For once the train is on time, rolling in just as I reach the station. Furtively throwing futile glances back into the impenetrable whiteness for any sign of pursuit, I wait off to the side of the double doors for the train to discharge its few passengers. Standing up is an effort. A professionally dressed, moderately pretty woman looks up in passing and gives me a startled glance as she readjusts the bag on her shoulder. I must look a wreck. The sickly smile I return only seems to disturb her more. I enter the car and fall onto one of the hard plastic benches facing the rear of the train, roughly dropping my valet next to me.
As the train pulls out of the station, I heave a sigh of relief. Whatever that thing was, I seem to have managed to outrun it so far. If my luck holds, I’ll be able to get home to my apartment and retrieve some firepower more substantial than the Glock. The heavy weight of my giant .50 caliber pistol would feel remarkably comfortable right now, as would my semiautomatic shotgun loaded with double ought six.
The real question on my mind is what the hell that thing was. Granted, it isn’t the first otherworldly entity that I’ve seen in my life, but a large part of me still wants to put that last time down to trauma-based hallucination. Besides, this one was physically different, though the strange feeling of unreality is absolutely the same. I’ve never heard of anything like this creature outside of comic books and fairy tales. The odds that one man would randomly encounter more than one of these things in a single lifetime have to be astronomical. Therefore logic suggests there must be some connection between the two meetings, but what?
The lights flicker. I look around the compartment and notice I have it almost to myself. In fact, the only company I have is a homeless man I somehow didn’t see when I first got on, sprawled unconscious across a bench towards the rear. I can’t blame him for wanting to get out of the storm, but briefly wonder how he has managed to avoid the conductor since he doesn’t look like he would be able to afford a ticket. Or even half a ticket. I pull my monthly-ride pass from my inner coat pocket and place it into the plastic slot on the back of the seat in front of me. My shoulder sharply throbs causing me to look up.
The first thing I notice is that my formerly sleeping homeless companion is wide awake and sitting at rigid attention. The next is that his eyes are fixed in an unblinking stare directly at me. They are remarkably bloodshot, so red that they bear a disconcertingly close resemblance to the eyes of the creature that was pursuing me earlier. The man slowly stands, his unwavering gaze attempting to bore straight through me. I return his stare, matching its steadiness if not the intensity given by the preternatural color of his eyes. I can feel the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand erect and a rash of goose bumps flush down my arms. I find myself mentally reviewing years of close combat training as my hand, almost of its own accord, slowly edges down towards my right ankle and the tiny Glock concealed there.
I take stock of the man twenty-five feet down the car from me. On the surface, other than his startling eyes, there is nothing that would make him stand out in a roomful of derelicts. He stands about 5’7” with an average build and looks to be in his mid to late sixties. His grey hair is as long and matted as the snarling beard that practically explodes out of his lower face. He is wearing grey sweatpants and trashed sneakers, his toes showing through a sizable hole in one of them. A dark, ratty fleece hat on his head, he is bundled in an old Vietnam-era Army issue jacket, and I briefly pause in my assessment to wonder if he is a veteran. He is carrying no obvious weapons I can see, but I know many ways for an average person to conceal any number of blades, pistols, and other violence inducing implements, many more if that person is clever.
Still, with those eyes… that would be a hell of a coincidence if the two weren’t somehow related.
I grab my shoulder, grimacing as white hot pain lances through it and brings stars to my eyes. Regaining my awareness I realize the man has moved the complete length of the train car impossibly fast and now looms directly over me. Before I can think, much less begin to clear my gun from its holster, his hand flashes down and traps my wrist in an iron grip. A crazed, sneering grin on his face, the man’s other hand seizes my left shoulder and pins me to the back of my seat, the whole movement taking no more than a fraction of a second.
With his face mere inches from my own it’s nauseatingly obvious he hasn’t bathed in some time. Dirt and other substances whose identity I fear to guess are smeared indiscriminately over skin and clothing alike. Several gigantic flies flit about, buzzing continuously and occasionally pausing to alight on his face, hands, and elsewhere. A sickening cocktail odor of sweat, ammonia, and something sulfurous permeates the air around him as his breath wheezes in and out of his mouth through excessively crooked teeth the color of jaundice. I notice several are missing. I also note those remaining have been filed into wicked points that look sharp enough to shred skin and tissue like so much wet toilet paper. This close to them, his eyes aren’t merely bloodshot, but glowing. Their unfaltering scrutiny becomes an indefensible onslaught; I feel as if my consciousness is being forcibly drawn into some blasphemous other-world through a blood-red portal. For a second, I see myself struggling, drowning in molten fire that snaps and swirls where his irises should be, growing to the point not the smallest speck of white is visible in his eyes. Realization hits me like a thunderbolt.
