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Astray

A Mystery of Love & Loyalty

By LizPublished 2 years ago Updated about a year ago 9 min read

A doe chews on a patch of white clover flowers near the metal rails of the Alaska railway somewhere just outside of Seward. Completely fixated on her treat, she ignores the rumbling from behind her before everything goes black.

"That's another point for me!" Brent, the assistant conductor, says to Jimbo the train engineer. He had just stepped into the cab to bring Jimbo a cup of coffee and saw them hit the doe.

Jimbo flinches a little at the carelessness of Brent's statement. Jimbo was brought up to respect animals and their lives, a common Alaskan belief, but Brent came from somewhere in the midwest of the mainland states, and likely grew up hunting deer for sport.

"A bit of a jostle, maybe? Better double check on the passengers and in baggage too." Jimbo says gruffly. It's not uncommon for a train to hit animals like deer without being affected much at all but Jimbo wants his space back as he mentally prepares for the long night ahead.

"Nah, I'm sure it's fine." Brent says not wanting to make the long trek. The train had undergone some major updates to the Wilderness Express cars two years ago, with the baggage car pulling up the rear now. This made for easier access to switch in and out of the train, but a longer walk for the train workers.

"Best practices," Jimbo says calm but firm. Unlike Brent, Jimbo was loved by the rest of the railway staff. Always polite to everyone; he had somehow mastered the right tone for asking someone to do their job. Despite this, Brent still met his delegations with a teenage-like defensiveness.

"Fine." Brent grumbles. He leaves in a huff, slamming the door a little.

-------------

I awake on a metal floor. A tinny high-pitched whistling and fast thump-thumping sound surrounds me, mimicking my own state of a racing heart and a deep desire to howl endlessly in pain. I am dizzy. My head is pounding. Blood drips from the salt-and-pepper hair on top of my head down to my nose. It's night, I blink again and again adjusting my blurry vision to the light of the stars shining in through the windows until I can see my surroundings more clearly. Lying next to me is a scattering of suitcases, bags, and boxes. The walls and rounded roof surrounding me match the metal floor. I scramble over to a small window in a door at the back of the space and in the moonlight can see tall black spruce trees and the glimmer of a railroad track falling away from me.

My instincts kick in and the thoughts Where is Sarah? Is she in danger? consume me. I or possibly someone must have hit my head pretty hard. My short term memory has been affected and I can't recall how I ended up in the baggage car of a train. But, I do remember my life and I do remember Sarah. I don't know if she is on the train, but something in the back of my mind tells me she is and Sarah's safety always matters first. I need to find her.

A man in a bright button-down shirt with a black vest and a name tag pushes open the door of the baggage car opposite me. Taking in the scene, his jaw drops before he quickly but calmly between clenched teeth talks into a small speaker hanging over his right shoulder.

"We've got an issue in baggage..." his eyes are fixated on me in an expression both threatening and fearful.

Go. Now. my instincts whisper.

I don't wait. Adrenaline pumping to every part of my body, I run as fast as I can at the man. Before he can close the door, I'm on top of him, knocking him backward. His head cracks against the door of the next car and he's out cold.

I've escaped into an outdated and poorly cared for narrow hallway of a sleeper car with off-white walls. I move cautiously, hunched and with my head on a swivel, as I advance down to the far end of the hall. I turn a corner and straighten, looking a little less suspicious, as I enter into a mostly empty lounge car. Each train car has had a drastically different looking interior so far. This lounge car has a 1930s vibe to it: a row of leather booths along the left side and a sparkling clean and smooth wooden bar on the right. The space is lit by dim little lamps fastened to each table, and the stars shining through a domed roof made of windows. Only one of the booths is occupied by a group of four women just beyond the bar. Noticing me first, before the rest of her friends, a woman stands up on her booth seat and points directly at me.

"WHAT IS HE DOING HERE!?" she shrieks in terror and confusion.

Why is she acting this way? How does she know who I am?

A man standing behind the narrow bar to my right stares at me with his mouth wide. He slowly comes around to the front of the bar, getting in between me and the booth of women. Without breaking eye contact with me, his back to the women now, the bartender tells them, "Go. Drinks are on the house." They all scramble out of the opposite end of the car, each watching me suspiciously and fearfully as they exit. Once they are gone, the bartender's look softens, as if he recognizes me. Does this man know me? Do I know him? He has a nametag and is dressed in the same bright buttoned-down and black vest as the man I had just encountered.

"I won't hurt you, I can help," he almost whispers. His eyes are warm and friendly and earnest. He sits down in the booth directly to his right, and pats the seat across from him, inviting me to join him.

I stand frozen in the doorway when heavy footsteps and a moaning noise startle me from behind. I know that the owner of these noises is most likely the man I'd just encountered in the baggage car. I run over to the booth putting my trust in the bartender despite their matching uniforms.

"Aw crap. Hurry, behind here," he hears the man as well and runs toward the bar. I run after him and just as the other man walks into the lounge car, the bartender pulls me behind the bar.

