The train swayed into the station, jostling the passengers with a sudden stop. The conductor, a rotund woman with
dishwater-blond hair and an unlit cigarette clamped between her lips, trudged through the cars.
In a bored monotone that announced a thousand cities ten thousand times, she called out, “Alderschot; all those
connecting south must exit now. Alderschot.”
Thirteen people stumbled from the train. Most were inexperienced rail travelers, who were expecting a sprawling
station of brick and wood, with uniformed attendants, a restaurant and a newsstand. Only one young woman made this
trip before and knew what really awaited them. The last of the passengers barely touched the concrete platform beside
the rails before the train started up and rapidly pulled away.
“But where’s the station?” asked an elderly man who was clutching the elbow of an equally elderly woman. “There’s
nothing here but a rain shelter and a couple of stone benches.”
The young woman dropped her knapsack beside the bench on the right, resting it against the cyclone fence that
extended the length of the platform.
“Alderschot doesn’t have a station. It’s merely a crossing where the east-west lines and the north-south ones
She removed a baseball cap from her head and shook out her hair. It was strawberry colored and barely grazed the
top of her shoulders.
“But how will we know when the train’s coming?” the old man asked.
Before the girl could answer, a speaker mounted on a pole beside the shelter squawked to life, “Estimated time of
arrival for the southbound passenger train is forty-seven minutes. Repeat, forty-seven minutes.”
The girl jerked her thumb at the speaker, “Remote feed from Grimsby. It’s one location north. They actually have a
station master there.”
“You seem to know a lot about this place, Miss…”
The old man’s face wrinkled into a smile, “We’re the Thibodeaus; Joe and Minnie. Never traveled by train before;
always took the big jets and rushed across the territory. No sense wasting time.”
“Now all we have is time,” Minnie said.
She was a frail woman in a bright red dress with an enormous white bow across the waist. Minnie eased onto a corner
of the bench and leaned daintily against the back of the shelter.
Annie scanned the rest of the group. There was a young couple with two small boys in matching strollers, a group of
three coarse looking women trying desperately to retain their youth and two, old guys decked out in enough fishing
attire to stock a sporting goods shop. At the north end of the platform sat a young black man, whose long legs dangled
off the concrete while he stared at the gleam of the silver rails.
“So what do we do out here in the middle of nowhere for half an hour?” Joe Thibodeau asked.
“Forty-three minutes now.”
One of the three women drifted over to join them. She had slate-black hair, cut very short. Her face was pitted with
acne scars. She wore jeans and a baggy sweatshirt adorned with a pink triangle.
“Not much to do but wait,” Annie said. “There are no main roads around here. No buildings or homes. You can’t buy a
ticket at Alderschot.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed as she studied Annie, “Who the hell are you? Railroad information?”
“I travel this route a lot. It’s cheaper than a car or plane fare.”
The woman shrugged and moved back toward her friends. The anglers joined the impromptu group and found an ally
in Joe. As the conversation turned toward flies, lures and favorite fishing holes, Annie leaned against the fence and
closed her eyes.
A scrape of leather on concrete, close enough to stir the air on her bare leg, snapped Annie out of her reverie. It was
the dark-haired woman with the sweatshirt.
“If there are no people around here, does that mean no cop either?”
Annie smoothed her hair back with the tips of her fingers. It was a lifelong, nervous habit she had never been able to
“I’ve never seen anyone who wasn’t on the train. Why; something wrong?”
“Nah. But the guys and I were getting a little tense waiting around. And it’s going to be a long, boring ride south. So we
thought we roll a couple of joints and put a coal to them. You know, pass the time and all.” She bobbed her head and
gave Annie a knowing wink. “I’m Pat. C’mon, join us if you like.”
“No thanks. I don’t mind waiting.”
“Suit yourself. We’re going down to the far end, so we don’t freak out the old folks.” She contorted her face in mock
horror. “They might get wild and turn us in.”
Annie watched Pat lead her companions away from the rest. The young couple removed the boys from their strollers
and let them chase a small beach ball around the platform. Something about this little band of travelers made her
uncomfortable. Maybe she was getting paranoid. But with all the craziness dominating the news lately, who could
blame her. Terrorists bombing planes; old athletes getting away with murder; movie stars were getting busted faster
than Colombian drug lords. Maybe she should just ignore it all and mind her own business until the connecting train
She moved away from the shelter, swinging her pack by the strap. Annie dropped it flat on the concrete and used it as
a cushion, bracing her back against the fence. This time she kept her eyes open, watching the others. Something was
definitely not right.
The loudspeaker squawked to life: “Southbound train will arrive at Alderschot it twenty-nine minutes. Repeat,
“Swell,” Annie mumbled. “That’s just swell.”
