This story was born out of a writing challenge by a twitter friend. I was supposed to write about: a man who catches the wrong train home and ends up in place he has never seen or heard of, an adventure begins…
THE LAST TRAIN
My footsteps sounded hollow on the pavement and I nearly tripped over a loosened tile. Running three days a week had prepared me well for this joyous moment where my boss made me work late and I had to run a whole three blocks to the train station in hopes of catching the last train home.
I ran up the stone steps to the station and rushed through the hall only to crash into an older gentleman. I didn’t even look back at him as I shouted my apology. From the corner of my eye, I only saw his dropped cane.
The train stood by the platform on the opposite side and I dashed down stone stairs, ran and then made my way up stone stairs again. By the time I had reached the right platform, the whistle was blown, the doors closed and to my horror I watched the train drive off, going faster and faster, accompanied by a grating roar.
“Damn it,” I panted and fell to my knees which shot up a pain right through to my thighs. I clutched my briefcase. A red ribbon was tied to the handle and it danced in the gentle breeze of this spring evening. How was I going to get home now? This was the last train.
I grunted and rose to my feet. A hotel was my only option. I looked up at the darkening sky.
“There’s another train coming,” a male voice said.
I spun around, my heart beating faster at the sudden intrusion of silence.
It was an older man, with a hat and a cane.
“Oh, sir, was it you I ran into earlier? I hope you didn’t—”
“It comes in ten minutes. I suggest you buy yourself a snack. You might get peckish.” The man grinned and revealed a golden tooth among the other pearly white ones. He twirled his cane. It had a rabbit on the top.
“Well, are you sure? I mean, this was the last train according to the—”
“Nothing is fixed, my boy. Nothing is fixed.”
“Right,” I said. Not sure if he enjoyed being rude or if he was simply too impatient to let me finish my…
“Better get yourself a snack, boy. Hunger can’t be stilled with air.” He grinned again.
“Right.” I nodded and walked past him, back down the stone steps, but not before turning around. He was still there, his broad, straightened back towards me. His long coat nearly reached is ankles and both his hands rested on the rabbit cane. He reminded me of a nineteenth century lord that had somehow taken a wrong turn.
I continued down the steps and walked back to the first platform, which held a small kiosk. I grabbed a sandwich and a bag of crisps. How had the man even known I was getting hungry? Probably a lucky guess since it was late and I obviously just came from work. Inwardly I chuckled at my paranoia. When I turned to pay for my food, there was nobody there to pay. “Hello?” I asked. I glanced around and leaned over the counter.
When I walked back out to find someone, the older man on the opposite platform said: “Tick-tock, my boy. Tick-tock.” He took something out of his breast pocket that resembled a pocket watch.
I swallowed and fished my wallet out of my pocket. I placed enough money on the counter before running back the way to the other side of the small train station. The man was still on the platform and didn’t look up as I passed him, instead he stared at his pocket watch.
“Is it coming?” I looked into the distance and saw headlights growing bigger. “Is that it?” I turned to the older man, but he was gone.
“Sir?” I glanced around and wanted to go down the stairs, but the train arrived with squeaking sound. A sound which, moments ago, I was afraid I wasn’t going to hear again on this Thursday night.
The train was smaller than the one I usually took and the sign on the side was turned off. Nothing to indicate where it was going. It seemed this entire train station was switched off and this train and I were the only moving things.
My footsteps sounded hollow as I took deliberate steps towards the metal beast and entered its belly. As soon as I’d stepped inside, the doors closed. The train took off soundlessly and I sat down in the closest seat, by the window.
The train smelt different but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I placed my briefcase beside me and touched the ribbon. It reassured me, because even though she wasn’t there anymore, the ribbon made it feel like she was always with me.
I ate my sandwich and put the bag of crisps in my suitcase. Then I rested my eyes as the stress of the day began to drain from my body.
Five minutes must have passed before I opened them again and by now it was too dark to even see where I was, but the train was slowing down and then came to halt. Its doors slid open and as if to politely kick me out, the lights turned off.
