Railside Pilgrimage

Summary: A group of desperate souls travel to a mysterious, foggy location in Eastern Europe, where they must face their greatest trials and personal demons.

The railcar rattled as it traveled across the Eastern European plains, where fog hung like a funeral shroud. The dim electric lights swayed from the ceiling like a flock of will-o-wisps. The floor still bore the mark of the original seats on the stained wood. The passengers sat on ramshackle wooden benches nailed to the walls, which hadn't been changed since the days of the Soviet Union. Few cared enough for their situation, for they'd come here to die. I knew that look well, since I'd once worn it.

Only the hopeless and damned rode this train to Perdition. The passengers are a cross-section of human misery, primarily types of the less-common variety. Only the obsessive and desperate know of our destination, which offers a solution worse than putting a bullet in their heads. I was unsure if the weapons propped against the benches would be used by their owners against themselves, or the opposition we'd undoubtedly encounter at our final stop. I dreaded at the thought of using the rusted Makarov pistol at my side, but I forced myself to remember my younger brother had done the same.

The guilt once more raced through my mind. A year ago, my emotional nadir drove my brother here to come here. His disappearance galvanized me to action. The obsessive notes left in his room detailed his itinerary and intentions. His note saying not to follow implored me to talk care of Mom and Dad, but he mentioned that wouldn't be enough. He knew me too well for that. Quitting my job and walking away from my life easy by comparison.

After the flight to Europe, I'd resumed the hunt. After the altercation in Belgrade, I'd taken care to keep a low profile. A burly man I presumed was my brother's contact passed me a fake passport, dubious papers, and a holstered pistol. All of them were essential to get me on this train, on a line too obscure to be listed on regular schedules. When it pulled into that fog-shrouded station, I knew it was stopping for me.

It emerged from the mist like rust-headed dragon. The train was headed by a D1 locomotive, a squat and ugly thing of Soviet aesthetics. The cars dragged behind it like the chains of a long-tormented ghost. I counted at least three of them, but the rear of the train vanished into the fog. For some reason, it seemed familiar. I guess it brought to mind the fog that would roll across our grandparents' farm in the Midwest. No staff or conductor emerged from the train to greet me or check my ticket, for reasons my gut refused to explain. Instincts be damned, I climbed aboard.

Despite the apparent length of the train, I noted the apparent lack of passengers. The car I entered was loaded with unlabeled crates big enough to store caskets. I jokingly wondered to myself if this was some undead express train, but my own unease banished that thought from my head. Between each car was a thick door with opaque glass, preventing me from seeing into the next one. I traveled through at least four empty cars before reaching the final one, where that handful of forlorn souls sat. The door beyond that was locked, but I was content to cease my explorations there.

The others in the train stared at me without curiosity, as though I was no more than another piece of cargo. There was an old man with a slight growth of beard, sitting in a tan trenchcoat that looked a century out of date. His glasses were perched above his hawk-like nose, and his pupils darted nervously about as though expecting an attack. Beside him was a partially opened backpack revealing the yellowed pages of books within. In a side pocket was an ancient Nagant revolver, placed as if to deter an unknown assailant. He bore an aura of erudition, as though he'd recently come from a university lecture.

In the rear corner of the train car was a black man that filled the car with a presence larger than his already impressive frame. He sat cleaning a Kalashnikov with the familiarity of an experienced soldier. The rifle's internal mechanisms were oiled to an almost mirror sheen, almost as clear as the reflection on his ebony skin and shaved head. His inhuman focus was evocative of a statue I'd seen in a museum, simultaneously a paragon and pariah of humanity. The camouflage fatigues on him were too tight for a man of his size, causing me to morbidly wonder as to the original owner's fate. I noticed a thick book jammed into the rear pocket, but the title was obscured.

Glued beside the window was a short Asian woman with a bowl haircut. Beneath her neck were tattoos that crawled across her skin like an unstoppable army. She wore jeans, gloves, and a jacket that covered most of her skin. While I did not see a weapon prominently displayed, the duffel bag beside her seat looked heavy enough to conceal any lethal my imagination could call up. A short knife protruding from the top were enough to tell me she was no pacifist. She stared out the window, observing oddly geometric shadows that rose over the distant, fog-shrouded plains.

