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An Hour to Anywhere

by Bradley Ramsey (He/Him) 2 months ago in Short Story
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A Revolution in Transportation

Photo by Tom Dahm on Unsplash

Part One: Rachel

It was a gut-wrenching sound that woke Rachel from her deep slumber. A screeching mechanical cry, like metal grinding against metal. She bolted upright, sweaty palms pressing into crisp sheets. Cold fluorescent light rained down from above as she took in her surroundings.

She sat in a small cabin, complete with a desk, office chair, bed, and a screen mounted on the wall in front of her. It looked like a hotel room, but she felt movement rumbling beneath. The screeching metal sound faded to a dull roar.

She turned to her left and saw colors flashing by in a window that sat behind a thin curtain. Like ripping a bandaid off a wound, she pulled the textured fabric back and revealed a picturesque landscape passing by at incredible speed.

Thick clouds hung like fabric draped over the peaks of mountains in the distance. An overcast sky overlooked fields of swaying emerald grass. Light drops of rain splattered against the window before sliding out of view.

A train then, but one she didn’t remember buying a ticket to board. Similarly, the landscape outside her window was unknown to her.

Rachel let out an audible gasp as the television screen on the wall sprung to life. A sharply dressed man with short, jet black hair and perfectly manicured beard stood in front of a blank background with a fake smile plastered on his face.

“Hello, and welcome. My name is Roger Carswell, CEO and Founder of An Hour to Anywhere, the company that’s revolutionizing the way we think about travel.”

Rachel stood up from the bed and waved her hands in front of the screen. It was clearly a recording. She began rummaging around the room as the businessman continued his pitch in the background.

“As the name suggests, we have developed a new form of transportation that utilizes cutting-edge technology to literally close the space between your departure and your destination.”

Rachel tried the door to her cabin, but it was locked from the outside. Adrenaline poured into her veins as claustrophobia set in. It wasn’t the first time she had been locked inside a room against her will. As panic started to creep in from the edges of her psyche, the businessman continued his pitch.

“As a valuable member of our quality assurance team, you are one of the first people to experience this method of travel first-hand. To accomplish such a feat, your trip will take you briefly into an unexplored dimension beyond the three-dimensional space we have come to know and understand, but I assure you, it’s perfectly safe.”

Rachel gripped the side of the desk against the wall as the entire train lurched to the side. She clenched her jaw as the familiar sound of metal against metal assaulted her ears. It felt like something was trying to knock the train off track.

The businessman continued. “Now, you may experience some side effects during your travel, though we’ve taken steps to give you both sights and sounds that are familiar and comforting. I look forward to shaking your hand when you—,”

In a fit of rage and panic, Rachel picked up the flimsy office chair in front of the desk and threw it at the television screen.

“Shut the fuck up!” she screamed.

The TV panel shattered into a thousand flickering colors as the chair bounced off and slammed into the window before landing on the bed. Rachel’s eyes turned to the window, shocked to see a similar effect as the television screen.

The once picturesque landscape was broken in the center. Colors flickered across the mountains in the background as shards of the image devolved into static. Rachel climbed onto the bed for a closer look.

Something heavy slammed against the door to her cabin. That same mechanical scream filled the air as the train leaned to the left. Rachel fell into the window and felt the screen behind it give way. She braced herself against the metal frame and watched as the broken panel gave way to what really sat outside the walls of her prison.

Rachel’s mind struggled to understand what she was seeing. Despite feeling a sense of movement beneath her, she looked out on a familiar structure beneath her that was totally still. It was a house she hadn’t seen in over a decade.

The roof was gone, revealing the various rooms and furniture placed within. Floating above it, Rachel felt like she was looking into a dollhouse replica of a place she wanted nothing more than to forget.

“Open this door Rachel!” a gruff voice shouted.

Rachel’s heart skipped a beat.

“No, no, no, this isn’t possible!” she cried.

“Open this fucking door!” the voice repeated.

