by David Badurina, Copyright 2022
This short story was from a prompt through Vocal.com regarding a runaway train. The only details about the prompt were essentially, “Your protagonist is on a runaway train, it’s showing no signs of slowing down, and they have no idea how they ended up on the train. They have no ticket, and no destination. Go.” I’ll be honest, this one was kind of hard to write. I had an idea for the story almost immediately after reading the prompt, and I knew it wouldn’t be a happy story. I wanted to explore the supernatural within the prompt, and stuck with the horror genre for this one. I’m very pleased with the imagery and overall mood of the story, and I hope you are as well!
Part 1 — The First Car
I woke up confused. I had a stuffed animal in one hand, and an empty bottle of vodka in the other.
My head was pounding, aided by the frantic jackhammering of iron and steel that assaulted my ears. My dry throat held the lingering taste of bile, and my clothes were drenched with sweat. I tried to focus my eyes, blinded by the harsh light streaming into the hazy windows of the train car.
“What the fuck?” I groaned. “How am I on a train?”
The words didn’t come easy, and I was beyond dehydrated. I looked at my hand, and the old stuffed bear stared back at me with two soulless black buttons. I lifted the vodka bottle to my mouth, sticking my tongue out and hoping for any drop of liquid.
I’ve had drinks from time to time, but polishing off an entire bottle seems like something I’d remember. It was dusk, and the amber light of the horizon’s setting sun seemed to set the inside of the train on fire with hues of deep orange and red. I placed my hands on the floor and pushed myself up, grabbing onto a parlor table for balance. My feet were unsteady as the train’s unpredictable swerves urged me to vomit again. Outside, the low shrubs and warped trees of a high desert were speeding by in a blur. I searched for my wallet and my phone, but my hand only found car keys. My suit was stained with perspiration and grime.
Once I found my footing, I inspected the teddy bear in my hand.
“This is Tommy’s bear. Mister – something. What did he call it?”
My 7-year-old son, Tommy, was nowhere to be seen. I did not know why I was holding his stuffed animal, but my hair stood on end at the thought of him being in danger. I fought with his nasty mother for years, clawing at every opportunity to spend time with my son one weekend a month. Maybe I was an imperfect role model with a string of bad luck in terms of employment, but I always tried to be the best father Tommy could hope for. I was grateful she wouldn’t see me looking so disheveled. It would have started yet another war.
I looked toward the back of the train. The door to the gangway was closed. When I approached, I could see through my window and through the open door of the train car behind mine. At first, I thought the light of dusk played tricks on me, but when I wiped the glass clear with my blazer sleeve and looked closer, my view became clear. The car behind mine was covered in blood. There were pools soaked into the carpet. Bent and broken barstools were strewn across the floor. The walls were coated with indiscernible gore. I bent over and retched, but I could only heave and convulse. I was as empty as that bottle of vodka.
I braced myself and looked through the window once more, and that’s the first time I noticed it.
Two wide, reflective eyes stared at me from the back of that blood-soaked train car. I thought the train was rumbling beneath my feet until I came to the terrible realization that I wasn’t just feeling the vibration of the train. I was feeling the vibration of a growl borne from what I could only imagine was a massive predator.
The beast awakened, opened its eyes, and rose.
Its hair was thick and jet-black. Lips curled back, revealing a mouth full of crimson-stained teeth. The low rumble from the base of its throat rattled my ribcage. It towered over the grotesque scene surrounding it, and stalked forward. There was only my door separating this monster from me, and I nearly soiled myself at the sight of that terror. I held tight to Tommy’s teddy bear and turned to run to the opposite door toward the front of my train car, my dress shoes sliding on the low carpet of the train. I swung open the door, feeling the blast of rushing air on the gangway before entering the car in front of mine.
Part 2 — The Second Car
I slammed the door behind me and crashed hard to the floor before scrambling to stand.
I could hear the beast panting on the gangway right behind me. Its arched shoulders rose into full view behind the window. Hollow eyes fixated on me. Chunks of flesh were nestled within razor-sharp fangs. I couldn’t tell if it was a wolf or some kind of disastrous genetic experiment.
I turned and noticed a young woman sitting down in the only chair in the car.
“Where are we?” I shouted. “What the fuck is that thing?”
