This is Part Two of RIDE. To read the full story from the beginning, click here.
“Okay then,” Sadie said, flashing a friendly but hopefully non-suggestive smile. “Have a good night.” She turned around and made her way down the aisle, rebalancing as the train car swayed. She selected a seat at the back of the car, as far away from the guy in the hoodie as she could get. He chose a seat closer to the front of the car and slumped down out of sight. Sadie took off her backpack and lifted it onto the rack. She slid onto the bench. The train went past a cluster of brand new hotels, all the windows lit, curtains drawn.
Sadie settled down into her seat. She’d grown up in Wheat Ridge, a suburb of Denver. The A line between Union Station and the airport still made her proud, though it was now a couple of years old. My little hometown is growing up. No comparison to Chicago. But still. Progress.
The light above her head flickered. This was an older train car than the ones she'd ridden in Denver before. The walls were scuffed up, and the layout was different. This one didn’t even have bike racks or screens flashing info. Weird. But perhaps budget cuts were affecting the train system —wasn’t that the case with everything these days?—and they’d had to purchase some train cars second-hand. Headlights kept passing on the highway, casting eerie shadows over the rows of plastic seats and metal bars.
A noise caught her attention. The guy in the hoodie was shifting around in his seat. His whitetennis shoes appeared, hanging over the end of his bench. She could still hear his music. His head popped up over the back of the seat, and their eyes met. That was all she could see: eyes and hood. No clue if he was smiling, or just staring.
She looked quickly away, twisting in her seat so that she wasn't facing him.
She was right next to the driver's door at the rear of the car. The door had a tiny window in it. Somebody was in there. Not driving right now, obviously, since they were heading in the opposite direction. But maybe an off-duty driver, riding along to take over later. Fast food wrappers were spread over the instrument panel, with a half-eaten cheeseburger and fries. Probably against the rules, but not like it was her business. A large blob of ketchup had stained the driver’s trousers near the knee.
Now she caught the faint aromas of grease, meat and salt. Her stomach rumbled, even though she usually avoided junk food. On top of the plane being delayed, she hadn't had a real dinner. She dug into her purse and came up with a half-crushed chocolate-chip Clif bar, which she unwrapped and shoved mechanically into her mouth.
At the next stop, the hoodie guy got off the train. Her body relaxed, glad he had left. She watched from the window as the train pulled away.
The guy turned and stared straight at her.
Then he was gone, and the view returned to industrial buildings and highway. The train’s lights kept flickering overhead, almost in time with the passage of the indistinct scenery outside. Off, on. Off, on.
The scent of greasy french fries and cheese had given way to a more astringent smell. Sadie blamed the metallic aftertaste of the granola bar. She swished her mouth with water from her stainless steel bottle, but the smell remained where her throat met her nose.
She felt herself beginning to drift towards sleep. Her eyes stung, her vision going blurry. The clock on her phone said about ten minutes had passed—that meant more than twenty minutes till Union Station. Plenty of time to close her eyes. Her down coat made a pillow, which she wedged between the window and her head. She was sure that she’d wake up when the train reached the station. She closed her eyes.
Sadie woke in darkness.
She sat up, her hands hitting the back of the seat in front of her. There’d been a loud noise. Like the slamming of a door. She blinked, taking in her surroundings. Her mind knew instantly that she was still on the train. But everything had faded into shades of blue and gray, angular shapes that only vaguely invoked the train car. The train was no longer moving.
She’d overslept. Sadie cursed out loud. Why had they turned off the lights?
Outside, several pairs of train tracks glinted in the moonlight. More train cars were parked nearby, their windows dark and lifeless. But no people. No Union Station or brightly-lit hotels.
Her phone confirmed the truth: over an hour had passed since she’d fallen asleep. The train car must’ve been put out of service for the day and taken to a yard for storage. Wasn’t that something that trains did?
It’s okay, she thought. This is just a mistake.
But why hadn't a security guard seen her? Or what about that driver who'd been inside the small compartment right next to her seat? She looked through the window where the driver had been sitting, but no one was there. The mess of fast food wrappers had been cleared away.
Sadie tried calling Dave. But when he answered, the sound was just a jumble. She couldn't make out what he was saying.