Rachel looked back at the diorama laid out beneath her window. She heard the door giving way behind her. Her rational mind had long since departed, and without a second thought, she climbed through the window and jumped towards the scene below.

She fell for a brief moment before landing on a stiff mattress. The smell of liquor and cigarettes wafted up in a cloud from the crumpled sheets. She looked over to the nightstand and spotted a framed photo. It was her, posing with a tall, scrawny man. Her smile looked forced, his looked sinister. Neither were genuine.

“What the fuck did you do?” A voice shouted.

Rachel scrambled out of the bed and landed on the floor amid empty beer cans and discarded cigarette butts. She clawed her way beneath the bed and clasped her hands over mouth as the bedroom door slowly opened.

Heavy, uncertain, labored footsteps echoed out as he stumbled into the room. Rachel tried desperately to hold back the tears forming behind her eyelids.

“You think trashing all of my booze is going to change anything?” he asked.

Rachel clenched her jaw and held her breath as her lungs burned like a raging fire.

“No one is ever going to believe you. You should just behave and learn your place. Besides, I know all of your hiding places!”

Rachel let out a scream of pure terror as she felt his hands wrap around her ankles. He wrenched her out from under the bed and loomed over her with a crooked smile on his face.

A pair of broken whiskey bottles sat perched inside of his eye sockets. Blood ran down his cheeks and past his smile full of bottle caps and shards of aluminum cans. His entire body was a collage of broken glass and metal, all of it jammed into his skin at various angles.

Rachel sat paralyzed at the sight of him, jaw agape and heart thundering in her chest.

“What’s the matter, don’t like my new look? YOU DID THIS TO ME!” he screamed.

Rachel flipped over and crawled desperately towards the door. She felt his hands grasp her ankle again and instinctively kicked back at him with her other foot. She connected with his leg, driving shards of metal and glass deeper into his skin.

“Stupid fucking bitch!” he roared.

Rachel made it out into the hallway. She climbed to her feet just as she felt his hands dig into her shoulders.

“Don’t struggle, this is just the beginning. You thought you got rid of me, but I’ll see you again soon,” he whispered.

Rachel felt an eruption of pain on her back. Her left shoulder burned like someone had pressed hot iron against it. Her vision turned red from the pain for a brief moment before everything went black.

Part Two: Lyla

The voice of Roger Carswell woke Lyla up from a shallow sleep. She barely listened to his pitch, instead opting to rummage around the cabin she found herself in. Lyla assumed this was another attempt by her “loving” mother to get her “the help she needs.”

Lyla tried the door, expecting it to be locked. Instead, it slid open with ease and she stepped through without a second thought. She stepped out into total darkness and spun around, only to find the door she stepped through was gone.

“What the hell?” she whispered.

Lyla reached out into the darkness and felt something cold and smooth against her skin. She turned to her side and felt the same type of surface.

“Hello?”

“Oh good, you’re here.”

Bright lights illuminated the space around Lyla. She stood in an open space with mirrors on the walls all around her, each reflecting a slightly different angle. The space seemed infinite and suffocating all at once.

“Who is that? Why do you sound like me?” Lyla asked.

She looked at the reflection of her bewildered face in the mirrors all around her, slowly spinning around in place, looking for a way out.

“Don’t be silly, Lyla.”

Lyla stopped as she made eye contact with one of her reflections. The version of her in the mirror had her face painted white, with a bright red ball over her nose. Makeup ran down from the reflection’s eyes, as if she had been crying. She wore a long-sleeve shirt and knee-length black plaid skirt.

“Don’t you recognize me? Here, maybe this will help,” the reflection said, rolling up her sleeves.

Lyla saw familiar scars etched into the skin above the wrists and near the elbow. Straight, clean cuts. The reflection giggled as she lifted her skirt, revealing matching scars on her upper thighs.

“You know, you’re really not that ugly underneath all the scars.”

Lyla closed her eyes and shook her head. She didn’t have the faintest idea of where she was or what was going on, but she had seen enough. If there’s one thing she was good at, it was shutting out everything else.

