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The Journey: Chapter 9

Excerpt from my book, ‘Fragments of Fear: Collection‘.

 

Some of the passengers took the conductor up on his offer of a drink and departed for the dining car. The rest settled back to sleep. The dining car was decorated as ornately as the other cars. Six tables were set, each prepared for four people, and in the corner was a bar made of mahogany that ran half the length of the car. Seven drinks were already set out, one at each barstool. The passengers appeared amazed to find their favorite drinks waiting for them. The eighth passenger sat down at an empty space. She had no desire to drink but had come along for the walk. Indeed, each of the passengers were glad for an excuse to get up and move around a little.  The conductor sat quietly in the corner as the passengers enjoyed their drinks and light conversation.

“Come on, man, ask him,” one passenger whispered to the other.

“No way, he gives me the creeps. Whatever secrets he wants to keep he can have as far as I’m concerned.”

The conductor, for his part, seemed content to read from an old, leather-bound book that had no title.

Emily kept a wary eye on him while sipping her ginger ale. Something about him didn’t feel right. The answer was buried in her memory, she knew it, all she had to do was wait. Eventually, she would remember.

The conductor was watching her in the same way. This silent standoff went totally unnoticed by the other passengers.

In the meantime, tongues loosened as the passengers sipped their liquid courage. Pointed questions better kept to themselves were asked.

“So, what’s your story?” a passenger said to the conductor.

“Me?” the conductor asked. “You wouldn’t find my life very interesting.”

“Why not?”  he retorted. “Everyone else has told you stories, why don’t you tell us yours?”

The conductor seemed to consider this for a moment.

“Very well,” he said. “But don‘t blame me if you‘re soon bored to death.”

“I think anything is better than sleeping on a train.”

“So be it. I was born long ago, much longer than any of you. My childhood was quite unspectacular, with the exception of a knack for preserving things. Unlike other children who seemed bent on the destruction of everything they see, I wanted to keep things. I suppose that’s when I first started collecting stories. It was the twelfth year of my life when the defining event happened for me,” he said, his gaze drifting off.

“What was that?” the straight-laced woman who couldn’t find her Bible asked, pulling the conductor out his reverie.

“Oh, my pet cat died.”

“That must’ve been horrible,” Emily said.

“You would think so, yes. However, that was not the end of the event,” he said. “I read a book on taxidermy, and used the knowledge to keep my childhood friend with me forever.”

“You stuffed your pet cat?” she asked, repulsed.

“Quite right,” he said. “I continued to develop my skills, practicing on some of the lesser wanted animals around the neighborhood and became quite adept. My efforts were noticed by someone other than law enforcement, and I was offered an apprenticeship in my true calling.”

“Conductor?”

“No, mortician,” he said with a smile that made everyone in the room feel like calling nine one one. “It turned out that the human form is infinitely easier to work with than animals.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes, I had so much more room to maneuver. Didn’t have to worry about ruining the fur, it was much easier. I was considered to be something of an artist for my profession. I was as happy as I had ever been at that point in my life.”

“If you were so happy, then why did you quit and become a conductor?” the straight-laced woman said.

“Patience, I shall get to that part of the story,” he flashed a mirthless grin. “It turned out that there was another mortician in that town who had been quite prosperous until I began my career. It seemed that his work simply could not match up with mine, and he began to lose business. So, he did the only thing he could do.”

“Find another job?”

“No, sanction my murder,” he said. “You see, this man also had a jealous streak along with a very bad temperament. A dangerous combination you will agree.”

“So, what did you do?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“That’s correct,” he said. “I had no idea the sanction was active until a certain gentleman arrived on my doorstep.”

“So, a hit man just walked up and rang the doorbell?”

“Essentially, yes.”

“What did you do?”

“The only thing I could.”

“Run?”

“No, invite him in for tea,” he said. “I must say, you people just don’t have much of a knack for guessing.”

They nervously chuckled, each one probably regretting that they had asked for this story, but now felt so involved that they didn’t want it to end either.

“Like any proper host, I invited him in and we sat down to discuss our dilemma.”

