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Cyrus' Inferno

by Tewahway 4 months ago in Short Story · updated 4 months ago
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Dealing With Loss Can Feel Like You’re Going off the Rails

Photo by Aleksandr Saenko on Unsplash

The bright sun pierced the exposed cabin of the locomotive. A young man stirred on the dark, crumbly bed of coals that baked in the sun’s heat. Raising his head he saw a tall figure, cloaked in a coal stained, ratty, long coat and hat at the train’s controls.

“The conductor?” the young man thought, as he fought to sit up. The dark-clad man turned his head, looking over his shoulder to the young man.

“You’re finally awake, it feels like I’ve been waiting an eternity!” the conductor jabbed.

“Who… who are you? Where am I?” the young man spat out, desperate for answers. Disorientation, confusion, and fear began to set in. He had no idea how he got here.

“Both pretty obvious answers…” the conductor began, “I’m clearly the operator of this fine train, which is also where we are...” He paused, and thought for another moment. Gesturing with his hand to the locomotive's engine, he chuckled. “...but you can call me Charon."

The young man on the coals looked to the strange and bleak landscape that the train journeyed through. Nothing notable as far as the eye could see. No lakes, no mountains… no buildings. There was hardly a cactus to be seen amongst the parched scenery.

“So, kid, what’s your name?” Charon asked.

The young man paused. “Cyrus,” he said.

“Well Cyrus, I believe you should get yourself acquainted with this train, while you have the time. There’s a long road ahead. Especially for you.”

Cyrus raised his head, ready to ask more questions, but was interrupted by the sputtering of the locomotive. The train's engine began to howl.

“Does it need more coal or something?"

Charon turned to face Cyrus with a confused expression.

“The coal’s not for the engine…” he said, as his brow furrowed. Pulling on the scythe-like lever of the train's whistle twice, his face was stained with a somber tinge. Shortly after, a passenger clad in fine white silks came from the first car, onto the platform of the locomotive. The passenger stopped and stared off into the desert briefly, as though reflecting on something.

“Are you ready?” Charon asked.

“Yes.” the woman responded, handing Charon her ticket with two holes punched through it.

Taking her by the hand, Charon led her to the engine. She placed her hand on the furnace door and began to open it. As the heavy iron door slowly swung ajar, it exposed fires the likes of which Cyrus had never seen. He thought he saw something great and terrible in the depths of the flames. The sight struck fear into his heart. Cyrus’ thoughts were lost to the hungering inferno inside...

****

“Get out, now!” Cyrus could barely hear the command over the crackling flames and vacuum of smoke. As he turned to face the clear stairwell, he heard it. A scream.

“There’s more, I’ll catch up!” he yelled in response.

“Damnit kid, don’t play the hero!” the sergeant ordered again, but Cyrus heard nothing over the roaring fire.

“Help!” Again, he heard the screams.

Cyrus kicked repeatedly, desperately attempting to force the classroom door open…

****

A shrill scream snapped Cyrus out of his waking dream. As he regained his sense of reality, he scanned his environment for the source of the sound. A chill ran down his spine and his hair stood on end.

Standing alone in front of the engine’s furnace, Charon was unceremoniously cramming the furnace door shut, as one leg of the woman protruded from the flaming abyss. The scent of searing flesh wafted on the dry desert air.

“What the hell are you doing?” he screamed, as he stood up and ran over to the woman’s aid.

The conductor turned from his grim task.

“You can’t help her. She’s already gone. She was gone from the moment she bought her ticket…” Charon said, lifting the left leg of the woman still dangling out from the furnace, limp, and letting it drop with a thud. The splintering crack of a bone, breaking from the immense heat, signaled the train’s increasing pace. “They all think they’re ready, but nothing can truly prepare you…”

Cyrus stood silent, for a moment. He’d seen the wrath of fire; he’d seen the devastation left in its wake. He’d seen his share of death.

“Stop this train. You’re letting me and the other passengers off!”

“What? We’re in the middle of the desert. There’s nowhere to go. Anyhow, you’re assuming the passengers even want to get off…” Charon said, as he stared somberly at Cyrus. His black clothing, seeming to almost void any light around him, accented his stern and deadpan expression.

