The Last Train: Part Three

I hugged my briefcase as we sat down in a corner of the bar. My eyes were no longer drawn to the unusual individuals that were laughing, drinking and chatting. Instead, my gaze was on Maddie, who was now sipping a green drink in a glass that was shaped like a flower.

“Are you sure you don’t want a drink?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I just want some clarity. Why am I not ready?”

“Only you know. But usually it’s fear. Fear of something.” She took another sip and touched her earlobe.

“Why all the questions? Why am I supposed to be ready to answer questions. What does any of that have to do with getting out of here?”

“That’s because this is not a destination.”

“Right. It’s a journey. But a journey to what? Where am I going? Home? Because that’s the only place I want to go to.”

“Yes, but are you willing to get there, that’s the question. You said you were, but you’re not. Otherwise you would be by now.” Her voice had gotten softer, like the melody of a broken song.

“What do I do if I won’t ever get ready?”

She glanced around the establishment. Look around, that’s your answer.”

I swallowed. “You mean, all those people?”

She took another sip.

“But they look nothing like me. They’re not from the same place as I am, right?”

“They were, but just like decorations, at some point it all becomes one with the room. It blends in like it’s the most natural thing in the world. And maybe it is. Maybe it’s survival. Or acceptance.”

“I don’t want to accept. I just want to go home.”

“But is that what you truly want?”

I looked at the ribbon on my briefcase. “I don’t know.”

“Good. Then think about what it means to be home, for you. What needs to be achieved in order for you to get home.”

A short while ago I would have answered: ‘Some bloody good directions instead of talking deer and strange ponds.’ Instead, I uttered the word that had been stuck in my throat for a while and had difficulty coming out: “Forgiveness.”

Maddie grinned an extra mischievous grin. “Then I know our next stop.”

 

“Are we there yet?” I asked after what felt like an hour of walking. All this while my thoughts had taken a seat in my head and refused to leave. I hadn’t even realised Maddie had been whistling a tune. I rubbed my forehead and paused my thoughts for the moment.

She stopped whistling as quickly as she stopped in her tracks. She turned around and took a step closer to me. Personal space was not a concept to her because our noses were almost touching.

“We’re here. Are you ready?” she whispered.

I swallowed.

“Excellent,” she said loudly and dashed backwards. We had reached the bottom of a hill, where a large, broad willow stood. Its branches reached to the ground as if it was too sad to lift them to the sky.

Maddie walked towards it and I followed.

“Knock, knock,” she said and laughed like a hissing cat.

“Not funny,” a voice said.

Without thinking I took a step back. “Who was that? It sounded so close,” I whispered to Maddie.

“Why, the tree of course,” she said.

I cleared my throat. “Of course.”

“Who wants to pass?” The tree asked and out of the bark appeared a face as if someone was pressing it against the wood from inside the tree, trying to break free.

“George wants to pass.” She stepped aside and held out a hand to me.

“George wants to pass.” The tree let the words role of his tongue, his voice low and deep with rough edges.

“May George pass?” Maddie asked.

The tree grumbled something as if contemplating his answer. Then silence returned to the woods. One fly buzzed past me and hovered in front of the tree before doing the same with Maddie.               She kept staring at the tree.

Buzzing.

A breeze swayed the tree’s branches.

Buzzing.

Maddie didn’t blink.

Buzz—she moved her hands forward in a sharp motion and smacked the fly between her hand. When she rubbed her hands together yellow dust fell down.

I was surprised by the fact that I wasn’t surprised anymore.

“Yes. He. May. Pass.” The tree spoke slowly, interrupting any other thoughts I would have had about the fly that turned into yellow dust.

“Excellent. Thank you.” She bowed and tipped her hat before turning to me.

My eyes were still on the tree, whose face had sunken deeper into the bark until it looked like a regular willow tree again.

“This you must do on your own, because only you know what you must do.” She grinned and held out her arm to the path that led up to the hill, where there were no orange trees to light the way.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Do you trust me?”

“Strangely enough I do.”

“Then good luck and I hope I won’t see you again.”

“Wait, so if I succeed, then you won’t see me again?”
“That’s right.”

I shifted my weight on my other leg. “But, then…I mean…”

“Ah, George, will you miss me?”

