There was an event near my home. A Christmas train. Margaret and I went. They take an old, out of use train, out onto one of the mostly unused lines. Dress it up. Make it look nice and festive. And they take you along the route. With promises of lights, hot chocolate, and cookies. Wasn't what we ended up with. Night seemed less in the spirit than we would have liked.
The train was walking distance from our house. Most things are. We arrived and immediately it became apparent that we were the only ones there without children. I had been okay. Not having the kids for the holidays. But everyone seemed so happy to be there with their kids. But we paid for it. We weren't going to just call it a night.
Was actually nice at first. Just the two of us. Like a young couple.
We boarded the train. Started off. Saw a lone stroller on the platform as we left the station. There is a lot of trust in that. Assuming no one was going to take it. I thought I saw a baby in the stroller. But it couldn't have been the case. Had to be empty. Margaret said it had to be empty.
First thing they did was hand out the cookies. Chocolate chip of course. Weren't bad. Kid in front of me tried to take mine. Didn't seem to get he would get his own. Margaret and I disagreed on whether or not his dad was a good parent.
We looked out the window. Christmas music was playing over the intercom of the train. “Let it Snow” was playing. But there were no lights outside. Not in the homes. Not the trees...Nothing. There was a promise of lights. But there were none.
They handed out the cocoa. Still no lights. Was eerie. Kept most the lights off in the interior of the train so the lights in the baggage rack could be appreciated.
Started to feel uncomfortable.
One person off to the side. He was alone too. No kids. Was shaking. Eyes bulging. Seemed anxious. Kept looking around. Waiting for something.
He looked at us. He noticed we didn't have kids. He stood up and walked over. No one else noticed but us. They hadn't even given him his own cocoa.
“It's too late,” he said. “Your kids aren't coming back...they took mine. Your wife is next. I...I keep trying to get off. Every time something keeps me from doing so. Now my wife is gone. I'm next. You are next...” he said, pointing to Margaret.
I informed him that we didn't bring our kids. We were alone on purpose. He got real quite. Didn't like what he heard. Turned around and headed back to his seat. Started shaking. Think he was crying. Poor sort. Wanted to know someone else was crazy like him.
Whatever insanity he was experiencing, it was a personal one.
I looked outside. Still no lights. Was so dark in the train car. Looked around. Margaret and I were kinda bored. Some kids were singing carols. Who the hell is that cheerful? I saw my neighbor. The one with the messed up face. His wife and kids were with him. Whole bunch looked a little messy. But I am sure he knows that. They understand their condition.
They simply sat there. Rocking stiffly back and forth. Train took a sharp turn. Cup of hot chocolate spilled onto the boy's lap. Hot chocolate wasn't that hot, but the kid didn't flinch. Didn't move at all. Conductor calmly came by and whipped the cocoa off his lap. Parents didn't react.
Didn't see the cocoa get replaced. Looked away. By the time I looked back the kid had another cup in his hand. Think it was from his sister.
Thought I saw sack cloth around the neck of the kid. Like the sort you find on those sewing stand things. Must just have been the light.
Santa came in. Was addressing the kids. Wasn't looking at us.
Went up to the man. The jittery one. Couldn't make out much what he was saying. Think he said it was time for the man to leave. Couldn't be what he said. Train was still moving. Whatever he said...the man nodded in agreement. Closed his eyes and lips tight. Grimacing. Then opened them. Smiling. Smiling as brightly as anyone I had ever seen. Eyes were red. Followed Santa out of the car.
Didn't see the man again after that.
Thought we were the only couple on the train without kids. But there was another. Really tall woman with stringy hair. Her husband was this little fellow. Probably a dwarf. Looked like a nice couple though. Didn't even pay attention to the cookies and cocoa. Just stared at one another, alternating between stroking each others cheeks and holding hands. They looked happy. It was nice.
Margaret seemed to be enjoying it. She was smiling at the couple too.
We think alike. I like that. Being in tune with someone.
Song on the intercom was skipping. Kept repeating “Merry Christmas baby” over and over again. Took them nearly a minute to fix it.
I looked out the window. Out into the dark. Looking for lights. Then down towards the sides of the track. Light from the train was enough to illuminate that. Watched the track passing. The browned grass passing along the edges. The light snow clinging. Felt like Christmas back on the farm. That made me sad for a little bit.
Thought of the dead dog in the woods.
The feeling passed quickly.
Thought I saw something out in the wood. Running along the train. Was too dark. Need to stop seeing things. Get control of my mind.
...Before I knew it we were back at the station.
Got off. Neighbors seemed to leave the train before everyone else. Not sure how that happened. They were in the back of the car.
As we were exiting I heard a woman screaming. She was standing by that lone stroller. Said someone had taken her baby. Couldn't find it.
Had there really been a baby in there the whole time? How could she have forgotten it before getting on the train?
Problem with this place. Too much...Too many people...seeing things that aren't there.
Today the weather is nice. For December.
“Blue Christmas,” by Elvis is playing on the radio. Keep it on in the house when Margaret goes to work on Sunday. I have the day off.
Helps fill the space when she is gone.
Think I do.
There is fog today.
Scratching at the door.
I open it. Nothing is there.