I’ve been walking for a while now. Exactly how long I’m not sure. It’s easy to forget. You’re treading from sleeper to sleeper, and you’re concentrating on moving the torch from side to side to scan the tunnel. You’re doing this over and over again. It gets you into a rhythm. But I must have come at least a mile inside. I keep thinking it can’t be far now.
Eventually, it opens out and I reach the place I’ve been looking for. It’s a station, one that was abandoned decades ago.
I pull myself up onto the platform. My gloves are covered in thick dust. I wipe it off, watching it swirl in the torch light, gathering and swooping like a cloud of underground insects. I creep my way along the platform. The only sounds to hear are the soft padding of my trainers on the ground, and my tense, shallow breathing.
I stop there for a second. I’m imagining standing there 70 or 80 years ago, before the line was closed down and the station shut forever. I imagine the place thronging with people waiting for the next train. And the stern, tidy figure of a conductor in a peaked cap standing watch at the head of the platform. All ghosts of people long dead.
There’s an exit half way along. I edge inside. There’s a corridor. To the right, there’s a set of stairs heading up to the surface, but they’ve been bricked off at the first landing. There’s also a set of stairs going down. The stairs have mostly collapsed. There’s a heap of rubble and mangled iron on the next level, fifteen feet below.
This is the kind of dark hole that I’m searching for. I know how those creatures think, and this is a perfect place for them.
It’s a good thing I’m prepared. I reach into my backpack. I uncoil my rope. The iron railings at the top of the staircase are flaky and crusted over. They’re like rusting stalagmites. But they are still solid enough to support me. I tie the rope around the strongest of them, then pull on my headtorch. After testing my weight, I lower myself slowly down.
As I’m descending, I flash back to the night Jamie was taken. Jamie, my best pal. My brother. Only the two of us knew the secret. We’d fought those creatures together. Then, just when we thought we had won and we were safe, one of them came in the night, appeared at my window when Jamie was staying over. I’ll never forget his face, pale and hateful and with staring red eyes. He hypnotised us both, then he stole Jamie away. The final words the he uttered before his face disappeared into the night still shivered me to the bone.
I tried telling the police the truth, but of course no one would believe me. It was the computer games, they said. They’d made me imagine things. And they took one look at Jamie’s broken family life and came to the conclusion he’d just run away. So they stuck him on the missing persons register and then forgot about him. No one is looking for him now. It’s just me. And I’ve sworn I’ll never give up.
I halt for a moment, my heart surging with adrenalin, as my headlight picks up two red pinprick eyes in the dark. Then it turns and scurries into the darkness. Just a rat.
There are three doors down here. Each of them made of solid wood. The paint is flaking and they are covered in a thick layer of dust.
I try the first door, but it’s jammed solid. I shine my torch around the edges. Dirt is ingrained into the groove between the door and the frame. This door hasn’t been opened in some time.
The second doorway is less solid. I charge it with my shoulder. A crack of wood, and it splinters open. I scan my light around the walls. It’s a gents toilet, except all the fittings have been removed. There’s nothing in here.
The final door is different. I can tell that it’s been used recently. Even just by the finger prints on the door frame. I grasp the handle firmly and push it open. Blood is pumping in my temples now. All the time I’m thinking of Jamie, What if he really is here? But what if he has already turned into one of those things? What if he doesn’t remember me? What if it’s too late to rescue him, and I have to kill him instead? I put such thoughts aside as the door creaks open.