out of the grassy area to the side street where the entire block was taken up by the old train yard. An old fenced off graveyard of hollowed, burnt out machines. The sidewalk turned around and down the side street. Winding around the train yard. A path that was often called haunted.
Evander stopped at the traffic lights but didn't hit the crosswalk button. They pulled out their phone to inspect the direction they should go. The screen was blank with nothing but a notification saying; Signal Lost. They checked their data; nowhere near their limit. Service; still active. Three "friends" had started a conversation in a separate chat. Causing pings with every message. Must be a problem with the navigation itself. Maybe it'd figure itself out if they just kept moving.
Evander hit the button and crossed the street. Following the sidewalk around the train yard. They walked up on their tiptoes slowly so they could stare into the yard. The shells of old buses, tunnels of disemboweled train cars, and the mechanical heaps of dead cars. It resembled a junkyard more than a train yard. Behind the machine corpses was a squat little cement building. Covered in spray paint, police tape and half leaned sheets of plywood. The old station. Evander had seen it in passing, but never gave a passing thought to it. Though, they'd always wanted to explore it. Just see what was inside. But that was a fantasy. They weren't a teenager anymore and the last thing they wanted was to be arrested for their immaturity.
Thoughts of the stranger floated up in their mind. Phrased as an encouragement to climb the fence and go poking around. Evander put their fingers between the links of the fence. Not moving at all any more. They looked up at the top of the fence and squeezed the links in their hand. Simulating in their mind climbing the fence. It was twice as tall as they were. Evander was athletically built but certainly not athletic by any means. They had a figure that said; blessed with good genetics; close relationship with fast food. But it was just a chain link fence. The easiest fence to hop aside from maybe a wire fence you could slide between.
They fitted their other hand on the links. Then looked around paranoid. The streets were barren. Even the wind was looking the other way. Evander lifted a foot and shoved their sneaker into the gap of the links. Bouncing up and down on one foot still on the ground. Attempting to convince themself this was a good idea. With a deep breath they shoved out all the worries, doubts, and fears. They pulled themself up and began climbing the fence. Their sneakers were too big to fit in the links. They had to cram the toes of their shoes in to get any purchase. At the top Evander froze. They were up but didn't have much of an idea on how to get over.
They awkwardly swung their leg over and put hand over hand on the links. Shoving their sneakers in. Thoughts of falling, of scraping through their jeans. Of injuring themself came fast and distracting. But as they swung their other leg over and made their way down, they found the ground again without slipping. The ground was covered in gravel. It crunched under Evander's shoes. They were in the train yard. Their heart pounding in the back of their throat told them to hop the fence again and leave. But the stronger half of their mind said 'just a look.'
Just a quick adventure around the yard, find no way into the building, continue on their way. A quick little short cut. Evander walked through the graveyard of trains. Pale moonlight filtered through the yard. Making the husks of machinery look like something otherworldly. Evander walked slowly through the yard. Making sure they took more than enough time to see all the discarded things. The boarded up building snuck up on them before they were ready for it.
It was pale, covered in random spray painted pictures of dicks and curse words. Yellow caution tape wrapped around the building and all the windows and doors were covered in plywood. Evander turned on the flashlight on their phone. The circle of light danced around the building. Illuminating signs that warned the building was condemned. There was never a time that Evander could remember that this building wasn't boarded up. They walked to the entrance where two sheets of plywood were bolted over it. They looked pretty solid. On a whim Evander walked up to the sheets and pressed on them. The one on the left wiggled and slid open. Revealing the dark archway and stairs down.
Fingers tapped on the wood contemplatively. They hadn't expected it to be open, though they might have known. The flashlight's circle shone down the tunnel steps. There was no trace of the next floor down but the stairs had to lead somewhere. Evander slid between the boards. Just for a moment. Just to see what's down there. They felt like a teen again. Only when they were a teen they never would have done anything like this. Each step down had them standing just a little straighter and a mischievous smile on their face.
The light shone down the tunneling stairs. The walls were covered in more spray paint in the same style as the outer walls. Though it became scarce as the stairs went down. It became colder as the stairs went down too. Evander stepped down onto the landing. It was a big, cold, and empty platform. Grand stone arches bent over the room with faded pillars. The ceiling was tiled in a grand, if faded, mosaic. The large picture was of a peaceful river bank with flowers, trees, and a girl in yellow chasing a white rabbit. They trailed their light over the pieces of the mosaic in awe. It seemed too beautiful to belong here, in the dark.
