For the Sky Someday Will Die

She startled me, of course. Anyone would be started by a stranger grabbing their arm in the middle of the night.

“Excuse me!”
I removed my headphones and those were the first words I heard. Loud, as if she had been trying to grab my attention for a while. Regardless, I parted my lips and prepared to ask if she needed anything. The girl interrupted me before I could say anything.
“Sorry.” In the dim light, her features appeared preoccupied. “Where can I get the subway from here? How far is it?”

“It’s, uh,” it took me a moment to gather my thoughts, “wait, what line?”
“You can get it from Theranze, half an hour down this street-”
“Which way? is there a bus?”
Her expression grew less preoccupied and more… Unsettling, I would say. Her stare especially.
“Uh… Yeah, I think so,” I turned around to face the street, “walk ten minutes that way, 17 from the first stop leaves you right behind the station.”

I expected a thank you, mentally prepared a you’re welcome, and had already started returning my headphones to their place above my ears. None of that happened. The girl pouted and wrinkled her nose a bit.
“Sorry, which way again?”
“Straight ahead. Can’t miss it really.”
She sighed.
“Sorry if I’m asking a lot but… Can you walk me there, please? I’m not familiar with Greylake at all…”

I should have been the one sighing. I can understand not being familiar with Greylake – it can be a pain to navigate, regardless of what the locals say – but walking in a straight line is something anyone can do. Besides, this is the Theranze district we are talking about! The most straightforward place in Greylake! Poor thing seemed shaken enough as was though, and I mean, it is only ten minutes, so I decided to do the right thing.

“Yeah, sure.”
She smiled but it did not make me feel any better.

Theranze was oddly quiet. Admittedly, it was a weeknight and midnight; too late for the usual people that hang out there by day, too early for the hardcore partiers who magically materialise at night. I think on the walk from the subway station I might have seen some five people at most.

“So, what are you doing out here?”
Figured I might as well try and ward off the silence. She did not answer and, for a moment, I wondered whether to ask again.
“I was at a concert.”
“Oh, cool. Who did you see?”
Being a musician myself – and spending a lot of time in Theranze – I try to stay updated on concerts in the area. Tickets are usually outside my budget, but that is beside the point. “You don’t know them.”
What kind of an answer is that?
“I might. Know plenty of bands.”

The fact I was carrying my guitar case might have given her a hint, right? But then again, she thought herself unable to follow a straight street, so maybe I expected too much. She sighed (with irritation, might I add) and mumbled some words I could not even make out. Fine. If she wanted to walk in awkward silence, I guess I had no choice. Just as I decided to stay quiet, and as the uncanny silence of the city around us sunk in, a stupid, ridiculous, illogical thought struck me – a horribly uncomfortable one at that.

So, there is this urban legend in Greylake. I thought it was merely some trashy story my generation shared during lunch to see who was chicken enough to believe it, but a while ago I heard some kids sharing it, so I guess it still lives on. The story is about this girl who was murdered and robbed after asking for directions to a bus stop. Supposedly – and I do mean supposedly – her vengeful spirit still roams the streets. She will appear at night and ask some unfortunate fellow to take her to the bus stop and then, bang! She kills them. Bloody stupid, right? But I was tired and bored and it was so quiet and – yeah, I will admit it, I started thinking about that.

“How was the concert?”
I know, I know, she made it clear she did not want to chat, but honestly, I would have preferred a dull one-way conversation to thoughts of vengeful spirits and whatnot.
“That’s nice.”
Should I have put my headphones back on? Probably. But then again, it seemed like such a… Rude thing to do. I was not raised in a barn, and even if someone is unpleasant, I am going to try and be as polite as possible.

Thankfully I did not have to let my thoughts consume me much longer. The bus stop came into view and – to my horror – number 17 driving away. I instinctively ran for it, flailing my arms like a madman and hoping – no, expecting – it to stop. Of course, with my luck it just drove on. What a hassle! And by then it was past midnight too, so that was probably the last one for the day. Worst of all, I turned towards the girl and she seemed completely unfazed.

“Was that the last one for tonight?”
Like her expression, her voice too was as calm as it could have been. It took a degree of self-control to not leave her there and assure her it was a twenty-four-hour line.
“Yup. You’re gonna have to walk I guess.”
Sudden panic trumped her earlier calmness.
“Oh, but how can I walk there?”
With your two legs you moron.
“Just keep on going straight.” In the distance, one could see the top of the overpass that connects the Theranze train station to the subway.

“But, but I…” She fidgeted anxiously. “I’m so sorry, can you walk me there? It’s only twenty minutes!”
“Sorry, I don’t have the time. Look, it’s a straight road-”
“Please! Please, I, I’m… I’m scared to go alone!”
I wanted to ask what of, but I think I understood that much from her eyes alone. “Fine.”

