Dedicated to Haruki Murakami, whose writing infected mine.

Railways

The proposal to run a subway line through hell was first introduced in January by a tastefully dressed man with a clipboard, horn-rimmed glasses, and a triangular tail. It was voted down almost unanimously, and the man disappeared in a puff of brimstone and a mutter. It sounded something like "Pfft, puritans."

At the time, there was really no need for a trans-infernal line. The world's subways were getting crowded, sure. Construction companies quibbled over prime spots in the upper mantle, where heavily air-conditioned trains could be run. Most of the crust was already taken—webbed through with worm tunnels, like a decomposing terrarium—and the parts that weren't were reserved as load-bearing pillars to keep important things (like the continents,) from crashing down through the hollowed earth.

Besides that, there were vast subterranean reservations that had been given to the Mole People when they were driven from the surface world. No one had ever suspected that humanity might need them to feed their growing train addiction. If every city in the world didn't have its own dedicated line to every other city in the world, than what good was the sum total of civilization? Without trains, human culture was a mess of pop-tarts and pop-art and existentialism and lemonade. Trains gave everything order. They ran on time. They ran in predictable directions. And they served as a kind of religious beacon for the species of man. They said "hey, we're the guys who built all the trains. When you archeologize our civilization, guess what you'll find lots of?"

In September, Man went to war with the Mole People. It was a very short war, and although the Mole People managed to sink Australia, Man was successful in shuffling them off to a series of new reservations. Out in the middle of the ocean. It was widely regarded as fair and equitable treatment, and if the Mole People ever grumbled discontent, it was drowned out by the sound of the waves.

For a brief time, Man was happy. Thousands of new lines sprang up over night. Wealthier cities began to flaunt their culture by building redundant, extra routes to places like Kamchatka. Poorer cities glowered and seethed and tried to take comfort in the fact that at least they had all the good ones. Never mind New York and its fancy, shmancy North Polar express. Or Tokyo and its bullet train to Ry'leh. Places like Millis never had to deal with elves and fishmen hitching a ride back. So they had it better. Hmph.

Still, they threw covetous eyes at their neighbors and this must have sent some kind of signal to the underworld because—as soon as the Mole People's reservations had been used up—a couple of new special interest groups started lobbying the senate. They all had names like Cthoggua Loves Hugs and Puppies, or The Shiny, Happy Coven of Dark Agnes. For the most part, they put on a good PR show, although there was the occasional reporter who got devoured. No one stressed about that too much. Reporters were a dime a dozen. Trains were much more expensive. And the interest groups promised trains.

In December, the senate elected a representative to address the world on the issue of perhaps expanding the transportation industry. He was a short, timid man, and he spoke with s-s-s-something of a stutter. He explained that the senate had negotiated a deal with one Beel Z. Bub esq. for the rights to extend their train lines through the surface of hell. He also explained that 3/4ths of the population of the continental United States, randomly selected, were forfeit their souls and that if this was a problem, well, you shouldn't have voted for us.

There was some chaos at first, but ultimately Man's love for trains prevailed. He sent them burrowing deep into hades, equipped with special fire-proofed siding. Mortals went down to check out the joint, and sinners came back up for the first break they'd had in the history of…well, ever. There was also a steady backflow of demons who, sick of their day jobs, wanted to take a crack at being a mortal. To practice some of the vices that they preached. It was hard work, and most of them ended up throwing in the flaming towel, but one or two got it right; the perfect blend of well-meaning ignorance and ignorant well-meaning. They set up record stores and movie rental shops in places like LA, and had a grand old time.

It was not very long before January rolled around again. The world was bustling with activity. Newfound purpose. All of which had been given to them by the miracle of trains. So, no one noticed too hard when four robed figures boarded an express at the uppermost layer of hell. They were all carrying extremely long violin cases that were, for some reason curved broadly at the end. They chatted among themselves amicably, discussing the weather and how things were going to be this time around. One of them said "at least they didn't go crazy with sandwiches."

Another replied "yeah, or bi-planes again. I'll never figure that one out."

"I'll never figure mortals out," the third one put in. "They always find a way down here, couched in some obsession. I'm beginning to wonder if we should stop annihilating them. They just come back."

"Hey, it's a living. You've gotta spend eternity somehow, right Fam?"

Fam didn't respond, because just then the train's door slid open with a mechanical hiss of air. The four companions stepped out into the crowd, which eddied and surged around them, fighting its way towards the doors. Not a single person looked back over his shoulder at the skeletons, who began to shrug out of their robes and unlatch their violin cases.

And out in the Pacific Ocean, the Mole People bobbed listlessly in the surf, wondering why they were never the dominant civilization.