The three men burst through the door as the wind buffeted them on all sides. Tommy’s breath came in ragged gasps as a cramp assaulted his side. Behind him, Sam groaned loudly. They’d done their best to keep up as they ran from car to car. Quickly, the Conductor reached for the door handle that would get them to the next train car, which was still as empty as the previous. Beneath their feet, the train tracks whipped passed in a blur. Screeches tore the air and Tommy’s anxiety returned, hitting him in the gut.
“It’s locked!” The Conductor shouted over his shoulder. The wind was a torrent that took his words. “Probably didn’t want us to have a way out if we got passed him. Give me a moment,” he said as he fished in his pocket for his keys. Tommy did his best to look straight ahead, and ignore the flashing scenery. In the middle of getting his keys, the Conductor went rigid. “I don’t feel so good,” he said so weakly that Tommy barely heard him speak.
The Conductor fell.
Tommy reacted on pure instinct as his arms reached under the Conductor’s shoulders and caught him just as he was about to fall onto the tracks.
“I got you! Hang onto me!” Tommy yelled more so out of his own fear than over the noise. The Conductor mumbled incoherently, but managed to clasp Harold’s thick forearms. Tommy could feel the Conductor’s weight pulling him forward and down, as the train tracks drew closer and closer.
“I got you!” Sam shouted as his hand closed around Tommy’s shoulder. Without his free hand to grab onto anything, though, his attempt was mostly futile. Tommy was losing his footing, and if he didn’t pull the Conductor to his feet, they were both going to fall onto the tracks. Tommy search frantically around for a solution—anything that would provide a way out.
The keys were in the lock to the next car.
It was a way in! All Tommy had to do was reach up, twist the key, and the door would open just enough for them to stumble inside. He did his best to readjust the Conductor in his grip, holding him tightly under one arm. He let go and with his free hand reached up to the key. Immediately, the Conductor slipped down and almost slid out of his grip, but Tommy reached down and grabbed him again with both hands. The Conductor’s foot was only inches off the ground. Sweat and fear dotted Tommy’s forehead. He positioned the Conductor in his grip again. Tommy knew that he had one shot as the Conductor slumped lower in his arms. Frantically, he reached out with his free hand.
The key was in his grip.
Tommy turned as the Conductor started to fall out of his embrace.
With a grunt and all the power he had stored in Harold’s legs, Tommy dragged the Conductor and himself into the train car. Together, the two of them fell onto the floor in a tangled heap. Tommy’s breath came in ragged gasps as he pulled himself free from the Conductor. Behind them, Sam closed the door with a jerk.
“It seems,” Thomas Rice said weakly, “that I have fallen ill, my friend.” Indeed, the Conductor was sick. His face was pale and there were deep, dark circles around his eyes. “But, there’s no time to delay. We must keep going,” he suggested as he rose to his feet, using the seats to pull him up. Tommy stood, too, though much faster.
“Are you sure you can make it?” Tommy asked.
“I must make it,” the Conductor concluded. Without further explanation, the Conductor turned and faced the train cars ahead. Tommy watched him take a deep, steadying breath. He glanced at Sam whose face was grim.
“I’m right behind you if you need me,” Tommy provided. The Conductor nodded and then took an uneasy step forward. Once confidence returned, the three of them continued down the empty train car. Though he hesitated at the junction between the empty car and the next, the Conductor did not slip this time as he put the key in the lock.
Once Tommy was in the next car, he immediately wished he was still in the empty one. The sight in front of his eyes was horrible and terrifying as the two of them were met with the sound of pain and suffering.
“Good God,” the Conductor said under his breath.
Everyone was sick.
“Please, sir. Can you help us?” A woman begged as she dabbed the head of another woman who was limp in her seat.
“Do you know what’s going on!?” A man shouted from another seat a few rows up. His face looked haggard and his eyes were deep wells of disease.
“Yeah! What’s going on? This is your train. Why are we all sick?” Another man shouted. Sores pocketed his arms as they dripped with dark fluid.
“Please, help my daughter. She grew faint and won’t wake up,” a mother begged as she cradled her child in her arms. The little girl had vomit crusted on her blue and white dress, but otherwise she looked like she was merely sleeping.
“As soon as we get to San Francisco, I’m logging a complaint against the whole establishment!” Another commuter shouted. The barrage of voices, accusations, and suffering overwhelmed Tommy. His eyes darted to feverish, fearful faces. People were slumped over in their chairs, moaning and clutching their aching bodies.
“What’s the plan? How are you going to help us!?”
“Yeah! What are you going to do!?”
People started to press in upon them, desperate for something that might give them hope. Tommy and the Conductor were being backed up, and Tommy could hear the Conductor trying his best to speak over the people, but even he could barely hear the man. He felt Sam behind him and knew they’d run out of room.
“Silence!” Tommy bellowed through a voice matured by years and adulthood. Immediately, the mass of angry and scared people calmed as their voices died to a dull mumble. “We are doing everything we can right now to find a solution. Please,” Tommy began as his voice softened, “be patient with us. We are close to figuring this out.”
“How close!?” A man with a sweat stain on his button up shirt asked. His tie hung loose around his neck, and his eyes were wild with pain.
“Close,” the Conductor stated firmly. “Just give us a little more time, and we will fix all of this. I promise,” he said. The words were enough as the men and women loosened their circle around the pair and wandered back to their seats. Some put their heads down, while others took back over taking care of friends and family. The Conductor turned to Tommy.
“This is going to be how the whole train appears. We must hurry.” Tommy nodded, knowing that unfortunately he was right. Tommy took a deep breath and followed after the Conductor’s unsteady steps.