Training For Purgatory
A Ghost Story
Koichi’s dark disheveled hair popped upright off the back of train seat as the chime for the stop sounded. He heard the doors of the train his open. He opened his eyes for a moment as the doors hissed shut again and the train lurched forward towards its next stop. The interior of the train swum for a second as his brain tried to right itself. A little bit of focus returned. He looked down.
Black slacks, white dress shirt, no tie, one fancy tan leather Italian shoe. Where was the other one? And how did he get on this train? He wrinkled his nose in disgust, stale beer and cigarettes. “The bonenkai,” he thought. The small data processing firm he worked for had their annual end of the year party and he’d attended.
The memories were jumbled even though it had only been a few hours before. He had drank a lot of beer and a lot of Sho Chu. Maya, the cute young office worker sat three seats down from him at the low table in the Izakaya. Next to Toba san, the boss’s nephew. Tall, handsome, confident Toba san, funny Toba san, seemingly successful with Maya, Toba san. And there he sat, alone, with just his beer for company, skinny, short, dumpy, thick glasses, a bad comb over, and far too timid to make his move.
He’d gone to the bathroom, drunk and feeling a little queasy. “Maya,” he thought as he peed.
As he left the bathroom he stumbled into the hallway and bumped into Maya as she was heading for the Lady’s Room. There she was sweat cute, Maya smiling up at him. “It is my chance,” he thought. He bent to kiss her. She ducked his kiss and gave him a placid hug instead. “You’re so silly Ko Kun,” she said as brushed past him and entered the Lady’s Room.
He returned to his lonely seat defeated. His flat half empty glass of beer sat in front of him. Toba san, in Maya Chan’s absence, was already flirting with another office lady named Aya Chan. At the head of the table his boss, old man Fujimoto, was trying to rise from his seat to make another toast and speech, his third one that night. He was flanked by two office ladies, one young and one middle aged, that pleaded with him to stay seated. He fought out of their grasp, half rose from his seat, shouted “Bonzai!” before toppling over backwards out cold.
The table emptied as everyone rushed to help him. Koichi saw his chance. He could just leave. His departure would eventually be noticed and that would potentially be fatal to his career, but not as fatal as what he had planned. Maya was gone, so “Fuck it,” he thought as he left the Izakaya.
On his way to the train station he crossed a high bridge over a river. “Fuck it,” he thought again as he reached the center of the bridge.
On the train he shivered in his seat. Where was the heat? Usually, he roasted on winter trains. The slow clack and chug of the train lulled him into a drowsy half sleep. He tried to focus on the passing scenery, trying to stay alert enough so as not to miss his stop. Outside only the darkness flashed by as if the train was in a long tunnel. “Strange,” he thought.
Only three other passengers were on the train. Across from him sat a high school girl, asleep, with her head down nearly on her lap with her long black hair hanging down completely obscuring her face. To his right sat a middle aged man with a punch perm, pock-marked face, and dark shades. A cigarette smoldered in his left hand. In the next car he could see a monk sitting on the seat counting the beads on his mala. He watched the monk suddenly look up, lean his head back, and roar with laughter, though he couldn’t actually hear him over the noise of the train.
The train slowed and then stopped at a station. Koichi watched the doors hiss open. He tried to make out the name of the station, but the platform was blanketed in a thick gray swirling fog. He tried to stand to exit the train, but he couldn’t move. From the fog a figure emerged. He watched a middle aged salary man stumble on to the train and sit across from the punch perm guy. The salary man’s head was cocked severely to the right. Koichi could just make out angry red splotches all along the salary man’s neck. “Bad skin, eczema maybe,” he thought.
He tried again to stand. It was like pushing against water, no resistance, no movement. “The the hell?” he yelled.
The punch perm guy slowly turned to face him. Koichi could clearly see the bullet hole in Punch Perm’s forehead just above his shades.
“It’s not your time yet,” Punch Perm said.
The train doors hissed closed and the train rattled away from the station. Terrified now, Koichi looked around wildly hoping for an answer, hoping for a way out. He could see the monk laughing again. Then the monk’s mala became a blur as he counted far faster than any human’s hands could possibly move.
Koichi sat back in his seat and closed his eyes. “This is a bad dream. I’m passed out on the train and I’m having a terrible dream,” he told himself over and over.
Suddenly the train jolted to a stop. Kochi’s eyes rapidly opened. He was staring at the high school girl. He could hear the monk chanting a long sutra. The train doors hissed open and a bright white light shone in through the doors. The school girl rose from her seat and walked off the train into the light. Koichi just caught a glance as her left wrist as she disappeared off the train. The deep bloody gash shook him to his core. “Oh no, the bridge,” he thought.
As the doors to the train closed and the train pulled away from the station he could just make out the monk’s sutra change into maniacal laughter.
About the Creator
Steve B Howard
Steve Howard's self-published collection of short stories Satori in the Slip Stream, Something Gaijin This Way Comes, and others were released in 2018. His poetry collection Diet of a Piss Poor Poet was released in 2019.
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