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The Train

By , Cordova, TN
"Don't worry. They can't catch us." David said, leaning back into his seat. Aided by the headlights, he drove their car on the midnight road.

"Are you sure?" Helen asked. Her eyes searched ahead, but they failed to pierce through the darkness. She could scarcely see the trees lining the road, nor what they hid among themselves.

"Well, did you tell anyone?"

"I haven't. No."

"Then don't worry about it." David reached out to squeeze her hand, looking at her. "It will be all right."

Helen looked back at him, nodding and managing a smile. She turned to look back on the road and screamed, "Watch out!"

David's eyes snapped back to the road. A black dog sat in the headlights, facing them. David hit the brakes and veered off to one side, tires screeching. Helen cursed as her head hit the window.

David extended his arm to her. "Shoot, you all–"

Holding her head in pain, she swatted his hand away. "The car!"

"Right, right." Now with both hands on the steering wheel, David tried to regain control of the car. "It won't stop!"

"What? It's gonna flip!"

Just as Helen predicted, the car began flipping onto its side. David cursed as the airbags inflated into their faces. He let his head fall slowly, resting on gravel.

"Helen, you all right?" David asked, breathing heavily.

No response.

"Helen?" David's hand dragged against the gravel before bumping against something.

No response.

David jolted up to look at her. She sat still and limp, arm hanging as if reaching out to him. "Helen?" He whispered. His voice quivered. He touched her hand. "Oh, God. Helen, wake up! Not now..."

Dawn began to creep up on the horizon. He managed to unfasten his seat belt and now tussled with his inflated air bag, keeping his eyes on Helen.

He stood up and held Helen's face in his hands, slapping her lightly. "Helen, wake up. Not now, please, not now."

A bell began to ring regularly meters away. He looked down at his feet, crunching on gravel and bumping against something again. He looked through the windshield at the train tracks.

David shook Helen violently. "Helen, wake up. We have to get out of here." He cursed, searching for her seat belt. David felt the ground begin shaking faintly under his feet.

"Helen, wake up." He unfastened her seat belt and caught her in his arms. "Helen." David's heart thumped in his chest as he looked around the car for a way out.

He looked up at the unobstructed car door, but he wouldn't be able to get there with Helen in his arms. "No, I am not leaving you..." He managed to squeeze into the backseat.

The howling of a locomotive startled David. He looked through the windshield at a train approaching fast. The shaking of the car tested his nerves as he frantically looked for a way out.

He looked one last time at the train before turning to Helen. He sat against the backseat with Helen in his embrace. Then, he squeezed his eyes shut as the train came to a halt in front of the car. Slowly, David opened his eyes and looked up at the train, motionless in front of them. Overjoyed, he let Helen slide into the backseat and stood up.

A man climbed down from the train and walked to the car. "H-Hello, we need help!" David shouted to him, tumbling into the front seat. He relaxed as the man walked to him. As he opened his mouth to speak again, the man turned to walk to the roof of the car. "S-sir?"

David heard a grunt, before the car shook and was flipped back up right. David cursed as he fell into the seat. The car began moving again, being pushed off the tracks by the man. He sat back up and looked back at the man, then at Helen.

Once the car was off the tracks, the man began walking back to the train. Confused, David panicked and beat on the window. "No, sir! Come back! Help, help!"

The man stopped and turned around, seeing David. He walked back to the car, watching David the entire time.

David stopped beating on the window, staring at the man. "H-hello. We need help."

The man looked at David, not saying a word.

"Our car crashed as… you can see." He gestured to Helen in the backseat. "It's just us two. I think she's unconscious. We could really use your help."

Taking notice of Helen, the man walked to her side of the car.

"Hm, are you the conductor of that train?" David pointed back at the train.

The man pulled off the door and picked Helen up. He turned to walk back to the train.

"Woah, be careful. You could have just… never mind." Tentatively, David opened the door and took a step out. He followed the conductor, keeping his distance. "H-hey, I am David. Thanks for the help, man. Are we going on board your train?"

Without responding, the conductor climbed onto the engine and started it. Seeing the train began to leave without him, David ran. "Hey! What about me?!" David saw the conductor walk past him and disappear into the tender, carrying Helen.

David glanced at the rest of the train and saw the passenger cars. "Oh, of course. Silly me." Before the first passenger car passed him by, he caught sight of the conductor emerging from the other end of the tender, still carrying Helen. The train began to speed up. David started to jog then run with it, looking for a chance to get on. He jumped and caught the railing.

David burst into the passenger car. He stopped to catch his breath, taking a seat. He took a look around the vacant car. The seats and walls were pleasantly, and seemingly freshly, painted. For some reason, the windows were boarded up, and instead the car was lit by a lightbulb in the middle of the ceiling.

