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Runaway Train

by Bella Blue 2 months ago in fact or fiction
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Life's Conductor

Runaway Train
Photo by Santiago Martin on Unsplash

Runaway Train

The buzzing in her head was unbearable . That damned landscaper ! She'd warned

him about trimming the hedges before 9 am . Mattie tried to open her heavy eyes

which felt sealed shut . She just couldn't . She lost consciousness . The buzzing

became louder . Was it a bulldozer ? A truck ? The roaring engine sound was making her bed shake.

Mattie's eyes flew open and she bolted awake . It was the alarm ! She was late ! Her

hairdresser was ruthless when a client was late. That horrible man would roll his

eyes, dismiss her with a wave and declare he was " booked until February". She

would be punished with split ends and fading highlights until he was appeased. She would be forgotten, like the previous tardy client, whose coveted slot she now held.

She tried to get out of bed but realized it wasn't her own . The white satin sheets

and comforter that ensconced her were gaudy , puckered and unfamiliar. Her legs refused to move. Where was she ?

Looking around, she decided she must be in a containment unit of some type. One wall had windows . Old fashioned roller shades covered the windows. Mattie vaguely recalled a story about the inventor of these window coverings who had died recently or been murdered for money. She was uncertain about his demise , but was certain that it no longer mattered.

She reached over ,peeled the shade from the window and looked out . She saw

flashes of trees and fields . The fields were filled with very high grass . Fields that had been overlooked . Grass that was grey and obviously neglected . Not watered or cut . "Like my hair" she thought miserably. Were those clouds in the sky ? Or smoke from an engine? She couldn't tell. Everything on the outside of the window went by rapid succession .

After peering outside, Mattie, concluded with a smile, that she was in a sleeper car of a train. Moments later, a dull ache spread around her , forcing the smile to evaporate. She was in a sleeper car in a train . The train was moving at high speed. The outside fields were perfectly still .

She examined the other walls of the car. Amtrak ? There were no signature stripes or logo . The train continued to buzz and move forward.

Her head pounded . She would sell her soul for an aspirin with an espresso chaser.

As if on cue , the internal door of the car slid open and a short, slim woman in her

70's , appeared. Mattie noticed the internal door was made of thick translucent glass. The glass obstructed views from both sides, but allowed the light to enter and brighten the otherwise dim compartment .The woman wore black clogs that protruded from the hem of her white scrub pants. She carried a clipboard and sported a wide grin .

"Good Morning , Matilda" the small woman chirped .

Mattie winced, closing her eyes in frustration at her birth name and whispered

"Mattie".

" Do you have a ticket and ID ?"

Instinctively, Mattie reached for her purse; It was rumored that the new designer satchel Greg had given her last year never left her side . She loved Greg. She loved the satchel. She loved showing it off . She searched all around the bed. It wasn't there . She panicked .

"My bag has been stolen ! My phone ! My wallet ! "

The woman checked off a box and started writing notes on her clipboard .

"My life is in that purse !!! " Mattie screamed and received no response.

She watched the small woman write “No ticket” on the clipboard.keys

Mattie narrowed her eyes, and seethed with suspicion ,"Who are you ? Where am I ?

Where is this train going?"

The woman looked up from her clipboard .

"You can call me B." She grinned, ignoring the other questions while asking one of her own .

"What's the last thing you remember ?"

Mattie's head started to pound again as she made a mental inventory of the purse, the wallet, the phone, the keys, the pills and the impending nightmare of having to “prove” who she was, in order to replace the “proof” of who she was .

" I feel drugged. I can't move my legs. Someone else will get my 10 am slot if I’m late….”

Mattie's voice broke off.

"Are you Matilda Douglass ? " B asked.

" Mattie! " She interjected.

Undeterred, B continued , "Natural Birth. March 23. D.O.D July 27, 12:03 am. Self-Inflicted Mortality. Instant Transport. "

"Wait , what??"

