Authors: Claire McFall
There should be screams, cries,
, thought Dylan.
But there was only silence.
The darkness was so heavy it was like a thick blanket smothering her. For one panic-stricken moment, she thought she was blind. Frantic, she tried waving her hand in front of her face. She saw nothing, but managed to poke herself in the eye. The shock of the jabbing pain made her think for a moment. They had been in a tunnel – that was why it was dark.
Her eyes couldn’t make out even the tiniest pinprick of light. She tried to push herself up from where she’d been thrown sideways onto the chair next to her, but something was pinning her down. Twisting to the right, she managed to pull herself down onto the floor between the seats. Her left hand landed on something warm and sticky. She yanked it away and quickly wiped it on her jeans, trying not to think about what the stickiness might have been. Her right hand curled around a small object – the phone that had been in her hand when the world had been turned upside down. Eagerly she picked it up and turned it over. Relief rolled through her, but it was quickly replaced by disappointment. The screen was blank. Her fingers jabbed at the touch screen, hope fading fast. It was dead.
Crawling into the aisle, Dylan got her feet beneath her and stood up, smacking her head hard on something.
“Shit! Ow!” she exhaled, ducking back down. Her hand reached for her temple, which was throbbing ferociously. It didn’t seem to be bleeding, but it hurt like hell. Carefully this time, she straightened up again, using her hands to guide her head to a safe place. It was so dark she couldn’t even see what she’d bumped into.
“Hello?” she called timidly. There was no answering voice, no rustling sounds of other passengers moving about. The carriage had been packed, where the hell was everyone? The pool of liquid on the floor by her seat flashed back into her mind, but she pushed it away.
“Hello?” Stronger this time. “Can anybody hear me? Hello!” Her voice cracked a little on the final word as panic began to rear its ugly head. Her breathing quickened and she struggled to think through the fear that gripped her. The darkness was claustrophobic and she clutched at her throat, as if something was strangling her. She was all alone, surrounded by… by… She didn’t want to think about it. All she knew was that she couldn’t bear to stay in the carriage a second longer.
Mindlessly she surged forward, tripping and hauling herself over objects that stood in her way. Her foot landed on something soft and slick. The tread on her trainers found no friction and slipped. Horrified, she tried to jerk her leg up and away from the suspiciously spongy object, but her other shoe couldn’t find a safe and level place to land. As if in slow motion, she felt herself falling towards the floor and the fearsome things that lurked there. No! Gasping, she threw her hands down to protect herself as she tumbled towards the ground. Her flailing arms caught a pole and her fingers tightened around it, bringing her to an abrupt stop that strained the muscles in her shoulder. Her momentum carried her forward and she jarred her neck painfully against the cold metal.
Ignoring the throbbing in her neck, Dylan held on to the pole fiercely with both hands, feeling like it was her grip on reality. Pole, her brain told her. The pole is next to the door. You must be next to the door. Relief flooded her system and allowed her to think a little more clearly. That’s why she was alone. Everyone else must have made their way out already, and they’d missed her because she’d been buried under that stupid woman’s bags. I should have sat next to the Rangers fans, she thought, laughing weakly.
Not trusting her feet in the darkness, she reached along the partition connected to the pole, expecting to come into contact with the folded open door. Her fingertips stretched out but found nothing. Shuffling a little further forward she found the door at last. It was shut.
That’s weird, she thought, but then shrugged. Everyone else must have gone out of the door at the other end. That was just typical of her luck. Her logical reasoning calmed her and helped her to think clearly. Unwilling to travel back across the carriage and risk stepping on some more worryingly soft things, she felt around for the button to open the door. Her fingers found its raised edges and pushed, but it remained closed.
“Dammit,” she murmured. The electricity had probably been cut off during the crash. She looked back over her shoulder, a pointless exercise as she could see nothing. Her imagination filled in the blanks, packing the route through the carriage with upturned seats, luggage, broken glass from the windows and squishy, slick things that were solidifying in her mind’s eye into limbs and torsos. No, she was not going back that way.
