Of demons and trains

“I’ve lived here for the past 10 years. But I’ve yet to move in.” He sighed and waved a hand around, as if inviting us to look around. To peer into his life. A glimpse into insanity. Or sanity. They’re the same thing.

Through the foyer was a train. A large, rusted, iron steam engine from the early 1900s. Large wheels and ladders and adornments rusted and crusted and crumbling apart from the cruelty of time.

Much like he was.

“I didn’t come here to get married. Or to live an extravagant life. Don’t believe those lies! I cam here to LIVE. To fucking LIVE!” The fat on his neck was shaking as he quivered. “Bah! What do you know? Nothing. You know nothing! I am the demon that was haunting me. It was me all along.”

I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. What was this about demons? It was then that I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye. I could’ve sworn that a small creature raced past. A small, dark creature. Hairless and ephemeral, not a house pet.

“They’re all around, you know. They’re with you, they’re with me. We all have ’em. Shit, you ain’t that dumb, son.” He harumphed and turned around, ambling over to the bookcase, thumbing through the collection, finally nodding.

“Twice. On that very train there. Twice. You’ll see.”

And I did see. I looked again and I did see. I saw that same shadow crawl out of a window and around the back of the train. I swear I heard a cackling giggle.

“Hey, man, whaddya playin’ at?” I managed, hesitant.

“Playin’?” His right brow raised and his eyes were huge. His pupils dilated and the sweat was beading on his face. “You don’t get it, do ya? Ya don’t get it? That train, those demons, they’re me, they’re you.”

I furrowed my brow an looked to the side. “What?” What the fuck is this old coot goin’ after.

And the shadows tripled and were clearly playing with me. Red shadowy eyes and more cackles. The hairs on my neck stood up. I rolled my sleeves and began towards the train.

“I wouldn’t if I were you. I’d leave it. Go back to where you came from. Go back to not understanding. Go back to willful ignorance. Go back to sanity and daily life and ignoring these demons. Go back to Millie.”

My head shot around. “How did you -”

“I know all about her,” he waved his hand, shaking his head and closing his eyes. “I’ve been courting her demons here. I’ve been inviting them in. On purpose. Here!” He laughed a shrill laugh and turned around with the book in his hand. A black book with one word on the cover written in red. As he held it, his hands seemed to burn. He seemed to be in great pain.

Now the train was teeming with demons. And they were all transfixed on me. All wanting to come off and come for me. Why? Why didn’t they? What did they want?

“They won’t come until you’re ready. Only you won’t know when that is. But they will. They alwaaaays do.” He glanced over at them and nodded. “They alwaaaays do.”

The creatures started to gather up and obscure the train. The cacophony was starting to distress me.

His hands were smoking where they held the book now. He was laughing in syncopation with the cacophony of demons. His patched tweed elbows on his mustard jacket gave him an air of prominence, and I realized that I wasn’t sure where I was.

He was coming towards me, and I could see now that his hair was all white and his face was extensively wrinkled. I could smell the burning flesh. And I could make out the title of the book.

Millie.

The shadows were crawling around the book as they were the train. The shadows, the demons were laughing harder and louder now. They didn’t care. They wanted me. They wouldn’t have me! Never!

When the book hit the floor, all the noise stopped, and the old man was staring at me with blank eyes.

“Go forth with her. Go forth and trust what I tell you now. Go forth and destroy the train.” His voice was hollow and distant, echoing in the great, empty expanse of the apartment.

As he said the words, the book flipped open, and the page was a photo of this moment. A page flipped and another moment came. Another. Another. I was watching a flipbook animation of this very moment, and as I was watching, the train in the book’s images was no longer obscured. The demons were now about me, tugging at me, pulling at me, dragging my hands. And the old man could only laugh.