Cyrus had never encountered such evil, such depravity. He’d fought fires, not people. Desperately, he dashed through the door to the adjacent passenger car behind him.

****

Cyrus was met with an unusually long train car, seeming to go on further than he could properly see. Something about it made him somewhat… nauseous.

All of the passengers on the right hand side gave Cyrus a very uneasy feeling, as though he could tell what kind of person they were by a mere glance. Everyone was clean, spotless, and immaculate.

There were several vacant seats speckled about the right hand rows.

The sight of all the clean passengers caused Cyrus to look down, and examine himself. His clothing was stained black with the thick coal dust.

The entire train car felt almost… serene. There was something oddly peaceful about it. Then it dawned on him. He couldn’t hear the train at all. No chuffing engine, no working wheels, no screeching rails.

“We need to get off of this train, the conductor just murdered someone!” Cyrus yelled, desperately, but his roar fell to little more than gentle speech. As if the entire train car was in a muffled vacuum.

No one paid him any heed. Whether they hadn’t heard him, or simply chose to ignore him wasn’t clear.

“Come on! I’m serious, this-” Cyrus’ pleas were cut short by the howl of the train’s whistle, blowing like a death knell.

A single passenger, an older man from one of the right hand rows, stood and slowly walked toward the front of the train. Cyrus stood in front of him, staunchly.

The man placed a gentle hand on Cyrus’ soot caked shoulder.

“I’ve come to grips with it. With everything. It’s okay, I accept my fate.” The man’s calm and cool voice did little to soothe Cyrus’ concerns. He slowly slipped around Cyrus, and left through the door.

Cyrus began running down the length of the car. Every single passenger had the same sheepish, complacent expression on their face. He needed someone who wasn’t docile, someone who could stand up alongside him. Suddenly, he found himself himself at the back of the car. All of the right hand seats were empty. He saw a woman, fidgeting in her seat. A pristine linen dress flowed beneath her agitated expression.

“Excuse me, miss?” Cyrus said, attempting to gain her attention.

“I’m… missing something. I had it with me, but I can’t remember what it was…” the woman mumbled to herself, quietly.

“I’m sorry miss, I didn’t quite catch that, what did you say?”

“I… I thought I was ready. I thought I had everything…” the woman paused, “Oh God no. My… my baby. I don’t have my baby! But I need to be here, at the front of the train!” the woman’s agitation began to turn to panic.

Immediately, Cyrus feared for the worst. Glimpses of the woman from earlier, her leg dangling from the furnace’s mouth, flashed in his mind.

Suddenly, as if answering his thoughts, the train began to accelerate again. Though the engine couldn’t be heard, Cyrus felt the speed. He dreaded the thought of what happened to the man who went to the front.

“Maybe, maybe I need to go back? Once we arrive at the destination? Or maybe I brought her, maybe she’s on this train? Will you help me find her, please?” the woman ranted, desperately.

“Of course, of course. Come with me, we’ll find your baby.” Cyrus reached a hand to help the woman from her seat. Something caught his eye, and he paused, befuddled.

Looking through the windows, he couldn’t see anything. No desert, no landscape. All that could be seen was a thick, white fog.

“Miss… how long ago did we pass the desert?”

The woman looked at him, confused. “What desert? Why do you want to find a desert? We need to find my daughter!"

“Right, okay. I didn’t see any babies in this car…” before he could finish his sentence, the woman stormed into the second car.

****

The first thing Cyrus noticed was that every light in the second car seemed to barely work. It was so painfully dim, he had to squint to make out anything. The paltry light coming through the large windows on either side of him illustrated the drab and dreary environment that the train was moving through. Some kind of swamp.

“At least we’re through that fog…” Cyrus thought to himself.

This car was less complacent than the last. The passengers were all quietly muttering. It seemed a little bit more lively, but not by much.

As Cyrus’ ears picked up snippets here and there of different passenger’s words, he realized they weren’t conversing. They were all talking to themselves.

Many slowly paced back and forth, some stood still, some sat with their head in their hands. All seemed to be depressed.

