Excerpt from my book, ‘Fragments of Fear: Collection‘.
Some of the passengers took the conductor up on his offer of a drink and departed for the dining car. The rest settled back to sleep. The dining car was decorated as ornately as the other cars. Six tables were set, each prepared for four people, and in the corner was a bar made of mahogany that ran half the length of the car. Seven drinks were already set out, one at each barstool. The passengers appeared amazed to find their favorite drinks waiting for them. The eighth passenger sat down at an empty space. She had no desire to drink but had come along for the walk. Indeed, each of the passengers were glad for an excuse to get up and move around a little. The conductor sat quietly in the corner as the passengers enjoyed their drinks and light conversation.
“Come on, man, ask him,” one passenger whispered to the other.
“No way, he gives me the creeps. Whatever secrets he wants to keep he can have as far as I’m concerned.”
The conductor, for his part, seemed content to read from an old, leather-bound book that had no title.
Emily kept a wary eye on him while sipping her ginger ale. Something about him didn’t feel right. The answer was buried in her memory, she knew it, all she had to do was wait. Eventually, she would remember.
The conductor was watching her in the same way. This silent standoff went totally unnoticed by the other passengers.
In the meantime, tongues loosened as the passengers sipped their liquid courage. Pointed questions better kept to themselves were asked.
“So, what’s your story?” a passenger said to the conductor.
“Me?” the conductor asked. “You wouldn’t find my life very interesting.”
“Why not?” he retorted. “Everyone else has told you stories, why don’t you tell us yours?”
The conductor seemed to consider this for a moment.
“Very well,” he said. “But don‘t blame me if you‘re soon bored to death.”
“I think anything is better than sleeping on a train.”
“So be it. I was born long ago, much longer than any of you. My childhood was quite unspectacular, with the exception of a knack for preserving things. Unlike other children who seemed bent on the destruction of everything they see, I wanted to keep things. I suppose that’s when I first started collecting stories. It was the twelfth year of my life when the defining event happened for me,” he said, his gaze drifting off.
“What was that?” the straight-laced woman who couldn’t find her Bible asked, pulling the conductor out his reverie.
“Oh, my pet cat died.”
“That must’ve been horrible,” Emily said.
“You would think so, yes. However, that was not the end of the event,” he said. “I read a book on taxidermy, and used the knowledge to keep my childhood friend with me forever.”
“You stuffed your pet cat?” she asked, repulsed.
“Quite right,” he said. “I continued to develop my skills, practicing on some of the lesser wanted animals around the neighborhood and became quite adept. My efforts were noticed by someone other than law enforcement, and I was offered an apprenticeship in my true calling.”
“No, mortician,” he said with a smile that made everyone in the room feel like calling nine one one. “It turned out that the human form is infinitely easier to work with than animals.”
“Oh yes, I had so much more room to maneuver. Didn’t have to worry about ruining the fur, it was much easier. I was considered to be something of an artist for my profession. I was as happy as I had ever been at that point in my life.”
“If you were so happy, then why did you quit and become a conductor?” the straight-laced woman said.
“Patience, I shall get to that part of the story,” he flashed a mirthless grin. “It turned out that there was another mortician in that town who had been quite prosperous until I began my career. It seemed that his work simply could not match up with mine, and he began to lose business. So, he did the only thing he could do.”
“Find another job?”
“No, sanction my murder,” he said. “You see, this man also had a jealous streak along with a very bad temperament. A dangerous combination you will agree.”
“So, what did you do?”
“That’s correct,” he said. “I had no idea the sanction was active until a certain gentleman arrived on my doorstep.”
“So, a hit man just walked up and rang the doorbell?”
“What did you do?”
“The only thing I could.”
“No, invite him in for tea,” he said. “I must say, you people just don’t have much of a knack for guessing.”
They nervously chuckled, each one probably regretting that they had asked for this story, but now felt so involved that they didn’t want it to end either.
“Like any proper host, I invited him in and we sat down to discuss our dilemma.”
“What is even more unbelievable was the solution,“ he said. “It seems my guest was getting ready to retire and needed to provide a replacement. Seeing the great care I took of the recently departed, he offered the job to me.”
“What about the contract on you?”
“Ah, yes, that was a difficulty. He was sworn to fulfill the contract. This created quite a conundrum for him, but in the end, I provided a solution for him that would suit his needs.”
“So, then you became the assassin?”
“Not quite that dramatic, I prefer to call myself a deliveryman. Whatever is needed, I deliver.”
“Did the mortician ever find out?”
“Oh yes, he was one of my first customers,” he gave a wicked grin.
“So what was the solution you provided?”
The whistle blew its long, mournful note, as the train began to slow.
“Ahh, it appears we have arrived,” the conductor said. “You should all return to your seats. We will be disembarking soon.”