Poof! 1.5: The Train
A story by
Stop talking about me like I'm an us. There's no us. Just me. Me. I'm right here.
I jumped. There was this huge whump! and the train seemed to, like, stretch almost, and slow down, and then it got...sucked in...and I popped that escape window and jumped. I was supposed to, wasn't I? Isn't that what it's there for?
Then why are you talking like I didn't do that? Like I'm gone, too?
And I want to go home. I'm cold and wet and, well yeah, scared.
Sure, I'm not alone--you're here, I'm looking at you, right at you. How far away are you? Yards? Feet, sometimes? So why do you look right through me, all of you?
Should I have stayed on the train and shared whatever future the rest of the train people were headed for? Let myself get sucked in, too, into some strange place with zoo smells and weird whistling sounds and strange, smoky red light? I could smell that, hear that, see that. Too creepy. Too...unreal.
A hole opened up in the air and sucked in a whole freakin' train. Like a giant, mutant Dyson vacuum cleaner. That's...that's just nuts. I mean, where did it go?
Should I care? It's gone. And I'm not.
I'm looking around me and I know something's wrong, but I can't tell exactly what. I don't know how things should look. I don't remember. It's all a blank, empty space in my head. The only memory I have is of those last few minutes, those thoughts of, Help us, somebody help us! Then, Jump! Jump or die!
There are other terms for that. Run away. Abandon. Save yourself.
Should I have left them? Did I have that right? Was I part of an us, like that guy in the uniform was saying? Well, he didn't say us, he said them, but same thing. Like I was part of them, and whatever happened to them, should have happened to me.
I was going home. On the train. I know that, I feel that. It's an overpowering feeling, yet I don't even remember where home is. Or what home is. Or...is someone there, waiting for me?
The furthest back I can remember is that huge swirly thing up ahead on the tracks, and the smells and the sounds, and the absolute certainty that we were all going to die.
And then, the window.
And a different thought.
They're all going to die.
In a split second, I separated myself from them in the only way that mattered: they'll die and I won't.
And I jumped.
And here I am.
Wherever here is.
“–sent over the passenger list. God. More than two hundred people. Kids, parents, grandparents...”
“So what are you going to tell their relatives?”
“Damned if I kn—”
Which one is me? Will you know who I am? Will anyone ever even know...or care...that I'm missing? Do I have a wife or a girlfriend or a mom who'll come looking for me? Or not? Am I invisible?
I am, to you, right? All of you.
But am I, to me?
Where's a mirror? Where's a window to reflect—?”
That's what's wrong. There are no windows to see my reflection in, because there are no buildings. No buildings. Anywhere. No streets. Or stoplights. Or trees. Or...
Where'd everything go?
To a red, smoky, smelly place, who am I kidding?
Where I'm supposed to be.
That's it, isn't it? That's what's wrong with me? That was my destiny. I was on the train that was supposed to go to...wherever. Another dimension. Another planet. Disneyworld on Gliese 581c. Who knows?
But I bailed.
And now Fate doesn't know what to do with me. Is it as simple as that?
Cars! You came here in cars, didn't you, find-the-missing-train investigators? And cars have a side mirror.
So where are...?
Ahhh, I see. You parked most of them way over there. Didn't want your government-supplied vehicles, and your personal stuff inside of them, to disappear, huh? Can't say I blame you. Of course, taxpayers must have paid for them, but imagine the paperwork required to explain their going poof! and disappearing like a rabbit in a half-assed magician's birthday party act.
But they do have side mirrors. Like...this one here.
Is that really me? Get out. I can't be... He's what, fifteen years old? Sixteen, maybe? That's me? A kid? I'm a kid? I don't feel that young. Does almost getting sucked into Creepyville do that to you? Or watching hundreds of people go whoosh! to their deaths? Or does forgetting you're a kid push the childishness aside and make you think like a grown-up?
I probably have a mom, then. Somewhere. Waiting for me to come home. Maybe mad at me because I'm late for dinner. But then she'll worry. Then, she'll be scared. And finally she'll call the cops.
Or did she already?
How much time has passed? Is this the first day? Or the first week? Will it stretch on forever like that Malaysian plane that went missing?
Will we get a memorial service? Will we each have a fake coffin filled with rocks or something, for weight? A priest or pastor or The President, even, giving a speech and praying over us?
That might be cool.
“Is she ever gonna leave?”
The workers wondered. Their supervisor shrugged his shoulders. The train and the town remained gone.