Putting both hands flat against the train doors, she pushed hard. Though they held, she felt them buckle a little. With enough effort she thought she could force them open. She stepped back, took a deep breath and launched forward, kicking the door as hard as she could with the bottom of her left foot. The bang sounded very loud in the confined space, ringing a little in her ears, and her knee and ankle twinged painfully, complaining about the force of the impact. Nonetheless, she could feel fresh air against her face and that gave her hope. Her hands confirmed it: one section of the door had been forced off its runner. If she could do the same to the other door, there would be a gap big enough for her to squeeze through. She took two steps back this time and threw herself against the door with as much strength as she could muster. The door screeched as metal rasped against metal, before finally giving way.
The gap was not a large one, but luckily neither was Dylan. Turning sideways, she squeezed her body through the opening. There was a ripping sound as her zip caught between her body and the door, but suddenly she was free and falling towards the track. She felt a moment of fear thrill through her, but her trainers crunched on gravel after just a short distance and the feeling of claustrophobia lifted like a chain that had been cut free from around her throat.
The tunnel was as dark as the train. The crash must have happened right at the centre. Dylan looked first one way, then the other. It didn’t help. She could see no light, and apart from the gentle sound of air rushing through the enclosed space, there was silence. Eeny, meeny, miney, mo, she thought. Sighing, she turned right and trudged forward. It had to lead somewhere.
Without a light to guide her, she tripped often and so it was slow progress. Every now and then something by her feet would scurry quickly away. She hoped there weren’t rats in the tunnel. Anything smaller than a rabbit caused outbursts of irrational fear in her. A spider in the bathroom could trigger half an hour of hysteria until Joan could be persuaded to come and rescue her. If anything ran over her shoe in here she knew her flight instinct would kick in. In the dark, though, with the uneven ground, she’d probably fall flat on her face.
The tunnel went on and on. She was on the verge of turning back and trying the other way when she saw what she thought was a dot of light ahead. Hoping for a way out, or a rescuer equipped with a torch, she stumbled faster, desperate to be outside in the brightness again. It took a long time, but slowly the dot turned into an arch. Beyond it she could only see a little daylight, but that was enough.
When at last she exited the tunnel it was raining softly, and she laughed with delight as she turned her face up to the gentle shower. The dark of the tunnel had made her feel dirty, and the misty droplets felt like they were cleansing some of the horrors away. Taking a deep breath, she put her hands on her hips and surveyed her surroundings.
The landscape was empty except for the track, which wound forward across a wild backdrop. She had left Glasgow far behind, she realised. The horizon was ringed with large, imposing hills. Low-slung clouds blurred their edges as they skimmed the highest peaks. It was a muted palette of colours, purple heather fighting for space amongst great swathes of brown bracken. Small copses of trees grew in irregular patterns on the lower gradients of hills dark-hued with evergreen pines. The slopes closer to the tunnel were gentler, undulating mounds coated with long grass. There was not a town or a road in sight, not even an isolated farmhouse. Dylan bit her lip as she studied the scene. It was untamed and unfriendly looking.
She had expected to see a melee of police cars and ambulances parked at random angles in their haste to get to the scene. There should have been hordes of men and women in different brightly coloured uniforms ready to rush forward and comfort her, check her for injuries and ask her questions. The area just outside the tunnel should have been littered with groups of survivors, ashen-faced and huddled in blankets to keep out the cutting wind. In reality there were none of these things. Her face fell into a mask of confusion and unease. Where was everybody?
Turning round, she looked into the black mouth of the tunnel. There was no other explanation: she must have gone the wrong way. They must all be at the other end of the tunnel. Tears of frustration and exhaustion sprang up in her eyes. The thought of going back into the darkness, of having to walk back past the train filled with the limp, lifeless bodies of the less fortunate, was excruciating. But there was no going round it. Hacked out from the base of a massive line of hills, the
ground rose up on either side, no less insurmountable than a sheer cliff face.
