My continued and unending thanks to those who are helping. FYI – I’ve gone back to the first chapter, made some changes, and set the text in red in case you want to glance through to see what was changed or added. I will also do that for other chapters as I revise using your suggestions. Thanks again for your patience between chapters as I’m trying to revise each one again before posting them here, trying to take care of point of view issues. There are some scenes coming up in which I know it’s going to be a problem, but I haven’t yet figured out how to work around it. Oh well. We shall see…
Oh, also, don’t worry about the picture not matching up well with the description. Just something I plucked off the internet.
Ann eyes followed his to her right. The train they had ridden was now in the distance, rumbling west. With lights still flashing, a crossing gate was just reaching its upright position and traffic was poised to resume in two lanes each way. Across the road there was a train station that looked every bit how a station would have looked 100 years prior. Ann’s first thought was that it was a tourist attraction, no longer used but restored by a local historical society.
“There’s something over there,” Chris said.
“You mean the train station?”
“You think it’s real?” she asked.
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Well, what if it’s like a place for – for people like us?” she asked. “People waiting to go to wherever it is we might be going?”
“This isn’t a kids’ movie. Maybe you’ve read too much Harry Potter.”
She shrugged, and they slowly walked towards the station, still more than 100 yards away. As they grew closer, a taxi pulled up and let out a passenger who then walked into the station just as another exited.
“Guess it’s real,” Ann said with an exhale.
They continued to the sidewalk and stood across the street from the station, careful not to touch any of the many people strolling by.
“You think we need to avoid people?” Ann asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean these people walking by. They can’t see us, but what if they touch us? What do you think will happen?”
Chris looked around, watching cars and everything that passed. “I’m not so sure they can’t see us.”
“Well, a few of them seemed like they’re looking right at me.” He glanced at every face possible in passing cars.
“How do you know they’re not just looking at something behind you and it just seems like they’re looking at you?” she asked.
“Because,” he paused, “it looks like they’re keeping their eyes on me even as they go by.”
“They? How many is they?”
“I wanna try something.” She stepped slightly into the street towards the traffic driving from her left to right. She stepped again, then a little more. Chris watched quietly, his eyes squinting and mouth contorted like a parent whose kid was climbing a tree for the first time. He watched the path of the cars coming by, and they didn’t seem to be wavering despite how close they were coming to Ann.
She looked back at Chris to see his concern, then she turned again to the traffic. The next car was about 30 yards away and approaching quickly when Ann stepped completely into the middle of the road. Chris watched as the coming car slowed to a stop, barely a few inches away. Her face twisted in confusion as she attempted to hide her eyes. She put her head down and walked back to where Chris waited smiling.
“That was embarrassing,” whispered Ann. “They can see us.”
Instead of answering, Chris waved her around so she could see the crossing gates descending, lights flashing, and bells beginning to clang behind her, blocking the road for an oncoming train.
“Okay,” she said, turning away from Chris, “so let’s go check out that station.”
That station was a red brick building, one-story tall with a pitched, dark green, aluminum roof. The late-afternoon sun was dropping behind it, and the shade it created reached to their side of the street. To the right of the building was a street-level, wooden platform on which a line was growing. The red and silver train responsible for dropping the crossing gate was hissing to a stop.
As they crossed the street, Chris spotted a man who seemed like a vagrant. The elderly man in slightly stained clothing shuffled around the corner from the rear of the station. He stood near the train but off to the side, away from the steps, as passengers departed from the train.
“Ain’t that a beauty!” Chris said.
“What? A train?”
Chris’s eyes followed the gold letters that announced each car joined together behind the diesel engine of the Texas Sunset.
“Trains are superior forms of travel that are incredibly underused and undervalued,” he preached. “Sleeper cars, dining cars, and-” He caught her eyes rolling again, so he saved the rest of the speech for another time.
A short line formed and waited for others to finish exiting before boarding. Two unseen people, new to this part of the country, and this unloving dimension, also waited. They waited until the last person was up the short stairs, and then Chris came face to face with the elderly man who had previously stepped out from behind the station. The man turned away and leaned down, reaching for what looked like a few coins, thus allowing Chris and Ann to get aboard before him. They boarded slowly, trying their best to avoid touching anyone.
“Hold the back of my sweater, and stay with me,” whispered Chris over his shoulder.
“You want me to get another shock?” she asked.
