Adriana wrapped her long skinny arms around her body. She shivered with the cold, biting her lip to keep it from shaking too much. The wall she was leaning on was vibrating as the train rattled and shook. A thin ragged blanket was spread out across Adriana's drawn up knees, but it didn't help much. There was too much wind rushing into the compartment to keep it warm in there.
She looked up at a half-dozing Connor slumped against the wall next to her. The boy's hair was even greasier today than it was yesterday, she concluded, her eyes flickering over his broken appearance. He looked like a man in his thirties, but she knew he couldn't be more than seventeen or eighteen, so not that much older than herself. She hated to think that in a few days time she'd look like that too. She'd met Connor the previous morning (and was it morning? It was too dark on the train to tell) when she'd realized that she wasn't alone on this ride from hell. He'd told Adriana that his name was Connor, and had given her a blanket. That was as far as interactions went. Adriana knew nothing more about him, just as she knew nothing about the train, or the other passengers lying sprawled across the bouncing wooden floor. All seemed fast asleep.
Adriana shivered again. It couldn't be morning if it was getting colder, she thought to herself fiercely. There was no way that anything could get so cold. And yet it was. With nothing but a meager coat and half ripped up blanket to keep her warm, Adriana knew that she was going to stay cold. She rubbed her arms against each other, hoping to produce heat, but she was much too tired, and her arms just kind of flopped around.
A series of mumbles came from Connor.
"I'm sorry?" Adriana asked politely, not wanting to sound rude. Connor sat up, and in the hazy, flickering light, Adriana could see that he was grinning.
"I said, you seem cold." Connor's voice was a warm kind of voice, but his accent was very strange. She had trouble understanding his funny speech. Even though she knew that he was speaking very clearly, the way the words rolled around his mouth just sounded… different.
"Oh," Adriana said flatly. "I suppose so." Her voice was bland and quiet. Connor leaned forward until Adriana could see Connor's unnaturally high, skeptical eyebrows. He cleared his throat.
"You're sitting there shivering, and all you have to say is, I suppose so?" he drawled, his funny accent sounding funnier with the heavy sarcasm and bitterness.
"How angry will you be with another I suppose so?" Adriana asked, smiling in spite of herself.
"Very," said the boy.
"Ah. I'm sorry to hear that," Adriana said. "I suppose this is supposed to dissuade me from saying it again?"
"Exactly," Connor said, and Adriana once again noted the wide grin splattered on his face.
"So…" Adriana said, trying to think of something to say. She was bored, and could see no entertainment but conversation. "Where are we?" The grin slid off of Connor's shadowy face.
"A train driving in the middle o' nowhere," he said grimly. "I see no end to it either."
"Oh, come on," Adriana scoffed. "It can't be that bad. I've been here for, what, a day? And besides, I'm hungry. This can't last forever."
"I've been here for almost two weeks," Connor said quietly. "Every day they dump some food in, lots o' food. Some o' the dumber kids pounce on it, and gorge. They die." There was a bleak note in his tone. "The smarter kids wait, even if it means being hungrier for a little longer, and grab whatever's left over." Connor grimaced. "Water they just throw bottles in. That's more o' a problem, because some idiot always tries to hog the water and ends up getting beaten up. One of those has already died."
"You keep saying they," Adriana said, trying to understand his ominous and rather depressing speech. "Who are they?" Connor's face collapsed and he looked down.
"Don't you remember stuff from before you got here?"
"Sure I do," Adriana said, surprised. "My mama just died. I was supposed to go to live with my Auntie up north. I was waiting for the train, and then someone jostled me and through the crowds I ended up on this train. The door slammed behind me and the train started moving. So I just sat down."
"Yeah, well," Connor muttered. "My way weren't so pleasant."
"What happened?" Adriana asked, curious in spite of herself.
"I went to sleep one night wi', just on a street corner, y'know, and next thing I knew the ground was shaking and my head hurd like I dunno what," he said quietly, his accent becoming stronger with every word. "Felt like something had died in there, I swear. The train weren't so full then. But full o' different people. Most o' them died by now, which is kind o' sad. One of the guys got moved. Dunno why, but he was shifted o'er to another compartment. There's a girl down at the other end who's been 'ere longer than even I have. Dunno how she's survived, but she's always got food and drink. Maybe them like her better than us normal folk, but she's always on top o' everything."
