THEY SAY YOU SHOULD never really believe anything until you’ve seen it with your own two eyes. Well my eyes have seen more than most, and I still don’t know what to believe. One thing’s for certain, though: I know my own fate is sealed, and has been for some time. And let me tell you – it doesn’t end well.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First things first. I’d better tell you how it all started.
Just another normal day, in a normal town, with me, a normal guy, going about my business. And running late, as usual. I don’t drive, so I find myself on buses a lot. I’m an engineering student, so mostly I’m going back and forward to and from classes. Headphones on, music blaring, skimming through notes from my last class trying to figure out where I’m supposed to be, what I’m supposed to be doing and exactly how late I already am. Bus rides give me a little slice of time when I can almost relax and try to catch up with myself again.
So I’m half zoned-out, not really paying attention to anything but the music in my ears and the complexities of my schedule in my head, when I glance out of the grimy bus window. And my eyes randomly settle on something that instantly stops my heart in my chest.
There’s a corpse walking around out there.
It’s a face I only glimpse for a moment, in a crowd of people waiting to cross the road, but it’s smashed and bloody and horribly misshapen, one side of its skull squashed so flat that there’s no way it could belong to a living person. The sight of it steals the breath from my lungs. The bus moves on and I turn in disbelief to look more closely at this impossible sight, but it’s already lost in a sea of people, in the surge of the crowd as it spills over the crosswalk.
I put it down to overwork: to tiredness, to an overactive imagination or a dirty window or to anything else that I can think of, but a part of me still knows what I saw. That was a dead thing. A dead thing up and walking about in the middle of a bright sunny day.
But I can’t think that. That’s insane. So I put it out of my mind, and get back to being late and making excuses and trying to catch up with all the reading and studying I should be doing…
Only the next day I see it again. I’m travelling back from a morning class this time, and as the bus belches and farts from stop to stop I happen to look out through the window and there he is. Sitting alone on a bench in the park, with people walking past him as if he’s a perfectly normal person. But he’s not normal. He’s a corpse. His skin is ivory white, streaked with blood from his horrific injuries. His limbs are broken and twisted. His body looks as though an evil giant has picked him up and just squeezed. Sharply splintered bones poke through his flesh, lacerating him from the inside out, and no-one seems to notice but me.
By now I’m sure I’m seeing things. Obviously I’ve watched too many zombie movies or something, and I’m having some sort of breakdown. The bus rolls on oblivious, and soon he’s out of my sight, leaving me wondering whether the whole world’s gone mad or whether it’s just me.
For the remainder of the journey I scanned every face in every crowd through the filthy window of the bus, half afraid of what I might see, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. Everything was as it should be, and the world carried on as before. But that was twice I’d seen him now. The same person each time. My head was spinning, and I felt sick to my stomach.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night. The next day, getting on the bus again, my nerves were even more strained. Was I going to see that mangled, bloody body once more? I pressed my face to the window of the bus like a wide-eyed child, determined to spot the walking corpse if it was out there again.
So I almost didn’t notice him when the bus stopped and he walked right on.
Waited in line, paid his fare, and nobody batted an eyelid. And of course he strolls down the centre of the bus and sits down right next to me.
I can’t move. I’m paralysed by a mixture of fear, revulsion, and an overwhelming sense of unreality. I mean, this can’t really be happening, can it? Dead men don’t just get up in the morning and decide to take a trip into town. And if they did, wouldn’t people make a little more of a fuss?
I can’t bear to look at him, but I can feel his obscene presence beside me the entire time. His hand rests on the top of the seat in front – it looks like it’s been ripped to shreds, with stark white bone poking out from the torn flesh. The cuff of his shirt is pristine and neatly pressed. His arm bends unnaturally between the wrist and the elbow, and again between elbow and shoulder.
I steal a glance at his face out of the corner of my eye: the right side is a destroyed mass of shredded tissue, his eye socket a gaping hole, and his skull has been flattened like an eggshell, with clumps of scalp trailing from clumps of blood-matted hair. It’s all I can do to stop myself throwing up.
I try to focus on the person in the seat in front of me, on the street outside the window, on anything other than this nightmarish monstrosity sitting next to me, but even though I’m not looking at him he’s all I can think about. The rest of the world seems washed out and out-of-focus. I can even hear him breathing – a dead man’s breath rasping in his throat. I feel like I’m going to pass out.
Eventually, after I don’t know how long, the bus grinds to a halt again and the corpse gets up and wanders off as if it’s the normal thing in the world. Nobody stares after it, nobody screams as it walks out into the world again: nobody seems to care in the slightest. Except me. I’m a nervous wreck, half hoping to wake up at any moment in the warmth and comfort of my own bed. Only of course I don’t.
I stumble off the bus in a daze a few stops later, and shamble through the streets like a zombie myself. I need to collect my thoughts, so I wander into a coffee shop, get myself a coffee and take a seat. The world seemed to be spinning on its proper axis again, so I wanted to take some time to catch it up.
So what had I seen? Was I being haunted? That didn’t seem likely – although I’d seen the corpse three days in a row now, it seemed to ignore me just as other people ignored it. Was it some kind of ghost? Doubtful. Ghosts seldom have change for the bus.
As I sat there, lost in my own thoughts as my coffee went cold, I began to notice something happening on the street outside. Cars were stopping, and a small crowd had gathered, all with faces turned upward, looking at something I couldn’t see. Curiosity got the better of me, so I left my coffee untouched and went outside to see what was going on.