It was a few minutes before she realized someone was watching her, watching them. The one person she’d forgotten.
Perhaps she was subconsciously ignoring him. Now with a slow rotation of her head, Annie focused on the young,
black man at the north end. He had one leg drawn up before him, with his arms draped around it. His chin rested on his
kneecap. When he sensed her gaze, he unwound his limbs and rose easily to his feet. With a long, fluid stride, he
moved to a spot a few paces from her and rested against the fence. He dropped a battered gym bag on the ground
“You feel it too?” he asked.
He raised his hands and flexed his wrists, as if he were about to perform a magic trick.
“Static in the air, or some kind of energy. It’s almost spooky.”
“It’s just the waiting. It does that to people.”
He shook his head.
“Not me. I’ve been waiting most of my life. I’m used to it. Grandmother always says waiting is a virtue. But this
place…it just doesn’t feel right.”
“Look at this group. It’s like a poster for train travel. You’ve got your young family, the old married people, the
retiree-fishing buddies, the trio of Pat—”
“They’re all named Pat?” Annie stole a glance at the women on the far end of the platform.
“Women like that are always Pat…or Terry, or Dale. Can’t decide if they want to be boys or girls, so they pick a name
that could be either.”
Annie’s embarrassment was evident in her face.
“You were saying.”
“Then there’s you, the pretty, young female traveling alone and your handsome, black man, striving to meet the
challenges of the modern world.”
He struck a pose with his forefinger resting thoughtfully on his cheek.
“Maybe it’s just a coincidence.”
He scuffed his toe on the concrete.
“Don’t know about you, but I’ve never been much of a believer in coincidences. Maybe I haven’t traveled that much,
but I know when something feels out of whack. Like now.”
Annie patted the concrete beside her and introduced herself.
“Name’s Maurice. Why don’t you tell me what you think of Alderschot?”
Annie played with her hair and let her breath out in a slow, whistling sigh.
“I’ve been here a couple of times before. Usually it’s only about a ten-minute gap between trains. Hardly long enough
for you to really notice the surroundings.”
There was a dull click announcing the loudspeaker coming to life: “Thirteen minutes for all southbound connections.
Thirteen minutes to Alderschot.”
“Like the voice,” Annie said, nodding toward the speaker, “it sounds like an old tape recording. In the past, the voice
was more animated, with little comments sprinkled in. And what about the time? Why not half an hour, or twenty
minutes? Nobody gives thirteen minute warnings?”
“Maybe it’s a different station master with a lousy watch. Could be the other guy’s day off.”
“C’mon, Maurice, you said it yourself. There’s something wrong here; something definitely out of whack.”
He stretched his legs out before him.
“So what do we do, Annie? Climb the fence and make a run for it? Start walking down the rails in search of one of
those pumper cars like in the old movies?”
“I don’t think we can get off this platform. Something tells me we’re stuck here. Whether we like it or not.”
“Looks like we’ll find out soon enough.”
The speaker clicked once more, declaring last call for all southbound passengers. As if the passengers wandered off
somewhere and needed prodding to get back to the platform in time.
Even as Annie silently studied her watch, there was no train in sight. The others shuffled closer to the shelter,
anxiously awaiting the arrival. The rails shuddered and a sudden gust of wind brought the scent of diesel fumes. There
was a rumble and then the train appeared vaguely in the distance. It roared into the tiny crossing, brakes squealing
and cars rocking over the rails. The train was filled with older cars, including the type with rows of seats that sat facing
each other, to better accommodate families and groups traveling together. As it lurched to a stop, the side door
opened on two compartments at the far end of the platform and a hinged step swung down as if by remote control.
Annie started to rise from her bag. Maurice gently closed his fingers around her arm.
Her eyes flicked back and forth between him and the train. No one was exiting the cars. Maurice remained on the
ground, his back against the fence. Through the windows she could see the outlines of many people. They all appeared
bored or sleeping. No one stepped forward to help the Thibodeaus or the others climb on. The father of the young
family simply hoisted the strollers aboard, swinging their cases up with a well-practiced motion.
“Where’s the conductor?” Maurice whispered. “Or the porter. No one’s moving aboard the train. No one’s moving at
“I want a closer look,” Annie said.
“Don’t get on.”
They moved together, peering through the windows of the first car. The Thibodeaus were already aboard. They were
settling into a pair of empty seats in the front of a car, not far from the bathroom. The family with the children was in a
row where the four seats faced each other. The father was stowing the strollers in the overhead compartment while the
mother got the boys situated.
“This train’s jammed,” Maurice whispered in her ear.
“But everyone’s finding a seat.”
