A shudder ran along the carriage as it passed over a joint in the track. A flicker darkened the lights for the briefest of moments. Had this been a rush hour train, a few dozen businessmen and women would have spilled their coffee, or dropped their phones, cursed, and then chastised themselves silently for muttering out loud. “They must think I’m crazy”, they would think to themselves. This internal dialogue would have reassured themselves of their sanity, because this was normal.
On this occasion though, the train was not full. In fact, it was low even for a normal service at 11:09 and, although the line did join to the capital, most passengers had either disembarked or had yet to board. In short, the carriage had a single occupant who, distractedly, looked up from his book.
He was graying, late forties. His suit was smart, but toed the right side of expensive. It was a tenth the price, he suspected, of his boss’ outfit. Thinking of his boss, a shadow of anger briefly furrowed his brow. Who was Mr Armani-suit-and-tacky-aftershave to say when he was over-stressed, to send him home like a kid who’d vomited on his teacher’s shoes. He felt disgraced. Yes, he was overworked, but he couldn’t live the life he did without this job. He still felt the accusing stares, the burning eyes that were all turned on him or the remains of the coffee mug he’d smashed in his anger.
“Take a sick day,” the boss ordered him earlier, the slick PR grin portraying this death knell as a kind word. “Go home and sleep it off. Spend some time with your wife, take your mind off all of this. Your health is more important than your job.”
The comment about his health had burned the most. How had he known about the blood he’d found in the toilet. the tests his GP had run. Let it not be cancer, he prayed to a god he didn’t really believe in. Let it be a cyst, or a burst blood vessel, or even the first male period. Let it be anything but cancer.
He’d seen the ads of course, the constant positive barrage only broken up by a couple of reminders of bleak reality. Fifty percent, that was how many survived now, a turning point in medical history. All that said to him, though, was that he was far too likely to die. He’d watched his brother in law die of cancer, and he’d seen what his wife had been through. He couldn’t do that to her again. He’d seen an old school friend survived, though, running the whole gamut of amputation to chemo to radio, and he knew that he was not strong enough for that either.
Mentally, he prayed again. Anything but cancer.
How had he known though? The man had seen the glint in his eye, the truth behind the grin. He had known, or at least suspected. The only person the man had told had been his wife, and even though he’d suspected her of infidelity since Christmas, but every logical fiber of his body told him that this wasn’t possible. Still though, his boss was younger, smarter, and more successful than him. He’d seen the look they’d shared at the Christmas party, and he wouldn’t have blamed her if she’d wanted a new model. God knows his libido was fading.
God, let it not be cancer. And let me have a bigger co-
His thought was interrupted by a smell. An overwhelming scent of meat invaded him, penetrating his senses and making him feel like retching. he desperately looked around for something, anything that could possibly be causing this horrendous odour. As soon as it came, though, it left again and, confused, he settled back into the festering mind set.
He supposed that this was karma. A couple of years back his company had been clients of a big pharmaceuticals conglomerate. He personally had worked on the legality of jacking up the price of chemo drugs by 670%. Even then, he’d known really that he was killing people who couldn’t afford the drugs. Oh well, he’d received a nice big bonus that year, hadn’t he?
If it was cancer, how could he explain that to his children? How could he explain to his four year old son and his seven year old daughter that his own body had turned against him? How could they understand daddy wasting away, daddy’s hair coming out in sickly chunks? How would they accept mommy being distant and worried, watching and seeing their uncle dying again? Would they cope without daddy being there for them?
Again, the train went over a bump and the light flickered. Now, though, the view was changed. Before, he had been absently staring out of the window, looking upon fields and woods, gently sloping chalk hills that bordered a valley cut in two by the railway. The blue skies had had shadowy clouds, but the weather was fine and warm. None of this was there now though.
The man was looking on an entirely different world now. A plain of bone-coloured lava stretched away to infinity, meeting the storm laden skies at a distant horizon. The clouds whipped about with alien winds, a tumultuous mass of deep crimson that greyed at the edges. Animals flew in the air, their gossamer silver wings beating against the thick, sulphurous atmosphere. Their eyes were cast downward, scanning the hostile ground beneath them.
Thick tendrils writhed from half-fungoid organisms that crawled across the vista with glacial speed. Their seven sided forms were completely symmetrical, and each individual briefly turned a hundred eyes upon the invading train, before going back to snatching the flying things out of the air with their grasping, branched arms. The man had never felt more alone or afraid as the train juddered through the landscape. He was watching wide eyed for what seemed like hours, until he saw it.
What he had taken to be a distant, rugged mountain he now saw was alive. A miles high tower of flesh, writhing naked muscles spurting red ichor across its own terrible crevasses. The smell of meat hit again with near physical force, and the being quaked in unknowable rage. A thousand mouths opened and shut, screaming sounds like a glass smashing. As they heard the noise, the tendrils of the crawlers retracted in fear as a single thick tentacle raised itself from the mountain and came crashing down upon them. It picked up one of the animals to a razor-toothed mouth, and screamed again. The flying things fled terrified from the mountain. One smacked into the window of the train, bursting pale blood across the shattered glass. He closed his eyes and started to cry, and another bump hit the train.
When he opened his eyes, he would have thought it was a night mare. None of the other passengers had seen a thing, and he would have drunk his cold coffee and gone home. He would have quite his job and received his diagnosis (a burst cyst), and been quietly relieved. He didn’t though. Instead, he screamed. He screamed and flung away his briefcase, and smacked his head against the wall until the police came. He screamed for he had the evidence of that unreal place, that tumorous being, those creatures that thrasheded and crawled across the plain. He screamed because he saw, across the floor of the train, the shattered remains of a smashed window.