It was half past seven exactly when the man finally got to the counter. The station smelled of petroleum and the faces with no names looked expectantly out of the windows of the passenger train. Faces smiled, faces cried, all of the had some expression, even if it was no expression at all. The grey sky was growing darker and the train screamed out its warning to the apologetic on the platform. And then, growling and grumbling, it pulled itself along its belly on the tracks, dispersing its audience. Seven-thirty and the train was on its way somewhere.
The attendant looked at the man, his eyes vague and patient. Where to sir? He queried, surveying the man's suitcase and his spotless white shirt under a long overcoat. I would like to purchase a ticket. For the late train tonight. To Venaeh please. One way. The attendant looked down at his watch, There are no more trains tonight, sir. Besides, we don't send trains to Venaeh anymore. The man looked surprised. No trains to Venaeh? None at all?
The attendant began to gather his things and said over his shoulder, People just don't care about going there anymore. It is a long trip, and more trains used to crash than make it. There used to be several trains and hundreds of passengers a day! There was even talk of an improved track. But instead the new trains came, and they were so much better. Faster, easier. None of those trains could make it to Venaeh though, not enough power in them to make it up the jagged peaks of those mountains. He gestured to the glorious range that seemed to become one with the sky. So people just started going where the trains went, and that happened to be the Flatlands. Not that I approve, you know?
He started to close the window, muttering to himself. Nope, not a train now. Not a train.
Wait! The man looked disconcerted but determined. There must be some way to travel there, there has to be a train! The attendant shook his head. Only a freight train, and I have no idea whether or not it stops here at this station. I don't think it takes passengers, and it comes late. Here sir, let me sell you a ticket through the Flatlands. The attendant reached down to grab a ticket. Maybe a train in the valley can take you to Venaeh. The man fiercely shook his head, and motioned the attendant to stop. No? Well, I welcome you to wait. Here, have a ticket for tomorrow. On me. The attendant tossed the man a ticket and slammed shut the ticket window.
Grasping the ticket between two fingers, the man stumbled to a seat. Far in the distance across the plain, a smoke trail left evidence of the last train. Beyond the sky touched mountains, the Flatlands of brown soil and weeds stretched away. A winter breeze blew at the light of the glorious sunset, the gold seemed somehow muted by the bleakness of the situation. The man sat there until the stars began to peek out behind the clouds that were blacker than the night.
Silence is a fearful thing, and in the immutability of the night the lack of sound crept towards the man. A heartbeat was almost audible in the silence, but he knew not if it was his own or some other imperceptible voice. The chill was seeping into his skin and his joints began to stiffen, it was cold, ever cold, and the lack of light and warmth chilled his very soul. Why was he waiting here? There was no hope, Venaeh was to far away to reach. No one could get there anymore, after all.
And it was somewhere it that loss and feeling of utter abandonment when he felt the wind change. It blew up from the Flatlands and, somewhere in that nether world, a faint sound called. It was a warming sound, and sound of hope. It was the whistle cry.
It came louder and louder while it crashed and banged its way, metal scraped, and all in its path was crushed and scoured. The train was coming. The man rose and stood on the edge of the tracks. He stood beyond the line that was there to protect. He wanted to embrace that train! Embrace it and cry his success. The light from the train was at first faint, but as it neared it became blinding. The light was coming and quickly. It was rushing and running towards him like a lightning bolt read to strike, and he stared straight into the light that no one could withstand.
On the narrow track to the mountains, the train cut its way. Suddenly the man realized that the train was not going to stop for him. It was speeding away to shine its light on some other path. It was in this instant that all reason left him. He reached out to the train to capture its fury and it light. He dropped his worldly possessions to grasp his one true hope.
Littered baggage, little needed, was scattered across the platform. The ticket to the Flatlands spun in the wind and flew away in a sudden fierce flurry. There was a feeling of falling, falling, and then the incredible ecstasy of being lifted on the hands of joy.
And it was in his moment of utter exaltation, that the train departed the station.
back to the Short Story Page.Station, 17 November 1996