by Amadeus Track (His friends call him Am Track)
We were strangers on the train, reflected in ebony sheets of remembrance. If I pressed your face to the pane I could tell we were moving. But apart from a pale, flickering shadow on the window, we were nowhere.
No one spoke at first, too awkward among strangers I suppose. Then a passenger searched in her bag and offered some sandwiches across. Polite conversation ensued – our voices low, hallowed whispers. We talked on and the mood changed to one of conviviality. Passengers began to sing songs, clapping to a familiar ballad, breaking from their revelry as the stiff wooden door unlatched.
The conductor passed along the carriage, holding the paper slips high against his lantern and returning them with a purposeful nod. Something of his somber nature trailed him like a shadow, and when he arrived at my seat I shrank in his gaze.
“Good sir,” I forced myself to a cheery voice. “Can you tell me, is our train on time?”
He looked over the rim of his ancient glasses, then back at my ticket. Those onyx eyes diminished for but a second. Reluctantly, he approved my ticket and cast an oaken glance at me, then walked at a measured pace to deliver his small service to my companions.
Later, the conductor returned. This time his gaze was less guarded, the ashen face crinkling at the edges as he wrestled with an enigma.
He shook his head reproachfully.
“May I speak with you in private?”
His words conveyed so dire a sense of importance that I immediately left the carriage and followed him.
“The thing is, sir, you appear to be on the wrong train.”
For the first time I saw tension in the lantern glare as he outlined his terrible plan. Since the train could in no way be greatly delayed, my friend had called on ahead, arranging for the train to reduce to a crawl, and for me to disembark at a suitable juncture. If I told you I agreed, it would indicate some measure of choice in the matter, which is assuredly not the case. Let me simply say that I took one harrowing look at those pools of emptiness, and prepared myself for a literal step into the unknown.
The train slowed to a grinding tremor and the conductor stood beside me, ready.
“Farewell sir, and Godspeed you on your journey,” the merciless fellow told me, putting forward an arm to assist me as I gripped the door-handle.
It moved lightly, so lightly in fact that had it not been for his sturdy arm (which I mistook at first for gentle persuasion) I would have tumbled out. As it was, my feet found the comforting shingle of gravel. My task met, the conductor reached forward and pulled the door to, tapping his hat to me generously as he closed the door against me.
I stood, utterly alone, watching the train lights retreat into the darkness.
The station master’s office shone like a beacon and I made my way towards it, masking my apprehension in solid footholds of stone. Inside, a fire crackled in welcome, and for the first time on that long night I was weary for warmth. I entered the room with less fear than perhaps I ought to have felt in a stranger’s domain, and crouched by the flames.
I must have dozed for when I opened my eyes I was in my hearth chair at home, the farewell note from my dearest Francesca crumpled at my side. An empty bottle lay at my feet and the remnants of powders upon my kerchief. Had I dreamed in turmoil, and chosen life over death? I cannot say for certain. I only know that I clung gratefully to life that night, my heart’s blood roaring deep within me. And I came to realize that however alone I felt in this world, death without companionship is a far lonelier business.