People from various worlds wake up on a train where they have to solve who is reviving people from the dead in this reverse murder mystery game show.
Elle snuggled tight on her comforter while forcing her eyes to stay close so she could continue to soak in her luxurious sleepy state. Her bed felt unnaturally comfortable like she was staying at a premium resort. Then a voice in her head asked, “Is this even your bed?”
Elle opened her eyes.
The bed was not hers. For starters, Elle’s room did not resemble a royal suite on a train. Waking up in unknown places was not something that happened to her unless one counted all the times she fell asleep in the car during a road trip. However, this was not a road trip, and she wasn’t on vacation either. She vividly recalled going to bed at her apartment, dressed in different clothes. Nothing was out of the ordinary about that night.
Elle spun around and looked at the window behind her. The vastness of endless galaxies shimmered outside. Her heart began to race as she looked up and down through the window.
“I’m in space, but there’s gravity,” she whispered. “This doesn’t make sense.”
As she settled back into the bed, the flatscreen TV across the wall turned on with two siblings standing next to each other in a bright white room.
“Good morning, Elle,” the man in the pinkish suit said with a sly smile and the high energy of a game show host.
“We hope you slept well,” the woman in the red dress said like a scientist conducting a study as she made a note on her tablet device. “I’m Raven, and this is Loki.”
“Where am I?” Elle asked, unsure if they could hear her.
“You’re on the Oriental Express,” Raven said. “That we put in space with some modifications.”
Loki spun in a circle. “And we have you here for a game. It’s like a murder mystery, but in reverse, as everyone tries to solve who is bringing people back from the dead.”
All Elle could blurt out in response was, “What?”
“The door to your suite will unlock in 10 minutes, giving you time to use the bathroom and enjoy the breakfast we’ve prepared.” Raven pointed below where a feta cheese and egg white spinach wrap raised from a compartment on the dresser. “Figure out who among you is raising the dead, and you get to go back home.”
“However.” Loki waved his finger. “If they revive all seven people first, you will be stuck here forever.”
The screen of the siblings transitioned away to a logo of a magnifying glass over a dead body. Elle sat there for a moment, processing everything. She was positive this was not a dream. With no other options, Elle followed their suggestion to eat and freshen up. She didn’t find another set of clothes, but she woke up in attire she would’ve worn to a bunch with friends.
When 10 minutes passed, the doors on each side of the train car automatically opened. Elle looked in the mirror and said to herself, “You are going to embrace the weirdness.”
Elle picked the exit closest to her. A row of yellow fluorescent lights flickered on above as she stepped into a room that felt like one where police would watch an interrogation. File cabinets that seemed to be over a hundred years old lined the dark green concrete walls. Elle scratched her nose at the faint smell of cigarettes.
“Is someone there?”
Elle turned her attention to the room on the other side of the one-way mirror, where a tall man in a black suit with purple pinstripes paced around the room. His skin color was burgundy, while his hair consisted of a blue flame, making Elle think of Hades from the Disney movie Hercules. With a grumble, the strange man adjusted his red tie as he sat down on the steal chair.
The man spoke to the camera like somebody making comments on a reality show. “Which one of you is behind this?”
The man paused, waiting for a response. None came. Elle didn’t dare respond herself. The stranger leaned forward, keeping eye contact with the camera. “What would my wife suggest I do? She would play along.”
The man cleared his throat and sat up straight. He put on a smile. “My name is Hades, a.k.a the God of the Underworlds, and I’m excited to be here to play this game.”
A green light above the door in his room turned on. “Huh. That worked.”
Hades left the room, entering the one with Elle. She took a step back as he looked down at her.
“Hello, there,” Hades said as he studied Elle like a bargain bin book. “I presume you’re stuck here too, mortal. Do you know what’s going on?”
Elle thought for a moment about how to explain. “Well…I woke up in this train car where these two people on the TV said I was on a game show. There is someone on this train bringing people back to life, and we have to solve the mystery of who’s doing it if we want to get back home. We’ll be stuck here if they resurrect all seven dead people.”
“Interesting,” Hades said as he crossed his arms. “I didn’t get that introduction. What did these two look like?”
