Crawley Creeps, Vol.11

The kettle clicked and Troy busied himself making cups of tea. Marcus sat at the kitchenette table, dozing. Hitesh sat opposite flicking through a dog-eared health and safety manual.

‘I saw a documentary about some cargo trains in China,’ Troy said, putting a cup of tea in front of Hitesh.

‘You still going on about this?’

Hitesh cupped the piping tea and glanced at the electric radiator panel. The orange light was on but Hitesh had yet to feel any heat.

‘Yeah. Of course. I get scared thinking about it. It was huge. I’ve never seen anything like it before.’

‘All kinds of companies run trains up and down the track.’

Troy shook his head and slumped in a plastic chair. Marcus plucked his mug from the table. They drank their teas and went through a brief plan. When they were finished they cleaned their mugs and headed back out into the cold.

Marcus stuck a key in the lock of a large storage container, opened the doors and flicked on the light. A dull bulb eeked yellow and stained the space with shadows. Marcus pulled out a generator and wheeled it outside.

‘It’s fucking freezing,’ Troy said. He rubbed at his arms and jogged on the spot.

‘Let’s get working then.’

They rummaged and pulled out two work-lights from the racking and headed out. The generator stood in the weak glow beyond the doors.

‘Where’s Marcus?’ Troy asked. Hitesh looked over to the toilet cabin. There was no light on. He turned and looked down the sides of the container whilst Troy looked through the kitchenette window. ‘Not in there.’

Hitesh cupped his mouth. ‘Marcus!’

Only the sway of the unseen trees and wind brushing against the small compound answered. Troy walked over.

‘Maybe he’s taking a piss.’

‘Marcus!’ Hitesh called again.

‘Or playing a prank.’

Hitesh doubted it. Marcus wasn’t a joker. He was grumpy to the point of morose and the only time Hitesh had known Marcus to laugh was when his ex-wife asked for a divorce.

‘There,’ Troy said, pointing to the mass of shadows that was the treeline. Marcus’ orange clad form could just be seen slipping between the trees, away and up the steep incline.

‘Marcus! What the hell are you doing?’ Hitesh called.

‘We can see you, you bellend!’ Troy shouted through laughter. Hitesh wasn’t laughing. The orange form didn’t turn. Didn’t react. Just trudged upwards. The darkness swallowed him a few seconds later. Hitesh pulled his torch from his pocket and clicked it on.

‘He’s just pranking us,’ Troy said.

Hitesh’s beam caught something moving. Another. And another. Everywhere he pointed the beam was another one. A man carrying a dog lead and clad in a heavy wax jacket. Another man in pyjama shorts and a T-Shirt. A woman wearing a nightie turned transparent by rain. An old lady with a bend at the top of her spine pushing her almost double stomped the ground as she ascended.

‘Jesus fucking Christ,’ Troy whispered.

All the people were heading toward the top of the ridge.

Crawley Creeps, Vol. 10

Nora chased after Melissa. Pins of rain stung her eyes and pricked at her face but she kept on.

Melissa had never been faster than Nora. Through school Nora had been the athlete. High jump, hundred metre dash, Nora was always grabbing gold or silver (even when no one was counting but her) and yet Melissa was outstripping her.

But Nora was sure that the woman she was chasing wasn’t Melissa.

A glimpse of movement up ahead caught Nora’s eye.

A woman was being attacked by a dog who was yanking at her leg. Second by second Nora’s day was getting stranger.

The woman tripped and went down. Nora watched horrified as Melissa kicked the woman clean in the face. Even from this far back Nora could see the ribbon of blood twist up into the air.

Melissa didn’t stop. Didn’t even skip a beat. Just kept on running.

As Nora reached the woman on the ground she saw the true mess of her face. The pleading look in her eyes. Almost childlike confusion. Nora stopped. She couldn’t catch up with Melissa anyway. Her sister was too far ahead and still gaining speed.

Nora watched her disappear around a bend in the path and she was gone.

‘What the fuck is going on?’ the woman on the floor whimpered.

The woman’s face was a mess. Her nose had been pushed to the left and was pissing blood across her mouth and chin. Her dog, a small terrier, was standing off to the side near a bunch of ferns, trembling and uncertain.

