Final Express

It was raining cats and dogs from a pitch-black sky.

Though it was half past two in the afternoon, not even the faintest ray of light managed to pierce through the thick ceiling of clouds.

The only light on the platform came from an old lantern, which flickered eerily.

The air was thick and cold.
There weren't many people on the platform, and the few souls that were waiting blankly stared ahead.
I had tried to converse with an old lady on a bench, but to no avail.
When I spoke to her, she simply sighed.
At first I believed she simply hadn't been able to hear me over the rain, but when I opened my mouth to repeat my greeting, she suddenly turned around.
Her eyes stared straight into my soul. Hollow and void, it felt as if they wanted to suck me in. It sent shivers down my spine.
I turned around and continued my waiting on the other side of the platform.

Anyhow, leaving spooky old ladies aside, the others were two men, who kept looking at each other as if they had had a fight of sorts, and a young couple.
Their clothes were covered in scratches and mud, and yet they seemed to be happy, just by being with the other. It made me a little jealous to be honest.

The only sound was that of the pouring rain and it was so loud it made it impossible to hear anything else. Presuming, of course, there even were any other sounds at this time.
The blanket of clouds grew even thicker and veiled the entire platform in deep darkness. The only way you could see the other side was when the lightning illuminated the area. Its flashes were of such brilliance, the white light could easily be mistaken for the gates of heaven.
The feeling it left however, as the air was still crackling with energy, was much too eerie to be considered heavenly.

On the other side of the platform, there were three dogs, seeking shelter underneath a bush, leaving only their heads sticking out. One was a black Dane, a dark brown Shepard and a black-and-white collie.
They just sat there, not moving an inch.

I had always believed that dogs were afraid of lightning, seeing as my own dog once ran away during a terrible thunderstorm.
Come to think of it, something about the storm felt the same as that time.

A smell was what connected the two storms. They both had that same smell. A sour smell of blood.

As if my prayers had been answered, three children joined us on the platform. 'At last' I thought. Normally, I very much disliked overactive ankle biters, but right now, everything was better than this unnatural silence, that seemed to swell into tangible darkness.

To my surprise however, these children didn't make a sound except for the gentle creaking of the wooden flooring under there weight.

They didn't run around, didn't laugh, they didn't even smile.
They just stood there, dreary faces staring straight ahead.
Like they had just lost their mothers.

One of them, a boy which I estimated to be around the age of 10, was less tense and looked around, as if he was looking for someone.
When he looked at me, I realized that he was the only one on the entire platform whose eyes weren't filled with fear.
I smiled at him, which moved him to separate himself from his friends and slowly walk towards me. The old floorboards creaked slightly under each step.

He stood next to me and stared down to his shoes.
Or mine. It was hard to tell, as the tips of our shoes almost touched.
He looked like he was trying to come up with something to say.

I decided to get the conversation going.
"Is this your first time traveling alone?"
He hesitated a while, then muttered something under his breath.
"I'm sorry. I'm afraid I didn't quite catch that."

"It's not the first."

It was a miracle I could hear him at all, as quietly as he had whispered.
Especially with the ongoing rain. It sure didn't look like it would clear up any time soon.

"Where are you going to?"
No response.
Several futile attempts later, I was about to give up.
"I'm not scared. Not at all." He snickered.

When I looked at his face, I saw his eyes were red.
He probably had been keeping up appearances for the sake of his friends, though he probably felt like crying himself.

I knelt down next to him and put my hand on his shoulder.

"Truth be told, I am." I said. "All alone, in this storm. Of course I have no reason to be worried. Trains are very safe you know."
No sooner had the words rolled of my tongue, or dozens of news articles about train wrecks crossed my mind. Darn brain never works like it should.

"You're kindness. Everything will work out just fine."
Although his odd choice of words puzzled me slightly, he seemed to have been reassured, and honestly, I too had calmed down a bit from chatting with this youngster.
The others seemed to become increasingly anxious however, the two other children in particular.

