Fire everywhere, blinding Nathan as he stumbled through the forest. He gasped, choking on the heavy smoke that lay in the air. A tree fell down, the tip of a branch tearing down the side of his arm. But he couldn’t stop, not even think about the blood running down his fresh wound. Loud police sirens rung in the distance, mixing with the loud crackle of forest fire and the deafening thump of falling trees. He had nearly escaped. Nearly. He began coughing violently, as a sudden dizziness hit him. The world spun around him as darkness began vignetting his vision. Desperately, he ran through the burning woods, it was well past midnight, police chasing after him, blood running down his arm, hardly in control of his own body. Finally, he tripped over a log, landing hard onto the side of his head. A pain shook through his head, and almost instantaneously, everything went black.
It was a rainy evening when Jack received the call. He was sitting in his chair, at his desk, idly flipping through ledgers and documents. The air was so full of the taste of smoke that Jack didn’t even bother lighting his cigar. It had been a long day. Mostly paperwork, which he had always thought to be a waste of his time. Suffice to say when he heard his phone ring that evening he jumped at the opportunity to ignore his work, even for just a moment. But Jack wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen.
“Hello, Jack Spades.” A strange, uncannily familiar deep voice crackled through the old phone. “If you ever want to see your wife again, board the westbound train at seven PM tomorrow.” The mystery man’s voice was full of malice and demand. Jack had been around enough criminals to know that this wasn’t a hollow threat.
Jack arrived at the train stop that evening a half hour early. Fog lay thick in the air, a cool breeze scattering leaves across the ground. He sat in silence on the bench, his throat burning from the frosty air. Fall was coming to an end and winter was just around the corner. It was unusually quiet. And so he sat, tense and fearful, listening to leaves scrape against the cold pavement.
The silence was broken suddenly by the distant clunking of gears and wheels. Jack watched impatiently as the train broke through the fog, barreling towards the stop. It came to a sudden halt a few feet in front of the bench. He climbed in, handed his ticket to the conductor, and took a seat in one of the southern carts.
As Jack walked to his seat, he noticed a strange emptiness. Every cart was empty, aside from the one he was sitting in. Even then there were only ten people other than him. A chill shot down his spine as he fell into his seat. Jack stared distantly out the window, questions running through his mind. Finally, after a long, tense wait, a voice came through the telecom. It was him.
“Hello, lady’s and gentleman!” He said in his most enthusiastic voice. “And welcome to the last ride of your lives.” There was a sudden, confused murmur from the passengers. “First, let me introduce the hero of our story, Jack Spades. Seat fourteen, cart eight.” Everyone turned to look as Jack sat in shock, an expression of horror on his face. “Now, for the rules of our game. I will kill someone every half-hour. It’s up to Jack to find me” His voice was distorted, and full of sick pleasure. “And one last thing. This train will crash at approximately midnight. That gives you five hours. Good luck.” As soon as he finished speaking, a loud, maniacal chuckle blasted from the intercom. It was an inhuman and sickening noise.
The passengers broke into a panicked murmur. Jack stood up and raised a hand to silence them. The crowd hushed to listen.
“Does anyone know what’s going on?” A unanimous head shaking.
“We have a half-hour before the first murder, so as long as we stick together, catching him shouldn’t be a problem.” Just as Jack finished his sentence, the room grew instantly dark as the train entered a tunnel. A loud shriek shot out through the crowd. People rushed to locate the source of the scream, but by then the light returned to the room. Everyone was crowded around a body on the floor. It was a tall man in a suit, black hair, thin face. Jack pushed the crowed to the side to investigate the body. There was no trauma to the body. There was water spilling from his mouth.
“Drowned…” Jack murmured to himself. The voice began blasting through the intercom again.
“It’s Seven on the dot!” He said, followed by the defending laughter. The passenger sat down, shocked and terrified. Jack sat down and began to think. But no matter how hard or long he thought he couldn’t make sense of it. How could someone have drowned. And more importantly, how would he catch the murderer. Jack looked around at the passengers, now only nine other than himself. They all appeared to be average people, mostly between the ages of twenty and forty. Jack had no prediction as to who the next victim might be. And so, for lack of a better idea, he stood up and spoke.
