Richard heard a high-pitched voice giggling, as he crawled, and he wondered who it could belong to. It was a disturbing giggle, nasty and strange. He wondered what manner of crazy person could giggle like that. He swallowed, and the giggling stopped, and then he knew.
The platform was deserted and dark again. He climbed to his feet and walked, unsteadily, the last few feet, to the edge of the platform. He could see it there, down on the tracks, by the third rail: a small splash of purple, his troll. He looked ahead of him: there were enormous posters stuck to the wall on the other side of the tracks. The posters advertised credit cards and sports shoes and holidays in Cyprus. As he looked the words on the posters twisted and mutated.
END IT ALL was one of them.
PUT YOURSELF OUT OF YOUR MISERY.
BE A MAN–DO YOURSELF IN.
HAVE A FATAL ACCIDENT TODAY.
He nodded. He was talking to himself. The posters did not really say that. Yes, he was talking to himself; and it was time that he listened. He could hear the rattling of a train, not far away, coming toward the station. Richard clenched his teeth, and swayed back and forth, as if he were still being buffeted by commuters, although he was alone on the platform.
The train was coming toward him; its headlights shining out from the tunnel like the eyes of a monstrous dragon in a childhood nightmare. And he understood then just how little effort it would take to make the pain stop–to take all the pain he ever had had, all the pain he ever would have, and make it all go away for ever and ever. He pushed his hands deep into his pockets, and took a deep breath. It would be so easy. A moment of pain, and then it would all be over and done . . .
There was something in his pocket. He felt it with his fingers: something smooth and hard and roughly spherical. He pulled it out of his pocket, and examined it: a quartz bead. He remembered picking it up, then. He had been on the far side of Night’s Bridge. The bead had been part of Anaesthesia’s necklace.
And from somewhere, in his head or out of it, he thought he heard the rat-girl say, “Richard. Hold on.” He did not know if there was anyone helping him at that moment. He suspected that he was, truly, talking to himself. That this was the real him speaking, and he was, finally, listening.