The thunderbolts pierced the dark night sky. The bright full moon hiding under the misty clouds. Raging storm shook the ground itself. Under the black clouds lay the Sector 11 of South River Railway track. A narrow and old track that had been there for over a century or two. Beside it stood an old lonely wooden cabin. It was as old as the tracks have been.
Inside the cabin, a man was asleep in his chair. His brown uniforms were cold and wet. Water dripping through his black hair and falling down into the wooden floor with a splash. The lightning and thunder couldn’t wake him, but suddenly he jolted up from his sleep when his telephone rang.
“Where are you, Idiot?” shouted a harsh voice from the other end as soon as he put the receiver on to his left ear. He was fully awake now.
“I was asleep,” He said to the other man. He rubbed his sleepy eyes and looked around. It was complete darkness, the only source of light was the lightning outside. When it flashed, it lit the whole room like a day.
“I don’t pay you to sleep there,” said the harsh voice who was possibly his boss. “There is trouble at the Sector 12, go and see what it is,” demanded the boss.
The man’s eyes widened. Fear went through his spine leaving him motionless.
“Haven’t you heard me, Ravi?” asked the boss again.
“Yes sir, but it’s not my area.” Ravi tried to slip away from the duty that his boss gave him. He knew it was of no use. Ravi had been a gatekeeper of the Sector 11 of South River Railways for 6 years but never had he crossed the borders to Sector 12. It held something terrible that no one could find out.
“I don’t care whose area it is, you are going to check that place out and report back to me. Understood?” The Boss ordered him. Ravi had no other option if he had to continue his job he would have to obey his Boss.
“I understand, sir” Ravi replied to the Boss in a low quiver voice. He slowly put the receiver back to the telephone and stretched his back on the chair. The storm outside was strong and fierce. He closed his eyes to sync with the reality, find some courage and confidence. After a while, he opened his eyes. Darkness filled has filled it. He slowly stretched his hands on the table and found the torch and lit it.
The room was small and worn out. The roof was leaking here and there. There was nothing much in the room except a wooden table and chair. He took an overcoat that hung on his chair. It was wet and cold. Ravi wore it and opened the cabin door. Cold wind raced inside, the darkness seemed to spread everywhere. He walked out to find Manu sleeping outside covered in a woolen blanket that kept him warm and cozy.
Manu was more like an assistant to him. He was not employed by the Railways or by Ravi. On a cold unhappy night 5 years ago, when Ravi has just joined the Sector 11, he found Manu sleeping outside his cabin, cold and hungry. Ravi gave him food, a place to live. He was more like a protector for Ravi. Manu made Ravi feel that he was not alone here.
Ravi looked at Manu sleeping and called him.
“Wake up, Manu,”
Manu hearing his employer’s voice slowly woke up from his warm woolen blanket. He was about to ask some questions but Ravi sensed Manu’s doubts and answered him first.
“We’re going to check Sector 12. Boss called. He said there’s some trouble,” Ravi told Manu. He kept staring at Ravi.
“Don’t worry, it won’t be too long” Ravi comforted him. His hard manly voice gave Manu the courage to do the impossible. They both walked out into the tracks and went south to their cabin. The rain was stronger than before. The cold wind made them both very uncomfortable.
Ravi was not sure how long Manu had been around these Sectors but from the way he sleeps outside the cabin on such a cold night could say that he had been born in this place. Still, one thing that haunted Ravi was, if he was born or raised here why is he afraid of Sector 12.
Surely everyone was afraid of Sector 12. It was a railway gate where no man guarded it. Not because it was automatic, it was because no man who loved his life went there. The Sector 12 was covered by Dense forest where nobody inhabited. Ravi had heard of many stories of Sector 12. The rumor was that almost 7 gatekeepers had died there. They were killed by some unearthly creatures. Some said that it was the ghosts of people who suicided in the tracks. There were a lot of stories like these. Still, a job is a job. Ravi had to do it, whether he liked it or not.
They knew they were close to Sector 12 when they saw the forest around them got thicker and thicker. The darkness grew, their eyes could not see what was in front of them. Even the light from the torch was blocked by the darkness. Ravi was starting to feel the hidden fear inside him. What he feared he not know. Yet he feared something. He could feel that many a thing was watching him from the darkness. The cold black eyes were able to make Manu think about to take another step further. But he saw Ravi walk right to the Sector 12 and he followed his employer.
