a short story
Gary Baker, October 2012
He stepped forward as more mindless bodies stepped on to the next opened platform, orphaned of any previous passengers, then stopped when a silver bar fell in front of him, greased with the hesitancy of the masses before him that had reached into such looming deaths of the man-made death trap, of the human slaughter machine. But the machine cleaned up good--almost no one noticed the darkness on the seats where surely someone must have sat less than mere moments ago, most assuredly having died in that exact spot with machinations to clean up the blood and lessen the panic for the next to die.
And he was next. Sure, there was a current train being loaded, but as soon as this one left the next, which was surely being cleaned as he stood there, would glide up with heavy screeches of metal on metal, with a clenching smell of brake fluid, and would beckon him on just as this one had the current dead-ees.
Then the whistle blew.
He jumped, heart racing even heavier than before, sweat dripping down every inch of him, and the train pulled forward, slowly, hesitantly. It was giving these passengers a chance to hope, a chance to wish themselves to be the ones to live, a chance to believe that they too would see themselves a quick death if one came at all.
But it was a lie. It was all a half-crazed lie of some sick sycophant in league with the grim itself, always giving the reaper more and more and more to chew on, more to mull over, more to whisper sweet nothings to as they burned at their woolen-minded mistakes. Oh how those before this group must be wishing they had never boarded! How they must be screaming in horrific, hellish pain for the next in line to just die of a heart attack in line before the train could ever bring upon them such writhing tortures as that which surely must exist beyond those darkened halls!
The train in departure mode locked the riders in, a droning voice calling out to hold on for safety's sake, and to keep all limbs and appendages nearest themselves, again for safety. But if they only knew! If only they knew what lay ahead! If only they knew that these words were placed as an illusory gift to make cattle of the human masses!
He wanted to call out to them, wanted to scream for them, wanted to do something to stop them, but knew there was no chance to do it in time.
"Let them be in bliss," he told himself with a silent, near inaudible whisper, "for ignorance is."
Their train reached the darkness, found its nose in the bleak oblivion of the halls with the passengers in front writhing in fear as intrepid foresight finally dawned.
Suddenly his train reached out from a slim tunnel on his left, carrying no one, showing no gore as he knew would be the case, letting no entrails be seen from the latest to be brought to their reaping. Then his bar raised, slowly, wastefully slow in its pace.
And the voice came over again telling people to please find their seats and buckle in.
He placed one foot before the other, reaching the seat at front where he realized his last moments would be. He stood in front of the yellow seat, pondering it in fullness, knowing that no human alive could know his horrors at this precise moment. The seat harness was curved into a large, three-dimensional V with a cording strap at the base with a buckle to attach the V to his oddly shaped seat that had a portion lifted to set between his legs and let them hang. On the V were two D-shaped bars of gleaming silver, newly polished and scented with lavender and rose. Cleaning agents, most likely.
"Well, Rae," he whimpered, "here goes nothing."
He turned and sat, pulling the harness down over himself with clicks to keep him locked in and unable to leave.
Click. Click. Click.
He shivered with hesitation. One more click and he would never be able to run. One more motion and he could never see his newborn German Shepard back at home again, could never read another page of his favorite comic by Minna Sundberg, could never again look to the sky with awe as the clouds raced in torrents of lightning and rain. Could he do it?
Everyone had told him it was his turn to go, claiming erratically that they had already done so--but just how believable might that be? Eh? How could someone alive claim to have seen this through? He had heard the screams. He had heard the terrified longing to stop, to make the insanity just cease in one quick halt.
The voices echoed. Not the newly dead, though, but the people who were in line to go next. They wanted it over with. They wanted him to just get it over with and die so they could end their own pitiful lives. His life was pointless enough already, having only his dog and a series of followers of his online personality to call his friends.
He had never even held a girl's hand before, and his would-be seventeenth was just weeks away.
