A woman in a large, thick winter coat emerged from the opening. She stepped out onto the top step, lifted a handkerchief, and hacked into it for a good minute. The coat she wore was tattered and dirty, covered in some sort of gray sludge that looked dark and wet. Mud was his first impression, but it could have been concrete as well. The woman surveyed the empty the street, squinting against the morning light, then turned and coughed into her hand again. She wiped her nose and spat.
Donovan took a step toward her. He reached into his pocket for Shelly’s photo.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Ma’am?”
The transient slowly turned her head. It was a methodic, robotic turn that gave him a chill. He stopped and held out the picture.
“Have you seen this girl?”
She curled back her lip into a toothless snarl. She hissed at him, and then it turned into a hacking, crackling laugh. Seeing her, hearing her, made him think of the coven of witches from Macbeth, only far more dangerous.
“I seen her,” hissed the crone. “Seen ‘er in Hell.”
He ignored her comment. “Her name is Shelly Hill. She was found murdered near her. I’m looking for answers.”
Looking for answers? The words seemed dumb in his own head.
“I seen ‘er,” she went on.
The woman waved her hand to the sky. “Some’ere.” She grinned that horrid, empty grin like a rotting jack-o-lantern. “Some’ere o’er the rainbow.” Donovan’s frown prompted her to let loose a wild cackle. He realized his mental comparison to Macbeth was on the mark.
When he found the words, all he could say was, “It’s not funny. She’s dead.”
The laughter ceased. She took two, large strides toward him, and stopped so close he could smell the stench of urine rising from her body. “I know,” she said. “He knows.”
“The bird man. Knows you. Knows us all. O’er the rainbow, under it, other side the dern thing where the colors don’t show. He knows, and he knows you, and we all be seein’ you soon.”
Donovan stepped away from her. He suddenly felt very vulnerable, and he realized all he had to defend himself was the flashlight. A scenario flashed before him: This filthy crone leading him into the depths of Winthorpe Station, where he would be cornered, robbed and brutalized at the hands of an army of homeless people.”
But they’re more than just homeless, said Joe Hopper. They’re lifeless and empty, hoss. They’re missing.
The crone cackled once more, and he recoiled from her acrid breath. He watched as she did an odd dance back across the pavement toward the open door. She sang “He sees you sees me sees you sees us all!” as she went, and when she was a good distance away he began to follow. She stopped in the opening, and beyond it he saw what appeared to be stacks of televisions, what might have been an entire wall of them, all blank and gray and busy with static.
“He sees us all,” she finished, “and I be seein’ you soon.”
She closed the door. Its hinges groaned. Then she was gone, and he was alone on the steps of the station once again. He realized that he was not ready to make that descent after all.
– – –
From chapter four of THE LIMINAL MAN.