Depot Phantom

I attended another Howl at the Moon open mic this week and shared a couple of tales. The first one was the result of a challenge to write a flash fiction piece with a train station. Here it is:

Carli’s Last Gift

Carli was gone.

Twenty four years old, degree in hand, beautiful, and ready to start a new job. She pulled out when the light turned green, a thirty-something drunk fumbled his cellphone, and now she’s gone.

Or maybe not. I still catch glimpses of her reflected in the bathroom steam and speckled mirror in our favorite Italian restaurant. I tell myself she’s just waiting.

The early morning fog enshrouds the commuter train platform and is just one more screen for my mind to project her image.

What a lovely ghost she makes.

Wait a minute. She’s not smiling. She looks scared as she gestures for me to follow. Perhaps I really am losing it, but I let her lead me to the end of the platform. She’s rushing towards the curve where the train is due. Stumbling on the loose roadbed, I hurry after the apparition.

As I lose sight of the station, I can hear a train horn approaching a distant crossing and feel a soft rumble on the track.

She stops and points to another figure, sitting cross-legged between the rails.

This pale young woman is barefoot, wearing jeans and a black hoodie. Dishwater blonde hair strands are blowing around the edges of the hood.

“Miss? Are you hurt? Can I…”

“Go way.” Her voice cracks.

I keep my voice soft. “You need to move. The train is coming.”

She looks up and I see tear-tracks marring gaunt features. “Go away I said. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.”

I look up and see Carli standing to the side. She glances towards the rumbling diesel sound, then back at me. She looks worried.

I kneel on the rough cross tie between the rails and place my hands on the woman’s shoulders.

“Please don’t do this. It can’t be that bad.”

“What do you know? He’s gone. He just wanted to stop feeling guilty. That’s all. He didn’t mean to hit that girl. He just dropped his phone.” She shakes her head. “I knew he shouldn’t have been driving. But we argued and I told him to go. I was trying to call and apologize but couldn’t get through.”

It suddenly dawns on me who she’s talking about. “What did he do?”

Her voice is almost too soft to hear over the approaching engine sounds. “They released him on bond and last night, he walked down to the bridge… and jumped.”

My heart is beating hard as I shake her gently. “Believe me. I know your pain. The woman in the other car was my wife. But there is no reason to continue this circle of loss. Please. Please don’t do this!”

She is outlined by the engine’s harsh yellow light and there is no more time to waste. I step to the side, grab her under her arms, and push off the rail with all my strength.

We both scream as we tumble over the rough gravel and down to the muddy ditch. The commuter train roars past in a blast of hot air.

I lean back on my elbows, gasping to catch my breath.

“Why?” Her voice is cracking with rage and pain.

“Because your death won’t bring either one of them back. And besides, I used to work for the railroad. I’ve seen how bad the engineers feel when their train kills someone. I have a better idea.”

“What’s that?”

“Let’s get cleaned up and have breakfast. You can tell me all about him and I’ll tell you all about Carli.”

I can see the conflicting emotions on her face, but after a few seconds she takes a deep breath and nods. “Okay.”

The train has disappeared around the corner and is stopping for the rest of the city-bound passengers. The last wisps of fog are gathering between the trees and I see Carli smile and wave good bye.

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