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Friday, June 7, 2019

DWELLER WITHIN_ WEP/IWSG Flash Fiction



The Rules, 
as they are wont to do, 
have changed. 

Any time from today until June 19, you can post for the JUNE 'CAGED BIRD' challenge 

which is a combined undertaking by WEP and partners, the IWSG!

DWELLER WITHIN 
{998 Words}


The first time I saw the Ghost Train, I was 11 years old, a shepherd along the slopes of the Lombardy Alps in 1911. 

The next minute, I was a 25 year old British aristocrat.

Confused?  Welcome to my world.


Like the passengers of the Titanic the following year, the 106 passengers aboard the Zanetti train racing into the new tunnel were never seen again.

Except for:

Sir Lionel Atwell, pushed from the train by his fiancée, 

and the British traveler, Samael Froth, who’d tried to keep him from falling.

Samael tumbled harmlessly into my sheep.  Lionel’s head slammed into mine, changing our fates forever.


 A heartbeat before, I’d looked up to see the train rushing into the tunnel whose mouth billowed in white fog.

As Lionel’s head hit mine, the world grew bright white.  I fell onto my back.  



 I heard my voice come from feet away.  I saw myself screaming in English.

“Bloody Hell!”

I staggered to feet I did not feel, grabbing my head.  La mia testa!”

I felt insane seeing “myself” stare open-mouthed towards ... me.  “I” stiffened, falling to the grass in spasms. 

 I watched “myself” die.

The new me fainted.


Strange whispers dug into my mind.

I awakened as the bunk beneath me rocked, and I groaned, “Mia teste.”

“Finally!  I thought you’d never wake up.  How do you feel, Sir Lionel?”

“Vertiginoso.”

“What?”

I fought for the right word.  “Dizzy.”

Two voices warred inside my mind, as if two caged birds furiously pecked at one another.



I croaked, “Where are we?”

 “Zanetti Railways sent a special train to bring us back to Rome.  Me, they gave a free pass to continue my trip.  You, my unlucky friend, are going back to your testy aunt.”


I studied his mocking face, and a name came to me.  “Samael Froth.”

“The one and only.”

He got up.

“Wait!”

“Sorry, but your Aunt gave orders I was to leave as soon as you awakened.  Should you need it, the loo is behind the sliding door to your right.”

He gave me a cheery wave and left.  I looked about, marveling at the intricate wood paneling, deluxe leather armchair, silk sheets, and wool blanket for the bed.

Bed.  Grass had usually been my bed.


A Loo?  It was the bathroom.  Its mirror froze my blood.  A strange man looked back at me.  I was no longer a child but a man!  One I did not know.

My waking world having become nightmare, I collapsed back into the bed.  What was wrong?  I didn’t just look different; I thought differently.

The second time I saw the Ghost Train was in my dream.


The platform between the cars trembled beneath my feet.  The sickly pale blonde beside me spun, glaring sheer hate.

“You!  What does it take to kill you?”

Samael chuckled behind me.  “Why do humans ask such useless questions?”



I turned and saw the flesh over his cheekbones squirm as if worms slithered beneath it. I recoiled, nearly falling off the train again.  He caught me.

“Oh, no, little shepherd.  I have things to show you.”

He smiled, and the frail blonde turned to mist.

He led me by the arm into the car. 

“Even a peasant child must be realizing Samael is not my true name.  A cruel clue since you are not learned enough to know that according to Jewish myth, Samael is a fallen angel. In fact, Samael is the chief seducer, accuser, and destroyer of Man. Yet, what you see is but a froth of my essence.”


Above us came an unseen chorus as of voices trilling from bleeding throats:

 “To Nyarlathotep be all glory. Putting on the semblance of man, the waxen mask, the flesh robes, he comes down from the world of Seven Suns to mock."

“A-As you say, I am only a shepherd boy.  Do not put yourself out on my account.”

“But a boy caged in the flesh prison of a man.  I grew bored.  You are my new toy.”

