by Sharon Aruparayil
They would find themselves there, a silent prayer dying on their lips as the floor beneath them started to tremble. The brave ones would lift their heads and trail their eyes across the barren landscape that lay before them, obscured by heavy bars of steel with the stench of rot slithering through the gaps. The others would shut their eyes, hands clasped in a fervor, flinching violently when the shrill voice of the steam whistle echoed in their ears. They lost count of those after twenty and two hundred, the ceiling clattering with every sharp turn as they found themselves drifting across iron rails.
The train used to be the cradle of their childhood wonder; with hours filled with playing pretend and makeshift trains constructed out of discarded cardboard boxes, scraps of paper being their ticket to the great unknown. They would look up at the ticket master in amazement, with his glorious mustache that he twirled proudly and the faint clicking of his machine. They would dream with their eyes wide open, of glittering aisles littered with punched out tickets, walking with their chins held up high as the passengers cheered on.
They would close their eyes and memories would flash by, whispering teasingly at the fading edges of their mind, of grins stretched across faded Polaroids, memories curling at the edges - of love that was lost and of love that never was. They were good people, with honest lives and fulfilling relationships, how did they end up here?
They were always barefoot, with their feet planted firmly on the pristine metal floors and the chill that rose up through their heel. It would whisper along their calves, gradually trailing upward until their lips turned blue and frost coursed through their veins. The stagnant silence interrupted by thousands of chattering teeth, some grinding away and some piercing through delicate skin, copper gliding between their teeth and sliding down their throat.
They missed how sunlight would feel on their skin, the warmth bouncing off their limbs and eyes that would squint at the sheer intensity of it all. They missed the faint hum of the cicadas on sweltering summer nights, their bodies sprawled across the floor and their foreheads slick with sweat.
They were promised paradise; a cornucopia that would never run dry, lined with rivers overflowing with milk and honey while lying prostrate at the feet of the one that created the universe. They were promised peace; comfortable silence that would whisper through their skin, the corners of their mouth pulled up in a soft smile and a gentle calm that would settle over their being.
They were promised eternity.
The train, with its pristine floors and clattering ceilings morphed into the formidable vessel it was now; pulsing, with the unadulterated dread that traversed through their soul and trembling, as it hurled towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
(they were good people, right?)