She took a few steps to her left, using her hands to find where the open space ended and the mirrors began. It was a winding maze, with no beginning or end.

The reflection kept pace with her, appearing on her left and jumping to the other wall when she tried to turn away.

“Aw, this is cute, you think you can escape?”

Lyla clenched her fists until her nails, jagged and bitten, dug into her skin.

“What do you want?” She asked.

“I just want you to acknowledge me. Is that so hard?”

“You’re not real.”

The reflection feigned shock. “I’m quite real, thank you very much! Here, watch this.”

Lyla looked over at the reflection out of a morbid curiosity and watched in horror as a maniacal grin crossed her painted face. The reflection brandished a razor from inside the pocket of her skirt and brought it up to her neck.

“Watch closely, maybe this time you’ll finally finish the fucking job.”

Lyla felt a stab of pain in her own neck as the reflection dug the razor into her skin. She reached up and felt warm blood trickling out from an identical wound in her own neck. She was helpless, only able to watch as the blade dragged across her reflection’s neck.

“Get down!” A woman screamed.

Lyla broke free of her trance and crouched just as a hammer soared over her head and smashed into the mirror in front of her. Her reflection shattered into countless pieces across the floor. Lyla reached up to stem the flow from the wound in her neck. A moment longer and it would have been too late.

“Hey, you okay?”

Lyla spun around, expecting to see another reflection taunting her, but instead she saw a different woman, her face splattered with blood, staring back at her with cold emerald eyes.

“Thanks for saving me,” Lyla said.

“Don’t mention it. I’m just looking for a way out of here,” the woman said.

She walked past Lyla and picked up the hammer off the ground. Lyla noticed blood dripping from both sides of the tip.

“Is that your blood?” Lyla asked.

The woman shook her head. “No, it’s not. Let’s go.”

Lyla followed behind the woman as she meandered through the hall of mirrors. The woman stopped every few steps to lay her head against the wall, pressing her ear into the glass.

“Do you have any idea what’s going on? I didn’t catch your name, by the way. I’m Lyla”

“I’m Rachel, and no, I don’t know what’s going on. Stop talking, I’m trying to listen.”

“What are you listening for?” Lyla asked.

Rachel stopped and pressed her ear against another mirror. She stepped back and readied the hammer at her side.

“A train.”

She swung forward and smashed the mirror in front of her. Lyla could hear the sound of a train coming through the hole in the wall where the glass used to be.

Rachel turned and grabbed Lyla's hand, pulling her through. They both descended through darkness for a brief moment before landing in the dimly lit hallway of a train car. The sterile lights mounted on the walls flickered on and off as the train car rattled around them.

From behind them, the door to the next train car slid open. A scrawny man, covered in bruises and dressed in tattered clothes, fell through the door and shut it behind him. He was covered in sweat, struggling to catch his breath.

From behind him, Lyla heard a sound like a hundred fists beating against the door. The man braced himself, stretching his arms across the doorway as it shook on its hinges.

“Who the hell are you two?” the man asked.

“I’m Rachel this is—,”

“Doesn’t matter, you two need to run, NOW!”

Part Three: Axel

Axel was used to waking up in strange places, but he couldn’t remember the last time he took a train anywhere. He sat up in the bed, the sheets clung to his skin, soaked in sweat. How long had it been since he had a fix? He couldn’t remember, but the chills and the sweats were already creeping in.

Roger Carswell’s video started up on the screen, and to his credit, Axel listened. The idea of going anywhere you wanted in an hour was appealing, maybe he signed up to be a lab rat so he could get some quick cash?

Axel’s memory was shit, had been for a long time. Joining some sketchy QA team to test an experimental method of travel was far from the worst thing he had done in the pursuit of his vice.

Just as the video reached its end, and Roger Carswell thanked Axel for his participation, the door to his cabin swung open. A man shuffled through the doorway, his head down, hair swinging in front of his face. He smelled like a dumpster and his skin had a garish yellow tone to it.