The door to our right burst open and out staggered a wizened old man, and my guide smirked, “Ah, my old toy.”


The old man held out a portrait with paint-stained fingers.  “I did as you asked!  Free me from this hell!”

“Oh, my dear Watts, you earned this hell when you married a sixteen year old girl in your dotage.”


Nyatlathotep studied the portrait, frowning.  


 “No, you have merely re-painted your Dweller Within,  I wanted the spirit of this boy housed in a man’s body.  Like so!”

He flicked long fingers, and the paint blurred to become his description:

The shepherd boy I had been, misty within the body of the man I had become.  Instead of the former wings, numbers and symbols arched around his shoulders.

“Algorithms,” said Nyarlathotep, giving me a cold side eye.


He touched my forehead with hot fingertips.   

“Remember them, and you will be able to deduce where and when this train will next appear.”

“W-Why would I want to do that?”

“If you manage to physically board this train, you will stop its maddening trip through time.”


“What?”

“As we speak, this train is racing through Medieval Modena.  Monks will chronicle it as ‘a sled with a pipe, dragging three smaller ones behind it’.”

Nyarlathotep faked concern.  “Oh, two more passengers have just jumped off to seek refuge.  Sadly, they will be thought devils.  Monks burn devils here.”


His lips pulled up in a snake’s smile.  “Next stop is to be 1841, Mexico. Of course, the authorities will be much too civilized to burn them.”

“W-What will they do?”

“I do not think they will keep them long in the psychiatric facility.  After all, this train’s third stop is Balaklava in 1955.”



He slapped me hard.  “Time to wake up, shepherd!”

My eyes snapped open to see a painting of my pale “fiancée” at the foot of my bed in the style of the old artist.


“Tick, tock,” whispered an unseen voice.

41 comments:

  1. Clever. And truly nasty.
    Poor shepherd boy, the plaything of the practised nastiness of a fallen angel...

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    1. Yes, but never underestimate the chances of a shepherd boy ... Goliath found that out. :-)

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  2. This was fantastic! Nyarlathotep happens to be my favorite of the unsavory Great Old Ones. He's so very versatile.

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    1. Nyarlathotep is actively evil and malicious, yet cunning and inscrutable to boot. The other Great Old Ones are like uncaring forces of Nature so above mankind that they do not take not of us unless folks are unwise enough to draw attention!

      He was fun inject in my fantastical fable. I am happy you recognized him! :-)

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  3. Hey Roland, thank you for publicising WEP this month. This was a fantastic story all right, but a part of it reminded me of The Picture of Dorian Grey and his relationship with Sir Henry Wotton. Paintings changing really fascinates me. Excellent use of the 'caged' prompt.

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    1. I wish you the best of luck with your writing, Denise. Thanks for taking the time to read my fable. :-)

      I try to draw attention to your brain-child whenever its time is nigh.

      Thanks for liking my take on the prompt. Eerie paintings have always fascinated me, too. Unlike Dorian Grey, the poor shepherd boy wanted nothing to do with his painting!!

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  4. Trying to comment again, just to see...

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    1. Of course, it works now!
      Great story - loved the take on the prompt and the spooky factor! The poor shepherd!

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    2. I'm toying with the idea of doing a novella on the shepherd's odyssey, aided by young Jung and Einstein who are on the special train. :-)

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  5. An interesting and dark take on the theme. Well done.

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  6. That was definitely interesting and wild. I felt bad for the shepherd boy, but have hope that he might, maybe, just win the day.

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    1. The shepherd boy, David, managed to win the day ... with some help. :-) Thanks for visiting and staying to comment. It means a lot, Tyrean.

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  7. As the train drove into the tunnel, I did think of the Titanic, but I also thought of the Bermuda Triangle and planes and boats disappearing.
    Very well written story that engaged my mind.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

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    1. Some parapsychologists actually believe this legend is based on fact. I am glad you were entertained, Pat. :-)

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  8. Truly scary. I always thought a train travel is nice and comfortable. Now I'll think a train could be a dangerous way of travel.

