“Where are we going?”
I wasn’t on a train when I shut my eyes, so why now when I opened them? I caressed my forearm with gentle fingertips, feeling the tingle of my nerves run up and down with my hand’s movements. This couldn’t have been a dream, right? It felt real, yet surreal all the while. I pinched a flab of my pale, fragile skin between two chewed-up fingernails, feeling the sting.
Not a soul answered my question. However, every head turned to eye my frightened figure. One of them, even, resembling an owl: widened eyes, somehow unbroken cervical vertebrae, and wisdom in her gaze. A man clinging to the ceiling bent his head back to stare into my soul, a string of drool inching closer to my nose. I scooted over a seat to avoid it, whipping around to give the window a look. A severed head collided with the glass, sliding down gradually before it was crushed beneath the plethora of wheels.
I wanted to shriek like a toddler who didn’t get their toy, but I bit my tongue to bleeding in case my neck would be next on the chopping block. I felt a hand softly caress my shoulder, and when I turned back to slap it away, I made eye contact with a girl. She was a brunette, probably my age, with the only pair of pretty eyes in the room. She stumbled backward, but I grabbed her wrist to keep her from falling directly into one of those things. We stared at each other for a good minute, and in that silence, the creatures scurried like cockroaches into the two opposite passenger cars, and some, even, pulling the doors open to climb out onto the roof.
“Uh, hey,” I finally murmured.
“Hey,” she replied, tugging her wrist from my grasp and rubbing it with her palm.
“Do you know,” I began slowly, gaze flickering around the empty, now peaceful carriage, ”Why I’m here, and where we’re going?”
The girl gave me a look that told me she figured I was a complete buffoon. Then, after what must’ve been thought, she nodded, ”You must be new.” Her voice was raspy and withered, almost just as bad as the gravelly panting of the brutes that once littered the room.
“New? To what? What are you talking about?”
“First, give me your name, kid. Age and occupation as well.”
“Nicolas, ma’am. Nicolas Manford, but call me Nick if you want. Eighteen, and I’m a student at Edward Rich High,” I explained, brows furrowing as I wondered why this stranger was pestering me about my personal life, “Now it’s your turn.”
She gave me a look.
“It’s only fair, lady.”
“Call me Mademoiselle Blanche. Now, to answer your question: we are headed towards damnation.”
“Damnation? What do you mean by damnation? As in hell? Purgatory? The fiery wonder down under?”
Blanche stared at me, rolling her eyes so far back that she could almost see her brains.
“Where else?” Blanche asked, “You are a sinner, a delinquent who deserves eternal suffering and agony.”
“What do you mean? What have I done wrong?” I queried. I looked back through my life, clawing for any excuse someone might have to tell me I should ride down to Inferno. I failed at coming up with a lone case.
“That one I don’t know, nor do I care,” she grumbled beneath her tongue. I let out a breath, hesitantly turning back to the window. This time, there wasn’t a skull being smashed against the glass, but the bloodstain from before still lingered. Why wouldn’t she talk to me? Was I obnoxious? Did she think I was some child who had no clue what I was doing?
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I work here,” Blanche explained, “An inhuman employee whose job is to herd sinners into the steam engine like sheep into a pen.” She sat a few feet away, legs crossed and eyes looking off just as my own. I felt a sharp pang stab through my soul when I came to a realization faster than a car would stop when it hit a lone buck crossing the road.
“Am I dead? Gone?” I inquired, feeling the shakiness in my own voice. If I was dead, what did that mean for my loved ones? What would they think? Were they crowded around my body, sobbing away every last tear until their faces were wrung wrinkly and dry? Or would they just leave behind my presumably mangled and disgusting corpse for the rats that scurried in the basement?
I’d never see mama again, would I?
Out of the blue, a thump and a jolt in the train shocked me out of my tears. I wiped them away, turning around to face the rusty doors in a panic. “Huh?”
To my surprise, Blanche seemed genuinely concerned, despite having not shown any feelings so far. “What’s going on?” I asked her, clasping my quivering hands together in an attempt to show this woman that I could be just as tough and emotionless as her. “I haven’t a clue. Nothing of the sorts has ever occurred until now, so I suggest staying as far from the doors as you can.”
Speaking of the doors, they were thrown open, revealing a long-haired man in cult white who held a long, elegant staff. He glowed a bit of a golden color. Blanche and I watched as one of the creatures returned, reaching out to grab him by the end of his cloak, but shriveling away into dust.
“Why the hell are you here?”
“I’m afraid this is one of my passengers, Miss White. He was put on the wrong train.”
“The wrong train? You’re a liar, Noir. We wouldn’t make a mistake so poor.”
“Well, for the first time in many, many centuries, there was a mix-up.” He slammed his staff on the floor, light swirling from a hole it created by his side. It became the shape of a man who donned the baggiest clothes, was laced with tattoos and had too many piercings to count.
“This is your Nicolas. A foul-mouthed, putrid disappointment who belongs in purgatory.”
The other Nicolas was chained at all of his joints, incapable of moving or speaking. He collapsed to the floor with a thud, eyes widened with insanity. “He has killed many people in his time on earth, while the one in your captivity couldn’t hurt a fly.”
“Couldn’t hurt a fly?” Blanche looked at me, then back to what I could only presume to be an angel. “For once, I wouldn’t doubt your words for a split second. Switch them around, then.”
I looked down at the clouds below us, feeling the moisture as a few graze my cheek with the gentlest touches. My hands caressed the ropes keeping our little basket attached to the monstrously huge, white balloon overhead.
“I couldn’t even say goodbye, could I?”
“She wouldn't have returned the favor.”
He had asked me to call him Monsieur Noir, a servant of everything good and holy.
“How did I die, Monsieur?”
“You died in a collision of two motor vehicles,” he explained a little too thoroughly.
“So a car crash?”
“Yes, you could call it that.” Noir nodded.
“Will I see my family again, Monsieur?”
“One day, Nicolas, one day.”