The Devil’s Train- by Leah Dunn

“But where are we gonna go?”

I remember those fateful words all too well. Speaking to a man on the train tracks, alone, and at night no less. I knew better, and had I actually listened to my gut, I wouldn’t be here. I’d probably be home in bed, comfortable. Safe. Instead, I found myself inside an old steam locomotive, surrounded by dark scarlet decor. The walls themselves were woodgrain, and the carpet was red, with a gold diamond pattern stitched into it. The couch I was sitting on, as well as the curtains, were made of a dark red velvet. There was a mini bar sitting under the window, and an old style gramophone was sitting on a table in the corner beside the door that lead to the train car behind me.

“You look tense.” He spoke, turning just enough to peer over his shoulder. His voice nearly scared me out of my skin. He was usually so quiet I almost forgot he was there.

“I guess I am, sir.” I said, voice clearly shaking despite my efforts to hide it. It was embarrassing. I watched him sigh and turn around fully, leaning back against the mini bar. He had a martini glass of a dark red liquid in one hand, his other shoved into his pants pocket.

“How many times have I told you?” He said, his tone firm yet relaxed. “Call me by my first name. We’ve known each other long enough for that.”

How long have we known each other…? “Right…sorry, Strix.” I mumbled, looking down at the crimson carpet. His name felt strange on my tongue, like thick syrup.

“That’s better.” He raised his glass to his lips and took a drink, eyes surveying me slowly over the rim of the glass. His gaze made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. “Do you want a drink?” I sat back in shock for a moment. He’d never offered that before, as I could remember.

“N-no, I’m alright.” I cleared my throat. “Thank you though.” He closed his eyes and chuckled, making a face that said “it’s your funeral” before taking another sip from his glass. The train whistle screeched through the air, causing me to cringe. He didn’t react. “So…when exactly do I get to leave?”

He let out a sigh, switching his grip from holding the stem of the glass between his middle and ring finger to holding it almost like a claw. He set the glass down almost with a sort of annoyance, the glass making a sharp tak sound as it hit the metal counter of the mini bar. I cringed slightly, almost expecting him to yell. “We’ve been through this already, Alex.” His tone was calm, yet stern. He looked over at me when he said my name. If him looking at me didn’t make me nervous before, it certainly did now.

“The train doesn’t stop unless I tell it to.”

“I thought you said-” He laughed, hanging his head, it was a sound that made my skin crawl. “I never said that.” He walked towards me, both hands in his pants pockets. “You agreed to take a ride, you just failed to specify for how long.” He tilted my head up by the chin with his finger. “You’ll be here for as long as I find you amusing. Got that?” His eye contact never wavered, and I felt like I couldn’t look away from him. All I could do was nod. “Good.”

There was a heavy thump on the door of the train car next to mine. He let out a sigh, dropping his hand from my chin. “Stay here.” His tone was different now, the small amount of warmth I sensed earlier, fake or not, was completely gone.

“What was that?” I asked, staring warily at the door. “Another one of my…passengers.” The word passengers was said with no fondness, and the corner of his mouth twitched into a sneer when he said it. “Stay. Here.” He repeated before leaving the train car. As the door opened, I could hear the wheels chugging once again, a sound I had long since grown accustomed to.

As soon as the door shut, I pulled out my phone, an item Strix didn’t know I had. There were dozens of texts from my sister, Heather, which I was still somehow receiving.

March 31st

  • “Hey, have you talked to mom recently?”

April 3rd.

  • “Can you give me a ride to Jenny’s on Thursday? Mason has to work.”
  • “Aleeex??”
  • “Helloooo?”
  • “I take that as a no then.”

April 5th

  • “I haven’t heard from you in a while, is everything okay?”
  • “You don’t normally take this long to respond.”
  • “I’m starting to get worried.”

April 12th

  • “Alex, if this is a joke, it isn’t funny.”

April 22nd

  • “It’s been 2 weeks WHERE ARE YOU”
  • “You’re not home and your work says you haven’t been in for a while now”
  • “Please text me back”

Oh god, what day is it now? I thought, pulling up the calendar app. There was a single block highlighted out of the 31 like usual, but instead of the days of the month, there were strange symbols in their place. When I went to check the time, I was met with a jumble of ever-changing numbers and letters. I locked my phone and tossed it on the couch next to me, putting my head in my hands.

Forget the date and time, I don’t even know where I am! I thought, standing from my seat. I crossed the train car to one of the windows, which was covered by a thick scarlet curtain. Determined to figure out where I was, I took a hold of the soft fabric and threw it open, immediately regretting my actions. What I saw was… indescribable. There was so much screaming and fire and… flesh. I immediately stumbled back, falling away from the window and flat on my ass.

