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Harm's Way

A Train of Regret

By CharlesPublished 2 years ago 6 min read

There was a sharp, aching pain at the back of Willis' head. His vision semi-blurry, he blinked a few times and found himself looking at the ceiling of some kind of train cart. He sat himself up on the bench and looked out the window, only seeing a starry sky on the other side of the glass.

Why am I on a train? Where is this even going?

He looked at the other booths in hopes of finding someone who could answer his questions, but all of them were empty. In fact, there wasn't a single person in the cart: personnel and passengers alike. There wasn't any sign of life at all, just complete dead silence. Willis stood up from his seat and took one last scan of the cart before heading to the next. Just like the one he woke up in, the cart was completely empty as well.

What is going on here?

He continued to the next cart, and then the next, and then the next. No matter where he looked, there wasn't a single soul in sight. Furthermore, the train was seemingly moving without stopping. Frustrated without any answers, Willis ran though the carts until he finally reached the door to the locomotive. Taking a deep breath, he slowly opened the door and saw a lone man shoveling coal into the furnace of the train. The man wore a standard train conductor uniform and had an unusually large hat that covered his face as he fueled the furnace. Willis approached the man with caution and spoke up.

"Um, excuse me? Where is this train going? I woke up in one of the carts with no memory of how or why I got on this train, so maybe you can fill me in on a few details."

The man paused midway through his shoveling, then turned his head to the boy, revealing a skull with glowing red eyes. Willis screamed from the top of his lungs, only for the skull man to raise his hand in from of the boy.

"Shut up, will ya?! I swear, kids these days have no respect for their elders."

"B-but, you're a skeleton," Willis announced. "You're moving like you're naturally alive!"

"That's rich, coming from a dead man."

Willis' eyes widened like a flashlight was shone in his eyes. He grabbed the skeleton conductor by the shoulders and shook him. "What do you mean I'm dead?! Is this some sort of sick joke!?"

The conductor grabbed the boy's hands and removed them off his shoulders, then pointed to the door. "Calm down and take a seat. I'll answer all your questions after I fill the engine furnace."

With no other choice, Willis reluctantly walked to the front cart and sat down. There was only one thought lingering through his mind as he waited patiently.

I'm dead? How did I die? When did I die? How come I don't remember any of this?

Shortly after Willis was dismissed from the locomotive, the conductor stepped into the cart with hat in hand. He took a seat parallel to the boy and fixed his red lights on him.

"It's been a while since this here train had guests. I am the conductor of the Train of Regret, where all lost souls find themselves in times of confusion. Think of it like the middle ground between the land of the living and the land of the dead, much like the River Styx or the Sanzu River."

"I...think I get it," Willis responded. "So this place is for anyone that has regrets when they die?"

"That's correct," the conductor answered. "Now, tell me about yourself. Your identity holds the key to your death and regrets."

"Well, I was born the son of the only mechanic in a small town. My father got diagnosed with a disease that required an almost absurd amount of money, so he retired from work and I took over his work."

"That sounds rough."

"Tell me about it," Willis remarked. "Ever since he's been diagnosed, I've been working day in and day out to save money for his operation, at least until..."

The conductor looked at him in a concerned manner. "Until what?"

Willis was stuck in a pause like a statue before looking down at the ground. "Until I saved a kid from a driver who lost control of his truck. I didn't think much about it when I shoved her out of the way, just that the kid needed to get out of harm's way."

"Well, I'm sure you did the right thing, but this train ain't gonna stop until you find out what your regrets are and leave them in the past."

"That's easy for you to say," Willis replied. "My only regret is not being able to help my father anymore. The man's a local hero, helping everyone he could regardless of who they were. I wanted to be like him when I grew up, but ended up dead."

The conductor looked at him, then looked out the window. "You know, this place is here to heal hearts. Regrets, trauma, fears; we're here to help good people pass on to the afterlife."

"Then what happens to the bad people? You know, like murderers, criminals, that sort of bunch."

"A person whose committed a terrible sin will be stuck on a train like this forever, driving them insane as punishment for their crimes. You, on the other hand, seem to have a single regret that's causing this train to run wild. Since you seem to know what your regret is, why don't we take a look at how your last moments in life affected those around you."

The conductor tapped on the window twice and it flickered with a flash of light like a television. On the screen was a woman with a microphone and a headline reading "LOCAL MECHANIC DIES SAVING CHILD". Willis recognized the station as the local news and watched as it played through.

"We're reporting to you live where local mechanic Willis Michaels died saving a young girl. Reports from eyewitnesses say Michaels acted fast, pushing the girl away from an out of control truck. The girl survived with minor injuries but Michaels died upon impact."

At least the girl survived. That's a relief, Willis thought to himself.

Appearing onscreen beside the woman was a tall man dressed in a suit. The woman laid her hand to point at the man as she spoke into the mic once more. "Here, we have Ben Davids: the father of the girl and CEO of Davids Industries, the worldwide conglomerate known for manufacturing electronics and automobiles. What do you have to say regarding the incident?"

The man took a deep breath before speaking into the mic. "I am deeply saddened by the incident. My daughter and I came here to my hometown in hopes of meeting Reggie and his son, but instead, his son sacrificed his life to save my daughter. Back when I was starting up my company, Reggie provided me the funds to start up my company, which is why I want to repay him and his son for everything they've done for me."

"You knew about Willis Michaels, but have never met him in person. Can you tell me what you know?"

Ben let out a small laugh as he cracked a smile. "Well if there's one thing that I do know, it's that Reggie always talks about how he's proud of the boy. He told me that Willis was a well-known person around these parts: helping everyone he could while also trying to cover his father's operation. I want to honor that legacy by covering the entire operation cost and renovating the Michaels Repair Shop."

Willis' eyes went wide with surprise. If the conductor could smile, he would right about now.

"I...I don't know what to say," Willis muttered.

"Then keep watching. Looks like that man has more to say."

The two looked at the window once more and watched the man's daughter appear by his side. "Reggie is, without a doubt, an extraordinary man and his son is no doubt the same. I can't thank them enough for everything they've done."

Willis felt a strange warmth in his heart, and as it gradually got warmer, the train started slowing down until finally, coming to a complete stop.

"Well, looks like we're here," the conductor announced as he walked to the door, pointing outside. "You should probably get going, now that you have no regrets."

Willis stood up and walked to the door, but not before stopping in front of the skeleton conductor once more. "Thank you for everything."

The conductor tilted his hat forward, covering his eye sockets. "Just doing my job. Everyone needs a little help now and then, and that's where I come in. Now, our journey has come to an end, so get going."

Willis shot one last smile at conductor, then went into the light, knowing that his father was in good hands and that someone recognized him as an amazing person.

Short Story

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    CWritten by Charles

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