The moaning grows louder as the man from the baggage car approaches the bar. "I need a drink." he tells the bartender.

As he pours a glass of vodka, I hear the bartender tell him, "oh hey, Brent...your head is bleeding. You should get to the nurse."

"Can I finish my drink?" Brent asks, sounding annoyed. I can hear him walking away, ice clinking in his glass.

Does he not remember our encounter? Why is he not inquiring about me? What is going on?

"Looks like you roughed him up pretty good there," the bartender snickers quietly to me.

Still feeling exhausted and dizzy, I rest my pounding head against a cool small fridge beside me.

"Sarah will be around soon," he says more to himself than me. Hearing her name startles me and I begin to stand up and speak.

"No!" he yells abruptly, "Sit down. Stay there." And, then I can hear the shuffling of another person entering from the sleeper car and approaching the bar, snapping as they walk. "God I love this new lounge car," a woman's voice says as she hops onto one of the squeaky stools in front of the bar.

"Sitting in one of those booths, watching the borealis dance above with a whiskey in hand is really the only place to ever be," the bartender responds with a smirk as he begins pouring her just that.

"Hey, I need your help," he says in a low whisper, pointing down at me. He seems to know this woman.

She smiles at him mischievously and curls her fingers over the edge of the bar just above me, pulling herself up to peek. Her eyes widen and glow with excitement and a touch of intrigued fear before she snorts and lets out a laugh, "Oh my God, Oliver! I thought you were trying to show me something else! This is much more exciting, I have to say." She nearly yells these words. I look up at her inquisitively and she addresses me in a much softer, sweeter tone, "Well hello there, mister!"

"Shhh-shh..." Oliver chuckles quietly, "He's hurt, can you get him out of sight and washed up?"

She nods with a twinkle in her eye, "Oh yes, I definitely want to be a part of this fun little adventure!"

"Treat her right," the bartender says to me with a smile as he steps aside.

I come around the bar, stumbling a little and more confused than when I first woke up in the baggage car, when suddenly I am face to face with this woman in a sparkling dress. Seeing her more clearly now, I realize she is absolutely breathtaking. Her long, straight, and shining smooth black hair frames her warm round cheeks. The iris in each of her almond shaped eyes is a dark pool glowing with kindness. A silver septum piercing sparkles brightly accentuating her beautifully tanned skin as it glows in the moonlight. A simple black tattooed line runs vertically from the bottom of her lips to the bottom of her perfect chin. She looks healthy and confident. The corners of her widened mouth perk her ears back as she smiles at me, her white teeth peaking through just slightly.

"Come on," she says, as she stands. She leads me back toward the sleeper car. I can sense her confidence and gentleness immediately, and find myself in a trance of puppy love. I tend to do this when it comes to beautiful women.

But Sarah...

The hallway of the sleeper car presents no hints to the magnificent roomette we enter. Far more spacious than one might expect, the ceiling is half domed in windows displaying the stars and a glow like the lounge car. The left side of the room has a sink and mirror, and then a long cushioned bench next to the windows. On the right side is a bathroom door across from the sink, and tucked into the far right corner is a large bed holding blankets, sheets, and pillows strewn about in a cloudy pile.

"I'll live here forever, they can't make me leave," she seems to say this more to herself than me, before turning in my direction, "Now, let me see what I can do about that head wound." She pats the bed invitingly, and I plop down while she heads to the sink and wets a towel.

She sits down right next to me on the bed. Exhausted, I lay my head in her lap and peek up at her as she presses the warm damp towel gently on my cut. The stars are twinkling above her and I fall asleep. Unsure of how long I've been out, a familiar voice wakes me. I open my eyes to see the woman in the red dress still holding my head, petting my hair, and looking lovingly at me. The voice is coming from the hallway just outside the door. I can't make out what the voice is saying, but it sounds jovial and there is laughter and it's Sarah's voice. It's Sarah's laugh. I know it. I jump up and run to the door, staring at it, unsure of what to do next.

Why is she laughing? Why is she not looking for me or worried about me?

I look back at the woman in the sparkling dress, who has a sad but knowing look on her face. She walks over and grabs hold of me before she reaches to open the door. "Let's go see..." she says.

We enter an empty hall, and suddenly I am nearly dragging the woman in the sparkling dress toward the lounge car, trying to break free from her. Desperate to find an end to this strange day.

Sarah is sitting in the same booth the group of women were earlier, across from a man with salt and peppered hair. She sees me enter and a look of complete surprise spreads across her face as her eyes lock into mine.

"Boone!"she exclaims," What are you d-?"

Adrenaline and excitement overtake me. Before she can finish her inquiry, I run to her, leaping into her warm embrace. My tail wagging, I lick her face a dozen times.

Mystery

About the Creator

Liz

Welcome! My name's Liz, and I love getting lost in the magic of writing. I love to share the adventures and characters that come into my mind. So, pull up a chair, grab some popcorn, and let my words take you somewhere new!

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