An interlude in the night.
|The fog was thick at the empty station as the short man stepped off the train. The conductor looked back at the stranger from the safety of the engine, three cars away. He could barely see the man, but he could feel his presence in the fog, and was glad to have him getting off. A shudder had struck him when he punched the man's ticket earlier in the day, and had touched him so profoundly that he had not dared walk back past the man to the caboose. Instead, he had gone forward and climbed over the coal car to the engine, hoping against hope that the stranger would remain in his seat.
As the man stepped into the station, the conductor signaled the engineer to pull out, and walked briskly back to board at the first passenger car. He missed the step the first time, but renewed his effort and caught it the second time. As he stepped up to the door, he stopped and leaned on the rail for a moment, letting the sheer terror he had felt for that instant, thinking he might not get back on the train, drop away before he went into the car.
In the station, the short man looked at the sign posted in the ticket window saying the agent would return in the morning. He reached into his vest and checked his watch. It was only midnight, and the long nights here meant daylight would be at least seven hours away. No matter. If there was one thing he had developed, it was patience. He set his single carpet bag under the bench that faced the ticket office and exited the station on the street side.
Looking out into the fog, he saw the glow that was obviously a saloon less than a hundred feet away. He walked halfway there, his mind reaching into the glow. He stopped and allowed himself to taste the life there. Revelry...of course...it was the start of the New Year, and no one was quite ready to go home. His mind bounced from one person to another, seeking just the right person. And there she was.
Dora was one of the favorites in the saloon, slender and graceful, her blonde hair reached almost to her waist. She had been dancing moments before, and had decided to rest a moment on a chair under the stairs before rejoining the crowd. No one noticed her there as the blank stare on her face gave her the countenance of a doll. She quietly rose and walked carefully to the side door of the saloon. Stepping into the night, she turned towards the station, knowing that it was time for her to go.
She walked past the short man, and he turned to follow her into the station. As she entered, she let her hair down and stepped out of her dress with practiced grace. She sat down on the bench, and the short man sat down beside her. She didn't really understand why she was feeling cold, but she didn't mind. She saw the little man sitting next to her. He had such beautiful eyes, and she felt drawn to him as if some new adventure awaited her in his embrace. He put his arms about her and laid his lips upon hers.
The station master couldn't believe his eyes. The fog hadn't even had a chance to burn away yet, but he wasn't going to stand for someone having him on this way. He cranked the handle furiously on the phone, and asked for the sheriff when the sleepy operator came on the wire. In a few moments, the sheriff was on the line and the station master was nearly howling into the phone about those who would disturb the dead for some dread joke.
When the sheriff arrived, he could only stare in disbelief at the mummified body of a short man sitting on the bench in the station. He looked as if a stiff wind would blow him away in a cloud of dust, and a quiet revulsion washed over the sheriff at the thought. At that moment, the door opened in the station and the ever-pleasant Dora walked in, carrying a carpet bag. She was still in the dress he had seen her in last night, but she had a shawl on this morning, and it seemed she was ready to go.
She asked the station master for a ticket to San Francisco, since it would be stopping in just a few minutes. He made out the ticket for her, and returned to the sheriff and the mysterious corpse in his waiting room. Dora heard the whistle of the train as it slowed to stop. Inside her head, she knew she had become a vessel, but it was alright. She liked the company of whatever this was. She stepped out onto the deck of the station and smiled at the conductor as he took her bag to help her board.