She stared forward, holding onto her purse. She was wearing a pantsuit with shoulder pads, something straight out of the ’80s. Teased hair and dramatic make-up framed her blank expression. She stayed silent as she stared out the window on the opposite side of the car. The beast growled and my insides shook.
“Lady, we have to get the hell out of here! There’s some escaped freak of nature on the loose. I think my son might be on this train.”
She ignored me.
I tried again. “Miss, can you hear me?”
“I’m going to be late,” she replied.
I looked around the car. There was nothing around except her chair. Outside, the high desert was flying by, faster each moment. “Late? Late for what?” I pointed to the beast. “Do you see that thing? It’s going to get through that door and tear us apart, get up, we have to run!”
She tilted her head down and looked at her watch. “I just got off work. I have to pick up my daughters. It’s Christine’s birthday today. She’s four.”
The beast snarled, fogging up the window in the train door as it opened its jaws wide. Its eyes flashed a reflection at me. I knew it would be in our car within moments. I put my hands on the woman’s arms and gave her a shake. “Lady, where the hell are we?”
She raised her head and stared at me with eyes as soulless as Tommy’s teddy bear. “You’re going to make me late.”
A loud thump startled me. I looked to the door, only to see it bulge as the beast rammed into it with its wide skull. The window cracked. I backed up to the opposite door toward the front of the car, glancing back and forth between the creature behind the door and the spaced-out woman sitting on her chair.
“We have to get out of here now!”
She shook her head. “I’m going to be late. I have to pick up my daughters. It’s Christine’s birthday today. She’s four.”
She reached into her purse and pulled out a picture, holding it up to me. It was a photo of a young girl, smiling wide, brown pigtails framing her round face. The door thumped again, shattering the window. Glass flew into the car and the beast’s head burst through the window. It snarled and snapped its jaws.
Fear took over.
I turned and bolted through the front door of the train car and across the gangway, bursting into the next car on the train. I slammed the door behind me and fell to the floor once more.
I could only hear her screams and the sound of the beast feasting. Echoes of crunched bones filled my ears as her screams faded to the sounds of flesh being torn to pieces. Red droplets sprayed across the window of the door as I scrambled backward and to my feet.
Part 3 — The Third Car
The train sped up as dusk slipped into darkness.
Outside the window of the train car door, the beast plodded forward. Its reflective eyes shined as it focused on me through the blood-sprayed glass of the train’s door. Behind the beast was a grisly mess of human entrails and flesh. It scattered shredded and stained clothes around the splintered chair where the woman sat just moments ago. Patches of her blonde hair dangled from the train’s windows. Misshapen chunks of scalp littered the floor where it stood.
I turned to look around the train car I found myself in. There was no furniture, and there were two figures standing in front of a window. They appeared older, and they stared out the window at the high desert speeding by in the encroaching darkness. Dim lights along the top of the train car illuminated the couple.
I ran up to them, trying to distance myself from the rattling sound of the beast breathing outside the door. I retched again. My throat felt like it was on fire, and sweat soaked through my suit. My head felt as if it was ready to explode.
The two figures in front of me were holding hands. They appeared to be a married couple in their 70s. The train rocked back and forth on the rails as it sped through the night, and the older man had his arm around his wife. I could see their old, tarnished wedding bands as they embraced.
I looked back at the beast, then directed my attention to the couple. “I don’t know who you are, but you have to move. We have to get to the next car! That wolf-thing just slaughtered a woman in the car behind us!”
“We’ve been married for 50 years,” said the older woman.
“Beautiful years,” added her husband.
I couldn’t believe my ears. “That’s wonderful,” I said. “If you want to make it to 51, we have to get the hell out of here!”
The old man looked at me and smiled, then kissed his wife on the head. “We’re going on vacation.”
I grabbed their shoulders and turned them to face me. The sudden move shocked them and they stepped back and stared at me. “You aren’t going anywhere. What is this? Why is everyone acting so weird? Don’t you see that monster?” I pointed to the door. Through the blood-stained window, the terrifying visage of the panting beast stared back at us with its hollow gaze.
The couple looked back at me. They appeared confused.
They smiled and held each other once more. “We’re going on vacation,” the old woman proclaimed. “I’ve never been to Mexico!”
