Midnight Train To Nowhere Ch. 01byHeathen Hemmingway©
Is this a fantasy or just a piece of fiction? Maybe, just maybe, it is both.
Not too long ago, on a midnight train bound for nowhere.
He was the type of person who rarely slept, a restless soul who only succumbed to deep sleep when he was exhausted. So, he sat there in the hard contoured vinyl seat watching the miles roll by through the small window as the train churned across the landscape. The time was just past midnight and there were heavy thunderclouds hanging low in the sky, threatening to rain at any moment. With no starlight showing through the clouds, the night sky was as black as pitch. The moon was a pale silhouette behind a blanket of carbon-colored clouds.
As the train bore along the tracks, its single headlamp barely penetrated the inky night a few yards ahead. The man saw only brief glimpses of things illuminated by the interior lights of the train car: a Saguaro here and there, an abandoned shell of a car long given up to the desert, and once he caught sight of a coyote's eyes, reflecting red as the creature went slinking through the scrub.
His eyes grew weary from staring into the dark, so he shifted his gaze to the inside of the train car around him. That was when he noticed her. He wasn't sure how he hadn't noticed her before. She was sitting several rows ahead of him to his left in the seat closest to the aisle, and she was the only other passenger in the car. Possibly she had switched seats or had been reclining. The first thing he noticed about her was her hair. It was a soft straw color, almost gold but not quite. It looked fine and soft, like a baby's hair. Despite his fatigue, he felt a faint urge to touch her hair and see if it felt as soft as it looked. She turned her head to one side and he caught a glimpse of her profile.
Her eyes were pale ice-blue and her lips looked a natural shade of red. He doubted she wore lipstick, possibly just some gloss. She sat upright and then looked behind her, and that was when their eyes met. It could have been from the same boredom that gnawed at him, or maybe it was a woman's intuition: maybe she knew someone was watching her. For some odd reason, he was taken with the urge to look away, but instead they sat there looking at one another for moments before he nodded his head in a silent 'hello' and she acknowledged him in the same way.
In that brief moment he got a good look at her. Her hair was mostly straight with gradual curls near the nape of her neck and only the slightest hint of makeup on her face. She had high cheek bones that gave her a look of cool dignity and deep, soulful eyes. He could sense a mix of intellect and harsh determination in her eyes. She looked to him like a woman who had been through Hell and fought her way out clean. And in that brief moment after their eyes met, he found himself wanting her very much.
They looked at each other for a few more awkward moments then they each turned away, as if in concert. As they looked away, he caught one last glimpse of her ice-blue eyes, and the strangest thought came to him. 'You've never had a muse...' an alien voice whispered to him from somewhere inside of his mind. The words struck him, left him sitting there staring blankly for a moment or two, before he closed his eyes and shook himself, as if waking from a dream.
A brilliant flash of light bloomed from the darkness, lightning dancing across the sky followed by the familiar pattering of raindrops. They made a solid thud as they landed on the roof of the train, and the man was surprised at how loud they were inside of the comfortable, well-insulated train car. The sound of the rain grew louder, and the train car swayed a bit as a strong gust of wind found them. Thunder boomed overhead and drew out into a long, low rumble that reverberated through the speeding train. He smiled slightly and closed his eyes, almost instantly lost in a childhood memory brought on by the sound of the rain. It reminded him of the sound of rain on a tin roof.
His childhood home was an immense and solid thing, originally a plantation home built in the early 1800's. Apparently the plantation fell into a long, gradual decline and over the years bits and pieces of the surrounding land were sold off until the house sat on a small plot a fraction over two acres large. He imagined it would have been an interesting progression to watch from afar, the house sitting grandly at the center of a huge plantation like the Master of its own world, only to have the property dwindle away around it until it sat lonely on a small plot of land, like a peach hanging from a limb, slowly drying up and withering away until all that remained was a leathery orange-red hide and a gnarled pit hiding just below the skin.
It was a good home, though, especially considering the circumstances of his upbringing. He was born into what could fairly be poverty. Fortunately enough his mother worked with such an intensity and determination that he rarely noticed the limitations that life presented him. The house itself was a personality in his youth, an ever present feature of life that gave him comfort and fueled his interests and curiosities. The house was mostly built from heart pine, rough hewn timbers coated with thick layers of Creosote and pitch to retard water damage and discourage insect infestations.
The inner walls were made of thin tongue-and-groove slats that ran from floor to ceiling, with a thick barrier of rot-wool insulation underneath. The walls were covered with linoleum in a range of base colors, from a cool mint green in the kitchen to a breezy light blue in the living room and parlor. The outer doors were massive and heavy (he had many memories as a small child, pushing with all his might to open one of those mammoth doors, feeling like Superman himself for completing such a task single-handed).
The windows were huge and impressive things, with six large panes at the bottom half and six at the top. There were large primitive thumb locks atop the bottom frames, with a long cast-iron shuttlecock hidden inside the frame on both sides. They were quite an ingenious design, given the time they were made. When someone wanted to open the window they slid the thumb lock to one side and then pulled up on the base of the window frame. The heavy window frame slid up with the greatest of ease, thanks to the concealed shuttlecocks, which acted like a counter weight. Once they were put into motion, the long weighted shuttlecocks would slide down and the window frame would glide up. They were often considered to be one the most endearing features of the house.
It was a solid home that he found himself missing many times when he wanted to remember nothing else that was a part of his past. It had a history and intrigue about it, at times foreboding and mysterious, but always stolid and welcoming to him like a fortress behind a great stone wall. And for him, its best property was the front porch.
