Prompt Short Story: Flicker

CW: implied violence, reference to violent murder

Lissa bobbed her head slightly, in time with the music coming from her earbuds, as she made the trek from the construction site to the tube. She flashed her card at the reader, slid through the opening in the barriers, and paused. This wasn’t exactly a high-traffic station, especially at this time of the evening, but she’d never seen it completely empty before.

No passengers. No stewards. Nothing.

It was a touch creepy. Enough that she paused the music and pulled the buds from her ears, deftly stashing them in their recharging case.

She made her way to the first set of stairs.

Two steps down, she heard a sound that froze her in place, heart jittering. Was that…a scream?

She told herself it was nothing. Just the creepy emptiness and probably the echo of a train braking at a platform. Some of those things, at least on this line, dated back a couple of decades.

She kept moving, reaching the foot of the steps, wishing—as always—that this station had an escalator.

At the top of the second set, the sound came again.

That was definitely a scream.

And that, on the ground, red and wet drag marks, was definitely blood.

Lissa paused, panic now setting in. The freeze function had always been her body’s response to danger. Why do something useful like fight back or run away, when you could just stand there like a statue?

The next sounds Lissa heard were sobbing, and the laughter of what sounded like a half dozen people.

It was that which freed Lissa. A group of people were attacking someone who clearly wasn’t able to fight back.

Danger to herself? Lissa will freeze.

Danger to someone else though? That gets her moving.

She pelts down the steps, sprints around the corridor—skipping over more blood as she does so—and down the last set of steps that leads to the platforms.

The sobbing and cries of pain, and the cruel laughter, echo around, seeming to fade in and out, like tuning a radio. Even the blood flickers. Bright red, then green and yellow at the edges, then solid again. But it leads to the Eastward platform.

Lissa skids to a halt and, as quietly as possible, drops her backpack to the ground, pulling out her self-defense spray from its home in her left jacket pocket, and a small foldable knife from the right.

If she can get rid of the attackers with the spray, she will. It will cover them in purple dye that will last for days, plus being sprayed in the face is just generally unpleasant.

But the knife is a comfort. Just in case.

Lissa has never had to use either tool, but when she moved from her small town—with more cattle than people—her mum begged her to take self-defense measures. So Lissa took classes, figured out what was legal to carry as well as what constitutes reasonable force, and went about her business feeling as protected as she could be.

She’s never had cause to use any of the things she learned, and doubt crosses her mind, bringing her to a stop. Will she remember the moves? Will she calmly step in, spray the attackers and defend herself? Could she really ever actually use her knife on another person—even someone who could cause…whatever this was?

As she hesitated, the whole world seemed to flicker. One moment there were weeds and vines, growing all over the insid of a deserted station, and the voices sounded close. The next, it was back to normal—that weird pinkish colour of the tiles fully visible—but the voices faded out.

Was she going insane? Had she completely lost her shit? What the fuck ws all this?

She closed her eyes, remembering her lessons in centering herself, forcing away fear and doubt.

Then she crouched and poked her head around the wall, looking into the short tunnel that led to the platform. It was empty. Flickering from smooth tile to weedy abandonment.

The voices were loud in those flickers, then quieter. What the fuck was this?

Lssa hesitated again. Was she delusional? Hallucinating? Had a blood vessel in her brain just burst? What the fuck was happening? And if it was real, what the fuck was she meant to do about it?

She shook her head and tried to focus. The blood seemed to have gone around the left side, so she continued moving. Her first fear was that someone would be in the area that she would come into sight of first, but Lissa breathed a small sigh of relief as she saw nobody was there. But when the world flickered, the guard rails were broken and rusting in mossy grass at the edge of the platform, and more weeds and vines had claimed the space for their own.

At the other corner, she peered around, still staying low.

It was so much worse than she’d feared. So. Much. Worse.

Six people, wearing masks and carrying weapons varying from bats to machetes, moved around a woman who knelt in a pool of blood and offal from their previous victims. Lissa could see three or four bodies, piled haphazardly against the wall.

She moved back and closed her eyes, wondering if she’d ever be able to unsee that image, and guessing probably not.

She tried to assess what she was seeing, though she was getting an eye strain headache from whatever was going on here. Had she walked into another world? Or was the other world pushing into this one? Did it matter right now?

Lissa again fought down the overwhelming feelings that made her want to run and run and run, but that was getting harder to do.

One woman lived, though she looked pretty close to death, bleeding from various wounds, and that was just the obvious things Lissa could see. Bruising, internal damage, who knew?!

There was no time to go for help for the woman, and no phone reception down here to call for it. And even so, where would she find help in this strange otherspace? What if she exited whatever had opened this up on the wrong side and got stuck in the murderous thug side?

She needed to remember her training, to use her weapons and hopefully surprise them enough to get her and the woman out, somehow.

Lissa felt her heart pounding, her breathing shallow, her entire body covered in a sheen of cold sweat.

The people in there would kill her. It was clear they had no compunctions about doing that. She would just be another body stacked against the wall.

But how would she even appear to them? Would she also be a flicker? How would her training even work against people in some sort of awful otherverse?

Her eyes flew open as she felt a familiar warm breath of air from the tunnel. Her ears picked up the rattle of the approaching train.

She looked over to see the train arrive at the platform, and…keep going? The people inside read newspapers, listened to music, stared idly out of the window. So why would it keep going? Even if it wasn’t scheduled to stop, did nobody see what was happening?

Lissa closed her eyes against tears of frustration.

She heard a thick, meaty thump, and the woman cried out again, then kept sobbing.

Lissa had no idea where she was or how she’d gotten here. This wasn’t her world.

Her world had tube stations with people hurrying through. It didn’t have concealed killers, torturing people and stacking their dead bodies like wood. It didn’t have trains going past without a single pair of eyes seeming to notice. It didn’t flicker in and out of awful scenes of violence.

This wasn’t her world. Somehow something had happened and she was in the wrong place. She needed to fix that.

She…couldn’t face those men. That wasn’t her world. Whatever that place was, would have to take care of itself.

Lissa nodded to herself. Retracing her steps and returning, that would be the ticket. Whatever happened in this othervers could stay here.

Her body unfrozen and responsive once again, Lissa crept away from the tunnel, blocking out the sounds of the woman being tortured behind her.

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Writing Prompt Used:

Team Cuddles Writing Prompt #11
On your way home, you take the usual stairs down to the tube. It's oddly quiet. And was that a scream?

Looking down the still escalators, you see a trail of blood leading off into one of the tunnels.

And THAT was definitely a scream.


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