The Train of Time
A frigid wind stirs and moves its way through the crowd, warning me of the hardships which are in my near future; it’s a sign to which I should take heed, but who can fear in the face of hope? The train draws closer to her station. There are many legends about this train, but one thing remains certain, everybody must ride it. She cannot stop until she reaches her destination, but she goes slowly enough for people to jump on. I, with many others, am sizing up my task. I’m as good as a newborn when it comes to train hopping, as are the rest of the group, but we must make the jump in order to survive. She’s an immense marvel of nature with many gargantuan cars, descending in size, to hold her human cargo. The train is about nine minutes away from me. I gather my composure and begin to prepare for my expedition. I know that there are some on the train who don’t welcome newcomers. They’ve banded together and call themselves The Morts. Some say that they were the first to ride the train. They’re a secretive society. There are many theories to their nature, but their hatred towards all the passengers on the train is well known. I must avoid them at all costs.
The rumbling of wheels grows louder. The train is here; the time is now. The mass of people begins pushing and shoving in order to get into a better position. I am almost to the front when the first car whizzes by, with a multitude of airborne people on its trail. The pushing grows more violent, leading to shoving, kicking, and trampling. I put myself in a ready stance to jump into the next car, but somebody throws an elbow to my ribcage. I cry out in pain and bend over, relinquishing my spot on the car to my attacker. I’m not worried, there are still hundreds of cars left, but I resolve myself to be on the next one. I steel my courage and leap into the air with many beside me. I land on my injured rib and the pain forces tears out of my eyes, but I’ve made it. The car is flooded with us outsiders, yet we find that we are but a miniscule part of the car’s population. Hundreds of millions of people are gathered in this car that we must now call our own. Dumbfoundedly I stand, mouth agape at the sheer mass of man before me, but my daze is broken off by a call throughout the car, one that I’d never heard before and hope to never hear again, “The Morts are coming!”
Utter chaos forms over the crowd as they try to find a hiding place. I, with many others, choose to confide in a large medical supply box in the corner. It has a red cross on its exterior and there is a small hole where the cross’ lines meet. Through that hole, I behold a horror. Shortly after the scurrying stops, the Morts enter. Their appearance is so grotesque that they nearly offend my eyes to the point of blindness. Their pale skin ranks with the stench of corroding flesh. They are stalky and carry a slight lurch. A fiendishly crooked smile adorns more than half of each of their faces, with lips sharp enough to slice through diamonds. So cold are they that the temperature of the entire car drops several degrees. With a sickly glance they disperse to search each crevice of the car. A plethora of shrill screams fill the air. A Mort has found a man hiding under a pile of sheets. The man tries to flee, but the Mort’s black cloak snags his feet and he falls mercilessly to the floor. The Mort seizes him and drags him to the edge of the car.
“Muh-eye re-awwsss!” the Mort screams. A ghastly screech is emitted from the man’s mouth as he is hurled off the train. He contorts wildly to try to break his fall before joining the ever-growing crowd. The Mort becomes enveloped in light and disappears. My mouth fell once more to allow a gasp to escape from my lips. The supervening gestures for silence by my fellow occupants come too late.
A Mort cranes its hideous head in our direction and begins to move towards us, creeping ever closer to our shelter. People in white coats ready themselves for a confrontation. They arm themselves with syringes and scalpels in an attempt to preserve life.
“Funny!” Another Mort cries. “Funny. Muck gnaw, settle owe-guh.” They all proceed to the door joining our car to the next one down. Helpless screaming can be heard through the door until it shuts behind the last Mort, their leader‘s voice echoing throughout the next car, shouting, “Funny!”.
The white coats stand down as we emerge from the box. Families of the fallen dash to the car’s narrow entryway, reaching out to their loved ones as they embark on a desperate effort to get back onboard, but the train picks up speed and thunders away. The sky grows cloudy and mourns with the families. I can see through the window the people who we are leaving behind. As a part of the whole, they are few, less than one percent I estimate, but the multitude of man that the group comes from gives them vast numbers. There they stand, watching their hopes fade away into the distance. Their silence speaks volumes about the need to stop the Morts. Now they gradually fade from my view, growing smaller, but still there.
A man tapped my shoulder. A woman stood next to him.
“Hello, son.” The man greeted. “Surely there must be a better view on the car than this.”
“I just like looking at the landscape.” I reply half-heartedly.
“Why don’t you come with us for a while. We can show you around the car.”
“Sure.” I said, eager to escape the moroseness of the window.
“I’m Deangelarius Anderson Dray, but people usually call me Dad. This is my wife, Miambra Ophelia-Mason, but you can call her Mom.”
“Nice to meet you.” Mom said gleefully.
“Same to you.”
“We always come up with names for people around here.” Dad adds. “The way that you were looking out into the sunset makes me think that Sunny would be a good one for you.” It’s an interesting prospect to get a new name. There weren’t very many uses for them where I come from. Still, it makes sense.
“That sounds good.” I reply
Mom and Dad lead me to a statue of a green lady draped in a white medical robe. She is holding a torch in one hand and a scalpel in the other. She solemnly stood, head tilted upwards to face the future.