He urged her down to the next car. The fishing buddies were being reunited with another pair of anglers across the
aisle, digging out pictures of past excursions. In a dark corner at the rear of the car, the trio of women found space in
another of the rows where four seats faced each other. Their bags were piled onto the empty slot, preventing anyone
from interfering with their group.
“Everyone’s not just finding a seat,” Maurice said, “everyone’s finding the perfect seat. No couple or group is being
broken up. It’s like the perfect traveling experience.”
Annie took a step away from the train, “I’m not getting on board.”
They moved back together, keeping the train in sight until their backs pressed against the chain link fence. The steps
suddenly folded back into position and the doors slammed shut. The train shuddered and then began picking up speed
as it moved out of the station. With the rails shimmering, it rolled south around a bend and into the fading daylight.
“Maybe we’re imagining things,” Annie said.
“No way; I’d walk home before I got on board that train.”
As the last car rounded the bend, the sky was filled with a shower of sparks and the roar of an explosion. Maurice and
Annie were thrown to the concrete. Pressure from the blast squeezed them against the links, forcing indentations from
the wire into their skin.
Somehow Annie’s voice penetrated the noise surrounding them, “We’ve got to help them!”
“I can’t move.”
Neither one could pull themselves away from the fence. Then as quickly as it started, the pressure was gone. Maurice
rolled to his knees. His hands trembled as he pushed himself up to his feet. Instinctively, Annie reached for his hand.
She doubted that her own legs would support her.
“They need our help,” she said, leaning against him.
“Nobody could have survived that blast.”
“We’ve got to look.”
His eyes flicked to the smoke rising from the curve, to her face and back again, “I ain’t no hero.”
“Neither am I. But we still have to look.”
Together they moved to the edge of the platform. They didn’t have the strength to jump to the tracks. First they sat
then squirmed off the edge, dropping the five feet to the jumble of cinders beside the railroad ties. Annie realized she
was still holding his hand, but made no effort to remove it. They proceeded slowly toward the bend.
“You feel it?” Maurice asked.
“The energy. What was it you said before?”
“Static; like lightning about to strike.”
“I think it already did.”
They inched closer to the curve, their progress impeded by the force of the explosion and the aftershock. Annie
realized she was lagging behind, letting him break through the pressure a step at a time, like someone breaking the trail
on a snow covered path. But it was easier to walk in his wake than forge a separate path.
With her head down, she didn’t notice they rounded the curve until she bumped into his back.
“How bad is it?” she asked.
It was several moments before he found his voice.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Still holding his hand, Annie moved up beside Maurice. There was a loud cracking noise, as the area immediately
before them filled with the sparks of supercharged energy. Then as quickly as it had begun, it dissipated.
“Where is everybody?”
Annie’s voice sounded loud in her ears, but in reality it was barely a whisper.
“I have no idea.”
The ground between the rails was free of any litter or debris other than the jet-black cinders that lined the tracks.
Even the wooden ties, stained dark with creosote and the drippings of a thousand crossings, looked typical of the
railroad. Beyond that, the tracks were vacant.
No bits of blood splattered clothing.
No body parts.
No shredded magazines, newspapers or books.
“Oh my god,” Annie said softly. “Where could they be?”
Maurice took a tentative step forward, gingerly placing his foot on a tie before moving ahead. He bent smoothly at the
waist and placed his free hand on the rail.
“It’s cold. No vibrations. Nothing’s been over this spot recently.”
“How is that possible?”
“Beats the hell out of me.” He straightened, and then slowly turned his head from side to side. Annie watched him
draw in several deep breaths and slowly let them out. “Smell that?”
She sniffed daintily at the air.
“I don’t smell anything.”
Maurice turned completely around to face her.
“Precisely. You said before that you’ve traveled by rail a lot. When’s the last time a train rolled through a station or
crossing and didn’t leave the odor of diesel fumes twenty minutes after it moved on?”
“You’re right. I could always smell the exhaust. But what does it mean?”
He turned her around and they started walking back toward the platform at Alderschot. The path offered no
“It means there was no train. What we saw didn’t exist.”
“But the people: the Thibodeaus, the family and the fishing buddies.”
“Up in smoke. Ain’t nobody going to tell us otherwise.”
“But they were real, Maurice. We talked to them. We watched them interact. They were as real as you and I are.”
They reached the edge of the platform. Maurice put his back to the concrete wall and laced his fingers into a stirrup.
Annie put her right foot in his hands. Without speaking, she placed her palms on his shoulders. Annie pushed off the
ground as Maurice lifted her up. Like a circus act, she was suddenly on the cement walkway, watching him vault from
the pit to stand beside her.
“Now what?” Annie asked.