A crackling on the intercom, followed by a metal voice announcing the arrival of my train, pulled me out of my thoughts.
I could already see the lights closing in.
When the train was almost at the station, the two kids suddenly jumped into action.
Before I could grasp what was happening before my eyes, it was already over.

As the others boarded the train, I stood frozen.
Dazed I looked at my shirt and the red stains on it. The rain was already washing them out. Now that I had dropped my umbrella, I was already soaking wet.

Startled by a lightning bolt nearby, they had run on the tracks, right in the path of the oncoming train. It may have been grinding down to a halt; but it had plenty of momentum left.
"We can't stay here. Let's go."
The other boy had taken hold of my hand and pulled me toward the train.

"You- your friends. They…"

"It doesn't matter. They weren't important. Now come. The train is about to leave."

Shocked, I let the boy guide me. This boy, who had stayed so abnormally normal during the gruesome event that had happened in front of our eyes just moments earlier.
The rain washed away the blood and chunks, off of the platform and onto the tracks.
When I stepped through a puddle of the wine-colored fluid, I thought I could feel the warmth radiating through my shoes.

I let this mystifying boy lead me to an empty carriage.

It all seemed so fictitious.
I looked at my shirt again however not even a trace of the blood was to be seen.

I couldn't have possibly imagined it, could I?

I turned to the boy, who was peacefully staring out the window into the dark rain, that own like nothing had happened. Or like it didn't care. It was just rain after all.

"Who were those children you were with?" I asked. "Since they 'weren't important'."

"What children?"
"The twins with the red hair. You arrived together at the platform."
"I came here alone. I'm alone here with you."
"But what about those children?"
"What children?"

I realized I wasn't going to get any answers from him.
Maybe it all had been in my head after all? A figment of my imagination? An illusion perhaps? Or did he pretend nothing had happened to shield himself from the traumatic experience?
But nobody else seemed to have seen what I saw either, yet they couldn't have missed it. Not the people boarding, nor the people…
Then it hit me. No one had gotten off of the train!
Admitted, it was a rather small and rural town, but it was certainly busy enough to have at least a few visitors a day. Had the downpour scared them of? Or was there some other reason they didn't want to be here?

"Tickets please."
An unpleasantly cold voice brought me back to reality.

"Of course." I felt in my pocket, only to find it empty.
I checked all my pockets, but that darn ticket remained nowhere to be found.
"I don't understand sir. I am certain I had ticket. I…"

"That's quite all right sir." The conductor interrupted. "Even without a ticket, you'll reach your destination."
And without further ado, he turned around and continued his round.

Bizarre things were happening on this train.
"Where are you going?"
"Hm?" The boy kept staring out the window, into ruthless nothing.
"I'm going to… to the… I can't remember."

This was most unusual. I knew I could be quite the scatterbrain, but this was absurd.
This seemed to rather amuse my traveling companion though, as I heard a silenced snicker escape his lips.
To me however, this was quite the inconvenience. I couldn't remember where I was going, or even why I intended to go there in the first place.
All I knew was that I HAD to be on board of this very train, that something of great importance was about to happen here.
But what in the blazes could it be?

"I know where you are going." The boy snickered.
"And where may that be then? If I may ask." I inquired.
"It's where we're all going sir."
"What do you mean? And call me John please."
"This train only has one destination." He softly said and averted his gaze to the door.

I looked as well and saw the men I had seen on the platform tumbling into the carriage.

Their previous argument had become a fight. One that I didn't wish to become involved in.
"This is your entire fault!" One of them yelled. "Because of you we're..."
The man never got to finish his sentence as a knife was planted in his stomach.
He cringed from the pain and tried to run away.
The other man however was fast and grabbed his leg, making him fall onto the floor.

He held the other by his hair and cut his throat like they did pigs in the slaughterhouse.
The deep red liquid sprayed throughout the entire carriage and soon the man's body stopped shaking.
I held my breath while the wheezing and squeaking subsided, changing into a gurgling sound before finally stopping completely.
The scent of blood was everywhere.

