This story is by Barton K Mann and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The door of the New Bahamas Magni-tram was closing when a young couple rushed in just in time.
“Bob!” the girl shouted. “Look out, you’re getting sand everywhere!”
“So are you Betty!” the boy replied.
They were both tanned, good looking, and wearing stylish bathing attire. They held a picnic basket between them, and had towels wrapped around their shoulders.
Bob tried to delicately extricate himself from his towel. He watched as a fair amount of the beach spilled out onto the floor. “Oh shit… sorry.”
The conductor, a middle aged man in a crisp blue uniform with “Frank” sewn on the pocket, sat down on a seat near the door. “Don’t worry son, on this line, hell on this entire planet, there is already sand everywhere. People trail it in from the beach. Wind blows it in. It is an equal opportunity invader. Sometimes I think it has a mind of its own.”
The tram started moving forward on the track, the sound of the magnets humming like a bee hive.
Jillian, a woman with brownish grey hair and a yellow silk dress, was already inside when the couple arrived. She smiled. “I remember being young and in love,” she said to herself. “All the sand in the world couldn’t bother them now.”
“Did you say something madam?” asked the conductor.
“Oh no, I was just thinking that no matter how hard you try, you always bring a piece of the beach with you, even if it’s only a smattering of grains.” Jillian said.
“We’re proof of that,” Betty said.
“Gotta love the beach though,” Bob said.
Everyone shook their head in agreement, then the impromptu community that had formed so quickly, split apart into individual riders once again.
Bob and Betty were sitting in the rear.
Jillian sat facing backward in the center aisle, near the front of the compartment. Frank stayed seated by the center door.
“Can’t we open the windows? I know it’s a subway with little to see, but I feel a little claustrophobic.” Jillian asked.
“Sorry,” Frank said. “Some sort of glitch in the system. They wouldn’t open this morning.”
The ride was smooth. So smooth that the passengers couldn’t feel how fast they were going. With the windows closed there was no point of reference. They were going sixty-eight mph.
Everyone gasped when a horrible grinding sound started. Then the tram froze up. At first they were tossed towards the front like so many sacks of potatoes. Then they were thrown in the opposite direction as the tram’s momentum stopped.
“Whoa, is everybody okay?” Frank asked as he struggled to stand up.
Betty was lying on her stomach in the forward aisle and groaned. Bob had ricocheted off of a center strut, and landed upside down in the right seat bank. He wasn’t making any sounds.
Jillian was on her back, a few feet from where she had been seated. “I’m okay, only a little shook up,” she said. She sat up, saw Betty face down in the aisle and rushed to help. Standing up, she felt dizzy enough to grab the railing along the seat rows. She brushed some sand off of her blouse as she staggered towards Betty.
Frank came up from the other end and they both helped turn Betty over. She was conscious but dazed. Frank and Jillian helped her up into a seat. Jillian brushed sand off of Betty’s face, concerned that it could get into her eyes.
“What happened?” Betty asked Frank.
“We must have hit something. Maybe we derailed. I don’t know. We crashed.”
“Oh my God, where’s Bob?” Betty asked.
Frank ran over to check on Bob, and discovered to his horror that he was barely breathing. He struggled to remember his emergency medical training. He found a weak pulse as he ran his fingers over and around Bob’s neck.
“Bob! Bob!” Betty yelled.
Frank said, “He’s still alive Miss but it’s bad. From the look of it he might have a broken neck.”
Betty screamed and collapsed into Jillian’s arms. She blew some sand off of the shoulder she rested her head on.
“I don’t like it but we need to move him. Now I don’t think you’re supposed to move anyone with a neck injury but we can’t leave him upside down like this.”
“Honey, you just sit here while I help the conductor help Bob, okay?” Jillian said.
“No I want to go to him!”
Frank said, “The less we disturb him right now the better Miss. You can come over once we have him stretched out, okay?”
Jillian and Frank carefully lifted Bob up. They took him over to the flat upper surface of the central seating kiosk. Frank checked for a pulse again. Jillian took the handkerchief he gave her to wipe sand off of Bob’s face and brow.
“Damn this stuff is just everywhere,” Jillian said, She shook the handkerchief and watched the sand cascade to the floor.
“I’m going to try and find out what happened,” Frank said as he lifted the receiver of the intercom line. “Hello Chuck? Chuck this is Frank in the rear compartment. What the hell happened? We’ve got seriously injured passengers here!”
There was a string of garbled speech in reply, only some of which Frank could catch. “Bbbzzzbzzz sand in mag-lev…. zbzbzzb broke connection… zbzbzbb trams down…bbzbzbzzb.”
“Chuck, Chuck, I can’t hear you. What’s with the damn intercom?”
“I have to get up to the engine compartment, this intercom is for the birds,” Frank said.
Jillian frowned, “You’re not going to leave us now?”
“Only as long as necessary to contact the authorities and get us some help, then I’ll be back. Don’t worry I’m not running out on you.”
“I want to see Bob,” Betty said. Jillian walked her over where Bob lay, and Betty started wailing.
“Hurry back, please,” Jillian said.
Frank hit the button to open the door but nothing happened. He hit it several times more to no effect. He opened the button panel. A good deal of sand poured down onto the floor.
“Ah Jeez,” Frank said as he began playing with several switches and dials.
“The damn thing is locked up.”
“What does that mean?” Jillian asked.
“We’re stuck! The crash blew the circuits, but the doors should have still automatically unlocked for rescue operations. Something is jamming the gears.”
He looked down at the pile of sand from behind the panel and said, “And you know what? I think I can guess what it is.”
They were staring at the pile when Betty started screaming. “Bob! Bob!”
Frank and Jillian ran over. Bob’s face was covered in sand. It was massing around the corners of his mouth and in his nostrils.
“What the hell lady, you trying to kill him?” Frank asked as he started brushing the loose sand off of Bob’s face.
“I didn’t do anything! I only closed my eyes for a minute. When I looked again that is what I saw!”
Jillian was using the handkerchief to clear Bob’s mouth and nose. It seemed like no matter how much sand she removed there was more right behind it, or under it, or wherever it was coming from.
“What the hell is happening?” Frank yelled as he saw Bob’s face begin to disappear under the sand. He looked underneath Bob’s head and saw a growing pile of sand that began to move up and over his face.
“This shit is moving!” Frank screamed.
“That’s impossible,” Jillian said.
“Look at it damn it! It is beginning to cover him up!”
Jillian gasped as she realized the impossible was happening.
“He won’t be able to breathe! We have to lift him up, turn him somehow. Spinal damage be damned,” Frank said.
When they went to lift him their hands dug into the massive sand pile Bob was resting on. They strained and strained but realized that now their hands were stuck.
“Oh my God it’s like it’s holding onto me. I can’t pull my hands out!” Jillian screamed.
“It’s starting to pull me in,” Frank yelled. “Betty, hurry up and grab me, pull me back!”
“I… I… I,” Betty said. She appeared delirious with fear.
The sand had covered Bob’s head and upper torso completely, and both Frank and Jillian were elbow deep in it. And the pile continued to grow.
“God help us Betty!” Jillian screamed.
Betty slowly backed away from the growing menace. She kept moving back until she slipped on something and fell backwards. Her head smacked against the floor violently. She felt woozy.
The sounds of Jillian screaming seemed to be fading as Betty’s ears started filling up.
Barely hanging onto consciousness, Betty spotted an inter-planetary travel advertisement above the door. Her eyes rested upon it. She remembered seeing it back at the immigration center on Earth. The poster read, “Tired of a Dying Planet? Welcome to Paradise. A New World Full of Beautiful, Pristine, Sandy Beaches!”