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    1. I've always wanted to ride the Orient Express myself, Olga. :-)

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  9. There's not much I can say except, 'oh my goodness!'

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  10. Hi Roland - I love how much you wove together - I have to say I'd never heard of Nyarlathotep ... but then I've never read Lovecraft ... and really must come back here - and re-look at all your cross references and check out some of Lovecraft's work ... excellent take on the caged bird prompt. Cheers Hilary

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    1. Nyarlathotep is a shape-shifter and delights in tormenting poor mortals. Lovecraft inspired a great many writers from Robert E Howard to Neil Gaiman. He is a bit verbose to we modern readers, but I enjoyed his THE TOMB which he wrote in first person as Harry Houdini in the bowels of the great Cheops Pyramid. :-)

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  11. This is creative and intriguing so I'm pleased to read that it might grow. Although it's a scary ride on a train I aim to avoid in this life. But I fear the demons I ignored in my piece. Did I err by forgetting the Great Old Ones that you say are the 'uncaring forces of Nature'?

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    1. Thanks from one Roland to another. :-) The Great Old Ones are good to forget -- in fact, to never approach!

      There is a great documentary of this Father of all Modern Horror. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jg9VCf5einY

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  12. Hi Roland
    What a clever take on the prompt and a scary one. Poor child didn't deserve this. I can't imagine traveling throughout history without stopping for a stroll.
    Nancy

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    1. The two that did get out were burned at the stake for their efforts! Ouch! In the story forming in my mind, the "boy" is helped by Jung and Einstein. There's hope for him yet! :-) Thanks for commenting, Nancy.

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  13. Very creative and spooky-beautiful, and a unique take on the prompt. The body of another as a prison and trapped in a train travelling through time - a cage in a cage. Your flashes are always fascinating.

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading. Thank you for posting this flash at WEP.

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    1. This means a lot coming from you, Nilanjana. :-) I try to approach these prompts sideways so as to catch my friends in an unexpected way.

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  14. I was slightly confused but then it became a little clearer. Poor boy, not only he's trapped in a different body, he has to travel through time as well, that's like a double tragedy or something. Certainly, it's rather hard to stop either one when it seems you have no power to change anything. Good take on the prompt.

    Have a lovely day.

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    1. Ir was hard for me to portray the imprisoning of a boy's spirit in a man's body clearly at first. Don't count the shepherd boy out just yet, not with Carl Jung and Einstein at his side. :-)

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  15. This was a fantastic story! I can only imagine the horror of being imprisoned in a body that is not your own. I also love the Ghost Train traveling through time. Well done!

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    1. Of all the horrific fates I thought about, I felt being imprisoned in the cage of a stranger's body was one of the worst. Thanks, L.G., for liking my little train trip through the Twilight Zone. :-)

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  16. What a terrifying way to use the prompt! Excellent story.

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  17. Some very unusual twists here. And it seems like multiple bits of lore woven together. I like it! I wonder how the boy/man spent his days, if it was all bad.

    Love the images you used with this, too. Very cool.

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    1. Accompanied by Jung and Einstein, the shepherd boy went back to his estate, lorded over by his aristocratic "aunt" whom he scandalized by helping the staff with their chores and duties. Then, having come up with a plan of action with his two mentors, he went off to board and save a ghost train. :-)

      So glad you liked my tale, J Lenni!

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  18. A weird and dark tale--excellently done. A very different take on the prompt!

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    1. I try to be different to make the reading more enjoyable and less predictable. :-)

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  19. Poor little shepherd boy. He was just living his life and got unnecessarily caught up in this.

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    1. Like most of us -- we get caught up in affairs that just sweep us up whether we want to go along or not!

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  20. What a cool take on the prompt, and a twisted and dark tale indeed. So many paradoxes here.

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    1. I try to catch my friends unawares, yet give them a fun ride anyway -- unlike the ride of the poor shepherd boy!

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