Now they were inside the borders of Sector 12. Both of them made no noise. Their steps were stealthy. They didn’t want to wake what dwelt there. From the light from the torch Ravi could see a small cabin, the same as his, in a distance. The only difference was that it missed a wall on one side. It was broken down into pieces. Still, the cabin stood upright. They didn’t go for the cabin, they just kept walking further on the tracks.
Then they saw it. The trouble they were sent to check out. A huge tree fell over the tracks. It was black, thick as five men and taller than a usual tree grew. Ravi sighed.
“It’s not our kind of problem, Manu. Let’s go back and report the Boss.” Ravi told Manu. He was delighted that there was nothing they could do. Both of them had no tools even if they had them. It was of no use. Manu’s eyes glittered. The feel of exhilaration ran on his body. He smiled at Ravi but that smile faded away when he heard a noise from their right. It came from the vast spread darkness. They were not sure where it came from, the forest or the cabin. But it almost resembled a sound of a tree falling down.
“It must be the storm,” said Ravi trying to comfort himself and his partner. “Let’s get out of here.” They walked faster now, back to their area. Manu led the way who wanted to go back to safety.
“WATCH OUT!!” shouted Ravi when he saw a tree, the same as the one that lied on the track, black and thick, fell just before Manu. Both of them stood petrified. They knew they were trapped. Manu slowly walked towards Ravi looking around him. Ravi kept glancing at all sides. Nothing could be seen anywhere. He knew they were being watched and there was no escape.
Suddenly Ravi saw something ran through the woods. It was dark, he was not sure. But he clearly heard the sound of the feet. undoubtedly it was not the rain. Ravi was thirty-three, he could easily pick out the sound of footstep and rain. He sensed that Manu was standing really close to him, he was cold and shivering. Ravi put his hands over his shoulders.
“Don’t worry we’re going to get out of here,” Said Ravi and started to walk forward but not so long before he sensed another figure pass over their back. He stood frozen and turned back instantly. Ravi was startled to see something impossible. The tree they saw that was lying on the tracks has now disappeared. He stared at the scene just to find out if he was looking in the right direction. Yes, he was. There was a tree before but now there was not even a sign of a tree. But Manu wasn’t looking at the disappeared tree, he was staring at something else. A bolt of sudden lightning lit all the area. Manu gave a cry and ran further into the Sector 12.
“Stop!” Ravi shouted but only in a lower voice. Manu did not at all hear him. He kept running until another lightning lit the Sector. Ravi ran after him and had almost reached Manu when he ran to the sideways, away from the track. There was no other way for Ravi but to follow Manu, maybe he knew a path to get out of this godforsaken place. Ravi could hear a lot of noises from behind, he could feel a bunch of things following him. They were near only a hand’s distance. Both of them was running through an unpenetrable forest. Suddenly Manu climbed onto a huge tree. He was so skilled in climbing than he looked to be.
Ravi stood under the tree looking at the pace Manu was climbing. He didn’t know how to climb but there were those creature-things on his back, there were no other choices. It took some effort to climb such a huge tree. They both reached almost the top. The wind began to blow even stronger than before, trying to bring them down. Ravi now noticed those things that were following him, did that no more. He looked around. All he could see was an ocean of darkness. They sat there on a long, strong branch for a long time.
The wind slowed down, the storm passed. The bright full moon came out of hiding, now lighting all the place below its vision. Ravi could see where they were. They have run a long way from their cabin. They were in the heart of Sector 12. There’s no going back. He looked down, there was nothing. Things that followed him was nowhere to be seen. But he could see that there were movements in the woods. It must be the things that followed him.
Ravi just went through what just happened. He remembered looking back at his followers just before climbing onto the tree. They looked dark and inhuman, they neither had any shape or color. It was like, looking right back at his own shadows, only that there were hundreds of them. He knew that there can only be shadows if there is any light. And there was no light at all, the only source of light was his torch that he lost while he ran from them. Then whose shadows were those. Were they just shadows without a body, like the stories of ghosts that haunted the area? Do ghosts hunt in a pack? He thought to himself. But he was sure that they were no such thing as a ghost or a human, they were shadows of Darkness.
