He started at the sight of her, leaning casually back against the wall of the station platform. He recovered, but his foot missed a step, catching against the rough wooden boards of the station’s floor, and he had to move quickly to turn his stumble into a quick two-step.
When he looked back up, he saw her smirking. “Startled?” she asked, her voice slightly raspy.
He shrugged. “Wasn’t expecting anyone else. This train’s usually all but deserted.”
“Yeah, well, I’m pretty much nobody.” The words were flat, her emotions hidden by the mirrored Aviators that wrapped around her eyes. He heard a faint undertone of heat, anger that he didn’t want to unleash.
Instead, he headed over to the single wrought-iron bench, dropping down onto the slightly warped boards. They’d once held paint, but that had long since flaked away, burnt to dust under the hot sun’s rays. The boards creaked but accepted his weight, and he leaned back and closed his eyes.
Time passed. Maybe seconds, probably longer. The clock hanging above his head was as dead as the rest of this place, frozen at shortly after midnight.
Creaking intruded on his inner thoughts. He cracked an eye, saw her pass in front of him. His eyes followed those long legs up to her white shorts, frayed at mid-thigh. Continuing upward, he saw a snake, curling around her arm in black and white and vanishing into the sleeve of her shirt. A few loose, long, dark hairs fell over its scales, partially obscuring them.
She caught him looking. “Something you like?” she asked, her tone dripping with sarcasm as she turned, planting a hand on her hip and glaring belligerently.
Youthful and arrogant. He’d seen it all before, and her charms held nothing for him. “None for me, thanks,” he sighed, tilting his head back again. “Not my type.”
He heard her stop, still standing in front of him. Scrutinizing him, he guessed. Maybe trying to size him up, read him. He wondered what impression she received, what conclusions she drew.
“Where you headed?”
His eye opened again, just enough to look back at her. “West,” he said. One finger rose to point above him. “Didn’t you see the sign?”
Her mouth pursed, and she shifted her weight. Annoyed but amused, he guessed. “How about a real answer?”
She wasn’t going to let up. Still, might as well pass the time. Not much else to do, not around here. “Hell, most likely. Made more than a few bad choices.”
She blinked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I suppose you’re headed for Heaven, then, by your reckoning?” he asked, his mouth adding a wry twist to the words. “Doubt it. You look like you’re going to the same place as me.”
“No, I’m- what the fuck are you talking about?” She stammered a little, and he made the connection. Now, this was interesting. He leaned forward, opened his eyes all the way.
“You don’t even know where you are, do you?” he asked, a grin spreading over his face. A new one. This could be fun.
“Of course I do, old man,” she snapped back, but he heard the uncertainty hidden in her voice. “I’m at the train station, stuck with some old ass who can’t even give a straight answer.”
“How’d you get here?” he asked, and he saw her features freeze as she hit that wall. She hadn’t broken through. It always took time.
“I, I don’t-” she cut off, unable to finish.
“You don’t remember,” he answered for here. “Happens to everyone, at the beginning. Death’s traumatic, after all. Lot of pain, usually some crying and screaming, nasty noises. Everyone blocks it out.”
Her purse, hanging off one shoulder by a single strap, slipped away. It nearly hit the boards before she caught it, pulled it shakily back up. “You’re crazy, old man. I’m here for the train, heading out West.”
He could force her memory. He’d done it before, a few times in the past, but it never seemed to help them much. No point, really. She’d come around on her own, sooner or later.
“As you say,” he sighed, once again tilting back, closing his eyes as he leaned against the boards. The afternoon sun painted his legs, warming his skin through the fabric of his jeans. It felt good. His nostrils caught the sand, the dry dust carried in from the desert on the breeze.
Her footsteps receded, back towards where she’d first leaned against the station wall. “Stupid old man,” she muttered, thinking that his ears weren’t sharp enough to catch it.
He wondered if she’d pass through again. Most did, although rarely at the same time. Too good to be trapped below, too petty to make it up. Stuck on a loop, the train bringing them right back to the beginning.
Probably where he’d end up, he figured. Didn’t go as well as he’d hoped, but not so badly as to stick him with a one-way ticket. He’d be here again.
Settling back, he cleared his thoughts, listened to the rustle of the wind, the occasional creak of the ancient train station. No whistle, no rumbling of an approach. He’d be here a while.