She looked up towards the heavens, as if pleading with God to change things, but all she saw were the steely grey clouds ambling quietly across the sky. With a quiet sob she turned back to the bleak landscape before her, desperate for some sign of civilisation that would save her from having to return to the dark tunnel. Holding her hand to her forehead to protect her eyes from the wind and the rain, she scanned the horizon. And that was when she saw him.
e was sitting on a hill to the left of the tunnel entrance, his hands wrapped around his knees, and he was staring at her. From this far away all that she could tell was that he was a boy, probably a teenager, with sandy hair that was being tossed around by the wind. He didn’t stand or even smile when he saw her looking at him, just continued to stare.
There was something odd about the way that he sat there, a solitary figure in this isolated place. Dylan couldn’t imagine how he had come to be there, unless he’d been on the train as well. She waved at him, glad to have someone to share this horror with, but he didn’t wave back. She thought she saw him sit up a little straighter, but he was so far away it was hard to tell.
Keeping her eyes firmly on him, just in case he disappeared, she slipped and slid down the gravel bank of the train tracks and hopped over a little ditch filled with water and weeds. There was a barbed-wire fence separating the tracks from the open countryside. Dylan gingerly grabbed the top wire between two of the twisted metal knots and pulled it downwards as hard as she could. It dropped just low enough for her to awkwardly swing her legs over. She caught her foot as she pulled her second leg over and almost fell, but she managed to cling on to the wire and keep her balance. The barbs cut into her palm, though, piercing the skin and causing little droplets of blood to ooze through. She examined her hand briefly before rubbing it against her leg. A dark stain on her jeans made her take a second look. There was a large red patch on the outside of her thigh. She stared at it for a moment before remembering wiping her hand to get rid of the sticky stuff on the carriage floor. Realisation made her blanch and her stomach heaved slightly.
Shaking her head to rid herself of the sick images that were swirling in her brain, she turned from the fence and fixed her eyes back on her target. He was seated on the slope about fifty metres above her. From this distance she could see his face, and so she smiled in greeting. He didn’t respond. Slightly abashed by this cold reception, Dylan stared at the ground as she made her way up the hill towards him. It was a hard climb and before long she was panting. The hillside was steep and the long grass was wet and difficult to wade through. Looking down, concentrating on her feet, gave her an excuse not to make eye contact; not until she had to.
The boy on the hill appraised the girl approaching him with cold eyes. He had been watching her since she had exited the tunnel, emerging from the dark like a frightened rabbit from a burrow. Rather than shouting to get her attention, he had simply waited for her to see him. At one point he had been concerned that she would head back into the tunnel, and he had considered calling out, but she had changed her mind, and so he’d contented himself with sitting silently. She would notice him.
He was right. She spotted him and he saw the relief pool in her eyes as she waved energetically. He did not wave back. He watched her face falter slightly, but then she left the train track and began to approach him. She moved clumsily, catching herself on the barb-wire fence and tripping on clumps of wet grass. When she was close enough to read his expression he turned his face away, listening to the sound of her drawing nearer.
At last Dylan reached where he sat and was able to get a much better look at him. Her guess at his age had been spot on; he couldn’t have been more than a year older than her, if that. He was wearing jeans, trainers and a warm-looking navy jumper with the word
written across it in flowing orange letters. Curled up as he was, it was hard to guess at his size, but he didn’t look small or weedy. He was quite tanned, with a line of freckles marching across his nose. His face was set in a hard, disinterested mask, and as soon as Dylan got closer to him, he’d began to stare off into the desolate landscape. Even when she stood right in front of him, he didn’t change his expression or the direction of his stare. It was very disconcerting and Dylan fidgeted where she stood, unsure of what to say.
“Hi, I’m Dylan,” she mumbled at last, looking down at the ground. Waiting for a response, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other and stared off in the same direction, wondering what he was looking at.
“Tristan,” he eventually replied, glancing at her briefly, and then looking away again.
