The Wrong Train
The date is January 3rd, 2018.
It is 9:45 AM.
I don’t have a lot of time. I doubt this will ever get out. I have posted it in a few places, on loop, just to be safe.
There was a sharp, sucking sensation in my stomach this morning. Almost like… I knew something was coming. Almost like the feeling of deja vu, mixed in with a spattering of butterflies, all coagulated in the pit of my gut.
I ignored it all.
The alarm blasted at nine minutes to five, one final time, by my bedside. I slammed the buzzer just to shut it up. I shucked on some khakis in the dark, and grabbed a wrinkled polo from the floor. My wife was still asleep. I kissed her goodbye, one final time, while she rubbed her eyes and mumbled a half-hearted;
“I love you,“
Before she sighed and added,
I laughed, loudly, and told her I loved her too. Our big German Shepherd, Lola, started to stir. I had to be quick so as to not wake her up. And so, quickly, quietly… I slipped out the door without another word. I locked every lock.
We had an incident, years before, that did not need repeating.
My ride to the train station takes twenty minutes. I have timed it out over the years. Ten minutes on Apple Farm Road. Ten minutes by the Parkway entrance. A perfect twenty in total.
The aluminum coffin arrived at 5:25.
I was late.
There was no real reason for any apprehension. Late arrivals had happened before. I knew there would be another train in an hour, and I could always sleep it off in my car. The North Jersey Coastline is the only train that stops at our small town station. It is impossible to miss.
On the drive down, it started to snow in my neck of New Jersey. The scenery was breathtaking. Almost every tree, sign, and local road was covered with an untouched white sheet. But the traffic was likely to slow my arrival even more.
Sure enough, as soon as I pulled up to the station… the train was already boarding passengers.
I pulled the keys out of the ignition and hauled my work bag over my shoulder in a hurry. It was still dark. The salt put down to melt the snow was slippery than helpful. Several times, my stupid leather shoes slid across patches of black ice covering the cracks in the black pavement. I hoofed the steps up to the station two at a time, when suddenly…
My foot slipped.
I tried to grab the handrail for balance. But it was of no use. I had too much momentum at the time, and my shoes could not find the right balance. My ankle gave out sometime before my head smacked against the concrete staircase. One moment, I was thinking about the conductor keeping the door open.
The next, well… I don’t remember much.
I woke up to an empty platform.
It took a moment, but eventually, I got to my feet and wiped the snow off my face. Everything was exactly the same; minus the waiting train.
I reasoned that I must have knocked myself out. Nobody was there to call an ambulance. My ankle was a bit sore and sure and my head throbbed a bit. But nothing was bruised. Nothing was broken, other than my phone, and a bit of pride.
I sat down on the bench and glanced down the tunnel hopefully. As if on command, a whistle blared somewhere in the distance. I thought it was my lucky day. Eagerly, I waited behind the yellow line as another silver-clad NJ Transit shimmied into view.
The doors opened. No one got out.
I didn’t care.
I hopped in to the nearest carriage and grabbed a seat. The doors closed a moment later. When we left the station, I pulled out my laptop.
It still works.
Soon after, a stirring behind me indicated that a ticket collector could be on the lookout. I had forgotten to put my ticket in the holder. I was distracted… I turned to face him and tried to grab my wallet at the same time. When I finally looked up, I nearly dropped everything.
The man standing by my side was wearing a long black overcoat, that cut off just below his knees. Underneath, he had ornately patterned pants that met a pristine, purple, tuxedo jacket.
His face topped it all off. He had a long, elongated, walrus mustache. And mutton chops.
So… I don’t think I was being rude when I asked –
“Uh, is it Halloween?“
And yet, the man looked as if I shot him in the heart.
“Excuse me, Sir?” he asked, while pointing aggresively to the NJ Transit name tag pinned to his overcoat. “Ticket?“
I nodded and grabbed my ticket off the floor. After I placed it in the holder, he mumbled a “Hmpf“, and wrote something down in his little notebook. Then he walked off into the next carriage. Cain and all.
That was enough for me to start this story.
But soon after he left, I started to notice something changing, in the passenger window. The sky started to brighten. At first, I chalked that up to the rising sun, but this brightness was all-encompassing. I couldn’t see anything. Every window in the train had the shutters down just to keep it out.