“Alright, everyone, listen up! The conductor on this train is a murderer. I saw him kill an innocent woman! Now, another lady has lost her baby. We need to stop this train. We need to find her baby!” No one paid any heed to Cyrus’ yells. It was as if no one could hear him.

“What the hell is going on here?” he thought.

He looked around for the woman he had agreed to help. He knew this dimly-lit car would be a challenge to search through, so they’d need to work together. As he scanned the sullen faces of the passengers he finally spotted her seated, staring out into the gloom.

“Miss, I’m going to need your help to find your baby. Come on.”

“My… baby. She’s lost. I can’t find her. What kind of a mother loses her baby?” the woman muttered, vacantly, never turning her gaze from the window.

“Are you kidding me? Lady, let’s go!” He yelled, as he shook her by the shoulders. She turned her gaze to him.

“Have you found my baby..?”

“No lady! Get your ass up and search this car. I’m going to go to the next one down and see if anyone there has seen your baby. Okay?” Absently, she stared into Cyrus’ face, before slowly nodding and standing up.

Cyrus dashed through the crowd of listless passengers, to the door of the next car. Looking back, his heart sank as he saw the woman standing still, staring into space, before ultimately sitting down once more.

****

The third car was thick with smoke. It appeared as though it was some kind of lounge, or dining car. There were luxurious emerald-green cushioned sofas and recliners situated around gaming and dining tables. For the first time since he entered the trains interior, Cyrus didn't wonder if he was losing his hearing.

It was very loud.

Shouting, swearing, cheering… it was as if he'd entered a mid 1900s casino. The rich smell of cigar smoke accompanied by leather and wood seemed sophisticated, yet cheap.

"What's your poison, champ?" A slender fellow in a suit about two sizes too big beckoned to him.

"Uh… no thanks. I'm not here for fun. What's going on here?" Cyrus asked, eyeing the environment.

"Whaddya think, kid? This is the best part of the train-"

"No. I mean this whole train. Where's it going? Where'd it come from? You're the first person here to actually speak with me directly. What the hell is going on?" Cyrus interrupted.

"Listen here, wise guy. First if all, don't cut me off. Second, any other info here's gonna cost ya. Ain't nothin' in this world for free."

Cyrus sighed. "What do you want?"

"You came through that door? From toward the front of the train? Well, that's where I gotta be, see?" The slim man said, as he leaned forward over the polished oaken bar.

"What, don't you work here? You're serving drinks…"

"Kid, look at you. If anyone's an em-ploy-ee, it's you!"

Cyrus couldn't refute his laborer's attire, caked in coal-dust.

"I dunno if you get it, kid, but this train ain't like no other. This ride's both free, and the most expensive ride of your life."

"It's bleak over there. Everyone's morose and quiet. You're probably better off here." Cyrus answered.

"I'll decide where I'm better off, see? I gotta find a way to make the conductor let me off this damn train. Make him a deal, or something."

"Where are you going to go? There's nothing out there." Cyrus raised an eyebrow.

"Take another look, Nimrod. There's buildings all around. Looks like a shit hole, but there's gotta be someone out there."

Cyrus peered through the small, oval window to see a decrepit and derelict cityscape. Ruined buildings, cracked roads, dead trees. Like a town that'd been sapped clean of all life.

"What if I've been going about this all wrong," the man began to muse, "what if I've been living a terrible life..." he approached the door to the second car, gently slid it open, and went inside.

Cyrus began to wonder if this wasn’t all some kind of surreal dream. If so, what was it going to take to wake him up…

As the clamoring continued to rage on, it grew to be a little more than Cyrus could take. He squeezed through the crowds of gambling, arguing, and drinking strangers to finally reach the door to the fourth car. As he wrapped his fingers around the door’s handle, he could feel a strange warmth. It stirred memories.

He pulled open the door to be met with a scene of anarchy.

The fourth car was a violent scene. Screaming, shouting, humanity at its worst. The only lights in the grizzly scene were from raging flames, outside the windows. Cyrus was halted, overcome by traumatic memories...

****

Finally, Cyrus kicked the door open to the small classroom. Fires raged around him. The smoke began to thicken as he watched the hungry inferno’s rapid growth. Desperately, he scoured the room.

