They Wait in the Rain
It was 5:15, the alarm goes off and James rubs his eyes. He had been waiting for that alarm since 3 o’clock, but his doctor advised him to stay in bed, otherwise he would never overcome his insomnia. Sadly, this hadn’t been working out for the past nine months. Tired and aching he got out of bed and flicked on the lights. He switched the coffee machine on and the old apparatus jerked to life and made deep gurgling sounds as it heated the limewater and did the best it could to convert it into a drinkable cure against James’ heavy eyelids. The face that greeted him in the mirror was grey and decorated with thick black rings under his eyes. He had seriously considered make-up just to avoid the questions at work. At first his co-workers had just assumed that he had been out late, but since his eyes never looked anything but restless they soon realized it must have other reasons. Then the annoying questions started: Are you alright? Is there something I can do? Hypocritical compassion he could do without.
After his painful bathroom ritual he forced some cereals down his throat along with the black liquid that vaguely resembled coffee, if only by the looks. There he sat in his one-room apartment with his bowl and cup, staring into the endless grey space that was his life. The lightbulb over his head began to flicker, he had been wondering when it would finally breathe its last breath. He had never bothered to get a proper lamp, a simple bulb had always done the job perfectly, just as the wall didn’t need a wallpaper to work as intended. As one might see he wasn’t a big fan of home improvement, perhaps he might have been once, a long time ago, but now there was simply no point. When something broke down he only considered replacing it if it was vital to his daily routine. Lightbulbs got replaced, but the egg boiler still lay broken in the cupboard.
Having put on his suit and tie wrapped firmly around his neck like a noose, he made his way into the underground parking lot of his apartment. His car reluctantly started and moved him towards the exit. Only after emerging from the abyss of exhaust gases he realized that it was raining. He didn’t give much thought to it, since he in all honesty could not tell if it had also been raining yesterday or not. But even the daily routine of the same red lights or roads could not hide one fact: he was all alone.
No other cars were on the road, no early-morning-people out for a jog, the ones that need to prove how dedicated they are by going out in the worst weather imaginable. No dog owners trying to speed up their dog’s peeing against a tree to finally get inside again. No one. James was unsettled, but not enough to leave the cart on the rollercoaster of tedium. He drove down the street and kept a watchful eye for any movements of any kind. Yet, the only thing moving was his car, the windscreen wipers, the water in the form of rain rapidly plunging from the very heavens, and his eyes in their frantic chase for a clue to this most curious morning.
After a long drive of searching and self-questioning the oddity of the situation got to him and James decided to get out of his car. He parked on a free spot near a doctor’s office and locked it. All the windows in the buildings around were dark, only the neon-light of signs advertising various bars were piercing the darkness, it was unusually dark, not the grey sky one would normally expect during a rainy day. No, this was pitch black and only what was right in front of him was visible. James was aware enough to take the flashlight from the trunk with him and after a bit of searching he found it. He made sure to always have a working one in the back of the car, since it had a tendency to break down in the middle of the road, especially at night. Armed with this small source of light he wandered down the street. He thought of shouting for any other person, but reconsidered, should it all just be a weird coincidence he didn’t want to wake anyone up. The splashing sound of his footsteps and the continuous machine-gun-like tones of rain hitting various different kinds of surfaces. He moved his flashlight around, shining it into stores, alleyways, and private homes, but all of them seemed empty and lifeless. Something in the back of his mind told him that they appeared to be vacant for a long time, not just since yesterday. But this must be an idiot thought to think, right?
