Fingers snapped in front of my dazed stare, and I blinked in surprise. "Clarissa, get with the program," said an irritated voice. "The passengers are ready to board. Come on!"
"Oh, right," I said with an embarrassed laugh, finding myself staring directly into a pair of crimson eyes. "Sorry, Jet."
He gave me a good natured smack on the shoulder, straightening up so he was no longer eye-to-eye with me. "You need to stay focused." He took off his conductor's cap, revealing a shock of pure white, untidy hair. He placed it on my head and yanked the brim down over my eyes before walking away, whistling happily to himself.
I removed the hat so I could pull my black hair back into a ponytail, then set the hat back atop my head, sighing. Another day.
I went to the main door and placed my hand on it. It was warm and pulsed under my hand, but when I pressed on it, it would not open. I tried again, but it wouldn't budge.
"Via, come on," I coaxed, pushing against the door. "You're going to make the passengers angry."
With a shudder, the door opened and I breathed a sigh of relief. Immediately, passengers of various shapes and sizes pushed their way forward, almost knocking me over in their haste.
"Welcome aboard the Leviathan," I said mechanically. I could say these words in my sleep by now. "Tickets please."
One by one, the passengers filed on. They were an interesting bunch this time, coming in all shapes, sizes, and species. But I'll get to that later.
The passengers began to fill the seats, but it was clear that there wasn't going to be enough room for everybody. I went to the back of the car, placing my hand on the door there.
"Via, we're going to need another car," I whispered sweetly. No response. "Via," I said again, hearing the angry complaints of the passengers.
"What's the holdup?" said one of the passengers, coming up behind me. I could feel his hot breath on the back of my neck.
"Just a moment, sir," I said, leaning closer to the door.
"Via, if you don't add a new car right now, so help me I'll... I'll..." I trailed off angrily, but as soon as I finished speaking, a deep shudder ran through the floor, and the entire car seemed to heave.
"What was that?" asked one of the passengers, sounding frightened.
"Oh, nothing," I said brightly as the door opened. "Right this way, please," I said, leading the passengers onto the new car. They took their seats happily, and I breathed one more sigh of relief.
"Nice job, Via," I whispered, patting one of the walls as I looked around the crisp, tidy car. It was one of Via's better jobs. Sometimes, he would make the car dingy and untidy, just to spite me.
I went back up to the front car, spouting off the usual protocol. Seeing no more passengers at the station, I closed the door and went up to the front of the car, slipping into the engineer's workplace.
"Jet, we're all ready to go," I said, setting his hat back on his head.
"You hear that, Via?" he said, looking up at the ceiling. "Let's get a move on."
The floor shuddered under my feet and I felt the train begin to roll forward, steadily picking up speed.
"How come he always listens to you," I said, glaring at Jet.
He grinned, propping his feet up on the unused control panel. "Because he likes me more. Now don't you have a job to be doing? I think it's time for my nap."
"How come you get the easy job?" I muttered, turning away from him.
"Because I was here first, so I got to pick what I wanted to do. Besides, until you came along, I was stuck doing the same thing you are now, plus my current duties."
"And what might those current duties be?" I asked, glancing back at him. "Taking a nap isn't exactly what I'd call work. I hope you're happy, knowing that I'm working my rear off while you're dreaming of... I don't know. Whatever it is you dream about."
He laughed, his red eyes bright. "You know what, I'm feeling generous today, so I'll do your job for you. I'll even let you sit in my padded, oh-so-comfortable, leather, engineer's chair. How does that sound to you?"
"Good," I said, giving him a curious look. "What's the catch, though."
He sighed, shaking his head. "Rissa, Rissa, Rissa. Didn't you listen to me? I said I was feeling generous today." He rose to his feet, straightening his black conductor's uniform.
"Yes, I heard that. I guess I was acting for an explanation of why you were feeling so generous," I said, unable to keep a grin off my face.
"Why didn't you say so, then," said Jet, shaking his head as if he were exasperated. "Don't you know what day it is?"
"Um, no," I said, failing to see how it would matter. "They all kind of run together by now," I said with a shrug, frowning at him.
"Rissa, Rissa, Rissa," he said again, covering his eyes with his hand. "What am I going to do with you. The date today is exactly one hundred and ninety-nine years after I first arrived on this train. Do you know what that means?" He looked up, smiling at me.
"Only one year left on your sentence," I said, my face breaking into a smile. "That's wonderful, Jet, I'm so happy for you."
