A short story I wrote as a part of the Halloween Blog Hop, 'Share A Scare'. Hope you enjoy my first attempt at a scary story, 'The Rail Road Walker'.
Most people ignored the broadcast. That means there are only a small number of us left. I can't blame those who stayed in their homes, turned off the radio; it was a strange command after all.
“Walk the rail roads. Don't turn back no matter what. Avoid the injured and dead. Sleep during the day and walk at night for they will not appear in the open while light. Keep a torch, batteries and matches. We will send aid. Don't stop walking.”
Perhaps the only reason I obeyed was due to my own paranoia. I could see the signs before anyone else. The mysterious illness struck fear into all humans. Most thought it safer to shut the door, never leave their homes. They thought that surely they would stay safer if they never left. They were wrong.
So I walk. I never turn around. I have seen corpses along the rail road but I never pause. Each time I pass these bodies I feel sick to the stomach, I can't look at them, and yet I know I still can't stop walking. Sometimes the things leave them there to trick you. I've seen people lying by the tree line beside the tracks, struggling to breathe, their flesh swelling, the skin splitting with infectious sores. I give these a wide birth although a large part of me wants to help them, even if just to ease their pain. But even so, I must venture from the tracks to avoid them, my torch gripped in one hand as I watch the trees for movement. The light is supposed to hurt them; why else would they avoid the open ground during the day? At each station there is a stockpile of food and water, just as the broadcast had promised. But there are more of the things around the stations. I have been lucky so far, or maybe just careful.
I still haven't seen one of the things. I have heard them, their gargling and harsh screams in the darkness. Those who see them don't survive. They stop walking and they die. Then they disappear.
I look ahead through a curtain of heavy rain, squinting to see. In one hand I carry my torch, turned off to conserve power, in the other was the hand of my eleven year old niece. Hailey shuffles forward beside me, her eyes on the dark trees. I can see a strange structure ahead. As we continue forward, never stopping, I see a bridge. It was old and the wooden supports seemed worn. Below was a long drop to a raging river seen as a shadow in the darkness. I almost stop but out of habit I walk on. If I stop, we die. I could almost sense the soulless eyes watching me from the trees, almost feel their breath on my neck. Waiting. The sound of the rain, along with the occasional crack of thunder, drowns out any other sounds. We step on to the bridge. It groans below us. Will it take our weight? I keep walking. The bridge had been designed to hold a train but the rail road I had chosen to walk was old and abandoned. I believed that less people would follow this path... and that there would be less things. It has been a long time since I saw the last body. Not that that meant anything. Perhaps the creatures here were more efficient, not leaving many bodies behind. A cracking sound to my right startles me and, with a practiced motion, my torch flares to life. Nothing. My heart beats in my chest frantically. I keep walking.
I hesitantly switch off the torch but keep it in an iron grip.
"Ow," Hailey whispers quietly and I hazard a glance down. "You're hurting me," She mutters and I relax my hand. I had been squeezing her hand tightly. She pulled it away, rubbing it with her other hand.
"Sorry," I whisper then turn my attention forward again. Hailey had been my sister's daughter, she barely spoke to me now. I think a part of her blamed me for what happened to her mother. I had been forced to tear Hailey away from her home as her mother convulsed on the floor. I might have tried to help her if I hadn't noticed the weeping tears slowly spreading across her skin, blood staining her white nightgown in multiple spots as it seeped from the wounds underneath. I think Hailey is beginning to understand now what I had done but I still see the hate in her eyes sometimes. It hurts to see that. I think of Hailey like my own daughter. I would babysit her when her mother went to work and take her to ballet class. A part of me had been jealous of my own sister since she could bear children. I guess now that she is gone I feel responsible to keep Hailey safe, I am all she has now. She is all I have. I place my hand protectively on her back, I can't let her stop walking. This isn't just about keeping myself alive, my life means nothing without Hailey.