Time passed by, they were sitting on top of one of the highest trees. Ravi looked at Manu, who was now deep in his thoughts, there was neither fear nor worries in his eyes. It shined in the moonlight. Glittering like the stars in the night sky. Manu looked back at him.
Ravi was feeling terribly cold, his uniform was all wet, he started to feel that he was not getting enough air to breathe. The cold and heights were stopping him from breathing. His eyelids were now heavy, not able to open it. Manu could see that Ravi was slowly falling to his deep sleep, where he won’t wake up again.
They both heard a noise from below, it sounded like a grumbling of a beast, yet it sounded deadly. There were many now, but none could be seen. Ravi’s heart started to pound. He was terribly shivering from the cold. Manu looked at him with care, his eyes were now sad, filled with pain.
“We’re going to die, Manu,” Ravi said patting Manu’s head. His silky smooth hair made Ravi’s cold hands warm. “Don’t worry, it won’t be late.”
Ravi looked down now, to his fate. There were two choices either die of cold, at the hands of nature or die at the hands of the shadows. He could see there were many of the shadow creatures lurking around the tree they were on. Many appeared from the dark forest. It was scary, it was death.
Ravi slowly tried to climb down. Manu caught his hands and made him sit where he was before. His bright shining eyes now stared at Ravi’s.
“There’s no other way, Manu. I am sorry.” Said Ravi, tears flowing through his eyes. “I am sorry, I brought you here. It was my fault.”
Manu barked now. A voice that was high enough for everyone around the area to hear. Ravi looked at him. Manu barked again. He was trying to get the attention of the shadows below. He looked down and now to Ravi’s eyes. Ravi was confused about his actions.
Manu then eyed towards the Sector 11 in the distance and back to Ravi and again to Sector 11. Then he barked slowly and looked down to the shadows. Ravi didn’t understand him first. Then he knew what Manu was trying to say. He wanted Ravi to make a run for Sector 11 while he will divert the shadows from there.
“No! No!” Ravi patted, disagreeing with Manu. “I am not leaving you with the shadows. We’ll die together”
Manu looked at Ravi, his eyes were now joy and happiness. He barked again.
Ravi could not control his emotions. Manu, his dog, he found him outside his cabin. He never looked him as a dog or called him a dog. For him, Manu was his best friend who loved him, cared for him, who was always there for him. Manu saw Ravi as his God, who raised him and gave him food and shelter. Now it was time for him to return his favor.
Ravi patted his smooth shiny brown hair and looked at the blue collar he wore. Manu walked to Ravi and licked his face. Then stared right at his eyes. He was trying to say his goodbyes. Then he swiftly climbed down the tree. On halfway he turned back and barked at Ravi, signaling him to get ready. Then he flew down to the shadows and ran as fast as he could, to the deeper forest. Ravi could see many a thing following Manu from every direction. The moon shone more brightly, giving Ravi a good view of the place he was in. There was no one around. He slowly climbed down and reached the surface. Ravi looked at the way Manu ran, he thought of following him but he did not. Manu risked his life to save him and he did not want Manu to die for nothing.
Ravi ran back the way they came and reached the tracks and from there he ran to Sector 11. After some time he passed the borders of Sector 12. His cabin was in his view. Just before he could reach there he heard a loud cry, it was familiar. It was Manu’s.
“Manu!” he kneeled on the track and cried. Then he woke up and walked into the cabin. He dialed his boss and explained everything to him. Later a team of police came and searched the area but nothing was found. They found no tree that fell over the track nor any traces of the shadow creatures. Manu was not found.
Ravi resigned after the event and went on to work at a supermarket, where he was not alone. Days past a new man was assigned at Sector 11. He was a young man who dared to take the adventure and he was alone. On his first night at the cabin, he heard a banging at his door. He, with some fear, opened the door and found someone he felt very pleased to see. A dog with smooth and shiny brown hair and wearing a blue collar. It stared at the new man. He welcomed it inside and gave him food and kept him with him.
Days passed and he stayed with the new man, guarding him against the shadows of darkness, just like he did to his predecessor in his old lonely wooden cabin on the Sector 11 of South River Railways.