“Who’s she supposed to be?” I ask.
“Lady Life.” Mom answered. “Her torch lights the path towards a solution to the Mort problem and her scalpel shows that she is ready to defend a life.”
“It was a gift from the Forty-First car for teaching them how to defend against a Mort attack.” Dad added. Adjacent to the statue is a large, black plaque with two letters written in gold: US. Some smaller letters are on the bottom of the plaque, but are degraded. They read “la... of ..e f.e.”.
“Why is that plaque there?” I inquire.
“It’s the name of the car,” Mom says, “but its history and its meaning has been lost over time.” I wonder how people can forget how something so enormous got on the wall. It looks to be about 250 years old, give or take a decade, and is smothered in dust. It’s a peculiar name for a car; US. Maybe it refers to a sense of community: this car belongs to US. Regardless, it’s a shame that a grand monument has fallen into such disrepair. Another object quickly captures my attention. There’s a small black box a little ways away.
“What’s that, Mom?” I ask curiously. She looks in the direction of my finger, but she doesn’t seem to notice anything.
“What’s what?” she says.
“There, that box over there.” She still can’t see it. The box doesn’t seem to be a monument of any sort, in fact it’s having the opposite effect on the people around it. Nobody wants to claim it. It looks to be light enough that I can carry it. “I’ll go get it.”
“Don’t get lost!” Mom calls as I advance towards the box. As I move closer to it, it becomes a stranger sight. Its color is so dark that if it had only two dimensions I’d mistake it for a hole. However, something made it seem natural for it to be here. I can feel the disdain that the people are expressing as they stare wide-eyed and avoid coming close to it at all costs, but it seems to nonetheless have a sense of belonging to it; some reason for it being here. I pick it up. It has a smooth surface and there’s no obvious way to open it. The rising moon casts a ray of light onto the bottom of the box. A small black button is indented into the center of the square.
Now knowing that I was asking of, Mom becomes very distraught. “Sunny! Put that down!” she caterwauls. Frightened, I shove the thing out of my possession. The force propels my thumb into the button. The same light that the Mort who vanished was encapsulated in now ensnares me. I try to escape, but there’s no way out.
The light dimmed. Mom, Dad, and the other passengers were gone. I sat in a small, dimly lit room which was surprisingly unkept. The faded striped wallpaper was peeling near the ceiling, revealing various species of insects warring over control of each flap. I strained myself to find any filth-free spot on the sullied floor to place my feet, but oh, my feet! They’d grown to twice the size that they were before and were enshrouded in a thick pelt of pale fur. Sharp talons protruded where my toes had previously resided, indenting the layer of what I would hope to be merely dirt. Trails were left in the sea of putrefaction, ending at some wooden four-legged chairs surrounding an old, draped wooden table. Then I noticed that my feet weren’t so unique. Nine other pairs laid in front of the chairs, their owners seated at the table. The things looked at me expectantly. My heart, like a track star, leapt from its starting position and sprinted towards the finish line. Just when the first inkling of my sanity had returned did it hastily turn away from me again, but that moment of clarity gave me all the information I needed: the Morts were staring at me and, by the looks of it, the sole vacant chair at their table was meant for me. I screamed for help, but it came out as “Pleh!”. No. I couldn’t be talking like them. I wasn’t not one of them. I couldn’t be. But at the same time, I knew; I must be. Fear shook my stalky frame.
“George, I leve-e-buh stih roy nert,” one of the Morts commented. Then the strangest sensation came over me. I felt as if I could understand them. Their speech seemed to have a peculiar pattern which felt familiar.
“Knife,” another Mort said. I got it. Their language was English, but with the sounds of the words reversed. I thought it would take me a while to decipher the meaning of the conversation, but I found that I was unnaturally adept at decoding it. The first Mort said, “George, I believe it’s your turn.” The second said, “Fine.” But what was it George’s turn to do? I would soon find out. George stood up. Slowly, he approached me. Now the tired runner in my chest stopped to catch its breath. The drab colors in the room quickly grew softer. I laid down on this comfortable view, letting the sparse light become ever dimmer until all was dark.
I awoke shivering violently on a bed. I was in a different room, but the only way I could tell was by its contents. There were ten beds in a row, stretching from wall to wall, each one covered by a profusely unsanitary blanket. Horrified, I looked down. I was covered in a sheet that appeared to be the universal maggot feeding grounds. In the sheet’s crevices laid particles of the fallen insect soldiers from above. Then, something fell from the ceiling: the maggots’ next meal. A black widow spider, her fate already sealed by the gash where her red mark should be, defended what little life she had left from the swarming parasites. I needed no further inclination. I expelled the blanket from my body, hurling it to the other side of the room. I was terrified, but my heart, which I would have expected to have quickened its pace, was calm. In fact, there was an empty feeling in my chest, as if nothing was there. But that wasn’t possible. How could I be standing here next to the bed without a heart? Yet I seemed to be in a place where logic didn‘t reign. I had to be sure. I lifted up my wrist and pressed my index and middle fingers onto its frigid surface. Nothing. I dug further into the skin, but to no avail. Frantically, I checked my other wrist and then my neck, all of which told the same result: I was dead.
