Join the authors of Wild Child publishing and Freya’s Bower as we Take an Autumn Train Ride through our blogs.
Prizes will include
- Four $50 gift certificates (two for Wild Child and two for Freya's Bower)
- An awesome swag package that includes:
- Wild Child T-shirt and mug
- Wild Child and Freya's Bower bags
- Four handmade, crochet coasters by Kit Wylde
- An autographed copy of Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
- A rare DVD copy of the Matheson/Furst classic "Up The Creek" (lovingly used)
- One ebook copy of Nita Wick’s short story, The Dream (previously published as part of a Freya’s Bower anthology.)
- Book trading cards
- Signed Dangerous Waters poster
- copy of "Battle for Blood: The Blood Feud"
- the winner’s name as a character in Kissa Starling’s next sweet romance story.
- A Yankee Candle
- and more...
Danny glanced up as he heard the voice of the middle-aged man who was several seats in front of him.
“This is sheer hell! What a primitive way to travel!” The man hoisted his suitcase to the rack above his head. He smoothed the thinning hair over his bald spot before he sat down.
A voice at Danny’s elbow said, “If it weren’t for the trains, our friend would be stuck in a fogged-in airport.”
Danny turned to survey his seatmate, a man with a long mournful face. Or perhaps the cap he wore with the ear flaps pulled down gave him the appearance of a basset hound: the large brown eyes could and did twinkle. Danny gave a slight smile, then pretended to be fascinated with the luggage being loaded onto the train from the platform. When the train began moving he could legitimately feign sleep; after all, it was 4:30 a.m.
“This is an ungodly hour of the morning to catch a train, isn’t it?” said his seatmate. “Where you headed?”
Danny resigned himself to conversation. “Eventually Kansas City. I’m meeting my wife and son in St. Louis, and we’re going on together from there.” Danny forced himself to ask the obligatory question in return: “Where are you going?”
“To the end of the line.”
Just then the train lurched several times in its fashion preliminary to actual departure. Escaping steam hissed outside. Danny heard the muted, “’Board!” from the conductor on the steps. The train began to glide now, slowly gathering momentum until it settled into its steady, rhythmic, almost hypnotic speed.
Danny leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes until the conductor came along punching tickets. Danny handed his ticket over and asked, without much hope, “Any chance of making that morning B&O from Cincinnati to St. Louis?”
“ ’Fraid not,” said the conductor, shaking his head. “Your best bet is to change your ticket to the New York Central and go to St. Louis by way of Indianapolis. Otherwise, you have to wait for the midnight B&O.”
Danny watched as his seatmate handed his ticket over, a bulging packet with numerous transfers stapled to it.
“You must ride the trains a lot.”
“Oh, all the time.”
“Tell me. Is it always this bad? I mean the crowds and running behind and all.”
“Oh, no. Most of the time I have a seat to myself. It’s only a combination of the Christmas season and this storm over the Midwest that’s grounded all the planes.”
They were interrupted by a loud voice ahead.
“Where else do you know where you have to ride backwards? Do airplanes have their seats turned around? Or Greyhound?” The middle-aged man who objected to rail travel impeded the conductor’s progress down the aisle with an impassioned diatribe.
“Some of these cars haven’t seen service since World War II. You can’t even get a pillow, for God’s sake. The cars are overheated. The water pipes are frozen….”
Danny’s seatmate said to him, “I think we could help our friend turn his seat around, don’t you?”
Danny rose slowly to join his seatmate in the aisle. With the help of the conductor, they turned his double seat so The Complainer, as Danny dubbed him, could ride facing forward. With a grudging, “Thanks,” the man sat down and disappeared into his paper.
“I hate to tell him, but the C&O is state of the art. Wait until he rides on a real cowcatcher.”
Danny resettled himself in his seat next to the window. He had no exact idea of where he was. Somewhere in southeastern Kentucky. The train supposedly followed the course of the Big Sandy River until it merged with the Ohio, but it was so pitch black out there owing to the time of year and hour of the morning, nothing was visible. Occasionally they passed through a small town vaguely discernible from the glow of streetlights. Danny must have dozed awhile for the next thing he knew the overhead lights came on: the C&O arbitrarily decided what time everyone should awaken. Danny abandoned hope of sleep forever. It wouldn’t have mattered what time the lights came on anyway; the commuters had boarded.
“Where are we?” Danny asked his seatmate.
“Some town in northern Kentucky. Catlettsburg. We should follow the Ohio River the rest of the way now.”
Danny looked out the window. It was beginning to be lighter. Danny could discern no difference between this town and some of the other coal towns he had passed through yesterday. They all looked alike: the same lay-out, the same strands of Christmas lights draped across the streets. The greenery festooning the light poles had faded to brown, and the town took on an eerie quality viewed through the opaqueness of frost on the glass. All of these little towns seemed to be overlaid with a thin layer of coal dust.
Danny turned to watch the garrulous group of commuters as they exchanged comments across the aisle.
“They’ve each had their shave and cup of coffee,” said Danny’s seatmate.
“Coffee sounds good to me,” said Danny. He stepped around his seatmate and started back to the dining car. He hesitated. “You coming?”
His seatmate stretched out his legs in front of him. “No, I don’t think you’re going to have much luck.”
Danny found this to be true. Sixteen cars later, after being blasted by cold air between cars, overwhelmed with cloying heat in each succeeding car, jostled by passengers in the aisles, and jolted by the lurching train, Danny arrived at the dining car only to find a long line awaiting seats. Discouraged, he made the long trek back.
The train finally arrived in Cincinnati only two hours late. Danny struggled into his overcoat and hat, grabbed his suitcase and briefcase, and hurried through the swirling snowflakes to the terminal.
