Through the Cracks. Short Story.

“Hey, was that there before?”
“What?”
“That big crack over there in the rock, it’s new isn’t it?”
Sarah turned and looked to where Harry was pointing, “Yeah, maybe. I never noticed it before anyway.” She turned back and took another bite of her sandwich.
“Look at the size of it though, it’s huge!”
Sarah swallowed her food, “so?”
There was silence. She looked behind herself and found she was alone, “Harry?” there was no answer. A faint breeze picked up, carrying with it the rustle of the trees and the sound of the children playing in the nearby playground.
“C’mon Harry this isn’t funny, I only get half an hour for lunch, I don’t want to waste it because you’re dicking around. I already gave up a fancy lunch in the office to have lunch with you. Stop messing around Harry!”

Harry picked himself up off the ground, as he stood he brushed off his jeans with his hands, well, that was stupid. Thankfully no one had actually seen him go on his ass, he was sure it looked hilarious. He wasn’t even sure how he’d managed to do it, he was leaning into the weird crack in the rock, it seemed impossibly deep and then somehow he’d lost his footing. Obviously he’d gotten turned around during the fall, he looked up, expecting to see Sarah laughing at him, but she wasn’t there. He frowned, “Sarah? Where are you? I’m not that boring am I?” he glanced down at himself, looking for injuries, he hadn’t hurt himself during the fall, not really, and he didn’t have any memory gaps, at least not that he could tell. “Sarah?” There was nothing. He took a few steps forward, their stuff was gone too, their food and his coffee were no longer on the stone bench Sarah had been sitting on. Sure he’d been distracted by the crack in the wall, but not enough to not notice her leaving. Maybe she was hiding, getting ready to jump out at him, it wouldn’t be the first time she’d done that. He turned in a slow circle, scanning the trees. There was no sign of her. Sighing he pulled out his phone, getting ready to ring her. No service. He sighed, “Ok, I get it, very funny. C’mon I want to have my lunch, I’ve to be back soon…Sarah?” He felt a thin thread of unease winding its way through his stomach. Something wasn’t right about this place, but he couldn’t quite place it. Somewhere a bird cawed, causing him to jump. He shook his head and chuckled, he was just being stupid. Sarah was around here somewhere. Maybe he’d gotten all turned around when he fell, he turned and froze, there was just rock behind him, as it had been every day before today. No cracks, nothing at all. He ran his hand over the rock, it was smooth and cold despite the heat of the sun. He must have gotten disorientated or hit his head when he fell. Sure this place looked almost identical to their usual spot, but then there were so many of these little seating areas dotted about the park, he must have wandered away without realising it. Sarah was probably freaking out too, he glanced around but couldn’t see any obvious place he’d have come from. After a second of indecision he started walking towards the path. It was the same as he always remembered, a slight curve through some trees, then into a large seating area. This was a large square that had been cut into the rock, the floor had been slightly smoothed, around it were benches, the square had one exit in each side, a path meandering from each one into the trees. The square was completely empty, normally there were always one or two people here at the very least. He stood in the middle of the square, trying to remember the last time he had seen it empty. He turned and looked at the path he had just come from, it was definitely the path that he always took. The feeling of unease grew deeper, something strange was happening but he couldn’t figure out what, there was no logical explanation. Sarah wouldn’t just leave him lying there if he was knocked out and that didn’t explain what had happened to the other people. Maybe this was a dream or some kind of delusion brought about by a knock on the head. He pinched the back of his hand, wincing at the pain of it. What ever was happening he wasn’t dreaming.

Harry started walking again, he couldn’t just stay standing around in the park forever. He’d get to the bottom of what was happening one way or another. He walked down the small path that brought him out into a larger part of the park. As he walked out from behind the screen of trees he stopped. Everything was overgrown, he hadn’t noticed it so much when it was just trees, but he could see it clearly now, the concrete paths still meandered through the park, but now the neatly maintained grass was growing rampant, it was at least three feet tall, if not taller and mixed throughout were tall weeds. Another gust of wind came, rattling its way through the trees, with it he realised what was missing. Sound. Sure there were birds calling out to one another and the lazy, low buzz of bees, but beyond that there was nothing. No children laughing and screaming in the playground, no dogs barking, not even the sound of traffic from the city that surrounded it. A ripple of goose bumps made its way up and down his body. Where the hell was he? After a minute he started to follow the path, after all he had no other options and he knew how to get back to where he had first appeared.

