First class was heavy with perfume, the scent so thick it could’ve had a physical presence. A splitting migraine ensued and it was only eleven thirty. I decided I needed a break from the alcoholic air and made my way to the lavatory, nearing the caboose.
Upon arrival (not even entrance!) I instantly wished I had toughed out my headache.
A nauseatingly rotten smell had assaulted me. It came from the lavatory car, but the odor was atypically bad.
I have no clue why, despite this, I opened that door. The compulsion could have been what saved me in the end.
Though bad before, the smell became deadly. Bent over railing, I hurled my insides out the moving train. It still wasn’t enough.
Stacked up inside were passengers. Dead ones.
Their deaths had been brutal. Gashes cracked their heads and slashes drained their blood. Grossly paled skin now wrapped their bones.
I recognized the kind doctor who was heading west to see his mother again, and the zealous lawyer about to enter his first trial. Why had this been done to them? I searched but found no good reason.
What if this spree was ongoing? I had to get away from the scene!
Fleeing, hoping I could forget this fresh event. Carry on with a perfume induced migraine and never ride a train again.
But would that make me as bad as the killer? I wasn’t shedding blood with my own hand, but inadvertently I was letting people remain unaware of the potential threat. People could still be killed. I could be killed.
I was going to inform the other patrons of the danger. We would be stronger in numbers and maybe, we could find who did this.
I told everyone in first class and was approached by a man in a fedora claiming to be a detective. He asked to be led to the crime scene. I reluctantly brought him there.
“That was your first mistake, matey! I could be the predator leading you right to my trap.” Detective Clooney shouted at me.
“Please, that’s not funny. Can you just tell me what you see?”
Clooney pulled out a magnifying glass and peered over the corpse pile, “I can tell you these folks are in fact deceased. That smell in the air is them rotting away.”
“That’s obvious. Isn’t there some clue as to who might’ve done it?”
Clooney swung and aimed his glass at me, “Could have been you, telling the whole train about your evil doings to throw them off your trail.”
I roll my eyes, “It wasn’t me.”
He turned back to the pile, crouching to inspect the ground, “This isn’t where they were cut down.”
“How can you tell?” I asked, ever skeptical of his detective title.
“Look at the ground. There’s no puddle of red underneath these folks,” he said, “Is this how it looked when you first came in here?”
“No,” my heart leapt, “There’s another victim. He’s killed again!”
“And what does this tell you?” Clooney probed.
“That there’s an active murderer!”
Clooney remained calm, “Did you see anyone carry the bodies through the passenger cars?”
“No. The killer would be discovered if he did that.”
“Exactly. Which means either our suspect has invisibility superpowers, or he’s found another way to get the bodies from Point A to Point B.”
“He could be using the roof. A body could cross right over your head and you’d be none the wiser.”
“Now you’re talking! Let’s find a roof access point.”
We went through many boxcars until we found a ladder outside one. The problem was that it was surrounded by a cage with a lock on it. We went in search of a steward who could lend us the keys.
One was found speaking to an elderly man, “The conductor has requested to see you sir. Just head up that way until you reach the engine room.”
Clooney spoke to her, “Excuse me madam, we need access to the roof. May we request your key.”
She looked at us with disgust, “Sorry gentlemen, the roof is permitted access to employees only. Passengers must remain inside at all times.”
“But ma’am, you have to believe us! There’s lives on the line!”
“Forget it.” she said, “I’m not going to deal with crazy patrons like you.”
I opened my mouth to plead again, but felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Come with me, Gene.”
Despite feeling it was wiser to keep trying for the key, I followed the detective’s orders. He’d been leading me in the right direction so far and I trusted him.
He took me to speak privately one car over, “The stewardess, she’s highly suspicious.”
“Yes. She has roof access, doesn’t like dealing with passengers, and did you see that dirty look she shot at us?”
“Okay, so what’s our plan now?” I ask.
“We’ll climb through the windows and hoist ourselves up top. Then we can find where our killer is getting up from.”
The door swung open and the steward entered. She came directly toward us.
“You’re Detective Clooney, sir?”
“Indeed I am.” Clooney answered.
“The conductor would like to have a word with you.”
He said alright and waited for her to leave the premises.
“Matey, I need you to carry through with our plan while I meet with the conductor. When I’m back, report on what you’ve found.”
Detective Clooney left to find the conductor. The passenger cars were thinning out, so it was easy to find somewhere remote enough to climb atop the train.
My knees were apart for stability on the speeding train. Many thick tree branches hung down low, and I constantly ducked to avoid them. If I was hit, the train would move on without me and I’d be lost in the forest. That is, if my ribs weren’t decimated on impact. I crawled back in the window.
