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Off the Rails

A short story by Lena

By Lena BorondiaPublished 6 months ago Updated 6 months ago 17 min read
12
Created by author with Wombo Art AI

<><>

Sam looked around the train car in confusion. There was a young couple sitting in front of him, laughing and looking through travel brochures of New York City. They were so immersed in their plans that they didn’t seem to notice him. He recognized both of them and opened his mouth to speak, but their names escaped him, and he closed his mouth once more.

He closed his eyes and shook his head softly, trying to clear the fog from his mind.

A train? How the hell did I get here?

The train lurched softly, and Sam watched as a brief look of concern washed over the man’s face as he glanced out the window. Sam followed his gaze and paused briefly, watching the blurry countryside fly past them. His stomach cramped, and a thin veil of sweat broke out on his forehead as a distant fear nagged at him. A bizarre and intense déjà vu washed over him, and he fought off a wave of nausea as he searched his mind for understanding.

The girl across from him laughed, and a distant memory of drinks and board games and all night laughter came back to him, and he shifted his gaze back to her face as recognition struck him.

Zoe.

It was Sara’s best friend and her fiancé Tim. Sam reeled as another fleeting but terrifying memory flashed before his mind like a nightmare that he tried to remember.

Zoe and Tim on a train...Sara! Where is Sara?

An overwhelming sense of alarm gripped Sam, and he called out to Zoe in hoarse desperation.

“Zoe! Where’s Sara?”

Zoe only laughed and leaned over her seat, kissing Tim on the cheek and standing up.

“Zoe! Where are you going? Where’s Sara?”

She walked away with Tim on her heels, his hand sliding down her back teasingly, and Sam became enraged.

Why won’t they answer me?

Sam shot to his feet, ignoring the weak and shaky feeling in his legs and scanning the faces in the car. He was surrounded by people, some old, some young, some pretty, and some so gritty looking that he felt the need to take a shower. But there was no Sara.

He stepped out into the aisle from his seat, tripping over the strap of a purse from under the seat next to him and cursing as he bent down and clutched the leather strap. It was brown with teal stitching, and another flash of a memory stole his breath.

Sara!

He picked up the bag and placed it on the headrest of the seat, gently opening it and looking through its contents. Sara’s wallet and phone, a tube of lipstick, a pack of gum, and an envelope with the Amtrak logo printed on the side. He opened the envelope and sorted through the documents. A receipt, an itinerary, and one ticket from Chicago to New York City with Sara’s name on it.

Only one? Where’s my ticket?

Sara always kept all the travel documents for them both. Sam patted at his chest, hips, and backside, checking his pockets for a ticket, or a wallet. Or anything. There was nothing.

What the hell is going on?

Sam returned the documents to the purse and zipped it tightly before wrapping the strap around his neck. He wondered why Sara would so casually abandon it, and his sense of alarm only deepened. He hurried down the aisle toward the front of the train, and as he reached out for the doorknob, the train lurched once more, pitching him sideways and causing him to slam his head against the wall.

He cursed again and pulled the door open, pausing between the two cabins, wondering why he felt such a deep sense of foreboding. He looked down at his open palms and at the pools of sweat that had filled them.

Something was terribly wrong. He quickly wiped his hands dry against his pant legs, before taking off after Tim and Zoe.

I have to find Sara.

<><>

Sara placed the napkin flat on the table before carefully arranging her glass squarely in the middle of the cloth and looking out the window to watch the countryside slowly pass her by—just like her life. She hated traveling alone, and she was glad to have Zoe and Tim with her, but they were so immersed in their wedding plans and happy premarital bliss that they had failed to notice her deep depression.

It had been Sam’s idea to take the train in the first place. What was supposed to be a quick two-hour flight had turned into a whole five-day ordeal as they took the scenic train, and without Sam, the whole trip was a waste. She was angry. It wasn’t the first time that his job had ruined a vacation, and she doubted it would be the last time.

Zoe said it was the price she had to pay to marry a successful lawyer, but she hadn’t known Sam when he was just an ambitious college kid. Sara missed that Sam. She missed a lot of things.

She heard Zoe’s laugh and quickly stood up from the table, abandoning her untouched drink and the napkin upon which it rested and dashing to the rear staircase out of the café. She loved Zoe and was happy for them both, but the last thing she needed in her depression and loneliness was to deal with their constant happiness. She meandered her way from one car to the next, barely noticing the other passengers as she bumped and tripped her way through the crowds.

