A previous reader said that the next two chapters, 5 and 6, might need to be reversed. Some opinions are that by chapter 5 a book needs to clarify a conflict, to set the direction for the rest of the story. As it is written now, that happens in chapter 6. Chapter 5 is more about a physical challenge for them combined with what I can only describe as a “fun” chapter before setting up a conflict in chapter 6. So I’m just not sure which should come first, this chapter I’m posting as 5 or the next one, thus making this chapter 6 instead of 5. Oh well. We shall see.
And again, my greatest thanks to those of you still with me, still reading, and still giving your time so generously.
About the only difference between Chris and Ann sitting in the lounge car at about 1 in the morning and any other couple sitting in a diner in Philadelphia at 2 in the morning was that these two had not been on a date for the previous four or five hours. The tables and booths were smaller but lined up similarly. The bar and stools, bolted to the floor, were smaller versions of diners back home, but no more drinks were being poured here. They couldn’t feel the motion of the train, but they could see random lights, stars, and horizons moving past the windows in a car that had been fairly crowded an hour before. They welcomed the emptiness and put their feet up on the empty half of each other’s booth bench. They weren’t asleep, but they wished they were. They tried, but there were too many thoughts and things to think about.
“Tell me again why you didn’t go through the door?” Ann asked.
“It wasn’t about going through the door. It was just something that felt wrong about following the kid. I had a really creepy vibe. Didn’t you feel anything?”
“No. I saw you take a step, and I saw you back up again. Then you said, ‘This isn’t right.’ And then you went back to the corner and sat on the floor.”
“I didn’t say ‘This isn’t right.’ Did I?”
“Yup,” she said.
“I don’t remember that. I remember getting hit with a – like a breeze through the door. Like a window opened and a cold breeze came in.”
She turned his way a little. “A breeze through the door? Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“I did tell you. You asked why I didn’t go through the door, and I told you about the breeze.”
“You did not,” she sat more upright. “You just said that something didn’t feel right. You’re having some memory issues.”
“Oh well. I don’t know what to tell you.”
“Oh well? You tell me one thing, then tell me another, don’t remember the first thing, then you don’t remember the second thing, and all you have is ‘Oh well’?” She leaned against the table, closer to him. “What happened to the tense and nervous guy who spends an hour picking out Christmas cards? Now you’re just the ‘Oh well’ guy instead? You’re acting more like sixty instead of thirty.” She took a breath and sat back. “And I know you never told me your age, so don’t bother mentioning it.”
“Yeah, maybe I’m too relaxed about this,” Chris said. “Maybe I should be freaking out. Maybe I should be crying about my family and all the things I never got to do. Never got to Europe. Never took surfing lessons. Never went to a nude beach.”
“Really?” Ann chirped.
“Just seeing if you’re paying attention.” He smiled. “And you said I’m not funny.”
“You lie. You wouldn’t go to a nude beach if everyone else died.”
“Okay,” she softened, “bad choice of words. But-”
The door at the far end of the dining car slid open, and they immediately looked up. A disheveled man shuffled in, the one who Chris had noticed as they were boarding the train. Chris wondered if the man was homeless, had somehow sneaked aboard, and was now looking for food in the dining car after everyone had gone to sleep. The old man glanced in various directions, up down, left right, past the booth in which Chris and Ann sat. He moved through the car to the opposite door, slid that open, and then disappeared into the next car.
“Did you feel that?” whispered Chris.
“I felt something, not sure what.”
“That’s what I felt when I was about to follow that kid. It’s like someone opened a door to a freezer and-“
Before they could talk further, a woman stumbled in through the same door that the old man had just left. She planted herself on a bar stool as if there were a bartender there, flipped open a cell phone, flipped it closed, then stuffed it in a purse. Less than a minute later the door opened again. A man entered carrying two drinks, each with a small straw and a few ice cubes.
“Did you think you could get away from me?” he sneered.
“You again? If my husband sees you following me, he’s gonna be pissed,” she slurred.
“Oh, just have a drink and relax.” He handed her a glass. She took a slow, slight sip.
“I’ve had many drinks, and I don’t mean just today, but I have no idea what that is.”
Ann looked to Chris. “I bet he spiked her drink with something.”
“Good girl,” the man said. “So, where you from?”
“Doesn’t matter where I’m from,” she said. “Matters where I’m going.”
“I like the sound of that.” The man slid off his seat and moved behind her. He put a hand on her neck, gently massaging while trying his best to keep eye contact. He smiled as her eyes closed.
“I like that,” she purred.
“As good as your husband does it?”
“Mmm. Better.” Her head leaned forward, exposing more of her neck. He took advantage and used two hands while moving his face into her hair. His whisperings were inaudible to Chris and Ann, but it didn’t matter.
The woman giggled, then he did. “I told you I have a husband.”
“Does he have one of these?” the man said, and he pressed himself closely against her from behind.
“Pretty sure.” She spun around on her barstool, knees slightly apart, until the man parted them further. He pushed his teeth gently against her neck. Her head fell back, eyes almost closed, and legs weakened.
“Don’t you dare fall asleep.”
“I need to lay down. I had too much to drink.” She attempted to get up but struggled as he got an arm around her waist.
“My room is in the next car. C’mon. You can lay down in there.” He smiled and glanced at both doors before guiding her towards the one through which they had entered.
“What about my husband?”
“I’m sure we’ll find him later.”
Ann turned to Chris. “What do we do?”
They followed the man as he guided the drunken woman to the door. He slid the door open with his elbow and moved with her through while Chris and Ann stepped with them before it closed.