Relieved that he had at least responded, Dylan made another stab at conversation. “I guess you were on the train, too. I’m so glad I’m not the only one here! I must have passed out in the carriage and when I woke up I was on my own.” She said all of this very fast, nervous of his frosty welcome. “All of the other passengers had already got out and apparently nobody had noticed me there. There was this stupid woman with all these bags and stuff – I got stuck under them. When I got out, I couldn’t tell which way everybody had gone, but we must have come out of the wrong side of the tunnel. I bet the firemen and police and everybody else are on the other side.”
“Train?” He turned towards her and she got her first look into his eyes. They were icy blue and cold. Cobalt. She felt like they could freeze her blood if they were angry, but just now they were merely curious. They appraised her for half a second before flickering to the tunnel mouth. “Right. The train.”
She looked at him expectantly, but he didn’t seem inclined to say anything else. Biting her lip, she cursed her luck that the only other person here was a teenage boy. An adult would’ve known what to do. Also, although she hated to admit it, boys like this made her nervous. They seemed so cool and confident, and she always ended up getting tongue-tied and feeling like a total idiot.
“Maybe we should walk back through the tunnel?” she suggested. Although that would mean passing by the train again, it didn’t seem like such an awful proposition with someone else. Then they could meet up with all the other passengers and the emergency services, and she might still be able to salvage her weekend with her dad.
The boy turned the force of his gaze back on her and she had to stop herself taking an involuntary step backwards. His eyes were magnetic, and they seemed to see through to her very core. Dylan felt exposed, almost naked, under his stare. Unconsciously, she folded her arms across her chest.
“No, we can’t get through there.” His voice was disinterested, as if he wasn’t worried at all about their current predicament. As if he could quite happily sit on this hillside for ever. Well, Dylan thought, I can’t. After staring at her for another long moment, he went back to glaring at the hills. Dylan bit her bottom lip as she tried to think of something else to say.
“Well, do you have a phone, then, so we can call someone, like the police or something? My phone died in the crash. And I should probably call my mum; when she hears what’s happened she’ll freak. She’s very overprotective and she’ll want to know I’m okay so that she can say ‘I told you so’…” Dylan trailed off.
This time he didn’t even look at her. “Phones don’t work out here.”
“Oh.” She was getting annoyed now. They were stuck here, on the wrong side of the tunnel, with no adults and no way to contact people and he was being no help at all. However, he
the only person here. “Well, what should we do, then?”
Instead of answering her, he suddenly stood up. Upright, he towered above her, much taller than she would have guessed. He looked down at her, a half-smirk playing on his lips, and started to walk away.
Dylan’s mouth opened and closed a few times but no sound came out. She was transfixed, motionless and mute, shocked and intimidated by this strange boy. Was he just going to leave her here? She got her answer quickly. He went about ten metres, then stopped, turned, and looked back at her.
“Coming where?” Dylan asked, reluctant to leave the site of the train crash. Surely staying here was the most sensible thing to do? How would anybody find them if they went wandering off? Besides, how did he know where he was going? It was already late afternoon and it would be dark soon. The wind was getting up and it was cold; she didn’t want to get lost and have to spend the night roughing it.
But his self-assurance had her doubting herself. He seemed to see the indecision in her face. He gave her a patronising look, his voice dripping with superiority. “Well, I’m not just going to sit and wait. You can stay here if you want.”
He watched that comment sink in, gauging her reaction.
Dylan’s eyes widened in fear at the thought of being left alone, waiting. What if night fell and nobody came?
“I think we should both stay here,” she began, but he was already shaking his head. Looking as if it was extremely inconvenient, he walked back over and stared at her, so close she could feel his breath on her face. Dylan looked into his eyes and felt her surroundings fade away. His gaze was compelling; she couldn’t have looked away if she’d wanted to. There was no other word for it; she was mesmerised.
“Come with me,” he commanded, his tone leaving no room for negotiation. It was an order and he expected her to comply.
Her mind strangely blank, it did not occur to Dylan to disobey. Nodding numbly, she stumbled forward towards him.
The boy, Tristan, didn’t even wait for her to catch up before he was off again, striding up the hill, away from the tunnel. He had been surprised at her wilfulness; there was inner strength in this one. Still, one way or another, she would follow him.