The Spirit of the Dead
The large outward grill of a steam-powered train approached Station One. Outside the train the rain fell from the dark sky pelting the apparitions standing impatiently waiting at the station. The train operator stood behind black iron windows. His face covered in soot, the operator pulled the iron lever to his right and the train began to slow. With his left hand, the operator, pulled a wire attached to the whistle above the engine. The whistle bristled tiny hairs upon the operator’s neck and he suddenly disappeared only to return a second later. The train collected the souls of the living from the mortal world to return them to the second world named Serching. Several precious souls were collected and stored within a steel-walled tender car behind the engine. In the center of the car, painted on both sides, was the name of the train ‘Spirit of the Dead’. Behind the tender car were the engineer quarters. Long thick chains tied the engineer to the train. They lengthened to allow him to maintain the train and to protect its cargo. The engineer’s car was black, windows gray from soot. The engineer spent hours sitting alone upon a single wooden chair inside the empty car that was his. Trapped in a world he did not belong and serving a sentence hundreds of years old. The operator pulled the brake again as they came closer to the wooden station. The engineer stared forward and listened while he held onto his chair as it rocked backward. Air forced from the brakes pushed the thick rain soaked air out of the way as the brakes squealed. The whistle blew and the operator faded away for seconds then reappeared.
Dontarious sat quietly far from the engine, the operator and the engineer. His head throbbed as he blinked awake. He had fallen asleep within moments of slipping onto the train. Still uncertain how he managed to slip onto the train. The car he sat in was dark but for the thin bars of light peeking from the wooden planks. The floor of the train car was slick with ethereal goo. Dontarius turned and laid on his back upon the wooden floor of the car. The thin film from the floor covered his face, arm and shoulders. The darkness within the train car pressed upon him as he stared upward at the thin strips of light from the moon. The car rattled loudly as the train fought to slow the procession of cars. A chill danced from the tips of his fingers to the back of his shoulders. The whisper passing through his ears and he turned his head. A man stood at the other end of the car smoking a cigarette. Dontarius sat up. The smoking man jumped.
“You are not supposed to be here,” said the man in a long, drawn out whisper. The sound made Dontarius wince as it knifed through his ears. The man then faded away and reappeared several feet closer. He paused, sucked in from the cigarette and blew it out.
“You don’t belong here,” he said then disappeared again and appeared closer. The train slowed abruptly but the smoking man stood. He floated above the ethereal goo that rushed forward.
“I’m looking for my wife, Mariann.” Dontarius said.
The smoking man choked on a breath and then laughed.
“Is your wife human like you?”
Dontarius studied the smoking man. He could see the slivers of light piercing through the thin membrane that was the man. The smoking man wore a thick brown sweater vest and blue pants. He had no shoes on the feet that hovered over the floor of the car.
“She is not,” the smoking man said then laughed. “You will not find you wife upon this train young man. There are an eternal number of cars and she can be in anyone one of them.”
“Then help me,” pleaded Dontarius.
The smoking man continued as if he didn’t hear. “Your wife may not show herself. Only a few of us show ourselves. We are called the precious ones and collected at some point by the engineer to feed the train on its way.”
Dontarius stood and wobbled as the train slowed to a creep.
“I need to find her.”
“You need to avoid the engineer. He prowls the cars when the train stops. He will find you and kill you. Your soul will be fed to the train.”
The smoking man dropped the cigarette and it disappeared as soon as it left his fingers. Another immediately reappeared.
The train stopped and Dontarius could hear the large car doors opening. The smoking man stood thinking.
“I may have a solution for you but I will let you know it is designed for only me and I am not exactly flesh bound.”
“Please,” begged Dontarius.