The Last Train
James stood in silence on the train station platform. His eyes were locked on the overhead matrix screen above him. It seemed as though his neck had been craned upwards for a lifetime. The night was cold and the platform was empty. With each breath, ghosts danced from his lips in smoke-like coils and then faded into the yellow light of the lanterns which hung from the roof of the station. A train had not entered or left the station in all the time he had been waiting. The overhead matrix was no help at all and merely stated: ‘Train expected shortly’. It had displayed this message for what felt like days. The matrix screen looked down upon him with burning yellow letters and no suggestion of a train destination.
Where was James going? He had been stood waiting for so long that he had forgotten entirely, all he knew is that he wanted to leave this particular station – James wanted to move on.
A slight breath of wind moved its way along the tracks pushing a cluster of reddish-brown leaves to the corners of the platform. James began to feel a presence. He no longer felt alone. Down the far end of the platform a figure with sharp shoulder emerged from the shadows. A tiny pulse of molten red sent a ghostly ribbon of smoke into the darkness. The figure discarded the cigarette and made its way towards James. The stranger made dark shapes along the platform until stepping into the same yellow light.
A tall man stood in front of James. His face was sharp and his features cast monstrous shadows across the floor beside him. His eyes were patterned with insane shapes and shades – a seemingly grey-blue colour. A long line of stitches ran down the entire left side of his face, from his temple to the underside of his chin. The skin around the stitches was a reddish purple and suggested that this laceration was acquired recently. His lips warped slightly beneath a well maintained moustache as if he was about to speak.
“Any idea when the next train is, mate?” the stranger turned towards the overhead matrix as he spoke.
“No, sorry. I don’t. There hasn’t been a train for hours.” James moved half a step away for the stranger and attempted to make this action seem as natural as possible.
“No trains in how long? Christ, that’s terrible service. And you’ve been waiting the entire time?” James nodded to the stranger’s question. “So what’s your story?” The stranger opened out his body, rolled his hand towards James and raised his eyebrows slightly in a silent request for his new associate’s name.
“James, my name is James. Honestly, I can’t remember where I’m going. I only know that I just don’t want to be stuck here.” James’ eyes followed the direction of his words and he watched the stranger’s face change. It seemed to take on a new shape, one of mild confusion.
“By the looks of things it doesn’t seem like you’re going anywhere at all, pal. Surely, you know why you are here, James?” The stranger seated himself on a nearby bench, he spread his arms and slouched slightly. He seemed comfortable and prepared to sit and wait forever. The stranger was dressed in black suit trousers and a plain white shirt with sleeves rolled loosely to his elbows. His hair was combed from left to right with a neat side parting – his appearance seemed timeless. He reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out an old battered packet of cigarettes. He tapped the base of the packet, sending a cigarette butt shooting out into his mouth. He then offered a cigarette to James, who politely rejected in a wordless exchange. A small flame flicked from within the stranger’s closed hand which inspired a pulse of red and a slight puff of smoke. James watched as the stranger shifted his body forwards, perching his elbows on the tops of his thighs, and exhaled deep sending a frenzy of apparitions into the night.
“Where are you headed?” James decided that, if he was going to be waiting for hours on end with this man, he might as well try and make an effort to talk to him. He perched in a sit-standing position against a bollard and faced the stranger.
“Home. I’m waiting to go home.” The stranger drew in a lung-full of smoke and let it escape slowly from his nostrils. He smiled slightly and his eyes looked out into the darkness as if he was picturing his destination. “It used to take me no time at all to get back home when I had a car. Unfortunately, I wrecked it not far from here. Maybe a minute or two down the road. Complete write off.” He began to scratch the tender skin around the cut on his face with the tips of the two fingers that he held his cigarette between. “No, not a pretty sight. So, train travel it is from now on, I guess.”
“Is that how you hurt your face? The accident, I mean, is that how you cut your face so terribly?” James immediately regretted asking such an intimate question. “Actually, ignore I said that. I’m sorry, how rude of me.” The stranger’s laughed at James’ bashful display.
“No worries, pal. And yes, the monster you see before you now was created from that car crash. I don’t mind too much. I was never much of a looker and besides, chicks dig scars.” His eyebrows moved in a suggestive manner as he pursed his lips. The stranger then laughed to himself. James was unsure whether he should laugh with him, so he did not. “Paramedics had to resuscitate me at the scene. I was dead for six minutes before they managed to resuscitate me successfully to a stable state. Six whole minutes – you can make a stir-fry in five. You’d like to think that in that time I was consciously looking over my body, urging and willing myself to breathe, but I wasn’t. It doesn’t happen like that. I was nowhere. It was infinite boredom and nothingness; it was just like waiting for a train to arrive.” James had become lost in the stranger’s words. He felt entranced. He had sunk into the story and now found himself standing at the edge of the platform, staring at the rail-tracks. Something caught his eye. A slither of light cut the shape of a mangled piece of metal out from the shadows. James tried to adjust his sight. It looked like a metallic red panel from a car’s wheel-arch. It was crumpled and blackened in areas as if it had been set alight. “I’m eternally grateful for the great attempts those paramedics made to bring me back. What are you looking at?” The stranger’s words snapped James’ mind back to the conversation.
“Oh, nothing. Just wondering what a piece of scrap metal from a car is doing beside the train tracks, that’s all.” James turned to face the stranger and was met by an empty bench. Where did he go? James’ eyes surveyed the platform, but there was no sign of the man he had just been talking to. He tucked his hands into his coat pockets and pulled it tighter around him. Then he heard a heavy scrap of metal coming from behind him, besides the train tracks.
“Ah, so it is. You’ve got yourself a piece of a car here.” James started and shifted his body to face the direction of these spoken words. The stranger was now besides the tracks, digging through the lumps of scrap metal he had pointed out. “More specific, you have got yourself a Ford Capri body panel in ‘Jasper Red’ – just like I used to have.” The stranger’s shirt had come loose from his trousers and moved in the wind like an apparition across his skin as he made large, over-exaggerated heaving actions to shift the scrap metal.
“Is that burn damage?” James jumped down to accompany the stranger and get a better view of the metal.
“Looks like it. Looking at the burn patterns on this wheel arch, the fire started under the bonnet.” The stranger picked up another puzzle piece to the Capri, the steering wheel. He held it out in front of him and turned it left and right as if he was driving an invisible car. “I feel for the driver. By the looks of this car, there is no way he would have survived the crash that caused this damage.” The stranger dropped the steering wheel and walked back to the platform, as he moved he shuffled his feet through the gravel. The stones made the noise of crashing sea water as they moved with his feet and hit against eachother. James watch the stranger hop up back into the yellow light and check the overhead matrix once again. Silence drowned the entire platform until the stranger begun to whistle a tune. The sound cut through the air in a way that magnified the lack of sound around the rest of the station. James listened and picked up upon the melody. The stranger was whistling the guitar melody of the introduction to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Hearing his recital of such a familiar song disturbed James; it’s minimalistic sound warped the song into something haunting and amplified a previously unpercieved horror that resided within him. A half-extinguished memory. Flashes of pain from another time. Blood, fire and metal filled his mind. Something terrible had happened between James and this stranger.
“Is this your car?” James stood, desolate, amongst the scrap metal. The stranger did not respond, he continued to stare at the matrix screen. “Excuse me! This car, is it yours?” James made wild gestures, but the stranger refused to acknowledge his question.