"So… why are we here?" Adriana asked, feeling a tingle of fear from around her stomach area. The tingle was followed by a loud rumble of hunger. Connor paused for a moment, and then a cackle that may have been mistaken for a laugh arose from beside him. Connor gasped slightly and stared in the direction of the laugh, edging closer to Adriana as he did.
"Don't you notice anything funny?" It was a gravelly, rough voice, but it was clear, precise, and educated. The voice was male, and still Adriana couldn't see where the voice was coming from. "Well? Well, Connor m'lad, haven't you noticed anything? Girl, haven't you noticed anything out of the ordinary?" The scratchy voice was very cold and hard.
"Who're you?" Connor asked shakily.
"Oh, for heavens…" A pile of blankets next to Connor shifted and an extremely ragged looking boy emerged from them. His face was abnormally thin and hollowed out. "You two honestly can't be that stupid." Connor screamed, and threw himself on Adriana, who yelped in turn.
"Shut up!" someone shouted from the other side of the train.
"I've been sleeping on you," Connor exclaimed, horrified. A horrible grin spread across the other boy's face.
"Grow up. Didn't notice that your comfy little blankets had a person under them, eh? Too bad. So come on, Connie boy. Don't you have an answer to my question?" the ragged boy asked.
"And what question was that?" Connor asked, and Adriana thought she could see a flush rising up on his cheeks.
"Whether you two haven't noticed anything funny yet."
"Shut up!" cried another voice in half-asleep delirium. "Some of us are tryin' to sleep!" Adriana squinted in the boy's direction and leaned forward a little.
"Listen up," she said in a low voice. "I don't know what you're getting to, so you might as well just tell us what you know." The boy's grin spread, and he also leaned forward until his nose was barely an inch away from Adriana's.
"Tell you what I know?" he whispered. "All right. Listen up, Connie. You might learn a thing or two."
"Don't call me Connie," Connor snarled.
"Easy there, buddy," the strange boy said. "Wouldn't want anyone else to wake up."
"Connor, shut up," Adriana said suddenly. She reached a hand out and met Connor's elbow which she gripped firmly. "Let the kid talk."
"Thanks, girl," the boy said. Adriana scowled.
"Just talk and don't call me girl."
"We're all homeless here. Didn't you notice that?" The boy's voice crackled slightly as it rose up in a quiet rage. "Didn't you notice that all of us here are scum?"
"I'm not homeless," Adriana replied instantly. "And I'm not scum."
"You're an orphan," the boy retorted. "Living with 'Auntie' isn't having a home. You're not houseless, but you are homeless. This train… it's not a nice one."
"Even I could tell you that," Connor spat. "Besides, who're you to be talking? You're just a pile o' rags."
"I've been your pillow for the last two weeks so I suggest you shut up, Con," the boy hissed. "My name shouldn't matter."
"Then what is it?" Adriana couldn't help but asking. "If it doesn't matter, why should you care if we know?" The boy laughed again, and this time his laugh caused Adriana to shiver with fear. There was something mad about this boy and she wasn't sure if she could trust him.
"I don't have one," he said quietly. "It's as simple as that. No parents equals no name."
"What about a descriptive title?" Adriana pressed. "Something. Anything. Cow. Fellow. Uh, Bob… Don't you have any nickname of sorts?"
"The only name I was ever called was scum," the boy said, his smile twisting even more. "I don't think you'd like calling me that."
"Do you want me to make a name up for you, or just stick with scum?" Adriana was getting annoyed. She wanted more answers, and this was too long and boring for her to digest properly. The boy shrugged. "Fine," she spat scathingly. "Scum it is." Adriana inserted as much bitterness as she could into the single word. The boy (Scum, she reminded herself coldly. His name is Scum) tipped his head slightly.
"As you will," he said, his voice low and mocking. "So as I was saying, we're not on a cruise here."
"Again, stating the obvious," Adriana said. Scum grinned.
"Yeah, but I bet Connie here couldn't have done better."
"Stop calling me Connie!" Connor cried, standing up. Adriana's grip tightened on his elbow and she dragged him down as several people moaned in their sleep.
"Shh," Scum whispered. "Why are you waking people up?" He shook his head. "So cruel."
"Scum," Adriana said in a low voice. "What do you know besides the fact that there's a common thread between the three of us and that this train is bad? Because if you know something, I want to know it." Her face was so set and serious, with her fingers wrapped around Connor's arm in a death grip, that Scum's eyebrows rose. He looked at her thoughtfully, gently resting his head on his hand.
"Well," he said softly in a voice that floated no further than Adriana's ears, "there's a lot. It's a whole complicated story that I doubt you want to hear."
