Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Horror at the Train Station (or Why When Packing for the Apocalypse One Should Always Bring Along a Leatherman)

My Tuesday evenings the past few weeks have been spent at a train station in a not so big New England town.  This has to do with a job, which I love, that I commute to once a week via combination of rail and road.  I take the morning train (la la da da da da…and then...) to this same station where I meet my ride and about 40 minutes later we arrive at work.  The process is repeated in reverse in the afternoon except that when I am dropped off the next train does not arrive for about two hours.   So I wait.

Now really I don’t mind the wait.  I really do love the job and the rest of the week I work from home.  The station is air conditioned so it is a nice break from the heat of summer.  In addition I do make good use of the time.  Since I don’t usually see another human being during most of my wait I am free to write, crochet, wander, watch birds, play the riqq, or dance to random tunes on my iPod.  At least one other Spinster Jane post has been penned while I was waiting for the northbound train and I’m sure I’ve provided some interesting entertainment to whoever might be watching the security cameras in this unmanned station. 

My waits have been fairly uneventful, until tonight.  

I was sitting on the bench near the soda machine with my laptop on my knees tapping away at a creepy post apocalyptic tale that takes place in, yep, an abandoned train station.    As I often do when I write I was allowing myself to slip into the character of the person telling the story.  In this case one who had found a haven from the end of the world in a place similar to that which surrounded me.  My mind wondered how it would be to go months on end without encountering another human being.  What would that kind of solitude be like?  What kind of routine would develop?  Would one give up hope of finding anyone else and what if suddenly out of nowhere…


The computer nearly slid from my lap as a northbound freight train with several engines roared past the station startling me and my heart back to reality.  The bench shook and the soda in the bottles of the vending machine rippled as it passed.   I sat on the bench and my heart slowed back to its normal pace. By the time the last boxcar had rolled on by I again turned to my story.

Where was I?  Solitude.  Months on end alone.  I sat listening to the hum of the vending machines, the tick-tick-tocking of the station clock, the huff and blow of the air conditioners.  I stared at the floor and the patterns of light made by the whirling of the twin ceiling fans high above.  I thought to myself, what if there was some source of power; say a small wind turbine and some solar panels that kept all of this running indefinitely?  Maybe some rural development green tax credit program was used to fund this as a showcase project to help lessen the cost of bringing rail back to some small and otherwise unreachable town.  What would one do if one was here for months and months on end, alone and unable to turn off all of these machines?  As the rest of the world fell silent this one isolated place continued on humming and whirring into eternity with no way to shut it off.  What would you do if stuck here unable to leave because this source of power gave you the best possible way to maybe reach another human being should there be any left?  Day in and day out that steady hum, hum, hummmmmmm….would the sound eventually make you go…

I looked up from the screen as I noticed a change in the light.  The sky had grown dark and the trees planted along the edge of the parking lot outside were bending sideways from the sudden wind.  I stood and opened the station door so I could see the sky.  A storm approaching, a big one, with high winds, thunder and likely a downpour.  I checked the time on my phone.  The train was due in about a half hour and I was relieved that the storm would likely have passed by then so I could avoid a wet dash across the platform when the train arrived.

While I was standing I realized that the last cup of coffee I’d had around 3:00 was making its desire to exit known.   Not wanting to leave my bags and computer unattended, I shut the computer down, packed it into its carrying case and lugged everything into the ladies’ rest room with me.  As I answered this call of nature I thought to myself that this would be one of the worst places to be if I were alone at the end of the world and another person finally showed up.   This was terribly vulnerable position, panties at my ankles and skirt above my knees (I know, in a post apocalyptic world any self respecting spinster would be wearing pants). I was in a room with high unreachable windows and one door, which was locked.  Should the person entering have malicious intent it would not take long to figure out that someone had been living in the station and where they were at that moment.

I decided that if my character were to be in the potty when another person showed up, she would at least have taken along her gun, or preferably two, fully loaded.  Better yet, she’d have gone into the men’s room since people, end of the world or not, are basically creatures of habit and the person who was outside would likely assume, men’s room = dude and thus a guy must be inside.  Then again, they might be a little less prepared to find a female in the ladies’ room fully armed and ready to take them down.  All that aside, if they were stealthy, cautious and afraid of being caught by the station resident, they may just leave and she might miss them altogether.  They’d both go on never meeting until they met their own ends alone sometime in the bleak and lonely future.

I finished my business and it occurred to me that perhaps my character would not use the bathroom in the station at all since the plumbing might not work after a while and she’d be wise enough to not be caught in such a vulnerable position, plus I didn’t want my tale to be just another run of the mill post apocalyptic gun battle, I wanted creepy. 

I looked at myself in the mirror as I washed my hands wondering how my face might change were I in that situation.  What physical changes would my character undergo?  She’d likely lose body fat and gain strength.  I leaned in closer.  I bet she would look in the mirror at times, to stare into her own eyes and try to see if there was any of her former self rema….

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!  It was as a flash of lightning and boom of thunder caused the lights in the station bathroom to flicker that I saw it.  No!  No!  It couldn’t be.  I leaned in over the sink and stuck out my chin, my eyes looking down at my reflection.   It wasn’t true, it couldn’t be.  It was a cat hair; that was it.  Yes, a stray fuzzy stirred up by the draft of the ceiling fans.  My trembling fingers reached up to pluck the offensive bit of fluff from my chin and eeeeeeeek!  Oh no!  As I felt the tug on the skin of my chin I realized with horror that the nearly half inch white hair protruding from beneath my lips was attached!!!!!

Calm down, I told myself.  As is the heroine of your story you are prepared.  I turned to my backpack and unzipped the front pocket.  Inside next to my mini first aid kit, roll of duct tape and cell phone was my Leatherman Micra.  A small but useful tool that has scissors, a small blade, a nail file, a ruler, a screw driver, a can opener and yes, tweezers.  A truly handy post apocalyptic tool if there ever was one.

I flipped out the tweezers and made quick work of the hair horror on my chin.  Take THAT!  I thought.  End of the world or not there is no reason to look sloppy!!!  Oh wait.  It was Tuesday.  The world was just fine at the moment, and I was back to waiting in a train station.  I folded the Leatherman back up and tucked it away again in my pack.  I loaded up and made my way back to bench to wait for the storm to pass.

I stared out the window at the rain spattering against the pane.  It was easing up.  Ten minutes until the train arrived.  Hmmm I wondered.  What if she was here day and day out, searching in ever widening circles for other humans, putting calls out over a radio to anyone who might hear.  Over the months she has been here she has read everything in the station.  The tourist guides, the maps, the local ad filled arts magazine.  She’s even memorized the old train schedule and has developed a habit of checking the time and looking out at the empty tracks whenever a train should be passing.  It would be her crazy habit, her quirk to walk out to the track when the last train was due and wait while sipping a glass of moonshine she made from a still built by her own hand.

What if on one of those unexpected afternoons, say on a Tuesday in August (because the world ended in the spring) she walks out with her cup and her watch, and as always she waits, except that THIS time, at precisely 7:42 PM a train actually shows up…

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