“Good-bye!” shouted his seatmate from the steps of the train.
Danny turned around. “Oh. Yes. Good-bye,” he said vaguely. He proceeded on his way again. He decided to check his suitcase, which was a mistake; by the time he reached the coffee shop, every stool was occupied. He had to pick someone to stand behind and wait until he was through. Just his luck the guy he picked had ordered steak and eggs.
“Hope you’re lined with asbestos,” the man said as he left. “The coffee’s hot as hell.”
His listless waitress had either just come on duty or was coming off a twelve hour shift. The eggs were greasy and overcooked, the bacon was underdone, and the coffee was more than hot: it was scorched. Danny choked it down, wondering if perhaps it would have been better not to eat at all.
After he finished, he wished he had lingered longer. He now had six hours to kill before the NYC left for Indianapolis, assuming it left on time. The six hours seemed like an eternity to Danny. There were only so many ways to pass the time in a train station, and Danny did them all. He tried washing up in the men’s room, which was none to clean by his standards. The water came out in a trickle. Danny held the faucet on with one hand while he splashed water on himself with the other. When he discovered the restrooms had pay toilets, he hiked the length of the station to change a five. He visited the barber shop in the station and felt better for a shave. He had a shoeshine he didn’t need and then felt grumpy because he was a captive audience for the shoeshine man’s life story. He tried to take a nap on one of the wooden benches. The droning station master’s voice announcing train arrivals and departures prohibited sleep.
Danny refused to resort to pacing up and down and counting the tiles in the floor. He sat unobtrusively on a bench watching people as they passed back and forth.
“Well, well. Look who’s here,” said a familiar voice. Danny looked up to see his seatmate from the C&O.
Danny roused himself. “Have you been here all day? I haven’t seen you.”
“I’m an old hand, remember? I got a room in the Terminal Hotel and slept all day.”
A thud on Danny’s other side announced the arrival of another traveler. The Complainer deposited two suitcases and dropped onto the bench with a sigh.
“Why don’t you check them through?” Danny asked.
“Are you kidding? And let the railroad send them to Kalamazoo?” He fished in his pocket, took out a cigar, peeled off the cellophane, and lit it with a furious puffing of smoke.
“Look at that poor G.I. over there,” said his seatmate. “Bet he spends most of his leave trying to get home.” He turned as a tired-looking young woman sat on the opposite bench. She seated a child of perhaps three next to her and clasped a baby in one arm and a bulging diaper bag in the other. Danny’s seatmate arose and helped her situate herself. She glanced gratefully at him.
“Thank you. It’s been such a nightmarish trip.”
“I can’t think of anything worse than travelling in this weather with two little ones,” said the man.
“I have to. My mother’s…very ill. I’ve already missed two connections. Susan’s caught a cold, and I’m out of diapers for the baby.”
The man gently took the baby from her. “I’ll hold him for awhile. You stretch out on the bench and try to rest.”
The young woman offered token resistance, then obeyed. The baby fretted a bit. The three-year-old whined that she was cold. The man deftly fished in the side pocket of the diaper bag and lifted out a sweater which he draped around the little girl.
The Complainer chomped on his cigar, picked up his suitcases, muttered, “Squawling brats!” and departed.
The man hoisted the baby to his shoulder and patted him, gazing steadily at Danny while he did so.
Danny’s eyes faltered. He stood up slowly, mumbled, “Excuse me,” and left. He walked to the main entrance of the terminal. Danny turned up his coat collar against the icy blast that almost sent him flying against the door. Flakes of snow stung his eyelids and nose. The slush in the streets had already blackened from traffic.
Danny stepped to the curb. “Taxi!”
Once in the cab, Danny huddled in the corner, his hands pressed between his knees for warmth. When they came to a business district, Danny said to the driver, “Stop here and wait.” He wasn’t gone long. When he re-entered the cab, he said, “Back to the station.”
When he returned to the station, wet snow dripped from the brim of his hat. He made his way to the bench he had vacated a half hour earlier.
The man still held the baby. He held his finger to his lips and said, “Shhh,” as Danny approached. The young woman lay curled on the bench sound asleep. The three-year-old sat next to the man and rested her head against his sleeve, her thumb in her mouth.
Danny deposited a package.
“Diapers,” he said.
A smile started at the corners of the man’s mouth and gradually spread until it suffused his face.
“Good for you!”
At last Danny found himself standing in line at the gate to the NYC. An invisible signal had gone through the crowd seated on the benches flanking the gate that told them boarding was imminent. Danny looked intently at the faces of weary, resigned passengers. So might the faces of Auschwitz have looked, he thought.
Danny’s turn came. The conductor took his ticket, glanced at it, peered at Danny over the top of his glasses, and stamped it.
Danny took his ticket and re-hoisted his bags. He stopped midway through the tunnel leading down to the tracks to adjust the strap on his suitcase. His glance fell on the red stamp on his ticket under destination: Nowhere. Danny raised a shaking hand to his brow and dashed away the beads of sweat forming there in spite of the bitter cold. He looked up blankly to see the man standing beside him, looking at him intently, a little quizzically.
“I see,” said Danny. “We’re dead, aren’t we?”
The man nodded his head slowly and then gripped Danny by the elbow. “It’s all right, Danny. You’re going to be all right…eventually.”
Someone brushed past them in the tunnel. The Complainer, heedless of his swinging suitcases hitting others, still chomping on his cigar, hurried on looking straight ahead.
“Do you think we ought to tell him?” Danny asked.
“No. He’ll find out for himself soon enough. Poor devil.”Take the Blog Train and Visit These Blogs for more chances to win