There are some unusual passengers riding the subway in this week's Concept Art Writing Prompt. What is going on with these monstrous commuters and their more human-looking seat mate? If you've got a story to go with this image, we want to hear it.
Today's concept art is titled "The Night Train," and it's by Ryan Mauskopf, whose modern Greek Myths art we've featured in the past. If you can come up with a short piece of fiction based on this piece, please post it in the comments.
As with last week, I'm going to paste your stories from the comments directly into this post. So if you do not want to see your story in the post, please make a note in the comments.
Here's my story:
I handed the headphones over to Millie. "I recorded my final sign-off," I told her. "Mind if I take off?"
She frowned. "Are you sure you don't want to crash on the couch for a couple of hours? A lot of weirdos out there right now."
I nodded, feeling the lack of sleep creasing lines beneath my eyes. "I just want to get home," I told her.
I grabbed a can of sweetened coffee from the 24-hour Safeway before pulling my hood over my head and walking for my station. It was still far from the twilight hours of the morning, and most of the people I could see were the homeless wrapped tight in their sleeping bags, slumbering through the cold sprinkles of mist. I knew, though, that unseen monsters passed between them, or crouched by their makeshift bedsides. I took comfort in that.
"Hey, you got any more of that?" a voice crackled from behind me. This wouldn't be a monster, not this far from the station, and I quickened my pace, taking another sip of coffee. But the voice followed me. "Hey baby," it said, coming closer, breathing its alcohol breath on me, "don't be that way. Just need some coffee."
He was too close now not to look at. I pulled my hood back just an inch. He was cleaner than I had expected, his breath sour from a night of drinking. It wasn't work or a lack of shelter that had driven him into the night. It was booze and maybe sorrow.
"There's a Safeway back there," I said, pointing a thumb over my shoulder. But he took the opportunity to seize my wrist, gripped it hard through the sweatshirt.
"Come back to my place," he said, in a voice that was used to being smooth, suave. A voice that rarely had to go to the trouble of asking. "I need some company tonight."
I shook my arm free and bolted, relieved to spot my station in the distance. I hopped through the crosswalk, barely checking for oncoming cars. When I reached the top step, I heard the voice call after me, "The station doesn't open for another hour!" I tightened my hood and prayed he didn't come after me.
On second thought, let him come. Let him glimpse the horrors that await the Night Train.
Most humans don't know about the Night Train. My boss was only able to swing me a pass because it was mostly monsters who listened to the 1am to 5am shift anyway. ("Midnight drive," my boss had called it, for folks who lurk long after midnight.) I swiped my pass and joined the sleepy looking creatures waiting on the platform.
I wondered about the man with the crackling voice. Would he wake up in the morning hungover and humiliated? If I checked Craigslist tomorrow, would there be an apology waiting for me? Missed connections: You, tired DJ with a hooded sweatshirt and a magical train pass. Me, drunk past all sense of appropriate human behavior. Didn't mean to come off so rapey.
The train ghosted into the station with none of the noise and fanfare of the daytime train. I crowded into a car and managed to find a seat.
Monsters are attracted to human body heat, and no matter how empty a train car, I will end up with two strange creatures practically sitting on top of me. At first, this unnerved me, but tonight I appreciated the company of creatures who want nothing of me but my dreams. On my left sits a Happy Monster, a monster parents call upon without realizing it, when they tell their children the only critters they'll find in the closet or under the bed are friendly ones, when they send their kids to sleep with ghastly dolls with purple horns and three eyes. On my right is a Matchhead, patron monster of pyromaniacs. For the first time, I notice a few beads of spilled coffee on my sleeve. I wipe them off before nestling between my fellow passengers and, despite the caffeine, dozing off.
When I dream, I dream of the entire topside neighborhood — the radio station, the Safeway, the drunk man, and its monsters — flowering into incredible flames.
ElectricShark keeps the story short and hallucinatory:
"I think these mushrooms are yellow and helium." Millie said thoughtfully to nobody in particular.
Ghost_in_the_Machine wakes up to monsters that never go away:
I was used to seeing the monsters now.
The first time I saw one was when I woke from a year long coma. It was standing in the corner of my hospital room. When we made eye contact it put a hairy finger up to its mouth in a silent shush. I was too freaked out to say anything as the monster left the room while doctors and nurses rushed in. When I realized no one else had seen a large hairy monster walking around I kept my mouth shut.
I saw the hairy monster again a few days later in the same corner of the room. As the doctors examined me, the hairy monster approached and looked over their shoulders as if he was part of the medical team. When the doctors left, he went back to the corner and picked up a briefcase that I had not noticed before. I had always had sharp vision and could see the nameplate. "HAIRY MONSTER, M.D." was printed on it.
The third time I saw Doctor Monster he wasn't alone. His companion wore a suit and gloves. His head looked like a fuzzy pine cone with the top on fire. Neither of them ever spoke, they just watched as doctors conducted their examinations.
After I was released I kept seeing the monsters once or twice a week. Sometimes they would appear in my apartment, sometimes at work, sometimes on the subway. They were always completely silent and no one else seemed to notice them.
I still have no idea why they are interested in me.
Not_too_Xavi imagines the commuter chit-chat:
"Bob," the creature composed of flame greeted the hulking mass of muscle and sinew wrapped in smooth fur with a nod. It sat down with a fwump as part of it's suit extinguished on the subway seat.
