By Tan Kaiyi
“You change to 165 from here. It’ll take you down the road and then to Holland Village. You can’t miss it,” he said.
“Ok, thank you. It’s so late at night now and my phone battery is flat. Thanks for your help,” she said.
“And it’s awfully dark.”
“The lights down the road are spoilt. It’s usually better lit.”
“And we’re under a highway.”
“Yeah. It’s not the most accessible bus stop in Singapore.”
“You’re very familiar with the bus routes here. Do you take use them often?” she asked.
“Only recently. Somehow, a lot of my social meetings are in the East and North. I have to change buses to get to those places.”
“Why not take the MRT?”
“I prefer the bus. You can find places to sit. Besides, I like to look out of the window.”
“Oh yeah? Me too.”
“You stay around Holland Road?”
“You could have taken the train, much faster.”
“But I like to look out of the window too.”
The man chuckled. “You know, they say Singapore isn’t the most beautiful country.”
“No, it is quite nice here actually.”
“You don’t sound like you’re from here.”
“Oh, I was born in Singapore but my parents moved to the US to work. So, me and my brother were raised there.”
“Right, so you came back recently?”
“Yes, only two years.”
“Why did you come back? US seems like a nice place.”
“My mom misses it here. Like, the States is beautiful and all, but she says she misses her friends here.”
“And the new President. Well, he’s not exactly friendly towards foreigners.”
“Hey, do you mind checking for the bus timing? Does your phone have the app?”
“Yeah, sure. 165, did you say?”
“Hang on,” the man said, typing into his phone. He tapped the screen a few times.
“Funny, it’s not responding. There are no estimates available.”
He showed her the screen. “Yes, strange,” she said. “Your battery is running low too. You better switch that off.”
“No worries. I’ll be home in no time.”
They sat down on separate benches. She took the shorter bench while he sat on the higher one, dangling his legs in the air.
“The bus is taking an awfully long time.”
“Yes. They usually don’t take that long,” he said.
“What bus are you taking?” she asked.
“74, all the way to Bukit Timah.”
“Oh, that’s a nice place. Do you live near the hill?” she asked.
“Quite. About a 15 minute walk.”
“That’s rather near. Do you trek up the hill?”
“I used to do it weekly. Now, not so much. Have you been there?”
“It’s definitely further away from me, so I don’t go often. But yes, I’ve been there.”
“Nothing like the parks in the US, I’m sure.”
She giggled and said, “Yes, of course. You can’t expect the parks here to beat Yosemite or Yellowstone.”
“Do you miss it?”
“You mean the US?”
“A little. I do have friends there that I left. But my family’s important to me, so I decided to make the move with them.”
“You could have stayed?”
“Yes, I could have stayed.”
“What do you do here, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I work for a tech company. I’m in HR.”
“Engineer. Maybe you can help me find a job.”
They both laughed. She stood up and walked to the edge of the bus stop. “It’s quite dark here, isn’t it?”
“Yes. The lights are out over that way,” he said, pointing to a stretch of road to their right, a gaping hole darker than the night sky.
“It’s pretty silent too,” he remarked.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a highway above. I don’t hear any cars.”
“I don’t see any cars either.”
“It’s late though.”
“It’s not that late,” he said, checking his watch. “It’s only 10:30 pm.”
“What kind of engineering do you do?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You said you were an engineer, what kind of engineering?”
“Aerospace. I manage a team, production schedule and all that.”
“I assume you’re in a management role in HR too?”
“Yes, sort of.”
“I mean, yes. I’m in management.”
She sat back down on the bench. “Hey, if we get a Zoom, our destinations are on the way, right?”
“I suppose you can say that. Depends on the car’s route.”
“Do you mind if we share? I’m pretty tired and I want to be on my way home.”
“Sure,” he said, looking at her, waiting on something.
“You’ll have to book it. Because my phone is out.”
“Oh, yes of course. Forgot about that. What’s your address?”
“Just use the postcode. 278977.”
“Okay,” he said, tapping on his phone. He furrowed his eyebrows and started pacing about the bus stop. He raised the device up in the air and waved it around.
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I don’t have a signal.”
“Could it be the highway overhead?”
“Could be. Let me try the road.”
“Be careful!” she yelled, but he was already in the middle of the street. She kept a look out for the headlights of oncoming vehicles and the loudening whooshes of cars.
Silence and darkness.
She saw the man go from the middle of the street to a road divider. He waved the phone around again and then proceeded to the other street, which was outside the shadow of the highway. The man circled the area, moving his phone up and down. The attempt to locate a signal seemed to have failed. He came jogging back.
“Any luck?” the woman asked. But she knew the answer.
The man shook his head.
“I don’t know what’s going on. There should be a signal here. This isn’t a dead zone.”
“Do you have a phone signal? Maybe I can call my friend.”
“Nope, nothing at all. Both are dead. No data, no phone signal,” he said. “Maybe we can wait and see if a cab comes back. We can flag it down.”
“That’s an option but I don’t think there are any taxis.”
“From experience, it’s just patience and maybe a little walking around to find one.”
“Let’s just stay here for a while. Maybe the signal will go back up.”
“Yeah, let’s wait for a while.”
“It’s so quiet,” she said.
The man listened closely for any trace of sound, and also to discern if the quietness of the night was due to some kind of bias rooted in fear. The silence was thick, as if some invisible hand snatched all life from the earth.
