A man walks alone down a quiet street. Stars twinkle overhead. The ground is damp with recent rain and fog is slowly rolling in. His stomach growls and he glances at his watch. The numbers “11:23” blink up at him. He groans and looks for someplace that is still open. He notices an old man putting away his food cart. He quickens his pace to the cart.
“Are you still open?” He asks the owner.
“Yep.” He replies with a big grin, “What would you like?”
“A hot dog please.” The man says with relief, “And a bottle of pop.”
“That will be two fifty.”
The man hands him his food and takes the money. A slight breeze ruffles their clothes. The owner takes note of the man. Deep bags hang underneath his eyes. Worry lines his eyes.
“Something troubling you, sir?”
“Life.” The man says with a chuckle. “Been doing the same thing for twenty years. You know, some days it feels like I am going nowhere fast.”
“Probably not as bad as it sounds but still. Been out of college for two decades and still paying off loans. I got friends expecting their first grandkids and I’m still living alone with a cat. Not doing what I love to do. I mean. My life has got to be more than this, am I right?”
“I know what you mean!” The portly man says with a laugh, “If I had the chance, I would get on the first train out of here. Don’t care where I’m going.”
“Speaking of trains. I have to catch the late train.”
“The late train?” The man says worriedly.
“Yes? Is there something the matter?”
“Yes.” The owner glances back and forth. His brow damp with sweat, “There… there are stories I hear. About people going down there. Seeing strange things. Ghosts. People have disappeared from that station.”
“I’m sure it is just talk.” The man’s patience is running out.
“Have a good night.”
The man turns away. He eats his food and sips his drink. A few minutes travel and he reaches the train station. It is a well lit and fairly clean facility. The man laughs to himself.
“Hello? Any ghosts there?”
His voice echoes through the station. It is then when he notices that there isn’t anyone present. There are not custodians cleaning or ticket sellers waiting. No security or late night passengers waiting. The silence begins to ground on him.
“Hello?” He calls out again.
“Get it together Shane.” He mutters to himself, “Just weird timing.”
He looks up and sees a woman standing in the ticket booth. Greatly relieved, he steps up to the booth. The woman looks at him with strangely blank eyes. The only skin he can see is her hands and her face, both of which have a chalky white tone to it.
“Destination?” She asks.
“Clarksdale, please.” He places the cost of the fair in front of her.
She punches up a ticket and slides it across the countertop.
The man turns away and walks towards the train tracks. He tosses his trash in a nearby trashcan and settles in one of the benches. The silence seems almost physical.
Echoing footsteps causes him to turn his head. A smartly dressed man marches towards the train track. His eyes are full of fire and his steps full of purpose. He comes to a stop near Shane.
“Quiet night, huh?” Shane asks the other man.
“Indeed.” He replies shortly.
“Shane. Shane O’Connally.”
The gives an irritated sigh, “If you do not mind, I wish to be left alone. I had a very trying day and rather not talk.”
Shane hides a grimace and waits for the train to come.
A train whistle shatters the silence, making the man jump. He is surprised to see an ancient steam train pull into the station. It slides to a stop with metallic screeching and a hiss of white fog filling the station.
“What is this? This isn’t the midnight northbound.”
A conductor steps off the train and walks towards them. He is a small, unassuming man. Shane realizes that he is wearing a uniform that belongs in a museum for trains. Except his appears to be brand new.
“Good evening Shane. Joseph.”
The two man glance at each other before turning back to him.
“I know, I know. How do I know your name? Well. I do. Don’t ask how.” He smiles at them, “Both of you have been wanting a chance to just leave. Shane. You want to leave that dead-end call center and live an adventure. Joseph. You’ve been waiting for the chance to quit the law firm and pursue your dreams as an actor. Am I right?”
Shane stares at the small conductor.
“This is ridiculous.” Joseph exclaims, “Who are you and what game are you trying to pull?”
“No game. An opportunity. You might say, your ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity. I can’t promise you success, that you have to work for. But what I offer is the chance to chase it. You don’t like it or it doesn’t work out, you can get a train ride back. What do you say?”
Joseph snorts and takes a seat on the bench, “You are insane. And I will have no part in it.”
“Are you sure Joseph? Wasn’t it just yesterday that you told Mary that you felt like you were dying at your job? This will be your chance to live!”
The man fumes silently, “If you make me late for the proper train, I will sue you.”
The conductor chuckles, “What about you Shane? You want to take a chance? Leave everything behind for to chase your dreams?”
Shane’s mind rushing back and forth. Parts of his mind agree with the lawyer and that this is crazy and too good to be true. But then, what if it is true?The other part yells for him to take the chance.
“Well? What would you do?”