Something a different this week. Here’s a short treat from the archives to bring a little paranormal into your Tuesday evening. 🙂
Where Fate Left off
Imitation china clanked in the busy dining car, every booth packed three deep except for one. I strolled up to a mousy blonde woman in lace and looked down at the empty bench across from her. She straightened, a slight curve catching her lips, then nodded. Not the eager kind of hungry seductive bob I’d gotten from most women. This was a reserved sway, graceful and elegant as if I were one of her subjects and she the princess.
“Something to drink,” an over-greased waiter asked.
“Scotch with a splash of water,” I said. “And, of course, anything the lady wants.”
The blonde dismissed the waiter with a sharp glance, and he scurried through the crowd.
I fiddled with the plated silverware. “It’s busy in here tonight. I’m Tom, by the way.”
Deep valleys creased her paper-mache skin, but fit the pin curls framing her face. A single strand of pale yellow hair had escaped her neat French twist. It dangled against the spotted flesh of her neck, begging for my hand to tuck it into place. Or perhaps my hand begged to tidy it. Her eyes darted down to my fiddling fingers in a knowing way—a far too intuitive gesture for my comfort level.
I leaned back, tapping the table as the waiter returned with my drink.
“I’ll need another one of these soon,” I said.
“Motion to me if you need another one, and I’ll have it out to you directly.” He darted off to another table before I could respond.
“Cagy guy,” I said and took a long sip of my scotch. A cutting pain ripped through my arm, and the glass slid through my hand onto the table. “Crap, it’s been doing that all day. I can’t grip a damn thing. Thank God it landed the right way. That could have been a mess.”
Blondie’s head swayed again, her aged frame trembling, and she reached over to claim my drink. Her spindled fingers ended in smooth white tips, matching the colorless skin beneath. A large diamond set in a Celtic woven band winked at me. It projected a rainbow of colors across the table and onto my tie, making me aware of the small red stains on it.
“Shit,” I said, wiping at them. “I thought scotch was a golden brown. How the hell did it turn red? Lousy dry cleaners must have put some chemical on it. I’ll have to talk to them about that.”
A shrill laugh distracted me from the tie disaster. Some brunette in a too-tight velvet dress hung on a man in the booth across from us. Her red lipstick smeared down his cheek, which didn’t seem to agree with him because he scrubbed it with a napkin. It bled into the crisp white surface, a scene worthy of chalked lines. He dipped the linen in a crevasse of water and used the knife as a mirror, but the stain grew across his cheek. The car jerked, knocking them into a window, and the velvet temptress shriek in response.
Glasses on the faux wood tabletop clinked in mocking tones. The sound enveloped the car, but no one budged, except me. I covered my ears, cursing at them and the screeching train wheels. My ears bled, my arms ached, and still the noise split through me. Louder and louder, it whipped around the car, lashing out at me and the other diners.
“Stop,” I screamed.
Silence followed. As I glanced around, the other passengers sat quietly in their booths eating dinner. No one looked back, not even a shifty-eyed scan. The mousy blonde, busy digging through a small wooden box, ignored me, too. Not a cup or fork lay out of place, and even the scotch in front of me sat undisturbed, an inviting retreat from indifferent company. I guzzled it down to numb the anxiety and regain my sanity.
“I should have taken one of those fancy new airplanes,” I said, mainly to myself. “They say it only takes hours to get from one coast to another instead of weeks. Sure the hell beats dealing with this crap.”
The waiter dropped another drink on the table, then disappeared.
“He isn’t very conversational, is he?” I asked.
Blondie smirked and pulled out some stationary from the box. In curved elegant script, she began writing to a man named Thomas. Tears dotted the soft pink paper, creating small pools of blackish-rose. They soaked in, smeared by an occasional brush of her finger, but she didn’t stop or start over. She reached the end with a large scribbled heart.
I smiled. “My fiancé, Sarah, ends her letters to me the same way.”
She nodded and folded the note, tucking it beneath the salt shaker.
“She had a ring like that too,” I said. “We bought it at Macy’s after their tenth anniversary parade. Most popular engagement ring they had, the clerk said. I still remember the way she grabbed me after I proposed. Hundreds of people, and it was just the two of us standing out there by the street. I’m traveling to meet her now. Where are you heading?”
No answer, only a small river flowing down her pale cheeks.
Ice swirled in a golden pool, and she reached over, then gulped the scotch in one run. Her hand shook until the glass dropped down and rolled across the table. It fell onto my bench and clunked to the floor. I reached under to grab it, but my shoulder wedged between the lip and cushioned seat. After a few swipes, I yanked it and myself up, straightening my jacket and tie.
Blondie had disappeared.
I scanned the bustling crowd to find her. Several booths down, near the rear, she stood at the back door with her hand hovering above the latch. Her petite frame trembled, her legs shook, but the square resolve of aged shoulders seemed to drag her forward. One final deep breathe, and she opened the dining car door to a scene of tracks and a rocky abyss.
She glanced back, then lunged over the railing.
Red and lace rolled against the steel below, and I raced out behind her, screaming into—the caboose? Musty air assaulted me, the distinct scent of a room vacant for decades. I ripped up the shades and pulled open the rear car door, only to find lush rolling hills rushing past. No rocky mountainside, no lace, no Blondie; just the clickity-clack of a train speeding through a beautiful fall day.
“What the heck is going on?” I asked, stumbling back into the dining car and planting myself in the booth.
Laughter and chatter filled around me. My stomach twisted in on itself, and I stared blankly at the empty seat on the other side. Minutes dripped into an hour before I could even move, then I saw it—the note. It was tucked beneath the salt shaker. I pulled it out and opened it slowly.
Fifty years ago on this day your train fell victim to a rockslide, killing you and so many others, my Love. We were to wed later in the week, but fate had other ideas it seems. Though I’ve lived a full life, part of me remained stuck in a reality where you and I still live happily together. I leave to join you there with the hope that you’re waiting.
I collapsed against the seat, shellshock creeping across my chest. The pounding in my head deafened all other sounds, and I rocked back and forth, trying to grip my sandglass reality. My Sarah, was it really her? That old woman with creased paper skin and faded sunflower hair. The train crashed, she wrote about a rockslide, but it couldn’t be true. Here I sat, drinking my scotch in car full of—
No one, it was empty, save a lone waiter bursting through the door with a furrowed brow. He glanced at the booth and the open rear door with wide eyes, then rushed back the way he came without a word. Raised voices floated from his direction as a conductor and several other people hurried to the rear. They argued and yelled while the train screeched to a halt, and I watched in disbelief as they hoisted what remained of the old woman onto the platform.
“May I sit here,” a soft voice asked. “It’s busy tonight.”
She didn’t wait for an answer, instead sliding gracefully down on the bench across from me. Soft blonde pincurls swayed with the chiffon of her summer dress, a single strand loosed from her neat french twist tempted me to tuck it back.
“S—Sarah?” I squeezed my eyes shut, then opened them wide.
“I couldn’t wait any longer,” she said, sliding a ring over to me. “Now, we can pick up where fate left off.”