Starlight Spectre • Part 7: Always on Time


This is Part 7 of a serial horror novella. Learn more about it here.

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Part 7: Always on Time

After a moment, Barton became aware that he was still aware, and his back was cool and agitated. A bush bit at him, and he heard a hollow whooshing noise. He sat up, adrenaline forcing air out of him in short little squawks. Gabby was crumpled on the tracks in front of him, a wild wind ripping the path all around them. Her hair flung about as a river of greenery and sticks raced by. He slapped at his face as a branch tore at his cheek.

Then it stopped. The airborne debris settled, Gabby’s hair floated down, and light grew from overhead. Barton twitched and looked up, half expecting a new terror to descend, but it was just the moon. He moaned and grabbed at his head—the sky was completely cloudless.

The low tone of a horn groaned one last time, then faded as the sounds of the woods snapped back. This snapped him back too, and he scrambled up and over to Gabby. How would it look? Heart attack? Aneurysm? What? Would her eyes be pale and white like when she looked back?

But then she rose from her knees, staring eastward. He stood beside her, wanting to touch her shoulder, but was scared to do so.


“Woof, what happened to you?” She looked at him, eyes normal. Everything just fine, save the ruffled state of her hair.

“...Fell,” he said, looking her over, looking for any sign of… anything.

“Dumbass. You’re cut off.” She looked around the ground, got up on one knee and spun around, finding her tools where they had been dropped. She started scraping again and was talking about what things they’d try to look for in an analysis.

Barton sat back down, off the tracks, and put his head in his hands. The sharp sting of whatever had cut his cheek was all he needed to stay convinced that something very wrong had just happened.

She finished her scraping, then twisted and laid down along the rusty lines, still between its metal jaws. She kicked one knee up and struck a pose, but when he caught her eyes, she sat up fully.

“You are not in the mood at all, are ya?” she said.

“Gabby, I’m…” What in the world was he supposed to say?

“It’s fine, I’m kinda chilly as it is, and this is way less comfortable than I imagined anyway.” She stood up and so did he. In another world, one without impossible phantom trains, he’d’ve been horribly disappointed. Right now, all Barton felt was relief. They were going to leave.

Without saying anything about it, they both stayed off the tracks on the walk back, enduring the encroaching plants on their right. They didn’t say much at all on the walk back to town either. He kept playing it over and over, wrestling with trying to convince himself that he’d let the beer, the heat, the story and the girl stir him into a wacked out state. But then he’d touch the scratch on his cheek and a slicing shiver would run through him, and he’d imagine the low echo of a warning horn.

Outside her tenement, he faced her in the safe glow of the doorstep. Her eyes were inviting for a moment, then flickered to something distant. “You scratched your cheek,” she observed.

“Yeah, stings a bit. I’ll be fine. Thanks for tonight, hey? Good times.” His voice rolled the words out.

“Sure, Barton. Good hunt, good hunt.” She smiled and glanced at her phone.

“Had you back by a decent hour, at least, huh?”

“Always on time. Good night.”

She slipped inside. He stood there for awhile, hand on his cheek, heart refusing to slow down.

Continued in Part 8: Draining Away – April 20

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