h2>Dating : The Train to Nowhere
He waited for the Train to Nowhere, holding an old briefcase in his leathery hands and wearing a full-brimmed, velvet hat upon his head.
A small, shabby suitcase stood proudly next to him; it was his truest ally, and final companion.
The woeful silhouette of a man with his suitcase stood starkly with the shadowy, late-night backdrop rather than against it; together, they made a portrait of nature. It was as if they and those bleak, beaten, brazen tracks in the Middle of Nowhere, and that milky, raven sky, were all children of the same mother, the same womb.
As he waited at the train station, if you could even call it that, he looked just as he had his entire life, as he would in death as well.
Something was dawning upon him, something I couldn’t quite fathom in those prior days. Nevertheless, before I could disrupt his deluge of thought, the melody of those clanking, clashing, clamoring, and chiming chariot bells suddenly pierced the stagnant and timeless air. I didn’t realize back then how they would come to become the lullaby of my essence: the very notes which would sing me into sweet-after-spirited slumbers every night thereafter, and remain with me until the very last sleep I would ever know in that lifetime.
The chain of carriages rolled in from the South. The Train to Nowhere appeared to come from a nothingness which consisted only of darkness, and it strove for even further oblivion in the bleak North ahead. Eras of shadowy, enigmatic peaks stood formidably in the West, forming a type of backdrop for the scene before us. My charge, myself, and those train tracks seemed to be the only things which defined the division between that faraway mountain range and the infinite miles of barren desert we’d trekked across in the East as we traveled to the Middle of Nowhere.
The two of us glanced up in unison to receive the cloaked, skeletal, and looming conductor with reluctantly eager irises. He stood comfortably on the deck at the front of the train, leaning over its iron railing; those metallic rods expelled the aromas of coal and flame upon us as the carriages drew closer. There seemed to be something almost rope-like trailing forward from his bony hands and billowing ahead of him in the wind, but I couldn’t tell what.
Regardless, as the conductor led the procession of hushed and rickety, ancient and timeless, railroad-bound chariots, he remained poised with an elegance, assurance, and lightness that only one without worldly confines could wear so easily. No hood sat upon his head; the phantom’s gauntness, paleness, and sunkenness were on full display for me, his anxious passenger to-be, and the sweet, inky night which wholly welcomed his presence.
My insides grew tense. “You… You’ve been on so many trips before,” I reasoned, understanding that my charge’s trepidation was far worse than mine.
His white mustache paled in comparison to the dauntingly and suddenly luminous night upon us. Still, my charge allowed himself a strained chuckle. “I was a very well-traveled man… once upon a time.”
“You still are.”
My correction fell on deaf ears. The whistling chariots slowed to a complete halt before us, and I couldn’t help but notice the way the heaving body of carriages hadn’t so much as dislodged the sand or dirt beneath it, let alone summoned any suffocating clouds of dust in its wake as most vessels of its caliber tend to do.
It was quite unsettling.
I tried to swallow the lump in my throat; I didn’t want my precious and already-terrified charge to share the overwhelming uneasiness I felt in that instant; he already had enough of his own to deal with.
The man remained silent; my own words were glued to my parched tongue. “You ready?” I managed pathetically.
It was a ridiculous question to ask him under those circumstances, but I figured it just might have been better than nothing.
“Not really,” he murmured. Then, my charge turned to me, a somber twinkle in his gaze, and took my hands in his own. Our tear-trodden eyes met. “But, that hardly matters now, my dear. Life never happens when you want it, or how you expect it to. I suppose that…”
I knew what he was going to say even before apprehension sliced his sentence short.
I quickly nodded my head in understanding so that he did not feel the need to try and speak his somber supposition again. Then, I handed him his modest suitcase: an antique artistically worn and torn by a lifetime of good use.
Nonetheless, he didn’t need my assistance nearly as much as I thought he did; my charge wrapped his crumpled, shaky fingers upon the bag’s handle with a certain gusto I wasn’t aware he’d brought with him to the train station that night.
He wasn’t trembling anymore. His hat sat straight on his snowy-haired head and his shriveled back stood tall as he stepped forward towards the first carriage, loaded his cargo, and joined the baggage of his life on the Other Side.
He didn’t so much as turn to wave to me, or bid me farewell before the wooden door closed behind him, deathly silent as if its hinges were greased by warm, golden butter and wispy, silvery dreams.
“Don’t worry,” the pewter conductor spoke in his deep, syrupy voice. He turned to face me with his best subtle and reassuring smile; even in his kindness, it was still skeletal as ever. “Don’t fret, young one. I’ll take good care of him for you.”
Somehow, I believed him; something deep down within my core persuaded me to do so. In turn, a peculiar fusion of comfort and nausea instantly consumed my mortal being. I observed in silence as, with a flick of his reigns, which still floated in front of him as if attached to nothing [or, perhaps some invisible something], the conductor and his long-awaited carriages rode off into the night.
No sand or dust rose from the ground as they departed, and the stillness they left in their wake was deafening. Yet, I remained there all alone in the darkness, and prayed that the sun may rise upon that barren land again.
And, it did.
In fact, the dawn stayed with me for the next several decades until it was my turn to trek across the desert from the East, stand in wait at the station in the Middle of Nowhere, load my own, worn suitcases, and join my grandfather on the Train to Nowhere. It might’ve been a “Déjà vu” of sorts if it weren’t for a single distinction: when it was finally my turn to climb aboard, I greeted the conductor with the same, heartening smile he’d once afforded me during my darkest of times.
“You ready?” he implored in his sinister, yet sincere, notes of molasses.
I had no desire to resist anymore. “Absolutely. It’s about damn time, don’t you think?”
“I do,” the conductor agreed with a grin.
Thus, I finally boarded the Train to Nowhere, and together, we rode North into the Middle of Everywhere.