Of course, as I helplessly scrambled away from the window, in walked Strix. He held his suit jacket in his hand, his tie was loosened, his shirt slightly unbuttoned, and the sleeves were cuffed at the elbows. He seemed to be breathing hard as he pushed his dark hair off of his forehead, a pair of horns disappearing as he did so. I had only ever seen glimpses of his true form, and after looking out that window… I didn’t ever want to see the whole thing. He sighed, opening his eyes.

“Sorry about that, I-…oh.” He froze in place when his gaze fell on me, the disappointment in his voice was painfully obvious. “I thought I told you to stay put.” He crossed the room, closing the curtains with a swift flick of his wrist and offering me a hand. I took it, and he helped me to my feet. “Surely you have questions.”

“Wh-” I struggled to form the words. All I could spit out was. “Where the hell are we?”

“Right now? The seventh circle, for violence.” I just sort of blinked at him stupidly.

“What, you’ve never read Dante?” He rolled his eyes as if the answer was obvious. “Hell.”

“What?! But I’m not dead yet!” I practically screamed in disbelief. He just shrugged, and turned to pick his drink, which I luckily hadn’t spilled, back up. “Are you sure you don’t want that drink?” I didn’t answer, and he let the silence hang a bit too long before beginning again. “Not everyone who goes to Hell is dead. Not everyone who goes to Hell deserves it either, so don’t pull that card.” He rolled his eyes and began to take a drink, but froze when I didn’t immediately speak up. “What? No begging or pleading? Most people at least try to bargain their way off.”

I took a few steps back, falling back into my seat on the couch as I blankly stared at floor. He couldn’t be serious. I was on a train in Hell? Why did they even need trains in Hell? And how was he going to act like he wasn’t the one who coerced me onto the train in the first place!? Even with all the questions that raced through my mind, there was one that stuck out the most.

“Where exactly is the train going to stop?” I asked, looking up at Strix.

“Ah, he speaks!” He said with a smile. “It only took you-” He glanced at his watch. “Ten minutes, wow, most take longer than that.” Wait, was he impressed? “Honestly, it depends on where I feel like stopping. I could stop at the center, I could stop in Limbo, I could just… never stop.” And then he said, as if reading my mind:

“You do know even if we stop, you don’t have to get off. Right?”

“I-…did not know that.” I said, scrunching up my eyebrows in confusion.

“Wait, I get to choose if I want to leave or not?” He shrugged again.

“You did choose to be here, did you not?”

Not exactly but I get your point. “I guess so.”

“Of course, once you’re on the train I can’t let you off anywhere aside from the stops in Hell.” Go figure that’s how it works. “Besides, who’d want to leave when I’m their company?” He smirked, flashing sharp teeth at me. “Right, Alex?” Hearing my name leave his lips made my skin crawl. I started to get the feeling that I hadn’t seen the worst of Strix, but other “passengers” had. The form I had seen, the “human” form, was not overtly creepy. Hell, he was actually quite handsome, but there was something off-putting about his demeanor. “So how does the train end up-” I paused. I wasn’t exactly sure what he called the mortal realm and honestly I didn’t wanna sound like a dweeb in front of this guy. Though I’m not entirely sure why his opinion of me really mattered…

“On the surface?” So that’s what he calls it. “It’s complicated honestly.” He took a seat beside me. I sat silently, hoping he’d just start to explain it all. He glanced over at me out of the corner of his eye, before turning to face me. “You don’t really expect me to explain it all, do you?” I stayed silent and shrugged. “Good, I’m not going to.” He shook his head and finished off his drink, before placing it on the table in front of us. He sat in silence for what felt like ages, gently twisting his glass around in a circle on the table before letting go. I took my first up close look at him that I’d ever gotten since boarding the train. The form that sat in front of me was mostly human looking, albeit with a few changes. He had pointed ears, and snake-like eyes, which appeared to be the only features he couldn’t hide. Aside from that, upon first glance he would’ve looked like a normal guy, which I guess was the point. I mean the whole normal guy facade worked on me didn’t it? At this point I could tell he knew I was staring at him, so I figured, why hide it now? With his unbuttoned shirt and slightly loosened tie, I caught a glimpse of a scar I didn’t see before. He was covered in scars, but somehow I had missed the nastiest one. It was a huge gash across his throat, where the skin was slightly pitted, raised, and gnarled almost. When he tilted his head the skin strained, like it had lost most of its elasticity ages ago.

