by Professor Q
Writer's Cramp Winner for April 11-12, 2011.
|I had never seen a train so clean, so white and pure as the vessel that now sped forward at nearly 110 mph, hovering just slightly above the shining silver track below. There wasn't a speck of dirt anywhere in sight, no graffiti tags claiming this car for one of the many gangs that roamed the city, and, perhaps best of all, a veritable sea of seats waited for passengers to fill them. Any time I'd braved the train before, I'd barely squeezed myself in, feeling more like a herring than a human being, but this time I had more than enough room to myself.
It was hard to see the land that passed us by, so I focused on the shapes in the distance. There wasn't much to see, really, unless the crags and shifting sands of the desert appealed to one's aesthetic tastes. It was unbearably hot out there, as it had been for weeks, summer skipping in front of spring this year. People--those souls careless enough to not take care--had actually died from heat exhaustion.
"Bit warm, isn't it?" The voice came out of nowhere, breaking into what I'd just realized was near silence. Funny, the train didn't seem to be making any noise at all. When had the city invested in such technology?
"It is," I replied, turning away from the window to look up at the stranger who'd interrupted my reverie. He was tall and large; not fat, no, but simply large, with a deep barrel chest and skin browned by years he'd evidently spent in the sun. Brown eyes shone out from under white brows, which matched his bushy beard. How could he stand to wear that thing in the heat? His only remedy seemed to be that he was dressed from head to toe in colors circling white, and wore sandals.
“Mind if I sit with you, miss? There aren’t many people on the train today and I do so like to speak to people.” At my shrug, he settled his bulk down onto the chair beside me. At first glance, I’d thought there was no way he’d fit so comfortably, but I guess the seats were even bigger than I thought, because there was more than enough room for both of us. “What’s your name, young lady?”
“Mary,” I replied, holding my hand out for the man to shake. His hands were warm, but he really needed to make use of some ointments, or get a manicure at least.
“You can call me Simon, but most everyone calls me Pete. It’s a long story that one, from way before you were born.” Pete settled back into the chair, sighing. “Mary, though, that is a really strong name. Lots of history in a name like that. Lots of good women named Mary.”
I shrugged. “Lots of crazy ones, too. What about Mary Tudor? Or Mary Surratt?”
Pete chuckled, folding his hands together over his beer belly. “You believe Mary Surratt to be guilty of plotting against Lincoln, then, hmm? I believe she was judged harshly because of the company she kept. As for Mary Tudor…she was ill used. And had insanity in her family. I daresay it would have been difficult for her not to go a little off her rocker.”
“You certainly seem to know a lot about history, Pete.” I turned to face him more properly now. As I did so, I realized that my clothing looked very similar to his, with only a feminine twist to mark the difference. Odd, that. I didn’t remember getting dressed in such clothing this morning when I was headed out to the train station.
“I know the history of every living being. Call it an occupational hazard, if you will.”
I blinked, not understanding what Pete meant by his statement. “Are you a librarian, or something, Pete?”
“Something of the sort, I suppose. I do take care of some very important books.” Pete stopped and looked over at me, the look in his eyes suddenly unfathomable. “Would you like to see one?”
Though the question took me off guard, I was suddenly filled with such a curiosity that I couldn’t help but nod yes. Pete reached into a bag that I hadn’t noticed before and pulled out a book bigger than anything I’d ever seen. It was as big as a coffee table book, and as thick as a hand-written copy of the complete works of Shakespeare printed for those with bad eyesight. “Open it,” he said, handing it to me.
With the reverence that most might give to a solid gold statue, I opened the front cover and stared at… “But that’s me. How do you have a book about me?” Suddenly I realized that we were alone on the train. Was he some sort of serial killer out to get me? My heart pounded in my chest.
“Read the last page, Mary, and you’ll see what I mean.”
I turned to the last page. “Cause of death…heat exhaustion. Date of death…but…”
“You died on the way to the train station. Collapsed.” Pete took the book back and it disappeared in a puff of dust. “I came to get you.”
“Pete…” I came to a realization. “St. Peter!” Pete nodded.
“I am, indeed, that self-same individual. Apparently, your psyche felt that a train would be the most appropriate vessel for your journey to the afterlife. I must say, it’s one of the more comfortable ones. You wouldn’t believe the kinds of journeys I’ve been forced to take. One person ran the Iditarod.” Peter chuckled. “I suppose it’s a little bit of a shock to find out you’re dead, but that’s why we all have the journey to the Gates. Gives me a chance to talk to everyone. But we should just about be at your stop.” Indeed, the train was slowing down as he spoke.
“Welcome to Heaven, young lady. The weather should be a lot better here.”
Word Count: 1000