Sitting on the railroad tracks before them was an apparition of a train, two, maybe three stories in height, with balconies and railings and tall detailed windows, with ornament at every angle and joining. As the night grew darker, the train grew lighter, but no more solid. There was a hazy glow around it like lights through a fog, except that there was no fog.
“That’s interesting,” said Senhor Capoeira Capybara. They all stared wide-eyed at the shimmering Mississippi riverboat-cum-hotel on tracks, except that Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone murmured “I see nothing.”
“The Last Train Out,” said Dr. Ransom faintly.
It was Grandmère Hutan who started to move up to the side of the train, where there was a doorway with stairs. The capybara followed her, and since Terence Ransom was leaning on him, he stumbled along, followed by Jeanette. Lord Elphinstone broughtup the rear, but he didn’t focus the way the others did.
There was a tall thin creature in a brass-buttoned costume that resembled a conductor’s uniform described to an illustrator who had never seen one. It had pointed ears and thin, tilted eyes. The orangutan spoke up in a businesslike fashion, “Excuse me, sir, but we’re looking to leave this place as quickly as we can and we were wondering if we could book passage on your--train,” she said, with only the slightest of pauses.
“All are welcome. Do you have tickets?” The official said in a whispery yet pleasant voice.
“The station office is closed,” the capybara said.
“It always is,” nodded the conductor. “Four and one child? First class or staterooms?” It whispered, implying in no uncertain terms that no bargains were going to be had.
“One second,” the capybara said, and suddenly Jeanette found herself supporting her father’s distressingly limp body. In a very short period of time, Senhor Capoeira was back, running on all fours, Lord Elphinstone’s suitcase on his back. He undid the straps, dug in, and emerged with a handful of gold coins.
“I’m sorry,” the conductor sniffed, “but the management company does not consider those legal tender.”
The capybara pulled out a string of perfect pearls, still wet with the tears of the oysters who relinquished them.
“Nor are we an appraisal shop,” the conductor sniffed. “If you’ll excuse me…”
Grandmère Hutan came forward and pulled the glistening green mantis egg out from under her blanket. With no change of expression, the conductor took it and said, “Three staterooms or will two do?”
Jeanette was looking at this ghostly structure and a hard, cold fear gripped her. For everything that she had seen, the horrible and the wonderful, this drove a sword of ice right through her heart as nothing else had done.
She noticed that her father had shut his eyes in sleep, so she turned her head to talk to Senhor Capoeira. “Why are you all acting like this is normal? This is the Last Train Out! It had to have been summoned by the death of the mantis! This is--this is--don’t you see it? Don’t you feel it?”
The capybara patted her on the shoulder, “I know it’s unusual--but we have to get away from this fortress as quickly as possible.”
Angrily, Jeanette pushed her father onto Senhor Capoeira and strode forward to the orangutan. “Are you crazy? We can’t just take a trip on something like this! You know why it took the egg as payment! This is a transport of the dead!” And the last word came out as a cracked whistle.
“Hush, child. Death is not for the likes of you or me, at least not in this fashion. Just stay close to me and all will be well.”
There was a tiny vibration in her voice that made Jeanette hiss, “you’ve never been on anything like this before, have you? Have you?”
“I do not think that there is anything ‘like this’ in all of infinity, my child.” Grandmère purred. “Come now.”
In the mean time, the armored tiger was trying to put a foot up on the stairway, but since he saw nothing, he was not finding the riser. An involuntary growl escaped his throat. The orangutan came over and touched him. “Bend down that great head of yours, monsieur.” Sir Elphinstone stopped his attempt and did as she asked. She pulled a small kerchief from under her blanked and tied it securely around the tiger’s eyes. “Now make your attempt.”
He now stepped up by feel alone and climbed in easily. “My thanks, mother.”
“Grandmother. You’re welcome.”
Holding tight to Grandmère, Jeanette entered the car. But her fear grew deeper as she looked up and around. Big as the train was from the outside, this was the cavernous lobby of a grand hotel, with galleries upon galleries of skeletal railings and geometry-carven pillars, and all in the ghostly illluminated mistiness of the outside.
The orangutan said in a conversational voice, “I think your father will lie in a comfortable bed tonight, my little one. He dearly needs such a thing.”
Jeanette’s panic, which had only been growing and tightening in her chest, finally burst. “DON’T YOU SEE? DON’T YOU SEE? THIS IS DYING! I CAN’T DO THIS!” She wrenched herself from the orangutan’s grip, turned, and ran.
The hotel/train made its first hesitant motion, and then another.
Jeanette ran across the lobby, down the stairs and out the doorway as the movement accelerated.
She hit the platform, stumbled, brought herself up, and ran as fast as she could as a chorus of hissing and ringing sounds filled her ears. She shut her eyes and the pounding of her heart filled her ears.
It was only about ten feet but it exhausted her. Panting, she turned around and looked back.
The ghost train was halfway along the upward-sloping track, glowing outlines disappearing into the mist, except there was no mist.
She stood there on the dark railway platform before the fortress full of monsters, and she was completely alone.