“Hey Dave, it's me, I'm still on the train but…” She looked around again. “I don't know where I am.” He said nothing. “Hello?” Maybe he couldn’t hear her over the noise of the brewery. Then the call ended. Sadie called back again, this time leaving a voicemail.
She got up and started feeling her way in the dark. Maybe there was a security guard or someone working in an office nearby. Something. This day had ended up being worse than she could ever have imagined. Like the whole weekend was doomed from the start.
When she reached the doors, she punched the button to open them. But nothing happened. Maybe the button didn’t work with the power off.
I can’t be trapped in here. This cannot be happening. Her chest was winding tighter.
Next she tried the windows, but couldn’t figure out how they would open. There had to be an emergency window release somewhere. A red lever, maybe? Was she going to get in trouble for breaking something? After all, she was the idiot who’d fallen asleep.
Again, she studied the view outside. There were tall lights shining down on the rail yard. For security, she guessed. There had to be a night guard.
She banged on the window. “Help!”
Nothing stirred. The yard seemed deserted, and the nearest building was pretty far away. She wondered if she was somewhere north of downtown, the large rail yard she'd driven by countless times on the freeway. She definitely wasn't near Union Station in LoDo, because it would be a lot brighter. There would be taller buildings. Landmarks that she knew.
A chain link fence bordered the rail yard. Beyond that, street lamps stretched in either direction. That had to be a road.
The train car was starting to get chilly. She put her coat back on. Am I really spending the night in this place? No heat, no bathroom, no nothing? Right on cue, her bladder started to ache.
“Worst freaking weekend…”
Then her eyes shot to the window—something had just moved out in the rail yard.
She stared into the nighttime scene outside the train. Her eyes started to go dry. But she saw no signs of life. Maybe it had been a rat. That would be just her luck—leave Chicago only to be accosted by the filthy rodents here. Disgusting. Hopefully they couldn’t wriggle their little furry bodies into the train car.
God, this is unbelievable. She checked her phone again. No response from Dave.
“Damn it, this sucks!” she yelled. She banged on the door, screaming, “Anyone! Help!” But still no one came.
And there it was again, that sense of movement at the edge of her vision. Something had definitely passed by the window. Something dark and amorphous. A distorted shadow.
Was that me? she wondered. My reflection? Or is there somebody out there? Somebody…watching me?
It was getting harder to breathe. Her vision started closing in, her skin itching. There had to be some way to get out of here, some way to make this all go away. She tried to talk herself through the panic. Tried to be reasonable. But her mind was turning around in loops, repeating the same words: I need to get out I need to get out.
Sadie took several deep breaths. She had to get ahold of herself. There was a way out of this, a reasonable solution. There was nobody outside the train sneaking around and watching her. That was her imagination. Just anxiety talking. And if somehow there was somebody out there who had noticed her, he was probably just as nervous to see movement inside one of these train cars.
Exactly—a security guard. No doubt it wasn't easy working nights in a yard like this, where creepy people might be messing with the trains, trying to get inside. Maybe the security guard had already called the police. They’d give her a ride.
Unless they thought she was a squatter or a prostitute or something. She imagined the questions, an awful night made even worse when she ended up in the back of a squad car.
Okay, no. I’m getting the hell out of here.
Sadie checked each window until she found one with an emergency release handle. She tugged it lightly at first, and nothing happened. It wouldn't budge. She pulled harder, until finally the latch moved with a loud sucking sound. The rubber seal around the window had broken. She pulled a metal handle on the glass and it fell towards her, landing heavily on the seat.
Frigid air rushed into the train car. Leaves rustled. Wind blew through the rail yard, whistling in the spaces between the train cars.
She picked up her backpack and tossed it through the open rectangle. It landed with a thud on the hard-packed ground. Sadie dangled her legs through the opening, and then hesitated. Out in the rail yard, the tall security lamps emitted a weak, yellow light. But in many spots, the light didn’t reach. In those places, the darkness had a texture to it. Soft and furred like velvet. It was impossible to know if something was standing in the shadows, waiting. Sweat pricked her skin, though she was shivering from the cold.
There was no sign of movement except leaves blowing past.
