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๐Ÿญ๐Ÿฌ:๐Ÿญ๐Ÿฌ ๐˜๐—ผ ๐—ง๐—ต๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐—ด๐—บ๐—ผ๐—ฟ๐˜๐—ฒ๐—ป

๐˜ฃ๐˜บ ๐˜›๐˜ช๐˜ฎ ๐˜‘๐˜ฆ๐˜ง๐˜ง๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜บ๐˜ด



At dusk, I walked the main road towards home. A railway bridge crosses the road ahead of where I walked, and as I approached, a train ran over it. The train was a black silhouette against the deepening sky, but the windows were lit so I had a detailed view of the interior. As I watched each carriage pass, I noticed that all were empty; or so I thought.


In the final carriage, in the final window, a figure stood looking outwards. A young woman. I blinked on sight of her, and in the time this took, she, and the train she rode, were gone. All that remained was a fast fading rush of air and gallop of pistons. But the image of the woman didnโ€™t depart so rapidly from my memory. I could still picture her stood in that last window of that final carriage. Sheโ€™d been looking straight at me, I was sure of that, mouthing something and slapping both palms against the train window in what I could only interpret as an urgent bid to get my attention. In the final second sheโ€™d looked over her shoulder, and there, across the aisle, another figure stood. I say figure, but what I thought I saw was some kind of large, man-sized insect. It had big, black oval eyes and a pair of clacking mandibles; and two pairs of mantis-like legs were weaving about in the air above its head. The most bizarre thing was that it wore a smart, grey coat with a white shirt and black tie. But I must have been mistaken. Like I said, within a few seconds the train was gone and I spent most of that time blinking in disbelief. Perhaps this second figure was a person wearing some kind of costume. Or perhaps there was no second figure. Perhaps there was no woman. I may, very well, have imagined all of it.


With the noise of the train gone, and only this lingering after-image remainingโ€”the panicked young woman and the menacing out-sized insectโ€”it was fortunate I chose to glance at my watch. The time was twelve minutes after ten. The station was only a few minutes away, so I was able to deduce that the train had left the platform at ten minutes past the hour.


Whether real or imagined, I couldnโ€™t shake the feeling that the woman on that train had desperately sought my assistance, and I, in my confusion and bewilderment, had failed her.


It took little effort to work out that the train she had ridden on was bound for a place called Throgmorten. Throgmorten was not only the final stop along the line, but the only stop thereafter. It is a little town some twelve miles from where I live; a place which, until that moment, I had never heard of before, let alone visited.


I found myself making plans to go there. On Friday evening, I decided, after work. Quite what I hoped to achieve was anyoneโ€™s guess.


I waited alone on the platform as the sky darkened. The departure board made no mention of the 10:10, and I began to think Iโ€™d been mistaken, untilโ€”precisely on timeโ€”the Throgmorten train eased into the station. On boarding, and making my way along the aisles, I found every carriage to be empty. There was not even a conductor. I took a seat in the final carriage as the train departed. I couldnโ€™t help glancing around, half-expecting to see a giant insect rearing up from behind one of the seatbacks, and a little frisson of terror ran down my spine. Within minutes, though, the train entered a long tunnel and I sat and held my breath in the dark.


Throgmortenโ€™s train station was brightly lit, but deserted, and on leaving it I found the streets unpeopled too. By blind luck I discovered what appeared to be the high street, and began searching for a place to spend the night. I would begin my investigations in the morning, in daylight. I found a place at the far end of the high street: the Cow Hollow Hotel. A cheerless little man, sat behind the reception desk, slung a key at me and said, โ€œUpstairs.โ€ A worn leather fob on the key read 10.


My room was small and windowless. There was a single bed pushed to one side of the room, a writing desk, and on the wall opposite the bed, a hideous black-framed ornate mirror. As I stood looking at my reflection in the mirror I had a sudden sense that something wasnโ€™t right. There appeared to be a delay, as if my reflectionโ€™s movements were a step behind my own. I moved closer to the mirror and noticed it again. This was no reflection! To be certain, I put my back to the mirror then spun around suddenly. A-ha! The man in the mirror still faced away from me! He glanced over his shoulder and was startled to see that Iโ€™d caught him out. He made some heart-hearted attempt to adopt my current stance, but then simply threw up his arms in defeat.


He gestured to me then, and pointed towards the door, mouthing something which I eventually realised was, โ€œLook Outside.โ€


As there was no window in my room I had to travel back down the stairs. The reception desk was unmanned. Crossing to the main door, I opened it and peered out into the street. Night had fallen, and oh the horror! For a few moments I stood blinking. In the street outside, instead of people, giant insects strolled. Spiders and woodlouse and beetles and crickets! They wore suits and dresses and overcoats, some even wore hats, and they carried umbrellas and handbags. Some walked arm in arm, others singularly or in groups. And in doorways and alleyways, I saw people. They kept to the shadows. If one emerged into the streetlight, the insects would swat at them with flailing legs or strike at them with handbags or walking sticks, sending them scuttling back into the dark.