"Qhhqt." A soft, deep voice replied from within the lower part of the creature's shaggy head.
"Oh you know," the flaming suit replied. "The usual. Chandra screwed up my coffee, the bodega was out of fresh oranges, and my wife...Ooh my wife."
"I know, right? You'd think a budget was an alien concept, but noooo. Seven jeans are exempt from my paltry planning. Don't ever get married Bob."
"You say that now, I mean I did too when I was your age...look, don't get me wrong. I love her and she loves me, but marriage is tough man. Love's the thing, don't need a ring for love, you know?"
There was a cough. The girl shifted in her seat between them. She had done very well to avoid attention so far, and she cursed the frog in her throat with a thousand damnations.
"Why hello there," the flame smiled at her. "Bob, is she with you?"
"I didn't think so." The flame took a sip of coffee. His breath steamed as he exhaled. "God that's awful. So where to, young miss?"
The train slowed to a jolting stop, cutting him off. The doors opened and some of the passengers decamped, while others slipped in. The crowd getting on was bigger, so Bob and the flame scootched a little closer on either side of her.
"Don't mind me," the flame continued. He threw his arm straight up. "I'm sure."
"Oh shut up, I know."
The girl smiled as the train jostled along. Bob and the flame seemed alright. Bob discreetly harrumphed a hairball and straightened his Windsor. The flame continued to drink his god awful coffee.
An announcer came over the intercom, "East Point, College Park."
As the train slid into the next station, the girl stood up. She adjusted her should bag, and turned to her seat-mates.
"You guys are on here everyday?" She asked.
"Qhhqt." Bob replied.
"Twice on Sunday," added the flame.
She nodded, pleased. "Save me a seat then." With a snap of her fingers, Bob's fur exploded in a puff of static electricity, and the flame went out. What was left was a man shape in a suit with all of the consistency of the embers of a fire, and a furball in Armani.
"I like her," the flame chuckled. He shrugged and took a sip of coffee. "What do you think?"
tiredfairy's monster commuters get more than they bargained for when they chat up their young girl:
At precisely 2:15 am, the Night Train pulled into the station, sleekly gray, with a trailing blue fog in an otherwise clear, cool night. The only sound it made was a low, cat-like hiss as the brakes brought it to a full stop at the very top of the mostly empty platform. There were only 4 cars and the single listed destination on the display read: Outer Town. The doors opened silently, spilling dim green pools of light.
From out of those same doors shuffle...The Shapes. Some hulk, some stoop, others undulate or crawl. The glint of a long tooth, the shimmer of scales, the sheen of fur or spike, flash occasionally in the subtle gloom. The trains' blue fog obscures most other identifiers, and The Shapes file quickly away to their homes, lairs, or lakes.
As the train empties, only two figures patiently wait to enter. They are both dressed as for a day at the office, one in a jolly, dotted tie, the other a long scarf an slim suit. The former has a cheerful, sunny smile upon his fuzzy face, and carries a briefcase in his formidable looking claws. The other, more fussy, wears old fashioned gloves, and his head gives off a warm and glowing flame. They nod to one another, nightly commute companions, but not friends,
The car they choose is mostly empty, but as they glimpse the solitary figure across from them, they choose a seat together and cast wary eyes in the direction of what appears to be...a girl. Possibly human, though neither wants to assume. They sit in amiable silence as the Night Train's doors close and smoothly resumes its course.
Just as the two travellers begin to relax, the girl suddenly stands up and moves swiftly toward them, moving gracefully in spite of several lurches of the train. She holds a cup of coffee in her hand, and holds on to the overhead pole on tip toes.
"Hi!" she says cheerfully, wide-eyed and bouncy toned. "This is my first time on the Night Train. I'm Emmy!" before the other two can say a word she plops herself down between them and playfully swings her short legs. She does not seem in the least put out by their stares or lack of response. Or the fact that her seatmates are both clearly inhuman.
"I'm going to visit someone in Outer Town. I thought I'd get some coffee to stay awake, though I think it's made me a little jumpy. I was excited about the trip any way, it must be wonderful! I've heard soooo many fantastic things! Do you both live there?" this all came out in a rush, with no real place for either of her seat companions to respond. So the fuzzy creature on her right merely grunted, keeping his smile carefully on his face. The other simply nodded, a bit of ash falling off his head. He flicked it carefully away with one gloved hand.
"Well! I'm very glad to have the company. Long trips go so much better when you have other people to chat with. As I said, I'm Emmy. I'm originally from the city, not this one, but, another. You'd think a city would be full of things to do, but no, it was dreadfully dull. Wrong sort of people, I suppose. This one is better, but, still, not quite to my tastes. That's why I'm going to Outer Town. It sounds perfect!" She drank some more of her coffee, bopping gently in her seat. Over her head the two monsters glanced at one another, sharing a moment of resigned irritation.
For the next hour or so, Emmy continued to chatter contentedly at her two travelling companions. Occasionally they would offer a nod or a grunt of approval, though it was hard to tell. It all seemed to mean the same to her. Sometimes she would lean closer to one or the other, smiling, with a friendly pat on the shoulder or claw. She remarked several times on how convenient it was to actually be your own source of light, and how she should be very glad of fur like that in winter-time. Her voice was bubbly but not unpleasant, and though both monsters would have preferred a silent ride after their long work nights, it was not altogether a bad ride.