I began to question if the roof was truly the way our killer got around. It seemed impossible to get through the branches unscathed, especially while lugging a whole other person around. Perhaps there were some areas where the branches were higher up, or there just weren’t as many trees, but how did the killer know when that was? It was a huge risk.
The sun began to dim outside, I checked the time.
No, it can’t be that early. I’ve been investigating for hours.
Were the clocks slow? How long had I been riding? I was supposed to arrive at my destination at two o’ clock in the afternoon, which it wasn’t yet, if I trusted the clocks. Last I checked, the sun didn’t set until at least Six P.M.
And where in God’s name was Detective Clooney?
My stomach became ill with terror. The silent room. All passengers seemed to be vanishing. I knew where to.
I had to find the detective, but felt unequipped. I recalled earlier in conversation with a noble woman, a rumour of a shady character riding in one of the third class carriages. She saw him taking money from several passengers, rich and poor alike, and items would miraculously appear from inside his long trench coat.
I sought him out. He may have something that could help me. Passing through many cars of dwindling occupants, I finally saw a man with a beard and sunglasses (most importantly, the trench coat).
“I heard you sell items to passengers. You know-” I hush to a whisper, “of the illegal nature.”
“No need to whisper, friend. There’s no one else around that’ll rat me out.”
I look around at the few other seedy individuals in the car and take the dealers word for it.
“Do you have a pistol? I’ll pay good money for one.”
“Alright, let’s see how much you’ve got.”
I untethered my coin purse from my belt and checked how much was inside. The dealer smiled, holding his hand out expectantly. I placed the whole bag in his palm and watched as he counted through it.
He shook his head, “For you my friend, it’ll cost a little more than that.”
“This is all I have, the rest is vaulted away at home.” I tell him.
“I’ll take what you gave me now.” he said, then eyed my fingers, “And throw in that emerald you’re wearing and I’ll give you what you want.”
I sighed, removing my ring. Getting out of this alive would make the loss worth it.
The dealer chuckled, “Glad you can speak my language.” he pulled a pistol from his trench coat, “Hope you know how to use this thing.”
“I’ve used one before.” I opened the bullet chamber to see it empty, “Any bullets?”
From one of his pockets, the dealer pulled a single bullet out between his thumb and index, “I’ll give you one for free, but if you want anymore, it’ll cost you.”
I took it from him, “I’ll have to trust I’m a good shot.”
I headed forward in the train, hand shaking around the pistol. I passed the steward’s kitchen and entered the engine room.
Accompanying the dusty scent of coal, was something bitter and metallic. My shoes felt slippery. The floor was covered in dark red.
The room was lit by the fiery orange of the furnace. Shining on the floor I spot a magnifying glass.
Along the ceiling, a trapdoor lets out an awful squeak. Thudding down a ladder with heavy feet was a muscular woman in a conductor's outfit.
“Y-You’re the conductor.” I say.
“And you’re not supposed to be in here. Didn’t you see the staff only sign?”
I held up the pistol which couldn’t be kept straight with how much I shook.
“Put the gun down.” she said.
Lightspeed, the conductor lunges at me with a bone hilted blade. I dodge and run out the door.
Hefty footsteps come after me. Few cars down and I realize I can’t keep running.
With the blunt end of the gun, I shatter a window. Climbing through as my clothes are torn by glass. I hoist up to the top where the trees are no longer hazards.
The trap door opens farther down and through it she comes. She stomps closer.
I aim my pistol again, “Why are you doing this? Killing everyone on this train?”
She pauses, pulls out a parchment. On the bottom I could make out a red wax seal, stamped flat with a pentagram.
“I’m a little late on payments you see. And let me tell you, the interest rates in hell are skyrocketing.” she crunched up the paper and shoved it into her pocket, “I need every soul I can.”
The conductor grabs her shoulder where the bullet hit her. My weapon lowers and she removes her hand, showing it’s been dampened by blood.
She reaches again, and this time pulls out her own firearm.
“So this is how you want it to be then?”
The gun stares me down. My aim wasn’t good enough and I was unarmed. Her finger squeezed against the trigger.
I flung myself off the train as the bullet cracked the air.
* * * * *
I woke up that morning and began to walk. Nowhere in particular. Sore, and housing more than a few broken bones, I climbed a small hill and made it to the top.
It overlooked a vast tropical rainforest. If I squinted, I thought I could see an ocean just over the treeline.
Compared to the horrors of yesterday, it was a serene beauty despite the uncertainty it stirred. The view served me as a sign of hope.
I’d get out of this forest alive, just as I did that murder train.