She finally found her way to the very last car and leaned breathlessly against the door, wishing she could climb through and make her way to the top of the train and escape the other travelers and the boxed and piped air that made her feel as though she were in a metal tomb.

<><>

“Did you have any trouble with security?” Frank whispered hoarsely as Max appeared in the hallway.

Max waved his security pass in front of the door sensor and clicked his tongue with satisfaction as the light turned green and the lock disengaged.

“Nope. Easy peasy.”

Frank grinned. “Excellent.”

“Yep. Everything's ready to go. All that's left is to deal with the guards and for you to wipe the cameras.”

“Sweet. Where are you going once you get your share, anyway?”

Max grinned. "Oh, I’ve got a place in mind. Somewhere where the beer is cold, and the sun is almost as hot as the chicks covered in tanning oil.”

Frank chuckled. “Yeah. You and me both, brother.”

Max rolled his tongue slowly over his top lip, sucking his lower lip into his teeth and nibbling at the loose skin and old scars as Frank passed his badge over the sensor for the final door. The guards inside were expecting them and barely looked up from their phones. He pulled the syringe from his pocket and walked to the younger guard with Frank on his heels. He was worried the sedative would take too long to kick in, but both guards slumped in their chairs within seconds.

Frank pulled the older guard out of the chair, slamming his head against the console and kicking him in the groin, and Max rolled his eyes.

“Cut it out, man. We ain’t got time for that. Just get the damn cameras offline.”

“Alright, bro. Take it easy. We got a couple hours before the next stop. We’ll be miles from here before this thing blows.”

“Yeah. Sorry, bro. Itchy trigger finger, I guess.” Max reached into his pocket, wrapping his fingers around the full syringe and slowly withdrawing it.

“Done. The cameras are wiped. No one will ever know we were here."

“Perfect. Wait here while I grab the bag.” Frank turned in his chair just as Max pressed the syringe against his neck, and as Max plunged the liquid into his partner's flesh, he watched as Frank's eyes flashed with anger and then fear, before the life drained from him and he slumped into his chair.

Max tucked the syringe into his pocket with the others and removed his gloves and security uniform, placing them all into the bag that he’d stashed the night before. He tucked the bag beneath the desk and stepped over and around the two men on the floor, leaving the office and walking slowly back toward the dining car. Max ordered a beer and sat down at a table in the back, checking his watch as he took the first sip.

Two hours until the next stop when he could get off the train. Three hours until the timer reached zero and triggered the detonator.

He gulped his beer and used a napkin to wipe the sweat from his brow, before checking his watch. One hour and fifty-eight minutes until he could escape the metal tube that would become their tomb. Plenty of time. Max wiped his brow once more and ordered another beer.

As he returned to his table with his second beer, Max passed a woman sitting alone at a table. She was nursing what looked like a gin and tonic positioned perfectly into the center of the napkin on the table in front of her. Her gaze was fixed out the window as she watched the scenery fly by with a vacant look in her eyes.

Her hair was a soft brown that curled slightly around her neck as it draped pleasantly over her left shoulder, and she sat perfectly upright in her chair with her legs curled beneath her. Max paused briefly as he passed. Her eyes were clear and distant, and she looked as though she were about to cry as she absentmindedly caressed a simple wedding band on her left ring finger.

Max’s shoulders slumped softly as he walked behind her and noted the soft and pleasing aroma of coconut and lavender that surrounded her. He sat down and sipped his beer more slowly as his eyes moved from one face to another, before checking his watch once more.

An hour and thirty-five minutes until he could leave them all behind. Two hours and thirty-five minutes until his financial problems were forever solved.

By this time next week, he’d be sitting next to a cool, sparkling pool with a pitcher of ice-cold beer, watching bikini-clad women splashing each other in the sun, and this past month will be just a memory.

Max watched as the woman suddenly jumped up from her seat and ran past him with a tear finally dropping down her face. He drained the last of his beer and left the dining car through the opposite side of the car.

As he descended the stairs, he was pushed by a frantic-looking man wearing a purse around his shoulders and almost fell down the stairs. The man stopped and gaped at Max as though he were shocked to see him. It unnerved Max. He felt an electric fear pulse through him as though the other man could see right through him. Into his mind.

“Pardon me,” Max said quickly as he regained his composure and made his way to the end of the car, pushing his way into the next cabin where he no longer could smell the scent of lavender or coconut or remember the frenzied man’s face.

