Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
A routine can be defined by a series of regular actions followed in a similar pattern. Most people have many routines they follow on a day to day basis, be it a morning routine before they go to work, or the order of machines they visit when they go to the gym. The human race are creatures of habit, and having routines can provide a comfort of familiarity
Sarah was no exception when it came to routines, in fact it could be said that she followed her daily regimes with more precision than the average person. Sarah worked in a steady job in an office block which she had started a few months back when she moved to the city. Anyone who has a job with regular hours knows how easy a routine can be to develop, and Sarah’s routine developed as soon as she moved into her flat. She lived alone, bar her cat, and she lived exactly a 20 minute bus ride away from the office, and 20 minutes back home at the end of her shift. The fact that she’d not been in the city long meant that her social interactions were currently limited to the brief conversations with her co workers and a bi-weekly phone call with her mother. Some would call her current life mundane, but Sarah was genuinely happy to be out of her parents house and starting to make her own way in life.
One of the drawbacks of being the new girl in the office meant she was assigned the early shift that no one wanted. Since her job description was basically a glorified PA to a few of the senior members, most of her work needed to be done before the rest of the staff came in at 9am, her work day officially started at 7. Relying on public transport however meant that the bus she needed to get was actually at 6am, making her work day really start around 6.30 when she had got in and made herself a coffee. Sarah didn’t mind at all, her 5am wake up gave her enough time to have a shower and breakfast before work, and her early finish time meant she had time to get in a hour work out in the office gym before rush hour traffic. Her evening routine rarely differed either, she would get home, feed her cat, clean and tidy her flat, eat dinner, catch up on laundry, and finally settle on the couch to watch a movie or read for a few hours before she went to bed early to be up at 5am the next day.
Sarah had adjusted to her role in her job with ease and the move from a smaller town was less of a culture shock than she anticipated. She had always felt content in her own company, so living on her own didn’t take much adjustment either, within a month of living there she felt completely settled into her new life. The move had come at a perfect time for the early shifts she had, it was mid July when the move happened, and the mornings in England, while cold, were light when she left the house.
In the back of her mind was a slight dread for the coming winter months where the sun wouldn’t come up until she had been at the office for a few hours. Sometimes the bus that she relied on was late leaving her standing there in cold for longer than necessary and derailing her routine. Sarah has suspicions that come the winter months and the inevitable bad weather, the bus may not even come at all, leaving her only choice to call in work or attempt to walk in on a road that wasn’t fully lit by street lamps. Still she refused to learn how to drive in a city that had little to no parking, and she hoped that come winter she wouldn’t always be the one who had to come in early, she expected with the high turnaround there would be another new employee to take her place.
The months rolled by and the days got shorter but no one new was hired to take her place on the early shift. Even though it made her uncomfortable to be alone at the bus stop in the dark, she couldn’t afford to kick up too much of a fuss at her job about her shifts, since she had stated in the interview she was happy to do them. And no other places were hiring that could match her wages, so she resolved to grin an bear it. When thinking about it it wasn’t too bad, there was at least one lamp above the bus stop outside her home, and she had gotten pretty good at leaving the house and practically stepping onto the bus, provided it wasn’t late that day, Sarah would only have to endure the darkness for a few minutes maximum.
The first few weeks of waning light in the mornings weren’t too bad, the really cold weather hadn’t kicked in yet, and the street lamp was always on when she arrived at the bus stop, it’s low orange glow was a comforting site in the dark when she walked from her house to the stop. It was only when it started to get even darker that Sarah’s routine was disrupted. There was the time where the bus was 20 minutes late and the later commuters started to arrive when it finally turned up, a week or so passed and then another incident where the bad weather had made a road flood further on in her journey, and the detour made her almost late for work twice.
The most notable incident though was when Sarah had been up later the night finishing a book that she had been reading, a story she was so captivated by she couldn’t put down until she had finished, resulting in rushing her night-time routine and forgetting to reset the alarm on her phone for the morning. Luckily her body clock was so in sync she woke up naturally half an hour later than she had planned to, but no so late she couldn’t make up for lost time. In fact in her rushing around to get ready on time, skipping the shower and grabbing breakfast to go, she ended up at the bus stop earlier than she did on a normal day.
