by T.N. Allan
Catching the bus had been a mistake. In the distant recesses of her mind, where the subconscious feeds a constant stream of garbled information, rarely mellifluous in nature, Leanne had wondered if the bus might provide an escape route from the town, even while her conscious mind knew full well that it would not. She’d dreamt of riding the bus beyond the ring road which surrounded the town like a concrete nest, a passenger travelling to the end of the line, on a one way trip to any place other than the town. All she’d managed to achieve was to be a couple of pounds financially lighter, and an indeterminate time span closer to death. She could at least count herself fortunate that she was still young enough to spend time freely, in the way the older generation, a couple of which rode the bus along with her, could no longer afford.
Leanne had lost count of how many times she’d been ferried through, and around the perimeter of the town. After the first few revolutions of the town, she’d fixed her attention on the sky, hoping perhaps that the crooked rooftops, greasy with rain, might slip away from her while she kept her eyes elsewhere, as though the town were unable to move towards the distance while directly observed. Like a child caught in a nightmare, cornered by some nocturnal abomination, Leanne hoped to overcome the monster by looking away and denying it’s existence. She’d watched as the day had grown old, the sky decaying from a featureless grey expanse to a rotten shade of yellow, which had begun to spawn dark clouds, like the blotchy brushwork of some macabre artisan. The town never moved. She was no longer a child.
The town remained the same with every pass, never changing or altering in any perceivable way. A chaotic cluster of rotting housing estates and failed commercial ventures, windows boarded by damp planes of wood, or sealed away behind rusting sheets of metal. Each house seemed destined towards subsidence, ill fated to sink slowly into the concrete walkways which surrounded them like stagnant streams. Scores of net curtains blocked out the windows of the residential areas, their brittle floral patterns reminiscent of so many shrouds, veiling those within from the inescapable gloom of the outside world. Leanne had no need to wonder what lay behind those squalid walls, for experience had taught her that behind the shabby façades lay nothing but a series of equally degenerate rooms, choked with rotten furniture and peeling wallpaper. The denizens would be little different, slumped glassy-eyed in front of flickering television sets, as they slowly fused with the furniture, their skin turned to static.
The main street comprised the apogee of the buses route. The street was virtually deserted in every instance, though the occasional figure was visible through the smeary windows of the single department store, shuffling mindlessly through the aisles of cost effective clothing. Between the department store and the bus, rapier like trees curved up from cracks in the concrete pavement, as though they’d grown there naturally. Along with the routinely placed benches which helped to clutter the walkways, the trees represented a time when the governing body of the town had actually cared. All but one of the benches were empty, revealing paintwork ravaged by blisters. Each of the benches bore a bronze plaque of dedication screwed into it’s centre, though all the plaques remained unblemished by any inscription. Maybe no one important had ever come from the town. The only bench which was not empty, bore the figure of a little man, his slender figure swamped by a dark green rain coat. He sat motionless, save for the twitching of his supple little fingers, staring dead ahead whenever Leanne caught sight of his eyes through the grimy bus window. He looked like some kind of paltry attempt at a scarecrow, consisting of nothing more than the most splintered remnants of sticks.
Darkness began to fall, the stars remaining little more than a memory lost to the demented dark. The bus completed it’s circuit again and again, each revolution of the oroboran ring road feeling as though it were taking the bus further and further downwards, descending into a spiral which no amount of forward momentum could ever hope to escape. There was never a single deviation on the buses route. For several laps, Leanne kept a close eye on the sagging form of the driver, wondering when fatigue would force him to pull the bus off the road. It never did. He just seemed to sit there like some broken down automaton, a marionette incapable of moving anything other than his stevedore like arms, which shifted slightly whenever the bus required steering. Leanne drifted in and out of sleep as the bus drove ever on, falling into a dark abyss of dreaming which left her unnerved upon wakening, though she was unable to grasp the salient details which had so disturbed her. Dreams represented a realm beyond the town, one which could never hope to be allowed to enter it’s domain.
The toothless bite of hunger finally forced Leanne from the bus. She waited until it arrived once again in the centre of town, pulling in at the main street’s bus stop, among the sagging trees and lonely benches. She tried not to look at the driver as she passed him, for fear of the expression which might have settled on whatever passed for his face. He would never have been able to turn his head towards her in any case. Her legs felt weak as she descended the stairwell, resignation setting into her bones. She hadn’t truly expected the bus to break her free from the town, not really, but contrary to popular belief, pessimism could still lead to disappointment.
The street felt soft, the concrete paving slabs strangely supple, like the flesh of an overly ripe fruit. The department store appeared to have closed for the evening, though the lights still blazed regardless, dousing the pavement in a flickering pool of nicotine stain luminescence. The street remained deserted, save for the raggedy little stick man sitting on the bench, whose flesh had seemed to leach away with every turning of the town, as though the pliant ground were slowly draining him dry. He had never left the bench once, of that Leanne felt certain, though it had begun to dwarf his now spindly frame, as though he were in danger of falling through one of the gaps between the benches wooden panels.
Her attention caught by the street’s only other living soul, Leanne crept towards the man, preparing to offer him assistance, should he require any. He lifted his head at Leanne’s approach. His eyes, sunken so far into his skull that they had become almost submerged beneath his anaemic flesh, gazed up at her imploringly. He reached out a spider thin hand, grabbing hold of her wrist with a grip belying his stature. His nails, sharpened to a diamond hard point, dug into her wrist, drawing a flourish of blood which ran down onto the little man’s papery skin. He seemed not to notice, concentrating as he was on nothing other than maintaining his grip on Leanne’s wrist.
It made little difference. With a final wheeze of what might have been panic, the thin man slipped through the gaps in the bench, disappearing soundlessly into the concrete below. Only his coat remained, a ragged reminder of another nobody. Leanne might have cried out for help, had she not known better. Instead, she simply watched as the blood from her wrist began to clot, the stray drops which had splashed to the ground, sinking into the hungry concrete below, where they quickly drained away. Down into the earth, the most inescapable of life’s bitter facts. The town took everyone down eventually.
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T.N.Allan was born in 1990 in Northumberland, and is now resident in the Scottish Borders, having studied creative writing at Edinburgh University from 2012 – 2013. Recent publications include flash fiction published online by “Gothic City Press”, while poetry has appeared in e-anthologies published by the “Horror Writers Association”, as well as in print by “Cemetery Moon Magazine”.