Have you ever been so spooked that the only thing you can do is run? After we woke I dreamed often; our dreams were all shared – we wouldn’t necessarily remember them individually, but as soon as one of us began to describe what they had dreamed, our memories of those same weird and sleep-distorted events would be brought back to life in our memories. Resuscitated by those prompts, little jabs that plucked at memories and returned them to the surface. So I knew the others had also had this dream, we hadn’t discussed it, back then it was before our schedule, before I instituted my calendar to keep track of the days, to maintain purpose and consistency – anything to stop us drifting out of reality in this strange place. The station was a timeless place – who knew how long those children had desiccated there, before Chelsea pressed that button, and they moved? True fear strips the mind and body of thought and decision. We respond immediately at a level far below or beyond conscious thought, our skin feels tight and loose at the same time, inflamed with cold, a tremor through everything and nothing but bleeding light behind our eyes. It was not my first time. That crawling sensation I’d had of being watched was distant kin to the driving impulse to run that we felt after the door slid shut, hiding away the shivered pounding of those tiny, dried fists.
My dream; our dream: it is night. Of itself, this is no concern. Day fades, night arrives. The street lights are bright, bathing the pavement in warm orange light. There is no sound but my footsteps and the scrunch of my feet on the damp tarmac is a consistent rhythm that is as much part of my environment as It is a product of my striding through those streets. There are cars parked close by the curb. They are empty, dark. But in the corner of my eye as I pass them, the seats seem to hold people, sealed into the seats, their mouths open, in an appeal and smothered scream. Whenever I notice this I turn to see, and there is nothing – the open mouth is the hole in the headrest and the plastic-wrapped limbs just the contouring of the seat. There is nothing, but it persists. The sound of my walking is faster, the damp scrape of feet louder, so loud that it could conceal the noise of the sealed in people writhing in the seats, hiding the squeal of the plastic tearing as they bite their way free. I walk faster, so fast it should be a run, but I can’t reach that degree of motion – no matter how quickly I walk I can’t persuade both feet to leave the ground at the same time. The street turns at regular right angles, folding around so that I walk the same road endlessly. The lights are dimmer with each circuit, until the orange light just blushes the shapes in the cars, ever more suggestive, my footsteps ever louder, the motion in the corner of my eye more overt. The road ends, the tarmac fades into grass and brambles. There is a path, a path without the cars. I leave them behind. It is very, very dark. Ahead I can make out the vast darker shape of a hill, and see that the path I’m following winds around it. Way ahead are more streetlights, their amber a beacon drawing me on. It is so dark that I can only see the path by what little light from the moon it reflects. I can’t help but look around me because I can see nothing around me. Grey masses are conjured as my mind finds patterns in the crawling blackness: figures that slip between black patches in my vision. My legs cannot move me any faster, but the darkness is endless and the hill looms larger the closer I get to it. The path is my only reassurance. The silence is so absolute that the hiss of blood rushing through my ears is wildly distorted into panting lungs and the slick slide of something moving across the grass. Every part of me is horripilated, skin and hair erect in a freezing warning of imminent threat. I can see nothing that I know is real. My foot slides onto grass – I have stepped off the path. I spin around, bringing my hands and face down to the ground, desperately seeking the hard clutter of the wet tarmac. All I can feel is the wet grass, curling over-familiarly around my fingers. I recoil, its wetness still on me. It won’t come off even as I rub them on my legs. A deep sigh comes from behind me. Now I can run, electrified, hair raised from my scalp, blind in the darkness, just running away. I run into the night, pursued by the soft, slow exhalations. They catch up with me, surround me, leaving but one avenue where I can’t quite hear sound. I have no choice but to run towards it, slipping and sliding across the sodden turf. I lose my footing and smack into the wetness. It coats me, slows me as I struggle upwards. The moon left me long ago. I regain my footing. I freeze as a soft breath blows over my face.
We ran in the same way we had in the dream. With the same panic, all of the dream’s feelings rushing back. All sense of direction failed me. I didn’t know which direction we’d come from, where we’d been or where we were going. We just sprang out into that creamy light, caroming off the walls in our blindness, frantic to not touch the doors for fear that they might open and we would stumble into some worse nightmare than the dead children slamming against their too-fragile seeming prisons. We ran out of corridor, and fell, sliding through the only door open to us.
Cool blue light filled the chamber. I hammered at the door controls until the doors slid across, meeting in the centre of the doorway. Chelsea stood with her back pressed against mine, ensuring that we had sight of everything. The sense of being chased was intense. We stepped away from the door, half expecting something to thud against it and subject it to a battery of tiny fists. Nothing happened. Slowly we came back to ourselves and we pressed ourselves against the wall, arms wrapped tightly around each other. We slid to the ground and lay there huddled.
I knew that we must have run away from the others. That corridor, if followed the way we had come would have led back to the garden, and the safety of community and green life within. I had lost all track of time and distance. There had been turns, and running and corners. Wherever we were, we had to be somewhere inside the rest of the station. A more continuous and whole region than we had been in before. We had passed through no airlocks or been exposed to the outside. It was unlike any part of the station we had been in before. It was possible that we hadn’t run so far; I was aware of my mind being full of holes, some of them time, some of them feeling, some just a horrible gap in thinking.
Nothing moved in the room. It was laid out as a classroom. Desks and chairs neatly divided the floor. The walls held a range of wide screens which presumably once displayed lessons, tests and pictures. Around the edge of the room were lockers and cupboards, some had swung open, displaying their contents: stationery, books, trays with children’s names written in bright colours. A globe stood lonely on a table. A series of small rectangular glass tanks were filled with thick blooms of algae and furry fungal growths; the remnants of some classroom pets or experiments. The desks and chairs were too small for us, but would have perfectly seated the children we had discovered.
“Do you think – “ I began.
“Yes, this must be where they learned, before being in those… containers,” said Chelsea, pushing herself to her feet, back braced against the wall, “these were their things.”
She hesitantly pulled out a drawer with the name ‘Oliver’ scrawled on it. The drawer came all the way out, a grey plastic rectangle that rattled with pencils. She brought it back over to me and sat back down on the floor, the tray between us. We pored over the contents. Pencils, chewed and snapped in half, their bright coloured leads splintered and filling the corners of the drawer; measuring tools, ruler and protractor; creased sheets of paper with crude drawings of trees, a stylised sun, human stick figures with outlandish heads and exaggerated features; a spinning top that turned its alternating blue and red panels into a purple blur when Chelsea set it spinning. It scuttled across the tray, snarled on the paper and disconsolately ground to a halt.
I got up and pulled out another drawer. This one had pencils in a better state, recently sharpened. The drawings were also more carefully laid, their corners barely scuffed by the sides of the drawer. I lifted them out and leafed through them. There were more pictures of the sun, and of people with too few or too many fingers, eyes over-large and sad. Beneath those a thickly painted landscape – a heavily black brushed sky, bright crosses of stars stabbed into it, the ground a rusty grey scraped across the paper. Between the sky and the ground a mounding of blue and red circles, mashed partly into a dark burned purple. Under that another painting of the black sky, and over it a looming figure in dark blue, casting a vast shadow over the sketchily dabbed white and yellow squares and rectangles stuck to the ground. I sought out the next picture – another landscape, this looking up at the night. Two moons and the same scattering of crosses for stars dotted across two thirds of the sheet. The black had been awkwardly brushed around the focus of that painting, the two dark red eyes hanging in the night sky. A chill ran through me, and a tremor that passed through my arm and hand into Chelsea’s.
We emptied all of the drawers and spread their pictures across the floor.