Tracks by Brad Parkkonen

Tracks

by

Brad Parkkonen

 

Ryan felt a phantom buzzing in his pocket for the fourth time in the last hour. Filled with hope, he retrieved his phone. He unlocked it and peeked at the notification bar; there were none.

“Will you give this fucking thing a rest?” Jake shouted over the music in the bar. He reached out and snatched the phone from Ryan’s hand. “She’s not texting you back and you’re done with trying to text her. For the rest of the night. I’m confiscating this.” He said, pocketing the phone.

“Give that back, dude!” Ryan protested, reaching for the phone, nearly toppling his drink that sat virtually untouched on the bar.

“No! I’m doing this for you. We came out to have a good time and get your mind off this shit. Look, I don’t want you to feel like you have to be here, but I definitely don’t want you sitting alone in your apartment all night, crying between games of Halo or something.”

Ryan turned back to face the bar. He rolled the glass back and forth between his thumb and middle finger.

“Yeah. You’re right.” He said, sighing. He lifted the beer to his lips and drained the glass in one go. The lukewarm beer poured down his throat. When he put the glass down, only suds remained, sliding down the sides. He felt the liquid slosh, then settle in his gut.

“There’s my guy!” Jake shouted, pounding Ryan on the back. “Now let’s get some more. And some shots!” He held out his hand, signaling the bartender to come over.

***

Ryan looked into the mirror while washing his hands in the bathroom. He chuckled, remembering a meme he’d seen about not realizing how drunk you are until you’re staring at yourself in the bathroom mirror. He twisted his face and stuck out his tongue, laughing. The door behind him opened and he pulled his tongue back in, trying his best to look normal in front of the stranger that just entered. He thought about the question posed in the meme: how drunk am I? He looked into his eyes in the mirror and found the answer was “very.”

He made his way through the crowded bar, attempting to return to his spot next to Jake. He found his seat was taken and Jake was working his charm on two women he hadn’t noticed before leaving for the bathroom.

“Girls! There’s my guy Ryan, the one I was telling you about!” One of the girls beside Jake jumped when he shouted before they both looked Ryan up and down. “Ryan, this is Liz.” Jake said, motioning to the redhead on his right. “And this is…” he paused, motioning to the brunette on his left.

“It’s Jenny.” Jenny said, slightly peeved.

“Jenny!” Jake said quickly, trying to time his answer with hers. “Yeah, that’s what I was saying. Look, dude, they invited us to a party at their friend’s place tonight! Wanna go?”

***

The walk from the bar was a haze. Ryan couldn’t tell if it took twenty minutes or if it took three hours. The streets blurred together in a wash of orange streetlights. He heard the music from a window on what looked like the sixth floor as the group arrived to their destination. It was so loud that he was sure that by the end of the night someone in the huge apartment building would call the cops. Beneath the music he could hear the cries and whoops of the partiers inside.

“Should we grab a case?” Jake said, eyeing a liquor store across the street.

“No, they’ve got plenty.” Liz said, pulling Jake towards the front door. Jake and Liz had been walking arm in arm from the bar, whispering and giggling with one another along the way. Ryan guessed they’d be going home together tonight. He gave Jenny a little more space. She seemed distant, disinterested, and Ryan wasn’t one to push despite some clear hints.

Liz tapped the button on the intercom and the door buzzed, letting her in. Inside, the hallway was long, the floors were dark hardwood covered in a green runner that has seen years of service. The walls were panelled with dark wood on the bottom and off-white drywall above. The sconces on the walls gave off a dim, slightly orange light. Before long, they turned right down another hall. They kept moving and Ryan thought that they’d been walking for so long that they should be outside the building; the hallway seemed too long to exist in this building.

They reached the elevator – it was an old thing, surprisingly. The shaft was covered by a swinging door that opened to a retractable gate. Liz pulled it open and the three of them walked in.

Jake cozied up to Liz in the corner of the elevator while Ryan and Jenny stood awkwardly nearby.

“This is a crazy elevator. It’s gotta be like eighty years old or something.” Ryan said, eyeing the crank used to control the elevator. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these outside of movies.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty old.” Jenny said, pulling the crank up. The elevator slowly rumbled up and Ryan watched as the needle at the top of the car moved along its arc, indicating they were heading up from the first floor. Behind them, Jake and Liz were tongue deep in one anothers’ mouths.

Ryan glanced over his shoulder at the scene before quickly turning back to stare out the diamond shaped spaces in the metal gate. He watched the cement walls and swinging doors pass by. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Jenny staring at him. She was standing in the corner, one hand holding up the crank that controls the elevator. Ryan offered her a smile, but it wasn’t reciprocated. She pushed down the hefty lever with ease, causing the elevator to chug before coming to a halt, perfectly lined up with a gated door. He looked up and saw the needle was pointing to the seventh floor.

