Author's note: All I started with was an image in my mind. An author with writer's block is sitting in a train... Show full author's note »
The Figure in the StationIt was a cold February morning, the kind of day that made you want to crawl back into your bed, turn on a few warm lights, read a book, and forget about the world. The sky was such a cold grey that the color itself seemed to lower the temperature a few degrees. A few tiny snowflakes drifted down, not enough to be a real snow storm, but just enough to make the weathermen doubt their predictions. People sat hunched over against the biting wind, fighting to keep their extremities warm. Even layers of sweaters, scarves, and hats could not make people forget the weather.
Brigit O’Keeffe sat among the passengers on a cold bench, writing in a tiny notebook. At least, she was trying to write. For days now, she had been plagued with writer’s block, and no known remedy had been able to cure it. It was very frustrating for her, the blank page staring up at Brigit, daring her to have an actual idea. She closed her eyes, hoping that something would appear on the page. Sadly, when she opened her eyes, the paper was still as white as the snow surrounding the station. Brigit put the pencil down and snapped the notebook shut. There was no point in continuing with it now. Without an idea, the notebook was just a bunch of white paper bound in pretty leather.
Sighing, Brigit looked up at the empty tracks, wondering when the train would arrive. It was twenty minutes late. The other passengers shifted impatiently, shivering; a strong breeze had suddenly blown up. The smell of coffee and chocolate wafted over from the small café on the platform, and Brigit wrinkled her small nose in distaste. A train pulled into the opposite tracks, thundering down before slowly stopping in front of the small crowd. Steam billowed from the train and people’s mouths, creating a hazy cloud above them. The crowd’s chatter and the noises of the trains were enough to make anyone go deaf.
Brigit closed her eyes again, trying to block out the sound. She had lived in Boston for five years, but Brigit still missed the quiet, rural town in which she grew up. The loud noise still bothered her. For a moment, she seemed slightly sick. Maybe it was the smoke combined with the cold weather, or the noise, because to Brigit, everything suddenly had an almost hazy, dream-like aura. She swayed a bit on the bench, her already light skin pale. Not even realizing it, she wrote a few words in her notebook, not seeing what she was writing.
It was then, in the noise, the steam, and the cold Boston winter, that she saw it.
Or rather, she saw him. A boy, who could not have been more than five years old, was standing hunched over on the platform, next to the tracks. He had uncombed, dirty brown hair falling into his large, dark blue eyes. Not only was he small, but he also looked quite skinny, as if he could do with a few good meals. His clothes looked slightly strange. No logos, words, or pictures adorned his shirt, just a plain green-grey coat and brown pants. It was as if they were homemade, or belonged in another time.
It was not the boy’s strange clothes or his abandoned look that caught Brigit’s eye. No, what she saw was flickering, like a projected image and the light bulb was about to die. In and out of sight he came, sometimes in front of the tracks, and a second later, gone. His movement was stilted, and although he might have been saying something, Brigit could not tell because she only picked up a few sounds before he disappeared again. It reminded her of watching an old black-and-white movie with half the slides missing and nothing to connect them.
Then, the boy was gone altogether.
For a moment, Brigit was stunned. Where had he gone? He could not have disappeared into the crowd; there were not nearly enough people for that. Someone would have said something if he jumped onto the tracks. No puff of smoke, no bang, no nothing. He was just gone.
Brigit shook her head. He must have been a figment of her imagination. She was tired and cold, and she did not feel very good right now. The boy probably stemmed from a combination of these elements and her yearning to cure the writer’s block that plagued her. Well, he’ll be good in a story, Brigit thought to herself. She smiled. Add on a few years and he would make the perfect hero. Not an especially strong or confident one, but he seemed smart, and that fearful look in his eyes could mean something important. The writer in her warmed and her heart did a little skip as she thought of the possibilities. This is it. She could almost see the boy smiling at her, sharing her secret joy.
As Brigit put her pencil to the paper, something made her stop. She looked up again. There he was, standing just where he had left her.
The boy made eye contact with Brigit for a moment. This time, she saw more than fear. She saw someone who had been through things too horrible to describe, and who would go back in fighting.
The boy looked around. Before he could walk off, Brigit impulsively called out, “Hey!”
A few people raised their eyebrows or looked at her in confusion, but she either did not notice them or did not care. Brigit stood and walked over to the boy, pushing through the crowd, seeming intent to finding out what was going on. Usually, Brigit was not this rash. She was an observer, a listener, not an actor. However, this was different. For Brigit, this was too important to just sit back and watch, although she could not say why.
“Hey,” she said again when she reached the boy, sounding a little unsure of herself.
He did not run or call for help, even though a strange woman was talking to him. Instead, he looked up at her with eyes filled with tears. “Where am I?” he asked in a small voice.
“Where…” Brigit repeated, confused. “We’re at the Boston South Station. Where are your parents?”
The boy burst into tears and clung to Brigit as if she were the only thing he had left. Sobs racked his body as his tears streamed onto Brigit’s jacket. Knowing there was nothing else she could do, Brigit just held him tight and let him cry. Even though she had no idea of what was going on, Brigit had to forcefully push back tears. She had to be strong and keep a clear head to deal with this; that was what they had taught her in the foster parent classes, at least.
The crying boy started attracting stares from other passengers, and although Brigit did not really care what they thought about her, she did not want them to make a scene. She gently led the boy over to her bench in the corner of the platform.
The train pulled into the station. Even though Brigit knew it meant she would not get home for at least another hour if she waited, she did not make a move to board the train. The passengers crowded through the doors, the commuter train pulled out, and suddenly the platform was a lot quieter.
