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One Last Ride

All Aboard

By Taylor InmanPublished 10 months ago 9 min read

He came to consciousness gradually, like he was fading in and out of a dream that didn’t want to end. The first sound that came to ear was a rhythmic beat, one that he thought was a heart, until he caught the distinct metal clang and the unforgettable chugging of a locomotive. When he opened his eyes, the cabin was dim; Faded red, almost pink curtains tinted the sunlight a comforting hue, the muted sunlight giving his skin fleeting hints of warmth.

He lifted his head from the cushion it had slumped onto, eyelids heavy and crusty from sleep and body slow and clumsy. Blinking like a babe, his surroundings came into focus after a few long seconds. That repetitive beat continued to surround him, chugga-chugga-chugga, strangely comforting in its consistency.

The room he found himself in was a pale, eggshell white, broken up by burgundy trim work and tan upholstery. Two benches stretched from one end of the cabin to the other - the one he was currently sitting on, and the one across from him. There was nobody else with him, but if he listened close enough, he could hear faint whispers of conversation on either side of his room. There was a wide, curtained window to his left, and a sliding, opaque glass door to his right. The bar lights above his head suffused the whole room with a faint golden glow, one that he could almost feel if he stood directly beneath.

He wasn’t sure which was stranger: that he knew that this room was his room, or that he awoke with no recollection of the before and yet still knew exactly where, what, and who he was now.

When he moved to stand, struck by the sudden urge to move, to explore his new surroundings, he was staggered by a vision of what-once-was:

“Honey, look, look! He’s taking his first steps! Come quick!” The sound of clanging pots and pans, hurried footsteps, and the rustling of fabric and muffled swear words as a cell phone was dropped and quickly picked back up were followed by a bright flash, and he was back in his own body.

He exhaled slowly, his hand still in contact with the handle to the door. Carefully, he slid open the compartment - expecting another sudden vision, or premonition, or whatever the hell that just was. He was disappointed. Instead, there was another closed compartment door across from him, and a dimly-lit corridor expanding in either direction as far as he could see. He stepped into the corridor.

Not feeling particularly empowered towards one direction or another, he fished in his pockets for some loose change - finding two gleaming, silver quarters. He distinctly remembered carrying more change on him than that. Nonplussed, he put one back and flipped the other one. Heads - he’d go right, then.

He walked for what felt like hours. He tried a few compartment doors out of curiosity, finding each of them locked, despite the voices he heard just on the other side of them. Strange, but it did seem to be the late afternoon, early evening - perhaps they were having dinner. It was that thought that brought another flash of memory(?) to the forefront of his mind.

“You’ll eat what we feed you in this house, young man. Vegetables and all - even if they’re ‘green and yucky.’ You’ll need them to grow up big and strong like your dad, see!” A teasing smile, with a hint of iron, framed by blond hair just beginning to fade towards gray stood out in his memory. He recalled the faint tapping of a wooden spoon on a table, one that brought equal parts dread and delight, the potential for punitive pain or culinary pleasure contained within that simple carved utensil. The tapping followed the same beat as the train he found himself on.

His eyes were damp when he reopened them, failing to remember when exactly he closed them. He wiped away the tears on the back of his sleeve, feeling a strange sense of catharsis and contentedness, mixed with bittersweet nostalgia and wishes for people long-since passed. There was a feeling of matronly affection, warmth lingering in and filling his chest and stomach where it was once cool and empty. He basked in it for a few long moments, until it began to fade.

He was further down the train, now. He thought he was moving towards the front - it seemed like he was moving in the same direction the train was heading, but all the compartments looked the same, and he had yet to encounter a new or separate train car.

Looking down, he saw that his shoes were beginning to wear through - his left big toe poked out of the end of one. He wiggled it. His jeans were faded and frayed along the hems, as though he had worked a life of labor. This was strange, because he distinctly remembered that he was an attorney. Or a lawyer? Maybe he had been a judge.

The more time he spent walking, the less easy the knowledge came to him. He had an identity - he was a person. As he walked, though, it seemed to become less… Concrete. Like the edges of his jeans, the threads that composed who he was were becoming unraveled. The thought didn’t scare him - it just was, just like he was. But it was curious. He wondered if he turned back, if he would begin to remember things again.

