Death Express

The screams of delight mingled with exhilaration and echoed from the roller-coaster rides as we explored Gold Reef City, south of Johannesburg. It was one of the first times we’d been out in public together. I’d been having an affair with David for a few months and we were feeling reckless. His wife was away for the weekend, visiting her family at the coast, and we felt we deserved to have some fun in the sun as well. We were trying our relationship on for size and seeing if it still fitted outside of the bedroom.

We rode the Anaconda about six times. David wasn’t a big fan, but he sat in the front of the ride with me because he knew I loved it, which made me love him even more. His wife was an absolute fool who didn’t appreciate him. She was also a jealous and possessive cow who gave him little freedom. Or that’s what I told that nagging, guilty voice scratching at the back of my mind.

To take my mind off the guilt, I decided to up the ante for an even bigger rush. Only one ride could give that to me. David screamed like a girl on the Tower of Terror and couldn’t understand how I could laugh as we plummeted. He didn’t know the guilt I felt about having an affair with a married man had finally been silenced by the adrenaline rush. I’d be back to feeling like a home wrecker once it wore off, but for a few moments I could enjoy being in love with him.

His legs shook as we got off and I couldn’t help kissing him. It was the first time we’d kissed in public. It took us both by surprise and felt so right. We held hands for the first time while we explored the rest of the gold mining theme park.

We considered going straight back to my place after that kiss, but decided we’d try one more ride. Just one more ride and then we’d make love and never let each other go.

“Promise me, after this ride it’ll be just you and me forever?” I asked, as butterflies danced in my stomach.

“I promise, after today, you’ll be mine forever.” His smile made my heart stop for a second. I knew I was acting like a silly school girl, but couldn’t help myself.

With the promise made we started our search for that last ride.

The Death Express was new and the queue wasn’t as long as those for the other rides. I wasn’t even sure what it was supposed to be, and the expressions on the faces of the men and women as they came out were interesting, to say the least. They all looked haunted and completely freaked out. It gave me the creeps.

“How about we forget about this one and just go home?” I suggested. “Start our new life together?”

“Why? I thought you liked these kinds of things?” David said; his eyes opened wide and his eyebrows rose, giving him that rather comical surprised look.

“I do, but I want to get you home and into bed more than I want to go on some stupid ride I haven’t even heard about.”

“Let’s just try this one. It looks like it’ll be more my speed. I’ve gone on all the ones you chose. Can we try this one? Please.”

“Okay.” I smiled and pretended my stomach wasn’t in my throat. I couldn’t understand why, but there was something about the looks on those faces that made me want to run in the opposite direction. I’d seen a similar expression on my sister just after her car crash. The doctors said she’d been clinically dead for a few seconds. Her eyes had lost their shine. She’d had the eyes of a corpse.

“Do you know what this ride is like?” I asked a red-headed girl in front of me.

“No. No one does and no one who’s been on it will tell me, so I have to see for myself.”

“Oh,” I said. “No one will talk about it? That’s a bit weird.”

“It must be one hell of a ride.” David’s eyes shone.

The queue moved along faster than expected and before I could chicken out, we were at the entrance. I barely had time to read the small print on the sign board at the door. I had to squint to make out the words: Experience your death. Then I was inside before I could consider the ramifications of that line. People were herded one by one into dark cubicles. Someone screamed in the dark then I heard a cry. It was filled with pain and remorse. I wanted to get out but the door was locked and I was trapped in my own dark cubicle. This wasn’t like any ride I’d ever been on and I didn’t know where David was.

The darkness closed in on me, surrounded me. I couldn’t breathe or think. The floor whirled under my feet, making me dizzy. The air was sucked from my lungs and my legs buckled under me. I knelt on the floor, but I was no longer in that small dark cubicle.

I looked around, feeling dizzy and sick to my stomach. Something was very wrong. I was in the Gold Reef City parking lot. David stood over me, a knife in his hand. Where the hell had the knife come from? The thought had only just formed in my mind, when he thrust the knife into my chest. Sharp, excruciating pain sent my nerve endings into spasms. Blood gushed out of the wound. The look in his eyes as he killed me was cold and unemotional. Shouldn’t he be really angry to kill me? I looked into his glacial eyes as I took my last breath. My body tingled as my heart pumped the last bit of blood through my veins.

