She jolted back to consciousness as the ground swayed and clacked beneath her back. Her breath came in pants as the inevitable questions ran through her mind. “Where am I? What happened? Where did that monster go? How am I still alive?” She eased herself to a sitting position as her vision cleared, and the pounding in her head lowered its volume to a dull roar. A quick look around told her that she was on a moving train, hurtling along on a set of unknown tracks, at a speed that made her stomach cramp in fear.
She pulled herself to her feet, gripping an empty seat for support, just as a jet of steam shot past the window with a hiss. She squeaked as her knees went weak, but managed to stay upright. “We’re going to crash,’ she muttered. “We’re going to crash and I’m going to die.”
“Do not worry, Deja,” said a voice very near her ear. “We will not harm you. Not unless the Master says.” Releasing an undignified yelp, Deja spun and scrambled backward, away from the sudden presence. Her mouth went dry, and alarm bells clanged in her head as her eyes struggled to make sense of what she was seeing.
The being … creature … thing was an elongated shadow, standing nearly eight feet high. It’s head scraped the ceiling at an angle, making an unpleasant scritching sound as it moved closer. It lifted an appendage, an arm, Deja assumed, and beckoned toward her with sharp, curved talons instead of the hands she expected to see.
“We will not harm you,” it repeated itself with a gravelly voice. “Master says to sit and relax for the journey.”
“What journey?” Deja croaked. She coughed and swallowed to clear her throat. “What journey?” she asked again. “Where are you taking me?”
The creature made a noise of distress. “You have no recall. We have damaged you without permission. Master will be most displeased with us.” It raised its talon-hand and struck itself in the face. “Master will be displeased with us!” Dark liquid splattered the walls and floor, glowing briefly before vanishing. Another jet of steam blew past the window, fogging the glass and partially obscuring the view, as Deja cycled through several emotions at the scene in front of her.
A strange whine and click distracted her. She turned her attention to the window, since the sound seemed to be coming from outside. Deja squinted at the figures in the distance, eyes widening in disbelief as four pale, translucent horses galloped alongside the speeding train. Shaking her head wildly, Deja gave up trying to stand, and collapsed into the first seat she came to.
“This can’t be real,” she whimpered. “Things like this only happen in books. Wait a minute,” she said, snapping her fingers. “BOOKS! I knew this seemed familiar. I was writing this story!” She giggled. “This is only a dream. I’m fine. I’ll wake up any second now.”
“ARE YOU SURE ABOUT THAT, DEJA?” a frighteningly familiar voice boomed.
The shadow creature dropped to its knees. “Master! Please forgive us! She is damaged!”
Deja stared, helpless and scared, as a perfect copy of herself arose from the floor of the train. “Honey,” called the apparition, “I’m home.”
Sumayyah Talibah 12 May 2019 * Originally published on the now-defunct (as of 24 January 2020) Narrative.org