“Anything else?” Strix’s deep voice boomed through the silence like a clap of thunder, causing me to jump in my seat. His eyes had been trained on me the whole time, and he hadn’t said a word, just watched me study something he tried to hide. He reached up and itched the scar before buttoning his shirt back up. He tightened his tie again as well.

“N-no.” I stuttered. He was once again silent, but this time his silence felt different. Usually, his silence felt like some kind of cruel and unusual torture, almost like he was enjoying making me uncomfortable by doing nothing. But now? Now his silence felt like he was trying to hide something. It felt heavy, crushing almost.

“Usually I would’ve been asked if heaven exists by now.” He stood again, unrolling his sleeves and slipping his suit jacket back on. He reached up under the red velvet curtain, cracking the window. I expected to hear screaming, or at least for some kind of hot air to wash into the room, but this time the air that seeped in was cold and arid. He pulled out a cigarette from his breast pocket, held it to his lips, and snapped his fingers over the tip. Sparks flew from between his fingers and the cigarette lit. I shrugged. “I’m just not religious, I guess.” I watched him open the curtains slightly, and blow smoke out the window. What I saw outside the window this time was not the flesh pit I was met with before, but this time, it was just black. “Rare occurrence.” I was not particularly liking the responses he was giving now. They were blunt and almost cold.

He finished his cigarette and flicked what was left of it out the window into the dark, before turning to me, hands in pockets. “It’s been a while since you slept.” As soon as he mentioned sleep, I began to feel tired. Exhausted even. “You are still alive, so you still need sleep. And food.” I nodded, yawning. “I am feeling pretty tired.” He hummed slightly, crossing to the door leading to the train car in front of us. “You should sleep now, while we’re somewhere dark. And quiet.” Okay that’s ominous. He opened the door, the chugging of the wheels entering the train car once again, and then turned. “Sweet dreams.” And he left, the door shutting behind him. That last comment made me feel… conflicted to say the least. Usually wishing someone sweet dreams was a good thing, but when coming from something like him… something not human… it just felt wrong. Either way he was right, I did need to sleep, considering that I wasn’t sure how long I had been here, or how long I’d been awake. I didn’t want to start going insane or something.

So I laid down, right there on the couch. For a moment I looked around for something to use as a blanket but there wasn’t anything really around, so I gave up. I curled into the fetal position, my forearm under my head as a pillow and I closed my eyes, hoping to at least get a little rest.

. . .

When I woke up, I practically sat bolt upright. I was breathing heavily, my hair and clothes were stuck to my skin and my forehead was covered in a thin layer of sweat. I glanced around the room as my eyes adjusted to the extreme darkness. Strix must’ve turned the lights out, because I sure didn’t. Strix… Jesus christ, even asleep I couldn’t get away from him. I hoped to have a nice dream, and yeah, it started out nice. And then he was there. Or was he there the whole time? My brain started cooking up some weird shit towards the end. I wiped the sweat off my forehead, taking a deep breath.

“Sleep well?” Again his voice caught me off guard. He was standing in the corner, whiskey glass in one hand, cigarette in the other. All I could see were those two glowing eyes.

“Jesus-” He rolled his eyes as I let out a heavy sigh. “How long have you been there?!”

“Long enough.” He stepped away from the corner and snapped his fingers, the lights flickering on. “Have any fun dreams?” He cocked an eyebrow, the corner of his lips twitching into a smirk.

“Uh-” I turned red. How the hell was I supposed to answer this? As I looked at him, I once again felt like he already knew the answer. I cleared my throat and desperately searched for a new subject. “Uh-so where are we now?”

“The Surface.” He drew back the curtain and opened the window. I practically ran over to get a breath of fresh, cool, night air. “Don’t get excited, it’s not where I found you.” Rain. I could smell rain. I felt a laugh escape my lungs, then, something clicked.

“Wait, we’re on the surface?” Strix nodded. Without even thinking of the consequences, I dug into my pocket and pulled out my cell phone. I quickly sent my sister a text.

October 5th

  • “Heather, I promise I’m okay. Tell mom I’m alright.”

As the text was sent, my eyes finally registered the date above it. I had been missing for 6 months.

“I didn’t know you still had that.” Strix said, he was leaning against the wall next to the window I was kneeling in front of, staring at my phone. I couldn’t even hear him over the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. 6 months. I could feel my mind swimming as I thought about my family. I left them all alone. They must’ve been searching everywhere for me. I fought with my sister before I left. The last damn thing I said to my mom was to stay out of my life. Jesus christ, I even missed my mom’s birthday. I stared down at the carpet, phone in hand, the blue light splashing up onto my face as I sat in shock. My eyes welled with tears as I realized they wouldn’t be looking for me anymore. I sent that text for nothing.

