**I wrote this short story about 12 years ago, it was going to be my entry into the Stephen King: On Writing comp but I didn’t enter, it’s a pretty predictable story I think but worth a post**
Lying in the base of the toilet bowl was the severed thumb.
Tate’s hand automatically went to his jacket pocket. It was empty. No thumb, no plastic bag. Empty.
Hearing the hiss of the door at the other end of the carriage he turned sharply, but there was no one there. Tate realised that the doors were open to the other carriages and he could still hear the faint murmuring of the mobile phone back in the last cab.
Standing rigid in the doorway of the cubicle, staring back through the open carriages, listening to the calling trill of the phone, Tate felt the first tendrils of fear creeping up his backbone into his neck.
Considering the nature of his business, Tate was not one to let fear take over him so readily. It was his job to instill fear in others.
He was quite used to seeing their wide-eyed stares as they realised why he had come to pay a visit. Some tried to run. Some found an essence of bravado and tried to fight. But in the end, they could not escape that look of all-consuming fear as they realised now was their time.
Once Tate had killed someone when standing in front of full-length bedroom mirrors. He had looked into the eyes of his victim, watching observantly as he squeezed the life out of the man. The man’s eyeballs had bulged from their sockets, not just in pain, but also with a look of such fear and dread.
Often thinking back to that time, Tate had wondered whether it had been a fear of him, or a fear of what was waiting once death had come to take the man’s body.
As far as Tate was concerned, once you were dead; well, you were dead.
Forcing himself to look back into the toilet bowl, he could see the thumb was still there, though on second glance, he could see that the staring eye tattoo was obscured by something that glinted in the harsh fluorescent overhead lights.
Not wanting to get his face too near to the toilet bowl, he leaned over very slightly to make a closer inspection.
It was a gold ring, something like a wedding band, which now encircled the lower knuckle hiding the cold stare of the eye-tattoo.
Curiosity getting the better of him, Tate found himself plunging his right arm into the water to grab the digit, which was now icy to touch.
It was a gold ring and it came off easily in his hand. It was very smooth but felt slightly greasy to touch and as he turned it round he noticed there was an inscription etched onto the inside of the band.
Tate assumed it was a name, but no name that he had ever come across before. It sounded foreign, Greek maybe. It was certainly no one he knew, so why was this ring – Asmodeous’ ring – on the severed thumb of his last victim? And how did the thumb get to be in the toilet of this compartment?
Perhaps he had fallen asleep after all. Perhaps somebody had come and taken the thumb out of his pocket, whilst he had been sleep. Perhaps he was being set up.
He had been employed to do somebody else’s dirty work, he knew about too many seedy contract jobs. Maybe now they wanted him dead.
Tate gave a low chuckle and shook his head. Man, this train really was messing with his head.
If his employers really wanted him dead, they would not go to the lengths of spooking him out on a late night train journey home.
But he needed to find out what was going on, fast. If this was not the work of his employers, then who was behind it?
The irritating buzz of the mobile phone continued and it dawned on Tate that if someone had been trying to call the owner of the phone, surely they would have realised that person was not there and they would have rung off by now.
Tate stared down the aisles of the carriages, suddenly feeling a tinge of claustrophobic panic. The train was still travelling at quite a speed; there was no way he could get off. It appeared to be moving through some kind of tunnel, but Tate had no idea where this tunnel might be leading. He could not see through the windows into the tunnel beyond, all he could see was the reflection of the inside of the carriage and his face, staring wide-eyed into the blackness. Even if the train slowed down or stopped, he still would not know which way to go.
It seemed to Tate that the only choice was to answer the phone.
Putting the thumb back in his jacket pocket, he inspected the ring once again. For one moment he even thought about placing the ring on his finger, but its greasy touch made him feel slightly queasy and for some inexplicable reason he felt reluctant to wear the band. He placed it in the jacket pocket together with the tattooed digit.
Hesitating for what seemed like ages, Tate took a very deep breath and began striding back up the aisle towards the humming phone.
As he passed by a flickering laptop, he noticed words across the screen:
As Tate looked at the screen the words were repeated again and again as if someone was constantly hitting the return button. With a choking cry, Tate leant forward and slammed the lid of the laptop shut as if it would stop the growing horror that was fast taking hold of his bones.
The lights of the carriage flickered on and off and for once instant Tate could see outside of the windows.
It was a tunnel, but there was no cables or signs of any kind, like you might see when using the Underground. The walls seemed bare and smooth.
Tate turned and ran through the remaining carriages, hearing the hiss of each compartment door as it closed behind him.
The phone was still vibrating on the table, buzzing across the surface.
Tate grabbed it and stabbed at the green answer button with his index finger.
“Hello Frank. I was wondering when you were going to pick up. Really, it’s quite rude to leave a caller waiting for so long.”
The man’s voice was mockingly rebuking.
“Who is this?” croaked Tate, “and what the hell is going on with this train?”
“Do not think of it so much as a train, Frank, more of a doorway to your next life.”
“My next life? I kind of like the life I’ve got thanks. Have you got something to do with my employers? Did they put you up to this?”
