“The victim was found by railworkers at 5am on Monday 6th October at the entrance of the tunnel at Fairford Junction. She is believed to have bled to death due to trauma of the eye area. Police are appealing for any eye-witnesses who were in the area between midnight and 5am to contact them at….”
John shudders and turns away from the screen. His hands shaking slightly, he pulls his earphones out of his jacket pocket, untangles them and shoves them in his ears. As he looks around at the other passengers in the carriage, he catches a glimpse of his reflection in the window. He looks terrible. His dark hair is plastered across his forehead, doing little to hide his receding hairline. Light blue eyes blaze out of sunken eye sockets ringed by dark purple. A bead of sweat rolls slowly down his right temple, glistening against his pallid skin. He really needs to get some more sleep. And more fresh air. He grimaces at the thought of having wasted yet another weekend holed up in his tiny dark, damp apartment glued to the computer screen late into the night.
Shifting his feet, he leans forward and rests his forehead against the carriage door, staring out into the darkness as the tunnels whizz past. Station after station passes and the carriage grows busier behind him. With a hard jolt, the train comes to an abrupt halt mid-tunnel. John peers out through the glass at the dark wall on the other side of the glass. He can just about make out some electrical wiring and what looks like an air-conditioning chute. A glimmer of light in the corner of his eye catches his attention and he presses his left cheek against the greasy door to get a closer look.
So close he can feel his eyelashes catching against the glass, John scrutinizes the inky blackness. There it is again. The smallest shard of light, closer this time. As if carved from stone, John stands still, focusing on the same spot. Another brief illumination, closer still. The carriage machinery begins to rumble and whirr. ‘No, not yet. Just another minute.’ John mutters to himself, his breath steaming the glass in front of him.
Suddenly, an explosion of light blasts the tunnel, revealing it to be full of moving figures. John recoils from the glass, stunned.
“Oi, watch it!” John turns round to apologise to the angry middle-aged woman whose foot he’s just stomped on. She glares at him. Turning back to the glass, everything is pitch black again. Before he can regain his position, the carriage groans and creaks before beginning its trundle. John sighs, staring back at the blackness behind him. What was that? He closes his eyes and attempts to recall exactly what he saw. Definitely figures. Not 100% certain they were human. Definitely moving, but not in a ‘normal’ way – their movements were jerky, as if viewed through strobe lighting.
The days and weeks churned on, with sporadic updates on the growing number of murder victims found missing their eyes. Every morning and evening, John stood in the same position, scanning the exterior of the carriage to see if those lights would reappear. Occasionally the train would grumble to a halt at the same point and John would press himself against the glass expectantly. But the lights never reappeared. Once, there was a light which moved really close to the carriage, but it was only a maintenance worker who looked at him staring out of his mechanical prison as if he had lost his mind.
And so it was that John found himself in the familiar position that Wednesday morning. It was late March and Spring had started to make an appearance. There had been another murder the week before. Same story – victim found alone in a tunnel having bled to death through a brutal removal of the eyes. No leads. Only this time, the news was no longer on the front page. The world had moved on – juicy scandals on the latest reality television show had pushed the news further into the paper. John turned to page seven, where yet another face stared out at the world from a photograph taken in happier times. John gazed at the man’s photograph, looking without really seeing. The victim, Robin Gates, seemed familiar, but he couldn’t quite place him. His eyes blazed out of his face, a light sky blue. John frowned, puzzled. How did he know this man? He was sure he had seen him before…
Then it hit him. He’d seen him in the mornings occasionally, in this very carriage. One of the odd comforts of a dull, monotonous commute was that it was usually shared by people getting the same train day in, day out. He looked at the picture again, really seeing it this time. Underneath the main story was a feature on the other victims. Five in total of differing ages, both male and female. John. The eyes. They all had the same shade of blue eyes. John’s pulse began to race. Surely the police had picked up on this?
The train stopped again. John got himself into position again and prepared for disappointment – again. But this morning, something was different. A sliver of light in the distance. John squeezed his eyes shut and then opened them again to make sure he wasn’t imagining it – that had happened before. But no, the light was still there. Closer this time. John moved closer to the glass and peered out intently, squinting hard.
Suddenly a face appears on the other side of the glass. “Shit!” John exclaims, stumbling back a step into the carriage. He leans forward again. The face is still there. It’s a male. The lights of the carriage are reflected in his eyes as he gazes at John and the right side of his mouth twists into a lopsided smile, revealing dark, crooked teeth. The person – it seems human – tilts its head to one side and beckons to John, revealing surprisingly clean fingers. Then… he disappears into the darkness. John stands still, watching the now-empty window, before reaching up and wrenching the emergency cable.