As they drew closer to Outer Town, with its twinkling lights and oddly shaped towers, the two monsters made ready to depart. As the train slowed down Emmy got excitedly to her feet and stood by the door, hopping on one foot, then the other. As it came to a full stop and the brakes hissed in their cat-like way, she turned towards her two companions with a smile that made them both gasp and step back.
The furry one clutched his briefcase to his chest, while the flaming head took his arm and stepped slightly in back of him, like a shield. Emmy continued to grin, though now they both knew that their chatty train companion had most decidedly NOT been "just a girl".
"Thank you both for letting me talk your ears off. It was awfully kind of you. You see…" and here that impossibly wide grin cracked and gaped further, unhinging her jaw and showing off rows upon rows of impressively needle sharp teeth, "I had thought I might have a lite snack on the journey. But, you two were so obliging, I decided to wait til we got to town. "
The two companions nodded, not knowing what else to do. Her long, red, and forked tongue flicked out and licked her lips. The door behind her slid open and, in that dim green light, she winked a pink and hungry eye at them both.
"See you around!" she said with a wave, and stepped out and swiftly away. The two monsters stood still for awhile, until they were mostly sure she was really gone. Then they carefully made their way to the nearest bar and drank to forget the chatty not-just-a- girl on The Night Train, and what she was eating in Outer Town that night.
thediscolabirinto follows a maintenance worker on the monster line:
When I tell people that I work for the Transport Authority in the B line subway maintaince crew, they immediatly drop the conversation, stare at their feet for quite a time, and finally put up a good 20 feet away from myself. I don't blame them for this, my job ain't nice. Obviously the whole "B line subway maintaince crew" it's an euphemism, something that helps people to process the unthinkable. We're in charge of cleaning up in case a potential situation may arise on the B-Line, and something always happen on the B-Line. What I mean ? Well once an egg head, with a list of Phds long as my arm, sent by those in the higher positions of the chain of command, explained the thing to our team in these terms: the B line is positioned on a inter-dimensional fault line; so all of sudden you can be seated near a Big foot like creature in a business suit, discover that a parasite has nested in your bowels and now its eggs are hatching, catch a sight of a demon with his skull on fire resembling Ghost Rider or catching glimpse of something like Aztec's pyramid structures floating in the void through the wagon windows; and I'll never be able to forget the advice he gave us: "Just try to stay alive"
Dances with Peeps captures that moment when you pray those weirdos won't sit next to you, and they do it anyway:
Her knee was killing her. She took each stair carefully, stepping down with her bad leg first, then following with the good leg, with the knee that would bend. She quietly cursed the broken escalator, her knee, the late hour, her boss, the transit system; each step down was another curse/prayer to whoever would listen.
Finally, the platform, and she could limp carefully over to wait with the other late night riders. Her energy drink tasted disgusting, flat and warm, but she had a long trip home, with a couple transfers, and she knew she couldn't manage it without the caffeine and B12.
The rails hummed, and then the occasional small shriek of the wheels on the rails as the train braked into the station. She relaxed, thanked the universe and boarded as quickly as she could, grabbing the seat by the door. The vibrations from the other riders boarding traveled up her legs, but she was already in mass transit protocol mode, her gaze toward the floor, mostly unfocused, an invisible bubble of leave-me-alone formed around her.
She noticed the feet stopped in front of her. Damn it. Don't, please, please don't sit next to me. There are a lot of other seats, take one of them.
It didn't work. He sat down to her right. At least he was slim and didn't reek. She made a shift to her left, but the seat was suddenly filled. Someone large. Someone with an odor. Well, crap. She reminded herself that she was only on this train for ten minutes. Her knee not hurting was worth the cramped seating.
The train started moving. She braced, trying to avoid contact with her seatmates. They did not. In fact, they seemed to be edging closer. She did a quick scan of the car. Damn it again. Every row had at least one rider, every one a potential perv. Great. She turned away, but then something caught her eye. A hat. A real man's hat. A fedora. It was a soft gray with matching ribbon. A real fedora, with a full brim, not one of those porkpie sleazoid numbers that always seem to be worn by sweaty guys with wife beaters underneath their unbuttoned shirts. She checked out the wearer, considering moving next to him. And reconsidered. He wore his hat low, his jacket collar up, but she could see the mossy green, slick looking skin.
She slowly looked around the car. She saw fur, gills, blue skin, goat's eyes. She dropped her eyes to the floor. Sipped her drink. And considered whether she should look at her seatmates, or stick to mass transit protocol. Then she felt the heat. She casually turned her head so that she could see the guy to her right in her peripheral vision. A small flame was on his head.
She checked out the passenger to her left. She saw the soft white fur. The odor was now recognizable, the warm smell of a furred animal.
Then she felt them both push closer into her.
She took a long drink and considered. She could stand up for the rest of the ride, but she didn't want to draw attention from the other, very Other, passengers. Her knee throbbed, quashing any last thought of standing.
Then they pushed so close she was actually partially sitting on each of them.
Another long drink. She checked her watch. It was only a couple minutes to the next station. She could sit it out. She could.
And she did. She was up and out the door as it opened, her knee ignored. There were people on the platform, human people, who did not even seem to see the train that had just stopped.
Merle and Roger turned to look out the window at the woman on the platform. She was breathing hard, looking anywhere but at the train. They laughed, turned back in their seats, and relaxed into the ride home.