I cleared my throat. “I didn’t say that, I mean, I just wanted to get to know you more, I guess.”
“Trust me, it will be a good thing if you don’t.”

“Will you be okay?”

“Of course. This is my home.”

“Has it always been?”

“I don’t think so, but the longer I’m here, the more I forget where I once was from.”
“Have you been here long?”

“It feels that way, but time is different here.”

I nodded. “Thank you for helping me.”

“It’s my pleasure.” She bowed to me and winked.

“Take care.” I smiled and started walking up the sandy, dark path as I felt Maddie’s eyes on my back. It wasn’t until I reached the top when I turned around and all the orange trees had gone out below me and there was only a sea of darkness that had swallowed my peculiar friend.

There was a well on top of the hill and the full moon shone enough light for me to see things clearly enough. Like the short grass that surrounded the well and the one flower that stood a few feet away from me. It was a tulip. They had been her favourite.

I walked up to the well, feeling that this is where it would all begin. Or end, rather. I put down the briefcase on the bricked edge and took off the ribbon. Then I placed the briefcase on the soft grass and rested one hand on the cold stones of the well as I leaned forward and stared into nothing but black. It felt like it was staring back at me. And I wanted to see it, even though I also didn’t want to see it.

I let go of the ribbon. “Forgive me.” The darkness swallowed the ribbon but I knew it was still descending, I knew it was getting closer and then I closed my eyes.

When I opened them again I was at home. The home I had lived in with her and I looked at the calendar which hung above the bin in the country-style kitchen. It was that day. Today was that day.

I heard her hum as she came down the stairs, always that same tune, that tune that I had missed so much. I felt the tears well up and blinked repeatedly so I could see her clearly when she waltzed into the room. And when she did I couldn’t help but shriek and run over to her, clinging to her tightly, inhaling her lavender scent and touch her golden hair that reached between her shoulder blades.

“Love, what are you doing? Are you okay?” she asked. Her voice soft and high, laced with the warmth of a crackling fire.

“Yeah, I’m fine, sorry.” I cleared my throat and let her go as I stared into her light-blue eyes that searched mine with curiosity and concern. Her eyes had been the clearest thing about her I’d remembered, I’d see those every night as I woke up from my nightmare.

I touched her cheek. “I’ve missed you.” And I kissed her hard and soft at the same time. When I pulled back there was even more confusion written on her face.

“Are you sure you’re okay? You know I just saw you when I woke up, right?” Her mouth unfolded into a smile and I held her close again.

She laughed this time and I felt her body shake. “What is wrong with you? Did you have a bad dream or something?”

“Yes, you could say that.”

“Well, I’m late for work, so I don’t have time for breakfast and I’ll have to take your car.”

I swallowed and felt like somewhere inside my stomach I was being set on fire. “Err, are you sure that you want to go? Maybe you can stay home and—” my voice trailed off. I knew these words wouldn’t help. This wasn’t a second chance, this was a second viewing. Front row seat. A chance to say what I needed to say, a chance to see it very clearly.

“No, no, I can’t do that. I have a very important day, I told you.” She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. She then grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and tucked it into her bag. “I’ll see you tonight, have a nice day.”

The fire in the pit of my stomach grew wider. “Wait.” I followed her to the door where she had her coat over her arm and my car keys in her hand.

I touched her elbow. “I love you.”

She smiled. “I love you too.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

“For letting you go, for letting you leave.”

“What are you talking about? You really did have a bad dream, didn’t you?” She frowned and handed me her coat and the car keys. “Hold this.” From her hair wrist she undid a pink ribbon and she bent down next to the stairs where my briefcase was. She tied the ribbon around the handle and stood back up. “There, it’s a lucky ribbon and it will keep your nightmares and worries at bay.” She kissed me on my lips and grabbed the coat and the keys. “Now I really have to go or I’ll be super late.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. Sometimes things just happen. It’s called bad luck.” She waved at me before the door closed behind her.

“It’s not my fault,” I repeated and closed my eyes. “It just happened.” The next images that flew through my mind were of the phone call, the hospital, the doctor, the funeral. And finally there was nothing but black around me. My eyes were closed. I lifted my eyelids as they fluttered against the harsh lights of the carriage.