The last of us was a mousy young woman in a black coat. She hid her face with a tablet, playing a computer game as though we were on a morning commuter train. Given the lack of any electronic connectivity, I guessed she was used to offline entertainment. Her feigned nonchalance would have fooled me, had she not widened eyes as though I was some otherworldly invader. As the other passengers were armed, I knew it would be foolish to assume otherwise. I almost missed the can-shaped suppressor of the pistol wedged between her back and the seat.

I found a seat as far from the others as I could, and I pretended to ignore the others. They were keen to return the favor, much to my relief. The older man, the Professor as I called him, opened his mouth, but no words emerged. He cleared his throat, and then he spoke again.

"I fear we're almost there," he said in an accent that seemed vaguely German. "Look outside."

The terrain outside the window was no longer the empty plains and fog-choked horizon. Opaque shapes appeared outside the windows, evoking mist-shrouded mausoleums of giants. The regular patterns and geometry were clearly artificial, perhaps industrial. The frequency of such structures increased with each second. I thought I felt the train slow beneath me, but I was unsure if we were slowing, or the distance between buildings was widening.

In time, distant and regular rows emerged in the distance. The train decreased its speed, and I saw we were indeed approaching civilization. Streets as wide as canyons grew through the fog, the terminus of each as obscured as my brother's fate. A cacophony of clacking machinery and resounding thunder echoed through that ethereal city, and I was unsure if it came from the distance or deep underground. The buildings suddenly jerked to the side, and I blinked. If the others noticed, they did not react to it.

The train stopped what seemed to be a few seconds later. According to my watch, eight hours elapsed since I stepped on the train. Recalling my brother's notes to roll with any strangeness, I begrudgingly accepted it. The train came to a complete stop, and the fog seemed to receded from it. A human shape walked beside the cars, setting down a stool outside of our car. I shrugged and walked towards the exit, and the others cautiously followed me.

I stepped down with cautious deliberation, as though the floor would give way beneath me. I looked to see the man who set down the stool for us waiting patiently, checking an old-fashioned pocketwatch. The uniform he wore had Soviet emblems and epaulets on it, which nevertheless looked immaculately and meticulously clean. He pulled out a notepad as he turned to face me. I noticed his face had a slight growth of white beard and a grandfatherly grin. Despite my better judgment, I relaxed around him.

"Greetings. I am Fifth-Class Station Master Dmitri Volkov," he said with a Russian accent. "You must be James Magarac."

Hearing my name made me cringe, as though part of my background was stripped naked before strangers. I felt a sudden rush of vulnerability that overcame my logic, only for Volkov to step back and raise his hands. "I mean you no harm," he says. "But I must obey protocol. You understand, da?"

I nodded. A couple years of National Service will do that to you. I moved away, but I was curious about the rest of the passengers. Behind me was the old man from before, who drew his antique revolver.

"Professor Doctor Maximilian Lampert," Volkov said, formally bowing. "Rare to have a scholar of your stature arrive here."

"Sometimes, one must risk all for one's passion," he said, a slight smirk crossing his face.

Volkov nodded, and the twenty-something girl descended behind him. She had short brown hair, and scars along her neck where a tattoo used to have been. I saw her backpack, where she stashed a suppressed PB-6P9 pistol, and two more fascinating gadgets. A pair of quadcopters hung from either side of the bag like spider plants, tethered by a power cable. Each carried a Makarov pistol and small camera beneath it. Immediately, my mind went to that shooter game she was playing before.

"Natasha Popovich," Volkov said, greeting her with an air of familiarity. "Glad to see you again."

"Not eager to be back, but I've made some improvements," she said, nodding curtly.

"Hopefully better than last time."

Natasha ignored him as the next passenger descended. The tall black man descended, shouldered his rifle, and saluted. The Station Master returned the gesture, more out of respect than official rank. "Major Dyson Freeman, hero of Raqqa. I trust your trip was better than your comrades."

"The ones that didn't come back are the real heroes," he said solemnly. "I'm just an old soldier."

"Always a pleasure to talk with a humble man," Volkov said. "A welcome trait here."

Dyson saluted again and stepped away from the train. Behind him was the Asian woman from before, who now held a Type 54 pistol in hand. The stock and barrel were sawn-off, leaving only a compact weapon in her hand. I wondered if she'd be able to handle the recoil. From the way she lugged that heavy bag on her back, I doubted it would be an issue.