"I'll be the judge of that," Adriana said sharply. "Tell it all."
"Fine. Imagine living your life in the gutters. For real. Every single day, feeling sewage and muck as your pillow and blanket. Imagine sifting through garbage and occasionally stealing for food and money. It's always cold, it's always ugly, and you might find that one day you just won't wake up because someone stabbed you last night for your single coin. There's hunger that drives you to the point of madness when you spend entire weeks laughing and laughing over the curse someone told you when you stumbled across them in the street on a hunt for food. There's exhaustion that leads you to do the unthinkable. There's the dampness, the people, and the emptiness. You have no friends, because it's every man for himself on the streets. You have no family, because that whore that gave birth to you got dumped two months later and tried to drown you down a toilet. She failed, and a teenage girl who had gotten kicked out of her house for getting pregnant (and has meanwhile lost the baby in the most painful twelve hours of her life) found you and fed you, loving you as though her own. When you're five, she dies. Having had asthma, the dust and spores that she's been inhaling these last few years have coated her lungs and she chokes to death on her own mucus. You find yourself haunting bakeries and restaurants trying to find food. Somehow you survive. Somehow. You haven't heard from your whore of a mother since you were born, and you have no idea who the little bastard who impregnated your whore of a mother is, so you've got no family. Your only true friend and family was a teenage girl who died coughing while assuring you that she was fine. You had to live off of anything that came your way. You've led the most disgusting life ever.
"And then one day, you're walking along the railroad tracks when you see a bunch of guys beating up a kid. You can see that he's young, not even ten. You run over to the guys (who look official and like policemen) and tell them to lay off. They look at you, and grab you instead. But they don't beat you up. They drag you off into a building not far away and sit you down in a chair and start… asking questions. They ask you if you have a home. You say no. They ask about a family. You say no. They ask about friends. You try to punch them and are instantly grabbed. A black eye later, you say no. They ask a few more questions, which you answer honestly. They explain that they're from the government, so not to worry, and then drag you off back to the railroad tracks. A train is waiting there. They throw you on the train and say, here's your home. They shut the door, and the train starts to move. As the hours go by, kids board the train. You hide underneath a pile of blankets and wait until they're all asleep to live. The kids try to hoard food and drink, but you're street scum, and you know how to get it. You know where the food is. You're never hungry. You're on this train for weeks and weeks, watching children die and die as the train just keeps moving. Nobody even knows you're still here, but you are. You're still alive, and you're watching people die. Nobody even notices you there, you're so well hidden. And some stupid boy even thought you were a pillow for two weeks-" Connor scowled heavily-"but you're still there. You've seen the guards take the boys off the train and move them to where they take the boys who don't die fast enough. Three hours in a room full of dead bodies and he's gone mad. Twenty-four hours and he's tried to kill himself. Seventy-two hours and he's lying dead, the dried blood caked around his mouth, his eyes glassed over and maddened. He's broken every single one of his fingers, but it's starvation that killed him in the end, the salt from his own blood bringing death and dehydration on faster. You've seen his hunger-crazed eyes as he's thrown himself against the wall, screaming in pain. You've seen the guards clear the dead bodies away and carefully load new folks on in the middle of the night when the rest of the train goes to sleep as the drugs in the food kick in and everyone falls asleep in a heap of exhaustion. The drug ceases to work in the food after two hours, which is when you go for the food, and how do you know this? Because you learn. Because you watch.
"Now. Imagine that this person is me." Scum's voice was so soft it was barely audible, and Adriana actually had to lean forward to hear his next chilling words. "And can you wonder what this would do to a person? Can you? Can you imagine all of this? Well, goody for you. I didn't get to imagine, I got to live."
Adriana sat silently for a moment, staring at Scum through the haziness. Her grip slowly loosened on Connor's arm as the gruesome images Scum had described settled on her. Her mouth slowly fell open, and she tried to wrap her mind around the awful concept.
"So…" Connor said slowly, obviously struggling to get his feelings under control. "We were kidnapped?" he asked lamely, though Adriana could feel him trembling in the darkness.
"In a manner of speaking," Scum said simply. "We're menaces to society, or so they see it."
"What do they gain from it?" Adriana asked through numb lips. She was having trouble grasping this concept. She was going to be riding this train until she died. Scum laughed emptily.
"Oh, my dear girl, isn't it obvious?" Scum asked with another dry laugh. "They're curing themselves of all of the crime that comes with having homeless kids. At the same time they're getting rid of more street kids, because you can bet that nobody here is going to be having babies any time soon, decreasing the number of homeless kids by… well, maybe I don't know the exact numbers, but definitely by a lot."