“Hello! Where are you?”

He scanned the room in search of the screams’ source, but found nothing. No one. He was alone.

Turning back to the door, a large portion of the ceiling in the hallway fell. He was trapped. Choking on the growing smoke, he got low to the ground. Hacking and coughing, he fought to maintain consciousness, but he was failing. His vision began to fade, the intense, raging heat of the fires felt like a dull warmth…

Then he heard the smashing of glass as a powerful jet of water came streaming through the window. Salvation?

As he faded into unconsciousness, he thought he could see a figure cloaked in a ratty, soot-stained overcoat…

****

Abruptly, Cyrus was shook back to reality once more. A pair of large, fat hands gripped his upper arms and throttled him violently.

“Hey asshole, I’m talking to you!” the overweight and hairy man screamed, small flecks of his spit landing on Cyrus’ face. Cyrus examined the man, who could only be described as “gorilla-like”, before pushing him back, freeing himself from the gorilla’s grip.

Panicked, heart racing, and still fueled by the fight or flight instincts of his traumatic flashback, he turned around, and raced back into car three.

Cyrus turned, pressed his back to the door, and fell to the floor. Panting, and drenched in sweat, he looked to the gaudy lounge in front of him. No one took notice. Then he saw something that caused a pit to form in the depths of his stomach. The scene outside the window was the familiar dilapidated cityscape as when he left this car… but the fourth car appeared to be moving through a fiery hellish land.

“There’s something very wrong on this train…” Cyrus thought to himself.

Determined, he walked over to the bar, grabbed a small glass that hosted a dark brown liquor, and gulped it down. It tasted of rum, but through the adrenaline, he felt no burn.

Cyrus ignored the cacophony and stormed back to the fourth car, ready to face his own personal hell.

****

Walking through the threshold was like entering another world. Chaos doesn’t do justice to the scene that Cyrus bore witness to. Attempting to ignore the engulfing flames outside of the train car, he fixated on a man laying on the ground, having the daylights beaten out of him by a short and surly woman. It was hard to tell if the man was unconscious, or dead.

Taking a few steps forward, a familiar thick-fingered fist landed on the side of Cyrus’ head, knocking him to the floor and putting a distinct daze into his mind. He looked up shakily to see the gorilla-man standing over him. Cyrus noted that the man wore a bright, fuzzy purple suit. The caricature of a pimp.

Before Cyrus could attempt to stand, the thick brass base of a cane was planted in his chest, pinning him to the floor.

“How the hell did you get through that door? How do you get it to open?” the brutish pimp demanded.

As if delivered by an angel, an old wooden chair suddenly came crashing down over the pimp’s head, causing him to fall to the floor beside Cyrus, reeling in agony. Cyrus never saw where the chair came from, or who brought it upon the gorilla’s head, but he wasn’t about to waste time finding out.

Racing as fast as he could, Cyrus, still addled from the previous hit, deftly managed to maneuver around one conflict after another. The din was deafening. Cyrus wondered how this car even stayed intact.

Finally, after shifting around a man repeatedly punching the wall, Cyrus made it to the door. Without hesitation, he yanked it open, and dived through. The door slid shut behind him.

****

Cyrus raised his head, to look around. A strange, weightless feeling seemed to take hold of him. He saw nothing in front of him. Just a vast, white expanse. He looked down, there was no ground. He was floating. Turning his head in every direction, he saw nothing but white. Panic set in.

Struggling against this strange white-space, Cyrus finally saw something. A massive red shape, almost incomprehensible in nature went flying by him, rocking the entire strange dimension.

“What is this place?!” Cyrus screamed.

Looking around wildly, Cyrus saw what looked like another person falling past him. Gathering his courage, he attempted to "swim" through the weightless space. To his surprise, it worked.

Swimming as hard as he could, he caught up to the person, and began falling alongside them.

“Where are we?” he asked the plummeting passenger.

“You’re not real. None of it’s real. This isn’t happening…” the man said, as he clapped his hands over his ears, and squeezed his eyes tight, before slamming into a surface that wasn't there.

