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Blood on the Track

by Suzanne V. Tanner 2 months ago in fiction / fact or fiction · updated 2 months ago
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Dangerous wishful thinking

Artist: pikolorante/licensed from SHUTTERSTOCK

MITCH

My lips struggle to form the words, but I do it anyways. That’s how you roll when it’s all you got.

Like clockwork, Desi started prepping me three hours before my intro. A chemical cocktail up my nose, another in my arm. Accompanied by strategically spaced tequila shots.

I sneak a few more when she isn’t looking. Heart condition? What do those medics know? Do I care?

Guess again, I am not the lead in an apocalyptic zombie flick. Yet to look at me these days, I appear more than qualified.

Desi guides me from the green room. I stumble. Thankfully she’s always there, like a catcher with a mitt. The crowd inside is their usual pumped up and wanting. I visualize leeches in a lake. Entitled is how their energy feels to me.

The microphone will prop me up once Desi gets me through the left-side curtain. Jerkingly, I pick up my guitar.

“Let’s hear it people,” the late-night host smarmy-speaks, “Let’s hear it, dudes for Mitch. Mitch Ladner. You know what you want.”

The applause and cat-calling follow my entrance and, minutes later, my exit. In between, I perform like the organ grinder’s monkey, hating every note in that cursed song.

Another one down, and like the robot I’ve become, I make it to the corridor backstage. I collapse in my loyal Desi’s arms.

My final thought before my nightly pass-out routine is a gift-wrapped death wish stemming from my long-held conviction that life sucks.

I substituted that hating mantra for a flannel blankie every night for the last five months since agreeing to this nighttime repetitive 6-minute contract. Tonight was gig number 84. Did I mention it was my first paying work in five years?

When you are a washed-out-has-been, like me, you need the money. Obviously.

DESI

He will black out before I get him to the guest dressing room. I know it.

What the…OMG…

Mitch trips over a fat extension cord at the top of the stairs. He falls fast, down ten maybe more steps toward the cement floor below. My arm is locked with his. I feel my forehead crack wide open.

MITCH

Where the #%*% am I?

Rubbing my eyes and attempting to stay conscious, I need to find a light switch. I can’t stand up. The room appears to be moving very, very fast. And the noise is deafening, like metal aggressively slapping against more metal. Screeching and making frequent jerking motions. Left, then right. And again. Again.

On all fours now, I crawl like a baby. I feel around for walls. Got one. I lean on it several times and try to stand, but no luck. Splat on my ass again. The movement within this space, this capsule, works against me. Unh. There, got it and, reaching higher, yes, a switch.

The light is dim but enough for me to see a windowless train car filled with maybe fifty empty seats. Cobwebs hang everywhere, and the upholstery is torn, worn and reeks of mold. I detect a whiff of other odors too. Cannot label them.

If there is a required speed limit for trains, no law applies to this one. Especially since it keeps increasing its miles per hour. The best I can do is pull myself up on one of these putrid-smelling seats. Luckily the one I chose has no rusty springs poking through the tattered fabric.

Holy shit, what now?

Metal cuffs fly out of each armrest and two more from down by my ankles. They snap shut around my legs and hands.

I am a prisoner on the train to hell. I don’t remember buying a ticket.

One of those other smells dominates as the cabin fills with gas.

DESI

How did I get here? I touch my head and feel a tightly layered bandage. Dried streaks of blood cover the arms and front of my jacket. Dizziness bubbles up in my brain.

I…I think I am in a train dining car. It is brightly lit, yet all the blinds are drawn. I see a conductor, a uniformed person standing close to the opposite end, under a glowing red exit sign, their back to me.

Besides the two of us, the well-appointed restaurant car is empty.

Dishes and bottles behind the bar rattle but do not fall even though the train appears to move at an unregulated speed. I hear the shrill from the engine’s whistle every minute or so.

None of this makes any sense. Didn’t we just do a closing tune wrap on yet another This Night Show ? Where the hell is Mitch?

“Excuse me.”

Moving any part of my body is difficult as I try to call out to the official appearing silhouette, perched motionless in that doorway. Strangely, no sound exits my lips.

I need information. Someone has to help me. Again I try to make some sort of sound. Nothing.

The person turns around to face me as though they could hear my silent words. My eyes pop from fear. Although still in silence, I am screaming.

That body in the suit is nothing but bones. A Halloween skeleton dressed up like a train conductor, somehow alive with the ability to move, walk and talk.

