The Way Station – Follow

Writing Prompt: You’ve only ever dreamt about empty landscapes. Empty cities, abandoned houses, lonely fields. One particular night, a stranger appears in these landscapes. The next day, you see them on your commute to work.

Isobel lived alone, on the same down beaten track upon which she’d grown. It was a road to nowhere, or at least that’s what they called it. Miles and miles of track stretching from horizon to far horizon.

Rumour was that if you left the Way Station beside the track then you’d never find your way back. Something lived out there, in the dust devils of the desert. Something with an insatiable hunger. A hunger for curious minds.

Every night Isobel would be taken from her own middle of nowhere only to find herself trapped in another. Whether it was a city or a farm, vast fields or manor houses, all turned up the same bleak image imprinted within the reaches of her sleep. Grey skies turning black, a cold wind the crept down the spine, hollow windows gazing out over an endless expanse of… nothing.

The track was no different. There was the Way Station, home to the track’s own small community. There was the shack, a shed where the few scraps of technology the track bore were maintained. Across the way was a tavern, long ago dried up. And it was Esther who cared for the gardens under the track, where tomatoes (and very little else) grew somewhat begrudgingly.

Soup was the flavour of the track, and a dull flavour at that.

At first Isobel had been curious, a dangerous thing to be, when came the voice that seeped in through her sleep. A whispering wind that carried with it a message. A single word, one that conjured feelings of joy and elation and yet also dread.

Follow.

Follow who? To where? For what reason?

When at last Isobel saw the speaker she decided she didn’t want to know. Her father had told her of a shadow, a wavering figure in the bleak landscapes of his mind. One that offered a hand and pointed a way out. A shadow with a kind face.

To Isobel there was nothing at all kind about the shadow. It stood there, always out of reach. It would look down from a window, or out across the corn fields, from across the street, sometimes even from the skies. No matter how hard or how fast Isobel chased the shadow, it always managed to keep its distance.

So it doesn’t want to be caught… she decided. And with the strangled memory of her father, a face she could no longer remember, she resided to ignoring the creature’s call.

Follow.

And in sleep that sentiment holds true. Some nights even Isobel would starve herself of rest, forcing her mind to remain in a waking state. Even when this wasn’t possible, even when exhaustion took hold, she was able to ignore the dream bound creeper. She couldn’t silence it, but she could deny its existence. Just close the eyes behind your eyes. She told herself.

Follow. The wind whispered in response.

But that was all about to change.

**

Isobel was walking from the Way Station to Esther’s underground gardens, when she glimpsed in the corner of her vision that very same shadow from her sleep. She turned away, picking up the pace.

The shadow chased.

She could feel it, hounding down behind her. Seemingly in life it wanted to be seen, to be heard.

Follow.

Turning for the tunnels beneath the track Isobel burst into a sprint, flying through the ill lit, hollow tubes of earth.

“Esther!” she screamed, but only one word came up in response.

Follow.

The tunnels fell to darkness, a swift funnel of air blowing out the few candle lit torches that sat upon the walls. In the abyss Isobel could hear the pitter patter of feet on hard stone. Growing louder. Reaching closer.

A hand collapsed upon her shoulder and she screamed, “Go away!” she threw her arms madly at the dark, “Leave me alone!” her voice became a shriek.

And the shadows vanished. Light returned as if it had never truly left. Standing over her was Esther with a terrible look in her eye.

“We must take you to Aaron. At once, my girl.”

Esther never did ask for why Isobel had been screaming.

**

Isobel was alone in Aaron’s empty space of a waiting room, bare all expect the chair she sat upon and a water cooler that held not a drop in its tank. There had been magazines, once upon a time, but they were confiscated for the good of the community.

How long? How long do I have to wait? 

Isobel was shifting nervously in her seat, an impending sense of fear lingering over her being. She could hear a clock ticking away. She could hear it, but she could not see it.

Follow.

Isobel closed her eyes. The shadow was coming. The lights fell to darkness.

Follow. Came the voice again.

A silent tear rolled down Isobel’s cheek. You’re not real. You’re not real! 

She threw open her eyes, and a shriek was lost in her throat.

The shadow stood before her, standing over her, a shapeless creature with weeded limbs and root like appendages. It was pointing for a door, a door that hand no right to be there. A door that stood on no hinges, nor on any wall. It floated between what could and couldn’t be.

With a fist of tangled roots the creature offered to guide Isobel.

“Who… what… are you?”

The creature’s featureless head titled, it poked a bundle of roots at Isobel’s chest.

Follow.

“Where?” Isobel cried, “Where do you want me to go? Where am I following you to? Please. I need to know. I won’t go blindly. I won’t!”

For a moment the creature’s face swam out of reality and in its wake two solemn, deep blue eyes peered down upon Isobel.

“Father?”

Follow. 

The creature started walking for the door. At that moment the sound of another door, a door more grounded in this world, burst open.

The faint voice of a man, a doctor, could be heard shouting Isobel’s name. But it was already too late. Isobel had grown too curious. She took the creature’s twisted fist in her own hand, and together they fled.

Follow.

Copyright © K R Perry 2019

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