“Not if you only touch the sweater.” He was right, and she followed close behind.
Chris guided her through a mostly empty car with lounge seats arranged for conversation and view. The afternoon sun cast horizontal shadows as they stepped towards the rear of the car, into the next car, until they found one that was empty. They parked themselves in wide, soft-leather chairs aimed at the windows.
Chris leaned his head back and closed his eyes, waiting to feel the warm rays on his face. And he waited, but there was nothing. He sat up.
“What?” asked Ann.
“I can’t feel the sun.”
She looked straight at the sun with her eyes closed, blinked a few times, then kept her eyes open. “It doesn’t hurt like it should.”
“Well, we didn’t feel cold or wind riding on top of the freight train. We probably won’t feel pain either. I guess we take the good with the bad. One of life’s philosophies.”
“Except we’re not life anymore. Do you think we’ll need to sleep?” Ann asked.
“Don’t know, but I would really like a nap.”
“No. More like a mental nap. A break from thinking about everything. My wife dealing with the news. All that. My father will not handle this well.”
“Why did we get on this train?”
“I don’t know. Something just – told me. And it’s going east, and we both live by Philly, so maybe we should go home.”
“Be a lot faster to fly,” she said.
He turned towards her. “Would you really get on a plane right now?”
She shrugged. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
He slumped back in his seat. They both stayed silent, eyes closed, until a door opened and scattered people wandered into the car. They hopped from their seats and found an out-of-the-way corner in which to tuck themselves. Although they were certain they could not be seen, they still cowered and winced each time someone got too close.
Eventually every seat was filled, and others continued to the next car until the cattle call subsided. As conversations picked up, Chris and Ann sat on the floor beneath a big-screen TV mounted on the wall.
“What should we do?” she asked.
“Stay here I guess. Maybe we’ll learn something.”
Ann moved from the corner and cautiously walked around the car as the train proceeded from the station. Although other passengers rocked slightly from the unexpected jerking as the train began rolling, Ann moved effortlessly. Chris watched with surprise as she stopped behind a 30-something woman with a book in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. Ann glanced back at Chris, then again at the woman seated in front of her. Ann reached out a finger and gently ran it through the woman’s curly hair. It was as if the woman was just a projection of light and Ann’s hand was waving at color-tinted air, moving through her as if she weren’t there.
Ann looked back at Chris who softly asked, “What’s it feel like?”
Ann shook her head and shrugged. When she leaned over and gently blew on the back of the woman’s neck, things were different. The woman shrugged her shoulders up and looked around the car behind her. Ann looked back in a strange triumph before continuing to another seat. She reached her hand out to touch a different woman’s shoulder, but there was no reaction this time. She pushed on the shoulder, leaning more forward, but still nothing. She kept her hand inside the woman’s shoulder and looked back at Chris, about to say something, when she abruptly pulled her hand away as if touching a hot surface. Surrounded by concern, Ann stepped back to Chris.
“What happened?” he said.
“It was weird.” She looked back at the woman, still reading. “I knew what she was reading. It was like she was reading to me. I was hearing her thoughts.”
“Maybe that explains how you knew things about me,” said Chris.
“But I wasn’t touching you when I knew things.” Ann watched as the woman closed the book, placed it on her lap, and rubbed at her eyes. “I want to try something.”
Ann walked back towards the woman, around her chair, and stood in front of her. Then she turned, bent her waist and knees, and sat in the seat. For Chris, it was as if Ann disappeared into the woman’s body. He watched silently, barely blinking. About a minute later he saw a blurred, then clearer vision of Ann standing up again before she tiptoeing back to Chris. His eyes bulged with anxiety. She looked up with similar eyes.
“Well?” he said.
“That was – that was -.” Her confusion showed as she searched for words.
“Oh, you don’t have to tiptoe,” he interrupted. “Nobody is going to hear you.”
“That was – everything. Remember when you were a kid, and you figured out how to make your own phone extension? And you hooked it up, and you listened to your sister talking to her friends on the phone?”
“Yeah, and can you stop doing that?”
“Oh, sorry. That was you? I thought maybe I just made that up.”
“No, that was me. Keep going. What happened?”
“It was like that. Listening to someone on the phone when they don’t know you’re listening. I mean, I know it’s wrong, but it was amazing.” She turned to see the woman place her book on the seat and leave the train car.