"I applaud your courage, Miss Rei Ikari," Volkov said. "Few venture out this far, and even fewer are properly prepared."

"I carry more than what I need."

"Don't we all?" Volkov asked.

He walked back towards me. Words choked their way out of my mouth.

"Where exactly are we?"

Volkov simply smiled. "You would not be here, if you did not already know the answer."

I would have pressed his cryptic response, but I heard the clangor of footfalls on steel. I turned towards the rear car of the train, and I saw other cars dragging behind our own. Through the mist, I saw shapes clambering down from inside. The small army of silhouettes formed a rank before the tracks, saluting like soldiers at attention. My sight froze for a moment, before the adrenaline rush set in. I could not fully explain why.

"It is good you came well-armed," Volkov said. "As you can sense their intent."

I was in no mood to ask questions, but I shot a glance back. The fog completely engulfed Volkov's shape, leaving only an opaque profile. Shapes from the opposite size of the platform scattered like frantic movements of Indonesian shadow-puppets. The tension in the air increased, and I lost sight of the others in that veil of mist. Distant shapes writhed on other side of me, and my instinct shouted at me to move.

A second later, I heard the first bullet cut through the air. The report of a distant gunshot followed a moment later, and I found myself sprinting away from the tracks. The others with me scattered into the fog, and I darted into the city, desperate for whatever cover I could find.

Reflexes burnt into my mind during NS raced to my mind. I felt the pistol clear its holster, and myself hunting for any signs of movement. My eyes tracked those perfidious shadows. Long-dormant reflexes surged to live like a torrent from a broken dam. I sprinted towards the nearest cover I could find, a mound of rubble down a narrow street. I found myself shooting at silhouettes drifting down the mist covered street, and I heard brass rebound on the pavement. The slide locked back, and I cursed to myself.

A shape moved into cover beside me, looming like an obsidian titan. I hesitated to move the now emptied pistol towards him, for reasons that took a moment to fully rationalize. It was Dyson from earlier. The muzzle of the rifle shifted towards me, bur jerked away even faster. He took prone position beside me, barely acknowledging my presence. He fired at some target I could not see, and silence reigned in the long, moments that followed. I cautiously looked from behind cover.

The two structures on either side of the street unveiled themselves as though emerging from a magician's shroud. From their rectangular shape and our location, I presumed they were brutalist, brink tenements of the Soviet style. I saw I was only partially correct. For a while, I stared transfixed between horror and awe. From Dyson's dropped jaw, I felt he was in the same boat as me. He didn't shoot me, but I couldn't read his mind.

The buildings were clearly once Soviet apartments, down to the crumbling red brick. I first thought of the HBD blocks back home. Beyond their crumbling facades were arrays of massive pipes. Each was a massive cylinder the size of a grain solo on my grandparents' farm. Each structure hissed periodically, like the intake valve of some infernal, subterranean engine. The pipes thrust ever-upwards like rust-colored sunflowers, seemingly widening farther down the street. Instead of terminating, they instead curved downwards and away. I saw Dyson's gaze shift towards something in the street.

A dead body laid face-down on a mound of shattered bricks. Blood-splattered fatigues covered the body, and two arrows protruded from his back and his head. Dyson pulled my head back down.

"I thought we killed the Chechen in Raqqa," he said, half-whispering to me. "He picked us off with poisoned bolts, hunting us like animals."

A crossbow bolt embedded in the ground a meter away from us told me all I needed to know about our unseen tormentor. Something wet and slimy glistened down the shaft, like the sticky secretion of some poisonous plant. Another one struck a few centimeters from my head, causing me to blink. I huddled down closer.

"We need to draw him out," he said. "You have any ammo?"

I shook my head, and I looked down the rubble-strewn street. Dyson fruitlessly scanned for his adversary. He looked at the empty pistol slid into my belt, and I sensed what he was thinking. Another crossbow bolt whizzed over my head, cutting off a strand of my brown hair before impaling itself in the ground beside me. Dyson returned fire, but struck only dust. I knew what I had to do.

I imagined my brother's own reaction. He'd put it all on the line for me, and I came out here for his sake. Dyson was covering me, and giving me a chance to go onwards. I didn't know if some mad crossbowman was lining me up in his sights, but staying stationary was as good as being death. After all, I remembered those react to contact drills they made us run in NS. I remember my little brother complained about the drill sergeants' expectations I'd unintentionally set for him.