Again, an uncomfortable silence settled between us. That ghost story popped into my mind again, but I had enough common sense to think through it logically. I am not a superstitious person –unlike my mum. Throughout my childhood she would have a new fixation every few weeks: crosses, painted rocks, horseshoes… The sky was the limit, really. She definitely calmed down eventually, but I distinctly remember how every time my sister and I visited her at the hospital she had a new cure for bad luck. I pretended to believe her because that was what dad told me. Dad also told my sister to pretend, but she was never one to follow instructions, so she would start pointless arguments over mum’s irresponsible spending.

My sister was (and still is) a considerably more unpleasant thought than any ghost story, hence why I regularly try to avoid thinking about her. She is going to get married soon. What a pain… That is all mum ever talks about. Of course, I am glad this makes her so happy, but it bothers me nonetheless. I met my sister’s fiancée once. Or twice, maybe? He was so unmemorable I do not even remember seeing him. But I suppose it makes sense; that is the kind of person my sister would go for, someone with the presence of air who will stay out of her spotlight. Whatever, I just hope I will have enough money to rent a suit by the time the wedding rolls around.

“Where are you from? Uh, if you don’t mind me asking.” I hastily added the last part.
“I do mind.”
What happened to that panicked begging from earlier? So much for being polite, huh! She did not make any effort to appear grateful. But that is simply how the world works I suppose: you give and give and give and maybe, just maybe, you get something in return. I groaned under my breath and looked up at Greylake’s starless sky. Those were going to be the longest ten minutes of my life, I was sure of it.

The station’s side entrance came into view and I did not even realise I started smiling.
“Well, see you-”
I had taken a step in the opposite direction when she grabbed my arm.
“Wait!” She smiled with her whole face. “Thank you kindly!”
Admittedly, that did make me feel marginally better. I felt the back of my head.
“Really, it’s no problem…”
“I appreciate it! Oh, I know, I’ll pay you!”
That beautiful word. Pay. Of course, I was not going to say no.
“Oh, thanks…”

A newfound energy overcame her and the quiet, moody girl from before seemed like a distant memory. She began rummaging through her wallet, then came to an abrupt stop. “Oh no, I’m out of cash. I’ll run down to the ATM real quick!”

It took me a moment to process her words. She said she was not familiar with Greylake, so how would she know where to find an ATM? I was ready to ask her but she disappeared. Well, not exactly, more like ran surprisingly fast in the direction of… Nothing. Seriously, she just bolted towards this alleyway that led nowhere. What could I have done? I stood there like an idiot.

“Hey, come on!”
She noticed I did not follow her and beckoned me with a hand. The whole situation felt… Strange, to say the least. But at the same time, she seemed genuine and I am in no position to turn down money. I shrugged and walked towards her.

See, what I did not know then is that there was not a single light in that alley. I followed her and in a matter of seconds completely lost sight of… Well, everything. What the hell. I remembered the murdered girl and her ghost and, as soon as I did, money lost any appeal and I started walking back to the station. Thanks, but no thanks, I am not following some random person in such a shady place.

Then the baseball bat hit me. All images of ghosts and money and whatever else were forcefully slammed out of my mind and, once I reached a new level of mental clarity, the pain sank in. And, God, what pain! My knees gave up and I fell to the ground. I wanted to see my aggressor but, even without the white spots temporarily clouding my vision, it was too dark to make anything out. The second some control returned, my reflexes kicked in. I slid my guitar case from my shoulders and to my chest, then wrapped my arms around it tightly. I thought, then, please don’t hurt my guitar.

Then the baseball bat hit me, again. The pain from the first blow was still fresh and that second hit was more than enough to force me into a foetal shape on the ground – arms shielding my guitar case, of course. A kick came, somewhat tentative, as if assessing how conscious I was. I suppose whoever did it was not satisfied because a second kick – much, much stronger than the first – came my way. Dangerously close to the base of my neck. I heard a low, masculine voice mumble something, but between the ringing in my ears and sudden awareness of blood trickling down my neck, I did not understand any words.

Not that I had time to think about that, anyway. I felt a pair of small hands on my neck. The girl removed my headphones with grace, then traced the cable back to my coat’s pocket, took the music player and, after feeling around a bit, also grabbed a half-empty pack of cigarettes and lighter. I remained still as a statue. I was not conscious of playing dead, but I suppose I was doing exactly that. After my coat’s pocket had been emptied, the girl moved to my trouser pockets and emptied those too. My wallet’s contents disappointed her so she took my belt alongside everything else.

I thought the worst had passed when I heard the two talking. I could not make out any words, but at least the violence had ceased. After the exchange I received a final kick, strong enough to force air from my lungs. Running steps. A car starting in the distance. Silence. Dead, unforgiving silence. My eyes had only somewhat adjusted to the darkness. The gash at the back of my head bled. A starless sky looked down upon me. But, all I can say is, thank God they did not take my guitar.