An excerpt from Columbia New-West’s stunning new novel, ‘Skytrain Gothic’

Photo illustration by Joel McCarthy
Photo illustration by Joel McCarthy

A heart-pounding thriller set in the bowels of a stalled SkyTrain

By Rebecca Peterson, Interim Humour Editor

It’s 5:53 p.m. It’s been 5:53 p.m. for the past hour. You start to wonder if will always be 5:53 p.m. You long for home.

An announcement comes on over the loudspeakers in the train. It sounds like the announcer is saying, “Zzzt-hss, sssht-gvvb-brrm;” however, you intrinsically understand what he’s telling you—that there is a problem train stuck on the track somewhere down the line, and you must expect delays.

You always expect delays when you’re on the SkyTrain. The announcer is asking you to expect more delays than usual. You might grow old in this seat, die in this seat. You’re going to miss your grandchildren’s graduation because you’ll still be stuck on this train. You don’t even have children yet.

Your thoughts spiral into the abyss.

The SkyTrain begins to move, and it takes all your willpower not to let the joy of the moment seize you entirely. You’ve been hurt before. The unknowable forces that govern the movements of the trains toy with their passengers, as cats toy with mice before devouring them whole.

(You’ve never seen any of your cats eat mice. The thought entertains you for the next few moments, as the train inches forward, slows, and grinds to a halt.)

There is a feeling of helpless community, a people joined by suffering, as everyone in the car looks up at the sound of the announcer’s voice once more:

Zzzt-hss, ssht-brrm-shht-dvvvvt.

They’ve removed the problem train, but your trials are not yet done. You must still expect delays. You don’t care—the train is starting to move again, and this time, it seems to move with a destination in mind. As the train regains its sense of purpose, so do you.

You reach the next station, and the platform is crammed. The masses, washed and unwashed alike, flood into the train, and you find yourself giving your seat up to someone you believe to be a pregnant woman, who turns out to simply be a teenage boy wearing his backpack on his front. No matter. You’ve only one more station to go.

The train pulls out of the station, gains speed, zips along the tracks with confidence. You can do this, you think. You might even make it to class on time.

The train makes an awful grinding sound. It slows. Stops. You are nowhere near a station. The intercom comes to life:

Zzzt-hss, sssht-brrm-gvvb.

You listen with a creeping sense of horror, an unnameable dread, as you come to understand. There is no problem train, not anymore. You have become the problem train. There is no God.

Expect delays.