Author’s Note: This is a little something I whipped on a plane on my way to WorldCon in 2015. It’s a bit crazy and warped, but I had a good time writing it. Thanks to the Front Range Fiction Writers for helping me whip it into shape.
The transdimensional express rocked on its mystical tracks and tossed Father Gunther off balance. He stumbled more than the train’s movements warranted, partly because of his high levels of inebriation, and partially because he’d yet to become accustomed to travel between dimensions. After almost being ousted from the church for the third time, he and the cardinal came to an agreement. Gunther had to accept a post in a “remote area.”
He ricocheted against a wall and staggered farther down the corridor while grumbling in his Jersey accent. “Africa is remote. Siberia is remote. Fer chrissake, Virginia Beach is remote for me.” When the cardinal had produced the paperwork, Gunther eagerly signed without reading a word.
Once Gunther had sobered up, he realized he was headed for some land named, “Kilnar.” The disgraced priest, but a priest still, had tried to find a country, city, county, province, or some other place with that name. He failed.
The train he’d been on for what felt like three weeks straight shifted again in an unnatural up-and-to-the-left motion reserved for roller coasters at the Jersey boardwalk. Several minutes passed before Gunther managed to claw his way back into a more vertical position. He cussed the cardinal’s name and family tree with every inch of upward gain toward his feet.
Gunther decided he’d had enough of this train and would get off at the next stop. The priest paused for a moment to reflect on the fact that he couldn’t recall the train ever stopping. He half walked and half tottered down the train, passing through several cars before running headlong into a crying woman.
He saw her coming, wanted nothing to do with her tears, had no desire to console or guide her, and attempted to dodge left, but the motion of the train decided otherwise for him. They went down in a heap with her blonde curls covering her face, and the Gunther banging an elbow against an ornate door handle.
As they both rose to their feet, him muttering, her crying, his overly large crucifix fell out from beneath his jacket and swung by its chain against his chest.
The woman’s eyes flew wide. “You’re a priest! Maybe you can help me?”
Gunther said, “Doubt it,” under his breath.
She asked, “What was that?”
The priest cleared his throat and spoke up. “Nuttin’. Watcha need?”
Tears flowed anew, which annoyed Gunther more than anything else about this woman. She blurted out, “My little Tommy is gone! I can’t find him anywhere. I’ve searched high and low, from the front of the train to the rear of the train.”
Gunther’d roamed the train up and down, as well. He’d never found a lead engine, or any engine for that matter, or a caboose. How had this woman had managed to find a front and a back? In an attempt to dismiss the woman’s fears, he slurred out, “Maybe he’s with his father?”
She shook her head. “My husband is dead. Killed four years ago in the war of 2738 on the Zymbrox system.”
Gunther furrowed his brow. 2738? Zymbrox? What year did this crazed woman think it was? How long had he been on the train? He was certain it had been 2003 when he got on this damnable train. Zymbrox? Wasn’t that a drug to treat some wart or herpes or something like that? To recover from his flummoxed thoughts, he asked, “Wha?”
She rolled her tear-filled eyes at him and said in a deadpan manner, “I’m a widow.”
Some of the haze of booze cleared from Gunther’s brain as he recalled the events and words of the last minute. He hated it when the alcohol in his blood ran dry. Thinking a bit more clearly, he asked, “Your boy, wassiz name again?”
“Right. M’kay. This Tommy. Where’s the last time you seen him?”
“The where is in the food car. The time is about twenty minutes ago.”
Gunther didn’t know where the food car was in relation to his current location in the train. To be honest, he didn’t know where it was at all. He could certainly find the booze car in short order if allowed to do so, but not the food one. He thought hard and came up with, “Which way to the food?”
The woman hiked a thumb over her shoulder to indicate the direction Gunther was going.
The priest smiled in what he hoped to be a reassuring way — he didn’t notice the woman scowl and recoil through his booze-induced haze — and said, “Sh’good. T’was already goin’ dat way. You keep going where youze was goin’, and I’ll keep goin’ the way I was a goin’. We’ll cover twice the ground, er, um, train dat way. S’okay?”
The woman opened her mouth to say something more, but Gunther interrupted with a finger over her lips. “SSSShhhhhhh…… We’re wastin’ time flappin’ our jaws.”
She wiped away the spittle from Gunther’s extended shush and practically ran in the other direction.
To no one in particular, Gunther said, “She’s eager to find her boy. Good mom, there.” He looked around in an attempt to orient himself and failed. “S’pose I should look for this Tommy boy, too.”
He picked a direction, more or less at random, and made his way down the hallway calling out, “Tommy! Tommy! Tom-tom-tommy!” at the top of his lungs.
Twelve searched cars, five twisty train turns, seven drunken stumbles, two sobering face-plants, and one blasphemous uttering directed at the cardinal’s genitalia later, Gunther still had not found the child. Fortunately for the rest of the train’s inhabitants, Gunther’s throat had grown too parched for him to continue to yell Tommy’s name. Unfortunately, this meant the lack of repetition of the name yielded a loss of the boy’s name in Gunther’s mind. The priest barely recalled what he searched for at all.