‘Are you okay?’ Nora asked.

The woman wiped at her face and seethed. Stared in shock at the blood smeared on her hand.

‘What the hell was that?’

‘My sister. I’m sorry. Something’s wrong with her.’

The woman pushed herself onto her backside. Spat blood onto the path. Nora knelt down. ‘Come on. Let me give you a hand.’ The woman looked at Nora uncertainly before letting holding out an arm.

Nora heaved the woman up.

‘You…you said something was wrong with her.’

‘Yeah. Look, are you okay?’

‘What’s wrong with her?’ the woman asked aggressively.

Nora didn’t know what to say. She gawped at the woman. The stranger she had tried to help and who was now bearing her teeth, eyes wild. In that stunned silence, the truth bubbled up from the depths of her subconscious and burbled out.

‘I…she felt something.’

The woman blinked. Scratched the back of her head. ‘She felt it too.’

Crawley Creeps, Vol.9

Diane ran as fast as she could. She wasn’t getting the kind of speed she got in her Nike’s. In her Nike’s she could sprint and pound pavement and dust, music pounding in her ears willing her to go faster. Or just keep going.

Instead her feet slipped around inside her wellies. Her running was gangly and awkward but she kept going, putting as much distance between herself and the man as possible.

Stanley ran by her side. He kept looking back. Diane couldn’t bring herself to do the same. The image of the man with the faraway gaze chasing her flooded her mind and kept her running instead. Time spent looking back was time he could gain another metre.

What was wrong with the man?

She couldn’t help but think of him stepping from the trees. Dark skin. Almond eyes. Slack mouth. That gaping mouth.

She felt the shiver run up her spine and she wanted to puke. Stanley barked and stopped. Diane took a few more steps before she looked back. Stanley was still. Diane glanced back the way they had come but the man wasn’t chasing her. There was no one back there. She slowed and stopped. Her body was slick with panic-sweat. Cold air stung her lungs and nostrils.

She took a few seconds to get her breath back. ‘Stanley, here.’

Stanley barked in defiance.

‘Stanley, come here.’

Stanley whined. Padded his feet. Barked. Why was he stopping?

Diane looked down the path and saw what Stanley had seen before her. What she had failed to see through fear-induced tunnel-vision.

A woman standing on the path ahead. She wore a green padded raincoat. Hood down. Her arms were hanging loose at her sides. Even at a distance of over a hundred metres, Diane could tell that the woman’s head was cocked, and her mouth hung open.

Diane tried to take a breath but it caught in her throat. Stanley barked. The sound came from some other place.

The cold rock of fear in Diane’s chest only shifted when another woman in a yellow jacket broke from the treeline to the side of the path. She ran over to the slack-jawed woman, grabbed her by the shoulders and screamed in her face. Diane couldn’t make out the words but the urgency was crystal clear.

The slack-jawed woman was unresponsive. She just looked straight on. At Diane. Through her. Diane felt like her body was being seen through. Bones, organs and mind laid out like an unravelled blueprint.

The slack-jawed woman made a jerking move forward. The other woman went sprawling.

Diane’s body spasmed in fear. The woman ran at her and she was gaining speed. Diane felt trapped. She looked behind her but the man in his underwear was nowhere to be seen. Stanley barked and slowly retreated into the ferns.

A warmth bloomed at the base of Diane’s skull. A strange tingling sensation. Unnatural but as welcome as sleep after a long, tiring day.

Stanley ran forward and sunk his teeth into Diane’s ankle. The tingle in her skull disappeared as a wave of pain shot up her leg. Stanley was small but he bucked back and pulled Diane with him. She screamed and toppled awkwardly onto her side. A moment later a boot collided with her face and everything went black.

Crawley Creeps, Vol.8

Hitesh stomped his feet and blew into his cupped hands. The wind was as fierce as it was the night before. He had checked the weather report and a chirpy middle-aged weather lady told him that tonight was going to be “another blustery one.”

It didn’t feel blustery. It felt like the wind was doing its best to pierce his clothes and reach through to his bones.

