By Alex Townley
SO it starts in the concourse of a train station. It’s not one I recognise, and it’s big. The writing on the advertisements is in English, so I think it’s somewhere in the UK, but I’ve googled all the stations I can think of and it doesn’t look like any of them.
There are adverts for make-up on billboards, and broadband services, and a travel agent, the one with the lopsided smiley face for a logo, but I don’t look at the timetables, so I couldn’t tell you where any of the trains are coming from or going to.
It’s either very late at night, or very early in the morning. I’ve travelled at both of those times when I used to live in the city and there’s something in the eerie quiet when the rest of the world is asleep, that feels different to any other time of day.
And when I’m there I see a couple kissing each other, saying goodbye outside a branch of Boots, and someone shuffling past in the kind of footwear that makes them look homeless.
I’m looking at their feet when I notice the blood. That’s why I notice the blood.
From where I’m standing it’s a tiny black spot on the floor, but the homeless person, or whoever they are, treads in it and their footprint walks it away across the floor, becoming brighter and brighter with each step.
I walk over and stare at it, distinct against that mottled tile you get in all institutional buildings. It’s not a large amount. It’s just odd seeing it there, a bright spot of blood in the middle of an empty space.
And it makes me look around, for something, someone with a nosebleed, with a mop to clean it up, someone applying a plaster.
But there’s no-one.
What there is, is another spot of blood, a little larger, a short distance away, and I walk over to it, which is when I notice it’s the start of a trail. And that’s when the feeling of foreboding starts to grow inside me.
I don’t know how I get past the ticket checkers into the station proper, maybe that’s part of it, maybe that just isn’t important, but I keep my eyes fixed to the ground and I follow this trail of droplets of blood as it snakes along the wide corridor.
It forms a pattern now, five or six little droplets, then a splash, followed by a trickling line of blood which seems to stop and turn back into spots for a short distance.
I know now that it’s serious. It’s not a nosebleed or a cut knee. I don’t know what a lot of blood really looks like, but this seems like more than I would be happy to lose.
I crouch down and touch my finger to one of the larger splashes, puddles?
I expect it to be warm, but it’s cold, and starting to congeal, and I let my contaminated finger hover away from the rest of my hand hoping it will disappear on its own, or dry out, but it becomes tacky and awkward, and I end up pressing it against my thumb, so they’re both bloody, sticky against one another. I can feel the sensation of resistance as I pull them apart, and let them fall back together in a nervous tick at my side while I walk.
I don’t notice anyone around me. Maybe the corridor is full and I only stare at the floor, or maybe it’s so late, or so early that there’s just aren’t any passengers about.
I feel as though I’m the only one there though. The only one noticing this trail of blood, and where it’s going. No-one is about to call for help or alert the authorities.
There isn’t much more to it. Not really. I reach the top of a flight of steep stairs down to one of the platforms, where the trickle of blood is more steady now, more of a smear running down the staircase, weaving a little before clinging to the floor under the bannister at one side.
I stand at the top of the steps looking down. From the top you can’t see the bottom of the flight of stairs, and I crouch down to try and get a better look, but there’s still nothing to see, only more steps, and more blood. The feeling of foreboding is like a throbbing heartbeat in my head now. I look around and try to find someone, just to make eye contact, to let them know I’m here in case something happens to me, but no-one is around, no-one is noticing me.
There’s a sense of the inevitable as I step down onto the first step, weaving myself to avoid stepping in blood. I don’t want to slip and slide through it all the way to the bottom. I want to hug the bannister, but I don’t want to go near it, so instead I keep one hand lightly on the escalator bannister, which glides up as I walk down, letting it flutter under my fingertips on its endless cycle, my eyes on the stream of blood, which drips down from one step to the next.
I am not thinking about what lies at the end of this trail, and it’s all I’m thinking about.
I know the way my feet feel as I connect with the platform. I’m wearing thin pumps and cold spreads up through them from the concrete floor.
The station feels completely deserted down here. My platform and the one opposite. It feels more familiar away from the concourse, as if I’ve stitched two stations together in my mind, but I don’t think I have. I don’t feel like I have.
On the platform the blood is a smeared trail, at once steady and jagged, stumbling. A hand print rests against the wall at shoulder height, not complete, but heavy. Whoever left it leaned their weight against it.
I splay my fingers out and hold them up to it, not touching the sticky red hand, but measuring myself against it. It is bigger than my hand, red fingers peeking out beneath my own.
The trail runs the full length of the platform, as if testing my resolve, and as I reach the halfway point I see that it curves around a pillar at the end, a smeared trail of fingers joining it, sinking slowly down with the action. Whatever…whoever is at the end of this nightmare is there.
I try not to speed my pace up or let it slow down, but the world slows down around me, and as I get closer to the corner I see a figure, a woman on her own, out of the corner of my eye on the platform opposite. She’s just come down the stairs, and she’s standing on her platform looking over at mine, looking round the corner I haven’t quite reached.
And the look on her face is horror. I don’t want to see what she sees, but I push forward as her scream reaches me. I get to the corner and I turn.
…and that’s it. That’s how it ends.
For six months now.
It doesn’t feel like a dream. It never has, but I’ve never known, if it’s not a dream, what it is, because the station isn’t anywhere.
I’ve been on Google Streetview. I’ve walked around Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Piccadilly, Euston and Paddington. You can’t explain the feel of a place to someone, or at least I’ve tried and no-one has been able to tell me where it is.
And after six months I think it’s fair to give up.
And that’s what I thought until Saturday. That felt fair.
Until I went into Birmingham for the first time in nearly a year. Until I saw the new development in the city centre, all around the station. Full of adverts on billboards, for make-up, and broadband, and the travel agents with the lopsided smiley face for a logo.
© Alex Townley 2016