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The Train Home

by Chris Smith 10 months ago in Short Story
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The sweet surprise at home.

The Train Home
Photo by Charles Forerunner on Unsplash

I’d been away for a business trip for the last several weeks. First San Diego, then Phoenix, up to Vegas, a brief stop in Boise, and finally back home to Bay City. Even though I’d be going home to an empty home, I was excited to be home. It was my last trip for work and now I’d finally get to settle in and really focus on things that mattered to me in the business. I’d be able to drawback to when I had started nearly seventeen years ago. For the uninitiated, this meant I was getting the promotion that, in my opinion, was long overdue. And I’d get that office with a view overlooking the ocean.

I grew up in the middle of the country where I’d have to drive for days in any direction to see an ocean. So when I saw the job posting all those years back, I leaped at the opportunity to move out here. My family certainly didn't approve of it at first. But after their first visit out here, they found it easy to see why I love it.

The train ride from the airport to the station near my house was a relatively quick one, but long enough for me to stare out the window admiring the waves crashing against the rocks and watching the families enjoy their summer day off at the beach. I’d dreamed occasionally of what it’d be like to have kids of my own one day. But then I remembered how much my lifestyle I would have to change and, call me selfish or not, I wasn’t willing to change just yet. One day, maybe.

Once I could get to my house, I had 10 days of vacation to sink into. I had ordered a few good books while I was away, and I planned to slather myself in sun lotion and sit on the beach with those books in my bag.

DIIIIIING!

That was my stop! The train started slowing down as we approached the station. I gathered my bags and started side-stepping over towards the door. With every step closer to my house I grew in anticipation. I had never had such a long vacation. I didn’t know what to fully plan other than catching up on those books, but I felt like Bay City had a lot to offer that even now I haven’t explored in the almost two decades that I’ve lived here.

The walk from the train station wasn’t that long. Rather than pay the parking, I just decided to march through the sidewalks and right on up to my front door. The mailbox was overflowing with letters and junk mail that I’ll probably just toss in the garbage before even reading. Thankfully the delivery drivers hid the few packages I had ordered. I suspect most will be the books that were purchased along my journey. I shuffled everything inside, slammed the door behind me, kicked my shoes off, and jumped over the back of the couch. I looked up at the ceiling and the sun rays shining in and I could see the dust settling in the air above.

I was exhausted!

My stomach growled and reminded me that I hadn’t eaten anything since before I boarded my flight home this morning. I sat up from my couch and looked over at the kitchen where the sunlight was shining brightly on the counter where a curious-looking package wrapped in brown paper rested. It was as if the angels were shouting at me to tear apart this box.

There was one problem - I didn’t order anything like that, nor did I bring this in. It’s been a few weeks since I had been home, but it was not there when I left. I locked all of the doors behind me and the house was nearly empty like I was moving out. So how exactly did a package get inside?

I got up and walked near the counter to examine the box closer. Its brown paper wrapping looked old. The fibers from the paper were starting to peel slightly. On the top corner, there was no postage, no return address, nothing but a small notation that read: “Thank you, Marcel”

My name isn’t Marcel, nor was the previous owner of the home. I don’t know any Marcel. So to recount, I’ve been gone for six weeks, had no family nearby for hundreds of miles, and all of my friends were either aware of my trip or had been on the work trip with me.

How the hell did this box get inside? I ran around to all of the doors and windows frantically looking to ensure I had locked everything. Sure enough, every bolt and knob was locked in the correct position. All of them had dust on the sills indicating that even my cleaner had not been here in quite some time.

I was stunned. Unsure if I should even open this box or open the door and throw it outside. What if it was a bomb? Like the ones you see in the movies where any sudden movement would cause it to trigger? Or a package with a pressure switch and if I pick it up it’ll release a toxic gas right into my face.

I was clearly overreacting. I must’ve forgotten that I put it here in my rush of leaving last month. I just can’t remember a single thing about this box. And, who is Marcel?

I couldn’t shake this eerie feeling about this whole situation. So I did what I felt was the most reasonable thing. I called my friend Frank. Frank is a retired State Police officer. He served two tours of duty in the Middle East and is the toughest person I know. He was also itching for a mystery. So I figured with my exhaustion, and his eagerness, we’d solve this.

