The Last Train: Part One

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.”

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Anniversary

He touched his purple tie as his eyes danced over his reflection. The colour of his thick, black hair was broken in its evenness by the white streaks around his temples. His eyes were fern green in colour, drawing immediate focus to that part of his face, instead of his full lips or the scar that ran through them. He had been told that he resembled a mafia boss in his expensive suits, with his piercing stare and the overall darkness that drifted around him like a heavy perfume.

He checked his cufflinks, which had his initials on them, when a soft knock collected his attention. The sound was so faint he was close to thinking it was just his imagination, but he realised that perhaps the person at the door lived as a shadow, and therefore also knocked as one.

He walked over to the door in three long strides and opened it. Before him stood a young woman, in her twenties, with short, bleached blonde hair and a shiny stud in her nose. Her eyes were surrounded by eyeliner and black eye shadow while her soft lips were stained by blood red lipstick. The autumn wind blew past her and she shivered. No coat on, just her mini skirt and a see-through shirt that showed her black bra.

“Please, come in,” his voice modulated.

“Thanks.” She breezed past him in her stiletto heels, leaving a trail of her sweet and cheap perfume.

He closed the door behind her and sauntered over to the table, where he had placed his scotch.

“Well, this is not what I expected,” the girl said. She had glanced around the room in one sweeping motion, practically twirling. “Fancy man like you in a cheap motel like this.”

“I could say the same about you. Young girls should be at university, not hanging out with older men in motels.”

Laughter broke free from the girl’s mouth like it had been trying to escape for a while. It sounded fruity, just like her voice. “University, that’s a good one.” She walked over to the end of the double bed and glanced at a white plastic bag. “Costume or props? Or both?” Her eyebrow—shaven off and then drawn on—rose across her forehead.

“Clean underwear, clothes and perfume.” He turned the cold glass in his hands as he approached her with slow steps. “I want you to take a shower and come back with those clothes on.”

She blinked, then a smile spread out across the lower part of her face. “Sure thing, honey.”

“It’s Graham,” he said.

“Marci.” She grabbed the bag and winked before disappearing into the small bathroom. Not long after that the sound of crashing water against the shower curtain and her body travelled through the stale air of the motel room.

Graham sat down at the end of the bed, sipping on his scotch while he pretended the sound of the shower was the soothing sound of rain.

After the shower was turned off, it took Marci seven minutes to open the bathroom door and step back inside. “Are you sure this is the right outfit?” she asked.

Graham directed his gaze to the black dress that ended right below her knees and reached up to her collar bone. “Most definitely.”

She inched closer to the bed. “It kinda feels like I’m going to a funeral. And it’s not very…revealing.” She made a circular motion around her chest.

“I know. Please, sit down.” Graham gestured next to him.

She placed herself close to him, barely an inch between them. She crossed her long, thin legs and leaned in to him, taking in his musky scent and letting her eyes dart across his face like she was following a pin ball in a pin ball machine.

“You smell much nicer now,” Graham said as he closed his eyes and inhaled the vanilla scent that clung to her skin like wet tissue paper.

“I even sprayed it on my hair. It makes the scent hang around you much longer.” She leaned in even closer and rested her hand on his thigh.

He removed it and placed his drink in her hand. “Take a sip,” he said.

She put the glass to her lips and tilted back her head, letting the cold liquid cascade into her mouth until the ice cubes were the only thing left. They clung together as if they were afraid of losing each other. She handed back the glass as an unseen thread pulled her lips into a grin.

“That’s not how you’re supposed to drink that.” A hint of amusement in his voice as he put the glass on the floor beside him.

“Well, feel free to teach me.” She slid her arm across his back, wrapping her hand around his shoulder and pulling him close as her lips crashed into his warm cheek. She repeatedly kissed the soft skin, working her way to his ear. It seemed like her lips were attached to his skin with an elastic band, not able to pull away for long.

“Listen,” he said.

She continued.

He turned to her, placed his hand on her chin and pushed her back. His thumb brushed over her lips and she nibbled on it in return.

“You’re quite eager. Is that because you’re new to this?”

She stopped, her eyes narrowing. “What makes you say that?”

“I know you are. I requested the new one.” A shadow of obscurity passed in his eyes. “But I need you to listen. All I want to do is talk about honest things, eventually falling asleep next to each other. Understand?”

She nodded. “Sure, I’ll do anything you want.  But are you sure? I’m very good at—”

“I’m sure.”

She shrugged, her lips pursed into a pout. “So, what do you wanna to talk about?”

