Chloe took a deep breath still recovering from her nervous jitters. She avoided eye contact with Alexander as she tied the pillowcases together to make a long makeshift rope. She turned to the safety railing, one of the few safety measures on the train.
“What are you doing now? Alexander asked. He didn’t seem as shaken up by the kiss as she did. Chloe assumed he had more experience than her. Either that or he was better at putting emotions aside and thinking logically.
“You’re being a finch again.” Chloe tried to recollect her previous confidence. But now that she knew for a fact he was a real person her timid side was showing. It didn’t matter how confident she acted. The only thing that mattered was collecting as much information on her surroundings as possible. She tied the long rope like pillowcases to the safety railing. It was just long enough when stretched out to reach the sands below. First class had massive pillows after all.
“You’re trying to fish up a claw aren’t you?” Alexander put it together. “What will that accomplish?”
“I don’t know to be honest, but it’s a thought.” Chloe held the pillowcases up through the railing so they didn’t reach the ground until they were ready. She was worried she hadn’t tied the knot tight enough. “Once I drop this in the sand a claw should grab it. Then the momentum of the train will drag it along like a fish caught on a moving boat. Maybe we’ll be able to see more of the creature.” Chloe shrugged. Truthfully, this wasn’t going to help her goal of escaping this place, other than provide more proof it was a simulation.
“Just be careful.” Alexander didn’t seem to object. Curiosity must have burned in his heart too. The only difference was Chloe wasn’t as bound to the rules as he seemed to be. Without waiting any longer Chloe dropped the pillowcase rope into the sand and immediately a claw grabbed it. It was difficult to see as it was dragged towards one of the train’s wheels. Alexander and Chloe both had to lean over the railing to get a better look.
At first nothing more than fingers emerged, wrapped around the pillowcases like a snake. Just as Chloe predicted the ground acted more like water than sand. The claw seemed to glide just above the surface, the dust erupting in the same pattern over and over. There was a serious lack of animations for the simulation. Eventually more of the claw began to emerge. Chloe felt sick to her stomach at the sight, not from disgust, but from incomprehension.
It was hard to describe. There was clearly more of the creature there, but it didn’t seem to have corporeal form. It was made up of thousands of swirling colors, ever shifting along its translucent body. It was both transparent and solid. Chloe could clearly see the sands behind it, but couldn’t at the same time. Whatever it was, the level of detail put into it, suggested it was not part of the simulation. If anything the detail of this creature made the real world look like a simulation. The claw, attached to the gelatin like being, still held firmly to the pillowcases until the knot came undone and the pillowcases separated.
Chloe and Alexander both stood stupefied. Chloe blinked quickly, she felt dizzy like she was going to throw up at any second. Part of her studies had her research through the catalogue of specters, spirits, and other unworldly creatures. Whatever that thing was supposed to be was beyond all human knowledge. It made her feel so small. Despite the advances they had since Alexander’s time of dealing with portents, such as making their existence public knowledge, they still knew nothing about the universe and how it worked.
“What was that thing?” Alexander asked the obvious question. Chloe couldn’t even speak.
“I have no clue. No theories.” She held her hands to her head. Her mind was working overdrive trying to understand what she saw. It was like trying to put a puzzle together with missing pieces. Just looking at that thing could make a fragile mind snap. She had to take deep breaths and tell herself that it was okay, it didn’t matter what it was, there was no use trying to solve that puzzle as it was impossible to solve. “It’s not part of the simulation though I can tell you that.”
“Maybe it’s what created the simulation?” Alexander suggested. He didn’t seem as affected by the being. Chloe didn’t respond. Even with the claw long gone the vision of it still played in her head over and over again. “Let’s discuss it more in the morning.” Alexander placed his hands on Chloe’s shoulders in a comforting manner. His touch helped calm her mind. It reminded her of her best friend Tayla. She was always able to soothe Chloe’s thoughts.
After a moment of silence Chloe and Alexander returned to the train car, Elizabeth was still waiting for them quietly. The sun was setting and Chloe was eager to fall asleep and hopefully forget the horror she had witnessed. Alexander reminded Chloe a multitude of times not to leave the train car at night. Elizabeth made her way next to Chloe, clenching on to her pajama pants lightly. Soon Mouse appeared in the first class train car and they were all together.
A loud whistle shrieked and pierced the otherwise quiet atmosphere. Chloe jumped so high she nearly hit her head on the ceiling. Alexander, Mouse, and Elizabeth didn’t even flinch. “Like I said this morning, you’ll get used to it.” Mouse commented with a chuckle. “Don’t’ worry doll, I’ll make sure nothing hurts ya.”
“I think she can take care of herself.” Alexander jumped to Chloe’s defense. Those two didn’t get along well. Chloe just stood quiet as the two boys met each others’ glares. Elizabeth tugged on Chloe’s pants, pointing to her room.
“I’m going to bed.” Chloe told Alexander and Mouse, answering Elizabeth’s request. The two of them walked into the room furthest from the witch leaving the boys behind.
“Thank you.” Elizabeth said quietly the moment the door was closed. “I don’t like them.”
“You don’t like them? What’s wrong with them?” Chloe asked. True, she found Mouse obnoxious and Alexander annoying, but they didn’t seem to be bad people.
“Mouse is too loud, Alexander is too quiet.” Elizabeth whispered shyly. She didn’t seem to want to talk about it, probably due to Chloe not immediately agreeing with her. Elizabeth propped herself up on the bed, sitting down. She gestured for Chloe to sit next to her.
“Tell me who you do like.” Chloe had no idea what to say. She thought if she could remind Elizabeth of better times it would help calm her. She sat down on the bed and Elizabeth immediately clung on to her.
“I like my brother. He protects me. I don’t know why he isn’t here with me.” Elizabeth stammered. Chloe was worried she was going to cry, but she didn’t. “I don’t remember well.”
“What do you mean?” Chloe asked concerned.
“I remember my brother, my family.” Elizabeth began to explain. “I remember myself, but I don’t remember how I got here or what happened.”
“You woke up here like the others, right?”
“Yes.” Elizabeth hesitated. “But I don’t know what happened before that.” Chloe remained quiet. She embraced Elizabeth and the two lay down together. She thought of her words, not remembering what happened before that. She thought of herself. She remembered going to school and meeting up with friends, playing around online. She remembered her life, but she couldn’t remember what happened yesterday. She began to understand what Elizabeth meant. She had memories of her life in general, but none of yesterday or the day before. She couldn’t even tell what month it was. If she woke up here, where did she fall asleep? How did she get there?
Chloe thought for a moment. This morning she scrambled for her phone. How did she know her phone was supposed to be with her? She suddenly understood. Her recent memories faded in a manner similar to a dream after waking up. At first it was clear, but now it was a blur. It was as if her mind accepted this simulation as real and her previous life as a dream.
“Elizabeth, I don’t remember what happened to me either.” Chloe said surprised.
“I think the witch takes our memories. Each day we forget more and more until we know nothing but the train.” Elizabeth whispered. Chloe wasn’t sure about that. She still hadn’t seen the witch. She felt if they were going to ever get somewhere confronting the witch was the best option. Unlike the claws, the witch was likely part of the simulation, and therefore she was the main obstacle for them to overcome.