Then there was nothing. No white light. No singing choir. Nothing! I’m not sure what pissed me off more – the fact that the man I loved had just stabbed me for no apparent reason or that there was nothing at the end of the line.

I don’t know how long I lay in a puddle of my own blood in the parking area, but I woke in the cubicle, where I started. I checked my chest. There was no blood and no stab wound. It was as though it had all been a dream. But it hadn’t been a dream. It had been too real. I touched my cheeks and felt they were wet with tears. I hadn’t even realised that I’d been crying, but at least I felt real to my own touch

A bald man with a goatee came into my cubicle and gestured for me to follow him. He didn’t say a word as he led me towards the exit. He made no offer to explain what I’d just experienced.

“What happened to me?” I asked, as I grabbed his arm. I needed an explanation. I had to have one.

“You died,” he said, without any emotion or sympathy. “Everyone’s experience is different, but what you felt and saw is what will come to pass. What you do now, is up to you.”

“That’s not possible. What I experienced isn’t possible. There’s no way that’s going to happen.”

He simply shrugged and led me out into the bright daylight. The red-head from the queue looked lost and confused. Her eyes were red and puffy. Tears ran down her pink cheeks.

David walked up to me and put his arms around me. He smiled.

“That was amazing. I’ve never felt more peaceful than I do right now. How about you?”

“I’m not sure how I feel right now. I just want to go home. Can we please go home now?” I fought for control of the hysteria welling up inside me. It wasn’t possible.

We walked to the car in silence. David held my hand and smiled. I didn’t understand how he could be so happy about his death.

“What did you see?” My voice caught in my throat.

“I was an old man and died happily in my bed with Jess sitting at my side, holding my hand.” He sounded so happy when he said that, so bloody peaceful.

“Your wife? Jess?” I couldn’t believe it. His promise earlier had been a lie. Everything between us had been a lie. Shock clenched my stomach and then his feet moved.

“Yes. My wife.” He punched me in the gut. My senses reeled as my burning stomach muscles clenched and nausea welled up. All the air rushed from my lungs and I fell to my knees in front of him. Small, sharp stones cut into the thin layer of skin covering my knees. I didn’t see from where he produced the knife. The memory of how the ride predicted my death slammed into me.

And happen it did, just the way it had a short while ago. The knife was thrust deep into my chest before I could ask why. My ribs were torn apart by the blade, sending hot flashes of fresh pain to my brain. I struggled for air like a goldfish out of water. His eyes held the same coldness I’d seen in them before. I didn’t understand. How could the man I love and gave myself to – so completely – kill me, without the slightest show of emotion?

I waited for the nothingness to come, but it didn’t. I lay there in my puddle of blood, looking up at him, watching him wipe the blade of his knife on my dress. I kept hoping for that nothingness but it never came. Instead I was a prisoner in my own body as he loaded me into the boot of his car.

The car stopped about an hour later. We’d been driving on a dirt road for the past ten minutes. My corpse bounced around a bit. If I’d been alive to feel it, my teeth would have rattled rather badly, but being dead does have its advantages. I felt nothing. The pain was gone, only numbness prevailed.

I got a glimpse of sunlight as he opened the boot. He bent over me and took out a shovel. His feet crunched leaves and he grunted as he dug my grave. It didn’t take as long as I thought it would. He smiled as he hauled me out of the car and carried me to the open hole in the ground. A beautiful willow tree provided shade. The wind rustled the leaves above us. I landed in the grave with a thud, on top of another girl. She was a brunette. She must have been pretty, but time in our grave had not been kind to her. I stared into her empty eye-sockets, hoping for some glimmer or sign that she was like me, trapped. Then she smiled. Her lips were shrivelled and decaying. Her teeth, while still white, wobbled in her receding gums. I wanted to scream but no sound came out.

Sunlight was replaced by darkness and still the nothingness eluded me. I longed for a true death. I wanted the type of death I’d been promised since childhood. The one that included a heaven with choirs of angels. Was this my own personal hell? Was this my punishment for being a bad girl? Or was it an after effect of the Death Express? I had a feeling I would have an eternity to figure it out. What I knew for sure was that David would be back to visit us soon. He would be bringing another tenant to share the grave.

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This story was originally published in Bloody Parchment: Hidden Things, Lost Things and other stories

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