God, he and that monster aren’t connected; they’re the same f*****g thing!
In the back of my mind a deeply buried, primal instinct tells me that at this moment something is profoundly wrong with the world; the presence of this unknown entity whose very being mocks the laws of reason, a living nightmare that has escaped its realm of sleep. The most unnerving part is that I have felt this way countless times before: once, three years ago in a dank underground cavern in the middle of a war zone, and every night since while suffering those horrifyingly real dreams of the impossible things my eyes tell me they saw there. A long black tongue feeling like rough leather licks the dried blood from my scalp. I sit completely still, shocked beyond movement, mouth slightly ajar.
“Mmmm, yes, this the one, the one yes, this him,” the man-thing mumbles. I gape up at him.
“Still, not right no, not right… supposed to being has it, doesn’t being has it. No, no doesn’t being has it, but supposed to being. Where’s it being, little soldier boy, eh? Where’s it being hiding it at?”
“…Hiding?” I somehow find my voice. “I think, ah, I think you must have the wrong man. Sir. I’m not hiding anything. I’m just a school teacher. I teach history. In Haverbrook.” Some incredibly small part of my brain mentally chastises the rest of my consciousness, which is currently in the process of wetting itself, to stop being such a silly, helpless little b***h. And I used to call myself a soldier? No wonder I didn’t make it all the way through to retirement.
“Hee, hee, hee, calling Bealz ‘sir’. Little soldier boy thinking he being teacher, being teacher of little childrens, teaching histories he thinking,” the man-thing giggles.
“Bealz is knowing saying that those who can do, and those who can’t teach. But you can do, little soldier boy. Little soldier boy can do and little soldier boy will do if Bealz would let little soldier boy do. Teaching of histories you thinks you teaching, histories of men, but not histories, not right histories, and little soldier boy not one to teach them. Little soldier boy one to being doing things little soldier boys being doing if Bealz being letting him, but Bealz not supposed to being letting him. No, but Bealz not sure if Bealz supposed to not being letting him if little soldier boy not being has it. Little soldier boy the one supposed to being has it, but something being wrong. Supposed to being here, but being here not. Where being it, little soldier boy?”
A small angry spark flares seems to flare in my mind and I manage to offer up at least the pretense of resistance. I’ve always hated it when people get in my face, probably why I had such a tough time at basic training. The non-pants wetting part of my brain gives a tiny cheer.
“Frankly, Bealz, or whatever the f**k your name is,” I glare at him with what I hope is significantly more confidence then I actually feel, “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Now get your damned hands off me!”
My anger only seems to amuse him.
“Hee, hee, damned hands, yes, damned hands, damned arms, damned Bealz,” the dirt-smeared, leathery skin of his face crinkles around the flaming pools glowing in place of eyes as he laughs.
“Little soldier boy does knows more than he thinks he knows he does, but no, little soldier boy not knows what little soldier boy supposed to knows he does not. What Bealz to do? Bealz supposed to being finding little soldier boy, finding little soldier boy Bealz has, but little soldier boy supposed to being has it. Hmmm.” The man-thing’s mouth closes in a hard line as he contemplates this dilemma. I will admit his issue has me completely confounded as well, but for entirely different reasons. Suddenly his face lights, red eyes shining even brighter like two miniature stars that found themselves trapped within a prison of flesh and bone. The same wicked smile again stretches across his mottled lips, razor-like teeth seeming to glint in the harsh electric light of the train car.
“Ah, but little soldier boy already marked by Dark One yes, marked and so Bealz can find again, find again Bealz can little soldier boy’s mark from Dark One, and then Bealz can make sure little soldier boy not to doing little soldier boy things.”
Gripping my arm and shoulder, the man-thing pulls me even closer and hisses in my ear, “You belonging to Dark Ones now, little soldier boy. Once you being has what you supposed to being has, Dark Ones being taking that what belonging to them.”
He abruptly releases my arms, shoving me back painfully hard against the unforgiving seat. The instant I’m free to move I s****h the Glock from my ankle, jump to my feet and snap into a two-handed shooter’s stance. Slightly dazed, I find myself alone in the train car. The creature pretending to be an old man is gone.