My heart faltered. I had entered a nightmare. Letting the door swing closed, I fled back up the stairs. On the first floor, I grew panicked as I at first couldnโ€™t find the room from which Iโ€™d entered this hell.


Once inside the room, exhausted by my exertions and still filled with horror and bewilderment at what Iโ€™d seen on the streets outside, I lay down on the bed without undressing and fell into a deep, troubled sleep.


Opening my eyes, and turning on the bedside lamp, the first thing I saw was an earwig making an unhurried path across the wall. Without thinking, and using a disproportionate amount of force, I flattened it with my fist.


After this I lay on my back staring at the ceiling, trying to make sense of what Iโ€™d seen the night before. I had a strong urge to escape that wretched room with its garish wallpaper flowers which gave a sense of being trapped and entangled. So, after dressing, I rushed down the stairs and fled through the main doors.


Everything was as it should have been. I began to think the events of last night had been some strange fantasy, a delusion, or an extremely vivid dream. I made my way along the row of shopfronts, looking for a cafรฉ. Finding one decked out with a lot of reassuring dark wood, I ordered coffee and toast and took a seat by the window.


As I sat idly watching the passers-by and sipping my drink, a woman passing along the street stopped to look in at me. She was young and petite, with a tussle of blonde hair, big brown eyes, and very red lips. Not until she put her palms on the glass and mouthed something did I realise it was the same woman Iโ€™d seen on the train a few days ago being terrorised by a giant insect; the very reason I had come to this town in the first place! I stood up at once, but the woman peeled away from the glass and took off down the street at a fast walk.


โ€œWait!โ€ I called. Heads turned to look at me. I bundled out into the road, just in time to see the woman look back once before taking a left into a side street.


โ€œWait!โ€ I called again, and broke into a run.


By the time I reached the side street, quite deranged in my pursuit, I could see no sign of the woman. I hurried along a row of shops. My quarry had ducked inside one of these establishments, but which? One shop window was full of mirrors, and in all of them I saw my reflection, my twin, thumbing over his shoulder and nodding towards the rear of the shop. Chimes rang as I entered, but there were no people inside. The walls were covered by three tiers of mirrors of all shapes and sizes. As I passed along the rows I saw in each my reflection gesticulating frantically towards the far end of the shop. There, a spiral staircase descended into gloom. I must have had some sense of what awaited me at the bottom of that staircase, as I paused to pluck a golf umbrella from a coat-rack. Brandishing this before me like a sword, I began down the twisting staircase.


There were ten of them, or so I estimated, and they passed the woman between them like a gang of children squabbling over a doll; violating her hair and clothes with long hairy appendages, feelers, and snapping pedipalps. The womanโ€™s mouth gaped in a silent scream and her eyes were wide with terror. A wave of revulsion went through me, quickly turning to anger, and I grit my teeth. Without thinking I gave a cry and speared one of her assailants, a giant black beetle, through the middle with the umbrella. Transparent wings erupted from behind its back as it struggled. Feeling the strength of the thing as it tried to pull away, I bellowed and put all my weight behind the umbrella, forcing it deeper into the thingโ€™s underside until at last it slumped forward and was still. But now the others were upon me. Drawing the umbrella from the beetleโ€™s innards, I swept back the legs of a massive tarantula then speared it too. A sideways swipe took the head off a mantis and green goo sputtered upwards from its neck cavity, spattering my face. I reeled around in disgust, then skewered a massive ladybird through the centre as it tried to come at me and rolled it from my path; then without pause I spun the umbrella around and used the handle to beat an enormous woodlouse to a grey pulp. A great wasp attacked me then. Thought I swiped at it, it ducked away then came back on the attack, thrusting its stinger, again and again until I managed to rip one wing with the point of the umbrella and it fell to the floor, buzzing furiously and twisting in half-circles until I stamped down hard on its head.


On through the throng I went, stabbing and smashing and slicing, until finally the only creatures left standing were the human kind: myself and the woman. She cowered against the back wall, beneath a tiny, grime-covered window. I held out one hand and she took it.


Together we fled. I had no idea where I was leading her. I just knew we had to get away from there. I saw a sign for the train station and struck for it. As we hurtled hand in hand into the station, I heard a whistle blow and cried out: โ€œWait!โ€ A train stood alongside the platform. I tugged the womanโ€™s hand harder and ran so fast we were almost falling, until we tumbled, laughing, through the sliding doors of the train a moment before they closed. โœฆ




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Tim Jeffreys' short fiction has appeared in Supernatural Tales, Not One of Us, The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors 2 & 3, and Nightscript, among various other publications. His novella, Holburn, a ghost story set in an exclusive girl school, will be published by Manta Press in August, 2022. Follow his progress at www.timjeffreys.blogspot.co.uk.



Speculative fiction & POETRY ZINE
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