Horror Thriller Suspense

Mariah listened to the pianist playing in the bustling train station. On a T.V. was white text on black blocks, words spoken by a handsome forecaster above. “Expect heavy rain to continue throughout the night…” The sky was overcast, yet rain hadn’t fallen yet. She hoped it wouldn’t; she forgot her umbrella at the warehouse.

The clock read 6:04. A short, old man with snow-white hair under a gray fedora tapped his leg and checked his watch. He shook his head and looked at Mariah, “I don’t see the train. It had better not be late on a night like this.”

She silently agreed. Her legs ached from a strenuous day of working in a warehouse. All she wanted was to get home.

“You know I don’t ride the train if it shows up late.”

Mariah asked, “Why not?” 

The man takes a step closer and lowers his voice. “Have you heard of the Railway Phantom?”

The name sounded familiar. Mariah recalled her ex-boyfriend, Jeremy, who had a deep interest in the paranormal and other creepy things. He once told her about how there was some sort of ghost at the very station she went to every day. It did not interest her that much. She didn’t believe in the paranormal and found things he liked too strange.

She told the old man she thought she heard of it.

He nods and gives her a knowing expression. “Well, I’d hate to fall asleep on the train. I’m old and get tired easily. I worry about what’ll happen if I fall asleep on the train.”

“Is the phantom evil? I don’t know the story all too well.”

“People say he was the conductor of an old steam engine back when the railway was first built. He was in an accident that killed him and his spirit seeks revenge on the living.”

Mariah nodded along, though didn’t believe a word of it. “Wow, that’s an interesting story. Very spooky.”

The old man looked at his watch; the station’s clock read 6:11.

“It’s too late. I’m going to have to walk to the nearest inn.” the man smiled at Mariah, “It was nice talking to you dear. And don’t let the Railway Phantom scare you. It does no good to be afraid of him.”

The man left the station. Twenty minutes later, the train finally pulled in and everyone boarded. With everyone inside, the capsule became warm with accumulated body heat.

Mariah spent her time playing Scrabble, and solitaire, and scrolling through social media. There was a post from Jeremy with him and his new girlfriend. She had her hair dyed a vibrant purple and her face adorned with dark, gothic makeup. Mariah knew she made true crime videos online to make a living. Mariah wished she could do that. It would make her less sore than moving shoes to and from boxes every day.

Her legs pulsed with the desire to be in her bed. For now, the train seat would have to do, since she wasn’t able to get off until the last stop on the route. The world around her became less important as sleep overtook her.

What time it was when she woke up, she didn’t know. In her altered state of mind, she thought she could hear three chimes of a distant bell tower morphing into the whistles of a steam engine.

The train’s interior had changed. What once had hard plastic chairs and handrails for those left to stand was now made from polished wood and had flickering yellow lighting. Raindrops hurled themselves at the window. Standing at her fright, the floors creaked underfoot.

Again, somewhere nearby steam engine whistles blew twice. Lights flickered. The floors creaked again, though she hadn’t moved. The car fills with a mist and an icky yellow-colored liquid drips from the ceiling.

There was a final blow of the whistle. Around her, the fog became thicker and the light dimmer as the door at the end of the car opened. Rising from the mist was a creature, not completely man nor machine. 

Its form was vaguely human. But it had a train whistle among a smokestack and moving pistons. Its eyes were burning coal.

Moving towards her causes awful screeching, like a locomotive coming to a halt. She had heard that so many times, but not until now did it make her heart so rapid. When she began stepping back, the Railway Phantom smiled with teeth of jagged metal. It would eat her. She ran.

She jumped through several passenger cars. Sweat crept from her pores, despite the chilly night. Her legs burned. She couldn’t sprint forever, but she couldn’t stop. Unless she hid.

There were closable luggage racks built overhead the seats. She scrambled into one and shut it enough that the phantom wouldn’t see her.

When her eyes opened, she nearly gasped at the bleeding skin that conjoined with the rusted metal of the Railway Phantom. It moved past where she hid, but remained in the same car, as if it could sense she was around. 

She found the luggage compartment too cramped. The liquid leaking unnaturally from the walls and ceiling felt slick on her skin, not helping her comfort at all. What was it, anyway? It was oily… it was oil.

The Railway Phantom grinding its metal teeth together. Mariah examined the thing. With all its constant moving parts, it was very much a machine. It moved like one and less like a human. If it wasn’t so well-oiled, would it slow down?

She had to get out of the luggage storage first. Rifling through someone’s bag, she found a leather shoe. She peeked through the hatch and saw the phantom looking away from her on the left. To the right, the entry door was swinging. It hadn’t shut completely when the phantom entered. She tossed the shoe at the door, swinging it open. The phantom passed her and trudged over to it.

It was picking up the shoe; she cursed at herself, having hoped it would be more distracted, that it would leave. Attempting a quiet descent, her boot caught on the bag and sent its components clattering down with her. The phantom’s fire was upon her. 

It approached aggressively. Her pulse was a million beats a second. There’s an umbrella on the floor. She takes it in hand. Too close, she uses it to smack the creature. It’s as solid as it looked, and now a foot away. It hits, bludgeoning her arm with his, causing her to scream. The umbrella was now a spear to keep the thing at a distance.

She needed out of this train. The nearest escape was a window that would take too long to open. There was a faster option; a hefty kick with her steel-toed boots.

Glass shattered and let the rain storm in. Mariah dropped the umbrella and scrambled out, slicing her hands in the process. She hardly felt it.

She tumbled through rain and darkness. The pebbly beach of a lake is in the distance. There was a lifeguard tower, the nearest structure to her. With her hands bleeding, arm bruising, and heart racing, she climbs the ladder.

Standing at the top of the lifeguards’ station, she looked down at the Railway Phantom. Soaked in the rain, oil, blood, and whatever else; exhausted to no end, she grabbed her phone and shined its bright flashlight onto the creature.

“You know what Railway Phantom? I’m fucking tired. All I want to do is go home and sleep in my empty apartment so I can wake up and go back to my shitty job tomorrow. If you want to climb up here and eat me, then go right ahead. I’m not afraid because I don’t care anymore.”

In the light, the creature became overtaken by rust. Flaming eyes extinguished. Deteriorating and falling apart till the red-brown pile of sediment on the ground disappeared. It left only the gravel of the beach.

Mariah opened her eyes and was back on the train. Drenched in rainwater, which could’ve been sweat. Her hands burned from glass cuts; or her fingernails. The time on her phone was 10:45, and the loudspeaker announced the train was approaching its last stop.

Mariah stands at the door to her apartment building. It was hard for her to accept the entire encounter had only been a nightmare. Though if it had been, she wanted to oust it from her mind. She gave a call to Jeremy. A ringing played before, finally, he picked up.

“Hey Mariah, how’s it going?”

“You’d never believe it, but I think I saw the Railway Phantom on the train tonight.”

“Holy shit, for real?”

Mariah was quiet. She didn’t want to talk much about it because she could hardly believe it herself. Besides, it was too spooky, and she didn’t like stuff of that nature. She decided to change the subject.

“I saw your picture with Jessie. You guys make a cute couple.”

“Aw, thanks so much. She makes me really happy.”

“That’s great to hear,” Mariah said with a smile, “Sorry I called you so late. I’ll let you go now.”

“Nice talking to you, Mariah. Goodnight.”

She hung up and entered her apartment, finally able to get some sleep.

May 26, 2023 01:34

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.