The old man winked at me. “I wanted to treat this beautiful young lady for our 50th anniversary!”
Another thump rattled the train car, and I almost lost my footing. I turned and looked at the back door as it bulged. A low growl rumbled through the car. My head rattled at the sound of the monstrous creature’s hunger. I shuffled to the front door on the train. I looked back and forth between the couple and the salivating beast staring at us from the back door window.
The old lovers turned to look out into the darkness again, oblivious to my warnings.
“Forget this,” I said, opening the door and making my way across the gangway and into the next car, locking the door behind me.
I heard the beast burst into the car behind me. Within seconds there were brief gargled screams as I heard the monster ripping into the older couple. A crimson spray flew across the window as the sounds of preternatural violence filled the air. I couldn’t stop trembling.
After a moment, there was silence.
Then I heard him.
Part 4 — The Fourth Car
I whirled around. Tommy stood in the center of the empty train car, smiling wide with his arms outstretched.
I ran up to him and scooped him up and into my arms. We held each other tight. “Oh, thank God! Tommy! I’m here!”
“Daddy, where were you? You said you were going to get some milk.”
I smiled. When I had Tommy for the weekends and we went out to grab food, I always ducked into the convenience store and told him I was grabbing milk. I didn’t need him getting back to his mother talking about how Daddy was buying himself a little booze because the work week was finally over.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said, kissing his forehead. “I’m here now.”
“Where are we, Daddy?”
I looked around the car, glancing behind my shoulder and spotting the blood-covered beast through the window. It focused on us with wide, hollow eyes. Flaps of torn flesh hung from its moistened maw. It was salivating.
I smiled as confident as I could, turning around so Tommy’s back was to the beast. I didn’t need him seeing that terror. “Tommy, listen. You and Daddy need to get out of here. Do you remember how we got on this train?”
He shook his head.
I knelt in front of him and brought my face in front of his, looking into his big brown eyes. “Tommy, little man, listen. I need you to be brave and think. You remember nothing? Did anything happen on this train while you were here? Did you see anybody? Have you heard anything about where we’re going?”
My son looked down in thought. Then smiled wide and squealed as his hand dove into my suit pocket, “You found Mister Fuzzball!”
I was confused for a moment before remembering the teddy bear I shoved into my pocket right after I woke up. Tommy yanked him out of my pocket and held him close. “Mister Fuzzball,” he squealed again, “I was looking for him!”
A thump shook the train, and I had to put a hand on the ground to steady myself. I looked past Tommy and saw the back door bending. The window had cracked. A deafening rumble rattled my body.
The beast wanted in.
I turned my attention back down to my boy. “Yes! Daddy found Mr. Fuzzball. Listen, little man, we have to move, okay? Did you see anyone else on the train?”
“You did? Who? Where?”
He pointed to the door behind me. The door to the next train car. “There’s a nice man in there. He gave me a glass of milk and a cookie and then another cookie and then he told me to wait for you.”
I picked Tommy up and backed up to the door to the next car, my eyes fixated on the beast through the back window. It turned its head sideways and stretched open its jaw, crimson fangs spread as wide as the window separating us.
I kept my eyes locked on the beast, reaching behind me and unlatching the door to the car. A blast of cooling desert air assaulted us as I stepped across the gangway to the next door.
“Daddy so windy!”
I had to shout for Tommy to hear me. “Almost there, my brave man! Hang on to Daddy!”
I opened the door to the next car as the beast burst through the bent door. It moved forward step by step. Huge paws placed one in front of the other as I closed the door.
Tommy giggled. “That was fun!”
I set him down on the ground and turned around. We were in the train’s lounge. There was a small oak bar, a few barstools, and some tables and chairs placed throughout the train car. Behind the bar was a young man with slicked hair and a button-up dress shirt.
He smiled at us.
Part 5 — The Final Car
Tommy ran up to the bar and climbed onto a stool. “Hi Sammy!”
The bartender smiled at him. “Does the gentleman require another cookie?”
Tommy nodded and squeaked as the young bartender placed a plate with a large chocolate chip cookie in front of him. I walked up to the bar and pointed to the back door. I locked eyes with the bartender.
He held out a hand. “My name is Sammy. Little Tommy here has been keeping me company on the train.”