They probably thought I was dead.

I put my head in my hands, I cried. My throat felt tight and my chest ached, so I sat there and I just sobbed. What else was I supposed to do? I couldn’t leave, my family thought I was dead, I had nothing! It was a lot to handle all at once. I could feel his eyes locked on me though, and they were only upsetting me more. “What!?” I snapped, looking up at him.

When I looked up, I expected to see some sort of smug look on his face. I expected to get some kind of snide remark or even just a scoff. I didn’t get any of that, instead I was met with a look of sorrow. Strix looked down at me with pity in his eyes, as well as pain. I could’ve sworn there was something else… maybe sympathy? He looked away, casting his eyes down for the first time. “Sorry.” He mumbled. I sniffled, wiping my eyes on my sleeve as the train began to move once again. Strix helped me up off the floor, and sat me back onto the couch. “I… forgot how it felt.” I cocked an eyebrow at him, and he snapped his fingers, then handed me a box of tissues. I took one and blew my nose. “What I’m saying is… I understand.”

“How?” I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. “How could you possibly understand this?” I jabbed harshly, but at the time I didn’t know what he was about to tell me.

“Because I used to be human.” He said, his eyes still cast into his lap.

The moment he said that I felt like a total dick. “When people die, they could be assigned a few different things. Most are assigned purgatory, they live out their afterlife about the same as their mortal existence, uselessly, but they get to rest. Some are assigned tortue in hell, the ones who get tortured are mostly just people who commit your usual crimes against man. A few stay on the mortal plane as ghosts, which is about as shitty as it sounds. And even fewer are assigned to be demons, and as far as I know it’s random. Sometimes a total shitbag could be assigned, sometimes it’s a decent person who lived a completely normal life.” He sighed. “That’s what happened to me.”

“You…died?” He nodded, gently scratching his throat. It started to make sense now. “You were killed…”

“Mhm.” He nodded again, leaning forward and resting his hands on his knees. “I made the same mistake you did actually. ‘Course, back then, the most dangerous thing on the train tracks at night were vagrants and not…demon trains.” He chuckled. “I was mugged. When I wound up here, the original job description was to pick up lost souls, so I agreed. And then it became what it is now.”

“Tricking people into riding the train forever?”

“I only found out that was part of the job after I’d already agreed.”

My mind was reeling. This thing sitting next to me used to be human. Strix used to have a life, hell he might’ve had a family, kids even. “So…why are you telling me this?” I asked. Strix looked down at his hands, turning one of the silver rings on his finger. He just shrugged and began to pick at the skin around his nails.

“Can I ask you something? And… be honest.”

“Yeah.” I shrugged, I let my guard down with him at this point.

Mistake number one.

“Do I scare you?” He asked as if he already knew the answer. Hell, he probably did. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he could read my mind at this point.

“Honestly? Yeah.” He nodded slightly, giving a small chuckle. “Did I say something funny?” I asked in genuine confusion.

“No.” He shook his head, standing up. He crossed the room to the window again, moving the curtain aside just enough so he could look out. I couldn’t see past him.

“So…” I began, attempting to break the silence. “If you were human before, didn’t you have a life?” He was silent. I couldn’t help but pry, I wanted to know more. This was the first glimmer of humanity I’d seen in him this entire ride. “What was it like?” Nothing. I thought maybe if I could appeal to him, the little bit of humanity he might’ve had left, he’d let me go. “Did you have a family?” Once again no verbal response, but I watched his posture tense. He must’ve had a family. “Did-”

“Stop.” He said harshly. He didn’t even have to turn for me to realize he was upset, hell, he was pissed. His voice lost its harshness as he spoke again, taking on a pained tone instead. “Just… stop asking questions. Please…” He cleared his throat, letting out a heavy sigh. The train car behind us thumped loudly again. Strix’s head snapped towards the door and waited; there was another thump. He cursed under his breath and walked over to a record player, placing a vinyl on the turntable and dropping the needle. He turned the volume up as an old-timey piano began to play. He then turned to me, shrugging off his suit jacket and cuffing his sleeves. “Stay.” He commanded, before leaving the train car. I lost his favor after that moment.

I didn’t know it then, but I had crossed the line.