XplodingPalmTree insists that this isn't a random encounter:
You probably want to ask me why a young, innocent looking girl would be traveling with the likes of these two charming looking fellows. But the truth is, you won't because you can't see them. The other truth is, you can't even see me. Not since I joined up with these two. The guy to my right who looks like the bad end of a cigarette is Sejv(the "e" is silent, go figure). The big fluffy guy with the hangy-do on his head who looks like Chewbacca's cousin is Plumf(pronounced "Carl", go figure, again). My name is Lorelei(pronounced how it looks, more or less). No, I was not named after Gilmore Girls. Yes, I was named after that STYX song. But I was also named after that German legend about the siren, and for good reason. One note from my lips could make you drop to your knees and pledge your undying love to me. Or, make you drop to your knees while you bleed from every orifice. The three of us make up unit 42 of The Nightmare Division... and I assure you, we're the good guys
PhantomV explores the social nuances of riding the Night Train:
She seems to be analyzing the repeated crunch that she hears as she walks and evidently loves this subtle soundtrack to her nightly commute. The damn gravel is at least five feet around the train tracks and one piece always finds its way into her shoes. The station is up ahead. Ah, and there is the crescendo in the tune she is walking to; the wince-inducing, high-pitched screech of the train's brakes is the best announcement of its arrival. Not that, considering the cold night, anyone, human or otherwise, needs exceeding motivation to go into some sort of shelter.
A good thing about The Night Train is the rarity of finding yourself next to the same individual two nights in a row. Although, taking into account the type of individual often on this train, that's a small consolation. She remembers one of her co-workers, Margaret, pleading with her to keep her company on these rides. She finally obliged last month. As it turns out, Margaret nearly fainted when an orc sat next to her and asked in a traditionally hoarse voice, "You humans often call your women sweet. I don't suppose that is a literal statement?" She was convinced, justly so, that he intended on making her his night-time snack and did not react well. From then on, she makes her trips alone; it involves less melodrama regardless of the risks.
She has learned over time that it is best to scan the platform immediately after entering, and it has become surprisingly easy to spot potential threats. Equally surprising is the amount of times these threats come in the shape of humans rather than not. Taking a look around, she realizes that tonight might be one of those nights as she focuses on a small group towards the back of the platform. These evidently upstanding citizens are eying a pair of faeries which are undoubtedly planning some mischief of their own. It's no wonder faeries caught their attention. They fetch a decent price in underground markets. While her fellow men are otherwise engaged and the train is emptying, she figures she might as well get herself something warm from one of the vending machines that cater to humans and quickly climb into an empty car.
The warm tea is just what she needed despite the price. You would think that, considering the many creatures involved in otherworldly economics, a terminal like this one would be devoid of inflation.
Losing herself in thought is usually something that she does not worry about. It seems she's going to have to add it her list of "Night Commute Don'ts ." The last thing she remembers is pondering under-worldly economics. Now, she looks up and realizes that she is stuck between a demonic attorney and a yeti doctor. She cannot decide who to feel worse for: herself for being awkwardly stuck between these two, or the poor seat being crushed under the weight of the yeti to her left. Well, she just needs to survive the next half hour uncomfortably wedged in place. Oh yes, she thoroughly loves her nightly commute.
TimVanSant points out that riding the train with humans is no picnic:
I wasn't especially pleased to be sitting next to her. But she seemed pleasant enough and sat quietly sipping her drink. You're not supposed to bring food or drink on the train, of course, but at night the rules aren't strictly enforced. If only that had been the worst of it.
The trouble started soon enough. She kept glancing over to a group of boys and they, of course, had been eyeing her ever since they got on the train. I shifted to my left, leaving her barely enough room to stay perched between me and the big guy — I wish I could remember his name, dammit — who seemed oblivious to it all. Maybe if the boys thought we were together they would leave her alone. Or maybe she would feel uncomfortable by my closeness and move to another seat. Hey, chivalry isn't dead, but it's badly worn down.
The boys got up and coasted towards us. I stared at them as menacingly as I could but they took no notice of me. The biggest one grabbed the rail and stood right in front of the girl. The others formed a rank behind him. She looked up at their faces and I could feel the heat of their blood rushing like the tide. She batted her eyelashes and their hearts struggled to pump some of the blood up to their brains.
To his oxygen-deprived mind I'm sure the boy thought he was chatting her up smoothly. What really came out was more along the lines of monosyllabic grunts. "Hi, babe." "I'm Jack." "Your name?" What he lacked in charm he made up in volume. She answered in a voice that I recognized from stories I had learned at my mother's knee. A siren, not a human girl as I — and those poor boys — had supposed.
I watched helplessly, and a little in awe, as she drew them in and then with a giggle dashed their hopes. The object of their desire still in sight, but now totally out of reach, they crumbled like so much flotsam and drifted back to their seats. I carefully edged my way across the seat to give her more room. I was pretty sure she had no interest in me, but there was no point in tempting fate.
corpore-metal travels into the future, casting our monsters as aliens:
"It's been two years since I passed certification, one after they finally put an office here, and you know what I'm beginning to think?" It was Zenobia making small talk with the clerk at the donut shop on her way to work.
"Ummm, what?" David replied, not really interested in holding a conversation with a customer, even if she was a regular. It was the morning rush and David didn't have time for this.
"Humanity is only remarkable among sophonts for our perverse Captain Kirk urges."
David blinked. He didn't get the joke. They were both twenty-seven, Roddenberry had been dead for about forty years and Paramount hadn't made a Trek movie in about fifteen years. It was like making jokes about Buster Crabbe or Captain Video.
