There are a few things attached to this story so let me give a few credits out please.
3 Word Wednesday – For the three word prompt (words in bold)
PhoTrablogger – For introducing me to this gorgeous ghost town, and for giving me permission to use the image.
Green Embers – For giving me the idea bounced off of something he wrote yesterday here
I guess I ought to mention the Daily Post too, although I did kinda skate around their prompt today (because it sucked – in my anything but humble opinion *grin* )
There was very little of the snob about Josie, except when it came to her boots. Jack Brown, the local cobbler was her only port of call. The supple leather and exquisite stitching, all hand sewn, made those boots fell like sliding into silk, and they were so durable; an absolute necessity for a gal who needed to be able to take flight at any moment. Yes, they cost twice what she might have paid on the internet, probably three times the price of discount store merchandise, but Josie felt she had earned herself one indulgence and she shelled out the exorbitant sum with a smile.
She wriggled her toes inside her boots now whilst slicing open her mail at the breakfast table. Her habit of never being bootless drove her mother mad, but Josie wasn’t going to risk the quiet ones catching her out; she was a whole lot smarter than that. She dropped the knife – a jade handled dagger she’d picked up on a jaunt to the China of the First Emperor – on the table beside her toast and frowned; the writing was crude, all spikes and slants, but the message was clear:
The ghost town. Josie’s mind lit up with memories of a time before the cyclone, before the death and destruction, when she’d wandered the streets with Leo at her side, taking in the sights and smells, his hand in hers. That was before the quiet ones, before Leo was taken. Why would someone call her back there? Why now, after three years? What could be there, or who, that required her immediate attention?
She shoved back from the table, her mother’s irritated look enough to start their usual bout of arguing, but not today; Josie needed to go and dealing with her mother’s loathing of Josie’s secretive lifestyle was not on the cards. She shook her head and walked out of the room in silence, her mother left in open-mouthed disbelief.
Josie headed straight to the train station and waited. She’d been travelling since she was twelve. Her father died and Josie had found a great comfort in watching the reunions at train stations, nurturing the tiny spark that Dad might step to the platform one day. Reaching the point where the ache for him was too much she’d stepped off one dreary Monday morning, but the oncoming train simply vanished. Josie had unwittingly stepped between time, into the grey areas where the quiet ones lurked and time travellers flitted between here and there.
She’d been frantic, with no idea of what had happened or what to do. It had been her first encounter with the quiet ones too. They filled shadowy corners, drifting in wispy clouds of unbeing, waiting to latch onto a traveller and hitch out of the grey and into the light. Their yearning to be, to exist, made them powerful; when they latched on they forced out the original being and inhabited the body, leaving the owner behind to become a new quiet one. All time travellers feared them, and they had earned their title of quiet ones over many centuries for they made no sound and could move with barely a trace, overwhelming their prey before the soul knew they were there. It had been Leo who taught Josie how to know they were around.
Leo, wonderful Leo. He’d sprinted through the grey, bound for yet another exotic location, spotted a distraught Josie and grabbed her up even as the quiet ones had begun to circle. They’d come out in a tiny alpine village station, Josie torn between delight and dismay. Leo had taught her how to use the grey and how to be safe. Travellers could step into the grey at any train station; it only required a moment of belief, a leap of faith and noting the slightest shift in air pressure around a grey rift. Why train stations? No-one knew, but it didn’t work at docks or bus station or airports, it had to be trains. Once in the grey it was imperative to keep your destination in mind, front and centre and with absolute clarity. Many an arrogant traveller, too sure of their abilities, had been distracted by a stray thought and ended up lost, adrift in the grey forever, detached from any point in time.
The quiet ones had always been there, drifting, formless and lethal. The only trick to avoiding them was to watch for minute spinning coils in the smoke and shadows. Those twirling coils were barely visible but they would catch the attention, a faint anomaly in the empty grey and that was time to run. It didn’t matter where; travellers just had to run to the clearest, most emphatic point in their mind’s geography. Anything less than concrete opened a traveller up to capture… like Leo.
Josie shuddered, shoving the memory away and stepping into the grey as the rift distorted the pressure around her. She held a picture of the broken village in her mind, a tumble of debris, shattered buildings, a deserted moment in time and felt the familiar rush of air against her skin, used to the churning of her stomach and the electric prickling in her blood before being tossed out at the other end. She landed in a crouch, fingers narrowly missing the jagged edge of a broken bottle, alert for any sound, but only the wind greeted her, the tourists long gone, the town returned to the ghosts.
She walked out of the station building and down the streets, passing every kind of fallen edifice, alert for any sign of her mystery messenger but the silence and stillness continued. She tried to shake off her sense of unease but her flesh crawled, her eyes darting constantly. Then she heard it, a voice, distant but distinct. Leo! That couldn’t be. She knew it couldn’t. Leo had been lost to the quiet ones and it had been her fault. If she hadn’t been distracting him with talk of marriage and children whilst they’d been on their way to Paris to celebrate her twenty-first birthday he’d have seen the quiet ones…
It couldn’t be Leo, but she ran just the same, pelting over the dusty ground to where a gnarled and twisted tree leant on a buckled wall for support. She could hear his voice, a sound engrained in her mind and still with the power to weaken her knees, set her heart racing, coming from over the wall. She sought frantically for a way round, found none and began to shin up the tree, ignoring the splinters and scrapes, desperate to see him. She paused for a second, looking over the wall, seeing no-one but Leo’s voice remained. Now she listened carefully, and fear flooded her;
“Run Josie, run! They’re coming. I’m coming”
The last was a wail of anguish and Josie felt tears roll over her cheeks, but she saw the warning coil in a wind-whirled dust cloud, watched the cloud streaming toward her. How could quiet ones be in it? There was no station, no rift, not here, but she was going to have to run back to where she’d entered. It was her only hope. She slid down the tree and took off running, weaving back and forth, glancing over her shoulder and pushing her reserves harder as the cloud gained on her, noting the multiple coils swirling inside it.
She ran up onto the broken remains of the platform searching wildly for the rift, seeing nothing, trying to calm her mind enough to locate it, and then the cloud was there and her heart missed a beat before thudding violently against her ribs. Leo’s face swirled into being for a long moment, straining against the mass of the cloud, his voice a howl of pain;
“No, Josie, no. Run!”
He was swallowed up before he could say more, the dust suddenly settling, simply dropping to the ground in a single second, revealing a shambling, corpselike figure who shuffled toward Josie. She saw coils in his eyes and finally understood. The quiet ones had evolved. There were two inside the man. One, perhaps Leo, she prayed not, would take the body and then deliver his passenger to another. She ran, jumped to the tracks and tumbled through the rift. Behind she heard her name screamed in agony, spinning in time to understand, seeing Leo looking out of that cadaverous face, seeing her name o his lips as he reached for her… then the portal closed, and the quiet ones, drifting together in entwined pairs of coils, rushed for her distracted frame.