I hear crashing, smashing and boxes busting from the fall, then as I lie and wait for the sound to die down, Mum comes running in,
“Caity! CAITLYN?!” She sounds panicked, but I can’t see, I’m covered in boxes.
“I’m here,” I murmur, Raising up a hand through the mess. Mum grabs my hand and pulls me up.
“Careful, my head hurts. Any my leg,” I say, as I am pulled upright and lean against my Mum for a moment.
“Caitlyn, what the hell happened?”
“My leg hurt,” I say, hopping to lean on the staircase banister, like I meant to a moment ago, “I leant on the boxes and they fell on me.”
“Caity . . . you stupid girl,” Mum murmurs, looking at the mess. I look at it too. A box of socks exploded, as did a box of Mum’s shoes. Many boxes are crumpled, but still intact.
“oh, no . . .” Mum murmurs, reaching to one in particular. As she rolls the box back upright, I hear broken glass tinkling around inside.
She opens the box and gingerly takes out a photo frame. I don’t need to see the photo, I can recognize that silver frame. It’s Mum’s wedding photo.
Mum drops the broken frame back in the box.
“Caitlyn, go to your room,” Mum says, her voice void of feeling.
“I’m sorry, it was an accident.”
“Damn it Caitlyn!” Mum suddenly shouts. Tears are in her eyes, she turns around so I can’t see her
“I don’t want to deal with you right now, alright? Just . . . go to your room. I’ll clean this up.”
“Alright, Mum,” I say. I grab the banister and limp up the stairs and out of sight.
I get to my room and sit on the bed, rubbing my head. It hurts from when I hit the tiles, but I’ve had a lot worse before, It’ll be fine soon enough. But my leg still hurts, that could still be aching in the morning. I wish I could ask Mum for some help, but she’s not in the state to help me right now.
If only I could tell her it wasn’t my fault. It was an accident. Well, obviously, it was an accident. Mum would know that already, wouldn’t she? I mean, I wouldn’t do that on purpose.
Wait, then why is she so upset at me? She knows I wouldn’t do that on purpose, what did I do wrong? I didn’t do anything wrong at all, she knows I’m clumsy, it was an accident.
It’s because of her wedding photo, yeah, she’s upset. But she shouldn’t take it out on me! That’s selfish. She just wants to be left right alone because she’s sad about Dad. Hey, I’m sad too! What about me? I never even wanted to leave the house where we lived and loved and played together with Dad, and she’s crying over a photo?!
I’ve lost my whole childhood and she’s sad over a losing a photograph. She didn’t even ask me if I was alright! Well . . . to hell with her.
She doesn’t want to deal with me right now . . . well maybe she doesn’t want to deal with me at all.
She wanted to move to this new, stupid town. Let’s see how she feels if I disappear in this strange place. Have her looking all around for me. She’ll see why it was such a bad idea to move to Hollow Falls.
I mean, I’m not gonna run away for real. I’m just gonna head off a little, just to scare her. Make her realize how unfair she is being. I’ll just head down the street and wait.
I walk back down the hall and creep over to the balcony, and peek over the banister. Mum’s in the entryway, I can’t get out through the front door, maybe this isn’t such a good idea. Mum is bent over, moving boxes to the corner of the room, muttering to herself.
No, I want to do this. If Mum can be frivolous, so can I. But I can’t leave through the front door . . .
I get up and head straight back to my room. There’s a box of my clothes in the corner, and I head to it. I take my shoes off and slip into a pair of jeans, then put my joggers back on. I pick a nice, dark t-shirt, then a good turtleneck jumper to keep me warm.
I grab my wallet, with about $28.30 in it. And lastly, I make sure my long, light brown hair is tied back in a ponytail and out of the way.
I head down the hall and into Mum’s room. There’s a window in her room that looks out over the street. I carefully open it up and peer outside. The wind is cool, making my jumper useful. The crescent moon is shining bright, but it’s just as dark as before, so I stare out into the street to let my eyes adjust to the darkness. I stare out on our lawn for about a minute, until I can distinctly see our mailbox. Perfect.
Slowly and carefully, I step up onto the window ledge and look out. It’s not that high up, but I don’t exactly want to jump out of a two-storey window.