Max checked his watch once more. One hour and fourteen minutes to go.

<><>

Sam followed Zoe and Tim up the stairs and to the dining car. He had called out to them twice with no response, and twice he had bumped into passengers and excused himself with no response from the strangers either. He began to feel out of place, invisible.

That was, until the man bumped into him on the stairs and excused himself. Sam was both pleased and alarmed to be acknowledged. He felt like a ghost who had finally found someone to talk to, and he watched as the man hurried down the stairs, repeatedly glancing back up at him. He had smelled of beer and sweat, and Sam felt that it was absolutely imperative to find Sara and get her as far away from that man and the train as possible.

He had seen the itinerary and checked his watch. An hour and fifteen minutes until the next stop. He had to find her before then. They had to get off the train.

Max bound up the stairs, taking them two at a time and weaved his way through the tables and chairs, looking for Sara. Something pulled him toward an empty table, and he paused and glanced down at a drink that rested in the very center of a carefully folded napkin.

Sara!

Sam reached out and ran his fingers along the rim of the glass. A soft whistling sound followed, and he took a deep breath. He could smell her perfume. It was faint but unmistakable, and he closed his eyes, letting her scent wash over his nerves, before scanning the room for her. She was nowhere to be seen, and he was once again overwhelmed by a nagging sense of fear.

He allowed his eyes to rest on every passenger in the room. Some were in conversation, a few were reading a book in silence or had their eyes glued to their phones, and several were looking out the windows and watching the scenery with completely indifferent or peaceful looks on their face.

There was one thing that they all had in common: none of them seemed to be alarmed that the train was going so fast.

Sam didn’t understand why no one seemed scared, but he knew that he had to find Sara.

Fast.

<><>

Sara carefully wiped the tears from beneath her eyes with the back of her fingers as she looked out the small window on the door that separated her from the cool night air. She felt her pulse rise steadily as she noticed that the scenery was flying by impossibly fast.

Do trains normally go this fast?

Sara sniffed the last of her tears away as she gazed at the other passengers. None of them seemed to notice or care how fast the train was traveling, and Sara dismissed the thought, blaming her own heightened anxiety.

She turned back toward the front of the train and slowly made her way through the aisles of each car until she made it back to the row of seats that Zoe had claimed on their first day. She leaned down and reached for her purse from beneath the seat, panicking when she realized it was missing. Her phone and wallet, as well as all the tickets and receipts for the trip were inside. She prayed Zoe had taken it with them when she’d gone to the café and quickly pushed her way back to the dining car.

As she turned the corner to climb the stairs, the train lurched again, and she lost her balance, slamming into a man coming down the stairs and falling onto her backside.

“Oh! I’m so sorry. I wasn’t look—”

“Sara!”

“Sam?” Sara sat in stunned silence as Sam reached out and pulled her into his arms.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you. We have to get off this train!”

Sam helped Sara to her feet and pulled her tightly against him once more.

“I was so worried I wouldn’t find you in time.”

“What? Sam. What are you talking about? How’d you get on the train? When—”

“There’s no time, Sara. Come with me.”

Sam grasped her hand and led her toward the back of the train where she had just been.

“Sam. I don’t understand. How are you here?”

“I—I don’t know, Sara. I just woke up, and I was here.”

“What? Sam, you’re not making any sense.”

“I know. It’s crazy. It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know how I got here or how I know. I can’t explain it. But something terrible is going to happen, and we have to get off the train before it does.”

“Sam—”

“You have to trust me, Sara. Please. Just come with me?”

“Okay.”

<><>

Max descended the stairs with a grin as the train came to a stop and the doors opened. He breathed deeply as the cool air met him. He walked to the nearest all night café and ordered eggs and pancakes, hungrily shoveling the food into his mouth with gleeful expectation. As the waitress picked up his plates and refreshed his cup of coffee, Max silenced his beeping watch and leaned back against the pleather booth.

“Lovely evening, isn’t it?”

“Sure is,” the waitress replied, placing the check on the table with a smile.

Max left her a fifty and walked out of the café. As he placed his hand on the door and pushed through, he noticed a familiar smell, and he turned back and saw a young couple sitting at a booth in the darkened corner opposite him. He grinned as recognition struck him, and he watched as the frenzied man who had bumped into him wrapped his arm around the pretty woman from the café on the train.

Max felt a tinge of relief at seeing her and chuckled softly to himself as he left the diner and walked into the night, whistling. He had a plain to catch.