Zenobia Tawil, thinking the reference went over, waggled her eyebrows, told the register to add a good tip, took her coffee and danish and left for the subway.
It was both surprising and disappointing when humans finally made contact with alien life. Zenobia was still in graduate school when telescopes first spotted their ships moving about in the Oort Cloud, giant ships building giant factories. The spacefaring powers of the Earth had only just started assembling the pieces needed for a manned camping expedition to Mars, which was still years away.
Given that, the aliens were surprisingly generous. They could have just carted off the entire solar system and ignored the natives entirely.
The W line, going toward Astoria-Ditmars, was the last leg of Zenobia's trip to the office. For her it was also the most fun because it was usually crammed with diplomats and functionaries, both human and alien.
She sat wedged between two creatures who apparently had no human concept of personal space.
To her right was a Jash, a jarring mix between the very human and very alien. Wearing a scarf, chinos, light winter jacket and gloves, its build and musculature seemed like that of a young man on a trip to the Guggenheim. But the wooly bush of backlit hair that made its head told an entirely different story.
It was singing to itself quietly, as all Jash do to aid memory. Zenobia ignored it; New York made you good at ignoring eccentricity.
To her right was a Draithekt, apparently a doctor, sitting in a great furry lump and keeping to itself. The creature looked very mammalian, with sloth-like paws and feet, but these apparently were mere parallel evolution, like the octopus eye. Its necktie was actually a hard to decode badge of office in their elaborate caste system. Zenobia used to think Draiths were cute until she saw how they managed fine manipulation of objects.
Idly sipping her black coffee, she did wonder if they were tourists or if they had business at the UN, like she did.
Renolds rides the train with nightmares:
I decided to keep a log of my dreams, ever since hearing about how Karen flies over England in hers. So, for me, the most recent one was during the subway ride back home. I was sandwiched between two guys—one who might as well have had a silver spoon between his teeth, and another who looked like a cubicle farm worker. I was studying really hard recently, so I hadn't gotten much sleep. I blinked, and then all of the color in the world was suddenly washed out, like when you get hit by a spotlight. Just black and white. The rich kid turned into a pillar of smoke and embers wearing the same clothes, and the other guy turned into some sort of panda-thing. Then I blinked, and it was back to normal, so I probably just fell asleep real quick. I guess it was symbolic. The rich kid looked like a burnout, and the office guy was probably sweet once you got to know him.
It's the same dream every time I close my eyes, now—whatever is around me turns black and white, and the people turn into monsters. Maybe I should say something to a counselor? They'd probably just tell me to be less stressed, and then take my money. Like I have time to be less stressed.
It happened again. On the subway. Black and white, and then things turned to tentacles, or snarling wolves, or amassed legions of bugs. I thought it would go away before I got to my stop, but it stayed that way. And I just got up like everything was fine—you know, playing along with it—but then I got to work, and they were still monsters. All the steel and stone of the city remained, but the flesh was warped and perverted. Trees were scaffolding with meat hooks hanging from them. Politicians vomited fire at each other. A hunch-back with an open wound for an eye walked up to me and started talking a language I couldn't understand. But for some reason, I answered him in that same language. I don't even know what I said!
My boss was a clockwork golem, tearing through the store, knocking over racks of inventory. The customers just picked it up off the floor—for many of them, it even seemed easier. I don't know what the money is, and I don't care to find out. I couldn't even read the numbers on the register. Now I'm home, and everything's changed there, too. My roommates are monsters, my things are all rearranged—I'm too scared to go to the bathroom, because I might see myself in the mirror. The only thing that was in the right place was this log. I'm going to bed now, I'm hoping I'll wake up. I'm praying I wake up.
I spent my lunch break trying to fly today. Karen said that she just thought about it, and it happened. I stood there, staring at the sky for twenty minutes. Then one of the gargoyles winked at me. I just want to wake up.
It's like I'm trapped in someone else's mind. She—I think it's a she—walks where I need to go, says what needs to be said, and does whatever needs doing. Every time I think I start getting a handle on the language, it changes. It's like trying to decipher meaning from bent nails, or from how leaves fall. I don't know how she sees this handwriting. Maybe she knows. Maybe she wants me here.
I have a date tonight. The gargoyle from before. He doesn't wear pants.
They say love conquers all. I feel like a villager before Christopher Columbus. I'm just waiting for the bayonette.
It's been a year. I don't know if I want to go back any more. The thought of all that mortal, hairless flesh sickens me. Here, it's quiet. Sure, monsters go about their daily business, but they're like birds, or deer. I don't really interact with them so much as... observe. It's lonely.
I think I'm married.
I can't sleep any more. She's been having night terrors. I think they're from the dreams she has. I get flashes of them sometimes, but I can't ever remember them. I don't want to find out. They might take me somewhere else.
I've figured out how to live in this world, if nothing else. I had two kids—abominations of flesh and living rock, sure, but they're mine. They're ours. We don't want to leave them. And besides, if I slept in the real world, and woke up here, where will I be sent next time? What hell will find me? And what happens to her?
I can't sleep. Not now. Not ever.
Mel Chow finds an interdimensional explanation for our weird travelers:
Bahman Shankar thinks, as he shifts uncomfortably in his seat, feeling warm, soft flesh rub against his angular obsidian butt. He grumbles in frustration, and looks to his left.
