Excerpt from my book, ‘Fragments of Fear, Collection‘
Billows of steam rose from the iron giant like breath from the nostrils of a war horse, chomping at the bit on a cold battlefield. The steam encompassed the great beast in a surreal mist, as though protecting it from the ravages of time. The station was deserted as if no one wanted to approach the beast for fear it would rouse in wrath. Slowly a shadow formed. At first, they seem bonded, mist and shadow. Then the darkness drifted closer and coalesced into the shape of a man. A trick of the light, I never knew, but he seemed to be wearing a hooded cloak, dark as midnight. As he drew near, I saw it was merely a hat and uniform.
He walked slowly, gazing at this great mechanized monster as lovingly as a rider checks his faithful steed before a long journey. His gaze seemed to pierce even metal, looking for any blemish, any imperfection. This slow, methodical inspection continued over the length of the train’s passenger, dining, and sleeper cars, ending where it began, at the engine. He mounted the steps, heading for the control room. The dials and instruments were subjected to his scrutiny. Finally, his gaze settled on the fire box. His eyes seem to glow as the intense heat turned his sunken cheeks from white to orange. His normally impassive face gave way to the slightest of grins.
The conductor greeted the passengers as they arrived, helped them aboard until all were accounted for … save one.
The whistle sounded its final warning.
The iron behemoth belched smoke as it muscled its load away from the station.
The journey had begun …
The train moved steadily down the tracks. Its swaying and clickety-clack sound had lulled many a passenger to sleep, but not the conductor. He sat in a comfortable chair, eyes closed, but not asleep. To look at him, you would not know how he did his job at all. To call him ancient would be an understatement. His steel gray hair, thin white face, and emaciated body made him look as though he belonged in a pine box rather than collecting tolls on a train that was nearly a quarter mile long. Suddenly, his eyes snapped open and stared at the antique wall clock, just as it struck midnight. He rose quickly, put on his conductor’s cap, and left the room.
The conductor stepped through the door into the passenger car. It was richly decorated with beautiful dark red carpet, which perfectly offset the golden fringes and accents of the room. The seats were designed in classic style, two seats faced each other, with a small table in between. Outside, darkness had fallen like a blanket, covering the countryside in its embrace. Most of the passengers quickly grew tired of staring out into the inky black abyss. Conversations had been consummated between strangers and had given birth to stories, lovingly shared. The conductor silently glided up behind the first passenger and paused as the man began to weave a tale …
This story continues in The Journey: Chapter 2.