A Particular Train

And then there was the day that ghosts appeared. It was on the Sunday of a long weekend, Thanksgiving in Canada. Everyone has a story about how they found out. Most people heard it on the news the next day, confused pundits spouting hard-to-believe nonsense. Religious upheaval  Of course, others had more direct run ins with the apparitions.

That was about 3 years ago.

*

Duncan stood at the top of the subway steps and looked back over his shoulder. Down the side-street, the lace of naked tree branches made a blurry, grey canopy over the houses. It rocked a little. The side walk looked cold to touch and that chill filtered thought the soles of Duncan’s boots. An October breeze pushed skittering leaves across the street and Duncan pulled his collar up as walked down to the platform.

The platform was a dusty beige, washed out by the nasty-bright lights. The autumn chill had chased Duncan down the steps, and although weakened, it still clung to him, soaked into the wool of his pea coat. He sat down on a bench in a Designated Waiting Area and looked at his watch. 3:45 PM. He took a note book and waited. He scribbled notes and figures, his monthly budget. Busy work.

A fellow seated himself a comfortable distance from Duncan, so that Duncan barely looked up from his scratching pen. When he did, he did a subtle, thought not a subtle as he would have liked, double take. The man wore a dark, extra-wide pork pie hat and a thin moustache. His slim, long body was wrapped in a sable wool coat, not unlike Duncan’s. This fellow’s style was peculiar, but deliberate. The stranger moved his pony tail from his shoulder and turned his hawkish face to Duncan.

“Waiting?” asked the stranger. His voice was normal and that disappointed Duncan.

Duncan slid his pen into the coil of his note book.“Yeah, waiting on a friend.” The stranger nodded approvingly and continued to look at Duncan. His eyes were kind, but predatory. The gaze unsettled Duncan, so he continued. “Going to get something to eat. Early lunch somewhere.”

A throaty rumble rolled out of the tunnel and a train pulled into the station, a few people moved out and up the stairs and then the train left just as loudly as it arrived. Duncan resumed his calculations. The two remained seated.

“We’re all just waiting. I’m waiting too.” The stranger had looked out toward the tracks. “Just waiting on a particular train.” He started to hum tunelessly.

“Fair enough,” Duncan offered little to respond to. He wished he could inch away from the man, but feared it would prompt a strange confrontation. He was once aggressively offered a blowjob when he took off one glove in this subway station, and was weary. He was becoming uneasy.

“Just waiting on a train. Just waiting on a train. You and me, just waiting on a train.”

Duncan wanted to correct the stranger; he was waiting on his friend. A friend he desperately wanted to arrive. He decided to stay mum about the error. Another train pulled in, no one got off, and it pulled out, screeching all the way. Duncan fished his cellphone out of his pocket and looked at the time. Below on the tracks, three voles pulled at a scrap of something they felt was fit to eat.

The man eyed the cellphone too. “Nervous? Don’t be,” the man said, still looking forward. Duncan noticed the man’s face was a little pock-marked. Teenaged acne, maybe, though the man looked like he wasn’t much past those years. “You’re friend will be here soon. To rescue you. From me.” The stranger leaned over looked at Duncan now with a mocking face of false gravity, and laughed a too normal laugh. He gave Duncan, who had visibly yet slowly recoiled, a once over. “Jesus, relax.”

Duncan chewed on the inside of his lip. Give him something, silence isn’t working, thought Duncan. “Sorry, it’s just I had a few weird run-ins in this station,” he offered, “and I guess I am a little sheepish.” Oh god, leave me alone. Duncan felt cornered, though he tried his best to hide any outward signs of it. “So, there’s that.” He was proud his voice didn’t shake.

The stranger nodded approvingly again and sat back again. “A lot of weirdos out there. Glad we’re so normal.” He crossed his hands in his lap. They were lily white like the rest of his complexion. He slipped them into his pockets.

Duncan watched the man without being watched in return. Confusion knotted his face and puckered his lips. “Oh yeah,” Duncan said slowly. “Weirdos.” He told himself this will at least make good conversation once he met up with Carol. If he met up with Carol. He pictured himself in a crawl-space under an old house, his mouth stuffed with dirt. I don’t want to be murdered by a devil-cowboy nerd with a Clark Gable moustache.

The protestation of breaks tore from the tunnel as a train appeared again. The stranger, seemingly taller than before, rose with the noise, his dark coat flapping in the dirty subterranean wind. The train stopped and hissed as it settled.

“This is me,” said the stranger.

The doors didn’t open straight away, but Duncan could see though the window. An apparition stood in the otherwise empty car, motionless like they always do. Its back was to the door and Duncan could see though its blue grey body. Its image swirled tempestuously like steam in a vessel. It just held the rail and peered sightlessly out the window into whatever they saw. Duncan was thankful he couldn’t see the damned thing’s face. He hated their faces. But everyone did.

The door opened and the stranger walked onto the train without looking back, which would have been the menacing thing to do, Duncan grimly joked with himself. A missed opportunity for terror.

The doors closed around the ghost and the man, and the train sluggishly pulled itself out of the station, screaming the whole way. Despite his predilection for gallows humour, Duncan was still uneasy. The cold had gained its strength and licked at his feet again.

The voles returned to their scrap and chewed audibly. Nothing moved for a long time.

Carol walked briskly down the steps opposite the ones that Duncan had come. She called out to him.

“Oh thank God,” breathed Duncan.

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