Excerpt from my book, ‘Fragments of Fear, Collection’.
The passengers had settled in for a long ride. The conversations had died down, and one by one the clickety-clack of the rails lulled them into different levels of unconsciousness. The lights in the passenger car seemed to dim on their own, but no one was alert enough to notice. The conductor stood at the back of the train, leaning on the railing. The wind whipped his steel grey hair as he stared out into the inky blackness.
What he saw, no human eye could tell, but it seemed to please him. He wore a small grin as a raven appeared out of the darkness, caught up with the train, and landed on the rail beside him.
“Hello old friend,” the conductor said to the bird. “How’s your unkindness?”
The raven looked at the man and cocked his head as though pondering the question, then let out a harsh cry.
“Really?” the conductor said. “I’m sorry to hear that, do send her my regards.”
The bird whistled and clicked his beak.
“Me? I’m fine,” he answered less than truthfully.
The bird eyed him dubiously and squawked.
“I never could fool you could I?” he said. “One of ‘them’ is on board.”
The bird hopped to the side and peered into the passenger window, chirping.
“The young woman on the left, third row up,” he said.
The bird quickly chirped out a question.
“I’m going to go about my normal routine, that’s what I’m going to do.”
The bird clicked its disapproval.
“What would you have me do?” the conductor asked. “Accost her in front of the other passengers? Throw her off the train? Neither is going to accomplish our goal.”
The bird croaked out a question that made the conductor wince ever so slightly.
“If it happens again, then it happens again,” he said. “She can’t torment me forever.”
The bird hung its head.
“Your concern is touching, but we have business to attend to, my friend,” the conductor said. “What are the numbers for the day?”
The bird emitted a series of chirps in answer, causing the conductor’s brow to furrow.
“I may have to make an extra trip today,” he said with a sigh of resignation.
The raven let out a long, mournful cry. The man looked at him and smiled.
“I appreciate your sympathy, but I knew what I was getting into when I took the job.”
The bird chirped softly.
“I hadn’t thought about it much,” the man said. “I suppose I could use a holiday, but who would take my place, you?”
The bird flapped its wings wildly, screaming and snapping at him. The conductor fended off the playful attack.
“You’re probably right,” he said, laughing. “You could do a better job than me.”
But the bird was on a roll. He cavorted about the railing, snapping and whistling, beating its feathers against the rail.
“Calm down old friend,” the man said, chuckling. “There’s no need for such language, I was just having a joke with you.”
As the bird settled, suddenly the night air was shattered by a woman’s piercing scream. The bird flew off and the conductor ran inside. When he arrived at the scene, all the passengers were awake, and several were crowding around the young woman. She was pale and shaking.
“What happened?” the conductor asked.
“I had this incredibly vivid nightmare,” she said, staring at him blankly.
“Can you tell me about it?” he said, inching closer.
“Really? Now?” one of the other passengers asked.
“Yes, while it’s still fresh in her mind,” he said with a hungry look on his face.
“I … I’m not sure … ” she said.
“Trust me,” the conductor said, taking her hand. “Nothing and no one can hurt you here.”
The coldness of his hands seemed to calm her as she breathed deeply.
“It started like this … ”