Outside the window was the familiar sign that indicated I had arrived at my local train station. “I’m home,” I yelled with unexpected enthusiasm. I got up and ran out while the doors were still open. It was like the train had been waiting for me. The doors closed soon after I stood on the platform and I embraced the chilly breeze that swept right through me.

Maybe it had all been a dream, I thought as a sigh escaped my lungs. The thought planted roots in my mind as I started heading home but when I stopped at a crossing, I forced myself to look down.

The ribbon was gone.

 

 

THE END

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The Last Train: Part Two

We walked for a whole minute in total silence when Maddie began to hum a tune. She even added a little hop every once in a while. All the while I thought about what I could say to her, what I could ask her, but somehow all the words in my head crashed into each other and became a tangled mess.

We reached a crossroad with wooden signs. One pointed to the right and said: left. And the other pointed to the left and said: right.

I looked at Maddie who had placed her slender claw-like fingers on her chin. “It seems like a riddle, don’t you think? Something that can trick you before your eye can blink.” She laughed like a broken violin again.

“Well, right can mean two things, so I think the sign that says right refers to the correct way.” I paused. “Right?”

Maddie’s lips burst into a smile, this time revealing her teeth as white as bone. “Whatever you say, my friend. Your way is my way and therefore always the right way.”

I curled my hands into fists. “Okay, this is too weird and I can’t take it anymore. I don’t care what happens. I don’t care if you’re a crazy serial killer that wants to kill me, but just tell me where I am, how I got here and who you are!” I breathed heavily and became aware of the red ribbon that danced against my wrist because of the breeze that rushed through these woods.

“My, my, why didn’t you tell me you were scared, I don’t want you to think I never cared.” She placed her hand in front of her mouth. “Oops, once you start rhyming it’s hard to stop.”

“Th—that’s okay. It’s just a little…unusual.”

She grinned. “Unusual is a nice word isn’t it? I suppose that is the best way to describe this place.”

“And what place is this?”

She put her fingers together and started to pace around me. “Well, it’s kind of your place. And kind of mine. It’s like your subconscious is visiting my world. Only it’s not really your subconscious, you are in fact really here. But your part of this world is made up out of your subconscious. And now we get to try and bring you home.”

“Home? So you mean, I can actually get out of here?”

“Most definitely. This world is a journey, not a destination.” Maddie touched the rim of her hat. “The question is, which way do you want to go?” She pointed to the signs.

“Left, because the sign says it’s the right way.”

Maddie’s black, thin eyebrow shot up. “How do you know?”

“It says so on the sign.”

“But how do you know the right way for the sign, is the right way for you?”

“It isn’t?”

Maddie moved her arms to her side and shrugged. “Only you know the right way. I’m just here to keep you safe.”

“Safe from what?”

At that moment a cry came from the woods. Something that didn’t come from a human, nor from an animal.

“From something like that?” I asked.

“Something like that.” Maddie gestured to the left path and then to the right. She held up her hands like a scale and moved them up and down. “Which one is the right one, George?”

“Then we go right.” I turned to my right and started walking in a rapid pace.

“Excellent, the boy has made a choice.” Maddie made a twirl and then dashed after me.

“So why am I here? Why am I brought to your…world, or whatever?” I asked without looking up.

“I don’t know why they come to me, but they all have something untold buried inside of them, something that they need to uncover here.”

I huffed. “That’s ridiculous. I’m perfectly fine.”

The shrubs beneath one of the orange trees rustled. We both stopped in our tracks as I stopped breathing for a moment.

The shrubs rustled and rustled like something huge was trying to come through. I was afraid to speak and held my briefcase in front of my chest. Whatever it was, I would fight it. I would make it—

From the bushes hopped a baby deer.

I let out a short, high-pitched scream out of surprise then slapped my hand in front of my mouth. “Sorry,” I mumbled.

Maddie ran her long finger nail over my cheek. “I like men who scream like girls.”

I frowned and took a side-ways step away from her.

“I need to show you something,” a little boy’s voice said.

I looked at the deer. “D—did you just s—speak?”

“Yes,” the deer said.

“But you’re a deer.”

