Last Train

 

Excerpt from The Times, 23 January, 2009

 

A hundred and twenty-nine people have been reported missing, less than 48 hours after TransCity maintenance staff found human remains in the Woodleigh station during routine maintenance works on electrical cables in the tunnels. TransCity officials declined comment on the incident, on the grounds that the events which transpired are still part of an ongoing police investigation.

 

The Woodleigh station has not been in use since it was completed on June 20, 2003. A TransCity source said that “strange things” happened at the station each time maintenance crew were sent there, “especially in the tunnels.”

 

The TransCity station was built on part of the now-defunct Bidadari Cemetery.

 

***

 

Exactly $2.70 to catch the last train home. Lovely.

Violet shuffled into the train with the other commuters. Those who were on their way back from work emanated quiet despair. Their faces plainly showed that it was well past 11pm, and they were not happy about it. In fact, nobody on that train looked happy. If they had known that tonight would be the last night they would ever have to stay late at the office, they might have looked a little happier.

Violet rejected the rows of empty mauve seats snaking their way through the train. Her dislike of trains was more instinctive than rational. That said, she did have one valid reason for her dislike of trains: it wasn’t easy to fall asleep on trains. They weren’t anywhere near as welcoming as buses. Trains, or at the least the trains that Violet boarded, smelled like hospitals at this time of the night. Sterile, with a hint of disinfectant and stainless steel in the air. Permeating everything was the scent of depressingly bright plastic seats.

No, Violet never could fall asleep on trains.

 

Tonight’s last train was more packed than usual, and Violet found herself wedged between a fairly large man and the train doors. The large man was methodically chewing a burger. Grease dripped from the gristly dark brown patty onto the waxed paper wrapper, industriously forging a path down his wrist.

 

Violet inched closer to the train doors, peering into the darkness outside. Burger Man was still masticating contentedly. His burger appeared to have mystical properties of some sort, because the hamburger’s wrapper seemed to be the fast-food version of the horn of plenty. The damn thing seemed to be never-ending; Burger Man had been eating it for a good ten minutes now. The grease smelled rancid. A drop of it rolled down Burger Man’s elbow and onto Violet’s shoe. He noted this and continued chewing serenely, looking remarkably like a cow with its cud.

 

Violet moved closer to the door again, wanting to put as much space between her new shoes and Burger Man’s greasy Patty of Plenty as possible. She couldn’t wait to get home. There was no sweet boy with a magical smile waiting for her at home, but her empty flat trumped this, hands down. She concentrated on the dim gloom of the tunnel walls whizzing past. Train commutes were bad enough on their own, but surviving a commute with no sleep for the past 48 hours after pulling a double shift was cruel and unusual.

 

/Tap.

Taptap.

Tap./

 

Violet looked around at the other commuters, who were quasi-comatose. No sign of life. Besides, the sounds had come from outside the train; in fact, it had sounded like it was coming from above the train, on the outside.

 

/Tap./

 

She peered out of the glass panels of the train doors, but she couldn’t see anything; the tunnel was too dark.

 

/Taptap.

Tap./

 

Violet craned her neck, almost squashing her nose against the glass in an effort to look at the tunnel ceiling. Nobody else seemed to be hearing the tapping noises, and she couldn’t understand why. They were too loud to be her imagination.

 

It was then that Violet did a very stupid thing.

 

Tentatively, she raised her hand, brought her knuckles to the glass panel of the train door, and rapped lightly, twice.

 

/Tap, tap./

 

She held her breath, waiting for… what, exactly, she didn’t know.

 

Silence.

 

No bogeymen in the tunnels, it seemed.

 

It was just as well. She couldn’t really deal with spooks and Burger Man at the time. He was still eating, and still dripping grease on her shoes. Violet suppressed an urge to yank the burger out of his pale, pudgy hands and stamp on it.

 

/Tap, tap./

 

Violet inhaled sharply. It couldn’t be-

 

/Tap, tap./

 

Louder this time-

 

/Tap, TAP./

 

She looked around, wondering if she was going mad-

 

/Tap, TAP. TAPTAPTAPTAPTAPTAP./

 

She turned back to the door. When she saw who- or more accurately, what was outside the door, she wished she had walked home instead of taking the damned train.

