Death's Robe

Seth Thomas

Death's Robe

     Elliot heard the sound of trains pulling in and out of the station. He sat quietly with a notebook open to the third page, which was halfway full of doodles of varying size and shading. Some were quite simple, like a little man waving out at the viewer. Some were much more complex and seemed to jump off the page, reaching with whatever appendage the drawing was given. On one page was a mangy-looking old man. He looked like he was missing patches of skin, and his clothes were loose and torn. He reached forward, attempting to grab at whatever he could find with a hand that was missing some fingers.

     Elliot worked on a different drawing as he waited for his train. It was a piece he had put at least two hours into; every pencil scratch, every smudge meant something. This wasn’t just for his entertainment, it was for the person who’d stolen his heart, and nothing would stop him from finishing this masterpiece. Her name was Beth, and her birthday was a few days away.

     On the page was an abandoned city, void of cars and people. The sky was colorful. It was not a rainbow, but more like a child had been painting with several different colors and had mixed them all together. The buildings were gloomy and decrepit. It was a dark but beautifully stark image he’d seen in his head many times before, and he just had to put it down on paper. Beth liked dark things like this, and she liked Elliot most of all.

     The train station was a small and very old one in the heart of Centre County, Pennsylvania. The wooden bench below Elliot once gleamed with a fresh coat of red paint, but now it was faded and cracked and falling off. A train pulled up in front of it, shrieking as it slowed. A few moments of dull laughter and chatter passed Elliot by without him noticing anything but the city.

     The noise caught up to him after some time, and he pulled his ticket from his pocket, then looked at the clock that hung on the wall to the right. Its wide, metal exterior was decades old, and the paint was starting to crack off of it as well. The glass plating was a dirty yellow, the fancy italic numbers beneath were barely legible. The old clock chimed at the quarter after mark as the train jerked into motion and exited the platform.

     Elliot’s train would not arrive for another hour. He smiled as he continued scraping his pencil over the paper’s surface. The sky of the drawing had been finished at his home, it was an exact replica of the sky in his dream. He had sprayed it with a fixative spray to prevent the detail from smearing, so he could continue to work with peace of mind.

     A breeze picked up as Elliot worked on his drawing. He continued around the ruffling papers. Soon he was ready to change gears, so he pulled a duller pencil from his tattered bag. He loved the sound rounder-tipped pencils made against paper, and he used this one to pave the dark streets of the unpopulated city. As he went to fill in the white spaces that would be buildings, another train pulled in to the station.

     Elliot looked up from his work, saw the old clock to his right, and chuckled at how fast time had gone by. He gathered all his drawing supplies together, then stood up to watch the train pull up to the platform. People began filtering in from other waiting areas. They crowded him, and he grew uncomfortable for the first time since he’d gotten on the train platform.

     Scanning down the track at the next few cars of the train, Elliot moved forward with the teeming crowd, clutching his bag close to his chest. He looked up and saw the blue cloudless sky, then stepped up the stairs and into the train. Elliot shuffled toward the back, and found his seat on the second-to-last car. It was a window seat, Elliot’s favorite. He could ride for hours and watch the scenery pass him by. He often drew what he saw.

 

     Elliot pulled out his city drawing and stared at it for a little while. Not long after he’d settled in, the conductor came by with a hole punch.

     “Sir, may I please see your ticket?” The man’s mustache twitched as he spoke. Elliot nodded and gave his ticket to the conductor, who punched a hole in it and passed it back to him. “Thank you, sir. We’ll be departing shortly. I do hope you enjoy the ride.” The older gentleman smiled; there was a small glint in his eye that bothered Elliot just a little bit, but he smiled back and gave a simple “Thank you.”

     The conductor called over a loud speaker for everyone to board. Elliot began to work on his drawing again, and before he knew it, the train was moving.

     Between strokes of his pencils Elliot heard the sound of a squeaky trolley, and the sweet, alluring voice of the stewardess running it. It wasn’t long until she made her way to Elliot.

     Without her even saying anything, Elliot looked up from his drawing and smiled. The woman’s face had a hint of familiarity to it, perhaps it was her auburn hair. She looked professional in her neatly-pressed uniform. She reminded Elliot of Beth.

     “Sir, can I interest you in something from the trolley?”

     Elliot marveled at the near infinite selection of food and drink on the two shelves of the bronze-plated cart. He ordered a beer and a submarine sandwich with turkey and lettuce. The woman walked past Elliot, asking the people behind him if they fancied something. Elliot’s attention returned to his dark but colorful-skied city as the world outside passed him by.

     It was not long before the quiet chatter of the passengers and the steadfast clacking of the wheels rolling down the tracks lulled Elliot toward sleep. He set his pencils away, covered his drawings, and leaned back in his seat.

 

     Soon Elliot woke from his nap and looked out the window next to him. It was dark out, pitch black in fact, but the world was often illuminated by jagged daggers of lightning. Some stretched across the entire sky. Heavy winds blew the trees; it was pouring. The lights on the train began flickering.

     Someone screamed. It was a woman, but Elliot couldn’t see anything ahead of him, so he looked at the spot directly to his left. The person who once sat in the seat there had disappeared while he slept. There was nothing but a red stain in the seat.