As he looked at the corpse, in horror, the passenger's eyes opened, and he began to fall once more. Other passengers began to gradually come into Cyrus' focus.

All throughout this massive white space there were people living out scenes, on repeat, ad nauseum. It was as though they were clips or scenes, skipping and re-playing constantly. Often gruesome and violent. He’d take that previous hellish car of rage over this.

Far in the distance, he saw a tiny rectangular shape. Hoping against hope that it was a door leading to anywhere but here, he swam over to it. As he got closer, he realized it was a shop counter. Behind it, there was a young woman counting change.

“Hey, what the hell is going on in this place? How do we get out of here?” he yelled to her, as he swam closer.

“...57, 58, 59…” she continued counting.

“Lady! Hey!” Cyrus yelled.

The woman snapped out of her numerical trance, and lifted her gaze from the cashbox. Staring meekly at him, a strange realization seemed to wash over her.

“You’re… not a customer, are you?” she asked softly.

“No, I’m trying to figure out how the hell to get off this train-” he paused. It’s not like there was any way to tell they were on a train anymore.

“Did they… punch your ticket?” the woman asked, holding up a small piece of paper with one hole in it. As Cyrus stared at the paper, then to the woman’s face, he could see the barely concealed signs of significant abuse on her face. There was no amount of make-up that could cover up the damage. “My… my boyfriend had two holes punched in his ticket. He got really angry, and he left. I haven’t seen him in so long…”

“He left? Where did he go?”

The young lady turned her head, staring at a familiar sliding door floating in the vacant space near them.

“There’s no way in hell that door was there before…” Cyrus thought to himself.

“He said he was moving on, done with me, and done with this place. I hope he’s okay.” She turned her gaze back down to the register, somberly.

“Hey, I’m sure you’re better off without him, he sounds like a dick. Did he do that to you?” Cyrus gestured to the bruising on her face.

She placed a hand on her face, and a surprised realization washed over her. Slowly, she began to wander over to the door.

“He… did this to me? He did this to me… I need to get to the front of the train...” She placed her hand on the door.

“Be careful, lady. I watched the conductor murder someone on this train and that next car you’re going to is certainly dangerous. Don’t get hurt, or worse…”

She paused, hand on the door. “...get hurt…?” She released the handle and walked back to the register. “...60, 61, 62…” she continued counting.

“Lady, what the hell!” Cyrus yelled.

Turning her gaze up to meet him, she replied “Oh, sorry. You’re… not a customer, are you?”

In frustration, Cyrus clapped his palms over his face. “I’m not doing this again. Good luck, lady.” Cyrus swam over to the door, slid it open, and pulled himself through the threshold.

****

“Finally,” Cyrus thought to himself with relief, “back to gravity…”

He stood for a moment, eyes closed, with his feet planted firmly on the metal grate below him. He was definitely back on the train, he could feel the momentum. He opened his eyes and…

Darkness.

He scratched his head, closed his eyes tightly, then opened them again. Pitch black.

Looking to his feet, he could see the small metal grate on which he stood. He was on a balcony, outside the train. There was a guard-rail. Turning around, he could see the door and the rear of car number five. He had certainly reached the end, but there was nothing beyond the train.

As he stared out into the void, he noticed the one thing that could be seen outside the train. The rails. As far as was visible, the rails on which the train traveled stretched on endlessly, into the pitch black void.

“I try to avoid going through the cars, if I can…” a familiar voice was heard from above. Cyrus turned to see the conductor, Charon, on top of the fifth car looking down to him. “It’s far too easy to get wrapped up in people’s petty squabbles, and lifelong dilemmas. It’s important to let them sort themselves out. The rest is up to the train.”

“Why should I listen to you? You’re a murderer!” Cyrus retorted.

Charon released a heavy sigh.

“I suppose you'll get desensitized to it all... Those who lived a selfish, cruel life belong in the fires of that engine. Eventually, they go willingly.” Charon stared off into the darkness. “If you want more answers, come with me.” Charon gestured towards the small, metal ladder, leading to the train’s roof.