The second man however still hadn't cooled his anger and lifted his knife to mutilate the corpse even more.
I had taken the boy in my arms to shield him from this madness, and to prevent him from making noise that might attract the killer's attention. Upon this horrid scene, I sank even further into my seat, afraid to make a sound.
I would have made a run for the next carriage, but the madman hadn't seen us yet. And that was something I wanted to preserve as long as possible.
Furthermore, I was certain the boy would never be able to run fast enough.

After carving out his victim's face and torso, he lifted his knife to the sky, as if to finish him.
A flash was followed by darkness and silence.
When the lights went back on, I could see what had happened.
The knife had hit the light on the ceiling, electrocuting him.

The smell of burned flesh now mingled with that of blood.

I picked the boy up, making sure he wouldn't see the smoldering flesh or the now gelatinous eyeballs that stared at me, along with they eyes of the first man, which lay on the floor next to his body.

We went further to the back, the way the guard we had seen earlier went.

This time I was certain I hadn't imagined it. At least two people had died gruesome deaths, right before my very eyes.
Upon reaching the last passenger carriage, I heard a horrifying bang, instantaneously followed by the chimes of shattering glass.

The thought of all the things that could be waiting on the other side of that door on this phantom train filled me with terror.
Nonetheless, I gathered my courage and opened it. The ice-cold wind that rushed out of the compartment almost knocked me of my feet.
The carriage was dark but I recognized the young couple, laying in each others arms. I found it hard to believe that they had simply slept through that ruckus.
When the dim lights flickered back on, my suspicions were confirmed. All the windows had been crushed.
They lay amidst countless shards of broken glass. Hundreds of shards, both small and large, had pierced them, their clothes stained red as a puddle of scarlet stretched out underneath them.

This sight and all the previous events stirred inside me and the contents of my stomach decided to resurface.
On my hands and knees I sat on the floor, trying to regain my senses.
The chilly rain spraying through the now open windows helped me not to remain conscious, though the very atmosphere seemed to invite me to sleep.

As my senses returned, I felt a sharp pain in my hands. My hands were covered in cuts from all the glass that was scattered all around the carriage.
I quickly tore some fabric from my shirt and the boy helped me bandage my hands, unmoved by all this.

"Thanks. What's your name by the way?"
"My name is with my shadow. I'm searching for both." Not really answering my question, he simply posed yet another riddle as he stood up and walked toward the door of the last compartment, the freight wagon.
The door slid open without sound. Only the constant tapping of the rain on the cold black metal of the train and the grinding of broken glass under our footsteps echoed hollowly throughout the room.

The freight wagon was unlit and the darkness stared at us, seemed to be pulling at us, as if the shadows that dwelled there had a live of their own.
Before I realized it, I had already stepped inside.
My eyes adjusted to the dimness and soon I was able to make out basic shapes.

Large boxes and crates to heavy to even consider lifting galore.
Suddenly I saw something familiar. The old lady's umbrella.
Wondering what she had been looking for in here, and why she would have left her umbrella, I moved to pick it up.
I hadn't even dried yet; I could clearly distinguish the reflection of liquid.
When I had picked it up, I immediately let go of it again.
With a soft thud it fell back to the wooden floor.
She was still holding on to it.
That is to say, her hand was still attached to it. The rest of her was nowhere in sight.

A flash of lightning illuminated the compartment just enough to reveal a bloody trail, like she had been dragged away.
Every muscle, every atom, every ounce of my being was screaming to turn around and run away, but something outside of my body compelled me to continue. To satisfy the morbid curiosity as to what could have done something like this.

The hand hadn't been cut of, it had been torn of.
As if the shadows were guiding me, I followed the trail, bits of clothes and flesh on the sidelines, as the boy still followed in my stead.

A noise at the other side of a stack of crates made me stop in my tracks.
Cautiously I peeked around the corner.
I saw something moving, but couldn't quite make it out.
When another lightning bolt bathed the wagon in pale blue light, my blood almost froze.