“Almost there,” the man grunted.
Ahead was a corridor with a dozen windows on the left and doors on the right, each leading to private rooms. The man swiped a key card in the fourth door and took the woman inside.
“Well?” Ann said. “You going through this door, or you chickening out again?”
Chris quietly walked towards the door and disappeared through it. Ann, like a child entering a swimming pool, held her breath and followed him through.
Inside, the woman had already flopped onto a bed about the size of an army cot. The man was undressing.
“This looks jus’ like my rumm,” she tried.
“They all look alike.” He tossed his pants on a chair.
“They don’t all look alike.” She giggled and pointed between his legs.
“They don’t all feel alike either.” He moved closer.
“No, no. My husbin’ eh lookn fer me.”
“I’m sure he’ll find you eventually.” She shifted back on the bed towards the wall and away from his approach.
“Now what?” asked Ann.
“I don’t know,” said Chris. He stood by the bed and reached for the man, trying to pull him off the woman, but his hands swept through like nothing. He stepped to the door and tried to knock on it, but the result was the same.
“I have an idea,” said Ann. She crawled on the bed and turned her back before rolling towards the woman until she was absorbed into her. There was no visible reaction that Chris could see from the unstable, drunk woman. He watched and waited helplessly.
“Chris,” he heard, “can you hear me?”
“Holy shit, this woman is toasted beyond anything. I feel like I’m in a vodka bathtub.”
“I can hear you, but I guess he can’t. And her mouth isn’t moving. This is wild.”
“Yeah, well, not for me. I’m trying to fight him off, but either she’s really drunk or I just can’t control her.”
The man slid her dress up around her waist and spread her legs enough to plant himself between them.
“Oooh, I like when you fight me,” the man growled as the woman pushed against him enough that he gripped her wrists to hold her down.
“Uuugh! This isn’t working.” Ann yelled. “Think of something.”
Chris circled the tiny room, looking for any ideas but found nothing. He moved to the man’s pants on a chair and tried to remove the belt but failed.
“Oh no,” Ann cried.
“You know what!”
“Huh? Oh. You can feel it?” Chris asked.
“Oh God yeah.” Ann said as the woman fought less and returned the animal kisses that the man had been forcing on her. “Oh, she’s right. They’re not all the same. Holy Christ!”
“All right, stop it,” protested Chris. “I don’t want to hear that. Try to keep in mind you’re being raped. You don’t have to like it.”
Chris continued to think until something shiny caught his eye. It was a small picture frame no bigger than a postcard. In the picture were two children along with the man and woman on the bed.
“What?” Ann groaned. “Either stop him or get out of here and let me enjoy this.”
“No, it’s okay. They’re together.”
“There’s a picture here of them together. They were just flirting. Just playing around.”
“Oh good,” huffed Ann. “Now get out.”
“Uuuuhhhhh God. This is kind of – uuuh – personal? I’m, like, having, uuuh, oooh, sex. And nine times out of ten I prefer not to be watched, okay?”
“Nine times you what?”
“Nothing. Get out.”
“Oh. Ok. I’ll be outside.” Chris disappeared through the door and returned to the dark dining car where they had been when they first saw the couple.
Roughly thirty minutes later Ann returned to the dining car and sat across from Chris, exactly as they had before the couple had entered. She flopped into the seat with a great exhale.
“I guess it was good for you?” Chris asked.
She said nothing. Only smiled.
“Aren’t you married?” Chris asked. “Don’t you feel guilty?”
“Ask me tomorrow.”
“Do you think you could have fought him off if she wasn’t drunk?”
“Well, I think I was controlling her a little, but I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll go back to their room tomorrow and try again when she’s sober.” She gave an exaggerated smile.
Chris leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. “I’m gonna try tomorrow when someone’s having breakfast. Coffee and bacon. Maybe an omelet with tomato and cheese.”
“I don’t like eggs, but what about that kid?”
“I was just thinking about him.”
“I know. The way he was looking at you, he had to see you.”
“People can’t see us.”
“How do you know?”
“How could they?”
“Hey.” She sat up. “If you had asked me this morning if this – whatever this is, if this could even exist like this, I’d have said no way.” Her attitude grew.
“Calm down, will you. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Ann huffed and relaxed again in the seat. “When I was a kid, my sister always said she saw things. We’d go into a house, like a friend’s house, and she’d tell me there were people in there. Like an old lady in a rocking chair, but I would never see anything.”
“Did you believe her?”
“Of course not. I was just a kid. I didn’t know what to believe, but I didn’t want to think my sister was crazy either. She’d get upset, and she’d get yelled at for telling stories. Sometimes she’d cry at night about how nobody believed her. She’d get grounded or whatever, but she’d never change her story. I really felt bad for her, and it turns out she was right.”
“Well, she might’ve been right.”
“Shut up. She was right. I knew it then, but I was too afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Afraid of what? How about afraid of knowing there really were dead people walking around us? Isn’t that scary enough?”
“It’s not that scary,” spoke a voice from several tables away.
Chris and Ann sat up straight in their booth, hands hitting the table, heads snapping towards the voice.
“Who’s there?” Chris asked. “Where are you?”
Slowly, an image appeared, like a candle that starts out faintly but then brightens to full strength. It was the elderly man who Chris thought might have been homeless.
Question 1: The “ghost rules” have not been clearly defined yet but will be in the next chapter. Do you have any suggestions, warnings, preferences, recommendations about ghost rules either here or in other stories?
Question 2: Was there anything “wrong” (opinion, of course) about the sex scene? Do you feel Chris and Ann handled it well, or was there anything that bothered you?