by Jack Castle
Copyright © 2015 by Jack Castle
“Please … please don’t kill me.”
The disembodied voice sobbed in the darkness, begging for his life. The hammer of a heavy-duty revolver drew back…
A tiny light in the distance: a pinprick of light at the end of a long tunnel moved rapidly closer. The growing hot white light, accompanied by a roaring sound, increased in severity and relentlessness.
Hank McCarthy bolted awake to the sound of a roaring locomotive heaving straight for the car. He flashed open his eyes, squinting from the light and found himself sitting behind the wheel of a crimson red Ford Explorer. He jerked back, but there was no place to go. Far too late to move, he braced for final impact.
As the deafening train ripped past his SUV a scant few yards away, he realized he was idling parallel to the railroad tracks. The intense pain of the train’s horn still registered in his ears and his body trembled violently for a few seconds while he emerged from his deep slumber. It took him another moment to realize he still wasn’t in danger of becoming track paste.
Where am I?
A light touch on his shoulder revealed creamy white, French-manicured fingers. Their owner lovely: almond-shaped eyes, perfect white teeth, and curly nutmeg hair framing a face that would make even a fairytale princess envious. His wife, Sarah.
“Wow, babe,” she laughed nervously. “I knew you were tired but you were really out there.” He had been driving for a long time. She gave him a funny look. “You want me to drive the rest of the way?”
Hank’s throat was so dry his tongue had swelled two sizes. When he finally managed to talk it was above a hoarse whisper. “Honey, where are we?” He wanted to scream the question at her. The whisper was all he could manage.
“Are we there yet, Daddy?”
A glance in the mirror confirmed what he already knew: five year old Annabelle sat strapped in her car seat by a five-point retention harness originally designed for fighter pilots. Little Annabelle shared her mom’s good looks, but had inherited his limited patience.
“Almost there sweetheart,” Sarah answered for him. “We just have to board the train.”
“But I’m so-o hungry,” Annabelle complained.
“Have some more Goldfishes, honey,” Sarah answered. Without missing a beat the box came over the seat with two quick shakes, and Annabelle beheld the delicious golden baked treats.
Annabelle was placated for now. She stared out the window with her mother’s hazel eyes as she absentmindedly devoured the helpless fishes in her hand.
One year old Henry snoozed soundly in his car seat beside her. When it came to the looks department, Henry took more after his pop. Dark wavy hair, firm jaw affixed to a kind face. And dark blue eyes, somehow sweet and fierce at the same time.
Hank took this all in, but none of this answered the question that still burned in his aching head: Where the hell am I?
He peered through the SUV’s open window. A majestic wilderness with snow-capped mountains, stitched with evergreens, sprawled out around them seemingly endless. The overcast skies and down-creeping snowline suggested winter was closing in. This looks like the Pacific Northwest? That didn’t make sense.
The train tracks emerged from the forest in the distance, miles behind them, and then came up to a rickety but serviceable train station smack down in the middle of nowhere. The station sign read HavenPort, Alaska.
Alaska? When the hell did we decide on Alaska? I must be dreaming. We live in the desert. Two thousand miles away.
“Look Mommy, look!” Annabelle yelled wildly from her car seat. “A moose, Mommy, a moose!”
Hank turned his head and groaned at the stabbing pain in his temples. He rubbed at them mightily: If his hand weren’t already there, he’d have thought he’d been stabbed on both sides of his head with an ice pick. Must’ve slept wrong while I was snoozing behind the wheel.
“Oh Hank, she’s right.” Sarah cooed beside him. “There’s a moose in the lake over there.”
Just beyond Sarah’s window he could make out the moose meandering across a shallow lake.
Hank suppressed the huge urge to punch the windshield. Why will no one answer me? Where are we?
Sarah turned towards him. “Do you see him?” Before he could answer, she dug frantically through her mommy purse the size of a saddlebag. “Now where’s my camera?” She turned back to the kids, “Annabelle, honey, do you know where mommy’s camera is?”
