Where was the train going, and why was he on it?
August 31, 2013
A VG Serial: Night Side of Dark
The thought had been rattling around in the misplaced fragments of his mind long before Ambrose Lincoln crawled out of the darkness and heard the clatter of steel grinding against steel as the train knifed its way through the gray side of a dark night. No moon. No stars. No scattered shards of light on the land outside. All Lincoln saw were forms and shapes and shadows, and only the shadows concerned him. He did not trust the shadows.
Shadows carried guns.
One had shot him.
But that was so long ago.
Or had it ever happened at all?
And why did his chest hurt in the bitter cold of winter, and why did he carry the ragged scar of a scalpel across his chest, and why couldn’t he remember why someone had wanted him dead, or had he merely been an innocent bystander in a netherworld where no one was innocent or a bystander?
They had taken his mind.
They had removed his memory.
A man without a memory is a man who fears nothing.
That’s what the doctors said.
That’s what the doctors told him each time the electrodes touched the tattered nerve endings of his brain, each time the worn purple switch sent jolts of electricity racing down the dark tunnels of everything he had known in life and could not find anymore. The electricity had wiped it all clean.
You fear nothing.
And no one.
Not even death.
He could still hear their voices as clearly as he heard the rain peppering against the windows of the train. A strange cold wrapped itself around him as Lincoln sighed and leaned his head back against the seat.
The doctors had lied.
Lincoln had lied.
He knew what the doctors didn’t know.
He knew what the doctors would never find out.
He could remember, not everything, but enough to know that he had been trained and schooled and brainwashed and given assignments that no sane man would accept. And when it was all said and done, they had left him out in the cold, just Ambrose Lincoln and the shadows, and, after a while, he became one with the shadows, and they belonged together.
The shadows had chased him.
The shadows had threatened him.
The shadows had wanted him dead.
But the shadows had never lied to him.
He stared at the pale yellow bulb flickering on the rust-streaked ceiling above him. He had seen a similar glow out of the corner of his eyes just before the ground trembled like the tremors of an earthquake, the night turned stark white, then faded to a darker shade of black, and the earth dropped from beneath his feet as though he had been standing on the gallows. He didn’t hear the trapdoor open, but he felt it.
All he heard were the winds, and all he smelled were the decaying innards of wet ground and rotting leaves. He reasoned that a grave possessed the same odor. He hoped he would never find out, at least not until morning and on a full stomach.
Lincoln tried but could not ignore the thought still lodged back in the far corner of his mind.
He prayed his was wrong.
He feared that he wasn’t.
He turned to the man sitting beside him, as thin as a splinter with a crisp black mustache adorning the face of a hawk in need of a shave. His uniform was starched and freshly pressed, and he wore the three stars of a British captain on his collar. Stray strands of black hair had been combed across a balding head. His arms were crossed, and he was staring intently into the night with melancholy eyes. He may have been thirty or fifty. Lincoln had no idea. War changes men.
“I didn’t think Hitler had the bomb,” Lincoln said.
The captain slowly turned his head and looked at him as though he was a madman, and maybe he was.
“I’m afraid I don’t quite understand,” the captain said.
“The big bomb,” Lincoln said. “The A bomb.”
The captain shrugged, reached into his shirt pocket, and pulled out a package of crumpled cigarettes. He took one and offered the package to Lincoln.
Lincoln shook his head.
“It’ll steady your nerves, old man,” the captain said.
Lincoln tried to smile.
His face was numb.
“I presume you’re talking about the Armageddon bomb,” the captain said.
“The description fits.”
“Rumors of the bomb have been around since before the war began,” the British officer said. “We’ve got it. They’ve got it. The Yanks have it. Nobody has it.”
“They aren’t rumors anymore.”
“I think you’re selling the scientists short,” the captain said. “Learned men of such intellectual capabilities would never create a device to bring about their own destruction.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he said.
He knew better.
Learned men of such intellectual capabilities knew more about creating money than bombs, and if they happened to need a bomb to gain even more wealth, then they would build a device large enough to eliminate half the world as long as they owned the other half.
Whoever had the bomb first would use it first, and mankind would simply vaporize from the earth and take his footprints with him. Whoever was left standing and tightly holding the last dollar would be the winner and the ruler over a kingdom that lay like ashes at his feet.
A man who rules over himself has only a fool for a subject.
“I didn’t hear the bomb coming that hit London,” Lincoln said.
“It wasn’t a bomb.” The captain shrugged nonchalantly. “It was a V-2 rocket,” he said. “It comes in as quietly as a fog upon the Thames. It gently taps you on the shoulder, you turn around, and, bang, you’re dead long before you know you’re dying.”
“The odds seem to favor Hitler,” Lincoln said.
“They always have,” said the captain, “More land. More men. More weapons. More tanks. But we have the one weapon he and his German people will never have.”
The captain straightened his shoulders with a certain measure of pride. “We will fight to the last man,” he said.
“What if the last man is a woman?”
“Then she will kill Hitler.”
“Are you sure?”
“I am.” The captain grinned broadly and snuffed out his cigarette on the metal arm of his seat. “She’s British. Hitler isn’t.”
Lincoln watched the flat, ashen countryside roll past outside the window. They had gone for miles, maybe for hours, and he had seen no sign of life. No lights. No farms. No towns. No villages. Nothing but the night and his own reflection in a cracked pane of glass coated with fingerprints and dust.
He turned again to the captain, who was lighting another cigarette. “I was with a girl when the rocket hit,” he said.
“Beautiful young lady,” the captain said.
“You saw her?”
“Everyone on the street saw her.” The captain smiled. “Beauty in the midst of war is such a rarity.”
“Did you see what happened to her?”
“She didn’t get on the train.”
“Where did she go?”
“The last I saw,” the captain said, “she was walking alone down the street.”
“Why did I let her go?” Lincoln asked, mostly to himself.
The captain chuckled. “What choice did you have?” he said.
In the distance, Lincoln saw a crease of light break through the darkness, and he heard the thunder, and the heavy rains descended on the landscape to wash the light away.
Chapters of Night Side of Dark will be published on Saturday and Sunday.
Please click the title, Night Side of Dark, to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his novels on Amazon.