B’s words started to sound as if they were being spoken underwater and Mattie heard the loud buzzing noise in her head again. Her vision blurred and she closed her eyes . Darkness welcomed her.

She awoke with a jolt . She groaned as she got her bearings; She was still on

the train. She peered out of the window , only to find more trees and fields of long grass speeding by . The landscape had not changed.

The internal door slid open again and B entered , carrying the same clipboard ; wearing the same black clogs and white scrub pants from her last appearance.

"Hello , Mattie. How are you ? "

"Why am I on a train ? Where do we stop ? How did I get here ?"

B made a note on her clipboard, smiling, while ignoring the questions.

" What is the last thing you remember ?"

"That I don't have a ticket or ID because my purse was stolen. I have a headache and

no aspirin . I need a mirror and lipstick because I'm not going wherever this contraption is headed looking like a beggar “.

“What does a beggar look like ?” B inquired before flipping a page on the clipboard as if the answer was hidden in the paperwork.

She reviewed her notes and turned to Mattie.

“Normal " B insisted. "Head injuries often impair one’s memory of events.”

Mattie became angry and defensive. She was so tired of everyone telling her that

HER head was confused; That HER memories were wrong. That SHE was wrong .

"There's nothing wrong with....." Mattie began and memories flooded over

her.

That night. Greg. The argument . The accusations. The screaming , the tears, the

threats. The denials. The incriminating photos . He insisted that her suspicions were " in her head". In her head. In her head. In her head. The mantra buzzed in sync with the pistons on the train. In her head.

The pistons buzzed and churned loudly , wailing out the mechanical mantra and hurling the train forward. In her head. In her head. The gun . In her head. Pull the trigger. In her head. Bang. In her head. Dead.

Mattie was solemn as she remembered her final night and her own demise.

She looked at B who nodded silently.

"Is this hell?" Mattie asked.

"Why would you think that ?"

"What a letdown if it's heaven", Mattie jibed .

"Why would you think that ?

"Where does the train stop ?" Mattie inquired cautiously .

B made a note on her clipboard.

"Are you dead too ?" Mattie asked.

"Me? Oh no. " stated B . " I'm not dead. I'm not alive . Never was . Never will be . I

work on the train . Mostly administration and reception . Sometimes

troubleshooting. "

"So, you're the conductor?" Mattie determined .

" Nope. Not me" B laughed as if she were hiding a secret joke .

"You'll be here for a while . " B said, " You should be able to walk. Outside this door

is a hallway. To the right, is a cast iron door which you can not open. To the left is a lounge...where the others gather . It's filled with pastries „I don't eat , but I'm told they are delicious . "

"You mean I'm not alone ?" Mattie asked, surprised .

B shook her head ,adding another note on her clipboard.

She looked directly at Mattie and said,

"You were never alone" .

B left and Mattie was happy to move her legs again and easily slid off the bed . She

moved to the door and despite its formidable size and weight, it slid open easily .

The train continued to advance at its rapid pace as she moved through the dim

hallway towards the lounge . The large windows in the lounge were not hidden by shades and offered a fantastic view of the landscape outside.

Mattie watched as the tall grass seemed to bend and wave as the train passed by . The trees appeared larger and darker . The sky was grey with patchy clouds . It was still the same view.

Along the wall was a cascade of pastries of every type and flavor; An ombre of delicacies from the darkest chocolate to the whitest merengue . There were mountains of whipped cream and a small fountain of caramel . Delicate dishes and cups with gold spoons outlined the table where a tea kettle and coffee pot stood ready to pour .

Mattie stared at the sinful delights. Childhood bullying ensured she spent her entire life starving and sweating to first achieve then maintain a striking figure. She would only partake in a small bite when politeness dictated it. No one could imagine that an immediate sip of coffee afterwards, allowed her to deposit the fattening offal into her napkin .

