Chapter Twelve

Baby safe, I’m safe! Survived the Tsar’s apocalypse! Angeline gone! Gone! Turned to dust! Here’s what happened. Apologies first, I am so rattled and too panicked to write coherently. Woke up to find Angeline gone. Nowhere to be found. The baby was crying. It is what woke me up. Paisley was dragging himself around in circles on the floor like lame beast. The air was thick with dread. I was covered in sweat. The wind outside was screaming at us. I have to write down what I have seen, what I went through before it turns to dust. We are approaching Couldwell and I don’t know what is going to happen there. Brekker, I’m still shaking and sweating. Baby is safe now. I have to look after it. I have rested it on the bed now and he is sleeping. Paisley too is sleeping. I need to sleep. First this report.

When I woke up to the screaming I knew what had happened and when it was unfolding it was if I was not me but someone else watching. Like my body was some sort of chair and my eyes some sort of projection relaying an incident in real-time but one of which I had already seen. I cannot think of a better way to describe it.

I leapt to my feet and found my jacket neatly pressed and hanging up. There was no sign of Angeline as I have said. The baby was screaming on the floor and my diary was lying next to him. I cannot tell you the fear I had in that moment. The idea that the bitch Angeline might have read the diary or copied it or memorised it and fled to seek people to come for me was over-powering. I snatched the diary from baby and, to my shame, kicked the tumour lump to the side of the cabin like one kicks a shoe box under a bed. I regret it now as I must look after baby but then, in that moment of rage, I couldn’t control myself. You understand Brekker, I’m sure. Anyway, I read her suicide note and I believed every word of it. I believed that she had not read my diary and I understood that she was in my dream just as I had once been in hers. I understood her logic but I knew that it was fool’s logic. She couldn’t walk back to the pier from whence she came. Nobody goes backwards, only forwards. How can somebody not understand this? It is the most underlying truth of the universe. Even in this place things go forward. I threw the diary on the floor and swung my coat on. I ran out into the corridor to find that the wind had invaded the train and the corridor was packed with sand. I panicked thinking it was a memory of a passed action turning to dust in my desert mind. Then I saw that the door at the end of the train was open and thrashing against the forces outside. I leant into the wind and trudged against it, down the carriage towards the door. The power near swept me off my feet! Paisley couldn’t follow and he fell back into cabin. I pulled myself along the window ledge, my legs flailing behind me, until I reached the door. My choices were to shut it forever and seal Angeline’s fate and then await mine in Couldwell or go out there into the chaos! I had no time or diary to write down the pros and cons of this decision and so went with my inquisitive heart! I went outside! 

I nearly pulled my arms out of their sockets hoisting myself out onto the back of train. Wind was so fierce that I was instantly pressed against the back of train. I could see cyclones. Cyclones everywhere! Screeching all around, following the train - approaching us! Chasing us, sweeping into a formation from all sides and the sand scraped my skin and tore at my flesh. 

I used all my strength to turnaround and climb up onto the roof of the carriage. I hung low to the roof for fear of being whipped into the cyclone and swept away into nothing like all the memories in my mind. I squinted and searched for any sign of Angeline and then, suddenly, there she was! Halfway down the carriage convoy standing bolt upright as if in a vacuum she stood. It was incredible to behold. She had defied the rules of this world and a flash of doubt crossed me. Maybe she was right? Maybe she had mastered it all. Maybe she was everywhere and everything? I carried myself forward, desperate to save her and to reason with her. I wanted to give her back her awful baby and then interrogate her. I was almost, so very almost in reach of her when she turned around to see me and then it happened. 

Water began weeping from her sleeves, her ears and under her dress, turning into a watery sludge before my eyes! I reached out to her, my hand raw from the sandstorm. I reached out to her I said “Angeline come back, come back!” I pleaded with her and told her about love and about my feelings for her but she knew it was a lie. She said that the baby would need to stay with me and that I was to look after him. She told me to survive Couldwell and then, then she looked up at sky and said: “He is coming and he walks through walls.” The mad, mad woman! And just as I reached out for her she leapt from the train! I expected her to rocket into the distance as the locomotive sped onwards but instead she just floated there, suspended in mid-air like a freeze-frame, her clothes not fluttering, the sludge not falling from her. She was simply suspended in the cyclonic air as if attached to the train by some invisible thread! Everything around me was chaos. I tried to scream in terror. I felt my larynx vibrate but no sound came out. I just got a mouthful of sand. I reached out to grab her and as I touched the heel of her boot she detonated into a plume of red sand. Angeline was no more and where she had been there sprung a new infant cyclone that spun and weaved and moved into the distance, joined by the countless others crossing the horizon like great dancers skating on a rink of packed red sand. The wind seemed to die down and calmness overcame me. Silence. An eerie inhalation and imprisonment of breath. I looked up to see a particle storm birthing in the angry sky above. Great forks of lightning all around me as though I was underneath the web of a monstrous electrical spider. The hairs on my arms stood erect and my soul shrank. I ran back along the roof, half knowing what was about to happen. I dived down into the carriage in one swing, scrambled up the corridor, into my compartment, picked up the baby in my arms and pulled Paisley close. We looked out the window and then it happened. The Tsars returned! A blinding flash that burnt my skin but left my eyes unaffected and, at once, I was bathed in light and at one with every universal particle. I was inside the Tumour Baby, inside Paisley, inside Mr H_, inside Mr W_ and inside the panelling of the carriage and all of it inside me. I was every particle and every moment in timeless time. The flash ended and the Tsars stood! Giant mushroom clouds where the cyclones were! Huge umbrellas under the blanket sky of hell and we could see the blast wave coming towards us. I screamed so fiercely that my voice cracked into a squeal. The tidal wave of fire surged towards us and I repeated in my mind, “I miss you Lucy I miss you Lucy I miss you Lucy,” and then it hit us. 

I awoke from my dream some hours later and I began to write while I remembered what had happened. The train still moves, no charring and no signs of the apocalypse I imagined. I will go back to sleep now.

Train jolted me awake. Mr W_ opened our carriage door and said “Couldwell.” I looked at the baby and said “where’s Angeline?” hoping it had been a dream. W_ said, “Couldwell” and left. I picked up the baby and looked at him. Felt a pang of affection for the soggy lump. I will look after him. Paisley came to my side. Slimy viscous film over his ribcage is thicker and now with a network of nerves and veins beginning to regenerate. 

Couldwell. Here we are. We walked down the corridor and alighted from the train. To either side of me I saw scores of people stepping off, unloading trunks and baggage. I wondered about each one of them. How could I have not noticed them before? Mr H_ waddled over to a large congregation of families waiting for him. Looks like local dignitary. The heat is awful. My collar itches. Paisley is panting. I covered the baby’s head and took out the diary and I’m writing this now. 

I can see the town ahead. I can see many buildings, mostly wooden. There is a town hall, a few stores and boardwalk-lined streets, some Model-T cars. Sign says ‘Couldwell – population 278.’

I am the last person by the train. Everyone else is walking to the town. I will follow. Turned around to look back at the locomotive. It has gone. All that is left is a huge sand bank in its place. Cyclones on the horizon have resumed their metronomic movements. Someone I once knew used to count the time by the cyclones. I cannot remember who. That memory is a dune in my mind. I will read back over my writings when in my lodgings and see if I can investigate it. 

I hope you are in town Brekker, I hope you are near. Need to find Lucy. Need to keep going forward. The sun is high and catastrophic. Baby is shaded and sleeping. Going into town now. 

Both my nostrils have started to bleed

Graham Thomas