With that, I leapt and sprinted as fast as my legs would carry me. I felt the street blur around me like distorted movie frames. My tunnel vision narrowed on a mound rubble at the edge of the street, which I dove behind with acrobatics that would've made an action hero jealous. My heart pounded in my chest, and I listened for any signs of movement. That was when I went from excited to terrified.

I threw up on that heap of shattered bricks and stone, as the adrenaline rush wore off. I forced myself to listen for the twang of a crossbow, but nothing echoed through that broken avenue. A terrifying, unchallenged ruled the street like an invisible sovereign. Even the staccato of gunfire was altogether absent, as though Dyson had never been there. I looked behind me, but I could not see him in the mist. It was thicker than the smoke grenades I'd used in NS. I scanned for any signs of movement in the adjacent buildings, but they too were covered by that all-concealing fog.

I would have stayed there forever, had I not heard the sounds of distant shouting. I wondered if the Chechen had withdrawn in pursuit of other prey. I wondered if I'd imagined the whole spectacle. I wondered if the stress within was causing my imagination to project without. I was desperate for any human contact, even if they were hostile. I wanted some validation I wasn't just hallucinating.

Instead of my earlier mad sprint, I cautiously approached the shouting. In that narrow patch beneath my feet, I saw something growing from the cracked pavement. The browning weeds were the first signs of plant-life I'd seen since arrival. They were reassuring in ways I cannot fully put into words. I guess seeing something familiar, and organic, was a subtle reassurance I was still on Earth. This place was making me seriously doubt that. I slowly approached the silhouette in the mist, only for the unmistakable shape of a weapon to fall at me.

Having a man point a gun at me would've been intimidating, had it been under any other circumstance. The fact it was a pistol that looked like it came from a museum also helped alleviate the effect. I saw the older man from earlier, Professor Max Lampert, cautiously lower his weapon. He sighed in relief, and he beckoned me over.

"If we're isolated, we'll be easier prey for this place," he said. "Come closer."

I would have protested or asked more, but my own mind was too battered from what I saw. I saw two others emerge from the fog, the women from earlier. The Japanese woman, Rei, held her pistol as she scanned the distance nervously. She still carried that bag on her back, despite looking like an upright turtle. The woman with the two drones, Natasha, held a radio in her hands, which whined with white noise. She trained the device on me, and it shrieked like a banshee.

"He's real," she said. I saw Rei and the Professor visibly relax. "Can we keep moving?"

"Does he have a weapon?" Rei asked. "I don't want to drag dead weight."

"No," I said. "But I know how to use them."

"Then handle this," Rei said, setting her bag down. She unzipped it, and she carefully set down a shape I recognized from NS. The drum magazine protruded the underside like a plastic snail shell. I grasped it, and I held the Ultimax in eager hands. I was incredulous as to where she could have acquired such a weapon, but I wasn't in a mood to ask. I remembered handling this, back with Alvin Chua and Ben Wong. I honestly preferred the SAR-21, but I wasn't in position to turn it down. Honestly, it was reassuring, as though a piece of my past came back to help me.

"Did you see anyone else?" Max asked.

"I saw Dyson back there," I said, pointing with my thumb.

Natasha turned the device towards the direction I came from. I heard the soft cry of white noise and static, and a slight sigh escape her lips. "Nothing."

"Then we keep moving," Max said. "We're almost there."

I did not care how or why the device worked. I trailed behind the others, total strangers with whom I felt an inexplicable kinship. This place didn't call to normal people, so I suppose that's why I kept thinking of them on first name terms. For some reason, my brother's own name escaped me. I saw the two drones detach from Natasha's bag, and orbit her like a lonely star. Rei followed in front of her. Max followed beside me, as though he'd lecture all he discovered. I got the impression it took him a great deal of willpower to resist launching into a massive lecture. Nevertheless, I followed. I felt like a shadow flitting through oblivion, more than the courageous brother that came here for me.

Skeletal shapes advanced from the haze. I would have unloaded on the first thing I saw moving, but I lowered the light machinegun when I realized they were just trees. The sight of plants provided no respite to me, as the dead branches reached for us like a hag's fingers. The canopy above us grew deeper, and even the flashlights Natasha and Max produced barely made a dent in it.