This was hell , she decided , definitely hell, turning her attention to an elderly woman wrapped in a delicate shawl dress fastened with an intricate pearl with brooch. She wore a triple strand of pearls around her neck. Her hair and nails were perfectly coiffed which caused Mattie to be self conscious of her missed appointment and her overdue manicure .

An unfinished pastry lay on a delicate plate nestled on her lap , which she promptly offered to Mattie while beckoning her to sit with her. Mattie obliged ,thinking she vaguely recognized her . Was she the old lady who lived in 1308 or her third grade teacher ? Mattie realized she could be either .

The woman greeted her warmly .

“Hello my dear. Did you get a pastry ? Here have the rest of mine, I have to watch my figure so everyone else will too “.

Mattie choked on the pastry , debating whether the old woman was sincere in her caution or severely mentally ill .

“ Everyone else ?” Mattie inquired .

The old woman nodded secretively and whispered, “ you never know WHO you will run into , so a lady must always look her best !”

Mattie agreed, the woman did have a point .

“Such a disgrace the way young girls dress themselves these days, wearing tank tops and pajama pants or walking around with jeans ripped on purpose, on purpose I tell you ! half-naked and showing all their business. “

Mattie smiled and nodded her head in agreement .

“And after seeing that , no one wants the other half!”

Wow, she thought ,this woman was as subtle as sledgehammer, so much for the “little old lady” image she had carefully displayed.

“Please ,call me Goldie. What is your name ?”

“Mattie” Mattie replied , liking Goldie instantly .

The train seemed to gain speed as Mattie sat with Goldie, listening to tales of adventure and devouring a plate of cupcakes. Goldie shared her experiences in wicked and vivid detail; Safaris in Africa, mountain climbing in Peru, horseback riding in the Australian Outback and Fashion Week in Paris wearing an English suit and Italian heels. She once gave out hundreds of McDonald’s Cheeseburgers at the homeless encampments when she visited San Francisco . She swam with dolphins and rescued dogs . She bought an 18 unit efficiency motel at a foreclosure auction. After some renovations, it was rented exclusively to single veterans . The veterans who agreed to adopt a dog from the shelter, were given a reduced rent. It was easy and benefited everyone. Both owner and dog deserved to be loved . She merely facilitated the process. When someone had called her a “bossy girl “ , she decided she liked it and launched a company that created customized templates for businesses and schools and hospitals on “how to run things the right way”. She had written a book about the lives and struggles of her ancestors in a small town in Sicily during the turn of the century .

“As if there wasn’t enough drama between the rich and the poor , the corruption of the local government or overall lack of education ; or enough violence between the feuding neighbors , or enough sex between the town priest and the school teacher, the town priest and the shopkeeper’s widow , the town priest and the mail clerk. “

“What happened ?” Mattie asked.

“They butchered it! “ Goldie exclaimed. “ They cut it up into pieces and made it into a soap opera series . Netflix hired some idiot with a nose ring and purple hair who thinks pizzeria uno is Italian food, to make stuff up and keep the story going for more seasons ! “

She continued in her angry rant, showing no signs of stopping . “ They changed it and made the priest gay . You hear that ?? Father Frank was gay and molesting young altar boys . “

Before Mattie could speak, Goldie continued , “ He was straight as an arrow as the schoolteacher would tell you . The widow would back up the sentiment. They had people killing each other over honor and respect like a worn out mafia story , instead of heated disagreements about a goat or an olive tree . “

“Sounds like a great book anyway. “ Mattie volunteered.

Goldie looked at her sadly. “It was MY story. I wrote it . I told it as it was meant to be told.”

Mattie thought Goldie would cry until she realized that Goldie was smiling.

“I’m very smart “ Goldie beamed. “ I opted for half cash and half royalties for perpetuity . I sold my story. I let them market cruise ship ads and Italian wine during the coming attractions. I know what MY story was worth and I never settled for less than that . “

Mattie had thought the story was over until Goldie stated , “ I made close to eight hundred million and my estate still collects. “

Mattie laughed. Goldie was fascinating and funny and witty and charming .

