Prompt: An exhausted train passenger nods off and misses their stop. They wake up in the dead of night and notice that they are alone on the train…
David comes to when his head hits the window. Inhaling sharply and wiping the drool from his mouth, his eyes slowly open to find the train car is empty. Rubbing the gunk from his eyes, he looks around. Totally empty. Outside is dark and unmoving, the sky thick with clouds and the gloom hiding, smothering the ground. He takes a minute, two, and decides to stand and move to the next car.
Empty, eerily so. Goosebumps raise on David’s forearms, and he kept help to feel unwelcome here, as though he’s intruding. As he checks the booths, finding each one as vacant as the last, he steals glances outside in the hopes he’ll find an answer of where he’s at. But like when he woke up, it’s too dark to make anything out. Though, on the horizon he believes he sees woods.
Another cart, another sense of unease, unsettlement. Like someone’s watching him but with no one around. He rubs the nape of his neck as he rushes down the aisle. Booths blur past. The conductor would be here, he thinks. He has to be, or at least someone who can help. Sweat gathers under his arms, and collects on his forehead.
“No,” he lets out, standing on the metal landing. The front of the train’s gone. David blinks back tears, and pushes down the fear surging from his gut. He wants to scream, plead to the heavens—he hears something off to his right. Until now, he hasn’t realized that he can see the outside, as though the windows hide it from view. David carefully descends the steel stairs, and drops onto the gravel below. In the field, there’s a bonfire. Around it, people dance.
“Hello?” he tries to get the attention of the dancers. “Hey, where are we?” But they ignore him as they gyrate and sway and hang their loose limbs over their heads and whisper words he can’t quite catch. Their bodies cast long shadows across the grass. The flames seem to reach the sky.
Groaning through clenched teeth, he lurches forward and grabs the nearest person by the arms. A thin-faced man with a mustache, a smear of something dark red upon his forehead. “Can you please just listen?”
He’s smiling, eyes wide. The man laughs, then: “You’re meant to be here.”
“No, I’m not,” David says. “I was supposed to get off somewhere else.” But he can’t remember where that was.
“Can’t anymore,” the man says.
The man cranes his head back, his smile not faltering. “There’s nowhere else to be than here.” He slips from David’s weakening grasp, and returns to the others around the fire.
“There’s nowhere else?” David whispers. Confusion, frustration, fear swirling in his head. He wants to go home; wants to go to sleep; wants to be anywhere else than here. Doesn’t want to deal with any of this. He looks back to the train to find it gone, the rails, too. There’s only flat plains until woods overtakes it. Before he can wonder where it went or if he’s dreaming, his hand is snatched and David’s pulled into the fray.
He can’t fight the person’s hold, forced to prance around the roaring flames. Someone thumbs his forehead and smears something cold over him. It radiates comfort, pleasure, euphoria down his face, sprinkling over his chest, collecting in his extremities. His legs begin to move like theirs without thought. His arms raise over his head. His eyes widen and his smile stretches ear-to-ear. One by one they stare into the sky, and when his turn comes, he does, too.
Clouds swirl around an unfurling opening. The night is clear, stars brilliantly shimmering. There’s no moon, or there never was one here. The dancers shout, hollering into the void. David joins them, speaking words that feel like retching treacle clogging his esophagus. The stars sparkle in sync with the incoherent babble, and slowly dissipates, the sky does, too. An abyss pours into and fills the opening, and the a ribbon of red fog forms. Knobby, gnarled fingers poke from the ends. Talons hook the black outlining the smear, and peel it away from the center. Deep above, honeycombed scarlet pustules reflect translucent light. Gloom billows from the clouds, basking the world around them in impenetrable darkness.
The dancers quiet and hold hands. The pustules push down, in, and thin, ebon arms grasp the clouds and shove them towards the flames. There’s one for each around the fire. One by one the dancers break their hold, and allow the hands to take them into the air, allowing them to be enveloped by a pustule.
Over and over until only David remains. He lets the hands do their bidding, and passes through the palpable outer, scarlet shell. Within the red, it’s warm, like home, like he’s on the right path, riding the right train. His old world and life, a star in the receding space of his mind. So distant he can’t recall what it looked like, what it felt like. The man was right. Staring out, David watches the bonfire dwindle into a speck and the clouds converge and exhaustion wafts over him, and he closes his eyes.
David knows when he opens them again, he’ll truly be where he’s meant to be.
Read the previous prompt, “Scar Submission”
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