His eyes went wide as another human--most likely an artificial drone made to appear human--slammed his harness down the rest of the way and reached down to buckle him in. "Hey, buddy! Wake up!" The drone shouted over the roar of voices wanting them to leave already. "Is this tight enough?"
The drone sighed--a fake sigh meant to put him at ease, trying to make him think it was human, too--why let the cattle go to their doom with hearts-a-racing? That would not only be inconvenient, but also just rude to the monsters and razor-sharp spinning contraptions that would rend them to bits. After all, tense meat would dull the blades faster and produce a need to repair and retrofit the machine. "Can you move in the seat?"
"What? Why would you care?"
"Because it's my--" the drone scowled angrily, "Fine! You know what? Here!" It shoved harder on his harness, forcing it into his gut with one last resounding clack. It then looked to his right and smiled. "Miss, is yours tight enough?"
"Um," came a nervous voice from the seat beside Rae, "I-I guess so-oh."
"Good." It reached a hand to her seat and set the buckle in place, then went to the end of the row with quick movements and more clicks as those to Rae's left were settled in place.
The silence came then, as the drones moved to confer with their leader where no humans could hear about the details of such tremendous blood-curdling woes ahead of them. Then a set of cold, tender fingers laced with his right hand and squeezed.
He leaned forward from his tensed up position in his seat and looked to the girl from over his harness. She was beautiful. Long curly hair halfway between milk chocolate brown and stark blonde, with a pair of red spots on her nose where he was sure glasses had rested just moments ago. Apparently they wouldn't let some people see their own demise after all. Perhaps she was one of the lucky ones.
When she saw him staring with eyes wide, she smiled nervously and flickered her eyes dreamily. "I-I am--gla-glad you you're here."
A heroism rose within Rae, then, tucking away his own fears and replacing them with the persona of his favorite character, Zidane, from the old ninth Final Fantasy game. He squeezed her hand in return, and held it tightly. "Don't worry," he began, trembling in all but his voice. He wanted to vomit. His stomach was in his throat and that spot on his back began to sweat profusely with drops sliding down with a nerve-wracking slowness. "I'll protect you."
Her face shook slightly and her cheeks bloomed with the pink hue of Pez candies.
Before she could respond, though, the train shook violently as a titan's footprint and the plethora roared with an inferno of screams again. The time had come. Their deaths were just ahead.
The girl muttered something about Norse gods and tightened her fingers on his. He whimpered to himself, and began crawling in his skin as the tunnel came shakily closer and closer. He could hear the whispered fright of those around him, could hear the souls of the freshly gone trying to plea for him to turn around and get off the train by any means necessary.
Then the ground left and he was held aloft over pitch oblivion, and the train suddenly veered forward into the sightless pit with crazed screams echoing all around.
The tracks shook loudly, the train following in its course like a dog being led by a treat. It wasn't the train's fault that people died by it's tracks, was it?
"I'm a cancer, by the way." He shouted as they whipped left and right steadily gaining speed. "My birthday is in a few weeks, I like vanilla, my favorite book is Ender's Game having a close tie with Ready Player One, I live with my dad because my mom is a drug addict, and I prefer to keep to myself in class since I'm 'socially awkward' as people always tell me."
She barked a sudden laugh "Well I'm a Pisces!" They bolted to the left again, and hit a point where they began to rise along the steepest slope Rae had ever thought trains might go on. Steeper, even. "I just turned sixteen a couple months ago, I prefer mango sorbet, my favorite book is The Hunger Games and I absolutely hate the Twilight series. I live with both of my parents, and I can't decide between being a game designer one day or being an English professor when I grow up!"
Rae smiled at her through the yellow plastic harness. If only they had met a year earlier--even two months earlier--then they might have ended up anywhere other than here awaiting their sudden end. Perhaps they could have been hanging out at a malt shack somewhere downtown, dreaming about the future when she would be able to be both things? Maybe they would be watching an old eighties movie, or be sitting on his couch playing the latest Final Fantasy game to have come out?
