The Conductor [8/9]
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...
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.
I can only presume that the woman I now follow is going to be recycled. Whatever horrors that may entail. She is a free rider, like the others, and she has been identified as such. I dart down the aisle, trying to remain as inconspicuous as I can. The woman has seen me follow but the Engineers have not. She screams and babbles, kicking and fighting, and I can only pray that she does not give away what I am trying to do in her panic.
The Engineers drag her down the aisle and through the carriage, and then the next, but then, before a compartment between carriages, they come to a sudden stop. I stumble over my feet, scrambling into a chair as quietly as possible, watching intently to see what they are going to do.
One of the Engineers is rubbing his thumb around the rim of the ‘open door’ button instead of pushing it. He does this only once, in a rough circle, and the button starts to glow a soft red. He presses it, and the door opens. Except, the view beyond the door… it does not match the view that was visible through the window. I stare in shock as the Engineers step through.
I get only a few precious seconds to take in as much as I can- the walls are reddish-pink, the floor looks wet… there’s movement… and the woman screams, trying to grab hold of the door as she is taken through, but it closes behind her with a hiss and she is gone. The view through the door window shows only the next carriage.
I stare. In alarm and disbelief, but I rise to my feet and hasten over.
I look through the door window. No sign of the woman, or the Engineers.
I press the button and the door opens…
…it’s just the next carriage. A few of the seats are occupied by the red passengers. I wait for the door to close by itself, then I look down at the button.
Alright, fuck it. Fortune favours the brave, right? Come on. You’ve got this.
I try to replicate what the Engineer did, I trace my thumb round the edge in a rough circle, and sure enough, the button starts to glow a faint red.
I take a deep breath, and I press it, and the door opens, and I step through.
The view beyond the carriage windows is broadly the same, though the beach is much closer now.
It’s the walls, the actual body of the train itself that draws my attention now.
They are indeed a deep reddish-pink, and the floor is soaked: dark, damp, sticky. The light in here is red too- it’s like being in one of those darkrooms they use for developing photographs.
It’s humid. The air feels thick, heavy; I can hear my own breathing.
I take a cautious step into the carriage.
All of the seats in here are occupied. Most with the red passengers, some with the void-like, shimmering men.
A faint glowing white beyond the carriage door window at the far end of the aisle tells me that the Engineers are still close by. I stride down the length of the car, holding tight to as much confidence as I can, trying to come up with some kind of a plan on the fly.
Should I try to take the Engineers by surprise? Use my semi-conductor status to try and trick them?
I mull over the options desperately as I walk the aisle.
I try not to pay attention to how the walls seem to be quivering. Gently contracting. In and out.
I follow on into the next carriage.
The deep reddish-pink walls of the carriage give way, in some places, to long, pale, thin arcs, squished against and between the walls’ strange material… structural support beams of some kind, perhaps? They look white in colour, though it’s hard to be sure given the strange lighting.
I pass through the next carriage, and the next.
More and more of the red passengers are replaced with the shimmering men.
One of these men, to my horror, appears like less of a man and more like a… a lobster, perhaps.
Enormous, alien, yet silent.
I pass on by, teeth clenched.
…It becomes clear as they become easier and easier to see, that the structural support beams… they aren’t beams at all. Not like any I’ve ever seen.
…They look like bones.
Arced up towards the ceiling, like great ribs, pressed, squeezed tight between the throbbing, leaking walls of the train.
It’s horrific. It makes me feel sick.
And he air grows thicker.
The soft white glow through the train doors ahead, the one that I’ve been following at a steady distance, suddenly becomes brighter. Then, brighter still, and the forms of Engineers start to become visible.
Fuck! There’s a group of them heading towards me!
I look around, helplessly- there are no free seats in this part of the train, there is nowhere at all for me to sit down!
Trying to remain calm, I take a few cautious steps back, back through the door I’d just come through, and into the compartment between carriages. I look around for a bathroom to hide in, but there is none. Nor is there even a fire extinguisher or anything I can arm myself with.
So, with my options limited, I decide to just head to the corner and stand still.
Totally still, heart pounding by the wall, looking at the floor as the door bursts open.
Four or five Engineers run past, elbows out, hunched forwards, most paying me no mind.
…But one of them slows down, it pauses, and looks me over.
I can see its wide, terrible and unnatural eyes scanning me in my peripheral vision, but I do not stir.
And thankfully, after a terrible moment of uncertainty, the Engineer turns and carries on along its way.
And after a deep breath, I carry on along mine.
I can no longer see the Engineers up ahead, but I follow down the aisles and through the dark and damp carriages regardless. The windows grow smaller with each new car.
Eventually, the windows are lost altogether.
One of the carriages, I find to my dismay, is occupied with no seats or passengers of any kind at all, but rather with two, great, throbbing, loudly thumping, steadily shifting mounds of flesh. Organ-like.
I have to push between them to get through the aisle, and they feel damp and hot against my skin. It’s revolting. But I keep pushing forwards. I do not know what else to do.
I can see more Engineers up ahead, though they aren’t coming this way. Flashes of glowing white through the door windows. Three carriages away.
And then one.
This carriage is, like all the previous carriages I’d walked through, fully occupied, but there are only a handful of red passengers in here now. The majority of the seats are occupied by the dark, shimmering men.
And they are large in this carriage. Oversized, bloated… Only vaguely human-like, with their strange colours and half-lights wavering across their unnatural, featureless forms. I crouch behind the train door and peek through the window.
The scene beyond is a nightmare. The worst I’ve ever laid eyes upon. On-board, or otherwise. I slam a hand to my mouth, staring, shaking, scarcely able to comprehend the grisly picture behind the window.
This could well be the front of the train. The engine.
I cannot see a door on the other side, at least. The carriage beyond is twice the height of any of the previous; it throbs, blood-red, dark stains and strange liquids ooze down its bulging walls and over the floor. A few metres ahead I can see two humans, immobilised somehow, pressed awkwardly up against the wall, struggling.
One of them is the woman I’ve been following.
There are a half-dozen Engineers in here. One of them is holding something… I gag as I realise it’s a human arm, messily severed. I watch as it throws the arm towards the central feature of the carriage, or perhaps, engine.
…The terrible centrepiece in question is an enormous, gaping, wet mouth. Built into the body of the train, colossal, vibrating nerves and tendons and grotesque, stretched red skin connecting it to the walls, ceiling and floor... lined all the way round its edge with grinding, crunching, scarlet-stained teeth… it moans, a strangled noise like the sound of an old engine… and mashes the arm to pulp in seconds, leaking dark liquid over the floor.
I watch in abject horror as two of the Engineers grab the human to the right of the woman, a young man, and hurl him without a second thought into the mouth.
I flinch, squeeze my eyes tight shut… but I’m too late, really. I see enough. The hungrily, desperately biting, chewing, monstrous mouth of the train, mashing the screaming man into red waste.
I force down another rise of bile, shaking, my stomach lurching bitterly.
Good Christ. FUCK. What chance do I have? An incompetent, pathetic wretch of a man like me… How can I possibly hope to save this woman?
“For fuck’s sake”, I mutter to myself, running a hand through my hair, desperately trying to think.
I glance behind me.
And directly into the wide and staring eyes of an Engineer.
The final episode comes out on 12/2/20
Written by Darkly Gathers