My carriage door opened again.
The woman who stepped out was young and beautiful. She had blonde hair, primed up in a neat little bun underneath her pink beret. She looked like a lady off to peruse the big City… sometime around 1960. There was something about her appearance that was eerily familiar.
After a moment, the woman pulled out her matching pink purse and started to apply her blush in an ornate – you guessed it – pink mirror.
It was all too much. The woman was dressed like a carbon copy of my mother in 1960. I laughed out loud. She turned to me suspiciously in response, and I had to say something. And so I decided to try to solve the number one mystery on my mind.
“Excuse me, ma’am, do you know if this train is going to Penn Station? I am a bit lost,” I chuckled nervously to try and diffuse the tension.
She eased up and laughed along with me.
“We’re all going somewhere!” was all she said, with a smile. Then she turned back to her make-up.
I was confused by her avoidance of the question. The whole situation started to seem suspicious.
“Well, what station are you going to?” I asked hopefully.
She smiled back, and seemed to welcome the friendly conversation.
“Oh, well, my son Matthew is in the hospital. He needs one more round of chemotherapy. It was caught early, so it’s nothing to be too frightened about, but I hated leaving him overnight. His dad has to work.“
That took me back a bit.
“Wow, what a coincidence, I had to through the same thing, back in the sixties. It was awful back then, modern medicine is so much better…” I shuttered considering the drugs and procedures my parents had put me through. When Mom died, that was the time the medicine finally stopped. I survived just fine.
The woman’s response made me a lot more worried.
“What year do you think it is, boy?“
Her voice was starting to sound more familiar. I started to put the pieces together in my head just as she suddenly stood up.
“Mom?” I asked quietly.
“This seems like my stop,” she announced, to no one in particular.
“How do you know that? We’re still moving,” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know!” she continued excitedly. She turned to look at me, with bright, blue, wide eyes. “I can just feel it. This is my stop. This is where I belong.“
The woman put her things in her bag again. She stood up and walked towards the door. Then, she offered me one last bit of strange conversation as confirmation.
“Have a nice day Sir, truly, it was nice meeting you. You remind me of my boy. He’s got freckles too.“
The train stopped. The doors opened, and the lady exited that looked like my mother exited. The blinding light behind her was enough to make me shield my eyes. Then, just as suddenly as we stopped, we started again.
I was alone again. I wondered if I should get up and investigate more. Instead, I sat down and typed some more.
After five minutes, someone else opened the carriage door. I recognized him immediately.
Six years ago, my wife had a stalker.
He harassed her with emails and texts for months on end. This problem got so serious that, on several occasions, he snuck into her house and stole several items. One night, when we were still dating, I came home to find the stalker holding a knife to my wife’s neck.
I beat his head in with a metal bat.
And now… there he was sitting across the aisle from me.
Wearing a denim jacket and some fucking khakis. Fresh, free, and no older than twenty-three… the same way he would be if he never met me.
“Excuse me?” I asked nervously. He pulled the headphones from his ears and turned to me in surprise. “What the Hell are you doing here?“
He smiled nervously. It was the look of someone who was embarrassed that they were dumb enough to talk to a stranger.
“I’m sorry Sir… Everybody’s going somewhere, right, killer?” he grinned awkwardly.
The light in the carriage seemed to get darker as he spoke. It was no longer blinding. I turned away from him to get a better look. But when I did, the train stopped again.
The man that I murdered, once upon a time, paid me no more mind as he got up and exited the train in a hurry.
It was silent again.
I returned to the window and pulled back the shade.
It was definitely dark. In fact, it was so dark that it was hard to see anything at all. There was a fire somewhere in the distance. As the train chortled along, the flames started to come into better view, and I could see some people were standing beside it.
The date is January 3rd, 2018.
It is 9:45 AM.
There are shapes outside my window that are bigger than any man or beast I have ever seen.
The train has not stopped. We should have hit Penn Station by now. No one has entered my carriage for an hour.
I don’t feel like it’s my time to leave.
The flames in the distance are not so far away anymore. There are more fires. Its almost as if I can feel them lick underneath my feet. More people are gathered around them in the distance. They look angry. What’s worse, is there is another noise, underneath the hum of the engine.
I can hear a chorus of constant screaming.
I do not know the train’s final stop.
I pray to God that it does not end here.