He had received the call only a few hours ago that they had been taken off the Gatwick track and were instead working the stretch just north of Balcombe Tunnel. They were also only working a 12-4 shift. Half the hours, same pay. If he got back at a decent time that he could snatch a few hours of sleep next to Denise, for once.

Lights danced over him and he looked up to see Troy bring the van to a stop on the side of the road, hazards pulsing. Marcus was in the back eyes closed and dozing. Hitesh was jealous at the mans ability to fall asleep almost anywhere on a whim.

Hitesh jumped in and Troy took them up through Broadfield and out toward Pease Pottage. Troy was in a good mood. He tapped the steering wheel to the beat of some awful dance compilation.

They reached the Pease Pottage roundabout and left on the exit toward Pease Pottage services.

‘Anyone need food?’ Troy called out.

‘Nah.’

Marcus opened his eyes long enough to snort before falling back asleep.

They passed the services. At the next roundabout they could go right to Pease Pottage village, straight to Handcross or left down Parish Lane toward the train tracks. They turned left.

Parish Lane ran between far land on both sides until half way down when the trees of Tilgate Forest became thicker and eventually turned into a wall on their left. The last building they passed was a large manor house to their right. There were no lights on.

The road changed from tarmac to rough aggregate. The van hit a pothole and Marcus woke with a growl. ‘Why have they not surfaced the damn road?’

Troy chuckled. They all held on as the van jumped and dropped. A minute or two passed before they reached the bottom of Parish Lane.

Ahead was a metal pedestrian bridge leading over the railway tracks and into the forest of Balcombe Woods on the far side. To the right was a large double gate leading to a track-side operating area. It was chained closed.

Troy passed Hitesh the keys for the padlock. ‘Your turn.’

Hitesh snatched the keys and got out the van. The breeze rippled his hair and bit at his ears. He stuffed his chin as far into his collar as it would go and jogged over to the gate. He fumbled the lock with cold hands and finally managed to work it free. The sound of chain slipping between metal bars rang out and set his teeth on edge.

Hitesh opened the gate and stood to the side as Troy brought the van through. Hitesh closed the gate and wove the chain back through the fence. He could barely see his own hands in the van’s rear lights.

He locked the gate and headed back to the van when a crunch made him turn back. Hitesh looked past the fence. He could only just make out the shapes of trees in the weak red glow.

‘Come on, Hitesh,’ Troy shouted. He was hanging out the driver-side window. ‘The sooner we get sorted the sooner we go home.’

Hitesh headed for the van but felt the sixth sense prickle of being watched spread across his neck.

They made their way down a small road that ran parallel to the train tracks, nothing separating them but dark, to a gaggle of buildings. A small green standby light glowed above one of the doors to a container canteen.

The trio exited the van and headed over to the hut. Marcus clicked on a torch and held out a hand to Hitesh.

‘What?’

‘Keys,’ Marcus said, groggily.

‘It’s a keypad.’

Marcus did a double take, shook his head and flicked open the key pad.

‘I looked up a bunch of trains this morning,’ Troy said. ‘Nothing comes close to the one we saw last night.’

‘It was just aggregate train,’ Marcus said. He caught his finger in the catch and hissed. Hitesh reached over Marcus’ shoulder, jabbed in the code and flicked the latch.

‘They stick sometimes,’ Hitesh said. Marcus shrugged and they all went inside. Troy moved straight across to the kitchenette and rummaged for tea.

‘It wasn’t an aggregate train. The one we saw last night was more like a double decker. They had pictures of double deckers online.’

‘Who gives a shit anyway?’ Marcus asked as he slumped into a seat at the small table. He pulled out his phone. ‘No signal.’

‘Well it’s weird,’ Troy went on. ‘All the lights go out and a train rolls past. That’s weird right?’

Hitesh shrugged. ‘Maybe. Or just a coincidence.’

Troy wondered on that for a moment. ‘Nah.’

The roar of the kettle drowned them out. It clicked off and Troy made them all drinks. They sat at the table cradling teas.

‘Wish we had biscuits,’ Hitesh said.

‘There was a photo of a military train from China that-‘

Marcus cut him off with a fake snore.

Crawley Creeps, Vol.7

Melissa felt the cold in her bones. Her muscles felt like they were locked in cramp, her breaths were short and awkward. Her leg itched and she wondered if she would need to go to the hospital.