“Something’s wrong,” she said.
“No lah. Should be okay,” he said. “It gets quiet at this time of the–”
Before he could finish what he was saying, they heard the whirring of an engine. For some unknown reason, the man felt the impulse to jump out onto the road to catch the attention of the oncoming car and ask for help. He managed to hold himself back.
The engine was unnaturally loud even from a distance. It was in full throttle. Out of the black tunnel of shadow, a capsule of steel emerged at blinding speed. The vehicle sped past at high velocity, generating a deafening roar. Under the layered silence, it felt as if a rocket was on its way to deep space.
“What the heck!” the woman exclaimed.
“He could kill someone or himself,” the man said.
“Something’s going on.”
“It’s late at night. Sometimes, drivers go crazy when they see an empty street.”
“I don’t like this.”
The man looked for signs to assuage — or confirm — his gnawing fear. If it was fear, what could he be afraid of?
He sat back down to calm himself.
“Let’s go find a taxi.”
The man stepped out onto the street again.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
He didn’t answer. He walked towards the intersection and paused in between the traffic lights.
There, he was at a vantage point where he could see the other streets. In the distance, he saw a couple of streets that faded in and out of darkness due to the flickering of the lamps.
He came back to the bus stop.
“There’s nothing. No cars, no vehicles.”
“No people,” she said.
The man tried calling home with his phone. The signal was still dead as the night. He wasn’t even granted the comfort of a synthetic woman’s voice encouraging him to try again later.
The woman walked to the edge of the stop. “Was it dark over there?”
He threw his gaze at where she was pointing.
“No. It was lit.”
Things around them looked blurred. The man couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause of it until he saw the hospital building a few meters away from them. Its main structure was obscured by the highway. He just noticed that the building’s windows were dark and the exterior lights were off too.
“I think there’s a huge blackout in this area,” the woman said.
“Explains the signal,” the man said.
“Might be. Could be a bad one,” she said.
“I don’t know what we’re paying the government for.”
More streets succumbed to the blackout.
“Do you see any bus arriving?” she asked.
“I said someone’s coming.”
It was hard to see now, but he tried to follow the arc traced by the woman’s finger. Someone was moving slowly down the ramp that linked the main street and bus stops to the elevated hospital grounds.
The blackout took out more street lamps. The bus stop was being encased in a coffin of darkness.
“What do you think is going on?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we can ask that person. Looks like he’s coming this way.”
“How can you see?” he asked, taking out his phone. It took a few flicks before he found the button for the flashlight. The cone of light danced weakly directly in front of them.
“It might be a she.”
“Whatever,” she said, her hand unconsciously grasping his right shoulder.
The whizzing light beam glanced over the figure. He felt her let go.
The phone flashlight flickered and died.
“What was that?” she asked.
He turned back. Her pale skin looked even lighter. A funny idea came into the man’s head: she could literally brighten the surroundings immediately with her skin tone. He brushed it aside.
“What was what?”
“That person. Didn’t you see?”
He turned around and saw what she meant.
The man didn’t know what to say.
“What the hell is that?” her voice faltered, attempting to suppress a cry. The person was a few steps away from the bus stop.
The man felt the words in his throat dissipate, leaving a bile-tasting snail trail. He wanted to call out to the person. Perhaps, some understanding could dispel the fear and confusion that hung heavy through the thickening night.
“It looks like…”
“Be quiet,” he said. “It’s not moving.”
“It’s so tall,” she whispered. Its naked, lanky figure extended upwards, nearly reaching the level of the bus stop’s roof. Upon examining its height, the man felt his legs nearly give way. He backed up slowly, coaxing the woman’s retreat.
The woman shut her eyes and buried her face in his shoulder. He could sense that she was about to cry. He grabbed her hand in helpless assurance.
“It’ll be alright,” he said softly without a trace of confidence. Slowly, out of the victorious night, other similar figures joined the vigil. He counted them silently and immediately forgot the final total.
It didn’t really matter. He didn’t want the girl to lift her head. But the pressure on his shoulder disappeared a few seconds earlier.
The grip on his shoulder tightened.
“There are so many of them,” she said.
“Yeah,” he muttered, not knowing what to say.
He looked around the darkness. At a distance, there was a rebellious island of faint illumination, upon which no figure stood. It was a part of the road that was not covered by the highway above, exposed to the night sky.
The things shared the same bare pale physique. He wondered what the woman must be feeling seeing their naked male-like forms.
They waited, motionless, watching.
“What do they want?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t leave me here.”
The lights in the bus stop started to flicker.
“Oh my god, they are moving.”
The lights started to flash more violently. The man and woman cupped their ears as they heard the excited shrieks of the figures.
“We’re going to die,” she said. “This is our last stop,” she whispered.
He didn’t know what to say to that. But there was one thing he knew he needed to do.
He took her hand — as the bus stop lights ended their last stand, prompting the figures to lay bare their fangs — and slipped into the screeching night.
Tan Kaiyi is a content consultant at a marketing communications firm, based in Singapore. His poems have been published in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS). His play, On Love, was selected for performance at Short & Sweet Festival Singapore. Kaiyi’s horror story, The Siege, appeared in Kitaab’s Best Asian Speculative Fiction (2018).
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