I turn and climb out backwards, hanging onto the window sill with my hands, then stretch my feet out towards the ground, trying to be as close to the ground as I can, to lessen my fall.
Then, giving myself a little push away from the brick wall with my good knee, I let go of the window . . .
Luckily, I’m so used to falling down, I’ve gotten good at it. As I land, I collapse my legs under me and land onto my back. It’s not graceful, but it doesn’t hurt. And it barely made any sound.
I lift up my head to look around, to see if Mum noticed anything, but even after waiting for what feels like a minute, there’s no reaction from inside. I get up, careful not to make a sound, and limp toward the pavement. The place is still empty, still and silent. There aren’t even any birds or bugs chirping in the night time, like you’d be expecting. Pure silence. As I head along the pavement, my sore knee starts to let up a bit, and I can manage an uneven step which doesn’t hurt my leg very much. I get to the bus stop on the corner and sit on the seat.
Yeah, I didn’t get very far, but I’m happy with this. I’ve never run away before, maybe I’m not very good at it. But if I just sit here, at least Mum will still get scared. And maybe I won’t get in as much trouble, since I’m not that far from home.
So I sit at the bus stop and stare across the street. The houses around here are really creepy, since there’s no light at all. Maybe no one lives around here. I mean, we just moved in, perhaps it’s one of those new developments, and we’re the first to buy them. Except that these houses look kind of old.
I rub my hands together to keep them from getting chilled. What’s taking Mum so long? I wish I’d brought a watch, then I’d know if she should have found me by now. If she’s going to find me at all, that is. I mean, it’s a stupid thought, I know that Mum will come after me eventually. But what if she doesn’t notice that I’m gone? What if she just goes straight to bed, and she doesn’t realize I’m gone till morning? Should I just wait out here all night? In the cold? In the dark? I could just go back, and she wouldn’t even know that I was gone . . .
No, I want to teach her a lesson!
But I also don’t want to sit out here all night, how will I get to sleep?
At the very thought of it, I yawn loudly. No, no, I’m not really tired. It’s just a reflex because I was thinking about . . . I yawn again, this time a little longer.
No, stop thinking about it. I’m NOT going to sleep. I will sit out here for as long as I have to!
I sit and stare at the house across the street, when suddenly I hear a sound. Like a hiss, off in the distance, then a low growl.
The growl gets deeper and louder, then something appears at the far right end of the street. I lean forward and look out to see light shining brightly up the street, making me squint. Headlights. It’s a bus.
With its old engine groaning loudly, the bus drives up the street slowly but surely. Then, with a high squeal of breaks, the bus comes to a stop in front of me, and the doors open up.
“One-way ticket?” asks the bus driver. I look up at the man. He’s a wrinkly old man, but he’s very skinny, like an old bag of bones.
“No.” I reply, still sitting down at the bus stop.
“Alright then, where ya goin’?” he asks,
The man chuckles to himself,
“Well, a one-way ticket to ‘nowhere’ is one-fifty. A nightly ticket is two-fifty.”
It’s my own fault for sitting at a bus stop, the man doesn’t realize that I’m not catching the bus . . . but maybe I could . . . I can’t help but smirk at the evil thought. I wouldn’t have to walk anywhere, the guy could just take me into town. More fear for my Mum for all the less effort.
“Well, are you getting on, or not?” asks the driver, impatiently resting his hand on the door lever.
“Actually, yes,” I say, taking out my wallet. “Can you take me into town?”
“Yes.” I say, handing over the money. If Mum is going to pick me up, I won’t need a ticket back. The driver puts the money in the register and hands me my ticket.
“Take a seat,” he says. But before I can sit down, he closes the door and sets the bus in motion. The bus is completely empty, but I’m not surprised. It is the nightly bus service, after all. I move towards a seat, but the bus suddenly takes a sharp turn to the left, and I fall over. Pulling myself up, I slide onto one of the seats. I try to look out the window, but the lights in the bus are too bright, so my reflection just stares back at me.
I have a quick look around the bus. The seats are some sort of ancient, beige leather, and a lot of the windows are smudged. The backs of seats have graffiti scribbled on them, and the entire, rickety contraption seems to rattle as though threatening to fall apart. So, it’s just like any other bus. I lean my head right up against the glass and stare out the window. It’s just a blur of moving blackness, but I keep staring out, trying to recognise something. I could still be on my street, or I could be passing by the circus for all I know, I couldn’t tell one blur from another as I just stare out the window.