And dead like me, Mattie realized. What was she like when she was alive ?

“Were you married , Goldie ? Did you have kids ? We’ve been all over the world except your home. “

Goldie looked conspiratorially around the lounge and said , “ Get me a cookie and I’ll tell you”

Mattie laughed before retrieving two chocolate chip cookies from the table and returning to sit with Goldie.

Goldie nibbled daintily on the edge and said , “He was a wonderful man. A perfect gentleman. Always knew exactly what to say and what to do . “

“Was he handsome ? Sexy ? Famous?” Mattie asked.

“ A lady doesn’t kiss and tell” Goldie insisted , then said , “ BUT , he was good to me , and good for me. I didn’t know it then. I know it now . “

Goldie sighed and continued . “ He lived up to his name . His name was Joe. He was your average Joe . Handsome enough. Sexy enough. Not famous , but well known in our community and loved by everyone . He was everyone’s best friend , including mine . He put me on a pedestal the day we met , and never let me step off of it . He reminded me constantly that he looked up to me , instead of looking down at me . I was his lady and he wanted to keep me that way. I was on the pedestal so I never had to walk far ,,,and he would carry me the rest of the way . I was on a pedestal so he always took care of me and catered to my needs. He deferred all decisions to me . I once told him to just pick something –and he said , you know what will please you best , I just want you to be happy . “

“ Sounds like a wimp “ Mattie stated , hardly believing this vibrant woman would have saddled herself with someone who by her own description was a doormat.

Goldie looked at Mattie and said , “ Someone broke my heart once , shattered my soul , made me doubt all decisions I had ever made about myself, my appearance , my abilities . Pushed me to work harder, compromise myself, my values, my very identity , just to please him , and it was never good enough . I was never thin enough or pretty enough or smart enough. He was an abusive narcissist but I loved the life I had with him , so if I had to suffer a little to fit into the mold he wanted in a future wife , I was willing to be broken and formed into what he wanted. “

“What happened then ?” Mattie asked .

Goldie stopped speaking and stared into the window. Mattie followed her gaze . The trees flew by like black swatches that had been thrown against the grey sky. The grass fields blurred into a single smudge of grey. The train was going faster now .

The loud buzzing returned and Mattie could almost feel the heaviness of the noise being dropped on top of her . She closed her eyes and all was black .

Mattie opened her eyes again and struggled to sit up . She felt the weight of all the pastries she had eaten in her stomach and the heaviness of the engine noise churning in her head .

Goldie was gone.

So much for female bonding , Mattie had thought.

Mattie stood and turned around .

“Hello Mattie Douglass” B chirped . She entered the lounge with her clipboard.

Mattie didn’t want to look at her black clogs or her white scrub pants . Mattie didn’t want to want to answer questions. Mattie didn’t want to “remember” .

“How are you ? “ B asked .

“Dead” Mattie answered flatly .

“Self -awareness is always a good start” said B .

“Where am I ? Where does the train stop ? “ Mattie asked.

B started making notes on the clipboard.

“The conductor decides everything . The conductor makes all the choices . The conductor has all the power . Always has . Always will . “ B explained, succinctly .

“This makes no sense “ Mattie said .

“Most people agree … “ B started.

“Oh , go soak your head. “ Mattie exclaimed in exasperation.

B looked at Mattie with a confused look and asked, “ Why would I do that ?” .

Mattie rolled her eyes in frustration.

“I want to speak to the conductor” Mattie demanded.

“You’re not ready yet “ B said, writing faster on her clipboard .

“Ready?” Mattie sneered. “ What do I need ? a ballgown ? an engraved invitation ? I already missed my hair appointment. “

“You need a ticket “ B said .

“My purse was stolen ! if I had a ticket it would be in there . If I didn’t have a ticket , I could pay for one !”