They had been walking since the early hours of the morning. For over four hours they had made their way through the forest using only the cones of their LED flashlights. Dense clusters of wet skeletal trees and the onslaught of rain drowning out all other sound had left Melissa feeling disorientated and claustrophobic.

The light of day had come slowly, the sky above moving sluggishly through shades of grey until Melissa and Nora no longer needed their flashlights. It was just as well. They had been stupid enough to leave the pack of batteries in the house.

‘We need coffee. Something warm,’ Nora said. Melissa looked over to her sister. She looked like hell. Melissa guessed she looked the same.

‘I’m going to keep looking,’ Melissa said.

‘No you’re not. You’re coming to get a drink.’

‘Nora—‘

‘Bollocks. You’re coming with me. I’m freezing Melissa. I’m so cold, I can barely concentrate. We’ll get a coffee, grab a snack and come straight back in. We can go to Smith and Western. They’re open for breakfast.’

Melissa looked around. Trees and more trees. The sound of the motorway was dull here, the sound broken by the forest. She wanted to keep looking. Needed to find her husband and needed him back home where she could make sure he was safe and not running around in the dark, alone and out of his mind.

‘Don’t cry,’ Nora said. She came over and wrapped her arms around Melissa’s shoulders. Before she knew it, Melissa was bawling into her sister’s shoulder. David had left once before and they had found him hours later in the hospital. He had been standing on the side of a building debating whether or not to jump when someone had intervened. He had run off into the woods with a knife.

‘I can’t stop thinking of him sitting at the trunk of a tree somewhere with his wrists cut open and…and just bleeding out.’

Nora stepped back, grabbed Melissa by the shoulders. ‘Don’t you dare think that. You said yourself that he wasn’t in his right mind. He’s been taking his medication. He said he heard something. Has he ever acted like that before?’

Melissa shook her head.

‘Exactly. He’s not come out here to kill himself. He came out here for a completely different reason. He cut you, Melissa.’

‘It was—‘

‘I know it was an accident. But even if it was an accident, if he was in his right mind he would have stopped and helped. He was out of his mind. He has walked off in his sleep before. And what happened?’

‘He came back.’

‘Exactly. Right now we need to drink something. Eat something. Whatever. It’ll take us twenty minutes to get there, ten minutes to get food and twenty minutes to get back. We’ll keep looking. If we can’t find him we’ll call the police.’

‘If we tell them he has a knife they’ll arrest him.’

‘Then we don’t tell them about the knife. Chances are he dropped it when he woke up and realised he was in the bloody woods. For all we know he’s on his way back home and he’ll call any minute. Now come on. We need something to warm us up.’

‘Okay,’ Melissa said. She dried her eyes, nodded to herself. ‘Okay.’

They knew Tilgate Park well enough to know the general direction of Smith and Western. They traipsed through the trees, across mud and moss and through puddles when they reached a clearing. Firs lined the space, green needled branches reducing the sound of the motorway to a distant hiss.

They were halfway across the space when Melissa stopped.

‘What’s up?’ Nora asked. Melissa’s head oscillated one way, then the other. She turned round and repeated the motion. ‘Melissa. Are you okay?’

Melissa felt a tingle at the base of her skull. A tickle that turned to something warm and strange. She looked left. Right. There. There it was. Coming from over there. She took a step forward and was rewarded with a flush of heat.

Nora felt her heart thumping in her throat. Her sister was shuffling. Stumbling. ‘Melissa what the hell’s wrong with you,’ Nora said, stepping forward and taking her sister by the arm. Melissa whirled, eyes searching wildly but looking straight through her sister.

‘Can you hear it?’

Crawley Creeps Vol.6

Rain was coming down hard enough to fill the air with cacophonous thuds. Thick drops hit leaves, slapped mud and tree trunks.

Diane’s hair was plastered to her scalp and stuck against the back of her neck like ivy. Trickles of water found gaps in her collar and trickled between her shoulder blades.

‘I hope you’re enjoying yourself,’ Diane shouted. Stanley looked back and, apparently seeing nothing of interest, darted off through the trees.

