"s 2015 Horror Write-off:

"Inner Plateau"

Submitted by Nelke

They came with the fog. Cecilia heard the sound of their steps every night, muffled as they came and went down the road. It shocked her that so many people walked around in such a small village. She would sometimes come out of her window to see them coming down the streets, in small groups of two and three, walking with rigid steps into the darkness.
Boredom and sleeplessness made her speculate. She wondered why the walkers never came in clear nights. They only came by when fog was so thick it covered the other side of the street. When winter came, they started coming every night. They always went in the same direction, from the city square, and disappeared beyond the last streetlight. Where could they be heading to? There was nothing there.
Nevertheless, it was not as if there was much more to do in that place. Every evening, when she left the chemical plant, the world was already dark, and cold, and uninviting. There was nothing to see either: the village was tiny, one of the many towns scattered around on the plains, dying slowly of old age. Even the plant did not attract that many people; a dozen employees, maybe, all taciturn and uninterested in conversation. A charmless stone church and a main street with long-dead trees were most of the place.
One day, she decided to ask Rocío about the nighttime walkers. She was the other technician at her job, and the only person with whom she had exchanged more than two sentences since her arrival. Both of them were city people, bored to death with their lives, and they were both waiting for their contract to end to pack their luggage and go, despite the high salary. In spite of their differences, that points in common had been enough for them to develop a sort of camaraderie, that as winter progressed could be sometimes mistaken for genuine friendship. She proposed her, as many other nights, to have a beer after work in the only pub of the village.
They used to go there, but never stayed for long. Conversation dried up quickly, and they used to find excuses to head home after a couple of beers. Just like the rest of the village, the pub made them uneasy. It was a very old venue, with an old sign where the words The Coffer could be read in old paint. The storefront glass was covered in grime of decades, that filtered the light of the street with a sad taint. It was always occupied by small groups of old men playing cards with decks so old the signs on the cards could no longer be read and yellow cigarette stumps hanging from their lips. They only ever talked to ask the waiter for another round of wine. The server was as old as his patrons. He had a permanently sour expression, that did not lighten up with the arrival of new clients. She served the drinks with quick, stiff movements. He never looked at anyone in the eye, and he rarely talked.
They drank their beer in dirty glasses, as always, and Cecilia started to talk.
"So you know about the people walking down my street? Sometimes they do not let me sleep with their noise."
"What do you mean" she asked "People walk around? But it's so cold!"
"No." she replied, shaking her head "It's weird. They seem to be heading somewhere, but there is nothing in that direction. And I never see them walking back."
"You sure there is nothing? You have to follow them! Maybe we'll find another pub!"
"Yeah." she chuckled. "Maybe it's where the young people hide. I still have not seen anyone under fifty here.
"I do not blame the young people to leave as soon as they can. This place is eerie. I would have gotten mad growing up here.
"You know the neighbor across the street always leaves the house at the same hour?" she said. "At five to eight she leaves, and she comes back with her trolley full. I kind of snooped on her the other day, looked through her window, and she was sitting with the back facing to me, watching TV. What is weird is that there was no channel on. She was looking at static."
"Wow, that's creepy" replied Cecilia. "At least we are leaving soon, and we will be loaded by then. I guess the salary is the only incentive they have for people to stay here."
"I do not understand why anyone would want to set a factory in this godforsaken place. By the way, you just gave me an idea. I will ask my landlord tomorrow whether there is something worth seeing north of the village, maybe we can make an excursion on the weekend." After that, there were no many more things left to say.
The following day, Rocío did not go to work. Cecilia hid her disappointment; she was her colleague, the only person with whom she could make at least small talk in the canteen, instead of eating alone. She called her that evening, but the line was dead. Just a flat signal tone, as if there was no number.
Before going to bed, she tried to read. She had no internet reception, and on the TV she only got two channels with yellowish images. After a while she gave up on the book, her anxiety was not allowing her to focus, and she looked through the window.
There were more people on the street than ever. They appeared to come out of nowhere, as if created by the fog, so thick it did not allow to make out their features. They looked mechanical, wind-up toys of a colossal child walking into the dark. As always, she tried to make up the details, the gender, the age of any of the figures, without success.
Suddenly, one of them stopped in front of her house, in the square of light thrown by the window, and, without moving the rest of their body, turned the head towards her. Its forehead and cheeks glistened under the light like waxed wood. In the middle of the face, so featureless it could barely be called that, two solid black circles looked at her.
After a second, she reacted and left the window. She closed the window panes as quick as she could, and only then she realized how her heart beat into her chest. She sat down, shaking, and tried to understand what she had seen, to make any sense of it.
For this reason, she did not hear the soft noises in the ground floor. She only reacted when she heard someone knocking on her bedroom door. Soft and regular knocks, as if done by clockwork.