Feeling well enough, Daniel got up and began to walk to the engine. He stopped, realizing that, with the windows boarded up, he couldn't really tell which way was forward. He looked at the entrance and thought for a while. "That should be the way." He walked through the gangway to the next car, and through the following gangway to the next. He noticed as he walked through the cars that they all looked the same. Finally, he walked past the tender, and entered the engine.

The conductor was alone in the engine, looking out the window with his back to David. "H-hey," David called out to the conductor. He walked to his side, looking out the window. "Where is she?" Green fields passed them by, and the hot and humid wind hit David to his discomfort. "Where is she?" David repeated a little louder, thinking the conductor had not heard him the first time. The wind felt even hotter.

David turned to look at the conductor, back still to him. "Where is she?!" David tried to push him, but he himself was pushed back.

The conductor turned around and looked David in the eye. Their eyes locked momentarily before the conductor shook his head.

David tackled the conductor, but he was effortlessly pushed off, falling onto the floor. "Where is she?!"

The conductor shook his head again, unfazed.

David got up and paused to catch his breath. He looked around the engine, and his eyes fell on a shovel, sitting in a corner. "Where is she?! Tell me!"

The conductor shook his head again. David snatched the shovel and charged at the conductor, raising it to strike. The conductor caught the shovel and held fast to it. David tried to wrest it back but relented.

He looked up at the conductor in defeat. He repeated, almost in a whisper. "Where is she?"

The conductor lifted David up, until the two were eye to eye, face to face. "Gone." He slowly lowered him to the floor.

"No." David fell to his knees and covered his face. He closed his eyes and breathed in. A cool breeze blew against him. He looked back up at the conductor. "Please, give her back to me. I will do anything."

The conductor had his back to him, looking out at the window again. The green fields had been replaced by bare trees and fallen red leaves. Without turning, he shook his head again.

"Please, I will do anything." David pleaded, tears streaming down his face. "Anything."

The conductor shook his head. He turned around and picked up the shovel, holding it to him. "Shovel the coal."

David looked at the conductor, then at the shovel.

"Get up. Shovel the coal."

David got up and took the shovel. The conductor turned around to look back out the window, while David walked to the coal bunker and looked at the coal.

For a moment, everything went black as the train went into a tunnel. David looked in the darkness and thought of the darkness during the car crash, of how Helen hadn't woken up, of how Helen wasn't coming back.

The train finally emerged from the tunnel. David shivered as he looked out into the snowy tundra. He turned around and shoveled the coal into the firebox, watching as the fire surged up ardently. The cold wind bit at him, driven him to the fire. Approaching the firebox and kneeling before it, he let the heat embrace him everlastingly. He moved from his spot only to feed more coal to the firebox.

He covered his face with his hands. "Helen's gone." David muttered to himself. "She's not coming back." He raised his head and looked at his hand, noticing for the first time the film of coal dust covering it. He looked at his filthy clothes, and guessed his face was a similar mess.

"Helen would not have wanted this." David stood up, watching the embers smoldering in the firebox. He stepped into the coal bunker and looked at the coal as if they were to blame. "Helen would not have wanted this." He began shoveling the coal off the train, little by little.

Tired, David stopped and looked around the empty bunker. Nothing of the coal remained but dust.

"You know, I believed you." A familiar voice said behind him. "When you said they couldn't catch us."

He turned around and couldn't believe his eyes. Helen stood before him. "Helen." A smile spread across his face.

"David." Helen smiled back.

David stood dumbfounded, but he then dropped his head in shame. "But, Helen, you–"

"But I still believe in you, David. Despite that" Helen interrupted. "Look to the the engine."

David lifted his face to see the conductor glaring at him. Bellowing, he began stomping to David. David recoiled and looked to where Helen had been, but she was gone.

David jumped off the coal bunker and ran through the tender. He stopped outside the passenger car, standing on the gangway. Turning around clumsily, he hurriedly struck at the coupling connecting the cars with his shovel.

The coupling broke. David watched as the locomotive left without him and the train. He expected to see the conductor at the end of the tender, shaking a fist at him, but there was no one.

David let the shovel fall and walked into the empty passenger car. He pulled a photo of Helen out of his pocket and flopped onto a seat. He looked at the photo, reminiscing his time with her.

David snapped back to reality, startled by ringing beside him. Getting off the bed, he picked up his phone and answered.

"Hello?"

"Hey, are you coming to Helen's funeral?"

David looked at Helen's photo. "Yeah. I am getting ready." He ended the call, eyes still on her. "Yeah, they can't catch us. I won't let them. For you, Helen."





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