The Conductor [2/9]
I'm a conductor on a train that runs an unusual route; a ghost voyage, with no passengers. Tonight, however, there's someone on the train...
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I push through the carriage door, looking this way and that in terror; some of the chairs are still empty, some are not. The ones that are not are all occupied by these terrible new passengers.
Eyes of wet, blood red; their skin, in fact, even their skin looks reddish in hue, and their veins…. Their veins seem almost.. alive.. writhing and throbbing slowly across the visible skin.
“Hello!?” I say to one with a shaking voice, “can you hear me?”
The passenger does not respond. He does not move or react in any way.
I swivel again, horrified, turning to look at another, “can you hear me? Madam?”
I put my good hand on her shoulder and recoil at once with disgust. Her shirt is damp, it leaves my skin stained… and I realise that I cannot see where the shirt ends and her skin begins. It’s all roughly the same colour, I can see veins on her clothes… I’m not sure if they’re even clothes at all.
“Good CHRIST!” I cry out, movement catching my eye and I turn to look through the door windows and down into the previous carriage.
The junkie has risen, and he strides through the aisle, coming straight towards me.
I look around, panicked, for a weapon, for somewhere to hide; anything. I stumble down the carriage and my eyes meet those of a woman. A real woman. With real eyes, at least, and real clothes.
Like the junkie, she’s sat in one of a group of four chairs, two facing forward, two facing back, a table in between.
We stare at each other.
With a slight incline of her head she nods to the empty chair across from her. She flicks her eyes.
From me, to the chair.
I notice the back of her hand.
The same symbol.
The four-lined ‘R’.
I turn my head, I can still see through the door window. The junkie is about to push his way through.
I swivel back to the woman.
She tilts her head, slightly, ever so slightly to the left, her jaw is clenched tight, but she speaks. Quietly, barely moving her lips or her teeth as she stares at me:
“Sit the fuck DOWN, conductor”, she hisses, “if you value your life you will do as I say. Sit the fuck down, conductor, and be SILENT”.
I turn and see the junkie angrily push through the sliding doors of the carriage, and sending up a silent prayer to whoever may be above, I slide into the seat, and sit motionless, my heart pounding in my chest, adrenaline coursing through my body, my hand throbbing.
I’ve put my trust in you, woman. I think to her as hard as I can. My life is in your hands.
The junkie strides down the length of the carriage, I can hear his footsteps approach, and he grabs my shoulder. I flinch and make to cry out but the woman's stare bores into me, willing me not to react- and so, I fight my instincts, and I do not respond. I’m sweating, but I return my head to its original position, and I ignore him.
“I need to know! Are you a real conductor!” he shouts into my face, “did that COUNT? Did you ASK for PROOF OF MY JOURNEY?”
The woman opposite glares at him.
She hisses: “sit the fuck down you imbecile. Before it’s too late, sit DOWN!”
But he does not listen. He pulls out the blade, presses it up against my neck- shouts, louder: “ARE YOU A CONDUCTOR? YES OR NO?”
A flicker of pity flashes across the woman’s face-
“the Engineers will have you, son”, she whispers, sadly, and the junkie stops at this, he turns to her.
We all stay there, frozen, for another long moment or two, when we hear the doors at the opposite side of the carriage clank open. The junkie recoils in terror, he lets go of my collar and he staggers backwards in horror at whatever it is that approaches.
“NO!” he screams, “NO PLEASE! STAY BACK!” He brandishes the blade out in front of him in two shaking hands, but his resolve breaks, and he turns and runs back down the aisle.
I’m not looking. I’m looking at the woman.
But I see.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I see them.
Three white figures, glowing, ever so slightly- they are thin, but they are large, and as they pass, I feel goosebumps ripple across my skin, my teeth begin to hurt, and I shake, remaining rigidly in place as I hear the figures follow the junkie through the doors at the back of the carriage. I hear them clank open, I hear the man’s screams, and I hear them clank closed, muffling slightly his cries of terror.
It goes on, for a long and agonising minute, until I can simply take no more.
I make to stand, but the woman thrusts out her hand, grabs my wrist, and for a moment I relent… but I have to see. I have to know what they’re doing to him.
