It had been a week since Joshua was attacked on his way back to his plush, top floor bachelor pad in the middle of New York city and still he cannot sleep. He had been having nightmares every night since the incident and tonight was no different.
At 3 AM he shot upright from his supine position, drenched in sweat and cursing his mind for showing him yet more images of the attack and subsequent mugging at the hands of four youths armed with metal bars and knives.
He shuffled into the kitchen and took a beer from his tall, two door silver refrigerator. At one time in his life, this piece of expensive kitchen hardware was his pride and joy, showing it off to anyone who would dare attend one of his “I don’t care about being alone” parties. Now however, he despises the view of this chrome monolith given that he now associates it with 3 in the morning.
Joshua made his way over to the adjacent living room and sat in his leather bound E-Z boy recliner and turned on his 50 inch plasma screen TV. He felt his eyes grow heavier as he rolled into his 4th episode of Breaking Bad on Netflix.
Joshua’s eyes shot open to the sound of his alarm clock coming from his bedside locker. He strolled into his room, yawning as he walked and slapped the OFF button; the force with which he struck the device was born out of a combination of exhaustion and frustration.
He dressed himself in the normal attire expected from a man who works in one of the biggest banks in the city, a flashy suit with only the tie left to show any personality whatsoever. Indeed, Joshua thought of himself as just another corporate stooge, and he was okay with this, as long as it kept him in luxuries that he was accustom to.
Joshua left his apartment and entered the nearby subway platform, as he would always do, and boarded the train that would take him outside his place of work, as he would always do.
However this time, Joshua felt on edge the whole way from his front door to the train door. He had taken a week off work to recuperate from the whole ordeal but he still felt a sense of dread, as if at every turn, somebody was waiting in a corner, ready to pounce. When the train doors closed behind him, he felt at ease. He breathed a sigh of relief, rationalising that nobody would attack him in a train full of people.
He sat down beside the door leading to the conductors quarters, put his head back against the metal panel behind him and began to close his eyes.
He felt his eyes, once again, become heavy, like two weights had been attached to his eyelids. He fought off the exhaustion, fearing that he might end up on the other side of Manhattan. He rubbed his eyes and stared out to the other end of the carriage, that’s when something caught his attention.
Sitting no more than ten metres from him on the left side of the carriage was a man. There was nothing overtly strange about him, except that he was dressed all in black, with a long black coat and a black bowler hat. He was bald and wrinkled, Joshua tried to make out his face but his head was down, looking at the floor beneath him. Every few minutes, the man would raise his left arm to his face to check the time, but his head would never move.
Had Joshua seen this man two weeks ago, he would have laughed it off to another street performer, but after what had happened the week pervious, Joshua was paranoid towards just about everything.
Joshua kept his eyes fixed on the man in black, making note of every movement, his heart pounding at every twitch or small shuffle made by the man in the black bowler hat and coat.
He didn’t know why, but Joshua knew that something about this man seemed wrong, like watching as a storm cloud marches towards you, knowing that it’s bringing trouble.
Suddenly, the man rose from his seat, keeping his face hidden all the while, and scurried with purpose to the centre of the carriage, Joshua felt compelled to see this mans’ face, even if he looks unhinged to the other passengers, he didn’t care, he just wanted to feel at ease and maybe, laugh about it later.
Joshua stood up and made his way towards the mysterious man, he reached his arm to his shoulder, blood rushing to his brain as his fight or flight response kicks in, suddenly, a deafening noise echoes through the carriage and a white flash erupts all around.
When Joshua regains consciousness, all he can hear is a pronounced ringing in his ear and the faint sound of footsteps and voices all around him. He struggles to open his eyes, half because of the possible concussion that he has just suffered and the other half because of what he fears he may see.
When he finally does, he is met by a blurry scene of carnage, both metallic and human. The carriage is completely dark save for flash lights from what he can only assume are emergency services. Joshua raises his hand to call out for help, like a drowning sailor in a sea of steel. What he sees terrifies him to his very soul. Joshua’s hand is covered in blood and intestines, too weak to scream and display his true emotion; Joshua instead lets out a quiet sob, believing this to be his final moments on earth. His lamentations are heard by the men searching the cabin and they rush to his aid as Joshua’s world slowly goes black.