“Unbelievable.”

“What is even more unbelievable was the solution,“ he said. “It seems my guest was getting ready to retire and needed to provide a replacement. Seeing the great care I took of the recently departed, he offered the job to me.”

“What about the contract on you?”

“Ah, yes, that was a difficulty. He was sworn to fulfill the contract. This created quite a conundrum for him, but in the end, I provided a solution for him that would suit his needs.”

“So, then you became the assassin?”

“Not quite that dramatic, I prefer to call myself a deliveryman. Whatever is needed, I deliver.”

“Did the mortician ever find out?”

“Oh yes, he was one of my first customers,” he gave a wicked grin.

“So what was the solution you provided?”

The whistle blew its long, mournful note, as the train began to slow.

“Ahh, it appears we have arrived,” the conductor said. “You should all return to your seats. We will be disembarking soon.”
 

 

The Journey: Chapter 1

The Journey: Chapter 2

The Journey: Chapter 3

The Journey: Chapter 4

The Journey: Chapter 5

The Journey: Chapter 6

The Journey: Chapter 7

The Journey: Chapter 8

 

The Journey: Chapter 6

Excerpt from my book, ‘Fragments of Fear, Collection‘.
“Instant Serial”
Smoke poured from the superheated barrels of his powerful handguns. Brass casings covered the floor, laying in pools of blood. Dead bodies lay here and there, littering the room like trash at a rock concert. The man slowly lowered the empty weapons, sighed deeply, and calmly walked out the door.

One down. He thought with a twisted grin, as he reloaded.  He stepped over bodies, and headed toward the main hallway, but found the door locked.

“Hmmm … ” He turned back into the room, searching for something, leaned down and took the keys from a guard’s lifeless body.

“Thanks, Leonard,” he said to the corpse.

He unlocked the door, and glanced into the hallway, first shooting out the security cameras as he had done before.  Walking down the hallway, he unlocked another door, into a room full of people in orange clothes. The guns opened up, time slowed, bodies fell.  The thump of bullets slamming into flesh and bone, and the horrified screaming, satisfied him immensely.

He went diligently from cell to cell, making sure he didn’t miss anyone, even checking under bunks. When he was sure that no living person remained, he reloaded and moved on to the next room. On he went with his possessed rampage, leaving a bloody trail behind him.

Finally satisfied with his macabre tour de force, he holstered his weapons and climbed up to the escape hatch.  He slipped into the shadows, leaving behind him no reason for the carnage.  His thoughts now were only on escape.  He stood at the edge of the roof, trying to find a way down, when one policeman saw him, then another.  They pointed their guns at him and started yelling.  Then, with a flash, he was jolted awake.

Larry Brahm opened his eyes in shock. He was momentarily disoriented, and couldn’t recall where he was. Remembering his bedroom, and the dream he’d just had, he thought,

Wow!  That seemed so real!

Looking over at the clock, he realized he had overslept. It was time to get ready for work.

“Back to the grind again,” he said, almost disappointed that his grim fantasy had been only that.

The people he had to deal with at his job had become his main source of stress. Try as he might, it just wouldn’t go away. His counselor had told him not to let the job bother him, but how could he? The incredibly vile things those people had done? They deserved to be punished, and not the justice system ‘punishment’, but something more real, more permanent.

As he drove to work, he turned up his favorite song ‘Jeremy’ by Pearl Jam and screamed the lyrics at the top of his lungs as the CD played.

He rounded the corner to the main entrance and was met by a sight that he would never have guessed.

No!  No, this can’t be!

Ambulances lined the front walkway. Police cars surrounded the building. The prison itself was alive with activity, with emergency workers going in and out like bees in a hive.

As he pulled into his parking spot, he could see bodies laying on the ground, neatly placed in rows, like they were being set out for spring cleaning. Each one was covered head to toe by a black plastic bag, but a few had an arm or a leg sticking out enough to see a blood stained orange inmate uniform or a gray officer’s uniform.

He walked up to a policeman.

“Excuse me, I work here, what happened?”  but the officer was too busy, and just ignored him.

