The Cold Dark
John Biggs presents a vignette from the world of Mytro, his new young-adult novel about a secret train system that can take you anywhere in the world. [5m read time]
411 arrived at the small Rambla station just as the men were beginning to realize they were trapped. The taller of the two pushed at the door and found that it gave slightly. He pushed again, and suddenly he was whisked through to the other side. The Mytro had let him escape.
The other man rattled the door and rattled it again. Each time he opened the door, the wind from the tunnels slammed the door shut, trapping him. He tried to push a shoulder through, to chock the door with his foot, but he could not. It would open just a crack and then shut again. The Mytro was having its fun.
Slowly, the man realized he wasn’t alone. He looked up at the Nayzun, now coming down from the ceiling of the tunnel like a spider climbing down a wall. 411 had nothing to say to him.
The hired man turned white and stank of fear.
A train pulled into the small station and stopped with a screech. A ribbon of dust, disturbed by the wheels, puffed up at the Nayzun’s feet. 411 stood by the door and gestured toward the train with his long fingers.
This is your train, the Nayzun said. The hired man stepped back. The Nayzun had a voice like a clattering on a set of distant tracks, the howl of a whistle through a tunnel, a distant crash. The man shook his head—No!—and the Nayzun was impassive. He stood before the human and gestured toward the train.
You can board the train and it will take you home, said 411. You will never ride this train again. Or you can stay here and fight.
411 had an inkling that the man would make the wrong choice. The Mytro seemed to know his mind better than the human did. All the humans ever wanted to do was fight. The train bell dinged and the doors closed.
The hired man pulled his pistol from his shoulder holster and aimed. The human fired, and the bullet thunked into the side of the departing train, splintering some of the wooden molding. He fired again, and the Nayzun was on the ceiling, his hands clinging to the surface of the tunnel using an energy that crackled like electricity and filled the room with the scent of ozone.
The Mytro did not take long to respond to this affront. 411 could hear the rails, steel wires in the dark, howling in anger. The darkness from both ends of the tunnel poured into the small station and began to roll over the trackbed and then up onto the platform. The man watched in horror as the darkness spread, covering the floor, crawling up the walls, inch by inch. The darkness flowed like water and began to lap at his shoes. The Mytro was angry and 411 heard it scream like bridge wires snapping in high winds or the sound of a dozen animals caught in a wire cage.
411 came down to be close to the man as he died. He screamed as the Nayzun grasped his wrist. The pain was clearly unbearable, and anger and fear froze on his face.
“Stop!” he yelled.
The woman, the girl’s mother. Where?
“Manduria, Italy. The refugee camp. She’s not hurt.” The Nayzun nodded sadly. So you are trying it as well? “What? Trying what?” Theft, said the Nayzun. Slavery.
411 let go of the man’s wrist, and he crumbled onto the platform. His wrist was red but not injured. The darkness rose high enough to engulf the man. It rose over his head until he slowly disappeared into the darkness, his body covered inch by inch in a black flood. He had seemed passive during the experience, but perhaps fear shut his mouth and eyes. The darkness began to recede.
The Nayzun climbed along the ceiling and onto the top of an arriving train. The train’s wheels sloshed through the darkness like a streetcar through a puddle. The darkness oozed off the front and sides of the train, leaving no residue. When the flood had receded, the man was gone.
In a way, 411 pitied the man, in the way a cat pities a mouse being devoured by a tiger. It was, in short, an unfair fight. The hired man never knew what was coming.
But 411 knew the simple rule: Everyone who took the Mytro by force or destroyed its foundations was punished. Of that 411 was certain.
Mytro is available now
Fantasy author Charlie “Oversight/Paradox” Fletcher says, “I wrote this as a Christmas story for my friends and family in 2010, seven years after the Iraq War began, eighteen months after the Chilcot Inquiry into it was announced. Six years further on Chilcot has finally reported. Because of that, and prompted by last week’s incredibly moving WW1/Battle of the Somme living memorial in the UK , it seems like a good time to share it again.”
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