I yawn and lean my head against the window, staring out until I can see dark shapes flicking past. I still can’t recognize any of it, It’s just a mess of blackness.
I find myself stifling another yawn and looking through the rattling bus as we drive along. I feel every turn as the ancient machine rolls around the corners and jolt back up to pace. I’m surprised the thing is still in service.
Then we stop. I look forward and barely can see a red light through the windscreen. We sit still and wait for the traffic. Although there surely is none, it’s much too late at night.
Then I hear something. Bells. Familiar bells ringing. That explains the red light, then.
I lean my head back against the window when I realise that the sound is coming from behind me. I look out the back window. There are more red lights behind me. Well, that’s odd.
The bells keep on ringing When I see something out the window. In the distance, it’s a light.
I hear a horn blast. It’s the train. Wait . . .
“Driver! We’re on the tracks!” There’s no response. I run up to the front of the bus and grab the bus driver by his shoulders. And scream!
he’s just bones, bones in a bus driver’s uniform. The skull falls off and rolls on the floor.
I grab the door lever and pull it, but it doesn’t budge.
The train horn blares again, this time much closer.
The emergency exit! I run to the back of the bus and get to the small door there. I push the handle, but it doesn’t move. Stupid, ancient old bus!
I kick at the door, but it doesn’t budge. I look back at the window. The train’s light is blinding, and it blares its horn one last time.
We’re gonna crash!
With a heavy bang! I hit my head against the window, snapping me awake. I rub my sore forehead. It feels cold after leaning on the window for so long. I guess I must have fallen asleep.
I rub the sleep from my eyes and look out the window. It’s just my reflection. No runaway trains, no skeletons, just my reflection on blackness.
I haven’t had a nightmare in a long time, not since Dad died, it must be this new town. I look around the bus just to get my bearings. I hope I didn’t miss my stop.
I move to stand up, but luckily I grab onto the seat in front of me as the bus comes to a squealing halt.
Without turning to me, the bus driver calls back,
“Here’s your stop.”
I stand up straight, and head down the aisle. Giving the driver a little nod, I head down the stairs,
“Take care of yourself, Miss.” He says as he nods back. And as soon as I step off the bus, the doors slam shut behind me. Then the bus roars into life and revvs its engine right off, heading down the street. As the tail lights of the bus fade away into the distance, the sound of the engine dulls down to complete silence. And I am left standing alone in the dark.
It’s really late now, and I can’t see the moon anymore as I look up. The clouds must have taken over, because there are no stars either. The sky looks like an enormous, black ink blot. I look around myself to see that I am in the middle of town. But it feels very strange. I don’t recognise this part of town, There are a lot of houses and buildings each spaced evenly apart, but it is hard to see it all in the dim light.
I am standing at the bus stop, but all it consists of is a seat and a Bus Stop sign.
So, I sit down on the seat. The silence is complete and absolute. No crickets chirp and no trees rustle. It is a silent night. The silence is almost calming, but with the sky as dark as it is, I feel like I’m in another world. I look back and forth along the street. None of the streetlights are on and the moon is hidden behind cloud, but my eyes have adjusted, because I can see most of the buildings now.
Across the street from me is a barber shop, but the windows are all smashed and boarded up, and the place looks like it’s covered with dust. Beside that is a dark and empty lot with a sign saying “For Sale”. And beside that, a rundown old reastaurant or bar. I must be near the dead part of town or something.
The seat I’m on is hard and uncomfortable, and I shift to keep the blood flowing through my legs. Every movement makes a little sound that echoes lightly in the silence. I don’t like it.
I let out a long, low whistle. No response. Surely out here in the bush there should be heaps of bugs and birds and nightlife. Where are all the animals? I mean, there should at least be a possum. A gecko. Even a cricket.
I get up and wander to the stop sign, just for something to get my mind off the silence. The sign has the bus timetable on it, but where the times should be listed, the glass has been smashed and someone has spray painted onto the sign with black paint so that it reads:
Bus Times: NEVER
Great. I wander back to the seat and sit down. Mum surely is taking her time. Isn’t she worried about me, yet? I really don’t want to stay out here all night, not in this creepy silence.