Her feet hit the ground. She put her pack on and started walking. Her fists squeezed her backpack straps. She headed for the chain link border at the edge of the yard. Loops of razor wire topped the fence. Her eyes scanned for an opening—there was a gate at the edge of a parking lot farther on.
Sadie took out her phone and switched on the flashlight. All sorts of debris were strewn on the ground. Food wrappers, discarded plastic bottles, broken glass. Beside some train tracks, there was a thick, black puddle. It looked like tar or sludge—gross. Thankfully she hadn’t stepped in it. Her flashlight beam moved on, but then she brought it quickly back.
The puddle. It had moved.
Her teeth clenched so hard that her jaw ached. She held the light on the black ooze, but nothing happened.
You’re imagining things. Seriously.
She hurried on. Finally, she reached the parking lot, which had a guard booth and an arm to block cars from driving in and out. There were no cars parked there now. The booth was dark, unoccupied. Sadie ducked beneath the arm, and then—mercifully—she was out on the road. Thank God. Her shoulders sagged with relief.
She pulled her phone out of her pocket and thumbed to her Uber app. She requested a ride, using the automatic GPS for her pickup location, since she didn't know the address. The loading symbol seem to rotate endlessly, and finally a driver came up.
Five minutes, it said.
On the other side of the street, a couple of large buildings sat with darkened windows. No cars were coming or going in either direction. Her hands were shaking, and she didn't even know why. There was nothing wrong, nobody following her. She went to the opposite side of the street from the rail yard to wait for the Uber. Everything was so quiet.
To pass the time, she tried humming a little nonsense tune. She stared at her phone screen, willing the tiny Uber car to move closer on the map. It looked like she was north of downtown somewhere, at least a couple of miles away from Union Station. The stillness was getting to her, so she decided to walk, even though it might be harder for the Uber driver to find her. But she could see the car on her map, so at least she’d be heading toward it.
Her sneakers padded along the asphalt.
She thought of the evening, freshman year, when she’d been walking down a dark avenue and heard footsteps behind her. It had been fall semester, just a few weeks after moving to Chicago. Her first time away from home.
She’d cast a glance behind her and saw a young man following her, a Cubs cap pulled low over his eyes. The rest of the avenue was quiet. She’d left the library later than she’d intended—lost track of time, which wasn’t like her. But she’d been absorbed in a biography of Abigail Adams. And it was only nine o’clock. Not even that late. Any minute, someone else would come along. But she couldn’t help feeling nervous.
She tried speeding up, but the man’s footsteps kept pace with hers. With each block, he got closer. The L clattered by overhead, but below on the street, the two of them were alone. Panic started to flood through her. It was like a drug, heightening each moment, making the lights brighter in her eyes. After she couldn’t take it anymore, she screwed up her nerve. She looked back again, scowling.
“Are you following me?” she asked.
He looked up. He seemed so taken aback. “No. Jeez.”
She muttered an apology, turning to face forward. Her face burned. She hated drawing attention to herself; she must’ve seemed hysterical. He was just some guy, going about his business. She kept on walking with his footsteps pounding in her wake, and all she wanted in the world was to take the words back. To never have glanced behind herself at all.
Even now, she still felt embarrassed, though that was stupid. She’d never seen the guy again. But every time she ended up walking alone at night, that same fear rose up in her throat. The uncertainty felt poisonous. A worm inside her brain. Am I being irrational? Or am I right—this time—to be afraid?
Sadie pulled out her phone again and checked the status of the Uber. It had barely moved.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” She tried closing out of the app and then reopening it again, but still the car remained stagnant. Was there a glitch? Some event going on nearby, causing traffic?
She stopped. Had that been a noise behind her? She glanced over her shoulder and saw nothing.
“Get a grip,” she told herself. You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay.
Finally, a pair of headlights swung onto the road, heading toward her. The car slowed as it reached her. It had a black and white Uber sticker on the windshield, plus a pink one that said “Lyft.” The window buzzed down, and a young male face peered out at her. He had curly, light brown hair. Glasses.
“You the one who called the Uber?” he asked.
She glanced down at her phone, but the Uber had barely moved at all on the tiny map. The make and model of this car didn’t seem right. But clearly it was some sort of glitch with the app. A Twenty-One Pilots song played from the open window. He was looking at her, waiting for a response.