Ha! The rotund, furry fellow beside him must feel the same. He is already looking at Bahman, rolling his eyes. Baman Shankar nods grimly, and makes a rude display with the light crystal atop his head. Rotund-Fellow chuckles, and his head-stalk follows up with something more obscene. Definitely on the same page.
Nestled in between (where else?) both of them, the In-Betweener remains silent, and sips at her drink despite the very, very conspicious NO FOOD AND DRINK, FINE $500!! sign. Her eyes shift suspiciously from side to side. Bahman Shankar wonders if she is too intimidated to speak, or if she only comprehends In-Betweenglish.
In any case, she shouldn't be here. Train seat compartments are built for two. Typical opportunistic In-Betweener behaviour. And the smell! Oh, the smell. The White Council outlawed the bringing of meat aboard the Night Train (NO RED/WHITE/OTHER MEAT, FINE $1000!!). Guess what? Typical In-Betweener smells like a barbecue. Talk about taking a warhammer to their ivory nuts.
Bahman Shankar tries to ignore the In-Betweener, and looks about the Night Train. Packed like sardines (yes, some of them smell like sardines too). Opposite him, five In-Betweeners cram into a seating compartment, throwing shifty glances at the Baba Yaga floating forlornly in front of them, trying to keep in one place as the Night Train shudders about. What a waste of an old woman's mana, Bahman thinks, his mind skipping gently around the issue of him actually standing up and offering the Baba Yaga his seat. The In-Betweneers will have the seat before she gets here, he quickly reasons, as he continues glancing about.
In a corner seat, a writhing mass of Black Tentacles probe and prod at a pale, barely-dressed In-Betweener, as she happily tells him something about Ee-Tai, Yameh-Teh, Kimoh-Chee and Da-Meh. Must be her family back in the In-Between, Bahman thinks. But still, Black Tentacles should at least have some sense of dignity, and go find himself a siren to grope instead. Then again, most Sirens only go for the fully fleged Shoggoths nowadays. Poor fellow.
As a kid, Bahman Shankar used to enjoy rides on the Night Train. Until the White Council opened the Dimensional Door at Akan Datang, sending an open invitation to the space between worlds. Everyone thought it quaint when the first In-Betweeners stepped forth, wide-eyed and eager. Until more kept coming, and one day the general populace suddenly realised it wasn't so quaint anymore. Even then, the Door at Akan Datang remained open, with more emissaries being sent forth to the In-Between.
Just last night, Bahman remembers the Great Leader appearing on television in response to the failed Hammer attacks upon the Door, reaffirming that there was a clear, definite plan for the In-Betweeners. Bahman wonders if the plan involves gathering them all up and tossing them upon a big, honking barbe-
-The Night Train shudders, and abruptly grinds to a halt. The lights flicker, and go off.
Bahman Shankar now finds himself sitting in pitch black and a cacophony of noises, with a warm, soft leg of ham with corned beef innards pressed up beside him.
He licks his lips.
It had to happen one day, he thinks.
In BookManFilm's story, one of these fellows tries to work up the nerve to talk to the girl:
Brian sat fingering the locks on his briefcase. He glanced nervously to his right. She had sat next to him again!
Everyday Brian got the caught the tube to work. Day in, day out. But since Monday this girl. THIS girl had sat next to him. Each day she had smiled shyly, asked if anyone was sitting there and then squeezed in between Brian and that guy Phil from accounts.
She would shuffled her bottom to get the correct position, pull out her little flask and drink away for the entire journey until Brian had to disembark for his desk.
But today was different, she had not asked 'if anyone was sitting there' she had just SAT. THERE! She had not shuffled her bottom and she had not even looked at Phil.
Brian had been watching her in the reflection of the opposite window. He saw that she often took a look at him, at his briefcase, at his tie. His tie!
He had put all of his ties on his bed this morning. It was important. Today he was going to talk to her.
But he could not. Nothing came. Nothing.
As his stop got closer he felt pressure on his shoulder. He looked at his reflection and saw her, felt her lean into him, 'nice tie' she whispered.
And Brian knew.
Adam Parmenter tackles those indecipherable transit announcements:
There came a garbled electric mumble from the com-system.
I politely prodded the shambling mass of random clothes sitting next to me, which was either a monstrosity that sprung directly from the pits of the local hospice shop during some hellfire ritual... or a bag-lady.
"Excuse me, did you hear the announcement?"
I got a muffled reply from the depths of the pile.
"It said," came an ominous rumble from the opposite seat, "Please do not eat London Underground staff during service hours. Thank you."
"Ah," I said. "Much obliged."
I never liked immigrants.
ExAnimal imagines these three as a trio on a mission:
Emily eyed the walrus carefully. Of course, it wasn't much like a walrus after all the experiments. Covered in hair and with claws at the ends of what once were flippers, he was a classic example of what they were trying to stop. The walrus' claws drummed on the top of the briefcase, making Emily nervous. It certainly didn't help that Matchstick kept squeezing closer.
Matchstick was only smoldering at the moment but he could set himself fully alight in seconds. Fire wouldn't activate the briefcase but it would certainly be enough to destroy the subway car, taking her and the walrus with it. Emily wasn't sure about Matchstick; it seemed logical that he might be able to survive an explosion. After all, he was currently on fire.
So Emily sat sipping her drink, as the walrus tapped his claws. Life as an animal rights activist was a lot harder these days. Blowing up a lab was certainly not something she had envisaged when she first started handing out fliers but it was now necessary with all the abominations being created. Matchstick had originally been a beehive. Emily shuddered to imagine what that community had gone through to become not just a single being but also one that became a raging inferno on an almost daily basis.
