Trains had always fascinated Tyler. From the time he was four years old, he would take apart and build little toy models of trains. His favorite part was the interior. The chairs, carpets, the little metal poles he would glue from the floor to the ceiling. At the age of twelve, Tyler’s parents got a divorce. A nasty kind, where the only interaction between them revolved Tyler and their commitment to him. Each month they would hop on a train with him and take him to the other parents’ house. Tyler was getting older however and his parents thought now would be a good time to let Tyler ride himself. It was only three hours after all.
The train screeched into the station and Tyler’s father looked him up and down, grabbing and tightening the straps on his backpack for him.
“Are you going to be okay bud?” his father asked.
Tyler was focused on the train’s door. If he was correct, in three seconds those doors would part, and a sea of people would flood out of the train, walking in a cone away from the metal frame. Like clockwork, Tyler counted in his head, and the train’s door slid open with a hiss. People from all walks of life emerged from the engine-- “Tyler?” his father asked again.
Tyler nodded his head, unfazed by his father’s persistence. His father continued,
“Okay, well, you best find your seat, and remember what we talked about. Don’t talk to strangers and let the attendants know if you need anything okay? Your mother will be waiting at the station when you arrive. Platform six.” His father continued.
Tyler walked through the ocean of people, careful not to bump into anyone, climbed aboard the train, and found his railcar. His seat was thirty-six B, and he found it at the end of the railcar, right by the door that connects to the next car. He took his suitcase and found a suitable spot above his seat to stow it. Tyler plopped into his seat and began counting the threads on his chair. This seat was deep blue, fashioned with red stitching along the length in a U-pattern. The design was beautiful royal red squares equidistant between navy blue squares. Not much to look at Tyler thought, but the red stitching was interesting enough.
“Fascinating, isn’t it?” A voice asked.
Tyler slowly looked up. The man, dressed entirely in a black suit, asked again,
“Trains. Brilliant, aren’t they?” the man said.
Tyler studied his black tie, which had a vibrant red design of circles with lines cut through the middle, forming a shape resembling little pies. His black undershirt was firm pressed and the collar looked like it could cut glass. “Yes.” Tyler replied, before looking down again and continuing his count.
While he counted Tyler was frustrated. Not because he was interrupted, that was a regular occurrence. Rather that he hadn’t seen the man sit down. Tyler was normally very observant, regardless of what others thought of him. “Distant” was how they put it. But Tyler never missed a thing, not a stitch, a shrug or sideways glance. This man had come from nowhere, and that bothered Tyler deeply. He considered this before the man spoke again.
“Young man, might I ask, are you stopping at Liverpool Street or are you riding through?”
Tyler looked up again at the man,
“Get off at Liverpool Street, Platform Six. Mom is waiting for me.” Tyler looked up from the chair at the man in front of him with new eyes. The man was slender but had chiseled features. So much so, that the man could easily pass as a male model. His jaw jutted out perfectly at the sides and he had immaculate grooming standards, with a trimmed beard.
“I see, well it is lovely to meet you, Tyler.”
The man said. Tyler froze. For the life of him, he didn’t remember telling the man his name. There was no possible way he could know Tyler’s name. Tyler went over the conversation in his head one more time to be sure. The man continued, “My name is of little importance but if it makes you more comfortable, you can call me D.”
D looked amused as he noticed Tyler was visibly confused and scared. “The suitcase Tyler. Relax.” Tyler looked up at his suitcase and relaxed almost immediately when he saw his name tag dangling down with “Tyler G.” written on it. Tyler had been so wrapped up in this pointless conversation, he missed the countdown before ignition, brake checks, and departure. Something he knew like the back of his hand. D was bothersome. There was something about the way he spoke that was insidious, like a spider luring a fly into its web. Tyler could almost feel the tense space that existed between them, but it seemed that D was unbothered.
There was an abrupt screech and Tyler had to cup his hands over his ears as the trains wheel system was screeching violently in response to the speed. D chuckled and said “It’s old, like me, Tyler. Give it a break, will you?” Tyler tightened his grip on the chair. “Why don’t you tell me about this train Tyler, it will get your mind off of it.” D said. Tyler’s eyes dropped down to his seat. He didn’t like being patronized but began recounting the trains characteristics regardless. He went over the trains maximum speed, occupancy, model and make, and the type of cargo is transported as well as some notable destinations.
“Very impressive Tyler.” D replied, as he uncrossed his legs and leaned forward.
“You’re an intelligent young man, and I am sure you’re a little on edge, riding on a train by yourself for the first time. But we have much to discuss Tyler, and very little time.”
Tyler again couldn’t focus; his mind was racing now. He knew for sure now that he hadn’t mentioned being on a train for the first time alone How could he know so much about me? Tyler was sweating now.
“You need to calm down child. Take a deep breath.” D said.