“Yeah, that's me.”
“Jump in,” the guy said indifferently, turning back towards the front. His skin glowed blue from the dashboard lights.
Sadie reached for the back door, but an odd sensation made her stop. She looked again at the driver. There was something familiar about him. She could only see him from the left side, a bit of profile, but he was wearing a dark colored hoodie.
His eyes met hers in the right driver's side mirror. In the reflection, she saw the front of his sweatshirt.
It had a decal with a raccoon riding a skateboard.
Sadie inhaled sharply and took a step back. It was him. The guy from the train.
“You okay?” he asked.
This was wrong. It couldn’t be the same guy, could it? But the hoodie—she’d never seen one like it before, and then twice in one night? What were the odds of that?
“You want a ride or not? It’s been a long night for me, and I’d really like to finish up my shift.”
Sadie shook her head, trying to rid herself of the creeping feeling of deja vu. Maybe he wasn't the same person. Maybe she was overreacting again. Sometimes there were coincidences. Sometimes, the guy following you just happened to be going the same place.
“Yeah,” she said, again reaching for the back door. She pulled the handle. The backseat of the car yawned open, a cavern devoid of light.
No. No, no, this is wrong.
She started backing away. “I’m really sorry.” Even now, she couldn’t stop herself from apologizing. “I’m just going to wait for my friend. He said…he’d pick me up. I’ll just give him another call.” She shut the door, hefted her backpack onto her shoulders, and began walking briskly down the road.
The car drove off. But then it swung around in an arc, stopping in front of her, blocking her path.
The driver’s side door opened, and the hoodie guy stepped out.
Sadie dropped her backpack, turned, and ran. The car started behind her. The guy was going to run her down. Shit shit shit. She had to find someplace to hide. Her eyes scanned the surroundings. She realized that she was heading back toward the rail yard. The gate to the parking lot was getting closer.
Then she noticed a square of light. The little building in the rail yard—the one just beyond the parking lot. There was a light in the window.
Sadie headed for the parking lot. She ducked beneath the barrier arm. Her chest burned. The car’s brakes squealed. She glanced back; the hoodie guy was still behind the steering wheel. The barrier had stopped him from entering the parking lot.
She was almost to the building. The door opened, and a man in a uniform stepped out. The uniform was tan and said “RTD” in red on the breast pocket. She tripped over a rock and fell to her hands and knees. Her hands stung where she’d scraped them.
“Help me!” She reached out to the RTD man. “That guy—he’s following me.”
The man’s expression didn’t change. He was frowning, his mouth a bit slack. He probably thought she was crazy. Sadie got up from the ground. She pointed at the car, which was still idling. The hoodie guy had gotten out. He was standing there on the other side of the barrier. He’d taken off the glasses, like it had been some kind of disguise. What the hell was going on?
“You see?” she asked. “He won’t leave me alone!”
The RTD man hadn’t said anything. Still panting, she looked back over to him. There was something off about him. She noticed the stains on his pants. Bright red stains. Ketchup.
It was the driver she’d seen on the train.
“It was you.” She started backing away. “You were on the train. You must’ve seen me—I knew it. You left me there.”
He wasn’t blinking. Wasn’t even reacting. Then he took a sudden step toward her. Sadie screamed and turned to run. The hoodie guy was right behind her. He grabbed her in a bear hug. She kicked and flailed and screamed, but he wasn’t letting go.
“It won’t hurt,” he said. “They’ll take it all away.”
“Take what?” she cried.
She kept struggling, but his arms only gripped her tighter.
“They call to us,” he said, “and we have to come. We have to bring new ones, like you.” His lips were up against her ear.
“Why are you doing this?” Her voice sounded so small. This couldn’t be real. Sadie struggled to breathe.
“The new ones are always afraid. I don’t like it, that smell. It makes me feel sick. That’s why I got off the train. But they’ll take the fear and the sick feelings away. And then everything will be good.”
His breath was hot against her neck. Her entire body had gone rigid with terror.
“That’s better,” he said. “You shouldn’t fight it. When you fight, sometimes they take too much.” He spun her around, so she was facing the man in the RTD uniform. “See Michael?” the hoodie guy said.