“We’re here.” She said, pulling the gate open and stepping into the hall. Ryan followed after her. Liz led Jake out by the hand.

The hallway looked identical to the one on the first floor, the only difference being all the doors lining the hall, each placed next to a dim wall sconce. Again, Ryan got the feeling that something about this layout was impossible. All the doors were very close together – how small were these units?

The group passed by a handful of doors, it must have been twenty or more, before finally stopping at one marked 728. Jenny knocked on the door with the brass knocker. There was silence from the other side.

“Are we at the right place?” Ryan asked, looking around. He couldn’t hear the music anywhere. Jenny looked over her shoulder at Ryan, and almost on queue music started up inside. The door swung open and inside a man stood shoved between people talking in the doorway. The place looked like it was packed shoulder to shoulder.

“Jenny! Liz! And… friends!” The man said, taking Jenny into his arms. “How are you, girls?” Jenny hugged him back as Liz broke from Jake to join in on the hug. The embrace seemed to last a little longer than comfortable. Ryan and Jake exchanged a glance.

The three let go of one another and the man exited the doorway. “Nice to meet you guys, I’m Jeremy.” He offered his hand out to Ryan.

“Ryan.” He said, shaking Jeremy’s hand. “Nice to meet you.” They let go and Jake followed suit, introducing himself and shaking the host’s hand.

“Come on in, guys. We got beer, liquor, music, whatever else you want. I’d offer girls, but it looks like you have a couple already.” Jeremy winked at them as the girls entered the party.

           ***

The party reminded Ryan more of a movie than of any party he’s been to. People were doing keg stands in the tiny kitchen, there were empty red plastic cups strewn all over the place, bowls and joints were being passed around, and on the coffee table there were lines of cocaine and rolled up dollar bills.

The group made their way to an entirely empty couch in the middle of the party. Liz sat down on one end, pulling Jake down with her. Jenny sat on the opposite end and Ryan squeezed into the empty space between her and Jake. Jeremy made his way to the couch, carrying four cans of PBR. He handed them out to each of his new guests.

“Oh, thanks. You didn’t have to do that.” Ryan said, taking his drink from his host.

“Of course, glad you guys could make it.” Jeremy said, picking up a can of PBR from the coffee table. “Cheers.” He said, holding his table beer out to the four of them. The group tapped their cans together before taking a sip.

The beer went down smoothly, and Ryan found himself chugging the whole can in this one go.

“Whoa, thirsty guy. Let me grab you another drink.” Jeremy said. Before Ryan could protest, he was already making his way through the thick crowd of people.

Beside him, Jake and Liz were going to town on one another again. Their lips and tongues moving over one another, ravenously kissing as if it would be their last.

“I think I’m gonna try to find the bathroom, actually.” Ryan said. “Jake, can I have my phone back?”

Jake pulled away from Liz, annoyed. He shoved his hand into his pocket. “Yeah, sure, just don’t text your fuckin ex, Ryan.” Jake slammed the phone into Ryan’s open hand before turning his attention back to Liz, resuming their make out session.

Ryan clicked the power button, giving the screen life. There was one missed call from Janelle, his ex girlfriend. Beneath that there was a notification telling him there was a voicemail from her. No transcript was available, however.

“Shit.” He put the phone back in his pocket and reached for the back of the couch, pushing himself up.

Before he could stand up, he felt a hand on his right cheek. It was pulling his face. He looked over and saw it was Jenny, pulling his face towards hers. She leaned in and planted her lips on his. For a split second, he thought about Janelle, and wanted to get up and listen to her voicemail. He relaxed, letting his lips part a little bit, allowing her tongue to play with his. He tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and enjoyed the kiss.

***

The line for the only bathroom in the apartment was about twenty people long and Ryan felt a swelling in his groin. He had to pee. Badly. He looked around at the door to the hallway and decided he should try to go outside.

He pushed his way through the party guests before reaching the door. He twisted the knob, but the door wouldn’t budge. He pulled and pushed, but still nothing came of it.

“Where’re you going, Ryan?” He jumped. Looking around, he saw Jeremy standing by the door next to him.

“Oh. You scared me. I need to pee and the line for the bathroom is super long. I’m gonna go outside and go in the alley or something.”

“Oh shit, sorry about that.” Jeremy said, reaching for the door. His hand went near the top of the door and Ryan saw he was reaching for some latches he hadn’t noticed. Jeremy must have loosened at least five latches before he pulled the door open, letting Ryan out into the hall. “Be careful out there, pal. Lots of weirdos in this part of town.” He winked again before shutting the door on Ryan. The hallway outside seemed darker than he’d remembered.