At that moment lightning stretched across the sky and for the fracture of a second illuminated the empty street in front of him. The thunder roared almost immediately afterwards. Just what he had needed, a storm that showed no signs of backing down anytime soon. Part of his brain thought to have perceived footsteps, but with this cacophony of sounds it was hard to tell. Then another bolt of lightning drowned the street in white light and at that moment, only during the blink of an eye he saw the figure in the distance. Relief spread across his body, all the thoughts of him being alone vanished as he moved towards the other person. Even with the flashlight he could not make him out, but he had remembered the vague direction he or she had been in. James didn’t usually care for company any more, but this was a special case. Another person could surely clear up this bizarre morning. After all, he or she was lost just like he was. As he jogged towards the last known position of the figure he began to wonder: How could the person see in this darkness? He would see a flashlight or any source of light at this distance, wouldn’t he? The feeling of relief was washed away by fear and his heart began to race. He slowed his steps and reconsidered moving towards the shadowy entity.
His breathing was becoming heavy as terror gripped his weak body with its bony claws. Now he could feel the wetness gathering in his shoes, shoes he’d had for a long time, but simply could not throw away. The next bolt of lightning struck and James tried to take in everything he could. Only there wasn’t anything to see. The street was empty again. Had he imagined the person the last time? Panicking, he swung the flashlight around wildly, but every time it hit a surface it reflected with glistening wetness and made it almost harder to see anything. He decided it was not a good idea to go in this direction and that his car was probably the safest choice right now. So he turned around and walked back the way he had come, speeding up his steps with every second. He was almost running now and it was hard to keep the flashlight steady in front of him. But even then, while running, he could see something in the corner of his eye. His flashlight beam touched another person just as he ran past. He stopped and turned around, searching the area with his beam of light, but nothing, nothing was there but wet asphalt, yet he was sure he had seen boots and trousers. His searching became more hectic and finally he gave up and decided to run for it again. He could look from the safety of his car as soon as he was back in it.
The road seemed to go on endlessly. Was his mental map failing him or shouldn’t he already be back at his car? But there wasn’t time to think about that. His heart was in a race with his steps and so far none of them backed down. The splashing of water was the only thing he could hear and it seemed to grow louder with every step, transforming it into a brain-shattering bang every time his feet touched the ground. And then he reached the end of the street. Just like that. This wide two-lane street ended right in front of a building. No side roads, nothing. This huge block of bricks and mortar towered in front of him, unyielding and merciless. He tried to look for a door, thinking that maybe he was supposed to come here. Nothing made sense anymore. But there was no entrance to be found leading inside. His flashlight-beam wandered up the side of the building. Many windows all neatly arranged in a repeating pattern and every single one of them was dark. As he looked to the left of the building he found another identical monolith stretching seemingly endlessly into the sky. The light of his torch gave up long before it could reach the end. James kept turning around, but only found more buildings blocking his way, even the road he had just come down. The impossibility of what was happening to him made his movements all the more frantic. He ran towards the side of one of the building and started banging his fist against it, as if it would dissolve into mist or crumble this entire nightmarish fantasy to rubble. His fear and anxiety amplified and he could not stop himself. All the pain wanted to be felt. All he wanted was to escape. Of course nothing like that happened. The only cracking came from his hand, as the bones started to give in, leaving bloody markings on the bricks. The agony rushing through his body mixed with despair brought James somewhat back to his senses. He stumbled back into the centre and tried to calm his nerves, looking up into the sky. The cold rain splashing his face and slowly his breathing settled down.
At this moment, hundreds and hundreds of windows were illuminated at the same time as if every single light switch had been flicked on. Behind every window was a dark silhouette of a person. Standing, unwavering. They had no faces or any feature besides the infinite blackness they seemed to be born from, but James could feel it. The thousands of eyes that were watching him. Fixed on him and not blinking once. He started to shake, but couldn’t move an inch. As he turned his head to look around he finally saw it: a little gap. Between two of the buildings there was a gap, just big enough for him to pass through. He didn’t think twice about it and ran for it. Then all the figures must have started banging on the windows as the sound echoed back and forth between the buildings. James wouldn’t know, he didn’t dare to look up again and just headed straight for his only chance.
