Creep World (Chapter 18, newest Chapter)
Read the rest in "The Bookshelf".
The old station wagon cut across the desert floor at speeds unimaginable to all occupants of the vehicle, trying to keep track of the train that was rapidly gaining more ground into the distance. The occupants of the vehicle didn’t worry; the train was following a track and even if it completely disappeared beyond the horizon they would be able to locate the train with relative ease by following the metal lacing on the ground.
Steven sweat profusely from the back seat, stuttering out insults and half curses towards Eric about his wife and why he didn’t mention her. Conspiracy theories began to fill his addled mind, thinking of that night at the hotel where Angela went out for some air, what could have happened? Did she love him? Did she still love Steven?
Eric was calmly reloading his gun, sliding bullets into the magazine efficiently and quietly as Fichter’s hawk eyes scanned the horizon, following the trail of dust kicked into the air by the train. He didn’t say anything, but it had been several minutes since he had last clearly seen the train racing along the track; since then it had disappeared.
Over the next hill, in the cabin of the train, Angela crouched, clutching her shotgun against her shoulder, nervous. The first time she had ever been nervous on this trip, the first time she had been completely alone. She closed her eyes and hoped that they would just go ahead and blow the gate up, leave her alone. She could fend for herself and they had a job to do.
Angela quietly rose to her feet, looking around the cabin, kicking the broken lever and sending it spinning across the floor of the train, hitting the far wall with a dull thunking sound. A paper fell from the wall onto the floor as the lever hit, the words across it small.
“Emergency Braking Procedure: In the even of train malfunction, use intercom and alert staff in caboose of train. Emergency brake is located in the back of the train, past the kitchen.”
Calling all of her resolve, Angela quickly opened the door to the first car. She hadn’t counted, and this wasn’t a passenger train, so she really had no idea how to gauge the distance to the final car where the emergency brake was located.
The car she stepped into was bare, save for three benches and what looked to be the conductor’s living quarters. The door was slightly ajar, blood on the floor, the body of the conductor slouched over the single bed that adorned the room. He was stripped of all clothes save for his shoes, the papers in his room in complete disarray.
She moved on quickly, knowing that stepping into the room would invite in more trouble than she could possibly want… All deviations from the set path never ended happily, she thought to herself. Her trip to Europe was fine, but the feeling of excellene deserted her when she returned home to fine her husband had been cheating on hre.
“Well, I thought that’s what you were going to be doing in Europe, Angela!”
Angela had had nothing to say to that. She had wanted a divorce at the time, but when Steven wanted something, he could be persuasive. He made her think of all the good times they had together, and after forgiving him, she had begun to feel guilt for the situation, just as he had planned. Living with Steven was like living with the ultimate guilt trip, except the sex was worse with Steven.
Angela opened the door at the end of the car to be greeted with the loud whooshing sound of the landscape passing her on either side. In front of her, a rickety ladder and a car bed full of coal.
She swallowed, feeling all of the pressures of the day escape in a single click that was lost to the wind as the door closed behind her. She turned around and tried to open it, to no avail. It was locked.
“I can always shoot the door open,” she thought to herself as the began to climb the ladder. “I can always run away from my problems,” she smiled sadly to herself as she began to traverse the bed of coal, the loose pieces tumbling off of the sides and making her incredibly uneasy.
“Why is this train moving so fast?” Angela thought to herself briefly as she ducked down, shearing the wind resistance.
Steven had finally managed to verbally berate Eric to the point that Eric was getting upset, offended, and most importantly, pissed off.
“Couldn’t have jumped on the train, Eric? Too busy playing the hero, chasing after the train, Eric? Couldn’t have gone after her?”
“She’s your wife, Steven! What about you? You were ready to let the train go!”
Steven moved back in his seat. “I see how it is.”
An empty sentence spoken by an emptier man.
“Steven, you should just calm down. There was nothing any of use could have done to stop the train. Throwing blame around isn’t going to catch us up any quicker.”
Steven leaned forward, a blue vein popping out of his neck. “Yeah, well it’ll sure make me feel better!”
Eric swung around, as best he could in a car with those dimensions, and brought his fist within an inch of Steven’s face. If Eric had felt any responsibility up to this point, he was vindicated as Steven showed the mark of a true coward.
Steven gasped and said “Ow,” even though the fist never connected. Eric slid back down in his seat as Steven looked from side to side, not at all surprised to see Gopher sleeping.
Fichter leaned over to Eric quietly as Steven was reassessing the situation. “Bad news, Eric. We lost the train.”
Eric smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Just keep following the tracks. We’ll find her. I know we will… I’ve got a feeling.”
Angela was dangling off of the side of one of the coal cars in the middle of the train when Eric expressed his hunch to the group. Angela, of course, could not hear him, but it probably wouldn’t have helped, all things considered. She tossed her gun back onto the coal and slowly shimmied to the other side, her fingers red and sore from gripping the top of the metal car. She reached the ladder on the far end.
A Creep opened the door and quickly pulled her leg, trying to pull her into the car behind it. She swung out with her left foot, missing the creature and landing her leg on its shoulder. She pulled her foot forward, bringing the creature onto the car coupling. It lost its footing and fell under the train, shrieking.
The gun was covered in coal dust as Angela lifted it and moved back to where the Creep had tried to pull her in. She hadn’t gotten a chance to look at it, but it had been wearing the conductor’s clothes, traipsing around the train, recognizing the importance and formality of such fine wear.
Angela, for the first time since she set foot on the train, looked at the coupling between the cars. They were locked tight. She reached down and tried to pull the pin to uncouple the old cars, but it wouldn’t budge. They were rusted together, in a death grip, refusing to separate.
