Every town has one, you know. The place on the other side of the railroad tracks. The ‘wrong’ side, some say. After dark, for some reason, the streetlights there just don’t shine like they do on the right side. I was walking home, and less than a block before my front stoop, with its slippery front step (the guy who painted for my last landlord didn’t put any sand in the paint. Nice, fresh, gorgeous, glossy grey. When it’s wet, it’s slick as shit and twice as nasty) and the number hanging over the door on the swinging shingle… I heard that squeaking noise again. I hear it almost every night, after the sun’s down and the moon’s up and the world’s gone kind of quiet. My edge of town is blissfully away from fraternity row, where the drunken college boys and girls are packing up–finals week is upon us, pretty ones–and retching up their last spiked punches and dregs of pizza and coughing up their last few crushed cigarettes before moms and dads in SUVs come to take them (and their too-loud music and their allthesame clothes and allthesame faces) back to New York City and whereverthehellelse they came from. So, I hear that squeaking, and somehow, instead of continuing on like I always do, right across the cracked shale sidewalk in front of the house with the scary little black moppetdog, I take a left. I take a goddamn left and I start walking down the dead end street that goes to godknowswhere and I head right for the tracks and I’m already on the right side, so I don’t know what the shit my feet are thinking and for a minute, I almost ask them. I almost ask them out loud as I’m slipping past the last of the houses on this little street what the fuck do they think they’re doing, except when I’m about to speak, I feel like I’m going to cough. But my breath is stuttered and I’m still walking and I hear footsteps behind me. So I don’t cough. I swallow it, because something tells me I shouldn’t cough, right then. Don’t want to attract attention. So I’m hunched over, still fucking walking–shoes, why are you DOING this? I want to say, and I’m looking at them (stupid shoes, betraying me!) and I finally swallow past that cough and then I hear this rush–like steam, you know? And that squeaking is still going on. It isn’t a regular sound, like some swinging thing that needs oil just rusting away as it flaps in the wind, back and forth and back and forth and Squeeeeeeeak-squeek-eek. No, it’s not regular. It comes and goes and just when you’re almost used to it, just when it’s got a pattern, a rhythm, a feel it fucks itself up and it’s like some high-pitched shrieking and then you’re back to where you started, with this eeek-eek-Squeeeeeeeeaking noise almost like you want to reach out and choke it. And I’m still walking. And I can still hear footsteps, following me. I pass beyond the glow of the arc sodium lights that make this nuclear orange haze over everything, black shoes splishing through shallow puddles from the earlier rain. I keep walking, and then I’m crunching in gravel, and now I’m crossing the railroad tracks and picking my way over heaved ties and chunks of stone and pavement and fucking CHRIST, feet, why are we doing this? They’re still not listening to me. Still walking and now I’m walking around these tanker cars, in the dark, shoes splishsplishing through muckpuddles and over gritty gravel and chunks of… something, iron? I don’t know, it’s dark and I’ve gone nightblind, even with my glasses. Around and around these tanker cars, looking for the source of that wretched noise, still walking. Creeping, even. I’m in such shadows that it’s like I’m not even a part of the city anymore. Finally, I make it to a doorway, open wide and inviting in that menacing sort of way. This is the point where I sternly tell my feet, I say Feet! Feet, we’re going home now. I have work to do, and it’s really fucking late and I bet you’d love it if I got you out of those shoes and socks and gave you a nice soak, right? Right feet? Except, well. They weren’t listening, still. And they’d already walked in. So instead of looking down and talking to my feet, I look up. I look up and I look right through another open door and beyond that open door is the source of a different squeaking. It’s higher and longer and louder, accompanied by worse hissings and shrill sounds that remind me of skin being scalded to blistering, if I had any idea of what that sounded like, beyond my poor imagination. Crackling, hissing, scorching noises. And I can’t see through the door, for all the orange-yellow steam that’s boiling just beyond it. That’s when my feet finally decide to listen, but it seems my brain had decided to stop talking. It was caught up in listening to my eyes, screaming. Shapes moved, just a little, beyond that open doorway. Looming, squirming, ominous shapes. My feet decided that, since they got me into this mess, they should get me out, right? So they back up. Without my eyes to guide them, they stumble for a bit, backwards and backwards. Finally my brain manages to tell my lids to shut, just to get my eyes to stop that yelling. I can finally turn and run like the nancy-girl I am, because I’ve just seen a doorway straight to Hell and I think I’d much rather go home and curl up on my couch, instead of peek a little further like I’d almost been thinking of doing. In my haste to leave, I trip over one of the railroad ties and go down, hands against the gravel. My fingers curl around something and take it with me as I run like hell, footsteps echoing behind me, shoes splishsplishing through shallow puddles. It’s a broken iron ring, of some sort. Thick and heavy and rusted and cold. It’ll go in my memory box. When I put it there and I close the lid, because it’s so dark out, so still, so quiet… I can still hear the sound of whatever it is, back there. Squeaking. Back past where the street lights don’t reach and your own footsteps follow you. On the lost end of town.
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