When he awoke, Joshua found himself lying in bed, with plastic tubes in his arm and nose, he heard the beep of his heart monitor, in time with his own heartbeat, he heard the bustling footsteps of hospital staff rushing all around him, fearing for the condition of his body, Joshua shot his gaze to the foot of his bed, convinced that there would be two empty spaces where his legs used to be. He let out a sigh of relief when he saw his feet sticking out of the bed sheets, he counted his toes to be absolutely sure and gave them a wiggle to be certain that he had not lost the use of his legs.
Joshua suddenly noticed he was not alone, he turned to his right and saw his best and only friend Matthew, slumped in a chair asleep, resting his head on the armrest.
“Ma…Matt…” Joshua weakly called out for his best friend.
Matthew abruptly awoke from his slumber.
“Josh! Christ man, are you okay?” Matthew rose from his chair and placed his hand on Josh’s.
“What…what the fuck happened?”
“It was a bombing man! Some crazy Right-wing extremist just claimed responsibility. The motherfucker.”
Joshua raises his hand in front of his face, the blood is gone but the wrinkle lines on his palm are still stained dark red, a small reminder of the fear he had felt in that carriage.
“My hand…was covered…in blood and guts man.” Joshua’s eyes begin to tear up. Matthew squeezes Joshua’s hand tightly.
“That wasn’t yours man. You’re okay. You’re battered and bruised but okay. It’s miraculous.
Matthew pauses, looks down to the floor and looks into the eyes of Joshua, with a sad smile.
“You’re the only survivor. How I…I guess somebody was looking out for you. I know you don’t believe any of that shit!” Matthew lets out a small laugh.
“The bomber, was it the man I saw?” Joshua sits up in his bed, his voice stronger than before.
“Jesus Josh, you saw him? Where!?”
“On the train.” Matthew looks at Josh puzzled.
“Josh, that guy was in his apartment the entire time, that’s where he detonated the bomb, according to the news anyway. Why? Who did you see?”
“There…There was a man…he…” Before Joshua could finish his sentence, there was a loud bang from the window at the end of the room, when Matthew went to examine it, he found that the glass had shattered, at the impact zone, there was a tiny dash of blood, and two storeys down, there was a dead bird twitching on a walkway.
“That’s weird, what’s a bird doing flying at this hour?” Matthew turns back to Joshua, looking completely perplexed.
“What were you saying Josh?” He didn’t know exactly why, but somehow Joshua felt that he should not mention the man in black to Matthew.
“Never mind. Just the accident playing tricks with me I guess.”
“Okay buddy. Well it’s pretty late and I better get outta here, I already pissed the nurses off enough by staying after visiting hours. I don’t think they believed me when I said I was your brother! Will you be okay until tomorrow?” Matthew spoke with a genuine look of concern on his face.
“Yeah. I need some sleep anyway.” Joshua smiled for the first time since he was mugged.
Okay man. I love you, you atheist fucker!” As Matthew left, Joshua rested his head back on the pillow, as he began to drift off he felt a presence once more sitting beside him.
“Forget something?” Joshua turned over, expecting to see Matthew once more, instead, he saw a man, dressed completely in black, sitting in the armchair. He head was dropped down, looking at his jet black shoes. Joshua noticed that the air had gotten colder and heavier, like there was an unwelcome force all around the room.
“You…should not be here.” Joshua’s blood froze. The man in black had spoken. His voice was that of an elderly man, but it had a malevolent coldness to it that could darken the sun itself.
“Who are you?” Joshua’s voice quivers as his heart races. Expecting to hear the rapid beat of his heart monitor, instead all he hears is unnerving silence.
“Me? Well my name was taken from me over a century ago, but I like to call myself Mr. Pale Eyes since nobody has been around long enough to give me a proper title, until you of course.” The man in black raised his head to show two completely white eyes illuminated by the moonlight scarcely illuminating the room. His face is hollow and gaunt, his skin white as snow, his teeth putrid and nose flattened to his face, with only two slits giving any indication of a nose at all.
