The corpse reclined on the floor of the bathroom; vivid red blood streaking and staining the white tiles. Takeo gazed at it with folded arms; Kerī sat next to him, scratching behind her ears with a hind leg paying no attention to the red liquid that sneaked its way towards her.
“Messy.” Maikeru mused as he stuck his head around the doorframe, barging Takeo a little with his pointy shoulders. “Well, I better get moving.”
“What? You can’t just leave me here! What do I do next?” Takeo squeaked, panic obviously trembling in his voice. Before Maikeru had chance to groan with exasperation a chugging, churning sound began to perforate the noiseless void that was the bathroom. Takeo whipped around, his hair catching in the current of the disturbed air. He stared, wide eyed as the far wall began to ripple and distort, almost as though steam were running across the tiles. The roaring deepened. Loud screeching pulled closer and closer until with a rush of noise, light and heat a great steam train poured through the shimmering hole in the undulating wall. The immense red and black monster pulled into the bathroom with the full force of hell and screamed to a halt inches away from the far wall; sparks flying from the wheels as they grated deep grooves into the floor tiles.
Takeo coughed heavily and took a few stumbling steps backward, slipping in the thick, red blood that now surrounded him. Steam bellowed from every opening and the hiss that resonated from the cooling equipment almost sounded like distant screams. As the mist began to clear Takeo could just begin to distinguish the outline of a man. Maikeru groaned loudly to himself and sauntered away into the cubical where he sat making notes and prodding the lifeless body that lay there.
Takeo crept forward cautiously, considering recent events attentiveness was best exercised here. Waving his hands in front of his face to clear his field of vision his eyes fell upon that huge black shape materialising out of the fog. Tall and lanky with a bulbous head the man before him sat slouched in his conductor’s chair. One long leg casually draped itself over the controls that sat to the left of him and the arms tucked behind his head seemed to stretch unnaturally far. His eroded boots had holes wearing in the tops and the laces hung limp and broken at the sides. His once brown boiler suit was now black with soot and dust from hundreds of years’ worth of use; holes gaped at the seams and the ripped ends of sleeves waved in the breeze. He gazed at the floor, unmoving, his black bowler hat and long bright red hair obscuring his face.
“Choo, choo motherfuckers.” His voice resonated off every tile, carrying around the room with an air of authority that Takeo envied. Kerī’s ears pricked up at the sound and she abandoned her search for food in the dead man’s pockets. Creeping towards the train with caution she began to whimper a little. Takeo gazed down at her as she tentatively put one fluffy paw onto the carriage. Slowly, she pulled her whole self-up into the train, her little face taking on a sad and bemused look as she crept forward and sat herself by the man’s side, contemplating him with huge eyes.
Takeo crept forward. “Who are you, exactly?” he asked tentatively.
The man said nothing, the slight chugging of the locomotive quietly breaking the silence. Maikeru stepped forward and leaned against the side of the train.
“This is Reeshna. He comes to take the deceased to hell, to Muzo and Guzo. He delivers your payments of souls.”
The man growled a little from the front seat of the train, Kerī gazed up at him with her vast, glassy eyes from the face that now rested on her paws. Takeo threw Maikeru a questioning look.
“He’s not all that keen on demons.”
“You coming or not, yo?” Reeshna called out, not really aiming his question at anyone in particular. Pointing one long finger over Takeo’s head he waved the digit in the direction of the body. Hooking his finger upwards he curled it slowly towards his body and snapped it back to touch his palm. A startling yellow and red light poured from the cadaver and a wispy form began to weave upwards into the air, taking the form of the man whose soul it had once been. Stepping over his own legs the spirit crept towards the train, his translucent hands outstretched before him as he gazed through them at his own blood pooling on the floor. Takeo, looked away, guilt flooding him at the sight of the horrified spirit floating its way into the passenger carriage and taking a mournful seat at the back. He was quickly wrenched from his stupor as Maikeru grabbed him by the collar and hoisted him up into the driver’s cab.
“Hell waits for no man, Takeo.”
Reeshna planted both booted feet up on the controls ledge and pulled with all his might on the gigantic lever in front of him. The train screeched and moaned as it shunted lethargically forward. The bathroom began to shimmer and distort as the gateway to hell opened up like a great, black cavernous mouth before them.