Suddenly the train lurched and it all went from hard to impossible. All it took was a spark from Matchstick's head to land on the walrus and set his flipper-hair alight. The walrus dropped the case, the latch sprang open and the subway car was gone. It turns out that shock-waves kill just as much as flames and Matchstick was obliterated in a cloud of splintering wood, linen and burnt honeycomb. Not that Emily would care any more.
Jonathan Sample follows a lengthy encounter aboard the train:
Those Who Ride
by Jonathan J. Sample
Selenia's toes wriggled and sharply folded back towards her feet, scratching the insoles of her slippers along the way. Every evening the cacophony screaming from the metallic friction of the incoming homebound-tram triggered this reaction. Her slippers were far from grateful and would, if they could, emote in a fashion similar to her face which displayed tremendous discomfort at the noise.
Her eyes opened from their tight squint and gazed up at the softly glowing sign above the nearest rail car's side door. "Laurel Manor via Sharpton Hall" it read. She mentally cursed the indirectness of the subterranean lines and departed the dim of the empty platform. Her hand went out for the nearest vertical bar inside the car's open doorway, wrapped, every few inches or so in frustratingly tacky tape. Hauling herself in, her eyes drooping with the fatigue that meets each worker at day's end, she quickly shuffled herself over to the nearby beverage machine and punched up a concoction which would surely set her to right until she could crash into her pillowy nest at home.
A long and slender can crashed down into the hulking machine's scratched, silvery escape hatch. Selenia reached down for it, adjusting her shoulder bag as she did so, realizing then that the can was not actually the one she initially requested. Damn, she thought, and let the arm which bore the incorrect beverage droop down to her side. Finally she looked up into the rest of the tram car to see who would be accompanying her on today's end of the day commute. The frustration from the beverage incident carried over to pick up the slack for the reaction to what her eyes now saw.
Unfortunately this evening the tram staff saw fit to remove all but one of the side benches, excusing their inconsiderate action with a hastily scribbled sign which read, "Apologies. Use top rail for support if seating is unavailable. Thank you, from the Cor-Eidolon City Tram Support Staff."
She let escape a sigh-grunt amalgam and studied the only bench in the nearly empty car. Upon it sat two familiar yet incredibly exasperating characters. To one side was a hirsute gal Selenia and other passengers had come to call the Fastidious Frump. The Frump sat on a side of the bench which struggled to hold her bulk. Her hair was matted down all over her body except for a defiant strand or two of head hair. She stared forward with a wide-eyed gaze and a tight, forced smile. A clumsily arranged tie hung about her neck and upon her lap sat a briefcase which was fooling no one. The briefcase belonged to a certain practitioner of the medicinal arts, a Mr. Harvey McWetter MD according to its label. Surely this McWetter fellow, the more than obvious previous owner, was someone of high societal standing and great importance. Clearly different from the Frump who could be seen, by day, aimlessly wandering the streets at the heart of the Cor, gazing up at the monoliths of purpose, and basking in the energy of the most important place in the whole of their world. She now hummed, tight-smiling and clutching the briefcase with her long-nailed hands.
To the Frump's right, across a small space which Selenia painfully realized was the only available seat left in the car, hunched a curious-looking fellow who was wearing a stupefied expression. His dress was clean and casual. A silken, deep-red scarf hung from around his neck, resting on the lapel of a flawless deep-blue overcoat. His head was a pulsing, ashy ember. This was a typical feature of his kind, one of the most important peoples of the city. His title, which he only offered to those who could manage to coax a word or two from him, was Mr. Ash. His mouth hung agape, revealing dozens of diamond, baby-sized teeth. He, too, was staring forward but with eyes which, when visible in the calm of his mental ember, seemed to scream panic.
Selenia made her way cautiously over to the two oddities, her skirt swaying in the gust which coursed through the car as the doors hissed shut. The tram began to jerk towards movement and she stared now at the two folks possessing the majority of the sole bench. She gestured with a bobbing head and inquiring brown eyes towards what she hoped would be her resting place for the journey home. Her mouth was obscured by the can which she held up to her face, playing at the its tab with her teeth as she tired of waiting for the vacant expressions to glance her way and provide the courtesy of a seat offering.
Mr. Ash shuffled his gloved fingers between and around each other while continuing his stressed gaze forward. His mouth closed and then opened again. He didn't pay her any mind nor offer her any invitation. As usual he was wordless.
"Go ahead. There's room," blurted the Frump who shifted her glassy, golden eyes up to look into Selenia's soft, brown orbs. "Plenty of room here, dear, dear. Take it."
Selenia bowed a thank you towards both, continuing her teeth-play of the can tab, and swung her backside round to squeeze between the two seated figures. Each of them adjusted, Mr. Ash soundlessly as the Frump let slip a surprised grunt. "Sorry," apologized Selenia.
"Nothing bothering, dear. All's well," responded Frump. "Quite."
