The sun set, Chloe had done it. Soon morning would come and they would all be free from this eternal nightmare. The train whistle let out its usual piercing sound signaling it was time to sleep. Alexander pointed out that it was weird to hear the whistle, as they were usually located at the front of the train which was long gone by now. It was just another error in the simulation.
The group had decided, with some guidance from Chloe, that sleeping in the train car they were in was more secure than the witch’s train car. Elizabeth was very vocal about not wanting to return to the witch’s chambers. The ghostly figures that originally inhabited the room were long gone after all. Only Mouse objected to sleeping there, but he didn’t want to sleep alone in the witch’s room either so he had no choice.
Each of the group took a booth to sleep on. It wasn’t the most comfortable bed, but it was good enough. Chloe and Elizabeth shared a booth, sleeping on opposite ends of the middle table from each other. Elizabeth fell asleep quickly as usual. Chloe however stayed awake with her thoughts.
The angelic entity, why did he insist that Chloe keep his existence a secret from the others? She trusted the figure, for better or for worse, but the more she thought about it the more she began to fear that this was all a trap. The encounter had been so short. He said he could only pierce the veil for so long. What did that even mean? The more she thought about it the more questions she had. His presence had calmed her to the point where she hadn’t questioned him.
Chloe closed her eyes and tried to shake those thoughts from her head. There was no use second guessing herself. She had chosen her path and the only thing left was to see it through. Sleep hit her surprisingly quickly and just like the night before, she drifted into a dreamless sleep.
A loud thump launched Chloe from her booth. She hit the ground hard and struggled awake. Alexander, Mouse, and Elizabeth had all received similar treatment though only Chloe had actually fallen from where she slept. It was dark, too dark to see anything at first. Her eyes quickly adjusted to the low light that seeped through the windows. It was still nighttime.
A familiar sound filled the air, something she had grown used to over the past few days. It took her a moment to even realize what the sound was. It was the rattling of the train moving as it soared along the tracks.
“How?” She gaped looking to the others. Alexander and Mouse were up quickly looking out the window. Elizabeth made her way to Chloe who still lay on the floor. The little girl offered a hand to help her stand, but Chloe rejected it choosing to stand herself as not to strain the girl. Her lower back still pulsed with pain from the tumble, but she didn’t seem to have any serious injuries.
“We’re moving again, but that’s impossible, we were detached from the front of the train.” Alexander stated the obvious.
“The witch was in the front of the train, does that mean she’s back?” Mouse asked leaping out of his seat to the center of the room. He eyed the door that led to the witch’s train car carefully, retrieving the hammer he had taken from there just in case.
“No.” Elizabeth shuddered, clinging to Chloe. She whimpered softly.
“We’re safe right now.” Alexander said trying to bring logic to the conversation. “If the witch was somehow back she’d have attacked us while we slept, right?” No one answered the question.
“I say we open that door and see what’s happening.” Mouse pointed his hammer at the door leading to the witch’s car.
“You’re not supposed to go outside at night.” Elizabeth’s voice was but a whisper. The boys didn’t even hear her.
“Good idea, but stay inside. Remember the rules, no going outside at night time.” Alexander told him.
“Why should I follow those rules? We only escaped the witch’s clutches because we broke them.” Mouse argued. With that he didn’t waste any more time. He stomped over to the door and swung it open with his left hand, holding his hammer steady with his right.
“Mouse no!” Chloe tried to call out, but it was too late. They were supposed to stay until morning, but the plan was falling apart quickly. As curious as she was to find out how the train was moving again she knew deep down it didn’t matter.
“Wha.” Mouse tried to make some sounds, but he couldn’t find the words. Chloe looked out the door and saw what had him speechless. The witch’s train car was no longer there. Instead it had been replaced with the same thing she saw in the front of the train, the conductor’s room and engine, with no door leading into it.
“Well that explains how we’re moving.” Chloe tried to make light of the situation. She had become jaded and wasn’t surprised by the strange happenings anymore. Mouse still kept silent. He was gawking upwards at the sky. Apparently the engine room wasn’t what stole his voice. Chloe moved forward so she too could see the night sky.
The sky was normal, mostly. The dark sky stretched upwards from the horizon, stars littered lightly around the clear night. It would have been a beautiful night, if it weren’t for the eye. Once Chloe saw it, she couldn’t look away. Her mouth hung open just like Mouse’s. She struggled to move but she was paralyzed in place. Her entire body went numb.
Directly above them, impossible to see from the window unless you stuck your head out of it, was a giant eye looking back. The night sky around it seemed to warp into various colors that were impossible to focus on. It was the same incomprehensible view Chloe witnessed when they had dragged a claw from the sand. The iris of the eye was dark black, making its pupil only noticeable by its silver glint. It shifted around slightly while maintaining its gaze on Chloe and Mouse.
As Chloe gazed deeper into the eye she slowly began to see all that was missing. The world around her melted away as she was the eye, a being greater than her mind could comprehend. She could see through the eye and saw her dumb struck face looking back. The world she was in was but one of millions, a tiny bubble in an endless universe. This creature freed her from her mortal bonds. She was becoming one with the immaculate beast. Mouse joined her as the two merged with the entity that would free the lost souls from the other worlds. Each soul added to the collection only empowered it.