Reeshna looked up at Takeo from under the brim of his bowler hat, deep black eyes screwed through him with a cold, hard look that made him feel uncomfortable.
“You might want to hold on to something.”
Reaching to his left Takeo managed to grab an iron bar jutting from the side of the train just as it plummeted downwards at a steep angle. His eyes streamed with water as a hot blast of air ripped through the carriage and the ever gaining momentum of the train tugged on his hair and clothes. The fall seemed endless; they could see nothing through the pitch black of the hole. Only intense heat and an ominous orange glow from the engine fires penetrated the suffocating gloom. After a great deal of time had passed Reeshna shuffled himself in his seat and assumed a more upright position.
“Here we are. Get ready now!” He called out over the squeal of the breaks as he slammed the lever back towards the control panel in front of him. With a sudden burst of shocking white light the train ripped through the blackness of the tunnel and into a large open cavern. Shrieking and screaming hit Takeo’s ears with the force of a hurricane. On the ground below them many luminous souls drifted aimless from one torture to another, some sobbing, some yelping but all in eternal agony. The pit of burning fire sat in the middle of the floor, marring the jagged rock and splitting the edges of the hole with its intense heat. Different demons crawled, slithered and strode around the expanse of space crowing with delight at the destruction and misery that surrounded them. Horror had filled Takeo as they pulled to a squealing stop inches above the parched ground; sickness welling up within him.
“Two steps from Hell! Thank you for choosing Demonic Railways, we’ll never see you again.” Reeshna called out and the soul that he had acquired from the bathroom half stepped, half fell out of the carriage. The eyes of every demon swiveled in their undead heads to gaze at this new arrival. Some grinned in a macabre and twisted way, some drooled with the prospect of a fresh torture and some howled with pure glee. Several lurched forward with demonic delight and swept the poor ethereal entity up into their arms and carried him away to the pits of hell; his shrieks bouncing off the cavernous walls to mingle with the hundreds of others doomed to an eternity of torment.
“Why do they need so many souls?” Takeo whispered to no one in particular.
“Guzo and Muzo can only survive off the pain of others. Their very being relies on the endless destruction of a man’s soul. They thrive upon it.” Reeshna explained with an air of bitterness in his voice. Standing up he reached his arms up to the ceiling; his bones cracking loudly he stretched out the kinks of days at work. Reaching to his boiler suit he undid the zip that ran from his collar bone to hips, revealing a glimpse at what looked like a three piece suit.
Maikeru raised an eyebrow in Reeshna’s general direction, “Still sporting the suits I see.”
“Suits are cool, yo.” Reeshna retorted, not meeting Maikeru’s gaze as he stepped out of the boiler suit. He straightened up and Takeo was shocked at his enormous size. He towered over everyone else in the train. The black suit he wore defining his muscle tone and giving him a more human appearance. Hopping from the train onto the sands of hell below he held out a hand to Takeo to help him make the jump.
As he stepped down next to their driver with a heavy thump he felt the man pull him in close.
“A man in your position must be one of two things, desperate or stupid. You don’t come across as the stupid type so I’m guessing you’re here because you made a deal. A word of advice, trust nothing and no one, your deal is not all that it seems.” Takeo pulled back to give the man a frantic and confused look.
“Find The Blacksmith. He can help you.” Straightening up Reeshna winked. “You got this, bro.” Clamping a comforting hand to Takeo’s shoulder he nodded at Maikeru and turned, his open formal jacket flapping around him in the hot breeze.
As he became a black speck against the red flames that jumped from the pit of hell, the drums of the demonic gatekeepers could be heard, rolling on the air from somewhere in the darkness. Takeo looked up at Maikeru who was still gazing after Reeshna with the same blank expression upon his face.
“Can we trust him?” He asked, Reeshna’s own words echoing in his mind.
“Trust him.” Kerī muttered. Her companions turned to look at her, surprised by her sudden vocalism. She looked up to lock eyes with Takeo, sincerity shining in their glassy surface and repeated: “Trust him” her voice ringing with conviction.
“Well then.” Takeo said, stretching out a hand to touch Kerī’s soft head. “You better take me to The Blacksmith.”