He frowned, looking disappointment. "What? You're happy for me? No tears, no 'Oh, Jet, please don't leave me?'"
I laughed. "No. Once you're gone, I'll get your easy duties for myself as soon as someone else comes along. Besides, I still have to put up with you for another year."
"I guess you're right," he said with a shrug and brushed past me, whistling to himself again.
I sighed, dropping onto his padded, oh-so-comfortable, leather, engineer's chair. "One hundred ninety-nine years, eh Via? I can't believe you've put up with him for this long."
The train seemed to roar in agreement, and I laughed to myself.
Now, at this point, you're probably wondering a few things. First of all, you're probably wondering why I'm talking to a train. No, I'm not crazy. Just give me a chance to explain.
My name is Clarissa. Jet calls me Rissa, but he's stupid, and no one cares what he says. I don't know when he started calling me that, but it just kind of stuck. Whatever. Anyway, my name is Clarissa. I have long, black hair, and green eyes. Isn't that exciting? I always hate talking about myself. Let's see. I've been aboard the Leviathan for about ten years now. Not by choice, though. If I had my way, I would definitely not be aboard this train. I'd be out there, enjoying my freedom, living life and loving it. But I'm here on a sentence. Two hundred years, for a crime I didn't commit. I'd love to talk to the higher ups, and prove that I didn't do it, but seeing as I'm shackled to this train, that isn't quite possible. And when I say shackled, I mean it literally. You can't see it, but there is a chain around my ankle that changes its length, but never is long enough so I can leave the Leviathan.
Alright, that's enough about me. Let's talk about something more interesting. Now, in case you haven't noticed, the Leviathan isn't exactly an ordinary train. Otherwise, I wouldn't be talking to it. I hope. You see, the Leviathan, or Via, as Jet and I call him, is alive. He's a type of demon, just like Jet and I are, but the three of us are all different types, although that should be obvious, considering that Via is a train, and Jet and I aren't. We're both humanoid in appearance. Having a living train is kind of a blessing and a curse. On the plus side, he'll take you anywhere and everywhere, and he can always add a new car whenever we need one. On the down side, he can have quite the attitude. I can't tell you how many times I've looked like an idiot, talking to a wall or a ceiling, only to have Via not do what I want him to. Of course, to the passengers, Via just looks like an ordinary, non living train. So I guess I'd still look crazy. Also, he's not much for conversation. Other than a puff of smoke from the smoke stack or a rumble here and there, it's hard to tell what good ol' Via is thinking. But at least that's better than a normal train.
Now, our merry little team wouldn't be complete without the third, most useless member. That would be Jetram, whom I, somewhat affectionately, call Jet. Despite his pure white hair, he's about my age, although in maturity, he's definitely not. He serves as the self-appointed engineer, which is pretty much useless considering Via can pilot himself. Despite his position as engineer, he wears the Conductor's uniform, that job belongs to me, although Jet helps out once in a great while. His reasoning is something about the way it's much more flattering than an engineer's uniform. Still, despite my complaining, when he's not messing around with his gun or teasing me or playing with his hat, he's not a bad guy. I met him ten years ago when I came aboard the Leviathan to serve my sentence. Like me, he's serving a two hundred year sentence, although unlike me, he only has one year left. I have one hundred ninety left. As much as I can't stand the guy sometimes, one hundred ninety years with just myself and a demon train with attitude problems aren't going to be fun.
Despite knowing Jet for ten years, I don't really don't know that much about him. He's a demon, I know that much, but I'm not sure what species he is. I don't even know what he did to earn this sentence either. Honestly, though, it's never mattered to me. He's never asked about my past, and I've never asked about his.
There's one last thing I should probably talk about. Our passengers. We get characters of all shapes and sizes riding the Leviathan, and of every species too. Demons, monsters, humans; you name it, I've probably seen it. The only thing they have in common is the fact that the tickets are all one way. You see, Via isn't a train who takes you to work and back, or to a different city. Via isn't that kind of train. He takes his passengers to the Underworld. And I'm not talking about where the demons live. I'm talking about the prison for demons, the place evil creatures go when the rest of the world would be in danger by their presence. The ones who go there are the worst of the worst. Their crimes differ, but they all ride the same train to get there. Yet, despite this, they're usually a relatively subdued group. Probably because they know that no matter what, the Leviathan isn't going to stop, even if they kill Jet and I. Also, if they were to cause a fight, their sentence in the Underworld would be increased. Although, that doesn't mean there has never been any trouble, on the contrary. But Jet and I know how to handle ourselves, and that's another time that having a living train comes in handy.
