I was handed an antique train ticket. 1902. I don’t know who gave it to me, or why. One minute, I was walking, and the next, I had a ticket and a whisper; “go there”.
So, I went. What else was I going to do? I couldn’t not go. That’s what I thought at the time, at least.
I went to the station listed on the ticket. It didn’t exist anymore, and hadn’t for many years. It was just a hollowed out shell; ruins on the edge of town. Still, I went.
Peering through the gaping doorway, there didn’t seem to be anything unusual about the place. Old boards leaned against the crumbling brick walls and rats scurried away at the sight of me. The place was a deathtrap. Still, I went in.
I crossed the threshold into a glittering station fit for a robber-baron. The beautiful marble floor clacked as I walked across it and everywhere dark wood shone with new resin. I looked down at my antique train ticket. It was no longer an Antique. The words “Admit One” stood out, deep black against the ivory paper.
As I gawked, a man appeared beside me. “Do you have a ticket, sir?” he asked.
I couldn’t find words, so I handed over my no-longer-antique train ticket. He inspected it before looking back up at me with a huge grin.
“Right this way, sir.” He gestured toward the platform.
I stepped up to it and there was a train waiting. I don’t remember seeing it before that moment. The man urged me onto the train, so I boarded.
If the station was luxurious, the train itself was extravagant. Plush velvet lined every seat, which sat across tables of polished wood. Gold and brass shone from the walls, weaving in and out, creating intricate patterns for the entire length of the car. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, seeming at once to fill the space and be dwarfed by the cavernous car. To say it looked like something from a movie, would do it a disservice, as no camera could capture the splendor of that car.
I felt a shift as the train started moving. There was a faint clacking below me, but otherwise, no sound. No steam engine. No whistle. Just the clacking of the tracks below and the tinkling of the crystal above.
“Ticket please.” I jumped at the voice. It was the man from the station. I hadn’t noticed him get on. In fact, I had thought I was still the only one in the car.
“There is no one else here?” I asked of him.
“Only those with tickets may ride,” he said. I still don’t know if that was in answer to my question or not.
“I’ve already given it to you,” I said. I thought I had given it to him, anyway.
“You most certainly have not, sir.” His face barely changed expression, but I could see rage in it, nonetheless. “If you don’t have a ticket, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
I glanced out the window. The train had picked up significant speed; the pastures outside nothing but a green blur. He couldn’t be serious. Besides, I had a distinct memory of handing him the ticket.
He checked his pocket watch and tapped his foot. “Well? Do you have a ticket, or don’t you?”
I didn’t have a ticket. Of course I didn’t.
Still, he seemed serous about kicking me off the moving train. I rummaged in my picket and felt a thick piece of paper. What I pulled it out, I found myself holding the no-longer-antique train ticket. Had he given it back to me at the station? I didn’t remember him doing that, but he must have. I handed him the ticket and his rage immediately dissipated.
“Have a nice ride!” he announced with a smile in his voice. He exited to the car ahead.
Burning with curiosity, I followed. But when I opened the door to the next car, he was gone. The car was empty, save for the finery I had already seen in the one before.
I dashed through the dazzling car and threw open the door to the next empty one. One I ran, through empty car after empty car, chasing a man I could never catch. As I ran, the cars grew less lavish. First, the gold trim disappeared. Then the tables became more plain. Then the chandeliers disappeared altogether. Soon, I was running through plain passenger cars, and then, not even that.
Metal-walled boxcars with rough wood floors jostled all around me as I ran. The clacking of the cars on the tracks was deafening. Still, I heard no engine.
Still, on I ran.
I ran for days in that boxcar-framed chase with a man I could never see. Finally, I found myself at a heavy, iron door, secured with a massive bar.
It took everything I had to get the bar out. I expected the door to be even worse, but it slid open with my barest touch.
Despite the red furnace in the center of the room, there was no blast of heat, no smoke.
The man was standing there, facing the furnace. He was wearing the same clothes as before, but something felt different. He turned and the feeling grew. His smile seemed too wide for his face, and, despite the adequate lighting in the tiny engine room, his eyes were concealed in shadows so that it looked as if he had none at all.
“Hello again,” he said; in the same voice as before… I think. “Have you enjoyed the ride?”
I stared into the eyes I couldn’t see. “What is this?”
Instead of answering, he pointed toward the furnace. A human skull rolled over and regarded me with empty sockets from within the fiery depths. In my head, I heard a thousand screams. Distant, but very real.
I turned to fling open the door, but it was heavier and I couldn’t move it.
I felt his smile behind me.
If you are somehow reading this, you have probably already received an antique train ticket. Maybe you’re even thinking about going. Could be fun, right?
Do not get on that train.