The door creaked open. George crept in, unfazed by the roach which fell to his side.
“Hi,” he said backwardly. “I realize that this is all new to you. Perhaps I can explain.” I was perplexed. I wanted to run through the door and try to flee to another car, but my legs wouldn’t obey me. I was frozen stiff. “Your transformation into a Mort,” George continued, “was caused by a time traveling experiment gone wrong. Many years into the future, scientists will build ten time machines which will look like black boxes. However, when they go into the past the group of ten will find that the boxes have morphed their DNA and have turned them into Morts. They will also find that they cannot return to the future. Eventually, one of the scientist will go mad and he will throw someone off the train. Then he will be enveloped in light and disappear. The remaining scientists will come to the conclusion that their colleague has returned to his timeframe. Following suit, they also decide that it would be best for them to return home. However, when they return to the future, they must leave the time machines behind. Since then, many people became curious with the machines and accidentally set them off, as you did, pushing the Morts further back in time.”
Finally, my fear decreased. Even though the story was ludicrous, I was comforted to hear that there was an explanation to how this happened. “So you’re saying that there have only been ten Morts throughout history?” I inquired.
“No. There can only be ten Morts at a time, but every time period has ten Morts. Time travel into the past causes paradoxes which, we believe, makes the ten boxes appear in all zones of time. It’s also the reason that we go back to our time frame. Because every decision in the past affects the future, when you throw someone is off the train your timeline restarts to adjust to the change of the person not being on the train anymore. You essentially start your life over. This is also why we usually target older people, so that family lineages are preserved. If you throw someone who’s already died, there will be no change in the timeline and nothing will happen.
When a Mort returns to his time, a time machine is left in your original time period. Then, someone else will inevitably toy with the device and end up here. You, however, will arrive at your original time frame as a baby. Nobody will know what happened to you. The only thing that you’ll remember from your former life are your experiences as a Mort.”
“Right.” I said sarcastically. I’d had enough of their balderdash. I resolved myself to going to go back to US to see if the doctors could cure me. I walked out of the bedroom and into the room with the table. The other eight Morts watched as I moved towards the doors leading to the other cars. They appeared to want to say something, but knew that it would be useless.
I looked up at the joining doors. A silver 3 ignited my hopes. I was home all along. Confidently, I pushed through the doors, but US wasn’t as I left it. The plaque was still being built, with meaning adorning every letter of its profound slogan: “Land of the Free.” Meanwhile, the passengers were busy building weapons of war. Cans were being melted down into musket balls. Muskets were being passed to new military recruits. Strangely, the commanding officers all had browned teeth and while, curly hair. Another group of soldiers were taking target practice. A soldier took aim at a bulls-eye. Then a shout fearful and desperate enough to stir a rock’s soul filled the cabin.
The aiming soldier was startled. He jumped up and turned as he pulled the trigger, swinging his firearm around towards his comrades. The ball lodged squarely in an officer’s chest. He fell to the floor, mortally wounded. There was nothing that the soldiers could do about a Mort, as their muskets were useless against someone who was dead. Painstakingly, they left the officer’s side to seek shelter. George must’ve been right. There was no way around it now. This was obviously not the US that I came from, at least, not yet. I wanted to get back and I knew what I had to do. I approached the wounded officer. His uniform had the name Lowes sown next to his wound. He was soaking in blood, his life quickly draining away. I had to act quickly. I picked him up but, although he was still conscious, he was in no way afraid. When we reached the edge of the car, he told me, “Before you do this, can you please take this letter and leave it on the floor for my family?” He pulled out an envelope from his left pocket and wrapped it in his necklace. He lowered it down to me, but I couldn’t accept it. Those last words could change my timeline more than I could afford, but didn’t this man deserve more? He’d done nothing to merit his final moments being taken away from him, and at the least he should be able to say farewell to his loved ones. Yet I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. If I did, then his death would be in vain. He heard me say the only words that a Mort has ever said to its victims, something that I knew that he couldn’t understand but hoped dearly that he could feel, “Muh-eye re-awwsss!” As I launched him off the train, he pulled his letter to his bleeding heart. The light encompassed me, leaving me with one final sight: the man whose death I caused clutching to the remnants of his family as he prepared to leave the world.
The time has come again to board the train. I’m standing amongst a crowd of candidates much worthier than myself. I’m still haunted by the memories which have no origin, but I know to be true. I see the man I killed embracing the intangible; one of the few things that set humans apart from anything else: love. Now, what is there for his corpse to love? The ground on which he lies? The vegetation that welcomed his fall? Surely his family still felt his love, but his death caused that love to stop growing and made it impossible to further express. The family must’ve mourned and their love for him remained, but the engine of his affection, his very life, was stolen. Who am I, a murderer of both person and emotion, to deserve to ride the train? I stand in my place as the train of time whizzes by, joining the ever-growing crowd of the dead, the guilty, and the loved.