as they are wont to do,
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!
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.
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.
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?”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.