When they put the hood over her head its velvet blackness brushed softly against her skin, but the hands that held her were hard and cold. Then there was a low voice against her ear:
Three weeks earlier…
The packed train lurched forward and then juddered to a halt, sending the enormous rucksack of the tourist standing behind her crunching into the back of her head. She closed her eyes and thought evil thoughts, it was Monday morning and they weren’t even out of the station.
Laura took the tube every day from Highgate to Kings Cross and as she was crushed intimately against her fellow man on a daily basis, she found herself wondering more and more about the nature of humankind.
Each morning she walked from her small flat in Muswell Hill to the tube station at Highgate. It really was a glorious walk for inner London, about a mile, mostly through the woods that ran beside the road. Wet or dry, summer or winter, she enjoyed the sensation of properly waking as she breathed the weather, of feeling the changing seasons and even encountering actual wildlife in the old woodland. And above all she pitied all the people who crammed themselves onto stuffy, overcrowded buses to make that same short journey.
The train was on the move at last, and an announcement interrupted her thoughts.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Owing to a technical fault in the southbound tunnel between Highgate and Archway, this service is being diverted. We apologise for the delay to your journey.”
Those few passengers without little white wires coming from their ears gave small sighs or eye rolls of acknowledgement. Laura did not sigh, the deep breath required would involve inhaling way too much of the less than savoury aroma emanating from the sweaty businessman to her left.
Nose pressed against the glass of the door, she pondered the slightly odd concept of a diversion on the tube – surely there was only one line between Highgate and Archway? But just then, with a groan of protest, the train did indeed seem to change direction slightly. Intrigued, Laura managed to free her right arm and using her hand to shade her eyes from the light of the carriage, she peered out through the grimy window into the darkness, where she could just about make out the wall of the tunnel, a few inches away from the train and black with grime.
It felt like they had turned slightly to the right, and the train was definitely travelling much more slowly, bumping cautiously over the unfamiliar rails. Perhaps they do have spare tracks, she thought to herself, for emergencies or whatever. She was just about to ease back from the glass when something caught her eye.
The tunnel wall had come to an abrupt end, and instead of the blackness there was a faint glow of dull bluish light. The train lurched onwards at not much more than walking pace, and with only a passing thought to germs, Laura pressed her forehead against the glass to see more.
The carriage was passing through a more open area. It had become a tiny bit lighter, but still only from the weak blue glow which barely illuminated the shadows. Shadows that now appeared to be moving. Laura was holding her breath as she strained to see what looked like figures darting swiftly out of the light and into the darker recesses of the space beyond. Then she glimpsed one figure more distinctly, a man’s face, and eyes that met hers for an instant before disappearing into the darkness.
The glass suddenly felt ice cold against her skin, and Laura exhaled, obscuring what lay beyond as the window steamed up with her breath.
Lifting her head she looked round the carriage but no one else was paying the slightest bit of attention to her, or to what she’d seen outside the crowded train. Headphones hissed, newspapers rustled, people glowered, everything normal. When she looked again through the window the tunnel wall was back in view, just inches away as usual, and soon the automated Northern Line lady was announcing their imminent arrival at Archway.
Too much cheese before bed, not enough breakfast after bed, Laura decided. I am actually starting to hallucinate on the way to work. She’d always been a vivid dreamer, but until now at least only when at home in bed.
Tune in next Friday for part two…