Gunther turned a corner in the corridor and something in the back of his mind wondered how a train could be bent at such a sharp angle. He decided to put the question aside until he could think about it over a drink or five. Something about a boy, probably young and innocent and in need of help, jumped into his thoughts.
Unsure where the idea came from, Gunther tried to push it down. As he did mental battle with the urgency of the thought, he opened a door hoping to find a water closet. Instead of a closet with a toilet and sink, the small area was filled with several brooms, a mop in an empty bucket, and a fresh corpse.
A fresh corpse that moved toward him with a groan.
The priest cursed under his breath at the zombie. He hated zombies because that meant a necromancer lurked nearby.
The zombie leaped out of the closet and reached for Gunther’s throat.
The priest stumbled backward and reached for his crucifix.
The zombie’s fingernails scratched at Gunther’s shirt.
Gunther’s fingers found the bottom portion of the crucifix.
The zombie snarled.
Gunther screamed, “By the power of Christ, I compel you! Ashes to ashes, dust to dust!”
The zombie stopped, looked confused — and slightly hurt — before collapsing into a pile of ash and bone all over Gunther, the nice carpets in the train’s hallways, and against the wood paneling of one wall.
The priest coughed and hacked his way free of the plume of dust that was once an unliving creature. Gunther swatted away the trails of dust following him down the hallway before patting his breast pocket, looking for a flask. He didn’t find a flask, but created more plumes of undead dust that rose into the air.
“Well, that’s no good. There’s gotta be a necromancer ’round here somewhere.” The slur in his voice had vanished. The battle with the zombie had completely sobered up Gunther. More than a little pissed that the last of his buzz had prematurely evaporated, the priest marched down the hall banging on cabin doors.
“Anyone seen Tommy? He’s a small kid. Looks like… looks like a kid and answers to the name of Tommy! Anyone?!” Gunther didn’t know a lick of what the child looked like, but he figured there had to be a way for him to find him. Something in his nature compelled him to find the boy before he could return the bar and get another round of drunk going strong.
Voices raised from the other sides of the doors hollered back at Gunther. He couldn’t understand the voices because of the wooden doors, so he assumed they were calling back, “We’ll help.” and “I’m on the lookout!”
Gunther made it a very short distance before he tripped over a shoe at the same time the train lurched. Despite his post-zombie sobriety, he went down in a heap. In his non-natural state of non-drunk, he tensed against the impact, and the carpeted floor knocked the air out of him like a rabid Scotsman squeezing on a bagpipe.
The priest stayed on the floor for a good long minute, perhaps two, before opening his eyes. When he recovered enough to look around, not more than a foot from his nose was a very small, almost perfectly conical pile of gray dust. He assumed the dust was from the zombie he’d killed earlier, then his eyes focused further down the hallway on another pile, and another.
Slowly sitting up, Gunther spotted a whole row of these little piles.
Hah! I’ve found the necromancer’s trail.
Gunther pushed his way to his feet and followed the piles of grave dust to a door. He leaned in and listened at the thin wood, but couldn’t make out any sounds. Deciding to catch whoever stood on the other side by surprise, Gunther backed away from the door as far as the corridor allowed.
Then he charged the door and threw his considerable bulk against the wood.
The door’s hinges screamed in protest.
The door groaned in pain.
The door’s latch screeched in surrender and snapped with a loud pop!
The priest tumbled and fell into the room, landing with a firm thud on the floor.
A man in gray robes hunched over a young boy holding a knife over the boy’s heart.
The necromancer hissed at the priest and raised his delicately curved knife with a pin-prick point.
The priest yelled at the necromancer and raised his overly-wrought, incredibly heavy crucifix.
The necromancer stabbed at the priest.
The priest brought his crucifix smashing down on the necromancer’s wrist.
The necromancer howled in pain and dropped the knife.
The priest snarled, stepped in, and bonked the necromancer on the head.
The necromancer fell to the floor of his cabin in a small, gray heap.
With the fight over, Gunther wished even more for a drink, but first he had to check on the boy. He went over to the child and checked him out. He seemed to be intact, healthy, alive, and in perfect condition, except for one missing shoe. Gunther let out a sigh of relief and picked Tommy up.
He carried the boy into the hallway and headed back toward where the he had run into the boy’s mother. Halfway, or as best as Gunther could guess, the mother rounded a corner followed by a team of conductors. They still searched the cabins for Tommy.
The train lurched side to side, but the sober priest maintained his balance to protect the child in his arms. He walked up to the crying mother. “I believe this is your son?”
She shrieked, “Tommy! It’s my boy. Is he okay?”
Gunther shrugged. “As best as I can tell, yes.” He turned to the conductors. “I’ll need a few of you to come with me to catch the man who absconded with the boy. I’ve knocked him out, but it won’t last long.”
When the group arrived at the necromancer’s cabin, he was gone. The only proof of his existence in the room was several larger piles of grave dust.
The head conductor organized a search party for the necromancer to bring him to firm justice.
Gunther organized his own search… for the nearest bar. He had grave dust on his tongue and in his throat that needed a firm resolution.