We left our odd hosts at the edge of the cracked asphalt. We were their hailed heroes, but they quickly forgot us. They couldn’t be blamed for their fickleness. With new concerns, their focus turned inward. I looked around at those remaining passengers who again walked with me. I couldn’t bring myself to count how many of us were left. We’d begun as several train cars full of people, and now we couldn’t be more than twenty.
We moved in a direction we didn’t understand. Having no guide or experience in the area, we could do nothing except choose a bearing and follow it. I asked everyone to point in the direction they thought we should go at once, and we would go where the majority of us indicated. At the count of three, every last one of us lifted our arms and pointed the same way. It was eerie, but we all felt a strong inclination to go the same way.
Just before we lost sight of the building that had housed the machine, we found a medium-sized, green lock box. There were various survival supplies inside, but most everything was ancient beyond use or recognition. I traded the strange electric gun I was still carrying for a short-barreled shotgun. Everyone else had left their weapons behind. After all that had happened, I didn’t feel that I was being paranoid. Neither did I blame anyone else for the wishful thinking that must have prevailed upon them. There was nothing else of use in the box.
And on we walked, another long trek on our journey home. I hoped it would be our last. Up over low hills and down into wide, grass-filled valleys, we cut through beautiful, trackless landscape. All of us moved with deep weariness. Humans bodies can adjust to such exertions as we had experienced, but not in two days. Thankfully, we did not have far to go.
We crested a last rise in the land, and suddenly the end was in sight. Down at the bottom of a long, slow slope, we saw a house. More welcome to my eyes were several cars and a road that wound up the hill that began behind the house and out into the distance. Our feet hastened toward the house with renewed vigor. Joyful and aimless conversation bubbled up among us as we went. The house had seemed at a fair distance when we first spied it, but we closed on it quickly. Soon, and with many exultant sighs of relief, our feet crushed the rock of the gravel walkway.
We called out to the house as we approached, knocked loudly at the door, and almost immediately walked in. We crowded into the living room, still chattering unreservedly. The curtains were drawn and the lights were out. The carpet was a thick, faded blue. It felt like civilization to me. But the quiet of the house was deep, somehow absorbing our own noise and substituting it with an echoed silence. Our conversation dropped off quickly and we turned about in the room, hushed and curious.
It seemed apparent to us that the house was abandoned, or at least empty for the time being. With new reverence, we instinctively began to investigate our surroundings. A few of us started up the stairs that ran up the side of the room. Others made toward doors that led out of the room, looking for the kitchen or bathroom. I didn’t care about anything except finding the keys to the cars outside. I thought that they must be hanging on a hook, or in a desk drawer close by.
Before anybody could actually leave the room, a sound from deeper in the house arrested us. It was a hideous, howling laugh. All the dread I hadn’t yet acknowledged in my heart suddenly rushed into my brain. My breath caught in my throat. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t swallow. That laugh contained every childhood fright that had ever kept me up at night. It was as though someone had carved a key out of raw fear and it fit perfectly into the lock of my mind. I could feel my sanity let out through the door and escaping. A pounding, approaching thump reverberating through the floor.
“Up the stairs! Everybody! Go NOW!”
My voice surprised everyone, even me. There was a quick, panicked rush toward the staircase, and then a door at the back of the room burst off the hinges. I could see a massive, yellow figure through the doorway. It crouched, still too big for the frame, and pushed its way through. Both sides and the top of the frame crumbled and gave way before the yellow mass. It stood up straight in the greater height of the living room, a long shape of a man, disproportionately tall, and yellow like plastic or lemon flavored taffy. Then the laughter resumed, crawling right into my mind.
The thing had no face, or at least no features except for an unhinged mouth. Spikes like hair molded directly from its head stuck up straight and long. There was no distinction in any part of its frame. Head ran into neck, and neck ran into shoulders. No muscles or bones gave it any kind of differentiation. It was as though someone had created a molding of a humanoid, but had not yet fashioned it with any defining characteristics. It had nothing except height, a spiked head, and cackling laughter that made me want to curl up and weep.