“Hey,” I shouted, as if the train could hear me. The stress of the day came creeping back in as I picked up my suitcase and stepped out of the train.
“Hello?” I shouted and looked around. We were on a platform, but it was small and without signs…or a train station. It was surrounded by grass and tall trees for as far as I could make out.
“Damn it.” I walked to the front of the train to address the train driver, but before I could reach it, the doors of the train closed and it went on its way again, in total darkness.
“Wait! Wait!” I couldn’t run any further because I would have fallen off the platform and since that would still make my day worse I just cursed and kicked the lamppost next to me, which was providing faint light. As I kicked it, the light flickered and then turned off.
I sighed and felt like crying, but instead I took out my mobile and used its light to shine ahead of me. Civilisation had to be close-by, so I followed a narrow, sandy path into the woods whilst humming a tune to drive out the silence of the night.
Eventually I reached a meadow at the outskirts of the woods and paused to look at the night sky, which held little, sparkling diamonds.
Leaves rustled to my right and I turned to shine the light. Nothing. When I turned back to look at the meadow a woman stood in front of me.
I screamed and stumbled backwards, nearly falling over, but the slender hand grabbed my wrist and pulled me forwards before I could hit the ground and make a fool out of myself.
“Thank you, miss.” I shone the light upwards so we could see each other’s faces. My breathing paused for a moment because there was something about this woman. Something quite unusual. She was pretty, perhaps even beautiful, but in her eyes there was something that made you shiver. Not a good kind of shiver, nor a bad, just a shiver.
She unfolded her lips into a smile. “Maddie, please.” Her voice was like the silver of the moon.
“I’m George,” I said.
“George,” she purred. “What a nice name.” She had her black hair pinned up, but thick curly locks sprouted out from under her black hat. Her eyes were a mixture of colours I couldn’t quite make out due to the poor lighting, but they were captivating and just by looking into her eyes I somehow knew what it must feel like for a fly to become trapped in a spider’s web.
“It seems you are lost, George,” she said. “Perhaps I can be of assistance.”
“Y-yes, I hope you can be.” I gripped my briefcase tighter. “I need to get home.”
“Ah, yes. Home. Right you are, for home is where we belong.” She didn’t blink.
“Err, right. Yes.” The older man with the cane popped into my head and the question of whether or not he was a part of this journey balanced on my lips. I decided to swallow it. For now.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“In the woods, I’d say. Why don’t you put that shiny thing away, you never know what it might attract.”
“You mean mosquitoes?”
One corner of her lips pulled upwards. “Besides, you need at least one hand free here. It’s advisable.”
“Oh. I see.” Except that I didn’t really see. But that shivering feeling she brought up in me, prevented me from asking any further. I turned off the light on my phone and slid it back into my pocket. We were now surrounded by the darkness of the night. I could make out her contours and I could somehow see her eyes quite clearly and wondered if she could see mine as well, including the fear that danced behind them.
“It’s dark,” I said.
“It is. But that can be changed. That’s why we have orange trees along each path.”
“Orange trees?” I frowned and became more and more convinced that she was in fact, crazy.
“You just have to clap your hands three times. Go ahead.”
“I have to clap my hands three times and then what?”
“There will be light.” Her laughter sounded like a broken violin.
I gripped my briefcase tighter. “Why don’t you clap?”
“I don’t need the light, George. You do.”
I cleared my throat and glanced around me. The vague outline of trees, but other than that, darkness. The reason people didn’t like the dark was because it hid things and nobody liked not to be able to see what was around them. I touched my tie and put my briefcase between my legs, pressing them close so that nothing could take it away. At least not without me feeling it.
I clapped my hands three times, feeling much like an idiot as I did, but my inner sceptic was silenced when all the oranges in the orange trees along the path, as far as I could see, lit up like bulbs.
“Wow.” I picked up my suitcase and took a few steps forward. The entire path and the trees and shrubbery behind the orange trees were lit up in an orange-yellow glow. It no longer looked spooky.
“Three is a lucky number,” Maddie said as she whirled past me. “Now, let’s get you home.”