“She’s going to find a bathroom, I heard her say she had to take a piss,” Ann added.
“Did you hear her say it, or did you feel it?”
“No, that’s not-”
“Not sure. Could be either.”
“What else did you hear?” Chris asked.
“She just lost her job, and she’s going to Florida to live with her mom. She’s mad that the train will take so long, but she’s afraid to fly and she already sold her car. Sold everything pretty much.”
“She said all that?” Chris asked.
“Not sure. I think so.”
“Do you think she knew that you were in there?”
“Don’t think so, but you gotta try it,” she smiled.
“Not yet. Here’s what I want you to do. Go back to her when she comes back, and sit – sit on her, in her, whatever. And try to make her move. Try to do something like scratch your ear or something.”
“Let me do someone else. She was just too sad. I felt so much of her, like it was happening to me. You know how we weren’t tired or anything when we were running? We weren’t cold? Not with this. I felt this.”
Chris looked around and spied a younger woman with a magazine and earphones, listening to an iPod. “Her. She looks happy. Go do her.”
Ann moved through the car carefully, avoiding touching anyone, until she reached the younger woman’s seat. She stood in front of the toe-tapping, gum-chewing, head-nodding demeanor. She smiled, turned, and sat.
Chris estimated her age at about 25. He watched her ponytail sway slightly in tune with her music. After roughly a minute, Chris noticed that the woman hadn’t turned a magazine page since Ann entered her. Her eyes seemed to be focused elsewhere, her attention not on the pages. She let the magazine fall on her lap as her head relaxed back on the seat’s headrest. Her legs had been crossed with one foot tapping to the music, but she uncrossed her legs and pulled them up against her chest. She pulled the earphones out and put the music in her shoulder bag on the floor beneath her. Then she tilted sideways, almost lying her head on the armrest.
Chris looked at a clock on the wall and estimated she had been curled up about ten minutes. He struggled with worry before moving towards her. He stood behind her, leaned as if he were going to whisper, but then backed away. Twice his lips twitched, but both times he held back. He went back to the corner beneath the TV and waited. Before he could lean against the wall, Ann returned. Again, he waited for her to speak, but she took longer than before. She sat on the floor next to him, again curling up in her trademark fetal position, leaving him wondering again what had happened. He sat down next to her.
“Did you curl up like that on the chair, or did she do that.”
“I noticed,” he paused, “that you sit like that when you’re unhappy.”
“So when the woman in the chair turned and sat that way, I thought maybe you were doing it.”
She thought quietly before speaking. “She was a little happy but also a little scared. She’s-” Ann paused when she noticed Chris’s distracted eyes were focused on her hair. After noticing the silence, he refocused on her, and she continued. “She works as an au pair. Like a nanny. She’s on her way to Texas to work for a couple with a new baby. She left her last job when the wife accused her of sleeping with the husband. She actually wanted to sleep with the guy but didn’t. And she’s thinking about how she can make a lot of money if she does sleep with the guy and then blackmails him, threatens to tell his wife unless he gives her some extra cash. I think I talked her out of it.”
“You talked to her?”
Ann turned to face Chris and showed a half-hearted smile. “I didn’t exactly talk to her. But I made her feel really guilty.”
“How?” he asked.
“Not sure how to explain it. She’s thinking about getting off at the next stop and going back home.”
“Do you think you were able to make her move at all?”
“I forgot about that. I was too busy trying to hear what she was thinking. Sorry.” She smiled at Chris. “Want me to try again?”
Chris looked around the room and stopped at a man with glasses, a notebook on his lap, and a pen in his hand. Like Chris, he was about 35 and conservatively dressed. Chris said nothing, stood, and approached him. The man was scribbling across lined paper. Chris turned his back to the man and looked over at Ann. After her positive nod, he casually took a seat on the man.
Ann watched as the man’s pen stopped. He took off his glasses, looked at them curiously, and attempted to clean them with his shirt. He put them on and off again, looking at his notebook, on and off again, and then put them on top of his head before going back to writing. He wrote a few words, stopped, looked closely at the page, and wrote some more. He did this several times, each time looking closely again at the page until finally he clicked his pen, put it in his shirt pocket, and looked out the window at the passing mountains.
Slowly, a vision of Chris, seen only by Ann, rose from the man’s seat and trudged back to Ann in the corner and again sat next to her.