Axel saw needles stuck in the cracks of his arms, dangling like accessories. The man lifted his head and made eye contact with cloudy eyes.

“Chris? No way! Fuck this!” Axel shouted, leaping out of the bed.

Chris clenched his jaw and bared rotting teeth as she snarled like a rabid animal and lunged toward Axel.

“This isn’t real! It’s just some kind of fucked up hallucination,” Axel said, closing his eyes.

He felt Chris’ cold hands grab him by the shoulders. Axel opened his eyes and tried to shoved Chris back. Chris overpowered him and bent down, biting into the soft flesh between Axel’s forearm and his upper arm.

Axel let out a scream as Chris’ teeth dug into his skin. He threw Chris to the side, knocking him onto the bed. Axel ran out into the hall just as the door to the next train car on his right burst open.

Exact copies of Chris poured through the doorway, all sporting the same needles dangling from their arms and rotting skin dangling from their bones.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” Axel shouted.

He ran the opposite direction, throwing himself through the door to the next train car and slamming it behind him.

Two women, one with blood on her face wielding a hammer, and one with a deep cut in her neck, stood in silence as Axel braced himself against the door.

“Who the hell are you two?” Axel asked.

“I’m Rachel this is—,”

“Doesn’t matter, you two need to run, NOW!”

Axel sprinted forward as the two women ran away towards the door to the next train car. The door behind him slammed open with a crash as footsteps echoed behind him like machine gun fire. The copies of Chris moaned and screeched as they gave chase.

Axel followed the two women through the next door. The woman with the hammer slammed it shut behind them and slid her hammer through the opening mechanism. They all reeled backward as the things pursuing them crashed into the other side like a tidal wave, but her quick thinking kept them at bay for the time being.

“Thanks, you really saved my ass there,” Axel said.

“I’m just trying to get out of here, same as you,” the woman said.

“We should keep moving,” the other woman said.

“Sure, lead the way,” Axel said.

The group made their way through the next train car, and the one after that, and another one, before Axel decided to speak up.

“These all look the same. Can we just stop and think for a second?”

The woman with blood on her face stopped and turned around.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“I’m Axel.”

“Okay, Axel, I’m Rachel and this is Lyla. Want to tell us why there are a bunch of zombified clones chasing you?”

The question stung.

“That’s my brother, or rather, was my brother. He overdosed about five years ago.” Axel said.

“And let me guess, you’re still on the same shit?” Rachel asked.

“Hey, fuck you, you don’t know me.”

“But you were there, weren’t you?” Rachel asked.

“Yeah, what’s that got to do with anything?”

“You feel guilty, like it’s your fault.”

“What are you, my fucking therapist?” Axel asked.

Rachel turned to Lyla and pointed at the fresh wound on her neck.

“I saved this one from getting killed by her own reflection. Want to share with the class?”

Lyla avoided eye contact as her cheeks flushed red.

“I cut myself a lot. One time I almost bled out. My heart stopped, but they brought me back,” she said.

Axel’s heart ached. He could see the pain and the shame painted on her face. He turned back to Rachel.

“Okay, fine, so my drug habit got my brother killed and she tried to off herself. What about you? What kind of fucked up shit have you seen on this train?”

Rachel averted her gaze.

“He used to get drunk and hit me. I killed him. Again.”

Axel nodded. “Alright then, so we’re all murderers. My shitty habit got my brother killed, you killed someone, and this chick tried to kill herself. Seems like we had this coming.”

“So, what then? You’re saying we’re being punished?” Rachel asked.

“But we’re not bad people!” Lyla said.

Rachel let out a sad laugh.

“Aren’t we? The way I see it, we’re already halfway down. Whoever is doing this to us, they’re just doing the devil’s work and taking us the rest of the way.”

Axel looked up as a thick white smoke started pouring out from the vents above them. He ran to the next door and tried to open it, but it was somehow locked. His lungs burned as he tried to hold his breath. He saw Lyla fall over first, and then Rachel.

He pounded on the door, taken aback when he suddenly swung open. A man wearing a gas mask and a business suit stepped through.