“No, you will not be consumed!” Chloe heard a voice, but she could not see it amidst the swirling void of worlds. It sounded so small just like she once was. Her first instinct was to ignore it. The tiny creature only sought to prevent her from feeding. It was powerless to stop her. In the end, it too would become her, everything would.
Then all went dark. The euphoria that came with her new senses faded in an instant. The voice, it was the winged man she had witnessed previously on the train. Why did it seek to end her enlightenment? This was her purpose, to become one with the beast, no, the god that showed her the way.
Chloe slowly opened her eyes, awakening from the most vivid dream she had ever had. Alexander was shaking her awake. She lay flat on the ground in the train car, only inches from the door. They had dragged her and Mouse back in. Mouse was still unconscious, but slowly began to stir.
“What happened?” Chloe slowly sat up. Her head was pounding and trying to recall the dream only made it hurt more.
“Something was out there entrancing you. I pulled you and Mouse back in when I saw you both beginning to climb over the rails and jump into the sands below. The claws were going to take you both.” Alexander explained.
“The claws.” Chloe murmured as Mouse stammered awake. “There’s something out there, outside of this world. It wants us, all of us.” Chloe almost mentioned the winged man but kept herself quiet. She was told not to share any information about him with the others.
“It will get us.” Mouse spoke suddenly. His voice was a hushed whisper. “It’s coming now. Something happened. The barrier that protected this world is breaking. We need to run.” Whatever phenomenon Chloe had experienced Mouse had as well. He understood just as she did. Something was after them. Something wanted to feast on their souls.
Mouse’s prediction proved true. There was a loud crunching sound as the door shattered open. Only instead of leading outside the doorway led straight into an endless chromatic spiraling abyss.
“Don’t look!” Chloe shouted to the others. Adrenaline began pumping through her as she leapt to her feet turning away from the void. She understood now. The void, the abyss, it was the dimension that existed between worlds, the dimension that connected to an infinite number of worlds. The claws and the eye were part of a single creature manifesting itself into the train world. It had been crunching on the barrier that protected them as if it were a hard chocolate shell and they were the candy inside . Now that shell was cracked and if they didn’t move they would be exposed to the world between worlds ripe for the taking.
Chloe even knew the cause of the crack. The winged man had purposely shattered the barrier to save Chloe from being consumed. The winged man was a separate entity from the beast. He watched over her like a Guardian Angel from ancient myths. He made a desperate play breaking the barrier and with it the hold the monster had on Chloe and Mouse. Now they had to suffer the consequences as the world began to collapse in on itself.
“Run!” Mouse gave the order that didn’t need to be given. The group sprinted down the dining car not daring to look back. Alexander had to pick up Elizabeth as her tiny legs weren’t fast enough to escape the impending destruction. No one dared look back despite the horrid sound of screeching metal and breaking glass.
Mouse reached the door on the other end of the train car first and flung it open. Chloe only saw outside for a moment. It was a normal metal bridge, just like all of the others she had walked across to get from train car to train car. The night sky looked normal as well even if only inches behind her it melted into the abyss. There was no way to tell what lay beyond the next doorway, the room the winged man had forbid Chloe from entering, but staying meant death so their only answer was to push forward. Mouse opened the door and was inside in less than a second. The rest followed into the brightly lit train car until a loud crash shook the train knocking them off their feet.
The group tumbled over each other slamming face first into the red carpeted floor of the next chamber. Chloe looked back to face her oncoming demise but saw nothing but a blank wall decorated with the same gaudy wallpaper as the rest of the train. The door they had entered into the car from was no longer there. The barrier that protected them had been repaired. They were safe from the collapsing world and the soul devouring beast once again.
Chloe took a moment to catch her breath and allow her mind to catch up before examining the new train car. At first glance the room looked endless. To her left and her right was a large carpeted room that stretched as far as the eye could see. Chloe blinked a few times standing to her feet, the room wasn’t endless. In fact it was a tight hallway even smaller than the path between booths in the dining car. The walls to her left and her right were mirrors reflecting light against each other eternally giving the illusion of a large open space. On the other end of the hallway, miles away, was the door to the next train car. She didn’t even question how this train car was so long in comparison to the others. The car was also brightly lit, but Chloe couldn’t find a single source of light.
“We same to be safe here, wherever here is.” Mouse’s breath was still heavy from running. He looked around the train car taking longer to process the mirrors than it took Chloe.
“Where’s Elizabeth?” Alexander asked. He was on his feet looking frantically around for her. She wasn’t in the train car. “She was right in my arms. I know she got inside.”
“No.” Chloe stuttered not sure what else to say. There was no place for Elizabeth to hide. Somehow she hadn’t made it with the rest of them. She had been tossed into the void to be consumed by the monstrosity. A stab of guilt stung Chloe. If she hadn’t gazed into the eye in the first place the Guardian Angel would have not cut her free, and Elizabeth would have been safe. If only she had the strength to look away, instead she had wanted nothing more than to be devoured. Her weak will cost Elizabeth her soul.