Orange lights shifted past the car's windows, slowly at first but then streaking as the tram picked up its speed. The whole of the car in which the trio sat shook its usual shake, rocking back and forth as it was whisked along with the rest of the long-linked, snaking transport. The bright, sterile glow of the faint-blue car lights caused everything within to take on an intense focus while the darkness of the tunnel without became even more overwhelming. A speaker above the three attempted for a few seconds to entertain them with a particle of instrumentals. They looked up in unison as a crackle came on the line and faded away into nothing. It hadn't done that in a while, thought Selenia. This caused her to notice the severe disrepair in which the tram car existed. It was patched up and bandaged like a persistent prize-fighter who just wouldn't go down in spite of reason and a dozen or more broken, vital bits.
The Frump's clanky, nailed hands shifted their grip on the briefcase of Dr. McWetter as she attempted to turn her bulk slightly to face Selenia who only felt her tight space become more so as a result. The Frump had no neck so torso motion was the only way for her inefficient make up to allow her head to get a decent look around. She strained to make eye contact with the mostly squished Selenia, "How was your day in the city, dear, dear?"
"More of the same. Deliveries, deliveries, and, when the time calls for it, more deliveries. It's a living."
"It would have to be," replied the Frump who readjusted to face forward, much to Selenia's relief. "We're fortunate to hold such wonderful work spots in so lovely a city, no?"
Selenia chuckled nervously and fingered the top of her now open beverage cannister. "Sure thing, Frump. Lucky workers, us."
"I had a marvelous day flitting about my extremely busy schedule," continued the Frump. "So many tasks to complete and so many places to visit, you know. It's lovely to have such purpose, really."
"Mm-hm!" Selenia responded with a friendly, feminine crescendo. She wondered what it was the Frump was referring to and if she should break it to the Frump that she was aware of how little Frump actually did while in the city. In fact she wondered where the Frump was heading now. Home? A new place to wander until the next day? What a mystery is the Frump, she thought while transitioning her focus to a light, slow hum she decided to begin.
"What's the point of any of it?" Mr. Ash groaned inquiringly, much to the incredible surprise of Selenia and the Frump.
"Whatever do you mean?" huffed the Frump as she kept the briefcase from slipping off her lap. "The city runs and living continues. You better than anybody knows that, Mr. Ash, sir! Where's your pride, huh?"
Selenia let her eyes slip to their right corners. Her gaze fell upon the now drooping head of Mr. Ash who shook it from side to side, quickly blinking his eyes. "Are you all right, Mr. Ash?"
"I got a glimpse of something today and lost all hope because of it. We, all of us, are now in the doomed business of holding back degradation. We're all units busying ourselves with futilities. Haven't you noticed?"
At this Mr. Ash shifted his head to view Selenia's curious face. She locked eyes with the fellow as his glow died down and the intensity of his worried look pierced her. In spite of his radiating warmth she felt a ghastly chill. What was it he'd seen from his lofty vantage point? What had he noticed that she and others neglected, she wondered.
"It's all for naught, you see," Mr. Ash moaned. "If you doubt me look up tonight as you make your way home. That's not majesty. It's pure rot and utter failure. "
"Now that's quite enough, Mr. Ash!" bellowed the Frump. "You are a foul and faithless being, you! Obviously you can't see the good and meaningful work our society does. We're maintaining and doing a powerful job at it. We're blessed to be here doing what we do. Blessed!"
At the screech which ended the Frump's reply to Mr. Ash Selenia felt her toes repeating their initial response to the halting tram. She looked from side to side nervously at the two beings which flanked her and felt the huffy rise and fall of the Frump's breathing. Mr. Ash stared downward and made soft sobbing sounds. She couldn't help but feel an overwhelming fear and an insane panic rise up from deep within. Her hand suddenly shot up and yanked the signal line which ran along the top of the car's windows. An audible ding rung off the metal interior of the car and startled the Frump.
"What? What's the matter?" the Frump implored of the panicking Selenia. "Don't let this fool get at you. He just doesn't appreciate or understand anything. Everything is fine! You're fine!"
Selenia popped out of between her emotional neighbors and made a break for the car door as the tram eased off its speed to cruise into the nearest stop. Mr. Ash didn't pay her any mind as he continued his mourning, facing floorward. The Frump just huffed and anxiously looked from the fleeing girl to the pathetic Mr. Ash scowling at the latter. Selenia hastily squeezed out of the slowly opening door, dropping her half-full can which poured its remaining contents all over the litter-cluttered tram floor.
"Well, fine, stupid girl," growled the Frump as she folded her arms and let Dr. McWetter's briefcase fall to the soiled car floor. "Listen to this nitwit! I don't care! No pride or sense in anyone these days! Forget you! The whole stupid lot of you!"
Mr. Ash folded over and continued to sob. His surrender was now completely apparent in that it was more than confessed, it was displayed.
Selenia quickly made the surface in a brief moment of flight. Her breath struggled to right itself as she leaned against the railing. She couldn't help but look up. There it was, she realized. The grand flaw. Mr. Ash was right. There was nothing marvelous or beautiful about it. It was a tragic, nightmarish end creeping across the dome of reality. She fell to her knees sobbing uncontrollably.
Somewhere far beyond the realm of Cor-Eidolon on a plane of existence apart from the seeminlgy ill-fated city, in fact, a place external to the realm itself, a sickly figure felt sudden, powerful despair course through its form as signals of pain radiated through its limbs. Hopelessness was all that it now knew as it lay slightly inclined upon a hospital bed. Death soon, it thought. No matter. It then shuddered for what was to be the last time.
Communista echoes a thought many of us have had on our commutes:
"Why is it that I always end up sitting next to the goddamn freak?" Groblach thought plaintively as he clutched his briefcase protectively.