But they couldn't dwell on possibilities long gone, now, could they?
The train kept rising as if headed for the moon, clicking the whole way. What was going on? Rae wondered, his hand firmly holding the girl's--his girl's, he chose suddenly, knowing that they would together find what lay beyond, and somehow also knowing that he would rather it be no other.
Then the light reached them. They were heading to the light of the skies--did we die already?! He thought with shock. Ahead he could barely discern white wisps from the pearly blue background, and as they neared, they also slowed until, at the top of what seemed to be mount Everest, they looked down on the world with the height of the gods.
Rae entertained the idea that he were Zeus and that the girl was Hera, sent to Earth to find each other and return to tell the others of what had become of the living during their quest. It was wondrous, until the train reached him forward like a finger protruding from a torn glove, like a worm looking from the hole of an apple, and he could see all of civilization far below. Mountains rose high to the east, with a valley between him and them, and small hills and such appearing just beneath him with vast cities of human-kind all so far below.
Suddenly there was a forceful shove--someone jealous kicking them back out of heavenly bliss and back to the deceit of the planet. Hera's hand grappled his tight enough to take his attention from the instant weightlessness that had come over them. Then it dawned on him, as the cities sped toward them at breakneck speeds. They were falling.
And someone had taken their wings.
"NO!" He screamed. "Please, oh please don't let meeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!"
They dove earthward faster than meteors, twin meteors from the galactic regions beyond Jupiter still holding each other in firm denial of the end that was hastily coming. The Earth rose to greet them, excitedly, then horrifically, then angrily, greedily charging them fast enough that Rae lost all sense of where his own scream had gone.
They dropped, falling faster and faster. A peregrine could never top their velocity, and certainly no jet engine.
Then, just before the planet could claim them as treats, they pulled out of the nosedive and hurtled over and around buildings, shops, and large cement paths where hundreds of souls walked their ways to attractions and food, becoming jet pilots on an invisible fighter of their own. They dropped again, barely missing the beams of a jumbo cartoon caterpillar on its tracks, and veered right to avoid hitting a copse of trees. Hera, his copilot now, never let go. She held fast and true as if nothing else could keep their flying aircraft together, and they barreled left around a fountain.
Suddenly a wall caused them to pull up, barely missing the brickwork with their dangling feet, and G-forces streaked spots across his vision as they twisted in a tight loop to dive back to the ground on the other side of the wall and into a hidden tunnel behind it. Somewhere ahead must lay their target, he told himself as he readied his left hand on the D-bars where his trigger was and brought Hera's hand up with his to show her he meant business. This mission was not going to be in vane.
He would show their unknown CO that he would do this in one go. No mistakes. Not when she sat with him in this, not when he was unwilling to let her die just for an easy failure.
They pulled up again, arcing through the tunnel system to find their target, and finally set sights on a platform just ahead where more drones darted to and fro as they neared. This was it, he realized, and let loose a barrage of lead down on them. Their base AI computer shattered in heavy flames, the drones fled, and the platform rose to a place where he could land. Then, as they slowed for a landing, the lights shone blueish-white and rid the scene of the bleak red that was the enemy robot intelligence.
They had done it. He had done it. The mission had been given as if by fate and without his knowledge, and yet he had still brought them through to the other side safely. The screams around them subsided, and fellow pilots in the formation behind his own jet cheered with awe.
They had done it.
As the jets slowed to a full halt, Rae looked over to the girl, to his Hera, and smiled with glee. She giggled suddenly, as if unable to hold back any longer, and they lifted their hands together to hold where they could both see. Neither let go, neither loosened their grip, and neither of them moved their eyes away from the others.
"I'm Rae," he laughed, "short for Raelin."
"Why, hello sir Raelin," her eyes lit up with glee and her cheeks bloomed full roses. "I'm Cynthia, short for... well, Cynthia."
Together the burst into a fit of laughter and waited for the workers to unbuckle them.