"ONCE IN SMITTEN MOON:
The one time the moon meets its match: The ever lucky Shooting Star."
by Neel Trivedi
The Other Side of the Nightmare
by Jan Keenan
I’ll look out of the window as the city colours give way to shades of green. A young mum with two kids will sit opposite sharing sandwiches from a beige Tupperware. The kids will bicker over who has coke and who has lemonade. The mother will smile me a fellow-traveller kind of smile. I’ll smile back and turn to the window, my body swaying in time to the roll of the carriage as I rest my head against the dirty glass.
Jolting into blackness with no idea where you are. A black so intense there are no shadows that move within shadows, no looming shapes to help you navigate your way, a blackness so intense there is only one pure shade of it. You breathe deep, reaching forward.
When we approach the outskirts, I’ll get up and go to lean against the glass partition because I want to be first off. I’ll think about filling the half hour between connections. There’ll be time to freshen up, to grab a coffee and a newspaper before the short walk to platform seven.
Blind as the eyeless, you fumble into nothing, but you know you’re in some sort of corridor because this place has left echoes. You feel for the light switch that’s always to your left but there’s no relief when you flick it because the darkness holds and the breeze starts to blow like it always does, moving gentle at first, soft against your cheek, growing stronger and colder. Rising. Catching the fine flyaway hair at your temples. You sleepwalk forward, because you know it’s the only way to make it stop.
The bus station won’t have changed at all - same orange and white signs with numbers that inexplicably start with the number five; same eternity of glass and metal that looks like its own never-ending reflection. You’ll wait for the 526, because it’s always taken you back before.
Leaning into the wind as it reaches gale force, whispering a catechism against the howling, praying it won’t start, but of course it does, shrieking and keening like a dreadful lament until your hands can’t bear it any longer and they clasp you ears to keep it out. It stops. Dead. Like it was never there in the first place, and the dread that always sits heavy in the dark middle of you rises up into the electric silence, so much worse than the clamour, because it heralds what’s coming next.
Dusk will make the dirty old town seem dirtier still as the bus picks its way out beyond the centre, up the busy main road, through the thin streets lined with dirt-dashed terraces. Nothing will have changed, same shops, same kids in the same school uniforms hanging about on the same grey corners. You’ll feel a clench of concern, or excitement, like butterflies but heavier as the bus pulls up at the final stop.
The air thickens warm and fetid as something grunts toward you, stopping only an arm’s length away in the darkness. Now is where you always force yourself awake, where you gasp yourself sweating back to reality, but not this time. You’re sick and tired of always running, and you’ve been round this loop too many times. You fight to stay inside the nightmare, your sightless eyes fixed wide open.
The doors will hiss as they pull apart. You’ll climb down into the still familiar street, walk to the same-old front door where you’ll raise a fist. One loud knock is all it will take to conjure what has always been waiting for you on the other side of the nightmare.
Jan Kaneen is a self-identifying weirdo who’s snowed under finishing an MA in Creative Writing at the Open University in the UK. Her short stories and flash fictions have been published round and about and have won prizes at InkTears, Molotov Cocktail, Retreat West, Horror Scribes, Scribble and Zero flash. She blogs at https://jankaneen.com/ and tweets as @Jankaneen1.