“We have twenty minutes, let’s break into groups and search as much of the train as possible. We can meet back up here in fifteen minutes.” People shifted uncomfortably in their seats. “Does anyone have a better plan?” A man from the back raised his hand. He was dressed in a grey jacket and navy blue jeans. His long hair a deep brown. “Why should we trust you?” The man demanded in an angry tone. “How do we know you’re not the murderer?” Jack grew quiet. The man stood up from where he sat and walked up to Jack. They stared at each other for a moment, then the man threw a punch. Jack stumble back, taken by surprise. The man walked back up to him and backed him up to the door. The crowed simply watched. He slid the door open and pushed Jack through, locking him in. The cart Jack found himself in was completely empty. It was also the last cart on the train. And so Jack watched through the small window on the door, pounding desperately for someone’s attention. The man who had attacked him was talking to the group. Whatever he was saying they seemed to agree with. Just as it seemed his speech was done. The lights cut yet again. Another scream broke through the crowd. Jack strained his eyes to see what was happening, but he couldn’t even see his own hands. Then, finally, light returned. There wasn’t a dead body this time. It was as if the person had vanished entirely this time.
The man who had attacked Jack walked over to the door and unlocked it, his hands trembling.
“I…” He trailed off.
“Stay here.” He commanded, proceeding through to the next cart. He rushed his way through the train, checking for any sign of the missing person. Finally, he came upon a food storage cart. The door of a large freezer was cracked open. His curiosity piqued, he stepped forward and pulled it open with a loud creek. A woman’s body was leaned against a large block of ice. She had long blond hair and was wearing a grey dress. How could she have frozen in such a short period of time? The voice rang through the intercom again.
“You’re letting them down Jack.” He said with twisted excitement. “I thought you’d do better than this.” The laugh rose through the air once again. Jack sat, leaned against the door of the freezer. He had one last idea.
Jack sprinted back to the cart where the rest of the passengers remained.
“I have an idea.” Jack announced to the group. “Everyone move back to the next cart. Everyone got up out of their seats and funnelled into the back cart. They had no other option than to listen to him. Just as the group finished moving, Jack stood in the space between the carts. “You.” He said pointing to the man that had attacked him. He walked over to Jack and bent down beside him. Jack whispered something to him, and then they proceeded to unlatch the cart. And then it was just Jack, the murderer, and two dead bodies. The voice from the intercom blasted louder than ever through the speakers.
“This is my game, Jack!” He shouted. “We play by my rules.”
“Not anymore!” Jack shouted. “Now show yourself!” He demanded. And then darkness flooded into the room. The deafening, distorted laughter surrounded Jack. The sound of faint, muffled footstep was quickly followed by a flashlight being turned on and dropped. Jack stumbled his way over to it and picked it up. The laughter stopped as he shone it around. The train cart was in ruins. The seats were ripped, the cotton strewn about. The walls were scratched and damaged. Jack’s stomach turned and the sight of it. How could it be possible. It was the first time in Jack’s life he truly couldn’t make sense of something. He began running through the train carts, all of them torn up and abandoned. Finally, Jack arrived at the final door. He took a deep breath, subconsciously rested a hand on his holstered gun, and walked through.
“It’s about time you got here!” The man shouted. He was dressed in a large trench coat and a fedora that covered his face in shadow.
“Who are you!?” Jack yelled.
“I thought I was smarter than this.” The man said. “You’d think I could recognize my own voice.” He chuckled, taking off his fedora. Jack stepped back in shock. He stood face-to-face with himself.
“How…” He trailed off.
“I’m you from the future!” His tone was full of excitement. “On April thirteenth, our wife dies.” Jack was too shocked to respond. “I met a very special person that day. An old man who claimed he could send me back in time.” Jack slowly reached for his gun. “And the crazy thing is, I believed him. Once I kill you, I can take your place and save Jane.” Jack whipped his gun from it’s holster and fired a shot at future Jack. It missed and shot a hole in the engine. Steam began filling the car, blinding both of them. Jack continued to fire blindly until a sudden scream cried out from the corner of the room. He walked over to the noise and saw himself, sitting near-dead in against the wall. “Idiot…” He said weakly. “This train will crash soon anyway.” Future Jack pulled out a revolver of his own and shot the train controls. “Try stopping it now…” He trailed off at the end, eyes closing. Jack ran to the door of the cart, but the door was locked. He began feeling dizzy and breathless from the steam. He slammed against the door, desperately gasping for air. The world began growing dark around him. SLAM. Gasp. SLAM. Gasp. And then everything went dark.