 

Just outside the train door, separated from Violet by a couple of inches of Plexiglass, was… a creature.

 

Wicked, perfectly round eyes that were pure black – no pupil, no whites – with a yellow slit in the centre stared at her, and winked. The creature grinned, revealing sharp, spindly teeth that made Violet think: needles.

 

It placed one hand – if one could call it a hand – on the glass. Violet observed with detached terror that the creature’s skin was scaly, and had an iridescent greenish-gray hue when it caught the fluorescent light from inside the train. Dark purple veins laced the creature’s hand, which had webbed fingers – and such fingers! They were abnormally long, about twice the length of Violet’s fingers – and she did not have stubby fingers.

 

A long tongue that reminded her of frogs and snakes at the same time darted out, leaving a trail of slime on the glass. What passed for its mouth was a slit in its face; it had no lips that Violet could see. The creature’s webbed hand seemed to grow longer, and Violet realized why. It had claws. It had claws which it was now using to tap on the glass in response.

 

/Tap, tap./

 

Violet tore her gaze from the creature, just to check if anyone else in the train (even Burger Man would do, she wasn’t picky at this point) could see it. Everyone was oblivious. She turned back to the train door, and the creature was gone. She didn’t know whether to feel relieved or worried by this.

 

Silence, once again, except for the steady growl of the train engine that told her they were hurtling homewards at a good pace.

 

Then – what was that?

 

A new noise, not tapping, not this time. It sounded like…rats?

 

Yes, it did sound like rats. Very large rats. This time, the noise was coming from under the train. She could feel the slight vibration under her feet as something particularly large was ripped from-

 

Stop it, Violet. You’re just imagining things. It’s probably-

 

A high-pitched metal whine was followed by an ominous, loud clank, directly beneath her feet.

 

Violet considered screaming, but promptly realized it would be pointless. Just as she reached this conclusion, the train shuddered to a halt with a loud, metallic shriek that made Violet’s teeth itch.

 

This, at least, seemed to rouse the commuters from their stupor. Someone hit the emergency button. The lights flickered, then cut. A child started crying, a few cabins away. The emergency lights came on, casting an eerie yellow hue on everyone. Nobody spoke; nobody seemed to be panicking.

 

Violet was vaguely aware of being swept up by a current of silent commuters, all moving towards the emergency exit. She knew she didn’t want to be the only one left on the train, but she didn’t want to be outside with the creature. She thought of its terrible, needle-like teeth and those unnaturally long fingers. Violet decided to take her chances with the other commuters.

 

She looked back at the train driver’s door and stifled a scream. A pool of dark, richly red blood just outside the driver’s door. The creatures (or perhaps, something worse than them?) had gone for the driver already. She pressed on with the rest of the crowd, trying to put as much distance between herself and the driver’s door as possible. A teenager with spiky pink hair noticed the pool of blood as well, and started screaming. The rest of the crowd ignored her.

 

Violet was one of the last to get off the train. She cleared the exit ramp easily, but stumbled on the treacherous gravel tracks. Her ankle made a sickening crick noise as she hit the gravel. She knew it was bad because she didn’t feel the pain immediately. It took a good ten minutes while she sat, completely helpless, on the railway track before the pain bloomed in her ankle, sharp and insistent. God. She’d broken her ankle. She’d always joked about these shoes killing her (they were so pretty, but the heels, they were murder), but this was… ridiculous.

 

She saw one webbed hand emerge from under the ramp, and she knew that she would die in this tunnel.

 

The creature bared its teeth at her – perhaps it was grinning – and those teeth promised her that the end would be swift, it would not be pleasant, and it would certainly not be painless.

 

Snakelike, faster than her vision could track in the faint light spilling from the train, the creature sank its teeth into her injured ankle.

 

She screamed, releasing the rage she had wanted to shed since she stepped onto the train. The now-distant commuters shuffling along the train tracks did not stop; in fact, they seemed to move a little faster. That must be her imagination, though, it had to be.

 

A delicious sensation of cool numbness spread from her ankle to her leg, and then to the rest of her body. Her heartbeat slowed down. She could hear it, slow, but loud, so loud. The last thing she saw in the tunnel was the creature, with that horrible lipless mouth, grinning at her. She gave in to the darkness, closing her eyes for what she thought was the last time.