Typically, I could never hear what he was doing over the steady chugging of the train. This time was different. From the train car behind me, I could hear rhythmic thudding coupled with the cries of pain. There was a loud crash like something falling over, and the sound of glass shattering. Strix shouted, as did a second male voice, though it sounded like it was pleading. I covered my ears as the sounds of violence carried on for a while, even after the second voice grew silent. There was one final thud, then complete silence. I heard the sliding of a train car door behind me opening then shutting, then again a second time to my own car. Strix’s heavy foot falls crossed the train car, and when his black leather oxfords crossed in front of me I glanced up. He was covered in blood. Darker stains speckled his all black suit, splashing across his pale skin and face. He ignored me completely as he walked through the train car, leaving through the next door.

I felt like an accessory to a crime.

I stayed in my seat for a long time, head in my hands. My entire body was trembling in fear and my eyes welled with tears, which began to stream down my cheeks in torrents. Something was very wrong. What had Strix done to that man? How long had that man been on the train? Had he done something to upset Strix before? Had I done something to upset him? How long was it before he turned against me? How long did I have before he stopped “finding me amusing”? I had no idea, but the very thought terrified me. I couldn’t help my morbid curiosity. I had to find out what he did. I had to know what was waiting for me.

Mistake number two.

When I thought he was far enough away, I stood from my seat and ran to the door, crossing into the train car behind mine. The curtain was drawn, blocking my view, so I just blindly walked inside.

Mistake number three.

I shut the door behind me as quietly as possible, and when I turned around I almost threw up. The scene was even more grizzly than I expected. Blood soaking the walls, curtains torn, furniture overturned, and then I saw the centerpiece. An old man lay in the center of the room, his body mangled beyond belief. He was beaten almost unrecognizable, and I don’t think he had a bone left intact. He was dead, there was no doubt about it. He was dead, and I was a witness to his murder.

Once again, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering; how many people were on this train? How many people had Strix left alive? How many had he killed? I had to find out. I had to know. I crossed the train car to the next door.

As I entered, I was met with a similar room as the last. The same crimson carpet, velvet curtains and upholstered couches. The mini bar under the window and gramophone were in the same exact positions as well. Sitting in the corner opposite the gramophone, head in her hands, was a woman. She was crying, sobbing, as she rocked back and forth, knees tucked tight to her chest. She was mumbling over and over to herself. “Make it stop…Make it stop…” I stared for a moment before I rushed past her towards the next door. I found the same scene. Red carpets, curtains and couches. This time, there was a person laying dead on the couch, covered in blood. Sticking out of their head was a long metal bar tool, and shattered glass was littered all around their body. Dark stains surrounded them. I moved to the next train car. The same thing, red everything this time, though the room was empty. Next car. The same surroundings, another tortured person. Next car. The same surroundings again, another bloodied corpse. Next car. The same damn thing. It just kept repeating, over and over.

It became mind numbing. I had gone through dozens of train cars and each one had at least remnants of it’s previous occupant, if they weren’t left alive that is. I turned in a circle, looking at the identical crimson surroundings that had become so familiar. Tears welled in my eyes as my chest tightened with dread. This is how I would end up. Dead or trapped here forever. Losing my mind as I was tortured by this thing that was pretending to be human. I was screwed, that much was clear.

I could feel a dark presence behind me, a cold gaze trained on the back of my neck.

“I told you to stay. Put.”

He spat, putting a hand on my shoulder and squeezing so hard I thought my collarbone would shatter. I whimpered in pain, cringing slightly under his grip. “But you humans never listen, do you?” My vision spun, then we were back in my train car. Compared to all the horror I had just seen, it seemed like a hotel suite. It was practically pristine, not a thing out of place, not a drop of blood in sight. “You’re all the same, wretched miserable things.” He forced me into a seat on the couch before grasping my throat in one massive, clawed hand, causing me to look up at his mangled, demonic form. Whatever you imagine a demon looking like, you’re dead wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for the blackened, evil thing that stood before me. Words couldn’t describe it. They wouldn’t do it justice. “And to think, I actually took pity on you, thought maybe you might’ve been different.” It sneered, revealing teeth like daggers. “Shame on me.” Helplessly, I stared into it’s eyes, finding myself unable to look away. It’s grip on my throat began to tighten, claws puncturing the skin as if it were popping a balloon. “I should kill you right now, watch the light drain from your eyes as I tear your throat out-!” I cringed away from it as it roared in my face. Suddenly, it let go, dropping me to the couch again. It left me gasping for air, bleeding, practically drowning, but I wasn’t dying. “No. Letting you die would be a mercy.” My heart sank as I stared up at it, terrified. It rolled it’s shoulders, monstrous form slipping back into a facade of a human. “So, I won’t kill you. But know this, Alex.” He fixed his tie, hiding the scar on his throat once more, before leaning in, his face mere inches from mine. He lowered his voice to barely a whisper.

“You will never leave this train.”