Everyone on this Train is Going to Die
Lancaster Street was up. According to the folded and nervously torn map in my hand, that meant ten more stops. How much time did it take for the train to get from one stop to the other? Five full minutes, right? Maybe ten? That would mean somewhere around an hour left until my stop. It was impossible to determine for sure, of course, the only solution was to just wait. But I was sitting there in my Sunday best, doing my best to time it out when a walking cane quickly and abruptly slid by my shaking feet, coming to a perfect halt at the end of the booth underneath the two-seater.
I turned to see it’s source and found an elderly man leaning onto the railing next to my arm. He was thin – with crisp white hair, dressed smartly in a tanned overcoat with a white buttoned shirt underneath. He held his hat dramatically in his hand, with a less fashionable fanny pack strapped to his waist. He pulled his wheeled luggage behind him pitifully, and spoke from a voice that sounded as if it was on it’s last breath.
“May I sit here? The aisle seat is easier for me,” he said in a cool voice as refined as silk.
“Of course,” I slid over to the window and patted the seat awkwardly, shaming myself for not getting up to help him.
“Thank you,” he said, in a voice that suggested he agreed with my subconscious. “I’m in for a long trip,” he chuckled awkwardly.
“How about you?” He added.
I paused, surprised at first, but saw no harm in it. Perhaps the man was lost.
“Yes… I’m the last stop. Do you need help finding yours?”
He smiled. “Oh, no need. I am more than capable of finding it.”
I returned to the window. I felt uncomfortable, to say the least. These days, the best forms of avoidance were a phone or book in hand. Here I was, working with a dead cell and a magazine I’d read three times.
“I’ve been there a thousand times through the years.”
I stared at him blankly.
He smiled again, patiently.
“My stop,” he said simply.
“Right… where was that again?” I asked.
“The same fucking place you’re going, son.”
I paused, staring at him before I forced a laugh, telling myself it was more in confidence than through nerves. “And where’s that, Sir?”
He paused, tapping his foot softly on the floor before he began to chuckle.
“I’ll put it to you this way, Matty. Or should I say, Matthew Richard. I know you. You were born in this city, you grew up in this city, you married in this city. Right now you are on your way to church, as you do every single Sunday since you were old enough to run away from mommy and daddy.
I felt air leave my lungs.
“But I’m not here to tell you about that,” he paused, pulling a handkerchief from somewhere in his jacket and calmly dabbing the accumulating sweat on his forehead.
“I have it on Good (he said this with a wink) authority that everyone in this train is going to die today,” he said, as if discussing the morning’s weather.
I looked around, wondering if anyone heard the madman jabbering beside me.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, completely losing my cool in the suddenly crowded booth.
“It’s the end of their trip,” he said quietly. “They’re all waiting, just like you. The 7th stop on the 7th train of the day. The last train they will ever take.”
“How, what the fuck…are you… are you… a terrorist?” I stuttered.
The man giggled at this like a schoolgirl. “Oh, shucks no. I’m just the world’s best informant. This train is going to crash, Matt. As sure as the sun rise. The raillines are icey, as they sometimes get. This will cause the train to derail from it’s track and go flying into several sturdy oak trees, then down a cliff. It’s all very technical, but there aren’t any survivors.”
“Then why are you telling me this?”
He leaned forward.
“Oh yes, the two billion dollar question! Why! Why Why Why!” he was whispering, enough so that no one heard him or bothered to listen, but he was positively giddy.
“Why?” He asked, containing himself by putting his geriatric hands in his lap. “Because I am giving you a choice.”
“It doesn’t sound like much of a choice…”
“Of course it is my boy. You have this knowledge, you can get off the train at any time.”
I stared at the open door. I could. We were at Whipporwhill Ave. Stop five already.
“What happens if I do?” I said, letting the door slide.
“You will get off at whatever stop you choose.”
“What about the other people?” I asked, my heart pounding so loud through my chest I wondered if he heard.
“They will die. Like I said,” he answered.
“What happens if I don’t?” I asked cautiously.
“That’s what you’re worried about?!” He said angrily. “How is that the point, anyway? Save yourself! You can get out of here! You have a family waiting for you at the church. You can take the 8th bus at 42nd street to meet them. This train accident would, to you at least, be only a “What If.”A blip on your radar. Your family will be mildly impressed, but they’ll set upon the mass like nothing ever happened. Maybe you’ll hear some news about dad’s kidney issues, and if you’re lucky, they will toss you a few Hail Mary’s. Hah!”
The sixth stop came and went.
“I knew you were the religious type, but this is a bit much isn’t it?” he persisted.
I paused, looking at the man patiently as the sweat built up on his forehead. He was dabbing it more frequently now.
“If that’s my destiny, so be it,” I said.
Seventh stop. The door opened
“I should have known you would be one of those destiny freaks. And what if it’s your destiny to get off the train as I tell you?” he asked incredulously.
“Then I would question your motives for the rest of my life,” I said, simply and softly.
The man picked up his cane and stood, still staring at me with wide eyes as he walked out the door just before it closed.
“The windows are open if you change your mind,” was the last thing he said.
I waited for an eternity while the nameless voices shuffled about their day behind and in front of me. Children on their way to school, parents on their way to work. The train car was alive in their voices, and each second I waited with arrogance at the impulsion that we would not all day, I weighted their death along with my own on my conscious. He couldn’t do it. He wouldn’t do it. I didn’t agree. I didn’t follow the plan in this maniac’s mind and I didn’t get off the train. That was what he wanted… right?
I closed my eyes and waited. How many minutes are there in between stops? Is it a full five, or maybe ten? The only solution was to wait. Wait for something to break your silence. In my head, I was miles away. I was at the beach, with my wife. She was pregnant then, with a child whom might live his life without a dad. Just like me. But would he ever want to live with a father who had made a deal with death?
The bell rang. I was at the 8th stop, and Hazmat had swarmed the open doors.