She was the daughter of a rich and connected state official, a victim in her own way, and so she'd been allowed into this uniquely devastated place with the miles of yellow crime tape encircling it.
By now, the tears had dried up and she had a vacant expression on her face. She slowly spun her wedding ring around her finger as she stared at the tract along which the train had sped into oblivion. The I.D. clipped to her jacket pocket said Michelle Pemberton. The others avoided her eyes whenever they walked by, and spoke only in whispers after that, though she caught bits and pieces.
“–if her husband was on...”
“I can't imagine...”
“–ain't comin' ba–”
She slipped the ring off and dropped it in the dirt, then started walking. She had no destination in mind, and that seemed appropriate.
Hey! Heyyyy! Don't walk right through me, lady. Jesus Christ, that felt weird. This day is just full of weird sh--
Helicopter blades overhead, followed by the roar of fighter jets that had been scrambled when this all began and had patrolled the area ever since. The occupants of the news chopper might very well find themselves in jail shortly. Use of this airspace was forbidden.
Supervising investigator Will Rivers pulled his eyes away from the jets and stuck a finger in his ear, straining to hear the voice in his cell phone.
“What?! No, that can't be true. Seriously? The entire city?”
On the other end of the conversation, “Yeah. I just got a call from Jen. That's what she said. She was driving, only a mile or so away from it, when it happened. The whole skyline just disappeared right in front of her.”
Nearby, Rivers' workers were staring into an iPhone with a CNN broadcast on the screen. “Hey, Will! C'mere! Look at this!”
Rivers put his cell phone back in his pocket and joined them. This was a tough crew, nonchalant about difficult situations, trading wisecracks when things were even worse. Now they looked almost shocky.
“The city's gone? Just...gone?” Manny Rodriguez swayed back and forth from foot to foot, saying, “That can't be right. That can't be right. My parents are there. My sister and her kids. It must... Just an optical illusion or something.”
“No, it's gone. Like this town, the train, and who knows what else.”
“I'm outta here!”
“We're standing right next to a disappeared place, man. We've been ON the spot where a damn moving train disappeared. I don't want to disappear. I quit. I'm driving as far away from this place—from this entire state—as I can get!”
Well, lucky you, guy with the clipboard. I wish I had that choice. I'd go home and play X-Box or something, and I'd behave like a saint for the rest of my life, just for the privilege. You'd better do the same, dude. Be a good guy. Help people. Make your survival mean something. It's karma, right? When you get a second chance? Fate was kind, so pass it on?
So, what can I do for the world? Even here in limbo I'm better off than some people. People with painful diseases. Twelve year old child brides in barbaric countries. People who lost their loved ones on a disappearing train. Actors stuck in really bad sitcoms.
Wow, I didn't think I could still do that. Laugh. Am I getting used to this weird state of being? Will it soon feel normal to wander around in a real-life Twilight Zone episode? Maybe my world will even turn black-and-white, and Rod Serling's ghost will show up. Like I'm in an eternal SYFY Channel holiday marathon. Hol-eeeee shit.
I want to go home. I want to rest. Isn't that what you're supposed to do when you're dead? Rest In Peace? How about sorta-dead? Can't we rest, too? Can't I—?
Oh shit, red smoke.
Go away. Go back where you came from.
Don't...pull at me. I jumped! I'm safe. I don't want to go!
“Do you smell that?”
“Yeah, smells like, what, a lion or something?”
“Hey, Will, did you see that stuff?”
“Red smoke swirling around. Saw it out of the corner of my eye, but it's gone now.”
“Christ, what the hell does that mean?”
The men looked anxious, all of them.
“Come on, back to the trucks. Pack up your stuff. Enough already. There's nothing left to learn here.”
Halfway back to the vehicles, the supervisor's assistant approached them, saying into his phone, “Cool, Rob, hang on a sec. Will! Rob just said there's a survivor in the vanished city—not just along the perimeter, like here, but actually inside the city's location. And not mindless and in shock like they were here, but actually talking.”
“A survivor? Seriously? Finally! Someone who can explain what the hell happened.”
The assistant listened to his phone as he fell in beside them, walking toward the SUVs.
“What? Don't look at me like that, Riggs. Don't burst my little bubble of semi-happiness.”
“Sorry, but Rob says the survivor is alert, she lost her entire family in this, and...”
“She's a little bitty kid. Preschool age.”
“Yeah. She probably won't be a lot of help. What, four years old, maybe? She probably thinks magical fairies did it.”
“God. Poor little thing.”
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