I wasn’t in the mood for any kind of pleasantry. “Where are we? What is that thing behind me, and how did I get on this train?”
Sammy pursed his lips as he withdrew his hand. He glanced at Tommy and placed a finger in front of his lips, signaling me to shush. He leaned down to Tommy and flashed a sweet smile.
“Hey buddy, I need to talk to Daddy for a few minutes. How about you and Mister Fuzzball go have a seat right over at that table?”
Tommy held his teddy bear to his ear. “Mister Fuzzball says he wants a cookie too.”
Sammy laughed and gave the teddy bear a bow. “Of course, whatever the gentleman Fuzzball wishes, he shall receive!”
I shook my head in disbelief.
Sammy stepped out from the bar, holding a chair out for my son at a nearby table. He placed a second plate and cookie atop the table. Tommy scooted forward, placing his teddy bear on the table and pretending to have him eat the cookie. I sat down on a stool, watching Sammy return.
“Can you pour me a drink?” I asked.
Sammy’s polite demeanor evaporated. “The bar is closed.”
I pointed to the back door. “What the fuck is that creature? Where am I, and how did I get here?”
Sammy’s eyes stayed locked on mine. He picked up a glass and began polishing it.
I slammed my hand on the bar top. It was hard to keep myself from screaming at the man. “That thing attacked a woman a few cars back! It killed her! What the fuck is going on?”
Sammy nodded. “Susan Andrews. Married her high school sweetheart, Michael, in 1983. She had two daughters, Christine and Charlie. Christine turned four. Susan was supposed to pick her up from school. August 3rd, 1988. Susan left work early on a warm summer day. At precisely 2:53 PM, she was struck and killed as she stepped out of her parked car.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What?”
“It was a Wednesday,” he continued. “You called in sick to work, and left the bar at 2:35 PM. You were speeding. Right outside of Christine’s school, you smashed into Susan, killing her in an instant.”
I remembered keeping that secret. My heart began pounding.
“You drove off. There was a description reported of your car, but nobody ever made the connection, and you never fessed up, did you?”
I looked at Tommy. My stomach churned. I tried to speak.
Sammy placed the glass down and smiled, turning toward Tommy. “Hey buddy, do you need another cookie?”
Tommy couldn’t talk on account of the mouthful of chocolate chip cookie, but he nodded emphatically.
“Your boy loves chocolate chip cookies,” laughed Sammy. “I’ll be right back.”
I felt frozen. I remembered. I’d had a rough night the night before. It was one of my first jobs. I was right out of college. I just needed to decompress.
Sammy returned to the back of the bar, picking up another glass to polish. “The elderly couple, Ethel and Harold Goldberg. They were on their way to the airport for their first vacation in nearly a decade. Harold operated a small men’s clothing shop in Jersey City. Ethel’s father died in the holocaust. Dachau concentration camp, to be exact. They sent Ethel to the United States to protect her. She met Harold when she was 15 and they were married at 18. Fifty long years and he was finally taking her to Mexico.”
I remembered the aftermath. The court dates. The sobbing relatives. I felt the hatred and the shame.
“I’m going to be sick.”
Sammy smiled and continued. “You were driving a truck and had been drinking the entire day. Rum and Cokes. It was early evening. Head on crash. You killed them in an instant and you walked away with not much more than a scratch. Amazing how the body relaxes when inebriated at nearly three times the legal limit. You ended lives. You ruined families. Because of a technicality, all you ended up with was a fine. Ethel and Harold left behind six children and fifteen grandchildren.”
I looked toward Tommy. He was playing with his teddy bear at the table, munching on a cookie and laughing. I felt the blood drain from my face.
I turned back to Sammy. “Who — who are you?”
He shrugged and let out a chuckle. “It doesn’t matter. There are more important questions right now, aren’t there?”
I was too stunned to speak.
“Ask me,” he said.
“Is Tommy — is he?”
Sammy’s face turned solemn. “Poor kid.” He exaggerated a frown at me, coating his words with sarcasm. “Daddy had a really rough week and needed to go get some milk.”
I tried to throw up, but I could only dry heave.
Tommy perked up, “Daddy, are you okay?”
Sammy smiled and stepped out from the bar with two glasses of milk. “Two milks for the gentlemen at table three!”