When he spun on his heel to test his hypothesis - was he a scientist, then? - he found darkness. Not nothing, not an opening or doorway to the outdoors, simply pure, all-enveloping darkness. He reached out to press past it, to try to find a door beyond the inky blackness, and a cold feeling of dread pulsed through his whole being, from his fingertips to his toes. He stumbled backwards and fell - the darkness creeping a few inches closer as he did, matching distances with him.

He took some time - where the darkness thankfully did not continue to creep forward - to calm his breathing and pounding heart. There was no going back, then. He stood and turned away from the abyss looming where the further end of the train once was, then nearly fell backwards into it when the strongest phantasm yet overcame him.

“And now, you may kiss the bride!” Raucous cheering and clapping was accompanied by the feeling of soft lips on his own, warm and a little salty but infinitely sweet, a few seconds between the newlyweds that stretched out into forever. When he pulled away he knew both their eyes were lined with tears - those of joy, ecstatic and awed by thoughts of what could be, while also reminiscing on everything that led up to that single perfect moment. He remembered laughing, almost in disbelief, a soft and hiccuping sound that only she could hear, and she matched him before breaking out into full laughter as he swept her up into his arms and spun her around atop the altar. It was one of the most perfect moments of his life.

He was sobbing when he awoke, this time. He knew without even having to think that she had died before him - far, far too young for her time, he remembered. It wasn’t anything he could control - he couldn’t even remember what it was anymore - but he wept for her, one last time, just the same. It had been decades ago, despite living through it again mere seconds ago.

His heart raced; The rhythm of the train matched it now. He had a feeling that neither would be stopping until it was well and truly over, and he broke free of this strange limbo he had awoken in.

When he made his way to his feet, he realized his hands were thinner, mottled with liver spots and wrinkled with age. His clothes had worn down to almost rags, hanging limp and loose off his thinned frame. He didn’t feel any different, but he knew he was getting close to the front of the train, somehow. Just like he knew if he looked into a mirror or at his reflection in the glass windows, he would see an old man, when not hours ago he had been in the prime of his life.

There was a niggling feeling in the back of his mind, of knowing yet not knowing; each time he tried to isolate it to determine what he was thinking of, just what he should know, or what he should remember, it slipped beyond him like water through his fingertips. There was nothing left to do but keep moving forward.

After ages of walking, he came to a door to the next train car. It was plain white, trimmed in burgundy, with a tan curtain over the single window - perfectly matching the decor of the cabin he awoke in. Before he could even think to try the handle, one final vision overtook him.

“It’s stage four lung cancer. It’s already metastasized and has begun to spread to your heart as well as your liver. I’m so sorry, Mr. Sommers, but I don’t know if we can provide you with any treatments that would cure it. We can do radiation treatments and chemotherapy, but there’s no guarantee when it’s this advanced. We’ll do our best to make you as comfortable as possible during what time you have left. Again, and I know it doesn’t count for much, but I truly am very sorry.”

That was it, then. He had died. Of cancer, of all things - the same damned, infernal beast that took his wife from him. He had wasted away in a hospital room until his heart gave out, or his lungs stopped working, or whatever it was that finally did him in. Now, standing before a train door that led to whatever came next, he felt no more anger, no more sadness, not even bitterness or discontent. He simply was, just as the train was - always moving forward, no way to stop, and no way to return to the way things were.

Heaving one final, rattling breath, he threw the door open. Searing white light filled his vision, blinding him, consuming him, and then he was no more. As the light faded to complete and utter darkness, strangely comforting in its simple nothingness, like the abyss he had fled from for so long, one last thing echoed within his mind…

“Congratulations Mrs. Andrews, it’s a boy!”


About the Creator

Taylor Inman

I'm a Computer Engineering major who enjoys reading, writing, fitness, and Crafts, and who occasionally writes stuff that can be published. Most is opinion, some is fact, a good majority is fiction - unless otherwise specified. Enjoy!

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