She felt the nod against her head. “Michael’s not right anymore. He fought, and they took too much.”
Michael continued to stare at them, utterly expressionless. His eyes were bloodshot. Glassy. Sadie felt hot tears and snot running down her face.
Then the hoodie guy whispered, “Look. They’re here.”
Something was moving on the ground behind Michael the driver. It was a puddle of oil, black sludge, like the one Sadie had seen before. But this puddle was flowing toward Michael. Expanding. A shape started to emerge, a bulbous thing that dripped that tar-like stuff. Long, thin ropes of it stretched out of the shape. Arms. Or tentacles.
This isn’t happening. No, please, no. She had to get away from here. But her body wouldn’t respond. The two thin tentacles flowed through the air, like eels gliding through water. They separated, each one curving around one side of Michael’s body. With a sudden jolt, the tentacles jammed up his nostrils. Michael’s body seized.
“Shhh, “ the hoodie guy cooed, “it’ll be over soon.”
The oozing tentacle-things were pulsing. Black stuff smeared on Michael’s cheeks. But his face had finally changed. His expression was pure ecstasy. Michael’s knees weakened, and he fell to the ground, those hideous appendages still attached to him.
Then two more tentacles emerged from the puddle. They started flowing towards Sadie.
Finally, her body woke up. She smashed her foot down onto one of hoodie guy’s shoes. She slammed her head back against his face. Something cracked. He let go of her, stumbling backward. Blood flowed from his nose. Sadie grabbed his shoulder and pushed him toward the tentacle-things. They darted toward him. Jammed up his nostrils. More blood spurted, and hoodie guy screamed. For a split second she was frozen, staring.
Then more tentacles began to rise out of the bulging black muck.
She turned and ran. Her chest ached, and her feet pounded against the ground. She was almost to the parking lot.
There was a tickle beneath her nose, pressure in her sinuses, but she kept going. A little farther. A little farther. A numbness swept through her. Not unpleasant. Her pace began too slow. It was like last year when she got her wisdom teeth out. You’ll be a little disoriented when you wake up. The spread of the injection. A feeling of relaxation. And then…nothing.
Sadie woke up on the ground. It was night. Still night.
She pushed up onto her hands and knees. She was in the rail yard. Her head felt strange. Different. But it wasn’t bad. Actually, she felt pretty good. The exhaustion and hunger from before—all that was gone. And the fear.
Those men had been chasing her. Hadn’t they? She’d been terrified. But it didn’t matter. She was fine now. Just fine.
Sadie got up and started walking. She didn’t look behind her.
There was a car parked just outside the parking lot. Right in front of the barrier. Its lights were on, and the engine was running. That seemed odd, but it didn’t really concern her. She kept walking. Everything she saw and felt was more immediate than before. The tapping of her shoes against pavement. The cold air rushing into her lungs. The halos around each street light, and the glinting of metal and glass. She closed her eyes, breathed in deeply and sighed. The air actually tasted sweet.
“Hey, are you Sadie? You called an Uber?”
Her eyes popped open. There was a Subaru parked in the middle of the street with its driver’s side door open. The driver was holding her backpack.
“I found your bag and your phone. What happened to you? Are you hurt?”
They’ll take the fear and the sick feelings away.
She went over to him. He was middle-aged and had a goatee. Colorado Rapids t-shirt. The man took a couple steps back, looking at her warily.
“Your nose. It’s bleeding.”
A smell rolled off of him, musky and pungent. Like garbage sitting in the can too long. She tried to breathe only from her mouth. “Can I have my phone?” she asked.
He held it out. “I was about to call the cops. Are you sure you’re okay? This isn’t a great place for a girl to be alone at night.”
Her lock screen still showed the Uber app. Your ride has arrived. She went to her messages—there were a dozen from Dave. Plus voicemails. She closed the phone. She was late arriving, but that didn’t bother her too much anymore. Dave had been right—she always worried too much.
In fact, Dave might like to come to the rail yard with her. That place had really changed her perspective.
She took her backpack and slung it over her shoulder.
“Hey, wait. Don’t you need a ride?” the driver asked.
She brushed at the wetness beneath her nose. “No thanks. I’d rather walk.”