"This is to cure the world of the homeless?" Adriana whispered, horrified. Scum didn't laugh this time, but met Adriana's eyes with a cold, sharp gaze.
"No," he said quietly. "This is to purge the world of the filthy."
"Then why leave some alive?" Connor asked suddenly. "I've seen some o' 'em. Not all die. Not tha' girl o'er there. She's still alive. You're still alive." In his fear, he had lost some of the clear control of his voice, making it harder still to understand his speech.
"Pleasure, I suppose," Scum said with a sigh. He leaned his head back against the wall. "Maybe they like watching it."
"But… how does nobody get off? How does it work? How do you know all of it?" Adriana asked, breathless with questions. Scum's lips twitched, and he looked away.
"Ever heard of sneaking around? I get up at night and I wander around. You can get out of here, but… it's not pretty. This train goes pretty damn fast." Adriana looked down at her quivering hands and bit her lip. She could find nothing to say.
"So you can get out o' here and you don't?" Connor whispered furiously. "Why, you filthy little…"
"Piece of scum?" Scum finished coldly. "Well, that was coming. It's not a nice way to get out. I can show you, but trust me. You'd prefer it this way."
"I'd also rather not die!" Connor hissed. "You said they take boys who don't die fast enough. Well, I'd like to live, thank you very much."
"Fine," Scum said coolly. "But if you die, I don't want it on my conscience. And if you do something dumb…"
"It'll be entirely our faults," Adriana said impatiently. "Yes, we get it. Now go on." Scum looked around nervously and stood up silently. He pressed himself against the wall and slid all the way across the compartment. Adriana followed him silently with Connor pulling up the rear, mumbling to himself. Scum stopped when he reached the wall and tapped Adriana's shoulder gently.
"There," he whispered, pointing upwards. Adriana looked up to see a ladder. She nodded firmly. Scum shrugged, and made his way up the ladder. Adriana squinted up at him, noticing how one moment he was there, and the next minute he was gone. Gritting her teeth against the bitter cold, Adriana put one hand against the cold metal bar and began to climb. She climbed up as quietly as she could, careful not to slip. Her feet were freezing, but she suspected it would be colder once she got outside.
A moment later she realized she was right. A strong hand reached out to grab hers once she reached the end, and Scum pulled her up to the top of the compartment. A moment later he assisted Connor in the same way. The wind was rushing past their faces and all were pressed down flat against the top in order not to fall. Adriana had never been on a train that moved this fast.
"See?" Scum had to shout in order to be heard. "This train isn't like a normal train. It only stops once every two weeks, so it goes much faster! If you managed to get down without them noticing you, maybe you'd survive. But if you jump…"
"You don't know they'd die!" Connor cried. "And it's better dying here than there!" Wild-eyed he stood up shakily.
"Connor! Get down!" Adriana gasped, reaching over to pull him flat. Connor wobbled slightly, bent his knees, and jumped. "No!" she cried, desperately reaching out to stop him, but it was too late. She heard the heavy thud as his body slammed against the ground and the train plowed on. There was no way he was alive.
"I need to stop bringing people here," Scum said, his eyes fixed on the spot where Connor had just stood. "It only causes more pain."
"We have to get off this train," Adriana said, her words falling out of numb lips like they were made of lead. "We have to do something."
"We'll die," Scum said bleakly. "We'll either fall, or we'll get caught."
"You stay," she said, giving him a cold look. "I'll die."
"Girl, no!" Scum hissed, grabbing Adriana's hand. "Are you insane? They'll kill you, and then nobody will know!"
"They'll have you," she retorted bitterly.
"Like hell I'm letting you go and die alone," he whispered fiercely. "I won't do that."
"Well I'm going!"
Scum lowered his head for a moment and bit his lip. He looked around into the black darkness of the night, nodding several times. "Fine," he said finally. "But I go first."
"Go for it," Adriana murmured, her eyes glued to his slight body as he began to crawl along the roof towards the gap between compartments. She slowly inched herself behind him, careful to keep an eye on his ankles at all times.
"Here I go," he whispered once they reached the edge. He swung himself over and began to climb down. Adriana followed closely behind, now careful not to step on his hands as they slowly climbed down in the dark.
Lights turning on, blinding-
Scum's body falling-
Adriana's cry cut off by-
The cold metal barrel of a gun pressed against her head-
Inspired by the Holocaust