"Hey, Rissa," says that irritated voice again. This time, he waves his hat in front of my face. "This is the second time I've caught you zoning out today."
"What's up?" I ask, catching an unusual tone in Jet's voice.
He narrows his scarlet eyes at me, although he doesn't look angry yet. "My gun is missing."
I shake my head, throwing my hands up in the air. "Don't look at me, I haven't touched it."
He frowned, his brow furrowed in thought. "I didn't set it down anywhere. It's been here all day," he said, patting the empty holster at his belt. "Do you think one of the passengers could've taken it while I walked through?" he asked, looking at me with big, worried eyes that made him look like a child.
"You never know," I said with a sigh, rising to my feet. I would miss Jet's comfy leather chair. "Our passengers aren't exactly the most moral group of creatures around. I'll go see if I can find it. Talking with the passengers is my job, after all."
"Alright, thanks," said Jet. He began gesturing with his hands as he explained the appearance of his gun to me. "It's a silver revolver with engraving, and it's loaded with only one bullet."
"I know, Jet." I rolled my eyes. "I've seen you obsessively polish it every day for the past ten years. It's that loaded part that bothers me, though. How many times have I told you not to keep it loaded."
He frowned. "But this way, it's ready when I need it. Besides, that bullet holds sentimental value."
I slipped out into the main car, glancing over this group of passengers, ignoring the ones by the window. Only the passengers in aisle seats would be able to reach Jet as he walked by. There was one human, two Reaper demons, a handful of lesser demons, a few various monsters, and even one angry looking greater demon.
Immediately, I ruled out the monsters. None of them even had thumbs, it would be impossible for them to steal anything. The greater demon wouldn't have any use for a gun. One punch from that beast would do more damage than a bullet. That left two Reaper demons, the human, and a few lesser demons.
I moved through the car, having the aisle passengers that I hadn't ruled out empty their pockets, bags, robes, whatever they had that could conceal a revolver. But I didn't have any luck, although I did confiscate a knife that one of the demons had kept in its bag.
I moved to the back car, where the rest of the passengers were sitting. They glanced up as I arrived, staring at me with eyes of every color, shape, and amount imaginable. However, the expression in nearly every eye was hostile.
"This should be fun," I muttered to myself, then forced a smile on my face.
"Could you please empty your bag, please?" I asked the first passenger, a calm looking reaper demon, whose glowing red eyes peered up at me from under her hood. She complied easily, dumping out her purse, which held only normal contents.
"Thank-you," I said, then went to the next passenger, a human looking lesser demon. "Sir, could you please empty you bag, please?" I said, looking at the canvas bag he held.
"What's the matter?" he asked, frowning. "What did I do?"
"You might not have done anything," I said. "I just want to make sure."
"Are you looking for something?" he asked, and then I saw his eyes dart over my shoulder for only an instant.
In a flash, I spun around, but it was too late. I felt the coldness of the gun barrel press against my forehead. I was face to face with an angry lesser demon. His yellow eyes glared at me, and ram's horns protruded from a mess of curly brown hair.
"Make this train stop," he commanded, his hand on the trigger.
I took a deep breath. "Sir, with or without me, this train isn't going to stop. Lower the gun, or you'll only get a longer sentence."
"Not if you and that unobservant engineer aren't alive to tell the guards what happened," he said.
"There's only one bullet in that gun," I said, speaking calmly. "Even if you kill me, the engineer is going to know, and he's no pushover. Just lower the gun."
"Why should I believe you?" he asked, and I saw the resolve in his eyes. Everything seemed to slow down around me.
"Via!" I shouted as his clawed finger tightened on the trigger. The Leviathan shuddered as its brakes engaged.
The lesser demon staggered at the change in motion, losing his balance for only a second. Moving quickly, knowing that my life depended on it, I threw myself to the side and forward, slamming into the man. He fell to the floor and the revolver skidded across the floor, sliding to the front of the car. He struck out me blindly as I landed on top of him, and one of his claws scratched my throat. I slammed his head against the ground and pinned him, one of my hands on his throat.
I heard the doors open behind me. "What's going on here?" asked Jet, sounding fierce and assertive.
"Everything is under control. You're late, as usual. I found your gun," I said, not taking my eyes off the demon.
