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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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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