There were six of them in Car 2, and they all went south of San Francisco on their way home. That didn’t really mean anything, since everything in the around the Bay lay south of San Francisco.
Ivy’s path was longest, all the way to the San Jose station, almost two hours when the train halted at every station, not that she really cared anymore. Ella only had to go to Hillsdale, and she spent the time making sure that she hadn’t forgotten anything back in the city, and preparing to jump of the train before the floods of people could clog the walkways.
Josiah didn’t bother going to the front car, going up the stairs to the second car and finding it mercifully empty. The day had been long, and he had a lot of things to worry about. He didn’t want to deal with noisy people, or worse, their children. He opened up his computer to read their data on gaming trends. He would be working long into the night.
Ella flashed her pass at the people guarding the station and clambered onto the train, balancing her backpack. Her shoulders ached from the long day at CCSF, and as she walked into the second car, she gladly collapsed into a window seat near the front of the car and pulled off her backpack. Her shoulders burned. She sighed, breathing in the stale air of the train.
Sam didn’t particularly like the smell, either. They took a sniff of the cloth of their shoulderbag, a small, leathery thing that held little more than a phone and Sam’s current book. They collapsed into a seat, leaning against the window, and feeling dirty after the long day at school. Sam loved San Francisco, but all cities were filthy in the end. At least Sunnyvale was small and richer. At least Sam’s room at home was clean, spotless really.
Ivy was just tired. She felt unsteady on her feet as she walked the thin aisle between the rows of seats and carefully sat in a seat next to the window, looking out at the endless trainyard beyond. She hadn’t really been doing anything today, not that her parents knew that, but she still felt as tired as if she was in the starting bouts of the flu. She stared at the seat in front of her, gray and blue, sort of like the one airplane she had been on. She tapped her fingers slightly, and then stopped, unable to find the energy to keep moving. She probably should have been doing something right now, with the nearly two hours of free time in front of her, but she was just going to spend the time staring ahead. Again.
Guowei’s feet sounded too loud on the metal steps of the train as he pulled himself up, or maybe that was just the heavy-footed person in front of him. Guowei caught a glimpse of the person in front of him’s face in a reflective metal panelling and thought he recognized a man that he had ridden the train with before. Despite the thousands of people that travelled the Caltrain every day, Guowei usually travelled with a specific few of them, just because he happened to get out of SFSU at the same time as they left their jobs and schools. A huge city to live in, and Guowei was stuck with the same damn people, over and over, having to watch them play games on their expensive phones and rub their good colleges and jobs in his face.
Sam had been forced to stop their book mid-sentence when classes had started, and they eagerly pulled out their book now, ignoring the law homework that awaited them when they got home. They found their place and started consuming the words, getting lost in the story as the train started to move. There was no more pleasant way to spend this endless train ride.
Josiah felt the movement of the train beneath him and heard a few of the noises that meant the train was starting through his earbuds. He was surprised that they were moving already, the car seemed surprisingly empty, only about seven people not including him. It didn’t concern him, though, and he was glad to have a seat, not to mention a row to himself. This rarely happened.
Ella took out a highlighter as the train began to sway and move, pulling out one of her med textbooks and going through the next lesson. As always, when she bent to highlight something, it was like the stroke of a sword, making a squeaking sound, and often bleeding through to the next page. Ella had tried to change the way she did it, once or twice. She found that she didn’t care enough to really work at it.
Ivy watched as the trainyard began to fall back, tracks surrounded by buildings and streets taking shape. They began to blur together as well. Ivy focused on a single person, a woman with a red sweater, and watched as she whipped past the train. Ivy craned her neck far in both directions, trying to watch where the woman was going, though the sweater was eventually lost in the crowds. Ivy found a few more people to watch—whoop, whoop, whoop, each one moving by as if in fast motion. She focused on the tops of the buildings, tracing a line along the skyscrapers with her eyes. The car suddenly went black as they dipped into the first tunnel, and light again once they surfaced.
The train jerked to a halt at the 22nd Street station. Guowei heard the door open and watched as a few people entered and went through the car, leaving for the next ones. Three people left, one entered. Guowei glanced out of the window at the trainyard. He could read the multitudes of graffiti that littered the walls. The signs of gang violence just made him feel bitter towards his home in Menlo Park. All of the richest cities in the Bay Area—he knew that they could be doing more, they just refused to help the less fortunate. There was no greater evil than willfully ignoring the problems of others. His backpack banged against his leg as he lowered it, and he felt the outline of his square survival kit cutting at him. What a day.
Awkwardly, Corin walked down the aisle, the train feeling unsteady under him. He knew that it was built well, but it still felt fragile, the metal easily torn or stomped through, the windows able to open with just a few pushes and pulls. He spotted a few unfriendly glances thrown his way from the people on this car and ignored them, throwing himself down in the back row of the train car. He opened up Safari and continued reading the fanfiction he had started late last night. The light coming in through the window was too bright for the screen. Annoying.
His phone buzzed. U there?
Corin texted a smiley face back to his girlfriend, and she was prompt with her response. Thinking about u. Quickly, Corin texted his reply: same babe. The three dots of typing appeared for a moment, and then disappeared. Corin tried to remember what work he had to do, and then decided to worry about it later, flicking back to his Safari tab, wondering if Tara wanted to do one of the weird sex things right now. A conductor opened the heavy metal door and closed it, and Corin held up his ticket again as the man walked through the car and into the next one.