It had gotten to the point in the year where the sun had yet to cast any rays in the sky this morning, however it was a reasonably clear night and Sarah was pleased that the rest of her day wouldn’t be thrown off from her earlier mishap. She stood under the street lamp and checked her phone for the time, while rubbing her forearm to fight of the cold. She still had 5 minutes until the bus was due to show up, if it was on time. Sarah stayed on her phone, flicking through social media to pass the time. She considered posting a status describing her mornings mishap but hesitated, realizing that no one else on her friends list would be on-line this early. She sighed and pulled her arms in closer, the temperature had defiantly dropped in the last few days.
Giving up on her phone she put in back in her pocket and closed her eyes, the sudden wake up in panic hadn’t given her the chance to truly wake up and she could still feel the remnants of sleep behind her eyes. She took the chance to try and fully relax, taking in her surroundings, there was a soft whistle of wind through the trees, and a far off sound of an ambulance siren towards the city. After a few minutes she began to realize how silent it really was near her, with almost all the sounds she could hear being faint and far away.
There was something though, something she hadn’t picked up on before. It wasn’t
so much something she could hear, but something defiantly felt off. Sarah opened her eyes and quickly scanned her surroundings. As far as she could see there was nothing wrong with her surroundings, though she still didn’t feel quite right. She put her uneasiness down to her lingering childhood fear of the dark and the fact that she was already unsettled from earlier.
Sarah checked around herself again to reassure her self further and caught the sight of the bus headlights coming round the corner. She let out a breath she hadn’t noticed she was holding, watching the cloud of mist form in the cool night air. Relief swept though her as she fumbled for her bus pass in her coat pocket, once she found it she pulled it out her pocket and looked up to watch the bus pull up. Just before It slowed down at her stop she noticed something she hadn’t seen before on the other side of the road. There was a street directly opposite her stop which was less well lit than the main road and she could be sure she had seen something in the shadows. It had a familiar shape that she thought was human, but after a second for her brain to catch up she realized it that it wasn’t. Logically what she was seeing wasn’t the correct shape for person, it seemed distorted, the proportions were off. Before she had time to dwell on it further the bus pulled out in front of her, obscuring her view of the opposing street.
It took Sarah a moment to snap back into focus and step onto the bus, handing her pass to the driver who barley glanced at her. She took a seat near the window looking out onto the street unable to stop herself wanting to find out what she had seen. From her seat on the bus she could see almost all of the opposing street, yet she saw nothing out of the ordinary . She kept scanning the the road, she knew she had seen something there, she desperately wanted to catch a glimpse of it again, so her brain could rationalize what she had seen into something she recognized. A dog walker with extended shadows or another early commuter carrying something to there car, but nothing was there.
She sighed and leaned back against her seat, casting a glance to the few other passengers to see if they had noticed anything, but none of them seemed to be taking any notice of anything outside of there own personal bubbles. Had she really imagined that? It wasn’t out of the question given her state of not being fully awake, and her mind had concluded that if there was someone there she would of heard them, considering the attention she was paying to the sounds around her. Even though she had rationalized that her vision must have been playing tricks on her, she still couldn’t shake that feeling that something was wrong. It was a sickly feeling in the pit of her stomach, similar to a feeling of regret. Her body was telling her that she had done something terribly wrong, something she wasn’t meant to do; like a small child who had witnessed there parents arguing when they should have been tucked up in bed.
The feeling Sarah had stayed with her all the way on her journey to work, being strong enough to put her off eating the bagel she had grabbed on the way, and stayed with her most of the morning while she went around the office setting things up for the day. The fact that she was in an almost empty building that was fitted with motion sensor lights wasn’t helping, there were too many shadows in the empty office floor. She only really began to relax when other people started to come in for the day. Even then she still had a feeling in the back of her mind that wouldn’t go away. One acquaintance at work even went so far ask to ask how she was with a concerned look on there face, which Sarah quickly brushed off with polite small talk.