“It doesn’t work that way “

Mattie turned to B, angrily , “ It always works that way ! I have money , I can pay for a ticket. “

“Tickets can not be bought or sold. “ B said, her voice steady .

“Then how do I get one ? “ Mattie asked.

“You are born with it “ B said. “Everyone is. Think of it as a clear cellophane envelope. As you live, you gather life and it fills the envelope. When you love and are loved in return, it fills the envelope. If you grab life , it fills quicker. If you are born with an illness or disease that robs you of the opportunity, your envelope remains empty except for the tears that others cried for you , which usually overflows the envelope in a very short time, so you are upgraded to the first class sleeper cars . Once you have a ticket you can see the conductor of the train. “

Mattie was confused. “I’m dead now . How can I fill envelopes with life ?” Even the idea sounded insane .

B stopped writing on her clipboard and said , “Great question” she said. “ that doesn’t have an answer. “

B turned and left the lounge . Mattie sat stunned. Was she trapped forever? It was a train. Trains travel. Surely it had to stop for gas or coal or some kind of fuel . There were pastries . They didn’t manifest themselves. They had to come from somewhere, a bakery shop or a kitchen.

Mattie slowly walked back to her sleeper car. She noticed a small light under the door towards the right. The forbidden door that B had told her would not open. Mattie decided that whatever was behind that door was better than trapped and ticketless.

She placed a hand on the door handle and felt her breath become labored . She realized she was scared of what was behind the door . Was it the conductor ? Was it Goldie’s room ?

She turned the handle slowly and the door slowly slid open , revealing a full length mirror .

Mattie stood transfixed as images appeared slowly through the mirror in slow motion .

She saw a heavily pregnant woman who looked a lot like her being brought into a hospital, bleeding profusely . The doctors worked tirelessly to save the mother but were unsuccessful . The emergency nurse took a scalpel and sliced the woman’s abdomen, reaching in and pulling out a baby girl who let out a loud scream. The next scene showed a man looking at his dead wife and the small infant. Mattie saw her eyes look up at the man and felt his hatred down to her core. Then papers fell into the images and she saw herself in her childhood home with her brothers and sisters . She was playing and happy . The man who held the infant was gone and the man that she called daddy ran to pick her up and swing her around . She ran into the street and would have collided with a car had her older brother not pulled her out of the way . The images changed and she saw herself in college at a party , talking and laughing and having fun . She watched herself put down her red plastic cup and walk to the dance floor. She watched one of the boys pour a powder into her cup and stir it with a spoon . She watched as she went to drink from the cup and someone fell into her , causing cup and contents to spill over the rug and soak into its fibers . The mirror turned black . She saw an image of herself sitting at her dressing table, gun in hand. She could feel the trigger in her fingers . She felt the bullet enter her head and saw the blood splatter all over her silk nightgown and the photos that had been thrown on the floor by Greg that evening. The mirror went completely black. The door slid open again.

Goldie appeared and handed her a ticket . They held hands and walked through the door together . Mattie watched in marvel as her clothes changed with every image that surrounded them . She wore safari clothes and saw lions. She wore a riding habit . She carried dogs in her arms and splashed in a wetsuit with dolphins . She saw herself at a computer typing away furiously , a rottweiler snoring at her feet . She saw herself growing older . Felt her hair growing gray like the fields outside , but she no longer cared . She felt her body blown away .. light, weightless, floating on the wind . Goldie dropped her hand and reached for a mirror which she put in front of her so that Mattie could see her reflection .

And Mattie realized all the times she could have died ,but didn’t .

Except for this time .

Mattie dropped through the floor of the train and into the ground . The mirror landing face up. Showing Mattie with overalls and a conductor’s hat .

She had been the conductor all along .

She looked up from her grave and watched as the train sped away.

She had made her choice and the train of life , went on without her .

fact or fiction

About the author

Bella Blue

Lover of Words. Polyglot. Sapiophile .

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