Joshua wanted to run, but the combination of being hooked up to various machines and being paralysed with fear meant that he was trapped in bed. He thought desperately of a way to get this horrifying ghoul away from, the only thing he could think of was to ask as many questions as possible, keeping this thing occupied until a nurse or orderly comes across the two. Joshua had assumed the assistance button had been disabled considering he had been mashing it like a madman since the unholy figure had first made it presence known and nobody had made an appearance. He mustered up all his courage and looked sternly at Mr. Pale eyes.
“I thought I was the only survivor?”
“Then how are you here?” Mr. Pale Eyes gave out a sinister snicker.
“My boy, you must be breathing to be a survivor.” Joshua felt a horrible feeling in his stomach.
“You’re here right now, talking to me, how can you do that if you’re dead? Are you a ghost?”
“Mr. Pale Eyes’ mouth widened into an evil smile.
“Far from it.”
“Then you’re a demon?” Joshua winced when he asked this question. Fearing the answer.
“Then if you’re none of these things, why is it that I can see you?” Mr. Pale Eyes shifted in his chair. He let out a soft sigh and laughed quietly to himself.
“I underestimated your curiosity Mr. Anders. It is indeed that which saved you. Had you just remained in that chair, you would be another number in this recent disaster. Instead, here you are, alive.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s that insatiable curiosity Mr. Anders.” Mr. Pale Eyes pauses for a moment and begins again.
“I suppose you deserve an explanation for all of this. I was once like you Mr. Anders. I was human, at least, I breathed like one. I was not a good man Mr. Anders. I had an unholy curiosity for little children. It wasn’t so much the joy of carrying out my actions as it was to watch, I liked to watch. And when I was hung for my crimes, the man downstairs gave me a fitting punishment. You see, the man upstairs is responsible for all the good in the world, happiness, love, forgiveness. But there needs to be balance, and the man downstairs is responsible for that. War, pestilence, terror, death. As I said, I was given a punishment most fitting my crimes, and that punishment was to watch. When a human’s life is forfeit, I appear.
But I only appear where there is a great loss of life, where nobody survives to tell the tale of the man in black standing in the centre of all the chaos. Nobody knows if the captain of the Titanic cried, but I do. Nobody knows what happened in the gas chambers moments before the Nazis extinguished the lives of men, women, young and old, but I do. I was even above the crash sites of towers 1 and 2 moments before they gave way to melted steel. The man downstairs may be evil, but he is smart. The punishment fitted the crime; I am weary of seeing death. He will add on another eternity for my mistake with you. He has taken this case on personally.”
Joshua sat dumbstruck at what he just heard, everything he thought was true had just been demolished, his beliefs, his concept of good and evil, fate, and yet, one thing stood out more than other.
“What do you mean; he has taken this case personally?”
Mr. Pale Eyes rose from his chair, shuffled slowly over to Joshua and places his thin, skeletal-like hand on his head.
“There must be balance Joshua, and we must make sure that you can’t live to tell the tale!”
Mr. Pale Eyes pushes Joshua’s head down against his pillow.
With a thud, Joshua wakes up and realises that he had just hit his head against the steel panel behind him. He looks around to discover that he is back on the train. He immediately looks at where Mr. Pale Eyes was sitting and instead finds a rotund Mexican woman sitting there in his stead. Joshua lets out a sigh of relief and realises that it had just been another nightmare. He begins to laugh and for a moment, is actually grateful for what his mind just conjured up. He pondered that perhaps this dream was a sign that he should not take life for granted, after all, it was so realistic and lucid, and he could not help but be affected by it.
Joshua begin to feel uneasy when it felt as if his legs were getting heavier, it was slow but noticeable, he tried to wiggle his toes but he could not even muster a twitch, he then slowly began to feel his arms draw back towards the panel behind him, as if they were magnetically attracted to it. It was then that Joshua began to panic, he tried to scream, but no sound came out, like in a nightmare when you call out for your mother but, nothing.
Joshua found himself completely stuck to the chair. He could not call out for anybody. He could not warn the conductor of their incoming doom. He knew what was coming; all he could do was watch.
Credit To – Paul W