“No, I look like a deer. But that doesn’t make me one.”

“It doesn’t?”

The deer shook his head. “Follow me.”

I looked at Maddie.

“If he says you should follow him, then you should follow him.”

We both followed the deer off the trail to a small pond and a large oak tree with a door. The deer stopped at the pond and turned to me. “Normal reflections show you the opposite of what is true, but here it shows you the opposite of what is false.” With that statement the young deer dashed off and disappeared between the shrubbery and trees.

I looked at the oak tree and its door, the pond and back at Maddie. “What did the deer mean?” I scratched my head. “Never thought I’d say that in my life.”

“It means you should never look at the surface, but rather beneath it.” She gestured to the pond.

“More cryptic messages, great.”

“Shall I hold that?” Maddie held out her hand as she glanced at the briefcase.

“No, no thank you.” I gripped it tighter.

“I really think you should. You’ll get it back as soon as you’re done. I’ll guard it with my life, if that’s what you want.”

“You won’t do anything with it?”

“Of course not. That would be wrong. You’re my guest. I told you, I’m here to protect you.”

I nodded and pursed my lips. I touched the ribbon before I handed the briefcase over.

Maddie bowed and gestured toward the pond before holding the handle with both hands and standing up straight like she was a guard that wouldn’t let anyone come near me or the briefcase.

This made the muscles in my neck relax as I stepped closer to the pond and kneeled. I looked into my reflection, but didn’t see anything. Just the clear water that reflected some of the light behind me. I leaned in closer and just before I was ready to turn back to Maddie a hand shot up from the water, grabbed me by the face and pulled me in. I tried to scream and flung my arms and legs. Nothing happened and I could still breathe. When I opened my eyes, I was sitting in an office with a sofa, bookcases, a mahogany desk and diplomas on the wall.

A man sat behind the desk. He had glasses on and was bald.

“Where am I?” I asked.

“Welcome, Mr. Giovanni,” the man said.

“How do you know my last name?”

“Let’s talk about your problems, shall we?” He grabbed a notebook and pen and leaned back in his office chair.

“My problems? I only have one, really and that’s being stuck in here.”

“Really and what about the ribbon?” He took the tip of his pen and dipped it on his tongue.

“What do you know about the ribbon?” I asked, growing itchier by the second and wishing I had kept my briefcase with me.

“How do you feel, knowing she’s not here anymore?”

“You don’t know anything about it.”

He scribbled something.

“Stop writing, there’s nothing to write. It’s none of your business.”

“It is, because it troubles you so. Sharing is caring. Why don’t you tell me what’s beneath the surface?” His voice was heavy and his eyes light.

I wanted to protest and shout, but instead I blinked a few times and sat back into the sofa. My limbs began to feel heavier. “I don’t now…she’s gone. She left me.”

“Why did she leave you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember. She was just gone one day, all her stuff was still there, her scent was still there, but she never came back to me. I don’t know why. I don’t know why.”

“Hmm.” The man scribbled some more. “Are you sure you don’t remember? I think you do, you just have to open that door.”

A door appeared in the middle of the office.

I blinked and stared at it, unsure if it was real or just my imagination. I looked back at the man, but he’d disappeared. The entire office had disappeared and there was nothing but me and that door. The door hummed.

I stretched out my hand and touched the door handle. The door started vibrating and I pulled my hand away. The moment I did I was launched backwards, feeling the cold air around me before hitting the ground but instead of embracing a rush of pain, the ground lowered under my weight and then shot me back up like a trampoline. I waved my arms in the air and somehow managed to land on my feet, but this time the ground stayed as it was.

“Holy hell,” I said. I felt my arms and stomach to make sure I wasn’t hurt and then glanced around for Maddie. She was nowhere to be seen, but the door in the tree was ajar. I walked around the pond and edged closer to the door. My hand trembled as I grabbed the door knob, what would I find this time?

Inside the tree were a few wooden steps that led downstairs to a big place that looked like a bar of some sort. Strings with white-coloured lights hung up on the wooden ceiling and the place was packed with strange-looking people. A woman dressed in a yellow dress with actual flowers at the bottom and butterflies in her hair. She had green lipstick on and her eyes were purple. She winked at me as she passed me.