He made his way down the hall and pressed the call button for the elevator. He heard the machinery behind the door chugging and humming as the car raised up in the shaft. He looked through the square window of the swinging door, down into the elevator shaft. He could see the cables were slightly swaying as the car climbed, but couldn’t quite see the car in the dark shaft. He squinted and saw a square light approaching him.

The square light was the fire escape on the top of the car. He hadn’t noticed it when riding, but he wasn’t trying to look around, he was trying to avoid staring at his friend making out with Liz. As the square of light approached, he felt a strange pulling in his chest. It looked like there was a person standing in the car, staring straight up at him, but before he had time to really examine the scene the angle changed and the car was at his floor.

When he opened the door, he saw the car was empty. The pulling sensation in his chest intensified and he felt a little uneasy about getting in the car. He hesitated, looking back at the party and noticed again that he couldn’t hear any music from the raging party he had just been in. He got in the car, shut the gate behind him, and pushed the lever down, causing the car to move down.

***

He found the alley around the right side of the building. It was the most claustrophobic alley he’d ever been in – it was so tight that he guessed only the smallest of cars could fit through. Overhead was covered by an elevated train track. He couldn’t tell which line it was, but the trains have gone by three times since he left the party, screaming through the alleyway. He shivered each time the train went overhead while he was peeing beside the dumpster.

When he finished, he retrieved his phone, wanting to listen to the voicemail Janelle left. He unlocked it and tapped on the notification. He hit play on the voicemail and held the phone up to his ear to listen.

“Ryan. It’s Janelle. I’m not sure what to tell you anymore. It’s been a week and I told you I didn’t think I was going to change my mind. I wanted to. But it’s just been too hard. I can’t-” A train went by overhead, screaming in his ear over the voicemail. Frustrated, he pulled the phone down, dragged the track back a few seconds, and hit play after the train passed.

“…it’s just been too hard. I can’t keep letting you come back to me when you fuck up. I loved you. I gave you so much of me and now I think I need to keep some of me to myself. I’m sorry. Shit. I’m sick of saying sorry for not letting you hurt me anymore. I have to-” The message cut out.

Ryan frantically pulled his phone away from his ear and tapped the screen, but it was black. He pressed the power button repeatedly, but it wouldn’t turn back on. It was dead.

“Fuck.” He whispered. He felt sober now. “FUCK!” He shouted. He was hopeful when he saw the voicemail, but now that hopefulness turned to ferocity. He was pissed. He wanted to be dead, he wanted to stop feeling the way he did. His stomach was on fire and he felt a rage burning inside him. He kicked at the dumpster once, then again and again, ignoring the pain it caused in his foot. When he finished he left a dent in the side of the metal container.

“Fuck” he said groggily, before keeling over and spewing his stomach contents onto the ground. He put one hand on the dumpster to support himself while letting it out.

When he finished emptying his stomach, he spat a couple times, trying to get any remaining chunks out of his mouth. Another train screamed by above him and he offered it an emphatic middle finger.

“Hello?” He heard someone say. It was a woman’s voice. He turned and started back the way he had come down the alley.

“Ryan?” The voice asked. He stopped and turned back into the alley.

“Jenny?” He asked, moving deeper into the alley. “What are you doing out here?”

“I came out looking for you and fell over. Fuck, I’m hurt. Can you help me?” Jenny said. Her voice sounded pained. Ryan walked deeper into the alley, looking for her, but couldn’t make her out. He came up to a dark gangway between two buildings. He could make out the street illuminated by the orange streetlight on the other end.

“Hi.” She said from the gangway. He could vaguely see her shape on the ground in the dark path.

“Jenny, what happened?” He asked, stepping towards her.

“I fell.” She said, sternly. He saw her dark shape quickly stand up in the shadows. She started moving toward him and something caused him to step back.

As he did, she seemed to grow. Her shadow grew to an enormous size, blocking out the light from the other side of the gangway. He stepped back again and again and saw her shadow grow all the way up the sides of the building, a deeper darkness in the dark night. This shadow blocked out all light, seemed to absorb it, made the alley and the gangway darker than they were previously.

“Help.” she said again as the shadow approached Ryan. He panicked, stepped back again, faster and faster, unable to take his eyes off this thing. He didn’t see the bottle behind him and his foot landed directly on it. It slid out from under him and he lost his footing.