Diane thought about work. Or the lack thereof. There were thousands of jobs between Crawley and the surrounding towns and she had applied for at least a hundred. All to no avail.

Diane hated herself. Without generating some kind of income, she was just an expense. A mouth to feed. Diane growled, pissed off at her situation and yet feeling useless to do anything about it.

Stanley barked and Diane looked up. He was standing at the fork in the path. They could go right, up the hill and across the bridge over the M23 or they could go left, back toward the lakes.

No matter where they were in the park, Stanley would always aim for water. Which was why it surprised her when Stanley ran right, taking them across the M23 and into the depths of the forest.

Already wet, tired and with an afternoon ahead likely to be filled with emails telling her that “unfortunately on this occasion you have been unsuccessful,” Diane let Stanley lead the way.

The sound of the motorway grew from a hiss to a roar as she got to the top of the hill and walked onto the bridge. High fences lined the bridge to put off trash-throwers and jumpers. Below, the M23 was almost lost in the mists of water kicked up by tyres and the auras of headlights.

She was watching the trucks and cars slipping by underneath when she tripped. A high pitch bark and whine followed her down as her knees and palms collided with concrete. She stayed still waiting for the surge of pain to come. It came as warm, heartbeat throbs up her hands and into her arms, from her knees and, oddly, into her groin.

Diane looked up ready to shout at Stanley but he was gone. She rolled onto her backside and looked about.

‘Stanley!’

A bark. From behind. She pushed herself up and headed for the far side of the bridge. ‘Here boy!’ Diane called. ‘I’m not angry at you,’ she said quietly, checking the grazes on her palms. Her walking trousers had split at the knee.

‘Fantastic.’

Another bark. Higher. Urgent. Diane quick-stepped.The last time she heard Stanley bark like that he was being attacked by a Doberman. He’d come away bloody and shocked. It took Diane a long time to get to get Stanley back out and about.

‘Stanley’, she called out. Stanley broke from thick ferns at the side of the path. He turned to her before turning back toward the trees and unleashing a barrage of those high-pitch barks as he slowly backed up.

Diane looked into the trees. She couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

‘Here boy. Come-‘

There! Someone moved between the trees. A mop of dark hair. The hairs on the back of her own neck raised and her skin turned cold. Felt like it was contracting and squeezing everything within.

‘Stanley! Here!’ Diane shouted. Stanley whined and bolted for her.

Diane saw him again. He stepped between the trees walking parallel to the path. Arms lank by his sides. He wore only a pair of pyjama bottoms and a T-shirt that clung to his skin. As Diane turned to run away, she saw a knife.

Crawley Creeps, Vol.5

Hitesh walked the brickwork passages that made up most of Broadfield. Cans and bottles were discarded here and there, blown into corners by the harsh wintry wind.

Denise was growing tired of living in such close quarters to other houses. Of always hearing so much of what their neighbours got up to. Hitesh liked the noise. After a night on the tracks he would go to bed with the window slightly open and sleep to the world moving outside.

For now he just wanted to get home and have something to eat.

Hitesh exited the mouth of a walkway and into a car park bleached in murky amber streetlight. A ginger and white cat slunk out from under a car and meowed.

Hitesh lowered himself onto his haunches and held out a hand. The cat wandered over. The breeze rippled across the long hair on its back. The cat tipped its head and pushed its ears between Hitesh’s fingers.

‘Surprised you’re still out. Didn’t you hear a storm’s coming?’

The cat did a circle, pushed it’s tails into his hand and walked off.

Hitesh walked across the car park and slipped into another walkway when his phone buzzed. He pulled it from his pocket and dimmed the stark blue display. It was Troy.

You think that was some government conspiracy stuff or something?

Hitesh chuckled and put his phone away knowing that to open up dialogue with Troy would only mean less sleep.

Hitesh was hoping to see Denise before she left for work when he felt something pass by. He looked up to see two cats perched on a high garden wall, a half foot above him to the right.

‘More of you out this morning.’ He raised a hand to them but they ignored him. He could just make out their shadows staring up to the left. What he knew to be west. He looked in the direction expecting to see a helicopter, a flock of early morning birds. There was nothing in the sky but low clouds.