“Your previous employers have relieved you of your contract, Frank. Think of this as some much-needed career guidance towards a better future, because as it stands I think your future looks pretty bleak, don’t you?”
“My future was looking pretty rosy until I got on this train, thank you very much. Now who the hell are you?” Tate growled down the phone.
“You already know my name. You have something which belongs to me.”
Tate’s hand went instinctively to his jacket pocket and pulled out the ring. Asmodeous. The caller was Asmoedous?
“Yes Frank. Now let me introduce myself properly. My name is Asmodeous, or you might also hear me called Ashmodai. I am what you might call a Guardian or a Keeper. Your desire for fortune and your methods of acquiring it have not gone unnoticed. I have a vacancy of a man such as you, Frank. You are just what I have been looking for.”
Tate was incredulous.
“You are offering me a job?”
“You find that hard to believe, Frank? I am a Keeper of treasure. I hold a hidden fortune of unimaginable value.”
“So if you are so rich, then why do you need me to help you?” Tate felt a prickle of curiosity about this man, and more to the point, curiosity about his supposed wealth.
“Because we are never satisfied, are we Frank? Take you for instance, you live quite a comfortable life. Yet you still continue to work. Now either you continue to work because you need the money, or you continue to work simply because you like to kill. Now there are some who believe the latter statement, which is why you are on this train, Frank. I can help you get off.”
Tate looked around the carriage. The air in the compartment seemed thin and the walls appeared like they could crush the life out of him at any moment. The need to get off this ghost train was unbearable.
“It doesn’t seem like I have much choice, so I? How else am I supposed to get off this damn thing?”
“Frank, there is always a choice. You could simply wait until the train stops.”
“What?” breathed Tate, “you mean this train is actually going to stop somewhere?”
Asmodeous chuckled. “Of course. But the question is where will it stop? And what is waiting for you at the end of your journey?”
“I don’t think I understand.” Tate’s hopes fell.
“Oh I think you do, Frank. Like I said, there are many who believe that you live simply to kill others. These people are waiting for you at the other end. When you get there, you will be expected to explain your actions. You will be judged for your all your past deeds, Frank and then they will decide what happens to you.”
All of a sudden, Tate could feel the weight of the severed thumb hiding in his pocket as if it was a beacon, alerting all to its presence and how it came to be there.
“Frank, do not be too down hearted. After all, if you feel you can adequately explain your past, and most recent, actions, then you will have nothing to worry about. Maybe you were forced into your current occupation. Maybe you had no choice. Maybe underneath it all, you can prove that you really are a nice guy, not just a cold-hearted hitman, killing low-lives for cash. Is that something you can do, Frank?”
Tate thought back to the man he murdered whilst standing in front of the mirrors. He thought about the look of terror in that mans eyes. He thought back to each time after that. How he had stood behind the victim, how he closed his eyes as he wrenched the life out of each person. How he pictured that look of fear in their eyes as he killed them, smiling at the very thought of it.
Tate knew the answer to Amodeous’ question.
“What do I have to do?” he asked.
“Take the ring from your jacket pocket and place it on your finger. The train will stop, but do not worry. I will be waiting for you.”
Then Asmodeous ended the call. The line went dead.
Without hesitating, Tate took the ring from his pocket and held it in front of him. What choice did he have?
He slipped the ring onto his finger and as Asmodeous had promised the train slowed, then halted, finally.
Tate went to the door and looked out on the station where he had first caught the train.
“What the hell?” he exclaimed.
Half-fearing to open the door but also dreading that the train might start moving again, Tate pushed the handle and stepped out onto the platform.
The platform seemed much busier than before, considering the late hour. A crowd of people gathered around something on the floor. Station workers seemed to swarm around the crowd, darting here and there, panic and worry on their faces.
Tate looked around but could not see any sign of this ‘Asmodeous’.
He walked towards the hustle of people, craning his neck to see through the crowd to catch a peek of what was on the floor. A crack of space appeared between two people and Tate was able to see what had caused so much interest.
He looked down in horror as his own face looked back up at him.
There was a wide crack in his skull, blood pouring out onto the platform, his eyes were open and wide, but there was no life within, only a look of dread and fear.”
“I don’t understand,” he shook his head disbelieving.
“It’s quite simple, Frank,” said the voice behind him and a hand rested on his shoulder.
“You are dead. You never made it off the platform. You were rushing so much to catch the train, you fell. You cracked your skull on the floor and you died. Massive brain haemorrhage.”
In a blink, Tate remembered tripping and falling, falling and hearing the splintering snap as his forehead met the concrete beneath him. He remembered watching the train pull away, seeing the remaining staff member on the train banging at the door and mouthing something to him. Not to him, but to the other workers on the platform, alerting them to Tate’s accident. He remembers lying there, unable to move, watching the blood draining out of the fissure in his skull onto the platform in front of him.
“Ready for your new job, Frank?”
Tate glanced at the hand resting on his shoulder, noting the thinning cracked skin and the long un-filed nails.
He looked back once at his body lying on the platform surface, and then turned to face his new employer.
The demon Asmodeous.
Copyright (c) Lindsey Clarke 2010