The shotgun when off in my hands. I had forgotten that I even held it, and it almost jumped out of my grip. Yellow bits flew off of the yellow man’s side. He closed the distance between us in an instant and caught me up in his hands. Other passengers fled up the stairs as it held me close to its face and laughed like mad. One would think I had just told it the funniest joke it had ever heard. Then it dropped me back to me feet and swept aside an armchair with brush of its long arm.
I ran around behind it and mounted the stairs behind my companions. The thing reached up to pluck one of us from over the railing and tossed a man over its shoulder. He tumbled through the air like he weighed nothing at all and slammed into the wall next to the front door. The manic laughter didn’t even pause. We climbed as quickly as we could. The thrown man slumped upside down on the floor. Yellow hands gripped the rail and the thing swung its own head into the drywall.
Once, twice. The wailing laughter ceased for the moment and all we heard was the sickening sound of the material disintegrating under the assault. Then it pulled its head out and leaned in close to us again, laughing from one terrified person to another. Drywall dust and splintered wood stuck into its flat, yellow face. I put my back against the wall, one foot above the other, and leveled the shotgun from my hip. I fired and pumped again and again.
Neither the shotgun fire, nor the damage it did to itself by bashing itself into building seemed to phase the yellow man. My gunfire sounded over its laughter, which only paused when it was smashing its own face into the rail. I blasted craters and holes into the torso, while it pitted and broke off pieces of its head all on its own. Some of the others made it all the way up the stairway, but those immediately in front of me were frozen in terror. I couldn’t make them move. I believed we were finished.
But then the thing pushed back from the rail and reeled about the room, still screaming out its awful laugh. It thrashed more of the furniture with inhuman strength, and then turned and tore its way through another doorway. The last passengers came to themselves and ran up the stairs. I lost no time in following. The others huddled on the landing at the top silently. Their eyes looked to me in utter, confused horror. Below us, the sound of laughter grew distant, and then completely quiet.
I whispered a powerless assurance to the group and tried to think of a plan. Pumping the shotgun had ceased to cycle in fresh shells, I was out. I went through the upstairs rooms until I found a window that overlooked the driveway filled with cars. I lifted the dormer window open as quietly as possible. When I looked over my shoulder, several passengers were huddled in the doorway with worried looks. They were afraid I was abandoning them, or worse, that the noise I was making would attract the yellow man back upon us. I shook my head at them, trying again to offer some comfort as I climbed out the window and onto the roof.
I crept out to the edge and dropped carefully down. The soles of my feet ached from the impact, but I was alright. I crouched and ran to the cars. If there was one with the keys in the ignition, maybe there was a chance we could escape. I looked first in the window of a big, white van. It would be perfect for getting all of us out at once. But no luck. The next was a small car, and there were no keys in it either. Awful surety crept into my heart that all the keys were inside the house. The quiet of the house, and the hopes of the other passengers, clawed at my back. There were two cars left. The next car, a station wagon, was also empty. Then, against all sense of caution, I heard one of the passengers calling to me from the open window.
“Hey! It’s ok! You can come back inside!”
I turned and stood up straight, feeling exposed and silly. The man in the window waved me inside. A woman appeared next to him and waved also before they both disappeared. I waited for a second, and then walked slowly back up the front steps and through the door. My companions were descending down the ruined stairs, completely calm. A strange woman led them. I turned a chair back onto its feet and sunk into it, suddenly exhausted. The woman stood silently while some of the others explained to me what had happened.
The woman was some sort of witch. She had cast a spell on her son, and he had changed into the yellow thing that had attacked us. Her son, she had told them, wasn’t at fault. Apparently, after terrorizing us on the stairway, he had wandered into a bedroom, laid down, and fallen asleep. I stood and went alone along the trail of destruction it had left through the house. I came upon the bedroom and looked inside. There was no man on the bed, only a streak of yellow that matched his shape. The residue was thick and waxy. I thought again of taffy.
Back in the living room, the woman was explaining herself. I didn’t care. I took the keys that she held in her hand and passed them around to the other passengers. We went outside and loaded into the vehicles. The woman stood just outside her front door as I started up the lead car and drove it up her steep driveway. We were done with the train and its four stops. At last, we were on our way back to civilization, back to home.