“Well?” Her eyes darted from his eyes to his lips and back. A noise drew both sets of eyes back to the man when he ripped the top page from his notebook and glanced around at the population of the train car. “What did you do?” Ann asked as Chris caught his breath.
“He was writing a note to his kid. He and his wife are splitting up. I was reading the note.” Chris took a deep breath. “Not once did he tell his kid he loved her. So I started telling him what to write.”
Ann looked up at the man to catch him as he took his glasses from his head and put them back on his face. Then she turned back to Chris. “You made him move?”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t easy.”
“How’s your eyesight?”
“Perfect. I can read a license plate a block away.”
“Did you know he took his glasses off?”
“No. I didn’t notice,” he said with disappointment.
“I guess you affected his eyesight. How did you feel? Did you know where you were?”
Chris searched. “It was quiet. I couldn’t really hear anything like I can now. Not the train wheels or the pen on the paper. I could see, but it was like looking through binoculars. I mean like, I couldn’t see off to the sides much. Like blinders.” He held his hands to the side of his eyes. “But I felt his sadness from what he was writing. And I connected with that from, from all this, and it pissed me off. I mean, how do you write a note to your kid and not say I love you? People are messed up. If you’re not going to love them, then why have kids?” He looked down at his feet as he rested his head in his hands.
“Maybe he just didn’t get to it yet,” she tried. “But how did you feel?”
“Angry,” he said. Neither spoke for a half hour.
“I used to love trains,” he mumbled.
“You still do,” Ann said.
“Nah, it’s different. I-” He shot a glance at her. “I can’t feel the rocking of the cars. That’s part of the fun. I don’t feel anything.”
“Maybe they’re built better.” She looked up to see Chris’s eyes locked on a boy of about 12 standing by the door to the lounge car. He seemed to be looking back at them. Ann leaned close and whispered, “Do you think he sees us?”
“I think so. He hasn’t looked away.”
“Should we do something?”
“I don’t know.”
The door opened behind him and a man stepped in. Then the boy dashed through before it closed.
“Should we follow him?” asked Ann.
“I think so.” They stood. “Wait.”
“Is it going to matter to you if he follows us around? I mean, if he’s – like us, then he’s probably scared, and he’ll want to stay with us. But if you don’t want that, then let’s just let him go. Don’t take on that burden unless you’re sure you want it.”
Ann leaned to look at the door again. “After that speech you gave me about people not loving their kids, you think I’m just going to let that kid go on alone? Think of how confused we are, and we’re adults. He’s probably shitting his pants.”
Chris rolled his eyes at her word choice. “Okay. That’s fine. I just didn’t want to impose something on you unless you really wanted it.”
“It was my idea,” she said, voice rising. Chris glanced around as if someone might have heard her.
“I know. C’mon.” He took a step, then stopped. “By the way, it’s not like I’m in charge here. You’re a big girl. If you want to do something, just do it. Don’t ask my permission.”
“I didn’t. What are you talking about?”
“You asked me if we should follow him.”
“Yeah,” she said sharply, “but I’m not asking your permission. I’m taking your opinion into consideration. I’m somebody who likes to get opinions before I do something. Is that so wrong?”
“No,” Chris replied, “but you’re making me feel like I have to make all the decisions.”
“No I’m not. You’re just worried that you might make a wrong decision, so you’d rather not make any decisions, this way you won’t ever have to feel wrong. That’s why you never like to pick a restaurant when your wife wants to go out to dinner.”
The words hadn’t finished reaching his ears before the regret showed in her eyes and slumped shoulders. She glanced down, up at his eyes, down again, and headed towards the door through which the boy disappeared.
At the door, she tentatively reached a hand out to the door handle, but her fingers went through it like nothing. She put her hands on her hips and looked back at Chris.
“Walk through it,” he said.
Neither moved. They just stood, looking at the door.
“You’re afraid.” he said.
“Yeah, but so are you.”
“You’ll go right through it like that trash can in the park.”
“And what if I don’t? What if I smack my face into it?” she asked.
He looked at her, looked at the door, and stepped forward.
Question 1: Other readers thought that the scene with Ann testing cars to see if they would stop was awkward and just did not fit the story. How did you feel about it?
Question 2: How did you feel about Chris and Ann “entering” people? Did it make sense for them to attempt that?
Question 3: What do you think should happen when Chris attempts to walk through the door at the very end?