“One wore this pinkish suit, and the girl had this red dress.”
Hades scoffed. “Loki and Raven.”
“Yeah, that’s who they said they were. Who are they?”
“They are a pain. That’s who they are.”
“Is this Loki like the Norse god?”
“No. Far from it. They are end-timers, eternal beings that can travel throughout time. Only the universe itself is above them.”
“But you’re like a god, right?”
“Yes, but they can go back into time and erase me from existence.”
“That’s one word for it, kid.” Hades started walking to the next train car. “Come on, let’s solve this mystery.”
“You seem…different from what I’ve read,” Elle said as she followed.
“People wrote those accounts of us over 2,000 years ago, so they’re missing a ton of character development and not to mention all the inaccuracies.”
“Oh. That’s a good point.” Elle held out her hand for a shake. “I’m Elle, by the way.”
Hades shook her hand like a professional. “Hades, which I assume you knew from watching me.”
Elle rubbed the side of her arm as her eyes drifted to her white sneakers. “Yeah.”
The show’s hosts decorated the following room in a vintage royalty style similar to Elle’s car, but as a dining room with several square tables with a chair on each side. Elle rushed to the dead body of a human male lying in the middle of the floor while Hades looked out the window into the space.
“That explains why I’m so weak,” Hades said as he stared outside. He turned to Elle and asked, “Is he one of the dead?”
Elle checked for a pulse on the neck. “Yeah, he’s dead. Wait a second. How do I know you’re not the one who can resurrect people?”
Hades waved his hand and rolled his eyes. “Please. I manage the dead. I don’t bring them back to life. Also, deities are partly powered by brief and no one around.”
“Oh,” Elle said as she stood up. “I guess we should try to find the others.”
“Agreed. Let’s check out the next room.”
Ildikó awoke to a golden retriever licking her face. While some people would’ve found being licked by a dog in the morning funny or cute, Ildikó was terrified. Nilnorians did not have dogs on their planet. She shoved the animal and stood up against the wall. The room was like a forest, covered in grass and plants, but with windows to outer space.
“What are you?” Ildikó asked as she searched her tactical vest for a knife, only to find none equipped. “Where are my weapons?”
The dog wagged his tail and ran off.
A TV mounted to a tree switched on to show Loki and Raven.
“Hello, Ildikó,” Raven greeted warmly. “Are you ready to join the game?”
“Who are you?” Ildikó demand. Loki and Raven looked similar to her, but they had beige skin and black hair, while Ildikó’s was purple, prompting her to ask, “What are you?”
“None of that matters,” Loki said. “What matters is that six people on this train are dead, and someone among you is bringing them back to life. To get home, you must solve the mystery of who’s resurrecting everyone.”
Ildikó clenched her fists. “You dare challenge me.”
Loki and Raven cracked half a smile together before the screen transitioned to the logo of a magnifying glass over a dead body.
Ildikó faced the friendly voice, ready to fight.
“You must be another player,” said the dry, scaly blue skin person in a white robe. “I’m Tate, and this Gnarl.”
The red furry beast on two legs with a body of a bull wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and an apron bowed. “Greetings.”
Ildikó relaxed. “My name is Ildikó. I have never seen any people like you on my planet. How are we able to understand each other?”
Tate shrugged. “We figured it has to be something to do with this place.”
Gnarl took a step forward. “We are trying to account for everyone on this train, both alive and dead. We found two of the seven dead.”
“Seven dead?” Ildikó repeated. “I was told there were six.”
Tate and Gnarl exchanged glances.
“The person must already be reviving people,” Tate said.
Gnarl nodded. “We should make haste.”
Elle’s eyes lit up like a child visiting a theme park as she and Hades entered a room with a pool filled with colorful plastic balls. Elle immediately jumped in upon the sight of the ball pit. When she emerged, the balls were up to her chest. With caution, Hades stepped in. He picked up a ball for inspection as Elle swam around.
“There might be a dead body here,” Hades said as he tossed the ball back down.
Elle stopped. Her heart sank. “Right. That’s a good point.”
From the opposite end of the pool, the golden retriever barked.