He watched the shadow spread out from the gangway, onto the walls of the buildings behind him. It seemed to be reaching out, gripping at the walls for leverage, pulling itself out from a tight space. It came closer, spread to the rails above him, and he saw the shadow reaching down to him from above. It was more than a shadow, it seemed to be a physical object, able to grip. The shadow opened up and fanned out, like fingers, as it came down on top of him. He screamed out in horror as a train screamed by overhead, drowning him out.

***

Ryan became vaguely aware of a sound. He awoke in an alleyway and saw a shape rushing by above him. His vision was blurry and unfocused and it took a long time for it to finally focus. Above him was a train and the noise he was hearing was the screeching of the metal wheels on the metal track.

He was laying on the ground as he looked around, he realized it was still dark. He felt a pain in his head as he turned it and as he tried to get up there was an ache in his back and arms. His arms failed him as he tried pushing himself up. He gave up for a few seconds and decided to lay on the ground for a bit longer, hoping to regain his strength.

He remembered the party and coming out to the alleyway, but couldn’t piece together what had happened. He remembered having to pee. It took him a few seconds of hard concentration before he remembered the phone call. He forced himself to dig into his pocket, exerting more energy than he thought he had left in him. He felt for his phone, but it wasn’t in his pocket. He couldn’t remember dropping it, but that’s what must have happened. He laid back down, closing his eyes to rest a little bit before trying to get fully upright.

There was a shifting and a crash as a bottle fell somewhere down the alley. He felt his stomach lurch as fear spread through him. The events from earlier came back to him. He shot up instantly, ignoring all the pain in his arms, ignoring the pain he just discovered in his legs. He saw the gangway the shadow came out of and backed away from it, carefully placing his steps, not wanting to fall again, not wanting to be overtaken again.

He stared into the gangway, but all was still in the narrow path between the buildings. He turned and stumbled back toward the dumpster. His vomit was still on the ground. He looked, but couldn’t find his phone. He felt a need to get out of this alley and decided to abandon his phone for now. He turned and ran out to the street.

Around the corner, back to the front door of the building, he heard the familiar sounds of the party coming from overhead. He needed to find Jake and get him to call a ride out of here. He realized he had no idea where they were; they’d walked so far from the bar in their drunken stupor.

He had no idea which unit the party was in, so he dragged his hands across every button on the intercom. Eventually the door was buzzing, ready for him to push it open.

He entered the building, and limped down the long, dark hall. He held out his hand to brace himself against the wall and noticed for the first time that his arm was caked in blood. There were deep scratches and abrasions all over his forearm. And under the blood there was, what? Burns? Yes, he was covered in burns.

He kept walking down the hall, turned, and eventually made his way to the elevator. He hit the call button, but found the car was already there, waiting for him. He pulled open the swinging door, pushed open the gate and entered. He struggled to pull the lever up, but managed to get the car moving.

When he passed the sixth floor, he pushed the lever back into its neutral position and the car stopped at the seventh floor. He exited the elevator and was back on the dark, silent hallway. He made his way down, passing identical doors, counting up. Finally he got to unit 728 and knocked with the brass knocker. The light in the sconce next to the door frame was out.

After a few seconds of silence, he heard shuffling inside and the door pulled open. Inside, the unit was completely dark. The dim light of the hallway couldn’t pierce the dark veil that seemed to hang in the doorway. Ryan had to strain his eyes to find anything within.

“Hello?” He asked. “Jeremy?”

“Hello.” A voice said. It sounded like Jeremy, but distant, strange.

“Jeremy? Is the party still going on? Is Jake here?”

“There’s no party here.” Jeremy’s distant voice responded. “There’s no Jake here. He left.”

“Come on, man. Do you know where he went? What the fuck, dude. I need help.”

“Help?” Jeremy asked.

Ryan could vaguely see a shifting in the dark. His stomach lurched and flashes of the scene from the alley jumped through his head. He backed up a bit and heard a screaming sound from the distance. A train was passing in the alleyway.

The sconce at the side of the door rattled and flickered to life as the train passed. The light from it was brighter than it had been before and it illuminated the scene inside the doorway. The apartment looked decrepit, torn up, used. It was a far cry from the average, old apartment he had entered earlier in the night. Worse than that, he saw the person he was talking to, and all the people near him. It was indeed Jeremy, but what seemed like an approximation. He was less defined, his hair and skin were pale, it was as if he was remembering Jeremy. The Jeremy in front of him was completely naked and featureless. He was standing in a crowd of people, packed shoulder to shoulder, all nude and pale. Their eyes were dull blackholes, sucking in the light nearby.

