It's near Halloween so I thought I'd have a go at a short horror story. Ever walked back through an underpass on a dark Autumn night? No?
You might not want to.
I live alone, and I work late. My hours are long, so I dodge the influx of commuters getting off at my stop at night. I come home alone, and regardless of season, either the light is fading or it's already dark.
I like to use my time alone on the train to read.
Once off the train, the quickest route back home is through the underpass. It's pretty squalid- I may live in a sleepy town, but there's still the stink of urine and a smattering of graffiti on the walls down there.
About a week ago now, I was walking through it on a work night.
"Spare some change?"
I looked up from my phone and saw a homeless man sitting at the side. I couldn't avoid him or just walk past- I was the only person here, of course. He was appealing directly to me. The anxiety kicking in, I fumbled through my pockets, walking towards him.
A metre away from him, the smell hit me. He stunk of something evil- decay? Human sweat? Rubbish? It was an assaulting scent that hit the nostrils.
I still persevered forwards. A train rattled the ceiling overhead. His skin was dark, his hand was out-stretched towards me. He was swaddled in an assortment of clothing, all worn and mismatched.
He smiled at me, his teeth a pearly white. I then realised had nothing in my pockets- damn.
"Sorry mate, I don't have anything on me," I said. It was then, from close distance in the dim light, I saw the small bones at his feet.
Before thinking, I stuttered out: "Are...are they bones?".
He laughed, a slow rasping laugh.
"Don't worry, boy. Only a rat's. Times get hard in winter, there's not always a lot to go around on the streets".
The cold wind blew through the tunnel, lifting some stray debris as it did. Was he being serious? Something about him made me feel uncomfortable, and I just really wanted to go home. But manners made me stay.
"Urm...I might have some crisps in my bag or something?".
My hand went searching through my bag once more. Why did I say that? I sounded so patronising. I wanted to get home. I was trying not to breathe through my nostrils. I could just go or something, I didn't want to be stuck here by sheer politeness-
My fingers caught on the crisp packet in my bag. I fished it out with triumph.
"Here," I said, handing it to him.
"Thank you," he wheezed. He opened the bag, and the first thing he did was offer me one.
"Stay a while, if you like. Keep an old man company," he offered.
"No- thank you," I mumbled. "Sorry, I've got to be off. Have a nice night"
I walked off, letting myself breathe through my nose once again. He seemed like a nice enough bloke. I wondered what had left him on the streets.
The next day, I saw him sleeping in the tunnel on the way to work. On the way back, he still wasn't moving- he was unnaturally still. I was going to leave him be...
...then I saw a red stain underneath him.
I called out to him, with no response. Hesitantly, partially due to how easily I could just slip away and partially due to the smell, I went over towards him, and turned him over.
On his neck was a line of red.
I staggered back, aghast. This was the kind of thing...this...this didn't happen to people like me. I sat on the urine-stained tiles and rang the only relevant person I could think of.
James had been a friend of mine since university. He'd trained as a doctor, and was a close ally.
I explained the situation to him and he promised he'd do something about it. I sat shivering waiting for someone to arrive. Eventually, a car and the authorities did. I told them the best I could about how I'd spoken to him just a day before, and how I didn't know who would've done it.
I was shaky the next day at work. I couldn't stop wondering what had happened to the man. Dammit, I didn't even know his name. I'd left him without company in the cold. I was sheltered by fate, too- I'd never seen a dead body before. Merely two days ago he'd been alive.
When I walked back through the underpass that night, I shivered.
At home, I tried to sleep, but I didn't succeed. It's probably good that I didn't.
"Hello? James?," I didn't need to note how late it was. I was too curious.
"Matthew- about the homeless man..."
"Yes? Any findings?"
"I'm not really supposed to explain. It's classified for now, and uncertain."
"Please, James. I need to know what happened to him"
"I don't know that"
"But, we found some...ah, details. Again, nothing is certain. But. Well..."
My face drained as he spoke. Now I sit here staring into the dark from my bed.
James told me they'd found out three things about the case.
One: the blood on his neck wasn't his own.
Two: they found traces of human flesh in his stomach. Again, not his own.
It's the third detail that's made me avoid the underpass since.
Three: all medical evidence pointed to the fact that he'd been dead for a good week.