A low growl reverberated through the train car. I looked to the back window. The beast stared back, hollow eyes and hungry jaws were waiting. Sammy returned to the bar and leaned down close to whisper. “You hear that? You, that is you. That’s your monster. That’s your addiction. Ruining lives. Consuming everything.”
I trembled, “How — How do I stop? Not Tommy. Please. Please don’t do this.”
Sammy lifted my chin with his thumb. His eyes were dark. “I’m not doing anything except for serving cookies. It’s you who could never stop. But you know what? I’m going to give you a choice.”
I looked at Tommy, then back to him, “Please. Not him. Please don’t let that thing take him.”
Sammy shook his head. “Oh, that’s not an option. In a few moments, your beast is going to burst through that door. He’s going to devour your son in front of you. There will be no mercy. You will not look away. You will watch every moment. Those jaws will make their way into your son’s chest, and will consume every organ. Every bone. You’re going to see him torn to pieces, suffering for his father’s shame.”
Sammy reached a hand to my head and grabbed my hair, lifting my face close to his. “Then it will devour you. For eternity. Every scratch, every bite, every organ ripped from your chest. You will feel the pain of all those you left shattered. Every life destroyed. And with every bite, you will regrow. Forever consumed by your very own beast.”
I felt dizzy. “Is this hell?”
Sammy scoffed. “You aren’t very smart. This is the opening act. A light warm up. Church with Grandma on Sunday morning compared to where this train is taking you.”
“Not Tommy, please, just not him,” I whispered.
“It was a Friday night,” Sammy continued. “You left him in a parked car with his teddy bear as you went into the bar and pounded down shot after shot. That was the day she told you it was your last weekend with him for a long, long time. She’d had enough. Daddy just needed a little milk, right? You got back in the car, foul-mouthed and shouting nonsense at your son about the whore. The bitch. His mother. Telling him you won’t let her win.”
I remembered the moment.
I wanted to cry, but my eyes remained dry. “I drove onto the tracks.”
Sammy pointed to the front door of the train car. “In there is a single bottle. Go in there, and drink it, and you will forget again. You’ll forget all of this.”
I looked at my son, then back at him. “What about Tommy?”
Sammy sighed. “Sins of the father. He stays until you finally do the right thing. Say your goodbye.”
I sat in silence for a moment. The train was speeding faster than it seemed possible. The growling of the beast – my beast – was deafening. There was a thump. The door bowed, and the glass cracked. I stood and walked to my son, then knelt beside the table.
“Daddy, are you okay?”
I was shaking. “Yeah little man. I’m just — Daddy’s just trying to figure something out.”
“Okay,” he chirped, stuffing the last bit of cookie into his mouth.
I grabbed him and held him tight. “Tommy, listen. I need to talk to you about something.”
I tried to compose myself. “Daddy — Daddy is really sorry that we’re on this train.”
Tommy laughed, “It’s okay. Sammy is really nice. He gives us cookies and milk! You like milk too!”
I nodded. “Well, I have to —”
“Have to what?”
I put my hands on his face and held him in front of me. “Daddy has to go get some milk, but he’s scared.”
Tommy held out his teddy bear. “That’s okay. Take Mister Fuzzball! He’ll protect you!”
I grabbed the teddy bear from him and tried to look into his eyes. A low rumble made my guts vibrate.
Sammy walked up beside us. “Can I get you gentlemen anything else?”
I leaned forward and kissed Tommy on the forehead. “Daddy has to go now. Don’t be afraid, okay?”
Tommy laughed. “Sammy is here! I don’t have to be afraid! Bye Daddy, I’ll see you soon!”
I stood and walked to the front door of the train car. When I opened the latch, the chilled night air on the gangway blasted me. I began sobbing. I opened the door to the next car and closed it behind me.
It was the same car I woke in. There was a table, a chair, and a bottle of vodka.
I heard a thunderous growl and the sudden jolt of a door in the train car behind me being torn off its hinges.
I heard Tommy screaming. I tore the cap off the bottle and began to guzzle it as fast as I could manage. The sounds of gnawing, howling, breaking bones and devouring filled my ears.
I kept drinking. I couldn’t stop. Everything went dark.
Part 6 — The First Car
I woke up confused. I had a stuffed animal in one hand, and an empty bottle of vodka in the other.