After squeezing through the tight space he found himself on a road again. He could not tell which road it was, but he breathed a sigh of relief at the sudden open space he found himself in. He could look in a direction and not see the end of the blackness ahead, he gladly took it over the prison he just escaped from. He jogged down the road, too exhausted to run, but too scared to just walk. He couldn’t believe his eyes. There it was: his car. He had finally found it again. He swung the flashlight around to check the area and the back of the car before he got in. He wasn’t taking any chances. As he got inside he manually locked the doors and started the engine. His face showed his horror as the car only made some weak efforts to start. But in his face was something else, a part of him that had expected nothing else. The radio jerked to life and made him jump with a far too loud version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. He tried to turn it down, but for some reason it wouldn’t. The damn thing couldn’t even be switched off. Anything but this song. So the only logical thing in this illogical world left was to kill the engine. But Freddy Mercury didn’t stop singing and just kept growing louder and louder until James’ ears started to hurt. The speakers started to screech under the volume that was never meant for them. He fished for the door handle, but couldn’t open it no matter how hard he pulled, he was trapped again. He started banging his bloody hand against the glass, but the only thing cracking were his bones. Suddenly Queen was quiet and a broadcaster took over in normal volume.
“We interrupt our program for some emergency news. On the interstate 47 a wrong-way driver is endangering the traffic, please pay extra attention on both sides. And now to something more pleasant. The weather in the coming days will be,“ James tried to turn it off again, but as he reached for the radio an answer came: “Don’t turn us off now, kiddo, we are just getting started.” James drew his hand back quickly. Was he talking to him? “Of course, I am talking to you James, who else is there?” James was pressed against the inner side of his window, as far away from the radio as possible. The man from the radio had a soft southern accent and his chuckling came from the speakers in a cracked version. “Well, unless you count these guys.” With the last word of that statement the headlights turned on and revealed a horde of black figures standing outside in the rain. Their ranks seemed endless and even the ones directly touched by the light didn’t show any feature beyond an infinite void of darkness. James jumped back, he tried to find the ignition and put the key back in. The headlights were still turned on as he tried to start the engine again to no avail. The figures weren’t moving, but he could feel them coming closer. The man from the radio started to laugh again and started singing: “Oh whatcha gonna do James, watcha gonna do, when they come for you?”
James leaned back and kicked the door which finally gave in to the abuse it had sustained and swung open. He grabbed his flashlight and jumped out of the car. As his feet hit the ground he started running. All the pain his body felt could not stop him. From his periphery he could make out windows that were now illuminated and the figures inside them banging against the glass in a frantic way, but he didn’t look and just kept running. He tried his best to shake them off, even though he never saw them follow him. Through small alleys, by crossing roads, everything to get away from them. His running reached its end as he stood in front of the hospital.
The door was open and he stepped inside. His breathing was heavy and even inside the ceiling was dripping with water. The splashing sounds continued even as he made his way to the third floor he felt drawn to. His steps slowed down as he looked down the long black corridor leading to room 12 at the far end. The sound of feet dragging across the floor accompanied him. All the other doors were open and he knew they were in there, but he kept walking, walking towards the end of the hallway. The door was old and broken apart by the wetness it had soaked up. Mould was beginning to gather all around the doorframe. James pushed the door open and walked inside.
On the far end of the room was a huge window and right in front of it the hospital bed. The rain kept banging against the glass. James raised the flashlight to get a better look at the bed, even though he knew what he would find. There she was: a woman dressed in white with blood splattered on her hands and stomach. Her eyes were closed. James walked towards her with uneasy steps and fell to his knees besides the bed. He held on to the frame of it and pulled himself up to look at her face. Her expression was scarred by pain, never to leave it again. He placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and grabbed her bloody hand. James sank to the floor again, her hand still gripped tightly. He leaned his back against the bed. He could run away no more. His flashlight started to flicker, the first sign of its impending death. They were outside, waiting for the darkness to settle in. James’ eyes began to feel heavy. The world was slowly drifting away. The cold touch of her hand was his last feeling in life. Outside the rain kept falling.