The quiet seemed to slow the boy’s tears, and Brigit got in a question. “What’s your name?”
“D-Dustin,” the boy said with a bit of a hiccup. “Dustin Vairam.”
Strange name, Brigit thought. Aloud, she said, “Dustin, I’m Brigit O’Keeffe. I need to know where your parents are.”
He paused for a second, as if he did not understand the question. “I don’t know!” Dustin cried out, which brought another round of tears, although this time it was considerably shorter, and he talked through it. “They... they sent Thia and me away. I don’t know where they are.”
Trying to stop the flowing tears, Brigit quickly asked, “Dustin, how did your parents send you here? Did they put you on a train?” Remembering the way he flickered in and out of sight, Brigit doubted this was the answer, but she could not think of any other possible answer.
His answer was so simple, so honest, that for a moment Brigit believed him. She was about to ask him what exactly he meant, when she realized that this was ridiculous. There was no such thing as magic; Brigit had learned that a long time ago. However, she knew the last thing the boy needed right now was a dose of reality. Slowly, she said, “Dustin, are you sure?” the boy nodded vehemently. “Do…Do you remember what happened? Did you fall asleep, or-”
“No! The bad man broke into our home, and took Thia. Mommy and Daddy told me they would send me to Lucy-Anna…”
“Yeah, that. They were going to send me there with magic and someone would meet me there, but they sent Thia and then they sent me, and I think something went wrong and I don’t think I’m in Louisiana.” A few tears formed in the corner of his eye.
Brigit was torn between going along with Dustin’s explanation and getting to the truth. However, according to him, his parents were missing and his sister was sent to some mysterious place. This was not the time to be worried about child fantasies. “Dustin, I need you to tell me the truth. Not about magic. What really happened to your parents and sister?”
“It was magic!”
Brigit sighed. “What are your parents’ names?”
“I…” He trailed off, and a strange look overcame his face, as if he was trying to remember something. “I don’t remember.” He looked down at his hand. Brigit saw that on his wrist was a woven cord bracelet with a crystal on it. The crystal was clear, but inside there was what appeared to be a tangle of gold, silver, and copper filaments.
“What’s that stone?” Brigit asked.
“I don’t know,” Dustin replied, shaking his head. “It’s important, but I don’t remember why. I don’t know anything.” He clutched Brigit’s arm, and she realized that he was trembling slightly. “Brigit, I’m scared.”
“Don’t worry, Dustin. We’re going to find your parents and your sister. Everything is going to be okay. You can stay with me tonight, and I’ll call the police, and we’ll figure this out.”
Dustin looked like he wanted to protest, but he was too exhausted and distraught to do anything but nod and allow himself to be picked up by Brigit.
Brigit got Dustin some hot chocolate from the little café. When the next train came twenty minutes later, they boarded it, although Dustin seemed to be a bit afraid of the huge train. Then they walked half a mile to Brigit’s home in a small, quiet neighborhood.
Most of the houses there were almost a hundred years old, made of brick, and had a stately elegance to them. It was leaning toward nightfall by now, and the ancient, leafless trees created strange silhouettes against the indigo sky. There was now a light dusting of snow on the ground. It sparkled in the streetlamps, as if fairies had come by and sprinkled glitter in it. Brigit shook her head. Fairies, she thought to herself. Next, it’ll be dragons and mermaids. Get a hold of yourself. Fantasy was for books, and books alone. It did not cross over into the real world. At least, that was what Brigit told herself repeatedly as they walked down the almost-deserted street.
“Is this where you live?” Dustin asked quietly. It was a minute before Brigit realized he had spoken, and was pointing at the house.
“Yes, since I was a child.”
“It’s very pretty,” Dustin commented. Brigit smiled; most of her neighbors complained that it was old, the heating never worked, tree branches were always crashing down from the weight of the snow, and it took forever to get to the city.
“It is pretty, isn’t it?” she replied, thinking that maybe things would turn out all right.
That night, Brigit lay awake thinking to herself what was going to happen. She had to find the boy’s parents. The question was, how? What if Dustin came from the other side of the country, or even another continent? Vairam was not a common name, but if he did not know their first names, it would make things a lot more difficult.
Brigit knew people in child services who could help her, take Dustin off her hands, but Brigit had a feeling that she did not want that to happen. She felt connected to Dustin’s life now, even though she had only known him for a few hours. She wanted to see this out. She would see this out.
Little did Brigit know just how many years it would take. She called child services, but they could not help her find one set of parents in the world; they were already bogged down with abuses and neglects. She tried the police, but since all she had was a last name, no location, no relatives, no information at all really, they said they would try, but it was a long shot. She even considered trying to find the person who was supposed to pick up Dustin in Louisiana, but since he did not know what the person’s name was, Brigit knew it would be impossible. No missing persons notice for Dustin went out either. After a month of searching, the police told Brigit that they would probably never find Dustin’s family. Since he did not know any other relatives, they said that he would likely go into the foster system, for as long as it took his family to find him, or until he turned eighteen.
That was where Brigit came in. When she found Dustin, she had just completed her foster parent training and applications. The day after the police gave up the search, she requested to take care of Dustin for as long as it was necessary.
At first, Dustin seemed a bit out of place in Brigit’s home. Some of the technology she owned, like a microwave, took a while for Dustin to figure out. He had never heard of quite a few famous movie stars. When she first took him to the local elementary school, he seemed a bit unsure of himself, as if he had never been to one before. To make things worse, something seemed wrong with his memory. Every time he started to mention his parents or his past, he got confused and distant. Try as he might to remember, the only thing Dustin knew was his name and a vague memory of a “bad man coming to take him away.”