“There’s a dog!” Elle shouted with joy.
Elle wadded through the balls, carefully feeling each step for fear of stepping on someone. Hades followed with the same reserve. The dog waved his tail as they approached the other side to greet them.
“Hey, there,” Elle said in a playful voice devoted to speaking to dogs. “What’s your name?”
The dog barked.
Hades groaned. “He said his name is Zeus. But don’t get him confused with my brother. This dog is not my brother.”
Elle began to pet Zeus as Gnarl, Ildikó, and Tate entered.
“Greetings,” Gnarl bowed. “I am Gnarl and this is Tate and Ildikó.”
“Hi, I’m Elle, and that’s Hades, and this good boy is Zeus.”
Ildikó scoffed. “Didn’t realize that yellow beast had a name.”
“We have quite the ensemble here,” Hades said, summarizing. “Were you all informed that we must find out who is bringing the seven dead people back to life?”
“We’re at six now, according to the latest broadcast Ildikó saw,” Tate kindly corrected. “Gnarl and I did find two dead individuals on our end.”
“We’ve only found one dead body so far in the previous room,” Elle added. “Though, there might be some in this ball pit. Did you all reach the end on your side?”
“Yes, I came from the end,” Gnarl said. “How about you?”
“The room I woke up in had two exits,” Elle said. “Perhaps we should head that way? Maybe this person is on the opposite end.”
Tate kneed down by the ball pit. “Is this substance you’re swimming in safe?”
Elle held up a ball in her hand. “It’s just plastic balls. They’re safe.”
Gnarl, Ildikó, and Tate slowly lowered themselves like people easing into a cold pool. Once inside, they began to shuffle through to the other side.
Elle looked back and saw the dog sitting by the edge, waiting. “Hold up! We should take Zeus with us.”
“Very well,” Hades said as he doubled back. He scooped up the golden retriever. “My dogs will be so jealous when I get home.”
About halfway through the pool, Gnarl fell into the balls. Everyone paused. Gnarl emerged a moment later. “Found another body. Looks to be the same species as you, Tate.”
Everyone continued, being a bit more cautious with their steps, but they didn’t trip on any more bodies. Hades sat Zeus down, and the dog bolted into the next room, wagging his tail. Everyone climbed out, helping each other out as needed. A crackle followed by a hum filled the room.
“Five people are remaining,” Raven announced over the intercom system.
There was another crackle and then silence.
Ildikó stormed into the next room. “We need to hurry.”
Everyone followed after her. The room was as Hades and Elle last saw, but the dead person was now alive, petting the dog.
“That person was dead when we were here,” Hades explained to the rest of the group.
“Then our healer must be near,” Ildikó as she ran to the next room.
Everyone rushed to the next room while Elle joined Zeus in greeting the previously dead guy.
Elle sat on the ground next to the guy. “Hey, I’m Elle.”
“I’m Nathan. So I’m on a game show, huh? Weird cast of characters.”
Elle laughed. “Yeah. You wouldn’t by any chance remember seeing anyone when you woke up?”
Nathan shook his head. “No, just this dog licking me awake.”
A funny thought popped into Elle’s head. She scratched the dog under his chin. “I bet Zeus here brought you back to life, huh?”
The train car blacked out.
Elle woke up in her bed, dressed in an oversized tank top and underwear. She leaped out of bed, touching everything to ensure this was real. Satisfied, Elle plopped back down on her bed. She looked at her phone. The time was only 6 am.
“That was a weird dream,” Elle said.
Three knocks tapped on her front door. Confused, she tossed on her fluffy white robe to see who was there. On her front porch was a golden retriever who resembled the one in her dream. Elle kneed down, giving the dog scratches as she read the note attached to the collar.
“Dear, Elle,” she read aloud. “As a bonus for the first person to guess correctly, you get to keep Zeus. Don’t worry. We took away his power to revive the dead. Congratulations!”
This short story was written for a challenge on Vocal. The prompt was: “Write a story about someone who wakes up on a train. They have no ticket and no memory of how they got there. Oh, and one more thing: the train shows no signs of slowing down.”