D’s voice was becoming distorted, it sounded like it was being spoken by a thousand people in varying pitches. The words came out slow and then sped up, the train car appeared to twist and bend. Tyler was dizzy, his ears, began burning and ringing. D snapped his fingers, and everything came back to Tyler at once. His ears stopped ringing and the dizziness was gone. The train’s low hum was now ever present in Tyler’s ears. “Not a pleasant feeling, is it?” D said.
“What did you do to me?” Tyler asked.
D smiled and Tyler noticed now that D’s features had changed. He could have sworn that D’s appearance was flawless, but there it was staring him in the face, there was a long scar running down D’s face. It looked like a weapon had gouged out a chunk of his face and the skin was desperately trying to cling together.
“You’re not paying attention Tyler. And we don’t have time for this.”
Tyler noticed now that the train car was empty. How was that possible?
“What do you want with me? Tyler said, tears escaping down his cheek.
“Will it make you feel better to know?” D asked. Tyler nodded.
D shook his head, “Wrong. I thought the same and as reward for my curiosity, I was cast down in shame.” Tyler stared at D, who stood, and his hands were behind his back now. He seemed to be much bigger than he appeared while sitting. His head was just below the railcar ceiling now, and Tyler wondered if he had to bend down to get through the door. The railcar seemed to dim as shadow creeped in from the windows. The air became cold, and the railcar’s calming hum became a rumble. Tyler stood and tried to run to the exit.
“Where are you going child? Running won’t help, you can’t outrun fate.” Tyler ignored D and reached the railcar door just before Tyler heard an audible click of the lock, plunging Tyler’s heart into his stomach.
Tyler immediately noticed the smell. The railcar was now emitting a powerful stench of blood, paper, and latex. There were hints of sulfur, very faint and fleeting. Tyler swore he could smell gasoline coming from the air vents at one point. “Take a look child, I promise it will bring you no joy.” D said. Tyler looked behind him at D who was now monstrous in appearance. His features had vanished in a plume of smoke and now revealed a hideous monster. “Aren’t you tired Tyler?” D said, but his voice had turned from a calming posh one, to a deep bellowing one. “Tired of placating to humanity’s expectations. Always making concessions to make others feel better? You could be devastating, wonderous! Genius lurks beneath your brilliant subconscious that could unhinge this world. You don’t need to play by their rules! Your childhood has been butchered and bloodied. Your parent’s love. Your model train sets, your silly boxes of arts and crafts. All things that they try and distract you with. You’re different from them.
“No.” Tyler said. “People like you are worse. People who think I’m a genius, people who expect me to solve their problems or expect me to want more. I love my family and I love
my life. I am enough!” With that, Tyler reached for the emergency brake next to the railcar door, the brakes protested in raging squeals. The train stopped abruptly but not before Tyler had sat down and expertly fastened his seatbelt. A simple two clasp system with feeder and clasp mechanism, it clicked into place, bracing Tyler against the momentum that rocked the trains occupants. D was lifted off the floor and flew forward, smashing into the railcar next to Tyler. “It’ll happen eventually Tyler, maybe not now, but you can’t hide from this!” D said with labored breath. Then he evaporated in smoke, sinking into the floor vents.
“Maybe, but my dad told me not to talk to strangers.”
The door to the railcar opened and an attendant walked in panicked. “What happened? Are you okay young man?
Tyler nodded in reply, taking deep breaths as his grip on the seat relaxed. He continued his count and the word of the attendant seemed to fade away as his nerves settled. The attendant sat down next to him and radioed the lead car telling them it was a false alarm, and the train began to lurch forward once more. There was a faint sound that whispered in Tyler’s ear,
“A prize like no other.”
Then there was the gentle hum of the train engine and Tyler finally relaxed. Three-hundred and eight, three-hundred and nine. The numbers softened his mind and he slowly drifted into a deep sleep.
When he woke, the train was just crossing the threshold into the station. Tyler recounted exactly how long until the train would stop. Engine brake was well underway, that had started while he was still sleeping, so he thought maybe eight seconds before main brakes. Exactly as he predicted, the main brakes screeched eight seconds after that, and the train came to a halt. Tyler
stood up and picked up his suitcase and backpack and made his way through the car to the main doors. The Doors squealed open, and he walked onto Platform Five. From there he could see his mother waiting not far from there at Platform Six.
He had his head down as he walked over to her, wondering what he should tell her about his first train ride. He wasn’t sure she would even believe him. “Welcome home Tyler!” his mother said excitedly. “A friend of yours dropped this off and said you left it on the train. That’s so unlike you Tyler, make sure to keep better track of your things. Did your father get this for you?” Tyler looked up slowly at his mother who was holding a train model, an exact copy of the one he was just on, except it had the letter D carved into the railcar he rode in. His nerves were shot, otherwise he was sure he’d vomit. Part of him thought it was all a dream. His mother looked at him with concern, “Tyler, you okay honey? Don’t you like it?”. Tyler grabbed the train from his mother and threw it in the garbage can. “I think I’m over trains.”