<><>

The next morning, as Sara was showering, Sam turned on the television in their hotel room and stared in wide-eyed terror as the news alert flashed across the screen.

“255 Reported Dead in Passenger Train Derailment. Terrorism Suspected.”

Sam flipped the television off and wiped the tears from his face as he walked into the bathroom and stepped into the shower. He’d never let Sara out of his sight again.

<><>

SMASH!

“What the hell!?”

Jason jumped and cursed as the toy train crashed against the wall beside him, and he lunged sideways, bumping into a nurse carrying a tray full of tiny cups filled with pills and water.

“Careful around Sam," Tina said. "You’ll get used to him. But you always gotta be on the lookout for flying trains."

Jason turned to examine the patient. The man sat in the middle of the floor, wearing his patient’s robe with a conductor’s hat on and a whistle dangling around his neck. Scattered on the floor all around him was a mixture of toy trains and model train sets, some broken and some not.

"What's his story?" Jason asked dubiously, wondering if working at a mental health hospital was right for him.

"Oh, his is such a tragic story," said Tina, placing her hand over her chest and covering the security badge on her nurse's uniform as a look of genuine sadness washed over her face.

“Aren’t they all?” Jason asked with cynicism.

“Well, yeah. But he’s really tragic.”

SMASH!

The man threw another train against the wall, and Jason shifted his body so that he could see his face. His eyes were wet with tears, and his shirt was stained with what looked like snot. Jason's stomach turned, and he started to regret his decision to take the job.

“So, what’s so tragic about him, anyway?”

“Well, a year ago, he was a fancy lawyer in the city. Trophy wife, mansion, the whole deal.”

“What happened?”

“You remember that terrorist attack on that Chicago train?”

“Yeah.”

“His wife was on it.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah. He went a bit crazy. Apparently, the trip was his idea, but he stayed home last minute for work. His wife and her best friend and friend's fiance all died, and he blamed himself. He spiraled pretty quick. Now, he just sits there on the floor with his trains.”

“So, what? He just sits there, crying and breaking toy trains?” Jason felt his stomach turn.

“Well, yes and no. See, everyday he just sits there and reenacts the whole thing over and over like a play. Sometimes, he rescues her. Sometimes, he doesn’t. And sometimes, he dies with her.”

"Geez."

"Yeah. Told you it was tragic. He may not have been on the train when it when it happened, but when she died... well, he went off the rails with her."

<><>

Adventure
12

About the Creator

Lena Borondia

Alaskan Grown Freelance Writer 🤍 Lover of Prose

Former Deckhand & Barista 🤍 Always a Pleaser & Eggshell-Walker

Lifelong Animal Lover & Whisperer 🤍 Ever the Student & Seeker

Traveler 🤍 Dreamer 🤍 Wanderer

Happily Lost 🤍 Luckily in Love

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  1. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  3. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  4. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  5. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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Comments (13)

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  • Raymond G. Taylor5 months ago

    Terrific story with nail-biting action and a heart-stopping twist in the tail. Really well done and truly engaging story. Look out for this review and others in my stories in a few days.

  • Elizabeth Diehl6 months ago

    Great twist at the end! Such a sad story!

  • Dana Stewart6 months ago

    Whoa! Nice twist. Great story!

  • Heather Hubler6 months ago

    Loved the twist at the end!! Did not see that coming. Well done :)

  • Jori T. Sheppard6 months ago

    Very tragic and exciting. It has some misspellings in places, but it’s not enough to hurt this story. Also I wished Jason was Dr. Jason or Nurse Jason, something to help ease me into where we had transitioned to in the last bit. Your hook was excellent and your flow was smooth. Great job

  • Stephanie Hoogstad6 months ago

    Great story with such a wonderful twist. I love psychological WTFs like this.

  • Steve Lance6 months ago

    Excellent. Great ending.

  • Cathy holmes6 months ago

    This is great. Runs the whole range of emotion. Very well done.

  • Love the italic questions in the format of this excellent story , excellent writing.

  • When I started reading, I never thought this story would have gone the way it did. You have a knack for the unexpected. I loved it. You did a fantastic job!

  • What?!?!? Loved it! Love the ending. Love the poetry of it! Love the suspense of it. I am so glad that you were able to get this in!

  • Babs Iverson6 months ago

    No happy ending, but excellent story!!!💖💕

  • Veronica Coldiron6 months ago

    So sad, but really well done!

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