Axel tried to say something as the air rushed into his lungs. His vision went blurry, wavered, and faded to black as he fell backwards onto the floor below.

Part Four: Roger

Roger Carswell stood over the unconscious bodies of his latest test subjects as the smoke began to dissipate. He reached up and grasped the handle of the door behind him as the train slowly came to a stop.

He pulled off his gas mask as several men in white lab coats walked in. They went to work placing the unconscious people on stretchers and carried them out under Roger’s watchful eye.

“They’re still breathing?” he asked.

One of the men nodded as they walked by.

“Good, we have a press conference in an hour. Get them ready.”

Roger departed the train. He walked through concrete tunnels in silence until he reached an observation room. As he walked in, he startled a scrawny man in a lab coat furiously taking notes on a clipboard.

In front of them, a two-way mirror looked into a room where Rachel, Lyla, and Axel all laid on beds, sleeping peacefully.

“Status report,” Roger said.

“Their brain functions are returning to normal. They should be awake within the hour.”

“And they won’t remember anything?” Roger asked.

The man shook his head. “Whatever they saw in there, it’ll fade like a dream when they wake up.”

“What about the mark?”

The scrawny man set down his clipboard and picked up a tablet on the table beside him. He opened up a set of three photos. The first showed Rachel’s back. Her skin looked perfectly normal.

The man set a filter on the photo and Roger saw what he was looking for. A pentacle was carved into her skin, with a flaming eye in the center.

Roger nodded as the man swiped to the next photo. It was a close-up of Lyla’s neck. On the left side, just below her jaw, he saw the same symbol carved into her skin. It disappeared when the man turned the filter off.

He swiped one last time and showed Roger a photo of Axel’s arm, where the forearm meets the upper arm. Carved into the soft flesh below the shoulder, Roger saw the mark.

“Excellent. He will be pleased,” Roger said.

Roger left the observation room to go prepare for the press conference. An hour later, he stood backstage and watched as Rachel, Lyla, and Axel all sat quietly in front of the crowd that had gathered at the headquarters of his company.

Roger’s phone rang in his pocket. He pulled it out and pressed it to his ear. The line was silent, save for a subtle crackling in the audio.

“Yes, it worked just as you said.”

Roger paused and listened.

“Of course, I’ve dedicated my life to your cause. You’ve kept your end of the bargain, now let me fulfill mine.”

Roger ended the call and placed the phone back in his pocket. He stepped out onto the stage as cameras flashed and hushed whispers filled the crowd. He reached the podium and gestured to the three people sitting behind him.

“A round of applause for our brave testers!”

The reporters all clapped for a brief moment before their hands shot into the air. Roger pointed to a young woman in the front row.

“Yes, you in the front.”

“Tiffany Reynolds, San Francisco Chronicle. Mr. Carswell, how do you feel, now that your revolutionary form of transportation has been tested successfully?”

“Well Tiffany, I’m relieved to say the least. I could spend hours talking about all the work our scientists put into this project to ensure the safety of our passengers, but to see it all come together, it’s incredible. Say goodbye to endless hours on an airplane, we can take you anywhere you want to go in an hour!”

The reporter took down a few notes in her notepad.

“And when do you plan to make this available to the public?” she asked.

“I’m so very glad you asked. We will be taking preorders for our first departures this week, with plans to start offering one-hour trips in the next two weeks! San Francisco to Sydney, Hong Kong to New York, anywhere you want to go is just an hour away.”

The reporter nodded along as she took notes.

“And it’s safe?” She asked.

Roger stole a glance back at Rachel, Lyla, and Axel before turning back to the reporter in the crowd with a smile on his face.

“Absolutely, it’s perfectly safe.”

Short Story

About the author

Bradley Ramsey (He/Him)

Lover of dogs, gaming, and long walks on the beach. Content Marketing Manager by day, aspiring writer by night. Long time ghostwriter, finally stepping into the light. Alone, we cannot change this world, but we can create better ones.

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