It creeps toward me. Immediately, a long skinny bunch of finger bones graze my face before resting over my mouth. Its touch is cold, hard and coarse, like a cement pillar outside in the middle of winter. I taste rot and decay seeping through my lips.

I am amazed I don’t pass out from life-threatening fear.

The thing speaks. Its voice is hollow, sounding eerily like an echo. “Your friend is the only one with the power to save passengers on this train. He is subdued and sleeping now. Shortly, we will bring him to you. See that stage over there in the corner? Get him set up. We have laid out all the equipment he will need.”

“Tell him he must do what he does best. It is the only hope.”

I want to ask, what do you mean SAVE PASSENGERS? There are no questions nor answers, just graveyard stillness.

MITCH

( appearing uninjured but groggy as he is pushed through the dining car door.)

“Desi, How..how did we get here? Are you OK? No, you’re not. I see dried blood all over your jacket. Stupid questions. How could either of us be fine? Where the hell are we? What is this?”

I grab a table to support myself. The train again speeds up.

DESI

( finally, she can hear herself speak out loud )

“Mitch, I have no idea. I just came to and found myself here. Last I knew, we were both tripping and falling down some stairs toward a basement floor. I think we were injured, but right now, that’s the least of our worries.”

I am looking around for the horror-ible conductor-creature. Currently, only Mitch and I occupy the train restaurant. The skeleton has vanished.

“Mitch, I know you would rather die than play that song again. I think you have no choice if you want to save our lives.”

I point to the stage with the musical instruments and poke Mitch in the direction. Luckily, now I can move my arms.

Mitch walks as though in a trance.

MITCH

( on stage now, clumsily picking up the guitar, tuning it and adjusting the mic)

“Desi, I trust you. If this will release us from this nightmare, I’ll do it.”

I prepare to sing that hateful tune one more time.

Then I see this thing wearing a train conductor uniform walking stiffly toward me. It is not a person but an animated bunch of man bones.

It nudges me aside with its elbow bone, albeit covered in a ripped, blue military-style jacket.

The monster shouts in a familiar smarmy voice, “Let’s hear it, people. Let’s hear it, dudes, for Mitch. Mitch Ladner. You know what you want.”

At the far end, another skeleton has hand bones clamped around Desi’s neck.

“Sing it out, now, Mitch,” says the critter next to me, or she will die.”

I want to hurl. I want to pass out. Instead, beyond my control, I begin to sing.

Immediately I see rivers of blood flowing from Desi’s body, pooling on the floor. Her skin disappears, exposing her bones. Desi is another skeleton.

I know it is her, only by her voice begging, “Keep going, Mitch, it’s OK. Sing away and never, ever stop.”

I comply as I watch and feel my blood spurt and my skin disappear. My bone hands continue to hold and strum the guitar.

At the same time, the dinner car doors fly open, allowing skeletons dressed in all sorts of day or night attire to file into the room.

They keep coming, the room exploding with bone bodies, so many that it is impossible to make out where one form begins, and another ends.

Their heads bob as they clap their hand bones in time with my music, creating a terrifying wood-on-wood thudding sound. Every carcass bone rattles uncontrollably as the train again ramps up the velocity. Imagine maracas made of human femurs, elbows and ribs shaking as if on steroids.

In a flash I see a burst of hellfire created by these nonhumans, a reminder of sticks rubbing together to ignitie a campfire. The flames quickly fan out and roar toward my stage. Everything burns. I no longer see nor hear Desi amid the crowd and the smoke.

I want to stop and erase this entire scene. Everything is out of control. Some type of force keeps me singing that cursed song. The prerequisite crowd pleaser that once made me famous, a rock n’ roll legend.

Then I get it, causing a tooth smile to flash across my skinless face. Finally, I have a scene matching the words I uttered so many times before after yet another draining performance:

That song will be the death of me.”

MITCH

( one more time, his surrendered speaking voice coming from nowhere, yet anywhere)

“OK. Fine. You want to listen? Click the image below.”

© Suzanne V. Tanner, 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Thank you for your reading time. Please subscribe to the Vocal link below if you want to know whenever I post a story. Plus I would love to hear from you in my comments section. You can also find @suzannevtanner on Medium, Twitter and Instagram.

fictionfact or fiction

About the author

Suzanne V. Tanner

Reinvention wizard with the magic 2 uncover skills, business opportunities, side gigs and more buried deep inside your head. Incl the “how 2s” [email protected]

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Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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