A feeling of swaying weightlessness nudged me gently awake. I succumbed to the weight of my eyelids several times before managing to open them. Viewing wherever I was as though I was peering through a pile of kindling or loosely folded fingers. I was moving at a moderate speed, the unmistakable sound of churning metal suggested a train or a foundry. How did I get here? What is here? Those fleeting moments of delirium that come immediately before a deep sleep hadn’t happened, at least from what I remember, but my sour breath and confusion suggested I had been out for some time.
An unbroken stream of cool air coming from nowhere transformed my skin into a braille novella. Every pore stretched eagerly for the ceiling above. There was glistening frost clinging to the seats too, they appeared fragile, the cold must have compromised the structure beneath. Contradicting the temperature was the smell of spring as I looked out the window into the pitch black.
The darkness was uncanny, there was nothing outside, and I steadfastly maintained this notion. I feared an interaction with anything living in such an abyss. An enduring war seemed to wage between the flickering fluorescents and the unsettling darkness, apathetic to my presence. I breathed heavily in through my nose and expelled through my mouth watching a thick plume grow thin and disappear. I did this several times hoping the breath would dislodge an obstructed memory, nothing was dislodged, nothing was obstructed. Unrelenting vacancy. Though there was a hint of spring, the train car smelled as though it was preserving something. I briefly reflected on the unwrapping of a perfectly maintained pig corpse for dissection during 8th grade anatomy. The train was gaining speed. What is here?
I rubbed my hands against the rolling dunes of my corduroy pants and an unmanageable panic set in, as I realized the absence of the ever familiar cell phone bulge. Jamming my hands into my pockets, a varnish of sweat formed along my forehead, the plumes grew more frequent, more ragged. My knees bent involuntarily and I collapsed forcefully back into my seat. The stiff plastic felt like fraying concrete in the cold. I shut my eyes once more and focused wholly on the motion of the train. The intricacies felt gliding along the track provided momentary refuge, feeling the wheels compress the iron fault lines, briefly indulging each crack’s desire to be filled calmed me greatly.
I examined the doors that appeared sealed shut by a pulsating red fiber, thick with hundreds of thousands of intricate layers. A spider web of human muscle. An oak tree made entirely of red splintering noodles. The fiber climbed and at the top the tiny spindles appeared to form some type of elaborate map. The labyrinth of tissue appeared impenetrable and I pondered the pointlessness of a map if the train never stopped. The rattling of metal grew louder outside and even the immense darkness seemed blurred as the careening train sliced through.
Until now it had seemed like I was the solitary presence on this lumbering tin can. Something was different now though. An undeniable feeling of being observed followed by the company of a single set of watchful eyes. This was the first time I had surveyed the interior of the train and to my surprise every seat was occupied except the one adjacent to me. I looked up hoping to meet the understanding eyes of someone who could explain my current predicament, as being on this train officially seemed like a predicament. I instead caught the sunken and vacant eyes of something that looked vaguely human. Its head turned only slightly in my direction, the slight motion seemed to take immense effort. A layer of dander abandoned its lengthy resting place and floated to the floor. No sooner had I looked its head snapped back and it looked directly forward once more.
For several seconds the head wobbled as though it were suspended in mid-air by rubber bands. It appeared to be my height exactly and even though it was completely naked there was no discernable gender. The limbs and face seemed slightly elongated, though the nose appeared in perfect proportion. The cracked lips were puckered and turned slightly up as though smiling but void of any real happiness. Maybe the twisted smile once meant something, now it appeared solely complacent. I wondered if the passengers had all passed away. My lips began to pucker, mimicking the beings.
The eyes themselves looked small but the bright white was easily discernible against the wrinkled black skin that surrounded them. Though the eyes looked unoccupied, there was something recognizable in them. The rest of its skin appeared wholly beige but ripe with shadows from the immense amount of wrinkles. At times the shadows seemed to outweigh the skin itself, making the fragments look like floating continents on crumpled map. The bottomless creases appeared as black as the abyss outside. It had shoulder length hair that was aggressively thin; the strands that remained looked brittle and malnourished, capable of shattering into a million pieces at any time. The chest appeared to faintly rise and fall though it didn’t appear as though any breath was expelled from its nostrils or mouth.
The being looked frail and utterly ancient, but oddly content, somehow satisfied with its apparent decay and current course. I peered down the aisle and only then realized how extensive the train was. Thousands upon thousands of seats as far as I could see, all occupied by similar looking creatures of varying weights, sizes and apparent ages. Every set of eyes looking forward, focused on nothing in particular. I stood up and approached one of them; I began asking a series of questions hoping to elicit some type of response. The stillness inside the train grew in unison with the velocity outside. I looked down and noticed the red fibers curled around the gnarled hoofs of the creature, growing up its leg with even some strands reaching its lower abdomen. The condition appeared consistent on most of the other passengers. Several heads turned and snapped trembling, unbalanced atop the skinny neck.
Overwhelmed I returned to my seat to reflect on the current circumstance. How much time had passed? I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the windows. My eyes were red; the luggage underneath them seemed to sink to the middle of my cheeks. I felt insubstantial and tired. I stared wholly into the manifestation and felt what seemed an entire year’s worth of emotions instantaneously. The glass trembled as I considered how much had changed. Weighing their life against mine the thought of no adversity seemed agreeable. To submit to whatever this device was, to become a permanent passenger on the train. Riding in a satisfying indifference for eternity. The red fibers began to touch my now bare feet; they felt warm and welcoming.
I sank back into my seat and stared forward offering my legs to the thread’s loving embrace. The speed had reached such a velocity that the entire train felt weightless. The lights flickered violently. The fibers all over the train illuminated. I unexpectedly stood up, and lifted each leg forcefully several times ripping the strands from my bare flesh. What was I doing? My body seemed to be seeking something that my mind wasn’t privy to. I longed to remain on the train forever, but my limbs moved with precision and purpose. Finally free of the strands I hurled myself through the frozen window exploding shards of glass all over the train as the warm air outside tore in. I looked back and saw a slightly turned head, the white eyes focused completely on my descent. They appeared sad but understanding. I plummeted at what I perceived to be the same velocity the train was moving now, only in a different direction, spiraling out into the pitch black abyss.