A Last Stand

Day 8

I decide it's time to venture back into the wilds.  The dangerous unknown is far better than a safe return to life by rote.  

The sentry's behavior is no different from before.  A high buzz precedes a poorly aimed blast, followed by a brief search.  At times, I fancy myself like a bunkered soldier, perpetually subjected to the whine of mortars overhead and wondering if the next one has my number.  After about the tenth episode of this, I spot a nearby hill with enough cover to hide me from the sentry while I scout the surrounding area.

Inching up the hill from one patch of brush to the next, I'm constantly listening for the buzz of the sentry, but fortunately, it does not appear.  When I finally reach the top, I see another train station, not more than a few hundred yards from the base of the hill.  My brief excitement is quickly stifled, however, as I realize this station is nearly identical to the first, differing only in the bend of the surrounding track.

As I approach, I hear a train whistle in the distance and a rumbling in the tracks.  I turn my head just as a train pulls into the station and the conductor, leaning out of the window of the front cabin, waves and smiles at me; the same banal smile that's been clinging to my subconscious for days now.

The smile lingers in my mind, and the closer I get to the station, the broader it gets.  In the setting sun, the long shadows of the station seem to loom over me, every curve resembling for that awful smile.

There is sanctuary there, but no escape.  The more I take shelter, the further I get from my freedom.

In a moment, I'm past the station and running as fast as I can.

Day 9

I can't sleep, not with the sentry about.  For the last 12 hours, I've been running aimlessly across the landscape, sometimes dodging its gaze, but more than anything, trying to get away from the train stations.  I passed two more during the night.  Their lights can be seen to great distances from the hilltops... never chasing me, but still an ever-increasing presence in a wilderness that seems less wild by the moment.

I no longer look at the trains that pass close by, as I now fear the gaze of the conductors more than that of the sentry.  They are always coming into the stations, so frequently that any waiting passengers -- I have seen none -- must own large personal fortunes to be worth the expense of having so many active trains to serve them.

One other thing is strange... I never see the tracks except near the stations, as if they become absorbed into the landscape at all other points.

Day 10

I never left the island... I'm sure of it.

The stations, they appear over every hill now and train whistles bombard my waking mind.  I don't know how many of them are real and how many are echoes, but they're there all the time...

Stumbling more than running now, I collapse in a grassy field, stations on both sides of me.  My ears are ringing as a stale wind blows through my hair and my face droops over the long grass.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see motion and I look up.

Just in front of me, floating several meters above the grass, is a sentry.  Its gaze is fixed on me.

"Take me!  Come on, I'm right here, take me!"

The ringing in my ears gets louder and my vision shakes like a broken TV set.

"Stop staring at me and take me!  I won't hide this time."

<crackle>s sir...<crackle>t this...<crackle>ay

I don't remember anything more after that.

The story continues...