The mind-highway wound through the mountains and terminated in Temporal City that sprawled at its ultimate end. The valley in which the city sat was as deep as the Grand Canyon and light never touched the city streets.
Not that the sun ever rose in this land.
I could hear the sounds before I passed the first tollgate. A coin tumbled into a large wire funnel and the bar in front of the vehicle rose. The tires crunched over the tarmac as if they were crushing tiny shells.
On the rear seat was the bedroll discarded there by a phantom hitch hiker, ahead of me I heard more phantoms as they moaned and wailed.
What was I doing here?
I pressed harder on the accelerator and the car crept a little faster.
The city blocks were like towers, the tops of many of them disappearing into darkness. Streetlights burned but seemed lost, reflected and refracted as they were by the multiple windows around them. The buildings seemed to rise from a field of weak flame that was somehow more disturbing than if it was a raging inferno.
Still waters run deep. I thought without placing the quotes meaning to this spectacle.
The red convertible was moving faster now, though I did not remember commanding it to do so. The high towers ahead of me getting closer. Already I had began passing some of the smaller buildings on the cities periphery. On the left I saw the forecourt of a car showroom called “Laurel’s” and on the right a large antique store that wore a sign saying “Silvers”.
Moments later they were behind me and the road narrowed from four lanes to two. Above me the moon began to disappear and reappear from behind the tall buildings promoting a vague feeling of claustrophobia on the edges of my consciousness.
The groans and wails echoed around the cavernous streets but there were no sources of the sounds. There were no people and no vehicles and this didn’t surprise me (few feet walked here after all) but the sounds had to come from somewhere and I thought I knew what those voices meant.
I could have predicted what would happen next if time had allowed it. I turned a corner and my headlights played over ant-like movement in the near distance. Something moved and undulated in the darkness behind the furthest street light. Something ran and many things shuffled.
“You gonna wait? Fer Chrissake, you gonna wait?”
I recognised the voice instantly, it had been the last voice I had heard in this world and her things still sat on the backseat of my vehicle.
She leapt on the cars hood and tumbled over the windscreen into the seat beside me.
“I wouldn’t wait”
“I want to see…” I replied.
The first shambling creatures stumbled into the light and there were more than I had expected.
The first was a history teacher I had once had the misfortune to know. He had been young back then and his handsome ease had scarred me in ways I was only just now appreciating. The next was a manager at a processing plant who I knew I should have confronted over his deplorable actions. Another was a television presenter who had been commonly seen on a children’s show. He had been the one who had played The Same Game and had shown me what did not belong.
Mesmerised I picked out faces and sometimes connected them with names, but more often I would see what they once were and where in my life they had made a change.
“You’re safe,” I said dreamily. “They have no interest in you.”
As if in answer the first call went out. A plaintive moan filled to overflowing with sorrow and sub-dermal anguish. This call was answered by another and then another, until the sea of half remembered faces swung their collective faces to the moon and howled like half drunken wolves.
The sight froze me solid, a question rolling through my mind.
Then a dead gaze turned to catch my own and the movement followed like a wave through the multitude, a numberless amount of eyes staring into me, accusatory and benevolent.
The cars engine had died and I twisted the key. There was a sputter and cough from under the hood and though I continued twisting the key I knew there was no point.
She was out of the car and the bedroll was thrown over one shoulder. Her eyes were wide and her breath came in short gasps as though she had already been running; and then I realised that moments ago she had been.
“Move.” She said simply without haste or aggression.
We were running, and the things behind us pursued. I had briefly looked over my shoulder for a moment to see the convertible engulfed as if by a swarm of ants, disappearing into a mass of clawing shambling creatures. Then I fixed my gaze ahead and saw nothing but my escape.
A little in front of me she ran, powerful and tireless, as frightening as those that did their semblance of running were behind. I was tiring and I knew that at some point the pain would start to burn in my calves and then creep up, like a debilitating illness, until it consumed me. In my minds eyes I saw myself curled, crippled as the swarm…
Ahead she angled towards a half open doorway into utter darkness and without thinking my legs slowed. Almost immediately the sound behind me grew and I knew it would only be seconds.
“What are you waiting for?”
Her voice oozed from the darkness that had swallowed her, it was calm and dispassionate and scared me deeply; but regardless I followed.
And behind me the door swung shut.