“Till death do us part,” she grimaced, walking into the next car. It appeared to be the dining car, tables set up and people hunched over them. Workers with dirty clothes eating off of table without tablecloths, plates scattered along the floor and forks sticking out of the common man. It was a grisly sight, but to one who had seen so much death, it made no further impression on her. All she could do was look under the tables and try to see where the next threat was coming from.
There was nothing under the tables. “Almost there,” she thought to herself, walking carefully between the tables and stepping quietly over the bodies, making her way to the back door, hoping that it would be the last door.
Steven had finally taken the hint and sat in the back, silent, stewing in his own self pity. His aggression was mislaid. He did not know it, but he was angry at himself instead of Eric. He was angry that he let his wife slip away like that, he was angry that she would have the audacity to sleep with someone else, he was angry that he did not control her the way he had originally thought. It was upsetting to him that he did not have the absolute possession that he so wanted, that he did not have a hold over her like he thought.
He was also upset at himself because for the first time since he laid eyes on her, he was in love with her again. It takes so little to envoke such old feelings, but the separation anxiety did the trick. He thought of her smiling and that, in turn, made him smile. If he saw her again, he would let her know he was sorry, he would let her know that everything was going to be all right. He would be the hero that she was looking for.
These feelings were pushed back again by the anger at Eric, for Eric let her slip away, for Eric, in all likelihood, slept with her, and because Eric was the one person in the world that let Steven’s hold over Angela dissolve into a cloud of springtime-like emotion.
Fichter turned the music on the CD player down, trying to hear the train. There was the steady chugging in the distance, and the faint sound of echoing gunshots.
The caboose had been absolutely full of them. It had taken a fair amount of strategy to kill them all without being hit by flaming knives or short swords. She had swung the door open and been greeted by the smiling faces of eight tiny creatures that were all pulling on separate levers that lined the wall. She had shut the door as the first volley of knives hit and swung it open firing one shot. Around the corner she ducked as a second volley of knives flew in her direction. She doubled back to the dining cars, the creatures hot on her heels. She threw the body of a short man off of the table and flipped it, hiding behind.
One creature vaulted over the table and was met quickly by her shotgun pointing up. Two more tried to flank her, but she fed them both barrels. The remaining four tried to move the table from the wall, but Angela stood and fired, taking down two. She cocked the gun and fired one more shot, hitting the creature on the left and sending it spinning across the floor. The gun clicked empty as the last creature dove at her, knife drawn.
She swung the gun like a bat, catching the Creep in the gut and sending out of the window, onto the moving ground below.
Fichter knew they were catching up when he saw the body of the Creep on the ground. The train was stopped in the distance, the lights off.
Angela had pulled all of the levers, cutting the power to the train and stopping it at the same time. It was too dark to see her way out, so she sat and waited.
Eric clambered out of the car, racing the middle of the train. “Alright, everyone, we’re going to split up and search this thing. I’m going to take the front end, Fichter, I want you to check all the coal beds, Gopher, Steven, check the back area. If she’s alive, we’ll find her.”
Fichter climbed onto the top of one of the coal cars, noting the footprints on the ground.
Eric walked into the conductor’s cabin and made his way through to the sleeping quarters for the man that used to run the train. He saw his body slumped over the bed and stepped into the room. The same memo that Angela had read on stopping the train lay on the desk.
His heart raced. If she was alive, that’s where she would be.
“Gopher, I want you to take the dining car. I’ll take the caboose. There’s three cars between us, we’ll meet up in the middle.”
Gopher hadn’t recognized the signs of the struggle that had less than an hour ago occurred in the room. He had seen the bodies of the Creeps on the ground, but did not put together that they were killed by the same gun that he last saw Angela holding.
The door to the caboose swung open, the light from Steven’s flashlight pouring over Angela’s eyes.
Steven bit his tongue. “No, honey. It’s me.”
“Oh, Steven!” Angela rose to her feet, running to her husband. Never in her life had she been happier to see the man. She wrapped her arms around him and he smiled. She was close again. He was happy.
“Everything is going to be alright, Angela. Everything is going to be just fine. I know it will be.”
The gunshot and the smell of cooking meet flooded the cars. Panic alarms sounded in the recesses of Eric as he raced along the train, following the sound of the gunshot. He didn’t need to reach the car; he already knew.
Angela was slumped over the controls in the caboose, her beautiful frame ablaze. Steven stood crying, his gun limp at his side.
“I found her… I found her and there were things. I thought she was all right. She said ‘Steven!’ They came out of nowhere, they came from behind the train and they stabbed her. They stabbed her and they did that,” he motioned at her burning body, “But I shot them.”
The bodies of two Creeps hung out of the back of the train. Gopher burst through the door, stopping. “What’s cooking?”
Steven broke down again.
Eric stood, dropping his gun to the ground. They all stepped out of the car, greeted by Fichter. They didn’t have to say a word.
A gust of wind knocked through the caboose, feeding the flames and knocking broken pieces of her life off of her, her ashes scattering around the car.
“I’ve got something to show you all,” Fichter said. Steven slumped against the train’s side and put his head in his hands. Eric nodded and followed him.
There was a sign, dead ahead.
“Cactus National Park Train Stop.” The letters were faded. Eric motioned wordlessly behind him to Steven. Gopher helped him to his feet and they made their way back to the car. The engine sprung to life as the car, once again filled with grief, made its way to the park. The passengers in the car stayed silent, discontent and heading to their fate.