     In the seat across the aisle was a vague, bloody mass. The lights flickered out entirely, leaving Elliot in the dark, but a bolt of lightning hit awful close to the traincar; it illuminated the space long enough to give Elliot a clear view of what occupied the two seats: The lower half of a young woman. Her spine poked out through her torso cavity. Torn flesh and bloody remains of a sweater hung limp over the lower half of the torso. Some of the woman’s intestines had spilled out and fallen to the floor. They bounced with every clack of the train’s wheels. Above the seat was a handrail, and from it hung some of the entrails. They swung violently to the right as the train took a strong curve.

     “What the fuck?”

     Elliot nearly vomited. He saw that almost every surface had blood smeared on it. The train appeared to be void of any life, save for the sound of that trolley. This time, it squealed more than before, and in a lower pitch. The lights came back on, but they still flickered frequently.

     The stewardess came with the trolley, and there was a cool aura surrounding her as she came closer. She was beautiful, just like before, even in this horrific setting. She looked back and forth at all the carnage, asking empty seats if they wanted anything more from the trolley. Her expression was sickeningly blithe. She asked the bifurcated woman to Elliot’s left if she wanted anything, paused, and then cocked her head toward Elliot. He wanted to get up and run away, but his feet were stuck to the train floor. It was like pulling out of quicksand. She was blocking his way out, anyway. He didn’t stand a chance.

     “I will take that trash if you are finished, sir.” The stewardess pointed to the sandwich wrapper in Elliot’s lap. He handed it to her with shaky hands and noticed the apron she was wearing was splattered with blood. Her auburn hair now lay flat and dark and ragged, her neatly-pressed uniform was torn. Her skin was gray, the same as her eyes. She continued to smile as she tossed the trash into a bag hanging from the trolley.

     “Is there anything else I can get you, sir?” She pursed her lips for a moment, and then flashed another smile, this time with two gleaming rows of pointed teeth. She waited for an answer, but Elliot was frozen with fear. He couldn’t move, even as she opened her mouth wide, wider than any human should be able to, lurched forward, and clamped her mouth down on his side.

     Elliot screamed as a huge portion of his skin, muscle, and inner organs fell out of his torso; some of it was hanging out of the stewardess’s mouth. She opened and closed as her razor-sharp teeth and ground it up. Elliot clamped his hands over the gaping hole in his body, then fell limp against the window. He breathed heavily for a moment, and then closed his eyes.

 

     When he opened them again, he realized he no longer heard the train or the screams. The lights were dim in what was now his room as he lay in his bed. Shuffling feet grabbed Elliot’s attention. A fuzzy silhouette appeared in the doorway; he hadn’t remembered leaving the bedroom door open.

     Elliot sat up. His palms were sweating, and he called out to the figure. It fidgeted and began shambling across the room. Elliot quickly grabbed the gun off his nightstand and aimed for the head.

     “Answer me, or I’m going to shoot!”

     “Rehhhhh!”

     Elliot pulled the trigger, but it only clicked.

     “Shit!” He spied some ammunition on the table where the gun had been, and frantically began loading. The creature got very close and lurched forward, grabbing Elliot and pushing forward on him. He dropped the gun in the struggle, and the creature was dangerously close to getting a bite in. She was a female, and long, dark hair was hanging scraggly below her shoulders. She shoved forward and sank her teeth into Elliot’s neck, ripping back some flesh. Blood poured like a faucet.

     Elliot pushed on the woman with both hands, and her grip loosened and she fell backward. She made a loud thud when her back hit the hardwood floor. He picked up the gun, finished reloading, then got down on the floor, crouching above her. Elliot pressed the gun against her forehead. Lightning lit up the room. He saw her auburn hair, matted down from the rain.

     With tears welling up, Elliot did what he had to: He fired one bullet into his fiancée’s head. Elliot let out one quick sob, as sudden as a sneeze, and then fell limp to the ground. He leaned against the wall with the gun in one hand, and his other hand over the wound to stop the bleeding. Then he pressed the barrel of the gun to his temple, but couldn’t pull the trigger.

     I must be dreaming this.

     Eventually, Elliot got up, weakly, and turned on the light. He grabbed his notebook and opened it to his latest work. The half-finished drawing of the dark city stared up at him, mocking him: You’re not going to finish me.

     Elliot moved the pencil across the drawing, but he was quickly growing more sluggish. He wanted to finish the drawing before it was too late. Hope became more lost to him as the minutes passed.

     While Elliot made his desperate marks on the page, he remembered what had happened the night before: He and Beth were together when things went south, and people on the block began changing. As news came in that anyone bitten changed too, he and Beth tried to block every entrance. Despite their efforts, there was a breach. The attackers forced their way in through a door in the basement. In the end, one of them had gotten to Beth, despite how desperately he tried to prevent it.

     He had built a pyre in the yard, but he had a present to finish. Beth’s birthday was just a few days away. He thought he could finish it in time to burn it with her, but he must’ve fallen asleep.

     As Elliot worked now, he began to drift off, this time not into sleep, but something else. He felt he was losing control of his body. After a short time, Elliot dropped the pencil on the paper. It rolled away, and clicked as it hit the floor. Blood dripped from the side of Elliot’s hand, where it was running from the bite wound. It fell down onto the drawing, smudging some of the softer pencil strokes.

     Elliot could have sworn he heard the faint fluttering of Death’s robe in the distance as all of what he was began to take flight like a flock of birds. He groaned as he slowly headed for the door, and his wound continued to bleed. He didn’t feel the pain anymore, but he was losing too much blood, and would probably not make it to the front door of his house before Death arrived. The city just lay there, unfinished on the floor, blood soaking into the pages, growing very cold.