Ryan backed up against the wall behind him. The sconce burned out once more and the apartment beyond the door was plunged back into darkness. Before he could even think about it, he turned and ran down the hallway, limping. He made his way to the elevator and pressed the call button, but there was no reaction. No light went on, no machinery whirred inside the shaft. He turned to look back and saw the party had poured out into the hall. The gaunt, pale, naked figures were standing in the hall, staring at him, unmoving. He saw Jeremy, Jenny, Liz, and Jake in the crowd. He saw the doors lining the hall swinging open and when he blinked, more pale figures appeared in the hall. He looked down another hallway and saw an old sign reading STAIRS above a door at the end. When he looked back, Jeremy broke into a full sprint toward him.

He ran for it and shoved the door open. It gave no resistance and his momentum carried him through it and over the top step. He fell down the first half flight of stairs. He was in a heap at the half flight, and managed to get himself up. He looked up at the door and it was already open, full of the pale people, staring at him with their blackhole eyes.

He got up and ran down the stairs, in a full sprint, flying down stairs, two or three at a time.

He made his way all the way down to the bottom set of stairs and flew out the door at the bottom. He recognized he was at the first floor, relieved he didn’t run past it into a basement. He was at the end of the hall directly across from the front door and saw through the windows that it was light out. Broad daylight.

He heard the door behind him open again and saw the pale Jeremy chasing after him. He put all of his remaining energy into his legs and raced for the front door. He reached out, preparing to grab the doorknob. When he reached it, all he had to do was pivot and throw the door open. He pushed through the door and continued down the walkway. Looking behind, he saw the Jeremy figure standing in the window, watching him as the door closed. Before he could turn back around he was greeted by something huge and hard. He was thrown a few feet away.

***

“Son, are you alright?” He opened his eyes and saw a police officer standing above him.

“Hnn?” Ryan asked. He wanted to tell the officer everything, to ask about his friend, to ask him to get him away, but hnn was the only sound his lips would make.

“You been doing some drugs today, sir?” The officer asked, pulling open Ryan’s eyelids.

“Drugs.” Ryan repeated. His brain was scrambled.

“Yeah, thought so. Looks like you put yourself through the ringer here. Hell of a way to start a Wednesday.”

Wednesday? Ryan thought. “Friday,” he said, “it’s Friday.”

“Alright, get up.” The officer said, pulling Ryan up. You don’t happen to have some identification on you, do you?” The officer pushed Ryan against the hood of his car, where Ryan saw a bloody dent. He felt the officer patting him down.

“Don’t seem to have much a’ anything on you. Shit, I was just headin’ home. Alright, you know the drill, hands behind your back.” He said, as he pulled Ryan’s arms behind him. Ryan felt the cold metal cuffs lock onto to his wrists. Before he knew what was happening, the officer was shoving him into the backseat of his squad car.

The officer got into the driver’s seat and Ryan was in and out of consciousness. He saw the man was using his radio, undoubtedly calling into the station about his passenger, but Ryan couldn’t quite make out the words. His head was still struggling with the idea that it was Wednesday. How long was he lying in that alley? How long was he in that apartment building?

The officer started the car and it pulled away, approaching the alley Ryan had been attacked in.

“Boy, you are one sorry sight. What the hell happened to you anyway? Crazy weekend? Mind if I call ya Friday? Say, Friday,” The officer was cut off by a high pitched scream from the alley. A woman’s voice cried out for help.

“No.” Ryan whispered.

“What the fuck now?” The officer asked, turning on his flashing lights. He cranked the wheel and sped into the track covered alley. Despite it being bright out, the alley was still dark.

“No! No! Leave! We have to go, please!” Ryan pleaded from the back seat. The officer ignored him, using his spotlight to shine a light on the spaces between buildings and dumpsters.

Ryan watched in horror, hoping they wouldn’t find anything. His fingers were twitching with anxiety behind him. He closed his eyes and whispered to himself.

“Please, please, please.” He said.

“What the fuck?” The officer said from the front seat. Ryan opened his eyes and found the place the spotlight was focused on. There was a pale, naked woman. Her eyes were dark holes behind the dark hair hanging in her face. It was Jenny. A shadow was spreading on the walls beside her, ignoring the light from the spotlight. Ryan screamed in the backseat. The shadow jumped from the walls to the car, snubbing out the red and blue lights. It gripped the top, crushing the metal with ease, shattering the glass windows. The roof was ripped from the car and debris fell on top of Ryan and the police officer.

A train screamed by overhead.

###

Brad Parkkonen is a software engineer living on the south side of Chicago. When he’s not writing code or playing Fallout, Brad is writing stories about monsters, magic, and a heavy dose of the unknown. His writing is fueled by light coffee, dark beer, and a desire to scare the hell out of his reader.

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