"Thanks," said Jet, and I heard him bend and pick up the silver revolver. "Here, I'll give you a hand." I felt his shadow fall over me, and he placed on of his booted feet on the fallen demon's neck. I pulled my hand back, wiping away the blood that was dripping from my neck.
Jet reached down and pulled me to my feet. "You alright?" he asked.
"I'm fine," I said. Between the two of us, Jet and I managed to force the man into one of the seats.
"Via," I said quietly. With a shudder, the man's seat changed, and metal restraints emerged from the armrests. Jet and I cuffed the man securely to his chair, and then straightened up.
"Idiot," I said to Jet as we returned to the front car. "I told you not to keep that gun loaded."
"I had faith in your abilities," he said, although his trademark smile wasn't there.
I shook my head. "Thanks, Via," I said, and I heard the train rumble in response.
"Well, it could've gone worse," I said to no one in particular. Suddenly, I felt Via begin to slow. "Are we there already?" I asked.
Jet nodded. "Yes ma'am. We made good time today."
I sighed. "I'll go do my job, then." Wiping the last drops of blood from my neck, I returned to the first car.
"Arriving at gate 1-C," I announced. "Gate 1-C." The train slowed to a halt, and the doors opened without my prodding this time. As the passengers filed out, I checked the tickets in my hand, making sure everyone who was supposed to get off at this station did. I handed each of them their ticket as they left, which assigned each to an area of the prison-like Underworld. I glanced out the window, where the greater demon guards stood ready to herd the prisoners away. Suddenly, being forced to serve on the Leviathan for two hundred years didn't seem so bad.
Once all the passengers who were supposed to get off at this station had left, I still held one ticket in my hand. The lesser demon who had stolen Jet's gun. I slipped the ticket back into my pocket.
"Ready, Jet," I called up to him, and Via roared back to life. After only a few short minutes, we arrived at the next station.
"Gate 1-B," I called again, seeing the remaining passengers rise to their feet. Once again, they exited the train, walking right into the Underworld. I could feel its heat surge in through the Leviathan's open door.
I walked to the back car, seeing the lesser demon still restrained in his seat. I released him, and he glared at me angrily, although I saw fear in his eyes. "I was supposed to disembark at 1-C. Why am I here?"
I grinned at him. "That's what happens when you attack a member of the Leviathan. I warned you that your punishment would increase, didn't I?"
His eyes widened with fear. "Please, don't make me go to 1-B, please," he said, but I herded him off the train.
"Alright, Via," I said, and I felt the train shudder as the back car disappeared. The train roared back to life, and began its trip back to the first station, where new passengers were ready to be picked up.
I returned to the engineer's workplace where Jet sat, polishing his gun.
"He give you any more trouble?" he asked me, referring to the passenger.
I shook my head. "If he thought 1-B is bad, he should see 1-A, or 1-S," I said, talking about the even more secure areas of the Underworld. "You go there, and you don't get out."
Jet nodded, sliding his gun back into its holster. "I'm glad I didn't end up there," he said.
"Me too," I said in agreement. "Now, I'm gonna take a little nap. Wake me up when we get to the station, okay?"
He nodded. "Sure thing, Rissa. And I promise I'll keep a closer eye on my gun."
I laughed. "Alrighty." I returned to the main car. "Via, can I take a nap?" I asked. No response. "Come on, Via," I said again. Nothing. "Thanks for helping me earlier, you're the best train in the world. Can I take a nap, pleeeease?"
The train shuddered, and for a moment, I saw through its mask and saw the reddish, fleshy, pulsing walls, the veins that ran through them. But then, I saw the illusion again, only this time, in place of the passenger seats, the car had become a sleeper car.
"Thanks, Via," I said, climbing into one of the beds. I rolled onto my side, letting the steady motion lull me to sleep. In a short while, we would stop again, and there would be new passengers, full of surprises. Some days were dangerous, some were fun, and some were sad. I never knew what would happen, but somehow, between Jet, Via, and I, it would get sorted out. It was all in a day's work for a conductor on the Leviathan.
[A/N: This is a product of writer's block on my main story. I've had this idea for a while, but I just wrote it for fun when I was stumped on my other story. It's also an experiment with two main characters who differ from the kind I usually write about. If I continue working on this, it'll be a collection of chapters like this, where chapter or group of chapters tell its own story, keeping the main three characters in each subplot. I might scrap this soon, I'm not sure.]