I saw the tree dogs from the train station, digging their heads into the old women's carcass. Or what still remained of it anyway.
She was sprawled out as if a small bomb had gone off inside of her.

Upon closer inspection, all three heads were joined on the same body.

While the two outer heads were playing tug of war with one of her legs, the middle one raised his head.
It sniffed the air a few times, and then growled at our direction, alerting the others.

I took the boys hand and ran. I ran as fast as I could, hoping, praying to whatever force was willing to hear, that we would make it in time.

My heart beating in my chest, breathing heavily. I could hear their closing in, almost feel them breathing down my neck. A strong scent of death and blood. Their claws tapping on the wooden floorboards.

I slammed the door behind me. Less than a second later I heard a loud thump, followed by a triple yelp.
A second later and we would have been torn to shreds.

As I stood up, I realized how clean the carriage was.
The young couple should have still been there, but there wasn't even a trace of them.

Even the windows had been repaired, the floor was dry, no bloodstain.

Only a single crimson shard remained, sticking out of the floor, gleaming in the light like a ruby.
As if some one had cleaned up the entire room and had simply forgotten this one shard, a lone, grim reminder of what had happened.

The windows had been polished so excessively that it appeared a hall of mirrors.

Cautiously we pressed on.
Just when I thought we would make it out this compartment at least, the train shook.
We fell to the floor.

I stood up, but when I looked at the boy, my breath caught in my throat.

The shard was dripping with blood as it stuck in the boy's side.

He looked at me with empty eyes and told me we needed to keep going.
If I were to pull the shard out, he would surely bleed to death in seconds.

I attended to his wound as good as I could, and bandaged him with the rest of my shirt.

I took him in my arms, careful not to hurt him, and continued.

We passed by our carriage and as expected, it had been 'cleaned' as well.
Even the light bulb had been replaced.
I didn't have the time to give it much thought.

I could feel the life steadily flowing out of the small figure in my arms.

The warm liquid flowing down my hands. He needed help, and fast.

There had to be someone on board of this haunted train that could help.

I kept moving forward, kept going on, but not a soul in sight.
Living or otherwise. With each compartment I passed through, the lights seemed to loose their light.
It seemed as dark as the night, but I must have been my mind playing tricks on me.
I could still see everything clearly, and the lights, however dim, were still lit.
Eventually I found myself at the door to the locomotive.
Forbidden. No access. The words had been painted on with red paint, and still seemed wet.

To my surprise and relief, it wasn't locked.
I stepped inside.

"Please help us! This boy is injured. He needs…"

Empty. The room was completely desolate.

I carefully placed the boy on the floor, the lights was already fading from his eyes.

I searched the numerous buttons and switches on the control board until I finally found something that resembled a radio.

"Hello? Is anyone there? Can anyone hear me? This is an emergency, I repeat, an emergency. SOS. Five people are dead and both the conductor and driver have disappeared. I have a young boy here, who is in need of urgent medical attention and I do not know how to control this train.
S! O! S! Is anyone there?! Please respond."
"….."

Just static. I tried again.
"….."

"Why didn't you let me watch those men fight?"

I turned to the boy.
"What kind of question is that? No one should ever see something like that. Especially not a boy your age."

I directed my attention to the panels once again as the warning lights started glowing one after another.

In moments, the entire room was filled with a menacing red glow.

"I've seen worse." He said an ominous smile on his face.
The very same smile, I realized, as he had when I first made contact with him, on the platform.
I tried the radio again.

"…
My name is John."

I turned around only to find the boy gone.
Only my blood-dyed and torn shirt, that I had used to tend to his wound, lay on the floor.

Outside I heard shrill whistle.

I looked outside and in the jet-black creeping darkness, I could see a light coming straight at me.

And as that bright light outshone the red glow with an even more menacing presence, I remembered.

I remembered why I had to be on that train,
ten years ago.

I smiled...