The transition between the city and the deep, dark forest was supernaturally quick. I wondered if we'd stumbled blindly into a park. As dead leaves crunched beneath my feet, I felt my sneakers sink into soil that felt too soft and moist to be anything other than an ancient forest. The gnarled, knotted roots around us looked like some squamous beasts ready to pounce. Natasha and Rei maintained a cool composure I wish I could muster, but Max was visibly sweating. He pulled the hammer back on that antique Nagant revolver. A second later, I heard almost human footfalls.

I would have unloaded my weapon at the general direction, had the Professor not put his finger to his lips. When he stopped, the rest of us followed suite. Natasha turned her drones outwards to cover our sides and rear. Rei skittishly watched Max and my actions, as if waiting for a cue. The sound of two legs skittering across dead leaves repeated once more. I heard it from a different direction, this time right behind us. I heard it in front of us, and I swung the pistol towards it. They were surrounding us.

"When I start shooting, I want you to run as fast as you can," he said. "Whatever you do, leave before the seventh shot."

With that, Max turned behind him, and he shot into the woods. The bullet struck something soft and fleshy, a wet thud followed the gunshot. Inhuman howling echoed through the wood, and things moved just outside of my peripheral vision. Another shot exploded in the woods, but I found my legs failing to respond. Max glared at me with a look irate enough to send me bounding into the brush. I fired blindly at the shadows dancing before me, not caring about the splinters that blasted off the trees. Adrenaline narrowed my vision, and I dared not look back.

I bounded up a craggy hillock, ambling over boulders with reflexes I forgot my body possessed. I felt like a maddened satyr, darting through the woods after an unseen lust beyond survival. The rising ache slowed me to a fast jog, and I found myself panting as I leaned against a thick tree. The sounds of manic footfalls were completely absent, as were any signs of the other two. As I surveyed my surrounding, I wondered if I'd stumbled back into civilization.

If so, I'd stumbled out of the woods and into the gutter. I slowly descended a hillside towards a broken road that was lined with single-story brick buildings. Their ramshackle condition would've been enough to deter any thoughts of unwanted entry under any other circumstances. The abject terror of the last few minutes lingered in my mind, and turned my attention towards the only building with lights.

It was perched at the end of that skid row, like a molting vulture above a carcass. Despite the Cyrillic characters on a half-illegible sign outside, I saw red neon Japanese characters suspended above the door. The heavy bass of techno music echoed from within. I wondered if such horrors would be drawn to such music, or this was a gathering place. I threw my reservations to the wind, but I could not help myself from descending the steep slope towards it.

Rei sprinted out from the alleyway between two buildings, having lost her bag behind her. Her shirt was soaked in perspiration, and she dared not look back behind her. Her face was a contorted mask of fury, and the pistol in her hand was smoking. She threw herself into the window of the strange bar, sending shards of glass tinkling to the ground. I heard the report of gunshots echo within, and the building went dark. Despite the fears welling within me, I decided to take my chances outside.

I walked through an alley opposite the now-darkened bar with my senses on a hair trigger. I was prepared to unload on anything that moved. My logic was the building would funnel the attackers in a manageable direction. I checked behind me at regular intervals, even as the walls besides me rumbled in explicably. The fog obscured the street behind me, and the area beyond the alley. What was no more than ten meters seemed like miles. My mind jumbled imperial and metric units as I struggled to reach the terminus of that alley. I found myself sprinting towards the end, despite only seeming to love millimeters with each footfall.

When I finally reached the end, I sprinted blindly into a fogbank. Small, opaque rectangular shapes rose from the fog around me. I heard a mournful bird call somewhere in the distance, but I heard no flapping of wings or other songs. It was more chilling than reassuring, as I'd not heard bird or insect calls since I'd arrived. I slowed my own pace, as I approached one of the objects beside me.

It was a waist-high gravestone. It bore a solemnity beyond its own weight, as though it was a memorial of some long-ago atrocity. I could not read the characters carved into stone, owing to the cracks and wear. The illegibility was not unique to the first one I saw, as the ones beside it were in similar condition. The fog consumed the gravestones, like the waves of some irresistible tide. The otherworldly graveyard was like something's impression of one, despite having never seen one. I struggled to remember in which direction I'd come, until I heard the buzzing of electric rotors.