From the top of the train, Cyrus saw it all, or rather, nothing. The void went on eternally, save for a small yellow light in the distance. Somehow, despite the lack of light, everything was clearly visible.

“What’s that light in the distance?” Cyrus asked.

“That, good sir, is the final destination.”

The walk across the top of the cars seemed strangely short. Like it didn’t properly equate to the length of the cars, from the inside. Cyrus had so many questions, and he was determined to get answers.

As they descended the ladder at the front of the train, Cyrus couldn’t help but peek his head into the first car. There were no passengers left, lining the right hand rows. All of the left hand side was full.

“Did they all…” Cyrus trailed off.

“Did they end up in the furnace?” Charon finished for him. “Yes. They did. When they're ready, it’s where they were destined to end up."

“What happened to the desert? The marsh? The ruined city? What-”

“Listen, we’ve only got so much time.” Charon interrupted. “Choose your questions very carefully. Or would you rather I just fill in the blanks for you?”

Cyrus nodded.

“This train is the harbinger of lost souls. I don’t know who built it, and I don’t care anymore. For now, this is my ferry to the afterlife."

Cyrus furrowed his brow.

“So, everybody on the train…”

“Dead.”

“And you? Me?” Cyrus whispered.

“Honestly, I don’t know for sure. We're somewhat different.”

Cyrus put a trembling hand to his forehead, as he tried to digest the news.

“So the fire in the school… I never made it out, did I?”

“No. You did not.”

The engine began to gradually wind down, and the cadence of the train slowed.

“You’re not going to shove me in that furnace, are you?” Cyrus asked nervously.

Charon chuckled, and removed his soot-stained hat.

“No. We have enough momentum to make it to the end.”

The glow of the distant yellowish light grew stronger. Moments later, the train had come to a stop. The platform looked somewhat rustic, if not altogether unremarkable. Other than the train platform, a few benches, and a small shelter, there was nothing else in the eternal dark void.

Cyrus went to take a step down, but Charon grabbed his shoulder. “Hold on there. Passengers first. It's incredibly important to check their tickets...”

They stood together as all of the passengers from the first car slowly and harmoniously filed off of the train showing the single hole punched on their tickets. As if entirely reinvigorated, the passengers lost their placid demeanors and looked truly at peace the moment their feet landed on the platform.

“What about the other passengers, from the other cars?” Cyrus asked.

“They’re not ready yet. Maybe on the next trip.”

“How many trips have you made?”

Charon looked surprised, as though it’s not something he had ever thought about.

“Not sure. This is my last trip though.” He hung his coat over the rail, and placed his hat on Cyrus' head, before stepping down to the platform. “I’ve been on this train for as long as I can remember. I’m not even sure who, or what I was in my life.”

Cyrus filled with dread as he began to clue in.

“So, then who’s going to run this train?”

“Didn’t you wonder why only you could move between the cars freely? Why the passengers looked to you for answers? I’ve done all I can for you, and I hoped that letting you explore the train would serve to groom you.”

“I see…” Cyrus said, trying not to panic.

He turned to the door of the first car, left ajar. He saw the right hand rows, once more filled, recognizing the pimp from the fourth car among them.

The train, as if on a schedule of its own, slowly began to chug. The piercing whistle echoed in the pure darkness.

“What if I refuse?” Cyrus yelled in desperation.

“Your alternative is a fate worse than the engine’s flames.” Charon responded. “One more piece of advice, so listen closely!”

Cyrus strained to hear, trembling where he stood. A pit formed in his stomach as despair sunk in.

“Whatever happens, do not stop the train!" Charon yelled, as he faded into the darkness.

Short Story

About the author

Tewahway

"Tewahway? How do you even say that?" Honestly, so long as you try, you're doin' it right!

I mainly write horror fiction, but I'm here to spread my wings and soar like a literary baby bird.

https://www.talesbytravel.com/short-stories for more

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (2)

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  • Jori T. Sheppard4 months ago

    Great story, you are a skilled writer. Had fun reading this story

  • Excellent take on the competition requirements - this is Twilight Zone stuff. Your protagonist has a past to deal with but at the same time is attempting to help others amidst the kaleidoscope of changing realities. Good work!!.

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