Thankfully the rest of the day went by without a hitch, nothing else happened and the ease to which she was able to fall back into her daily routine provided a great comfort. By the time her shift finished Sarah had almost forgotten about the mornings incident, most of the details fading into her subconscious like a bad dream. When she got off the bus home however she couldn’t help but check the street, a part of her hoping the light of day would explain what she thought she had seen. There was nothing though, the street was lively as school children played a noisy game of tag while there mothers watched, and another family was unloading shopping from there car. Satisfied Sarah sighed and turned around to go back to her flat.
A few days passed and nothing else out of the ordinary happened, Sarah had looked again each morning down the street, but nothing looked out of place, and her bus had arrived almost as soon as she made it too the stop. She had pretty much convinced herself that there was never anything there to begin with until today.
The early morning had gone by as normal, she woke on time, had a shower ate breakfast and went down to the stop. The air was cool against her skin and the street was covered in a thin layer of fog, making it hard to see more than a few feet in front of her. When she made it to the stop she could hardly see anything outside the dim ring of yellow light cast by the street lamp above her. Unlike the days previous the bus wasn’t there at the same time, she attempted to for it but the fog was to thick to see if any headlights were approaching. She sighed and pulled out her phone to pass the time. A few minutes passed, and there was still no sign of the bus. Another five minutes passed but it seemed like an eternity. Sarah couldn’t help but nervously glance up from her phone every few moments, after what happened the other day she really didn’t feel at ease.
She could make out the sound of rustling leaves behind her, a noise that usually she would have ignored but it made her blood run cold. She tried to listen out for the sound again to figure out what was making it. The fog was thick but the night air had barley any breeze to it, and when she heard the sound again there was a distinctive crunch of movement. She tried to calm her self, it could have been an animal, or another commuter coming for the later bus, but the same feeling of dread that she experienced the other day was now creeping up on her again. She knew now that her previous experience wasn’t her imagination, that her mind hadn’t been tricking her and she really had seen something in the shadows. She tried to turn around with the intention to shine her phone into the darkness but the rustling sound became closer and she was rooted to the spot.
The air around her dropped even colder and she could feel her breath cooling on her lips as soon as it left creating a stinging sensation. There seemed to be a vacuum around her as all noise disappeared bar her own breath. She sucked in a gasp, it couldn’t have been her own breathing as the noise was coming from behind her. She continued to stare at her phone, however she was no longer paying attention to the smiling faces on her screen. She could feel someone was there with her in the dark, the longer the silence lasted the louder and closer the breathing got until she could almost feel the wet,raspy breath on the back of her neck.
She still couldn’t bring herself to turn around terrified of what might greet her in the dark, the glow of orange light around her seemed to flicker and become dimmer, the circle of light she was in was visibly shrinking around her. Her phone had dropped in her hand as she stared at the ever shrinking circle, her breath catching in her throat as she began to see wisps of black smoke in the corners of her vision. She knew at once that the smoke was something unnatural and cause by whatever was behind her in the dark. The breathing behind her had picked up with her own, it was louder and she knew now she wasn’t imagining the moisture on the back of her neck; a mixture of her own perspiration and the things breath on her neck. She began to notice a putrid smell emitting from it, the smell of coppery blood and rot, but still she couldn’t move from her spot.
The lamp suddenly shut off, bathing her in darkness bar the small light from her phone screen. She heard the thing draw in a breath behind her and move closer. It felt like something was standing right behind her and no matter how hard Sarah tried she couldn’t stop herself from shaking in fear. She squeezed her eyes to try and snap herself out of the nightmare but that only served to increase the volume of the things breath. She tried to look back down at her phone but recoiled in horror as she saw what resembled a hand; with long black fingers shrouded in smoke, slowly closing around her stomach from behind.
Sarah quickly shut her eyes in horror; unable to comprehend what was happening, she could feel herself being surrounded and willed herself to run or scream or do anything but stand there but she couldn’t do anything but stand there with her eyes refusing to open and look at whatever had decided to pray on her. A few moments passed and nothing happened, she was sure that the thing was just biding its time, waiting for her will to break and look upon it’s horrid form. But she stayed in her current position, not wanting to resign herself to her fate.