The train started again, making the way to Bayshore, rolling and jerking and swaying, all of which Sam realized sounded sexual when put in the wrong context. They bit their lip, trying to stop thinking about weird stuff on the train, but they had just realized that that guy who had totally been jerking off a few months ago was in their train car right now. Sam went red involuntarily. God, I’m immature. They tried to focus on their book again, on the rapidly-turning-rural landscape outside, on the gum stains on the floor of the car.
The train dipped into the second tunnel on the route, and Ella’s ears popped slightly. She brushed her face as if she was swatting a mosquito, as if that would help the unpleasant feeling. The train car was still lit up with the bright lights on either side of the car, and a good amount of light came from the phones and computers of the six people in the car. It was still far too empty, and seemed wrong for the Caltrain. Ella didn’t focus on it. They continued on their way.
After a little while, Corin noticed that his phone screen was still far too bright. He glanced out of the window again. It was still dark out there. Corin thought that it had been a long time since they had gone into the tunnel. Shouldn’t they have come out by now? He listened to the train car, which had lulled into a silence punctuated by someone typing on a computer. Something felt very off about that.
They were all silent, as silent as the train car was. After a few minutes (the car was still dark), Josiah stopped typing. It was completely silent, no clack of rails or rush of wind. That was completely wrong, everyone in the car knew it. Ella was the one to break the silence. “How long have we been in this tunnel?” She felt stupid talking to a car full of people that she didn’t know, but that didn’t matter.
“Too long,” Josiah answered, glancing at the girl he was responding to and then looking around the car. “Tunnels don’t last this long.”
“Usually five seconds,” Ella agreed. “If not less.” She wondered why no one else was joining in the conversation.
Corin spoke up. “I can’t send a text. My phone says there’s service, but…”
They all checked their phones except for Ivy. They all were connected to something, but none of them could send texts. The outside was still dark. The car was still silent.
“We must’ve stopped moving,” Guowei decided. He heard one of the other people scoff and mutter something about time. First world problems, Guowei sighed to himself. These Bay Area people didn’t realize how good they had it. At least he was able to check his privilege. He unzipped his backpack. There were some emergency flares in there, along with other survival things. His mother had packed them, paranoid about something like this happening. She’d be so self-satisfied when he told her this story.
Sam thought that the theory of the train being stopped was a good one, but they weren’t convinced. If that was true, wouldn’t they have heard an announcement by now? They stood, moving to the front door, and moving into the connecting chamber and then the next car. Startled, they looked out onto a car that was completely empty. Quickly, feeling very unnerved, they went back to the car with the other five people and were relieved to see that the other people were still there.
“It’s empty,” Sam reported.
“That can’t be right,” said Josiah. “That’s impossible.”
The intercom crackled on and they all flinched.
“Attention, passengers,” the voice on the other end said. “I apologize for not making this more clear earlier. This train is not going to San Jose. We are currently on our way to Hell. Again, I apologize for the oversight.”
It crackled off, leaving utter silence in the car.
Um, Sam thought, um...that can’t be right. Uh...what?!
Ella was the first to speak. “No. It’s a prank.”
There were voices stating agreement, but Sam wasn’t sure. There was no one else on the train, and the tunnel was unnaturally dark and silent. It wasn’t a good explanation, to be sure, but it was seeming more and more like a genuine reason for why they didn’t seem to be moving.
The intercom crackled on again, and Ivy waited for it to state that it was just a prank. Instead, the voice said, “Michiko—sorry, Sam Tanaka, despite what you think, we are in fact on the move. It’s just hard to tell from the inside of this boat—I mean, train. Sorry, I get these things mixed up.”
The person that Josiah assumed was Sam went pale. Weak, Josiah thought, before pushing those thoughts away. As much as Josiah liked evaluating other people to gauge how much of a threat they could be to him, that wouldn’t be useful right now. He might have to work with these people if he wanted to get out of here. And as distasteful as that was, he definitely wanted to get out of here.
“Oh, there’s no getting out, Josiah Gutierrez,” the intercom said again. Trick, Guowei thought to himself, some people must think that it’s funny, the assholes. “And Guowei Zhou, it would be very helpful if you would actually accept that this isn’t a trick. You are all on the way to Hell. The sooner you accept that, the sooner...actually, your acceptance won’t do anything, but it’ll probably make this a lot easier for me. And it’ll be nice if you get this done with before seeing the fiery gates, you know?
“This is not a joke,” the voice repeated. “This is not a trick. And you best—Ella Hayek, get away from the window!”
Ella ignored the voice, reading the directions on the emergency window and then grabbing the black handle. Suddenly, a red shape threw itself out of the darkness. Ella screamed and stumbled backwards as the figure slammed into the window, bouncing back and flying back into the darkness.
“What the Hell is that thing?!”
“Oh my God!” Sam was the first to realize that no matter how religious any of them were, God had probably abandoned them completely. They looked at the window, feeling sick at the hairline crack. Then they sat back down in their seat, pulling their legs to their chest. What is...what is…
“Once again, we are on the train to Hell,” the conductor announced. “You had best resign yourselves to this fact.”