With the wail of an alarm, the doors spring open and John leaps down from the carriage onto the side of the tracks. Ignoring the angry shouts and gesticulations of the people left on the train, he flails around, searching for that glimmer of light in the darkness. Far to his right, behind the train, he can just make out some movement. John starts to run towards it, using the side of the stationary train to guide his footsteps. Within seconds, he’s cleared the train. He slows his steps, gradually coming to a halt. Encircled by heavy blackness, John whirls round and round, searching for the light. To his left, he hears a low sound – like a giggle. His arms outstretched in front of him, he picks his way to the side of the tunnel. As he moves closer, he feels a slight gust of warm air coming from the tunnel wall. “A passageway! Of course…” Hearing his own voice in the pitch black is comforting, so John begins to mutter to himself whilst feeling along the walls of the tunnel for an entrance ‘What am I thinking? I’ve got to get to work – They won’t tolerate me being late again….But…I need to know who these people are! They could be genuine mole people – imagine the coverage a story like this could get! This could be the break I’ve been looking for…Aha! Here we go!’
Behind him, he hears the train begin to whine and whirr. Remembering that the electric tracks will be reactivated, John propels himself into the passageway. Again, the light flickers in the distance. John takes his phone from his pocket, hoping to use its light. Battery dead. With a sigh, he lifts his arms in front of him again and begins to walk. The light grows stronger and he can just about make out the surface he is walking on – it seems to be waste from dead trees. It must have been blown in through the vents during a storm or something. The crunching sound reminds him of family trips to the forest. In fact, the last time he went to the forest was with Amelia, before….John shakes the memory out of his head. ‘Focus!’ he chastises himself, crunching his way further into the tunnel.
“Hello! Is there anyone there?” A deep voice resonates in the enclosed space, its echoes bouncing off the brick walls. The emergency crews have arrived. Not wanting to be detected before he’s finally solved the mystery, John plunges deeper into the tunnel. In his haste, he trips and falls heavily to the floor, his outstretched arms breaking his fall. The leaves and twigs scattered on the ground are not leaves and twigs, but something else. The branches feel too smooth and too cold. Like a very delicate marble. He scrabbles around with his hands, trying to locate his phone. Although the torch is still on, it has fallen face down, casting a dim and eerie light upwards. The ‘branches’ are a dull white, like the bark of a birch tree. He snatches up his phone and casts its light over the floor, carefully shielding the glare from the train behind him. Still not bright enough. Still sitting, he scrabbles around with his right hand until his fingers close on something solid. He brings it closer to the dim light of the torch and investigates further.
‘Is it a branch?’ he puzzles. He props the phone between his knees in order to use both hands, turning the object over and over. He brings it even closer to his face. ‘It certainly seems to have the texture, but..’ With a sick realisation, it occurs to him. It is a bone. Human or animal, he doesn’t know. Instinctively, he throws it as far away as he can, wincing as it smashes loudly against the tunnel wall. His breath coming fast, he tries to lever himself up without touching any more but his legs don’t have the strength and he tumbles headfirst back into the pit of bones.
John can feel the panic rising in his chest. ‘Calm down. It’s just animal bones. This is probably where the dead strays get washed up in the floods. Nothing to freak out about.’ He speaks aloud, muttering to himself to steady his nerves. He prepares to lever himself to standing again, but just as he is about to push into his feet, he notices the skull. Too big to be a dog’s. Definitely a human skull. A terrified yelp escapes from his throat and he scuttles backwards, stopping only when he can feel the safety of the wall behind him.
Down the tunnel, doors slam. An engine starts. The train begins to move.
‘Shit!’ Desperate not to be stuck down here, alone in the dark amongst the dead, John tries to push himself upright, using the wall as a prop. As soon as he’s standing, he starts to run towards the swiftly departing train, but he stumbles over his own feet in his panic. Lying amongst the bones again, he can feel the bile rising in his throat.
Something grabs him under his armpits and hauls him to standing.
At first, he doesn’t know what the eyes belong to. They loom in front of him, seemingly from nowhere, clear and vivid. A startlingly blue, just like his own. As they move ever closer, he realises that they are attached to a face – pale and gaunt, with sunken cheeks. The rancid breath lingers in his nostrils and corrupts his lips. John tries to struggle, tries to free himself but the things that have entrapped him have iron grips.
More eyes appear, all the same vivid, cornflower blue, peering up at him from the darkness, lit only by the blaze from his torch, which casts an ethereal light.
“ARGH!” John glances frantically down at his leg to see what has caused the sharp pain. There are more of them clustered around him, clutching shards of bone. One of them has embedded a shard in his leg and as he realises the intentions of the others, he desperately begins to struggle again, but there are too many of them. He topples to the floor and they swarm over him. As his blood spills over the bones of their previous victim, he is dimly aware of a monstrous face in front of him. The eye sockets are empty – deep dark hollows but the features are still full of menace. Gnarled fingers probe his face and he attempts to bat them off but he has grown too weak. He is dead before they have extracted his eyes and given them to a gleeful youngster, leaving his body slumped on the ground, his bones destined to join the heap.