“You are dooooomed!”
He wasn’t really paying attention to anything while he waited the tram, so the cry of the crazed looking man caught Callum off guard, making him jump. He would usually just move away from those types of people, doomsayers, vagrants and the like, but before he could the man grabbed him by his collar and held him close.
“Hey!” Callum protested, trying to push the man off. He was surprised. Instead of the weak frame of someone half-starved from living on the streets, the man had the strong muscles of someone who was well fed and worked out regularly. Unable to free himself he was forced to endure another earful as the man continued his litany.
“If you go you shall not return, don’t go, don’t go!” He cried again, shaking Callum as he did.
More concerned with the pain in his ear than the words, Callum tried to kick a leg out from under him but the man just stepped to avoid it and pulled him even closer. It was then Callum noticed something else odd. The man was smartly dressed and only had slight stubble. It was as if he had shaved only yesterday and got ready to go out, in a decent suit as well. It was obvious from the look of his clothes that he had slept rough on the platform. His shirt was crumpled and torn at the sleeves, his jacket missing and his trousers cuffs frayed. But why? Callum wondered.
“They are slow, patient, you don’t notice at first, not until it is too late”, the mysterious doomsayer whispered, his voice cracking.
Callum didn’t understand what he was talking about, but he was happy that the man was no longer shouting in his ear. As he looked into his eyes, eyes that seemed to be almost pleading now, he noticed something else. They constantly moved, and there was a definite degree of madness in them, but behind all that there was an unmistakable intelligence. There were heavy bags under them and his face looked almost drained but there was definitely a degree of rational intelligence somewhere in there. Callum wondered how a man who was obviously reasonably well off, intelligent and usually kept himself well-groomed, could end up looking so rough and spouting nonsense on a tram platform in Chorlton.
The sound of his tram approaching drew him out of his reverie, he would be late for work if he missed it. The man however showed no signs of letting him go. If anything he held on even tighter. Callum had had enough, he elbowed the man hard in the gut and instantly he let go, groaning in pain and clutching his stomach. Tidying himself up Callum turned his back on the crazed man and stepped onto the tram. Just before the doors closed he chanced a look back, the man was still standing there clutching his stomach, but he was looking at him again.
“You must get off. It’s not safe. Please”, he said in a faint winded voice.
There was something in the way the man looked at him. He was half mad but if it had been anyone else Callum may have listened. He felt bad for hurting the man but he had grabbed him after all, and he didn’t want to be late for work. Instead he took a seat and tried to ignore him. But when the tram pulled away he couldn’t help one final look. The man was still staring at him and seemed to be…crying?
Before he could ponder the strange sight any longer the tram pulled away. By the time he had reached the next station he had managed to drag himself back into his usual routine. He planned out his work day and checked his schedule, everything went on as normal. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong though. He just didn’t know what.
As he approached Piccadilly Gardens he gathered his things and prepared to leave. He felt quite lethargic but that was nothing new for a Monday morning and with some effort he levered himself out of his seat. Stepping onto the platform he felt instantly better in the fresh air.
Entering the office he greeted everyone, asked them about their weekend, the normal routine, but his mind kept coming back to the man on the platform. Why had he got inside his head so much? He’d seen doomsayers before around the city, always spouting nonsense and he just ignored it. Was it because this one had seemed so odd? Or was he letting his imagination run wild? There was definitely something odd about the tram ride but he didn’t know what it was. Jesus, he thought, I really need to stop reading science fiction and get a grip.
With renewed determination he continued his day. Quite an average day on the scale of things, but the strange man was never far from his thoughts. On his dinner break he wandered out of the office to the local Burger King, hoping a little junk food would help. It didn’t. Instead it seemed to make things worse. As he was waiting for his food all he could do was watch the trams go by, which made him think of the man again. He was glad when the clock finally struck five and he could leave. All he wanted to do by that point was get home, stick the TV on and become absorbed by some fantasy world or other. To do that he had to do one more thing. Something which he wasn’t one hundred percent sure about doing. He had to ride the tram.
Standing on the platform he watched his tram approach. He could feel a knot in his stomach getting tighter as it got closer. It was silly, he told himself, it was just a tram, just a machine, and the man was just some half-crazed loon who enjoyed freaking people out. There was nothing to worry about. But he did worry. As the tram came to a stop and the doors slid open, he very nearly couldn’t step in, he very nearly walked away and called a taxi to take him home. He didn’t.
The tram was quite busy and he was lucky to find a seat, but when he did sit down he felt a little better. Just an ordinary tram he told himself. He decided that an audiobook would be a good way to pass the time. He got his phone out and put some headphones in, selecting the latest murder mystery he was halfway through. Based in the early Elizabethan era, it was about an ex-communicate Monk who was visiting Oxford, officially to debate philosophy but unofficially to root out hidden Catholics. There had already been one savage murder and Callum expected there to be several more, it was something he could focus his mind on and get away from these silly ideas in his head.
As he began to be engrossed in the story he started to feel very relaxed, finally able to let go of the events of the day. The repetitive noises of the tram moving along the rails, click clack, and the sound of sparks above, siss sisss, soothed him. He felt more and more tired as time went by. He noticed at one point that he had missed an entire conversation and cursed, rewinding the audiobook and telling himself to pay attention. He tried for a while but it didn’t last long. He was just too comfortable. He would have to stand up and stretch his legs.
That was when he noticed something very wrong. He couldn’t get up. At first he thought he was just really tired, or his coat was caught on something, but it was more than that. He physically couldn’t get out his seat. It felt like his entire body was glued to the material of the chair. He could move himself left and right a bit but couldn’t break contact. He started to panic, not understanding what was happening, but his efforts were futile and not helped by his lack of energy.
Looking around he could see that he wasn’t the only one in this situation. Others obviously couldn’t get out of their seats either and he saw flashes of panic in their eyes, whilst some had simply fallen asleep. They were tired. They were all tired, but it was more than that. They looked drained, like something was leeching the energy right out of them. He felt the same and try as he might couldn’t summon any more energy to free himself.
He wanted to call for help, hoping against hope that someone still had enough strength left to save him, but he couldn’t. It was as if his voice had been stolen. All he could do was writhe in his seat and look on in despair. As he looked around he realised it wouldn’t have helped anyway, even those stood up were stuck, just in different ways.
It was like the tram was trying to absorb them. Those people who held poles now had half their hand melded with it, and those that hung from slings on the railings above were being held up by what now looked like nooses, firmly tied round their wrists. To his ever growing horror, looking down, he realised that his hands were now almost completed absorbed by the seat, as were most of his feet by the floor. There was no way out now. When it was only his clothes that were caught there might have been. Not now.
Then it clicked. The man on the platform. The doomsayer with the torn clothes. He was a survivor! He had realised what was happening in time to tear himself free of whatever held them and escape. He hadn’t been mad, he had been terrified out of his wits and had tried to stop others suffering the same fate that had almost befallen him.
Barely able to keep his eyes open now, his strength almost entirely gone, he saw that the tram had changed tracks. Instead of heading towards Chorlton, it was diverting into the tram depot. Silently, slowly, as if it had all the time in the world now, it glided into the main shed of the depo, into pitch darkness.
As the doors began to close behind them, and the light began to fade, Callum finally gave up any hope of escaping his fate. With his strength gone and half his body already absorbed by the seat below him, the last light of day disappearing behind the shed doors signalled his end. And as his phone was absorbed he heard a voice through his headphones, a voice that chilled him to his very core, a voice like nothing else he had ever heard. It said three words.
“You are mine.”