The TRAIN into the Valley of MADNESS Episode 7

The night dropped down upon the valley floor like a deep dark cloud falling from the sky, and though the stars still shone bright shards of lightning streaked across the heavens like jagged swords. The wind howled like a chorus of banshees, and somewhere off down the canyon, out of the valley, steel screeched on steel and countless souls screamed in horror.

Everyone crowded into the dining lounge terrified that such darkness could come in the middle of the morning on a crisp bright October day.

“Everyone be calm. Find a table. This happens now and then especially this time of year,” cried out the Maître’ d. The hotel manager came in ordering everyone to follow him into the bar lounge where drinks would be served free.

“There is nothing to fear…nothing at all,” he assured.
The conductor came in next, demanding to know what was going on. “This is not how it’s suppose to go.”
“I know, but some idiot has screwed up. There weren’t supposed to be so many passengers on this trip. We have 69 and there were only supposed to be 7” replied the Manager.

The Conductor groaned, “Great. Now I suppose it’ll be us who has to fix it.”
“This is madness. What the hell is going on?” Someone cried out, then in chorus a dozen more followed suit, “Ya, what’s going on? Where’s the train? When are we going back? I have a meeting I can’t miss.”
And on it went until one resounding crash of thunder shook the entire hotel foundation to rafters, and it seemed like there were words riding on the thunder; “Be silent fools.”

But of course that was just what some fancied. It was just an audio illusion because they were frightened.
It took the Conductor, Maître’ d, and the Manager nearly a half hour to settle everyone into a lounge chair and ply them with whatever drink they chose. The bartender took it upon himself to make them all doubles.

It was the party of six that finally set the example and settled down to ply away the time with their drinks and playing poker, toothpick poker since that was the only commodity available. Then one by one or two by two the rest settled in.

Another crash of reverberating thunder slammed the hotel. Seconds later or more accurately, as the thunder crashed, Jake Taggert stood from his chair, took a half dozen steps, holding his chest, or rather the knife that was sticking out of his chest.

“It was the devil that did it!” He screamed as he careened over a table and crashed to the floor.
Silence. Utter silence filled the room. Not even the thunder could break through it as everyone stood to their feet and stared at Jake Taggert who was still twitching but undoubtedly dead with a knife shearing through his heart.

“This just keeps getting better” grumbled the Conductor.
“Well. At least it’s one of the 7. I think someone is trying to fix the error” replied the Manager.
“But why the first death? That corpse wasn’t even registered as a passenger. Where did he come from?” The Maître’ d demanded.

“Let’s face it fellas. We’ve got us a comedy of horrors happening and it ain’t gonna end until the.” the Bartender was saying when someone screamed to interrupt his humour.
“Jeez. What now?” groaned the manager.

The screamer was Mrs. Meridath Grolundi who had jumped out of her chair when Jake Taggert careened across her table. She was clutching her throat and screaming, “Get it off me. Get it off me.” But all anyone saw was her own fingers in a deadly clutch around her throat which tightened as she screamed, muting her screams and stifling her breath. She may have strangled herself if the Maître’ d had not come to her rescue and ripped the clutching fingers away from her throat. By then she was nearly blue and voiceless and she fell limp to the floor, a little round in the wrong places to be caught by any normal person, even a strong one.

“Whatever is she doing?” Someone demanded.
The Manager cringed. “Now this. I have only seen this once before, many decades ago when someone tried to trick the fates. Hallucinations. There’ll be bedlam abound if this takes hold. WE better get all the staff together. We may have to herd everyone to the infirmary for valium. The last time this happened the guests reenacted a Salem Witch burning party.”
“How can things go so wrong?” rumbled the Conductor.
“Gentlemen. It’s called the Random Factor. It sweeps in now and then, causes havoc then sweeps out leaving behind chaos.” It was the seldom seen and ever elusive Head Maid who pointed out the fact.
“Jeez. He promised he’d never let it happen again.” said the Manager.
“He lied. He always lies. Haven’t you figured that out yet?” replied the Head Maid.
“I didn’t think he would lie to me after I have served him loyally for practically forever.” mooned the Manager.
“Believe me Pal. It’s not about you. Not even he can control the Random Factor. That’s the lie. He tells everyone that he can but the truth is no one can control it. And this time it’s making up for lost opportunities I think.” The Head Maid explained.
“Is someone going to move the body?” someone demanded.
The Police inspector bellowed, “No one moves the body. Not until I make an examination. This is another murder case.”

Indeed, it turned out to be a dark and stormy morning in the Valley of Madness and promised to get infinitely darker and stormier before lunch.
“Inspector. I can not allow you to allow this corpse to be left sprawled across my floor.” complained the Bartender. “Please make it fast or I will have maintenance come and lug the thing to the cellar.”
“I agree. It is obvious the man was stabbed to death. How much more do you need to know?” agreed the Manager.

Mrs. Grolundi recovered just then and said hoarsely, “A ghostly thing stabbed him and the ghostly thing tried to strangle me.”

By Donald H Roberts

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