On the other side of the room was a ledge that jumped down to the train's tracks. The engine of an old train blocked off the tracks to the right. There was only one way to go. Without thinking about it, Evander crouched and slid off the ledge down onto the tracks. They shone their flashlight around. The engine towered over them nearly a perfect fit to the tunnel with no room to wiggle. Ahead was a void that made Evander's hair stand on end. They pulled their jacket tight around their shoulders as a cold wind blew from the void. Sounding like a groan or a hiss. A sour smell of something burning came wafting out with the wind.
The strangers' words were coming back like malicious ghosts. The tracks will take you where you need to go. Evander wondered if they wanted to go where the tracks led. Their feet began walking down the tracks into the void. Even a shake of their head didn't stop them from moving forward. Their light trailed around the dark brick tunnel. It had no discerning features of any kind. Nothing but a cold wind that smelled sour. Evander shrugged their bag on their shoulder. They shone around their light but as they walked the light didn't seem to shine as bright. Evander checked their phone battery and it was over half way full. There was no reason for their light to be dimming.
Yet it was. With every step the light dimmed a little more.
Then the light went out. It didn't stop Evander from moving forward, or maybe it did. There was hardly any way to tell if they were moving or not. They turned around to go back but the light didn't turn back on. They ran a few steps back but the light didn't come back on. The chills shivered through their body. Their stomach squeezed and twisted. They opened their chat app again. Keys clicked out a message to their friends. Just in case. Just in case they never made it out.
There was a sound. A scurrying sound. Like something was lurking around them. It kicked Evander into walking again. The scurrying turned to clicking. The click echoed around them but it sounded like it was coming from behind them. They sped up. The click sped up behind them. They giggled a little hysterically, the clicking must just be their own footsteps. The giggle was high pitched with fear. Their shoulders were beginning to hurt from how tense they held them. Then something cold brushed against their shoulder. Evander slid in the gravel as they stumbled into a run. Throwing their bag in the dark to distract whatever it was that touched them. Behind them the clicking kept speed with them. Looming over top of them, ready to swallow them up. It didn't matter how hard Evander ran, the clicking stayed right on top of them.
Not far ahead loomed the ledge of another platform. The short light of an exit tried to illuminate the ledge but wasn't succeeding much. Evander pushed themself harder. Trying to gain any distance between themself and their pursuer. They vaulted at the ledge. Their sneakers scraped and slid against the ledge as they scrambled up it. They ran to the center of the platform. Only slowly stopping as it occurred to them that the clicking sound had stopped. They turned around to investigate. Fearing they'd scared themself and nothing had been following them at all.
At first there was nothing there. The platform was empty. But then a long spider's leg from the top of the opening, retracted back to the void. Evander blinked several times. To make sure that they'd imagined it. And they must have. Forgetting about the upsetting but obviously not real creature in the darkness. Evander pulled up their phone's flashlight again. It still wasn't working. But there was a pale silvery light coming from the opening that they could barely see by. The platform was identical to the one they'd left. All except the mural on the ceiling. Now the girl was wearing red and they were walking into a giant black forest shadowed like a wolf.
Evander shifted uncomfortably. Sliding their red jacket off and tying it around their waist. They hastily ran up the steps two at a time. The tunneling staircase became narrower and shorter with every step. Until Evander was crawling up towards the light. They grabbed the exit's rounded edges and pulled themself out of the tunnel. They crawled to their feet and saw ashes. Grey ashes that dusted the streets. And there were streets. Old dirt roads and drunkenly leaning buildings of mud and weaving sticks surrounded by a giant concrete wall. Above their head was a grand sky. Made up entirely of dark rolling waves. Lights twinkled through the shimmering water.
Street lights filled with flames ignited down the streets. The lights illuminated ghostly apparitions crowding the dirt roads. They shambled about with blank white eyes. They looked quickly at them and looked away. Vanishing away in the distance until only Evander was left in the streets. They wiped the dirt and ash off their hands as they stared around the city. Ash falling around them like snow.