Something on the street glowed. He waited until the light faded and as the street darkened still something glowed. It didn’t flicker; it was not fire light. With caution he approached, to investigate. It was the entrance to an old underground station and it was lit up, not by flames but electrical light. Artificial lighting. He ventured inside and it was quiet and empty. He saw ticket booths unoccupied, the shutters pulled down. A cool breeze scattered debris, consisting of leaves and litter and paper, off the street and around the lobby and underneath the barriers, which he was able to push past with little resistance.
It was a station he had known well, he realised, its location revealed to him on tiled walls in the once familiar Johnstone typeface. He approached a pair of frozen escalators, half expecting them to continue their churning cycle without warning, but they remained still. With trepidation he descended, one step at a time, glancing back every few steps, and at one point stopped to look at advertisements on the sides of each escalator, that never interested him in the past but now displayed immortalised shows and books and bank accounts that would remain until the paper they rested on faded irreversibly and disintegrated into dust.
He considered his last visit here, probably sometime last year, and the people who he might have seen at this station. All the faces he would see pass, hundreds every minute, in the opposite direction, each on a different path, with different thoughts, different aspirations, different points of views, different comfort zones and straining points, different hopes, different dreams, different fantasies and different fears. Exchanged glances with eye contact which burns an image in your brain that is kept for how long? a second, an hour, a day? And overhearing all those conversations, singular quotes taken out of context, and wondering where they would have led, even those in different languages, imaging the subject of dialogue based on facial animations or tone or animated gesticulations.
As his thoughts drifted between the past and the present he could hear the voices, the distant murmur of noise that can only exist in large quantities of people, echoing through the marble walls and floors, sometimes near too, sometimes so close he thought he could feel breath on his ears. Walls reverberated. Tremored around him. He went deeper. Continuing through the tunnels, the air stale with a scent that lingered, harsh on the senses. It was warm down here. Artificial warmth. Something long lost to his world, different to real warmth of the sun or the warmth of flames or the warmth of bodies. Everything shone under the incandescent and unnatural brightness of the humming spotlights.
He reached a platform that curved out of view to his left and to his right, and the shadows cast by the flickering tube lighting above moved, grew darker and more defined, until they were no longer shadows but malevolent shapes. He walked to the end of the platform and peered into the darkness of the tunnel for a long time, and he thought he could see the shapes begin to form. He thought he could see bones and eyes and stunted children stuffing their mouths with dirt.
Dropping down onto the tracks he touched the steel that was cold and worn, turning his hand black and oily. He heard a voice from deeper in the tunnel and this time he couldn’t be sure it was a memory. When his thoughts cleared and he finally asked himself the question, why is the power on? – there was a click followed by a silent void and he was left alone in darkness.
© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016