I scanned the people at a nearby table, taking in the snake that was wrapped around the neck of silver-haired woman when Maddie’s distinct laughter drew my gaze to the bar. She was talking to a man who only had one eye in the middle of his head. My briefcase was placed on the seat next to her. I sighed with relief and dashed towards it.

I grabbed the handle and turned to Maddie. “Maddie,” I said, my voice smaller than I had intended.

She looked up, her eyes widening as she saw me. “George, you made it back. That’s too bad, you seemed like you might be ready.” She took a sip of her drink. “Oh, well, I suppose the journey continues then. First, I’ll get you a drink. You’re gonna need one.”

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Heads or Tails

“Heads, we get married; tails, we break up.” I held the coin in my trembling hand. Our lucky coin. The one that had brought us together. Would it keep us together forever or force us apart this time?

“Do it,” she said. It came out as a whisper.

I flipped the coin. It seemed to twirl in the air in slow motion, taunting us. For a brief moment our eyes met, a hint of fear and hope in her pine green eyes. My mind transported me to the moment we first met.

 

It was a Tuesday afternoon and the weather indicated that the Gods were angry. Rain was pouring down like it intended to drown us. The sound of thunder struck all the way through to my bones. The windscreen wipers were working hard to fight off the smashing raindrops that attempted to disrupt my vision of the small country road that I was on. Wipe, wipe, wipe.

The road was muddy and I was driving too fast. My knuckles were white. Perhaps if I drove fast enough I could escape it all. Can you outrun your problems? Can you outrun your life?

It was too late when I saw the dark green Mini Cooper parked at the side of the road. I jerked on the steering wheel and hit the break at the same time. The car slipped and ended up against the wooden gate that set apart the paddock. Smoke came from the bonnet and I tried starting the car again without success. When I glanced back, the green Mini Cooper was still parked, unharmed. The rain made it hard to make out, but I saw a person in red.

Vicious raindrops settled in the fabric of my black suit and travelled over the pores of my face. I slammed the door and came from behind my car. A slushing sound as my leather shoes got sucked into the mud.

“Are you okay?” A woman’s voice shouted.

I looked up and saw a woman in a red coat. She was completely soaked and shivering. Her high heels had almost completely disappeared in the mud.

“I’m fine. Are you?”

“My car broke down.” She pointed at her car as if I hadn’t seen it yet.
“Did you call someone?”

“My phone is dead.” Her voice sounded higher.

“Don’t worry, mine isn’t. Let’s just get in our cars before we drown or something.”

“Come sit in mine, smoke is coming of yours.” She flashed a smile as if to apologise for that fact without actually apologising.

Her car was warm and it smelt like vanilla.

“My whole hair is soaked, I must look like a drowned cat.” She brushed her bleached blonde hair out of her face.

“It’s just rain.”

“That’s easy for you to say, you’re practically bald. It suits you, by the way.”

I shifted in my seat.

“And you’re wearing a nice suit. Are you going somewhere fancy?”

“No.” I cleared my throat. “I just came from a funeral.”

She stopped touching her hair and looked at me.

“Someone died? Someone you cared about?”

“Yes and no. It was my father.”

“You didn’t care about him?”

I didn’t say anything.

“Well, after we call for help, why don’t we go somewhere? Take your mind off things.”

I must have looked like she had suggested to travel to the moon on a pillow, because she burst out in a melodious laugh.

“I know, don’t go with strangers right? Tell you what, let’s flip a coin for it. Heads is you go with me; tails is we go our separate ways.” She grabbed a coin from her purse and handed it to me. “It’s my lucky coin. Go ahead.” A smile grew on her face.

I tossed the coin, caught it and smacked it on the back of my other hand.

She placed her hand over mine. “Quick, what did you hope for?”

“What?”

“Everybody hopes for an answer during the toss, whatever you’re hoping for is your answer.”

 

The coin landed in my hand and I placed it on the back of my hand. “What did you hope for?”

Her eyes searched mine. Then she smiled.

I smiled back.

“We should probably reserve a church straight away,” she said.
“A church? Don’t you want to marry outside?”

Silence.

“Flip a coin?”

 

 flippingCoin

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