I looked up to see Natasha weaving through the tombstones beside me, as something massive shifted through the fog. Like water displaced by some immense leviathan, an opaque shape came closer in the haze. The entire cemetery was covered in that insubstantial blanket, which congealed closer to the implacable form. Natasha fired at it with her pistol, but her silent shots did not seem to slow its advance. Her sole remaining drone charged at it with its gun blazing, but the sound of its motor went silent a second later.

"You get out of here!" I shouted. "I'll distract it."

I wasn't quite sure what inspired that suicidal line, but I felt like I'd realized the solution to some unspoken test. I sprinted opposite to the direction Natasha ran off it. I took cover behind the nearest headstone, and I set up the Ultimax. I aimed at the shape moving through the fog like a ghost ship, and I flicked off the safety. I exhaled, and I squeezed the trigger.

The burst of gunfire echoed loud and proud, as though I was glad to announce my position to the rest of the world. I swept the gun back and forth, as though spraying the base of a fire. Familiar reflexes came back to me as I recalled learning to handle the weapon. The object deep in the fog seemed to halt on its path. The mist began to clear from around the unknown juggernaut, just as I exhausted my ammunition. As an angular shape came into likeness, I remembered where I'd seen it before.

In that smoggy cemetery, I remembered the silhouette of a Terrex emerging from the cloud of smoke. It was years ago, back during the end of NS. My brother Jack was about a year behind me. Due to a rare stroke of good fortune, both of our units had the chance to participate in a live-fire exercise. My infantry section was to put down suppressive fire at simulated enemy contact, after a Terrex IFV fired smoke grenades in front of us. During this, my brother's unit would flank from the nearby jungle. At first, that was how it was supposed to go.

I fired at a sequence of black silhouette targets that emerged from the cloud, like much like the phantoms I've encountered so far. I did not think, only react. The open field before us was completely engulfed in thick smoke, and I shot at anything that moved. I learned to watch deformations in the smoke in anticipation of a target emerging. When I shot that last target, I felt a wrongness well up in my stomach, as though I'd done something wrong.

The next thing I remember was the sergeant shouting at us to cease fire. A Terrex descended into the fog, rolled back towards us, and I remember hearing barked orders as the smoke dissipated. I saw a boot on the ground behind the vehicle. The officers ordered us to pack in it, and I sat isolated for hours before they told me. When the medics got to him, it was too late.

It was only afterwards that I was briefed on what happened. My brother was separated from his unit, and his compatriots searched for him in the wrong direction. He must've wandered towards the field trying to find them, just after the smokescreen went up. He succumbed to the barrage of rounds that I'd help put down range. A couple of officers were sacked in the shitstorm that followed, but the damage was already done.

I remembered that fratricide I'd unwittingly committed, and how deep into depression it drove me. I looked into this place, this horrible place, as a horrible way to atone for guilt I'd long-since repressed. It wasn't Jack that planned the itinerary here, but me. He was the only soul I'd felt the ability to relate to, given our rare background. Our parents were American expats in Singapore that went fully native, and had us raised the same. Aside from occasional trips overseas, we'd spent most of our lives in Singapore. One of us died there. I honestly wondered if that should've been me.

I loosened my grip on the useless weapon, and let it drop to the ground. I was ready to meet that end I felt I deserved, for driving my parents into deep depression. I felt that I deserved death, or worse, for what I'd let myself forget. I wondered just how many of my recent memories were invented, or some justification I'd told myself. That was why I obsessively searched for all I could about this place, in hopes of seeking some absolution. Eager to embrace oblivion, I stepped towards the approaching tank.

Instead of coming forward to crush me, it instead receded into the fogbank. Like a ghost ship on misty seas, it vanished into the wraithlike soup that spawned it. I sprinted after it, as though I was being cheated of a well-deserved death. As my body ached beneath me, I remembered what I told myself Jack would've wanted. He would've told me to keep going, like that time he was injured a childish relay race. My memories were an unstoppable torrent, but one that washed away a portion of the guilt I faced a moment earlier.

The next thing I saw was the train, still partially enveloped in fog. I approached the car, and I clambered aboard with slow, resigned movements. I was only just beginning to realize what I'd endured. I sat on that rickety wooden bench, and I closed my eyes trying to fall asleep. I heard others climbing aboard the train, and part of me felt happy. Maybe this place was a purgatory of sorts, or maybe just a distorted mirror of our own psyches. Either way, I knew I was leaving. As I opened my eyes, I was glad to see I was not the only survivor.