“If you could be anything in the whole world, what would you want to be?”

“Dead.”

Graham narrowed his eyes as he searched hers. If there were answers in there, he couldn’t find them. Her eyes portrayed the emptiness of a desert. There was still a warmth, though. A certain kindness that hadn’t died yet.

“And if—” he started.

“What about you?”

“How do you mean?”

“Aren’t you supposed to answer the question too, or isn’t that how it works?”

Lines appeared around Graham’s eyes as the corners of his mouth moved upwards. “Do you want me to?”

Her eyes darted from left to right, then rested on him. “Yes, I do.”

“Then I will.”  He inhaled. “I’d want to be dead too.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Since when?”

“Since when what?”

“Since when did you want to die?” She leaned in closer like she was afraid to miss a single syllable.

“Since exactly six years ago. How about you?”

“Since I was fifteen. I win.”

His expression softened. “Is this a competition?”

She shrugged. “Why not?” A smile broke free and she matched it with a giggle. “Next question.”
“What if you could make one wish, but you couldn’t make it for yourself. What would your wish be?”

She bit her bottom lip and stared at the grey carpet. “I think…I think I’d wish that my mother would have been a nice person. And you?”

“I’d wish that my wife never met me.”

A frown formed between Marci’s drawn on eyebrows. She lifted up her hand and placed it on his, using her thumb to stroke his knuckles. As the silence settled between them like specks of dust, she pulled back her hand. “Okay, next question.”

“What is your biggest secret?”

Her lips parted. She cleared her throat and shifted on the bed. Words formed in her mind and were pushed into her mouth. They hung off her lips like water drops, on the verge of falling into freedom. Instead of letting them fall, she ran her smooth tongue over her lips, retracting the words into her warm mouth. She cleared her throat again. “What about you?”

“I can’t say if you don’t say.”

She laughed melodiously. “Well-played.”

Her laugh tugged on the seams of his reposed manner and his lips curved into a smile.

“So why am I really here? Are you just going to play games with me?”

“Not games, just passing time.”

“Why? Why with me?”

“Because I was told it was you.”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Your left eye is of a lighter colour than your right,” he said, leaning in closer to observe the slight difference that went unnoticed before then.

“You’re not answering my question.”

“That’s right.” He ran his hand over his tie, smoothing it.

“You’re a man of secrets. I like that.” She grinned. “But I should warn you, I’m really good at uncovering secrets.”

“I’m sure you are.” He stood up slowly, as if unsure he should be moving in the first place. His legs transported him to the end of the room where he poured her a glass of water with ice cubes.

“It would be better if it was vodka,” she said as she took the drink from his warm hands.

He sat back down next to her. “Normally I’m not like this.”

“Like what?” she asked as she drank half the glass. She touched the corner of her lips then looked at him from under her long eye-lashes.

“Considerate.”

She laughed that fruity laugh. “You mean you never bring women a glass of water?”

“No, I mean I never had to work on this day.”

It wasn’t until then that she noticed the ring he was twirling between his fingers.

“Have you been married long?”

“Well, I don’t think I am anymore. They say until death does you part.”

Her smile faded from her pale face. “I’m sorry.” She frowned and touched her forehead.

He didn’t say anything but took her glass and put it to her lips. He titled the glass and watched the rest of the water pour into her mouth. Some of it streamed down her chin.

She swallowed the last of it, then coughed and wiped her chin.

“It will make it easier.”

“What?” she asked, her voice softer. She leaned forward, resting her head on her hands. “I don’t feel so—”

“It’s okay,” Graham said in his most soothing voice. He put the glass on the ground and in one smooth gesture, he picked her up in his arms. He hummed a tune and laid her out on the bed. Her legs together, her arms at her side and her hair brushed out of her face.

She tried to speak, but he put a finger on her soft lips.

“It will be over soon.”

Her eyes were overcome with pure panic. He didn’t even notice the blue anymore, just the emotion that was rushing through her soul.

“I have an unusual job, though similar to what you do in the sense that it’s a necessary evil. I don’t know what you did, maybe you didn’t do anything, but I don’t care to know either way. I just get paid.” He stroked her cheek. “I just always use a gun, this time I prefer something more gentle. Like I said, it’s a special day.” He kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry,” he said, but the words drifted into oblivion as she’d already slipped away into another world. And all he could do was hope that it indeed was what she wanted. To be in a world far lighter than this one. One that would treat her much better.

He fell asleep beside her, his wedding ring back on his finger since a long time.

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