When he reached the street he paused, abandoned cars littered the road, some were parked, most seemed to have just been left. Some of the shops had smashed windows, but for the most part everything looked intact. There were no bodies and not much in way of rubbish, though he could see plants starting to take hold in the cracks of the pathways. He raised his hands to his mouth “Hello!” the noise of his voice seemed impossibly loud as it echoed off the buildings around him, almost as soon as he had shouted he regretted it. It felt wrong to be making so much noise here, like it would attract the wrong kind of attention, though he had no idea as to what that might be. Suddenly he felt very exposed standing out in the open like this. He quickly moved over to the doors of a shopping centre, they had been left open and pools of water had gathered on the tile floor, the carpet at the entrance was sodden and covered in green moss. Most of the shops had their shutters open, though without the lights it was eerily dark inside and Harry was reluctant to go in any further. The skylights in the ceiling provided a good amount of light in the main part, but each of the shops looked like a large, looming maw, ready to consume those unwary enough to enter. Harry jumped as he heard something, a faint noise, like someone shuffling their way across concrete. He froze, trying to listen over the sound of his own heart booming in his ears. What ever it was, it sounded like it was coming from outside. He peeked around the entrance and scanned the street, he couldn’t see anyone or anything. Maybe it was just an animal, with the city apparently abandoned they’d have to be breeding like crazy, though he had yet to actually see anything larger than a bird. His stomach grumbled sullenly, he wished he had just sat down and eaten his lunch before this had all started, it might not have prevented it but at least he wouldn’t be hungry now. He moved deeper into the shopping centre, scanning all around him as he did so. Everything seemed to be in surprisingly good condition, things were damp and a little mouldy but nothing as bad as he would have expected. Up ahead he knew there was a supermarket and hopefully some canned food he could eat. He walked in the middle of the thoroughfare, not wanting to get too close to any of the shops. He turned the corner and saw the supermarket up ahead. He stopped ten feet from the entrance, visions of zombies lurching after him suddenly came to mind. He took a deep breath and told himself he was being ridiculous, then stopped. Was it though? He was in another world completely unlike his own where humans had apparently just vanished, leaving behind nothing, not even corpses. He could see food stacked up inside, another thought struck him, the entire place should stink of rot and decay but it didn’t, it smelled a little musty, but nothing close to what it should be like. He moved a little closer to the food, fruit was stacked in containers against the wall, none of them appeared to be rotting, where were the animals? The flies? The mould? Anything at all. He gently reached out and prodded an apple, he expected his finger to just sink into the flesh, the apple was hard. His finger knocked it from the pile and it fell to the ground, it bounced once or twice then rolled further into the darkness. Harry took a step back, then looked around himself, he felt like he was being watched. There was something off about the food, it wasn’t rotting, he couldn’t eat any of it, it could be dangerous and the stuff in cans might be no better. He could deal with the hunger for a little while. Besides, it was getting time to figure out how to get home. He started to turn, then paused, he spotted a row of newspapers, without moving too much closer he scanned the headlines. They seemed like normal enough articles, nothing about disease or war. Most of the headlines were gossipy and inconsequential, one talked about some singer he was vaguely aware of and something about their twitter beef over an award. The only one that seemed to be in any way of note proclaimed “The Hunt for the Woodsman Killer Continues!”, it made him feel a bit uneasy and he had no interest in reading into it further. He turned from the display and Harry walked out of the shopping centre quickly, scanning the shops as he passed, the feeling of being watched was only growing stronger with each passing second. He paused at the entrance then carefully peered out at the street, it was empty as far as he could see, and there was no sign of anyone in the other shops. He stepped outside into the street, feeling very exposed.

Back in the park Harry walked along the familiar path, the feeling of being watched was still there but not as strong, every few feet he looked around himself, it was the only way to keep himself calm. He tried to keep his breathing slow and steady, he could feel panic bubbling just under the surface and he knew he couldn’t give in. Part of him was still curious as to where this place was and what happened, but the curiosity wasn’t strong enough to keep him there. He glanced behind himself and froze, someone was standing in the tall grass, watching him. It was a man of about average height, he was too far away to make out his face correctly, but something felt wrong about it. Harry’s heart was beating heavily in his chest, “Hello?” The man didn’t respond, nor did he move. “I’m just passing through ok. I won’t give you any trouble.” The man just kept watching him. Harry took a step backwards, not taking his eyes off the man, the man didn’t move. Unsure what to do, Harry turned and started walking, picking up the pace a little. He glanced behind himself again, the man hadn’t moved from his spot. Harry felt himself relax a little, maybe he’d just be left alone and he could get back to where everything was sane and normal again. Back to the real world. Just before he reached the trees he looked back, the man was gone. There was no sign of him. Harry felt a sudden, sick feeling in his stomach, at least before he knew where the man was, whatever his intentions had been. He took a slow breath, he needed to stay calm, rational. The man had probably been following him for a while now and could have attacked him at any point. He was probably just some guy trying to survive after what ever had happened here. Heart still thudding in his chest he turned and walked into the trees.

Back at the rock, he ran his hands over it again, trying to find where the crack had been. It had been here, he knew it was, it had to be and it had to be how he had gotten here, it was the only thing he could think of that made sense. There was a faint sound behind him, Harry spun, the man was standing at the end of the path. Harry moaned, now that the man was closer he could see what was wrong with him. His face was blank, where there should have been eyes or a mouth was smooth skin, someone had drawn on top of the mans face crudely adding eyes, red lips and small black dots around the nose for nostrils. From a distance it was realistic enough that you wouldn’t notice it. Harry’s back hit the cold rock and he realised he had been backing away from it, it took a step towards him, then another. The man raised his hands slowly, Harry saw he was wearing oddly misshapen gloves, gingerly the man plucked at the fingers of one and pulled it away. Harry’s stomach clenched as he saw the mans fingers, each one had a thin, sharp blade along the length of it, they glittered in the sunlight and seemed to be part of the mans flesh. The man took another step forward, Harry saw that the mans fake mouth was doing something, stretching out, shifting. After a second he realised the man, the thing, what ever it was was trying to smile. Harry moaned as a slit appeared on the mans face, stretching out the fake lips, revealing rows of sharp, inwardly hooked teeth. It lunged at him, the blades sunk into his flesh, Harry started to scream and he wouldn’t stop for a long, long time.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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