He noticed some Corrections Officers from another shift standing, watching it all go on. He tried to talk to them, but they were in shock and didn’t say anything.

“Hey, you!”  a tall, good looking officer yelled to him.  “The Boss wanted me to get somebody, and go inside to see how bad the cops are messing things up.”

“All right,”  Larry said slowly.

They made their way inside. It was beyond his worst nightmare. Everywhere he looked were shell casings, bodies, bloody floors, and bullet holes.

“Wow!  What a mess!” the officer said.

The crime lab photographer, who was still taking pictures of everything, aimed right at him and snapped a picture.

“Hey!  What was that for?”  he said, as he started after her.

The officer grabbed his arm, “Don’t worry about it, she’s just doing her job.”

He looked suspiciously at her, but walked away, as she continued taking pictures as though he wasn’t there. They walked into the control unit, where blood and bullet holes littered the control panels. Suddenly he had a vision of his hand holding the gun, blasting the holes in the panels, and the officer that had been posted there.

He blinked his eyes and the vision passed, but he was now breathing hard.

“Sometimes a scene like this will do that to you,” said the officer.

“Do what?”

“Knock the wind out of you, from the shock.”

Larry eyed the officer with suspicion.

“I don’t think I ever got your name, and I don’t recognize you.”

“Oh, I’ve been here for a while,” the officer said with a cryptic smile. “You just didn’t notice me until recently.  My name isn‘t important right now.”

They walked down a long hallway, with the occasional blood splatter and chipped concrete from a bullet ricochet.  Everywhere Larry looked, he got the feeling of déjà vu. Each room he entered, seemed like he a picture in his mind of exactly what it would look like, down to the position of the shell casings on the floor.

Twice he caught the officer looking at him with an expression he would best describe as amusement. But the look would quickly disappear as soon as Larry spotted it.

There was so much blood on the floors that the investigators, EMTs, and police had to be very careful where they stepped. In these rooms, they had laid down several plastic tarps to use as walkways, so they didn’t slip or track the blood all over the building.

They entered a cell and Larry looked at the broken body of a young man he knew from the street, who was only in jail for a misdemeanor and nearly broke down.

“What kind of person does this sort of thing?”  Larry asked.

“Lots of people think about doing it. Correcting the world’s injustices is usually how they see it. Most of them lack the conviction, the final push over the edge, to make them act on it,” the officer said.

“You almost sound like you admire this monster.”

The officer looked at Larry with a gleam on his eye.

“You find monsters in the strangest places. Sometimes they don’t even know they’re doing anything wrong, almost like it’s a dream.”

Larry’s face went pale.

“I need to get some air,” he said.

“Sure,” said the officer, “let’s go up on the roof.”

There were two sentries posted near the roof hatch. They just ignored the officers coming out of the hatch. Larry and the officer walked to the far end of the roof. Larry hesitated when he saw yet another body.  For some reason this one was different. The officer called to him.

“Come on over.  You have to see this.”

“I’ve seen enough,” Larry said.

The officer’s voice changed, it lowered and became menacing.

“No, you must see this!”

Without realizing he was doing it, Larry walked over and looked down at the body. His own lifeless eyes stared up at him. Larry stumbled back.

“No!  This can’t be … ”

The officer smiled a mirthless smile.

“Can’t be what?  Real?” His maniacal laugh sounded like many voices at once.

“You so-called ‘Good Citizens’ are all alike. You love denial. You can deny anything. You denied the truth of this place the whole time we were walking through it. Did any of it seem the least bit familiar to you? Like … oh, I don’t know… maybe a dream?”

Larry’s eyes grew wide with realization. The officer laughed again.

“You don’t seem to realize that you made this happen. You, ‘Mr. Good Citizen’, who should have shown these people compassion at a time in their lives when they needed it most. Instead, you treated them with disdain and hatred,” he smiled. “I am so proud of you. You held on to your hate so tightly that it drove you to this.”

“I didn’t … I couldn’t … It was just a dream,” Larry stammered.

“There’s that wonderful denial again. Have you even thought about guessing my name?”

