Here’s the story I mentioned in my last post, as promised (if not exactly on time).
The train was a beautiful one. Apparently, it had been first built in the previous century, but had been refurbished in the past twenty years, and god, how it shined.
I boarded the train, wearing the fine white suit that had been specified as the dress code. There wasn’t an event on the train, or anything, but I guess they had deemed it such a high-class train that there had to be a specific dress code.
And I had gotten on, at no cost! All because of the organization I was going with. I couldn’t believe my luck.
We had had the entirety of the six back cars, all to ourselves. I boarded the uppermost one, wanting to be one of the first to see the new landscape as it unfolded around us.
I settled into my seat, next to the window. The booths were set up in pairs, facing each other. The girl across from me, probably in her early twenties, sat looking out the window on the other side of the train, swirling her hair absently.
The only personal items I had with me fit in a small sack that I had by my side. Out of it, I pulled a journal, the insides of which held my notes, sketches, and writings that I put in there day by day. Also from the sack, I pulled out my pencil, and set to writing. Every once in a while I would look up at the girl across from me, who still looked out the window. I could see her lips moving, as if either talking very quietly, or working out the words for something. After a little bit of this, she scribbled something down onto a small piece of paper, then looked back out the window and continued.
I went back to writing. Or, not writing, exactly, but I was trying to improve my handwriting, so I was writing several words over and over right now, trying to get the shake out of the curve of the “a” – the sharp angle in the “s” – the slight spiral-ing of the “o”. I was making progress, I thought.
The train had been going at quite a pace, for quite some time, before my hand ached too much and I set the pencil and journal aside. The girl across from me still looked out the window across the train from us, mouth working.
I decided to stand up to stretch my legs. I walked up to the small door at the front of the car, and peered into the adjoining car. The glass was somewhat frosted, though, so I wasn’t able to see much more in the car other than fuzzily moving shapes of colour. In the pane of glass, though, I could see my reflection, my clean blonde hair, my bright blue eyes, my healthy complexion. I looked younger than I was, or so I had been told before.
As I headed back to my seat, I heard someone talking louder than normal in the back. I hung by my booth, waiting to see if anything was happening.
“…who are you people? What is your problem?”
The voice got louder. “No, don’t come near me! Why are you all acting so strangely?”
I looked more intently back there. What was going on?
Another voice answered the first. “We aren’t acting strangely at all, sir. You’re getting very agitated, sir. Sit down, please, sir.”
“I see it, now! I understand why we’re all here! Don’t you understand?”
“I said calm down! Sir!”
There was a slight thud as he was shoved into his seat.
“No, I won’t calm down! You are all insane if you think I’m going to! You are all insane, anyway! Don’t you see! How can you not understand what’s going on here?”
“Sir, if you don’t settle down soon, I’m going to have to-”
“To what? Silence me? I expected as such. I must go. I must tell others what is going on – others who will, hopefully, listen better than you lot.”
The man stood up again.
I heard a thud, and the man yelled. “No! I must leave! Get away from me!”
I walked a little closer, and found that, from somewhere, someone had gotten some rope, and they were tying him to his seat. Someone had put a gag in his mouth. He was squirming around. One of his arms got free and started flailing about, until one of the men dealing with him caught it again and tied it down again, more tightly.
I went back to my seat, contented that they had him under control. My window, which was open, let in a nice breeze. I stuck my head out and felt the wind rush through my hair, throwing it around playfully. Some of the windows in the car in front of us were open, too, and I could faintly hear some people talking.
“…was that?” A slight lilt at the end of the word indicated that it was a question.
“Don’t be … it’s only that … are storing … from the … final few cars …”
Some trees rushed pass, and I couldn’t hear the rest of what was said. Next thing, I heard some indistinct murmuring from ahead, then someone cry out loudly, “Insane people?”
I started back, then quickly stuck my head back out the window. I saw while inside the car again that the yell had been loud enough to draw the attention of a few other passengers in the car with me. I
“… ma’am, just in the back,” came the same voice.
I heard several more concerned cries, echoed much louder by ones in my car. Apparently quite a few people had heard that, and the words were passed from passenger to passenger quickly.
Almost as if on cue, almost everyone in the car turned to look at the man who had made such a scene, not long before.
“So that’s why you’re acting so strangely. No wonder. Well, we’ve got you contained,” said one.
The man struggled at his bonds as an unusual look came on his face.
“But no,” said another person. “The person ahead didn’t say ‘insane person’, she said ‘people’. That means… That means there are more! They could be anywhere!”
A cumulative gasp of breath spread around the train car as people looked around them, from person to person, unsure of who to be wary of, so wary of all.
Some got out of their seats, heads turning back and forth, as if, if there were any insane people on board, they would instantly come out and start attacking anyone they saw.
As for me, I was still concerned, but made no notable outward show of it. I was already in the front of the car, sitting in a corner, so I could see the entire car in front of me.
Keeping an ear out for any suspicious sounds, I went back to writing in my journal. I had decided to chronicle what was going on. Ironic. I can go back on those notes now, and laugh at myself.
Several people had gotten into quite a tizzy about it all, and where loudly panicking, yelling if anyone even appeared to be coming the nearest bit towards them.
From my perch near the window, I heard more people ahead talking concernedly.
The same person as before answered them. “Best to not frighten them, they’re quite subdued as long as they’re kept somewhere in relative calm.”
Hearing this, some of the more level-headed people on board tried to quiet those who were getting louder by the moment.
After a while, the clouds outside darkened, and before long, it began to rain. I closed my window the majority of the way, leaving just a crack large enough to provide some fresh air, no matter how small the quantity.
I looked outside at the shadowed hills we were riding past, and found my reflection staring at me, brown eyes and brown hair. My beard was only enough to add a scruffy red layer on my face, but it framed my features well, and partially hid the dark circles that were constantly lurking under my eyes.
Something seemed off, though. I didn’t know what. My mind wandered, and I saw trees and hedges roll past.
Most of the people in the car seemed to have, at least mostly, recovered. There were still a number of them that were visibly shaken, and more than a few still looked suspiciously at their neighbors, unsure of whom to trust.
The shadows of clouds rolled away, but while they had been there, the sun had set, and the outside remained dark.
I lounged against the wall, closed my eyes, and slept.
I was wakened a time later by the girl across from me suddenly jolting and letting out a small scream. I looked at her, and asked her if she was okay.
She looked at me calmly, and nodded.
Being so assured, I fell asleep again.
I had a disturbing dream. It was one of a metaphysical quandary, not knowing who I was, or if I was at all. I awakened from it with a start.
The sun had just barely started peering over the edge of the horizon, and most of the land still lay in darkness.
My haggard reflection looked back at me from the window, with grey hair and pale blue eyes. They said the eyes were bleached by the sun, they had seen so much, but I knew otherwise. The skin of my face sagged, and an eternal tiredness hung about me, not diminished at all, even though I had just rested.
But something was most definitely off, now. I could feel it strongly, but I still didn’t know what it was.
Most of the car was still sleeping, but the man who was tied up was still awake. He looked at me. He looked sad. He looked like he wanted to tell me something, needed to tell me something.
And he did. I knew he did.
But what was it?
Without wishing to do so, I remembered everything he had said, everything the people in the car in front of us had said, everything that had happened since I had boarded.
And I knew what it was, and what was wrong that I had been feeling.
Still looking at me, he slowly nodded.
I was one of the insane. We all were.