They sat on the concrete bench, their baggage at their feet. Annie kept glancing at the loudspeaker above the shelter,
trying to will it to come to life. She noticed her watch stopped; probably the results of the shock wave…or whatever it
had been. In the distance, the sun began its decent.
“How long do you think we should wait?” she asked.
Maurice gave her a brief smile.
“As long as it takes. There’s got to be a real train through here sooner or later. Unless you feel like hiking until we hit
civilization. You got somebody waiting for you?”
“No. It could be hours before something comes through.”
“Could be miles to go before we found someone. Best to stay put.”
He barely finished speaking when they heard a loud click above them, followed by a buzz of static.
“Shit. Not again,” Maurice said.
A voice with a high nasal pitch rang out from the speaker: “Attention, any southbound passengers. Estimated
departure from Alderschot to all points south will be fifteen minutes. Repeat, fifteen minutes to depart Alderschot.
Hope to have you aboard before the sun sets.”
Annie reached over and squeezed his hand.
“That’s the normal voice. Hokey wishes and five-minute intervals. Reality.”
Maurice gave her a slow smile.
“You seem to know a lot about these trains.”
“My aunt raised me; mom’s sister. She died last spring. Before she went, she gave me a rail pass. Good for a year. I’ve
never been on a train before. I’ve been using it the last six months.”
Maurice nodded thoughtfully.
“Grandmother took care of me. She lives in Motown. Cooks the best food I’ve ever had; gave me a pass for the
summer before I start my senior year of college. A chance to travel and see some of the world.” He nodded again.
“Never seen anything like this. Let’s see how real this train is.”
The quarter of an hour passed quickly. They walked up and down the platform, trying hard not to appear anxious
when the train was visible in the distance. The shiny silver cars roared into the station and every door burst open with
the gasp of air brakes. Several conductors stepped onto the platform, stretching their legs and surveying the night sky.
Animated people were visible through the windows, adjusting packages and children in their seats. Annie and Maurice
walked from the engine back, peering through the windows at the passengers.
“What do you think?” Annie whispered in his ear.
“Looks pretty sweet to me.”
“I hope we can find two seats together.”
He glanced down, looking at her pale fingers laced through his own. One of the conductors approached them.
“Plenty of room in the next car, folks; only another minute before we leave Alderschot. Don’t want the trains to run
late, ya know.”
Quickly they climbed into the car. Near the back, they found two seats together, facing forward. Annie took the
window. Maurice stowed their bags overhead, then settled in beside her. There was the clank of doors, followed by the
whoosh of brakes as the train began to rock slowly out of the station. The conductor appeared beside them, making
sure everyone was settled into their seats.
“Has there ever been an accident on this line?” Annie asked quietly.
The conductor’s face, a friendly grin a moment before, twisted quickly into a scowl.
“You another one of them?”
“One of what?” Maurice asked.
“One of them gore-mongers. It was all over today’s paper. Bloody anniversary and all. You’d think people had better
things to do with their time,” he said as he started to turn away.
“Wait,” Annie pleaded, “can you tell us about the accident?”
“I got cars full of people to tend to, Missy. But if you’re really interested, give me a minute.”
The conductor finished his turn and continued to check on the rest of the passengers.”What do you suppose that was
about?” Annie asked.
Maurice shrugged and turned his attention to the window. They were passing the bend in the tracks where they hiked
only a short while earlier, but there was nothing to see.
A few minutes later the conductor returned and dropped a thick newspaper in Maurice’s lap.
“You can read it for yourselves. Much as I hate to admit it, the account is fairly accurate. Don’t know why young folks
the likes of you would be so interested though. Only a freak thing.”
Annie leaned over as Maurice opened the paper. The article covered three columns on the right, marking the
anniversary of the train wreck, twenty years ago to the day. Only two survivors out of three hundred and seventy: a
young boy of four and a girl, only two-years old. On the following page were old photos of the scene. Passenger cars
were scattered and tumbled across the tracks, as if an angry child backhanded his toy train set in a moment of
frustration. A sidebar gave quick details of the events leading up to the crash, and listed some famous people who
“Sweet Jesus. They never knew what hit them,” Maurice said, his voice a soft whisper in her ear.
“Turn it over,” said Annie pointing a shaky finger at the paper.
He did as she asked. On the following page were other articles, reflecting the improved safety standards for the
railroads, expanded training for the crews and charts showing the steady growth of rail travel. A small box at the
bottom of the page caught her eye. Under the caption, Where Are They Now? were two blurry photos…
The four-year old boy and—the two-year old girl.
Next to the original pictures were computer generated versions, using an age progression software program.
Although grainy, the images were fairly accurate.
“That’s us,” Maurice said softly, letting the paper drop to the floor. “You and me, babe.”
By: Mark S. Love