The Waystation [Part 4 of 6]
Weird Fantasy / 1403 words
“How do you like your new quarters?” asked the woman with the forever smile.
I was back in the white room, stuck in the same chair, facing my interrogator.
“We realize,” she said, ignoring my comment, “that you must have many questions, so we have decided to be generous. We will allow you to ask one question of us. Speak.”
My first instinct was to ask where my sister was, but I stopped myself short. If they didn’t know who I was, let alone my sister, there would be no reason for them to know where she was.
After giving it some thought, I remembered the contract the Company made everyone sign before they could ride the train, and how it mentioned souls.
“What’s all that stuff I saw through my window?” I asked. “Am I in Hell?”
“Those are two questions,” she remarked. Despite the permanent grin, there was a tone of reproach in her voice. “But we understand how you might connect them in your mind. So… we will attempt to explain in words that you may comprehend.”
She paused for a moment, closing her eyes. When they popped back open, her pupils had turned red. The voice that came out of her throat sounded different, deeper, more hoarse, and much less feminine.
“We are the nexus of time and creation. We are the sum of what ails your minds. We are what lurks in the dark and creeps under your beds. We are the world of shadows and of darkness. We come by night to feed on your souls. We are hunger defined. We are one, we are legion, and this is our home.”
She blinked, and her eyes turned back to normal. The smile, that had never left her lips throughout, widened further.
“But whether this is a hell is for you to decide,” she said sweetly. “Now… What is your full name?”
I remained speechless for a long moment, staring at her happy and hopeful expression.
If she, they, thought those were supposed to be words I could easily comprehend, I wondered what a more obscure explanation might have sounded like.
“Well?” she insisted.
“John Williams,” I responded distractedly.
While she took the time to verify, I allowed my mind to wander. Why did she keep asking for my name? If I were in her shoes, I’d be more interested in motivation. She did ask me what I was doing here, but even then she had immediately focused on my sister’s name.
Why were names so important to her — to them?
I closed my eyes and pictured my sister’s face… Angela. That was her name. I tried to visualize it in my mind. Wrote it in large flaming letters. Beheld it. Waited.
“You lied again,” said the woman. I could hear the disappointment in her voice, though I was certain it had not affected her facial expression. It never did.
I kept my eyes shut. Ignoring her, I continued to focus on my sister. Nothing was happening. Then again, I had mentioned her name to many people since my arrival in this hellish place. Nothing had happened then either, so why should I expect a different outcome now?
Then I remembered that she always asked for full names.
As soon as the name formed in my head, I sensed something… a presence. It was distant, but distinct. I repeated the name, drew it in larger letters, called out… The presence grew and soon I heard her voice.
Peter? Is that you? Oh please God, let it be you!
“This is very irregular,” I heard the woman say. “Not to mention rude. You are to look at us, young man.”
The burning pain hit me suddenly and, this time, I let out a scream and opened my eyes wide.
The woman was smiling at me.
“Welcome back. So, where were we? Ah yes. Your name. Please state it clearly.”
“I’d like to go back to my room, now,” I said. “I’m tired.”
The smile wavered for only a second. “Tired? But we’ve only just begun…”
“Why do you think I had my eyes closed? I’ve wandered through the streets of your crazy upside-down hellhole for hours. I don’t know what kind of creature you are, but we humans need sleep every once in a while.”
“Oh.” I recognized genuine surprise in her voice, despite her immutable expression. “Very well, then. We shall reconvene at a later time.”
“At least seven hours if you want me to be in top shape.”
“That is acceptable.”
And just like that, I was sent back to my prison.
Could it really be this easy?
I reached out again, calling her name…
And again, I sensed her presence. It grew closer as I called out louder.
Yes! Angela! It’s me… Where are you?
A torrent of emotions flooded out of her — a mixture of confusion and relief that felt so overwhelming.
I thought you had left…
Never, sis! I was… occupied. But I am here now. Where are you? I repeated.
I don’t know… It’s dark here… and cold. I’m so frightened, Peter!
What happened to you?
Shortly after I got off the train, two men with top hats came for me. I didn’t want to go with them, but I felt compelled to do so. They took me here… wherever here is… oh God! Peter! It is so dark! So cold! Please help me!
Can you see anything at all?
No… it is too dark… but I can hear them.
I don’t understand…
I’m not alone, she went on, the pitch of her voice rising, I don’t know who they are… but they are never quiet, Peter… when they don’t groan or growl, they scream… their voices pierce my soul… I can hear one now! Oh please, make it stop!
Could the Company’s contract be literal? The more I spent time here and uncovered things, the more it felt like this might really be Hell.
I thought back to the woman’s answer to my question. Despite its cryptic nature, I wondered if it did not hold the key. Everything she had said referred to immaterial concepts — shadows, darkness, night… it further spoke of ailments of the mind.
Peter! Where are you?
I’m… not sure. But I’m going to find you, Angela. I promise. I will find a way.
I don’t know how much more of this I can take… I’m afraid I’m losing my mind… maybe I already have… sometimes it can be hard to tell…
If these creatures, whatever they were — spirits, ghosts, demons? — dwelled in a realm of illusions, then perhaps I could use that against them. That I was not in the same place as my sister — or the other victims, as I suspected those were whose voices she was hearing — proved that my case was different. That the woman kept wanting to know who I was proved it as well.
I had not signed the contract.
When doing so, one was required to sign with one’s name. Perhaps that was how they could bind you to their will, for whatever purpose. But they did not have mine. Which meant…
All of this… the walls, the cot, the window, the whirling colors without, the clouds below… all of it was just smoke and mirrors. It had to be. They were trying to manipulate me, to scare me into blurting out my real name, which — if my theory was correct — would bind me to them as surely as if I had signed that damned contract.
I hit the wall with my fist.
Though the surface was solid, it did not hurt me.
I hit it harder, and still could not feel a thing.
This convinced me I must be on the right track. But how could I break free? There had to be a solution.
I never saw the two men walk — nor the woman, for that matter. Even when they’d come to me in the store, those creepy fellows had seemed to slide, more than walk. How did they move… themselves, or even me? With their minds, perhaps.
Could it be as simple as willing oneself to be elsewhere?
Closing my eyes, I focused my mind on the Necker hospital. I opened one eye to check… I was still in my prison.
What was I missing?
[TO BE CONTINUED]
Read Part 5 here.
Text © 2021 by Alex S. Garcia.