The bridge is long and the rain in the darkness obscures most of our surroundings and what lays ahead of us. It has been dark for some time, day time shouldn't be far away. Until then we can't stop walking. Suddenly I feel Hailey's back drop and she screams out. Reflexively I grab her arm and pull her up on to the bridge in front of me. Glancing to the side I notice that an entire section of bridge had fallen away. I let out the breath I was holding. Hailey whimpers as she stumbles forward in front of me.
"Are you alright? You gave me a heart attack," I whisper. Hailey's head merely bobs in a nod as she walks in front of me, my over-sized windcheater hanging to her knees. She clutches at her arms and watches the bridge in front of her carefully. I keep my hand on her shoulder, afraid that I'll lose her if I lose the contact. I sigh. "It shouldn't be long now," I whisper encouragingly, "The sun will rise." Hailey's head bobs again.
We walk on in silence. I start to glance towards the horizon, waiting for the sun. We step off of the bridge and I hear Hailey let out a breath in relief. I didn't feel the same. With the danger of the crumbling bridge behind us, the trees once again surrounded our path. My skin prickled under the weight of the shadows.
After a few minutes Hailey says quietly, "I can't..." Then she collapses before me. I almost trip over her with the suddenness of which she fell.
"No!" I shout, trying to pull her up again. She didn't stand. I switch my torch on instantly, swinging it around myself in an attempt to keep the darkness away from us. I could hear that cackling again, as if the things were joyous about finally catching us. I bare my teeth in desperation. I wouldn't let them have Hailey; the morning wasn't far away and I would fight the creatures some how even if it meant sacrificing myself. The crunch of twigs behind me make me spin, torch searching the trees. I though I saw something move in the shadows. My breath was coming rapidly, my face dripped with sweat, my heart beating like a drum in my chest. Then Hailey began to convulse.
"Hailey, no you can't!" I yell desperately. I crouch down, shaking her by the shoulders, trying to wake her. I get a glance of her leg and notice a grisly gash across her thigh. The bridge must have cut her as she fell through. Her leg was soaked with her blood. I drop to my knees, letting my torch roll away, and place both hands on her thrashing leg in an attempt to stem the flow of blood. This was the end.
Suddenly the darkness dissipated, replaced by blinding light. We'd stopped walking, the things must have come. I screamed out, flailing my arms around as if I could fend them off. Hailey remained a huddled ball on the floor, her convulsions had stopped, blood was smeared across her face, torso, arms, legs. She wasn't breathing. A voice boomed from above.
"Move away from the girl. You are under arrest."
I stared upwards, blinking against the light. Arrest? My vision slowly came back as I adjusted to the light and I saw people surrounding us.
Realization hit me. "Oh my god! Thank you for coming! I knew you would save us. My niece, she's dying! Please help her!"
The voice boomed again. "Step away from girl. Lie face down on the ground with your hands atop your head."
What? I looked around at the people and noticed for the first time that they had guns. Those guns were pointed at me. I slowly stand, eyes flicking between the guns and Hailey. I walk away as instructed.
"What's going on?!" I shout. Suddenly a huge force hits me in the back and am sent tumbling forwards, the weight of two men on my back, wrenching my arms behind me. Peering back with difficulty I see two people rush to Hailey, checking her pulse. Soon they sit back on their heels, shaking their heads. No. Tears run freely down my face. It was my fault, if only I had made sure she walked on a safe portion of the bridge. The face of one of the paramedics turns to me, his eyes narrowed and his nose scrunched as if at a bad smell.
"I tried to save her!" I yelled, "If we had stopped, the things would have..." A smack across my face stopped me.
"Shut up crazy bitch," my aggressor snarled, "you have no idea the pain you have caused. It was all in your head."
What?! I looked back at Hailey's body. A police man was there now. With a gloved hand he reaches down and picks up a bloodied knife, placing it in a container.
And then it all came back to me...
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A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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