At the front of the home was a short set of brick steps that led to the front door and to the left was a long rectangular porch with a tin roof. Over the years the porch had been home to a great number of chairs, porch swings, hanging plants and all manner of pleasantries, but the tin roof always remained. It was painted and repainted a number of times and sheets of tin were replaced here and there. The tin roof was unexceptional and mundane for the most part, but when it rained it became a lively and exciting thing.
The raindrops made a range of curious and alien sounds when they fell onto the wide, thin sheets of tin. In a light drizzle the raindrops seemed to purr like a sleeping cat, and when it stormed the tin roof came alive with a powerful rapid-fire staccato of machine gun fire. The sound was deafening at times. It was a grand distraction, a place where his imagination ran wild listening to the sound of nature attacking the tin roof with all its ferocity. He would sit with a book by L. Sprague De Camp or Robert E. Howard, consuming chapter after chapter about a wild Cimmerian behemoth with fierce blue eyes swinging a, enormous battle axe, bright white teeth gritting in determination and a scowl of defiance on his rough-hewn face.
His senses were amplified by the thunderous report of the rain on the tin roof, shaking the whole world and reverberating through the entire house. To him it sounded like an oncoming army – a thousand, no, ten thousand horsemen charging across a plain toward some hapless opposing force. Tall men with sun-bronzed skin wearing layers of thick armor with chain mail showing underneath in places, riding atop wild eyed war horses – destriers he remembered they were called – with flecks of foam flying from their mouths as they charged headlong at a breakneck pace into the embrace of either certain death or a bloody victory.
The tin roof also had an added bonus for him. The falling rain was channeled into a multitude of small waterfalls, all spaced evenly apart where the overlapping joints of tin were nailed down. He had a dozen small waterfalls to play in, so long as it rained.
Another loud burst of thunder pierced the night and he opened his eyes, shaken abruptly from his pleasant memory. He looked at the woman again, and he could see she was gripping the arm of her chair tightly, her nails dug into the vinyl fabric. He couldn't help but smile a little, and found himself wanting to comfort her. He felt a sudden pang at his side, a familiar stab of deep seated pain. He needed to use the restroom, and he had been hoping to avoid it on this trip if possible. He held a strong belief that people who inhabit public bathrooms often had poor hygiene, and at best were not nearly as clean as he would like for them to be. As a traveler with countless miles under his belt, he had seen his fair share of filthy public restrooms.
He resigned himself to the task and slowly stood, his knees screaming in protest from sitting in the cramped chair for so long. As he stepped out into the aisle he felt the train car jostle a little, a slight side-to-side motion that threatened to offset his balance. He put one hand on the seat next to the aisle to steady himself, and suddenly the train lurched and bucked violently. The woman screamed a sharp, piercing shriek and then the lights flickered once and went out. He made an attempt to sit down again, only to be thrown forward as the train car lurched again with a loud screech of metal. He tried to right himself, only to trip on his own feet and fall flatly in the center of the aisle.
He slowly rolled over onto his back, his back and knees protesting loudly. He gingerly sat upright, his hands instinctively reaching into his jacket on each side. It was a habit he developed a long time ago. Under each arm was a pancake holster holding a forty caliber pistol. The sound of the rain was deafening in the train car, drowning out everything. The lights blinked on once briefly, went out again then came back on slowly, the fluorescents pulsating feebly before resolving into solid bright light. He looked up to see that he was in the aisle next to the scared woman, her eyes fixed on him. She wasn't looking at his eyes, though. His jacket opened in the fall and she was looking at the two guns he carried with a definite concern.
'She's scared.' A voice in his head whispered. 'Very scared.'
He decided to say something to defuse the obvious tension – the gal was scared shitless and sitting next to a gun-carrying stranger, so he couldn't fairly blame her. Before he could think of what to say she spoke up.
"I thought it wasn't supposed to rain in the desert." She quipped, a slight tremble in her voice. She was scared alright, but she was making at attempt to gain control over her fear, and the man in black respected that. To him that suggested a person with strength.
"I have to agree with you, ma'am." He said as a jolt of pain shot through his back, making him since. "And apparently when it does, it makes up for lost time. It's one hell of a storm."
She held her hand out to him and he took it carefully. He took his time standing, slightly embarrassed at the various pops and clicks his knees made as he did so. Another bolt of pain shot up his back and he quickly took the seat opposite the woman on the opposite side of the aisle.
"Thank you, very much." He said. "That was not exactly the most graceful first impression." He added, almost blushing .
"Oh, that wasn't my first impression." She replied with a nervous smile." So are you a policeman? A detective I guess?"
He started to respond, but the familiar pang came again, and he once again resigned himself to using a public restroom.
"I need to use the facilities, that was what I was attempting before I ate the floor." He mused. "And no, I'm not a policeman or a detective, but I do operate in a similar capacity. And when I return I'd love to hear about that first impression." He added with a small smile.
She smiled back at him, and he could detect a nervous apprehension in her smile. She was a pretty woman with many striking and attractive features about her, but he could clearly see that worry was gnawing at her. He was taken with the strong impression that she was nervous long before the weather turned foul. She had a look about her that said she was a woman on the run.
She watched him as he walked carefully to the restroom at the end of the train car, his steps slow and deliberate. He didn't seem cocky or disrespectful, which was something she had grown to anticipate in any man who showed any interest in her. She was, after all, terribly frightened and making a monumental effort hide it. She wasn't certain if he was a threat to her or not, but he was armed (heavily armed she reminded herself) and his words left her with mixed feelings. 'I do operate in a similar capacity'...