“I don’t know who you are, I’ve never seen you before.”

“I have had many names, some better known than the others.  One of my favorites that you might recognize is ‘Lucifer.’”

The name hung in the air like an acrid smoke on a calm night. Larry’s eyes and mouth grew wide with fear.

He stammered, not being able to form any coherent sound.  Slowly he worked until his mind forced his mouth to utter a single word.

“Why?”

“Don‘t ask me, you made it happen. Your hate, rage, and contempt for these people was felt and returned. That made it grow like a weed in your mind until you just couldn’t contain it. I live off of hate, so I didn’t mind it one bit, maybe even gave a little nudge here and there, to keep it going. Had you been a real ‘Good Citizen‘, you might have seen what your actions were heading toward and stopped. But your ’high and mighty’ attitude only made people hate you, which made you hate them.”

“A vicious cycle,” Larry said, finally realizing the truth. “So what happens now?”

“Now?” Lucifer said. “A few of your friends are going to take you on a little trip.”

Instantly, every one of the inmates and officers that Larry had brutally murdered, appeared and grabbed him. He tried to get away, but there were too many.

Larry felt as though the roof of the prison had turned to quicksand, as they dragged him further and further down. He looked up through a long tunnel, as he continued his rapid descent. Lucifer was looking down at him, laughing.

“Enjoy the company!” he shouted. “You’re going to be together for a very long time.”

***

 

 

The Journey: Chapter 1

The Journey: Chapter 2

The Journey: Chapter 3

The Journey: Chapter 4

The Journey: Chapter 5

The Journey: Chapter 1

9-23-13 506copyExcerpt from my book, ‘Fragments of Fear, Collection

 

Billows of steam rose from the iron giant like breath from the nostrils of a war horse, chomping at the bit on a cold battlefield. The steam encompassed the great beast in a surreal mist, as though protecting it from the ravages of time. The station was deserted as if no one wanted to approach the beast for fear it would rouse in wrath. Slowly a shadow formed. At first, they seem bonded, mist and shadow. Then the darkness drifted closer and coalesced into the shape of a man. A trick of the light, I never knew, but he seemed to be wearing a hooded cloak, dark as midnight. As he drew near, I saw it was merely a hat and uniform.

He walked slowly, gazing at this great mechanized monster as lovingly as a rider checks his faithful steed before a long journey. His gaze seemed to pierce even metal, looking for any blemish, any imperfection. This slow, methodical inspection continued over the length of the train’s passenger, dining, and sleeper cars, ending where it began, at the engine. He mounted the steps, heading for the control room. The dials and instruments were subjected to his scrutiny. Finally, his gaze settled on the fire box. His eyes seem to glow as the intense heat turned his sunken cheeks from white to orange. His normally impassive face gave way to the slightest of grins.

The conductor greeted the passengers as they arrived, helped them aboard until all were accounted for … save one.
The whistle sounded its final warning.
The iron behemoth belched smoke as it muscled its load away from the station.
The journey had begun …

The train moved steadily down the tracks. Its swaying and clickety-clack sound had lulled many a passenger to sleep, but not the conductor. He sat in a comfortable chair, eyes closed, but not asleep. To look at him, you would not know how he did his job at all. To call him ancient would be an understatement. His steel gray hair, thin white face, and emaciated body made him look as though he belonged in a pine box rather than collecting tolls on a train that was nearly a quarter mile long. Suddenly, his eyes snapped open and stared at the antique wall clock, just as it struck midnight. He rose quickly, put on his conductor’s cap, and left the room.

The conductor stepped through the door into the passenger car. It was richly decorated with beautiful dark red carpet, which perfectly offset the golden fringes and accents of the room. The seats were designed in classic style, two seats faced each other, with a small table in between. Outside, darkness had fallen like a blanket, covering the countryside in its embrace. Most of the passengers quickly grew tired of staring out into the inky black abyss. Conversations had been consummated between strangers and had given birth to stories, lovingly shared. The conductor silently glided up behind the first passenger and paused as the man began to weave a tale …

 

This story continues in The Journey: Chapter 2