Suddenly she was shocked into opening her eyes from a loud sound in front of her. She couldn’t stop the scream from her escaping her throat as she saw the bus in front of her, with a concerned looking driver looking at her through the open doors. Sarah walked forward on shaky legs and apologized to the driver when paying her fare. She held back tears as she walked to her seat. She looked out the window to where she had just been stood to see that the lamp had turned back on and the bus stop looked exactly as it should have been. The tears began to flow down her cheeks, she was beyond terrified, she knew she hadn’t imagined it. She could still feel the moisture on her neck and it still felt like it’s hand was wrapped around her waist.
The bus began to move and she stole one last glance to where she had been standing, as it was almost out of sight she caught a glimpse of the black smoke on the edge of the light. It was still there, and she had the feeling that it was looking back at her. Sarah sank back in her seat, her mind was searching for something, anything, to rationalize what had happened. Deep down she knew she had caught the attention of a being that known logic didn’t apply to, this was something different, an entity that she couldn’t understand.
By the time the bus had got to her stop she had managed to stop crying. The other passengers had kept looking over to her on the journey but she couldn’t bring herself to care. Her body had gone into auto pilot as her mind was occupied with what she had experienced. It took her longer than normal to get to her office as she was constantly checking the shadows around her. Unable to comprehend what had happened she arrived at her desk and set her belongings down. She told herself to calm down and take in a deep breath to slow her heart rate. She still had a few minutes till she had to officially start work, and she could do with a hot drink to try and make sense of what had happened to her.
Sarah turned to go to the kitchen when something caught her eye. There in the shadows of her office was the thing from the bus stop. Seeing it head on brought on more terror than she thought possible. It was humanoid in figure but its limbs were longer than that of a person and it seemed to not have an entirely tangible form. It’s edges were blurred in the black mist that consumed its whole body, bar two Gray wisps of smoke where the hollows of eyes should have been. It moved towards Sarah with inhuman speed as she tried to run backwards, hitting her head as she fell into her desk and her world turned black.
She came too a few moments later being carried to the first aid room by the security guard on duty. He set her down on the bed, face full of worry as her grabbed her a glass of water. Before she had time to think she was bombarded with questions of what happened. She couldn’t think straight and made up a story about being half asleep and tripping in the dark, as soon as she’d finished her story she had to repeat it again for the first aider when they got to the office, and again for her supervisor who came bursting into the room as soon as he heard there had been an accident at work. Wanting to avoid being sued for an unsafe workplace, he was overly kind to Sarah who was just grateful she wasn’t alone, she was still on edge and constantly checking her surroundings. He offered her a week off work, paid, and even offered to pay her train fare home. She polity refused but accepted the offer of the lift to the station, anything to keep herself from being on her own. She rang her mother as soon as she was on the train, which thankfully was also crowded, who promised her she would be there when she got off the train.
The week she had off did Sarah the world of good, she stayed with her mother for most of the week, managing to catch up with the rest of her family as well. With her mothers instance she visited the family doctor who suggested the combination of the early shifts and isolated lifestyle may be detrimental to her mental health, and wrote a personal recommendation to her superiors that she be moved to a later start where possible. They were more than happy to oblige and she was moved to a later shift , and a colleague even offered to pick her up on mornings they were in together. A few weeks went by and normality had resumed, Sarah was happy with the change, she had even made a few friends at work who’s kindness and concern about what happened made coming back to the office easier. With the run up to Christmas fast approaching, Sarah fell into a new routine, with her spare time being taken up with preparing for the holidays and occasionally going for drinks with her new work mates. It had got to the point where the events of the past had lost there rawness and she was able to feel relativity relaxed again.
It was one of the mornings when she was due to be being picked up, she stood just outside her home with on hand in her pocket and one on flicking through her phone. A genuine smile crept on her face as she looked through photos from the weekends work party. The glow from her phone lit up the space around her front door, as well as the passing headlights from the many cars going by. There was a rustling of leaves in front of her and she lifted her head to greet her lift. She choked on a scream as thin, wispy tendrils engulfed her and she was brought face to face with hollow gray eyes.
Credit To – Lady Terra
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