I left the shop and turned my head to follow the gaze of the crowd. Just as I did so a series of gasps and screams pierced the air, and I saw what I first assumed to be a bundle of rags tumbling from the roof of a building across the street. It wasn’t until it hit the ground with a jarring thud that I realised it had been a body.
I kept walking towards the scene in numb surprise as most of the bystanders turned away in shock. I could hear the sound of police sirens in the distance growing louder. In just a few paces I found myself looking down on the crumpled tangle of flesh and bone: he had landed on his right hand side, leaving half his skull crushed almost flat, and his face a familiar mess of shredded flesh.
I later found out that he’d been a local, a man who’d lived a largely reclusive life with few friends who had finally succumbed to loneliness and despair and decided to end it all that day. There was a picture of him in the newspaper – he looked normal, ordinary, and I even felt like I half-remembered seeing him around somewhere.
Somehow, for some reason I couldn’t for the life of me understand, I’d seen his death before it had happened. Seen it made real in his flesh before the event. But why? And why me? I hadn’t known the guy, and I wasn’t in any position to help: so what was the point of it all?
I did my best not to think too hard about it, but that’s easier said than done when you’ve literally rubbed shoulders with death. Luckily my schedule was as hectic as ever, so I was kept busy and didn’t have too much time to dwell on things. I found myself walking to classes a lot more, though: bus journeys had somewhat lost their appeal.
Things seemed to be getting back to normal, until just a few days later. Picture the scene: another ordinary day, another ordinary class. And me, running late, as usual.
I sneak in to the back of the class a good ten minutes after it’s started, and try to look inconspicuous as I shuffle around getting all my stuff out and ready to start taking notes. It’s a big class, so I’m thinking I’m doing a good job at not attracting too much attention to myself. Then I notice something out of the corner of my eye.
There’s a guy a couple of rows down, hiding at the back like me, who doesn’t look quite right. At first I think maybe he’s fallen asleep or something, because his head seems to be at an odd angle and it looks like he’s nodded off, but I know something is badly wrong when he turns slightly to the side and his head lolls sickeningly on his shoulders. His neck is broken. It’s then I notice that his skin is a washed-out lifeless blue, and what I first took for a necklace around his neck is actually a livid welt from some kind of rope or cord.
So it looks like I’ve got another corpse on my hands. Or a potential one at least.
But maybe this time I can do something. Maybe things aren’t as inevitable as they were with the first guy. Maybe I can help.
All through the lecture I’m formulating plans, thinking of ways to approach this guy, what to say to him, how to stop him from doing the terrible thing that I can see in him. All without seeming like a lunatic myself, of course.
Finally the lecture finishes, although I haven’t taken in a single word. All my plans – such as they were – fly out of my head as I see the guy get up and move quickly towards the door. I’m out of my seat in a flash and after him, pushing my way through the crowds to try and catch up.
But he’s too fast for me. At one point he turns around and catches a glimpse of me running after him, flashing me a look with his glassy, dead eyes that I cannot fathom. I follow him for as long as I can, but he’s soon lost in the sea of people surging through the corridors.
For the next few days I turn private detective, asking around to see if anyone knows him or where I might find him. It was hard going – he didn’t seem to have many friends, and he kept himself to himself for the most part.
What I did manage to find out only worried me even more. Apparently he’d had mental health issues in the past, and recently he’d been becoming withdrawn and distant. I found out where he lived and knocked on his door several times, but there was never any answer.
I was beginning to despair. I resolved to give it one last try, this time waiting until late at night to call round to his house in the hope of finally catching up with him.
I climbed the by-now familiar steps up to his apartment door, and was pleased to see signs of life. There were lights on inside, and loud music was playing. I hammered on the door, but no-one answered. Trying the handle, I was surprised to find it unlocked, so I slipped in, my heart racing in my chest.
The apartment was a mess, like the cave of a wild animal, with rubbish strewn everywhere and meaningless symbols scrawled on the walls. I think I knew what I was going to find even before I pushed open the door to his bedroom. His body was hanging from the light fitting, swinging gently back and forth as if pushed by an invisible breeze.
I cut him down as quickly as I could, but it was already too late. He looked just as he had when I had seen him in the lecture room: neck broken, lips black from suffocation, and quite, quite dead. I laid him on the bed, called for police and an ambulance, and waited.
I felt hollow and strangely numb. On a small writing desk in the corner of the room was a handwritten note. Reading it turned my blood to ice in my veins.
He had obviously been delusional, caught up in some terrifying fantasy where secret government agencies were watching him and out to do him harm. In recent days, he wrote, the situation had worsened, and he had realised that his only escape was this drastic measure he had now taken. Someone had been making enquiries about him, pumping his friends for information, and even calling at his apartment while he hid, terrified, inside.
By trying to help him, I had pushed him over the edge. Killed him as surely as if I had placed the noose around his neck myself.
I felt sick to my stomach. An overwhelming sense of guilt and hopelessness rushed over me. What was the point of being able to see these horrors if there was nothing I could do about it? If all I could do was make things worse? It all seemed so senseless, like something out a bizarre nightmare. Only I knew there would be no waking up from this.
These days I don’t get out much, and I try to keep myself to myself. I don’t make plans or look towards the future anymore – what would be the point? I try to avoid mirrors and shop windows, because every time I catch a glimpse of my reflection I see a white, cadaverous face, with a neat round bullet hole in one temple, and an ugly, jagged exit wound on the other side of my head.