Frank lived nearby, but it felt like he sped over here. He walked right in without knocking. He slammed his hands on the counter and got eye level with the package. He grunted, hummed, and hawed. Then with a swoop, he stood back and turned his gaze to me.

“We should open it,” Frank said in a low hum.

He grabbed a knife from the block next to the stove and before I could even stop him, he cut the tape on the side of the package and we both stood back and closed our eyes. Nothing happened. Frank was quick to cut the tape on the other side of the package. As he did, the paper wrapping split in half and opened from the center. As it opened, a match struck the paper from the inside and in one synchronous motion, it lit a sparkly candle on the top of what looked like the most decadent chocolate cake. The waves in the chocolate frosting reminded me of the crashing water down at the beach. Frank and I looked at each other, still in a little awe.

All of this fuss over a chocolate cake. But the question remains, how did it get here? It looked fresh. Still creamy, still moist, not dry in any respect. He took the knife and slid it directly down the center exposing the gooey chocolate center that made our mouths water. I still hadn’t eaten since the morning, and Frank stared at this cake as if he had just opened a treasure chest filled with gold.

I grabbed two plates from the cupboard and slid one over to Frank. He had already started eating his slice with his hands, I cut a perfectly sized slice and dropped it on my plate. I grabbed a fork from the drawer and took my first bite.

It was pure bliss.

We didn’t say a word to each other as we devoured our first slice of chocolate cake. Before I could put my fork down, Frank dropped another slice on my plate and I simply continued eating. This was not only the most perfectly moist cake I’ve ever had, but the taste was beyond measurable.

“If I could define the taste of this cake,” Frank said between bites, “ it would be simply perfection.”

I agreed through some mumbles as I grabbed another slice of cake. Before I knew it, we had gotten through this entire cake together. Looking satisfied and maybe a little disgusted with ourselves for having eaten so much confection, I took the plate that the cake was resting on over to the sink to wash it off. As the warm water passed over it, some of the remaining chocolate melted a little more revealing a hidden message written on the plate. I couldn’t make out all of the words at first. I sprayed the water and wiped it with my rag revealing the message in its entirety.

IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP. It read.

“What?” I asked with a confused expression on my face.

I turned towards Frank on the other slide of the kitchen and as I did, I felt a jolt forward. My whole body was flung towards the kitchen island. I looked around the kitchen and as I, everything started to dissolve and fade into the train that I had ridden in earlier.

I was still sitting in my seat with my head resting against the window.

“Sir, it’s time to wake up.” the station agent said as he poked me in the shoulder.

I looked around confused. The train was empty except for me and the agent.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“It’s about 3:30 sir. You fell asleep about an hour ago, some of the passengers told me. I let you sleep as long as I could, it looked like you could use some shut-eye.” he responded. “But we’ve got to close up the train so I’ll need you to kindly get up.”

I grabbed my bags and jacket and got up. The agent helped me get all of the bags off the train and he closed the door behind him. I yawned and stretched but made my way towards the sidewalk. I couldn’t take my eyes off the ocean as I walked home. It was calmer than I remembered. Before I knew it, I was approaching my house.

The bushes could use a little trimming. And I could see the mail piled up at the doorstep, wondering if any of them were wrapped in the same brown wrapping paper. I had dreamed of that entire cake. Was I really that hungry? I must have been.

I shuffled everything in the door, locked it behind me, climbed over the back of the couch, and pulled a blanket over my entire body. Exhaustion had truly set in.

In a sudden panic, however, I peeked my head out from under the blanket and looked into the kitchen, just to make sure there wasn’t a random cake in there. Thankfully for my sanity, there was not. There was, however, a newspaper on the counter.

I got up to make a quick bite to eat in the kitchen. As I passed the newspaper I saw one of the headlines at the top of the page reading: “Thank you, Marcel! 50 Years of Service!”

I laughed to myself. Had I read that before I left for this work trip? Was it a coincidence? Marcel worked down at the body shop nearby. I had run past his retirement party before I left for this trip. Funny how our minds work.

I looked in my freezer to see what food I had leftover - not much it seemed. But cake did sound mighty delicious right about now.

Short Story

About the author

Chris Smith

Born in Northeastern Pennsylvania, now residing in Michigan with my girlfriend and two pups. Raised on a steady diet of science fiction, fantasy, and comedy with an affinity for any story that’ll allow my mind to wander.

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