The uncomfortable seat is starting to make my legs go numb, so I decide to get up and wander around. Maybe I could figure out what it is about this part of town that shut it down. I walk down the street, looking at the buildings. This side of the street is a line of shops, side by side, and they are all deserted. Book stores, clothing stores and toy shops, all dead and empty. They aren’t all sold out though, some just look like the owners run off. The toy store still has stacked shelves, filled with toys, and covered in a layer of dust and ash. One of the restaurant even has plates and cutlery on the tables.
It sends a shiver down my spine. Why would someone leave their shop like that? What happened here . . . it’s almost like people just got up and ran. Leaving the place empty. But why?
I cross the street and glance up at the street sign on the corner, but I can’t read it. The paint has all peeled off, and the sign has been reduced to just a slice of rusty metal sticking out of the top of the pole.
I keep walking along, and as I do, the buildings drift away. I pass another store, then an empty gas station, then there’s just bare grass. Either side of the road, just grass. I stop and glance at the open area. As far as I can see, which is just a few metres in this dark, the grass is brown, dry and dead.
What happened here? Did a bomb go off or something? I look on the other side of the road and into the distance, and I see a glimpse of something in the dark. Something white or light-coloured, it’s hard to see in the dark. I walk out to the centre of the road, since it’s brightest there, and I start to walk towards the thing in the distance. I get closer and start to see that it’s a square shape, but still can’t quite make it out. I start to walk faster, when suddenly my foot gets caught and fall over onto the road.
Luckily I stop myself from getting hurt this time, but it scared the life out of me. I get up and look at the road.
Train tracks. I tripped on train tracks. Wait . . . that doesn’t make any sense. I’ve been here. Mum drove through here when we got to town. We passed over these tracks. And that thing in the distance, that must be the sign we passed on the way in that says “Welcome to Hollow Falls”. But the grass wasn’t dead and brown around here. And this wasn’t the dead part of town. This is the Eureka Highway, this is the main part of town, where all the shops were. The shops that were closed. Not broken down. And there should be a whole heap of trees off to the right there. A whole forest!
What’s going on?
I turn around and walk back to the bus stop. My shoes tap the ground loudly in the silence as I make my way back. Looking around the street now, it is even weirder, because I remember it. I remember driving down here in the car clearly, but it wasn’t like this at all. It was closed and dark, but it wasn’t broken, it wasn’t boarded up or deserted.
I stop when I get to the rusty street sign again and start to feel unwell.
We turned down this street. I know, I’m sure of it, but the street had a name . . . or did it? I don’t know . . . I’m lost. I must be lost.
My lip starts to tremble as I look around.
No, no, this is silly. I know this place, come on. The train tracks are just there, and they pass behind my house! I know that, so if I just walk along the tracks, then they’ll lead me to my backyard. Sure, I’ll have to climb the back fence, but I’ll be home.
And that’s where I want to be now. Home. Screw running away, this was a bad idea. My Mum must be worried sick.
I turn back towards the train tracks and jog along the road until I see them, then I stop. I glance around to make sure there are no trains or anything, then I stand in the middle of the rails and start walking towards my house.
It gets really dark as I walk away from the road, but I can still see the tracks pretty well. All I have to do now is keep an eye out for my window. I left my bedroom light on when I left, so I should see it through the window. This is easy. Pretty scary in this empty darkness, but still easy.
There are rocks between the rails and they crunch as I walk along them, heading down the rails. I’m glad for the sound, the silence really creeps me out.
I glance left and right, either side of the rails, but it’s pitch black. It sends shivers down my spine. All I can see is a few metres of track in front of me, then the rails seem to run off into oblivion. I really hope a train doesn’t come by.
I see something along the tracks in the distance. It looks like another road. Is that Dead End Street?
I keep walking until I’m standing in the middle of the road, then I stop. I look left. There are no houses that I can see. This can’t be Dead End Street. I look down the other way, and see something in the distance. It takes a second for my eyes to adjust, but I soon recognise it. A blurry, white square hidden in the dark. It’s the sign. The sign from before. The sign Mum and me passed on the way into town . . .
but that makes no sense.
I walked in a straight line! A perfectly straight line! The only way I could be back here . . . is if I was going around in circles.