I pull my wrist from her grasp and sprint to the doors at the back of the carriage, carefully peering through the door window.
The junkie is writhing on the floor; one of the pale figures is hunched over his back- the blade embedded precariously in the side of its head; the other two have their weight on his arms.
They are long, these people. They are too long; their bone structure does not seem to make complete sense.
I slam a hand to my mouth in horror, stifling a cry of disgust as the face of the white figure on the junkie’s back suddenly…. unfolds.
White pincers, long and bug-like burst from its face and bite into the back of the junkie’s neck with a sickening crunch, one I can hear from all the way back here.
The man screams, and with another crunch and a series of pops the creature to his left has torn into his shoulder-blade. It strikes again, and it has removed the arm. I have to force down a sudden rise of thick, hot bile in my throat, but I can’t take my eyes away. I can’t look away from this scene on the train.
“FREERIDER!” the man screams, gargling on his blood, “THERE’S A FUCKING FREERIDER ON THE TRAIN- HE’S HERE TOO- THE NEXT FUCKING CARRIAGE!”
His words become slurred. The figure with his severed arm stands to the side, holding onto it carefully as it leaks blood over the floor, and the others, one still with its pincers in the back of the man’s neck, force him through the carriage into the room beyond.
The luggage area, where people can board and depart the train.
Before the automatic door on the far side has time to close, I see him struggle desperately, but with some effort the figures push him out of sight… and off the train.
I see his torn body fly past the window as the train hurtles into the night.
I become aware for the first time that we are no longer surrounded by hills and fields.
The moors that make up the country between Greycastle and St. Joseph’s Stand are nowhere to be seen.
Beyond the windows are no fields, no hills, but instead a black and featureless desert. Rough, low, dark dunes as far as the eye can see. Weak grey lightning flickers in the distance.
What the fuck is this place… What’s happened to my train!? This isn’t right. None of this is right. Oh fuck. FUCK.
FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK.
I glance back through the windows, and the three creatures are coming towards me. I lurch backwards, stumbling, and with no other plan in place, hastily crash back into my seat- shaking, surging, but the woman across urges silence with her expression.
I try to stay quiet, though my breathing is shallow, and loud, loud in my ears.
“Don’t panic”, she hisses. “I heard him too. The Engineers can’t identify free riders themselves. You’ll be fine, just don’t fucking move”.
She jerks her head towards a sign above the opposite seats. I look up, trembling. The sign is repeated, printed across the top of the whole row, but it wasn’t there before. I’ve never seen it before, on any of our trains; but there it is… and it looks old.
It’s simple white text on a plain black background, no other logos, and it reads:
‘PASSENGERS MUST SHOW TICKET WHEN ASKED BY A CONDUCTOR’. ‘FOREIGN BODIES WILL BE REMOVED’. ‘YOU WILL ALERT THE ENGINEERS TO ANY FOREIGN BODIES PRESENT IN THE TRAIN’. ‘YOU MUST RIDE WITH A TICKET’. ‘FREERIDERS WILL BE RECYCLED’.
“But- but I’m a conductor- am I conductor or a free rider?”
“Shut UP” she hisses again, louder, as we hear the doors to the carriage slide open.
I am shaking, but silent. I’m not even breathing. I’m holding my breath. We stare at each other, and nowhere else.
The figures approach. I hear their heavy steps.
And they come to a stop at our table.
I can see them in my peripheral vision. Glowing softly, glowing white. Hunched, thin, their arms- too long, their legs, too fucking long.
They hover in our space, and I can’t take it. I have to look.
I have to look.
Just a quick glance.
My eyes shoot to the side, and they meet with those of one of the figures.
His face is terrible. It is long, like an insect’s.
Folded in on itself, those pincers… those terrible pincers hidden away… but ready to spring out at any moment…
And the eyes… the creature’s eyes…
…they are white. Wide. Incredibly wide- no eyelids- no fucking eyelids- the skin around the eyeballs is cracked and dark- as if they’d been shoved straight into its head- with the tiniest of black pupils in the centre.
Staring back into my own.
Episode 3 comes out on 11/18/20