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?”

 

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Shadow of a Doubt

In one swift motion Yumi Yoshida turned around. There was nothing to see, the car park was empty except for her Yamaha motorcycle and one dark Mercedes. She heard the sound of a howling dog again. It sounded like it came from the adjoining park. If you could even call it that, it was just trees and a sea of grass stretched out as far as the eye could see. Nothing but total darkness surrounded the car park and the pub she was heading towards.

Yumi turned back and kept her eyes on the pub. She had been here before to check out the place, but she hadn’t yet been inside. The ice cold wind caused her to shiver and she quickened her pace. She could hear the rapid tapping sound of her high heels on the pavement that was still wet from the rain earlier that evening. She brushed her hair out of her face and checked her watch. It was exactly midnight. A few lampposts poorly lit up the car park. From a distance it would seem like the pub and car park were floating in darkness, like a miniscule planet floating in space.

Walking in an empty car park towards a pub that was situated on a hill in the middle of nowhere at midnight may have sparked fear in any woman in her late twenties but not in Yumi Yoshida. She was the kind of woman who could handle herself. She had moved to London from Kyoto when she was ten and ever since she turned eighteen she had been moving around the country doing what she did best.

She reached the back of the establishment and stepped into a red telephone box that was placed at the left corner. There was an old, wet newspaper on the floor with a distorted picture of some child, and the phone was hanging off the hook. It smelled like urine and coffee. Yumi picked the phone up by the cord and took out a handkerchief to clean the phone before putting it to her ear.

A brief moment later she stepped out of the telephone box and walked to the front of the building. She stopped to look inside. It was a small pub with bad lighting. The radio was playing popmusic in the background. Behind the bar stood a middle aged bartender cleaning a couple of beerglasses, she couldn’t see his face. In the reflection of the window, she saw her long, dark hair frame her face. Her long fringe covered her eyebrows and beneath the dark strands she could see her lightblue contacts. She only ever put them in when she had to work.

She stepped inside and smelled fish, chips and grease. She walked straight on to the only other person sitting in the pub. His back was turned towards her. “Is this seat taken?” she asked and sat down without awaiting a reply.

“Go ahead,” said the man and pushed his glasses back. It was a man in his thirties with short, sandy hair and hazelnut eyes. He wore a grey suit with a deep-purple shirt and violet tie. “You must be…”

“I am, Mr. Stone,” Yumi interrupted.

“So, what should I call you?”

“Call me Yami.”

“Is that your real name?” he asked.

“Almost, but the meaning is more accurate.”

“What does it mean?”

“I’ll tell you later. First things first.”

The man nodded and touched his glasses again. “Well, I’m married.”

“They always are. I assumed that’s why you contacted me.”

He looked down at his coffee and moved in his chair. He then loosened his tie before he spoke again, somewhat softer than before. “Her name is Heather and here’s her picture.” From his breast pocket he took a picture and slid it to her side of the table. Yumi picked it up and saw it was a picture of them together, holding each other and smiling, happy and unaware. They seemed so at ease, so at home with each other no matter where they would be. How could it have come to this? There is no such thing as true, unconditional love, except maybe with babies and dogs. She couldn’t help but wonder if it meant that the smarter you are, the less you become capable of loving.

Yumi snorted. The man looked up. “I got it,” she said and wanted to slide the picture back but the man said: “No, keep it. I don’t need it anymore.” He then finished his coffee and they sat in silence for a moment. Yumi was observing him and couldn’t help but think he didn’t seem like the type of man who was capable of doing any harm. Usually she could tell for sure, and if she couldn’t she had time to shadow someone, but in this case everything had gone so fast. It seemed understandable considering the case.

“Do you have many…clients?” he suddenly asked, breaking the silence and interrupting her in her thoughts.

“I have enough,” was her reply.

“Don’t you ever find it difficult? I mean, because you’re a woman…well, I mean…”

“No, I don’t. I’m good at what I do, which means people are willing to pay for something I can give them. It’s that simple.”

“Is it really that easy?”

She just tapped her fingers on the table. It didn’t make a sound though, because she was still wearing her gloves. She narrowed her eyes at him.

He had a frown on his face and was unconsiously tapping his indexfinger on his watch. “Life really is all about money, isn’t it?” His voice sounded gentle. Yumi remained silent. He got up to go to the lavatory and excused himself.

Yumi leaned back and let out a sigh. She still had the picture in her hand and looked at it again. She was actually thankful for the life she had, at least she had the chance to do something meaningful.

After a couple of minutes she saw Mr. Stone coming out of the lavatory and got up. She gestured towards the exit and dropped a twenty pound note at the bar. Then she walked towards the door with Mr. Stone on her heels.

Together they walked past the building back to the car park. Yumi closed her eyes when the cold wind struck against her face. She had kept on her leather jacket and gloves inside, which made the drop in temperature very welcome. “You said both was fine, but I brought cash with me. I figured that would be harder to trace,” Mr. Stone suddenly explained.

“It is,” Yumi said coldly.

He unlocked the car with his key fob as they nearly reached it. Yumi looked around and noticed it was still as deserted as when she had arrived. The car was right beneath a lamppost and when Mr. Stone opened a briefcase in the trunk she could clearly see all the money in it. “Half up front and after, right?”

“Yes, Mr. Stone. That’s correct.”

“Considering what you’re about to do, you can call me…”

“No,” Yumi interrupted. “I don’t want to know any first names. It’s easier that way.”

“But then…you know my wife’s name.” The light of the lamppost reflected in his glasses.

“That’s not a problem in this case,” Yumi answered and walked slowly to his other side.

“You know, you still haven’t told me what your name means.”

“Darkness.”

He opened his mouth to say something but closed it again.

“Why do you want to do this to your wife?”

He grimaced. Not in an evil way, but more like he was disguising his discomfort. He put his hand in his jacket and Yumi automatically reached for her gun. He took out a picture and handed it to her. It was the picture of a little boy. He had brown hair and freckles and his broad smile showed he was missing two front teeth.

“That’s my son. He was from my first marriage.”

“Was?”

“Yes, he died a few months ago. My wife has always treated him very poorly, without me knowing. I was always at work and even though I noticed he was mostly quiet, I thought it was because he missed his mother. But then I found his diary and even though his death was technically an accident, I can’t help but feel she’s responsible. I can’t even look at her anymore and I don’t remember the last time I said more than a sentence to her.”

“So you never abused her daughter?”

“What? What are you talking about? We don’t even have children together.”

“I see. Well, that’s what she told me.”

He looked down and fumbled his watch.

“I’m saying she found out what you were going to do and she wanted to beat you to it.”

Even though it was cold outside, little drops of sweat began to form on his forehead. He was mumbling incoherently.

Yumi closed the trunk. “Don’t worry, I don’t take money from a dead man.”

She saw him tremble. “If you’re going to kill me, just do…”

“No.”

Everything happened fast from that moment on. She’d taken her knife and cut the palm of his hand. Following her instructions he had held his hand over the front seat of his car. He had put his tie around his hand to stop the blood from spilling on the ground. He left his car keys in the ignition and only took the briefcase. It didn’t matter if his wife thought she’d taken the money. Now, he had a chance to start over.

Yumi walked back to the telephone box and dialed the number she had dialed before. “It is done,” Yumi coldly stated.

“I’m transferring the other half now,” the woman said.

“Alright, Mrs. Stone, goodbye.”

Yumi took a deep breath before stepping out in the cold wind. Her black hair moved fiercely in front of her face, dancing. She ripped up the picture of the happy couple and the wind blew away the pieces into the darkness.

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