This doesn’t make sense. We live in Wyoming. I don’t even remember deciding to come to Alaska, let alone driving here.
“There it is.” Sarah took her camera from the center console compartment. Before she could snap a picture…
Hank jumped at the sound of a large man pounding the palm of his meaty hand on the hood of the Explorer.
“Hey pretty boy, you’re holding up the line,” he said in a gruff voice, “We ain’t got all day.” The big man was dressed in overalls and a baseball cap. His rough, heavily-pockmarked face, oversized bulbous nose, and squinty eyes loomed over Hank. He stepped to the side of the hood and motioned Hank to pull forward. An impatient driver in a rusted Ford-150 behind them laid on his horn.
“C’mon buddy,” the driver shouted.
On autopilot, Hank shifted into drive and pulled forward. The SUV drove forward up a dirt incline ramp and onto a flatbed train car. They were one of many; all lined up behind an antique locomotive the color of charcoal. Hank put the car in park and switched off the engine.
“We’re on a train!” Annabelle shouted with glee.
As other cars loaded up onto the freight cars, Hank saw something strange on the train depot platform. It was a comely woman wearing horn-rimmed glasses. Unlike the people wearing layers of warm coats and hats around her, she was only wearing a long physician’s lab coat. Not so strange in itself, but the white in her coat was so sharp in color, and such a shocking contrast to the drab filtered daylight, it was as though someone wearing bright colors had stepped into an old black-and-white movie. It actually hurt Hank’s eyes to stare at it.
The disembarking passengers bustling about didn’t seem to notice the strange doctor woman, and she seemed equally disinterested in them. She didn’t appear to have anyplace else she needed to be. Instead, she kept staring intently at Hank. She wasn’t just looking at the train or at their vehicle, only at him.
What’s her problem, why is she staring at me?
He felt his eyes squint and his brow furrow, but before he could ask Sarah if she saw the strange woman, the train jostled into motion. The woman in the lab coat still studied him. Hank looked away, pressed his eyes with the palms of his hands, and then attempted to clear his vision of her by rubbing away the sleep. At this, the doctor, as he thought of her, frowned and wrote notes on her clipboard.
The back of his neck throbbed so bad he stared rigidly forward. The locomotive chugged away, leaving the depot, and the strange doctor lady, behind. The train then negotiated a bend and soon the tracks straightened again. Hank could now see their destination: a dark tunnel opening at the base of an enormous snow-capped mountain. Huge piles of shale flanked the entrance as though they were bones spewed up from those who had dared to enter the gaping mouth before. The impatient driver parked behind them turned up his radio and John C. Coltrain’s, ‘I’m on the Highway to Hell’, blared over his speakers.
“Mommy, where is the train taking us?” Annabelle must have also noticed the foreboding tunnel opening for she added, “It looks scary.”
You got that right.
Sarah barely heard her. She was toggling through her shots of the moose on her camera. She answered, absently, “Remember sweety? There are no roads into town. The only way in is to load your car on the train. The three mile long tunnel is the only way in or out.”
Hank opened his mouth to speak, but the vortex suddenly gobbled up the locomotive engine clanking down the tracks ahead in one enormous bite. The dozen train cars that immediately followed also vanished one-by-one into darkness.
With great effort Hank worked up the will to speak, “Sarah… I don’t want to go in there.” Hank shivered uncontrollably. He found both hands clenched on the steering wheel and he could feel his feet pressing into the floorboards. As if that would do any good.
Sarah ignored him. “Look kids, here we go.”
Hank glanced at a wooden sign at the tunnel’s entrance. The finely crafted sign was supported by two thick tree poles. The sign had seen better days Hank thought, but he could just make out the faded white lettering.
Welcome to HavenPort!
Year Round Population: 492
Before Hank and his family were swallowed by the mouth of the tunnel completely and the darkness closed out the last of the fleeting light, Hank glimpsed a shocking image in the rearview mirror. His children’s broken bodies littered the back seat and his blood-spattered wife lay dead in the seat beside him.