Story Time: The 3:45 to Otherside, NC [HALLOWEEN 2019]

You know the medical condition when you have to get up every hour, on the hour, to take a leak? You know, and there is no explanation for it, and the only medical advice that anyone will give you is “stop drinking before bed.” When you have to get up each night and respond to urgent body demands, there is no such thing as a restful night’s sleep — it’s only a game of “I wonder how many times I can remember getting up and taking a piss?”

Last night’s record was five.

I’m someone who likes to live on the bright side of things. When I got up to release the hydrodynamic pressure on my bladder, I was grateful that it was only 3:44 and I still had a few hours to sleep when I crawled back into bed. As my body became a few ounces lighter, my water bill a few gallons more expensive, the thin facade of sleepiness began to go through its motions. My steps became heavy plods instead of motivated steps, the weak lights of my alarm clock and cell phone fading into merciful darkness.

I’ve fallen asleep standing up before, but I can tell you that the next series of events happened to a man who was lucid, perfectly aware of his faculties, and would be willing to swear before any congress of man and any congregation of the divine that I was awake for the experience.

The floors began to shake, causing a stir in the soles of my feet. As soon as I can register what was happening to the floors, everything on the walls or on a table began to clack and clatter, threatening to throw themselves to the floor. Whistles squealed their agony directly into my eardrums, lights strobing through the disturbed blinds. A pressure in my chest began to build; something powerful was moving air through my room and through my body. The whistles had done a fine job at trying to make me deaf, but the steel-on-steel groan of brakes were trying to evoke trickles of blood in my ear canals.

A million combinations of thoughts and scenarios were trying to soothe my bewilderment — maybe a train had derailed and found its stop outside my bedroom window? That had to be it.

When the thundering steam engine concluded trying to force my lungs through my nose, that’s when the voices started. At first, it was indistinct and in a distance — did the derailed train have survivors? Impossible.

“‘Scuse me.” a man pardoned and walked past me — my heart skipped a beat. The man was on a mission and the decorum of “how did you get into my house and bedroom?” had escaped me. The man walked into the wall and faded. My jaw was agape.

“Excuse me.” Another voice.

“Excuse me.” Yet another.

Those two were followed by a chorus of people who had somewhere to be and didn’t appreciate me standing in the middle of my own bedroom. Like the first man, they came into view to pass me and then walked straight into the wall and returning into invisibility.

I perished the thought of turning around — would I be ready to see where the specters were coming from? My body wouldn’t listen to me when I tried to communicate that I was fed up with the bathroom schedule, why would it start listening now?

I slowly turned to see a dying gray light where my bathroom should have been. Scores of men and women, even children and small animals were walking towards that same spot on my wall, only, they knew that not all of them were going to make it. By the time the droves reached the door between my bedroom and bathroom, only one of the apparitions would be ready. There was a sadness that took the wind out of my lungs radiating from that bathroom.

The last apparition to make it through the bathroom was a large man — he was missing an eye and his arm had been in a sling, the sling was covered in blood.

“What say ya, son?” the apparition looked me in the eye and asked, “I might not look like a bouquet of roses, but I’m coming to take my son home. It’s a great day, yeah?”

The question must have been rhetorical — the haunt didn’t wait for me to answer, only smiled at me, the cheeks forced upward made the ruined eye socket twist the mangled eye unnaturally. The ghost limped towards the wall and disappeared.

My knees gave out; honestly, I’m surprised they lasted that long. I must have fainted — I don’t remember landing. I only remember the gelatin feeling in my knees and then waking up in a puddle of urine. I had just been an obstacle in Hell’s Train Station, and my body couldn’t be bothered with the kindness of just holding it while my brain dealt with shock.

I took a shower, trying to sober up and rationalize what I had seen. Maybe, the train had derailed and then I fell asleep standing up? That made sense, right? My brain was trying to make sense of a train being somewhere nearby and the only logical solution would be the people getting on the train.

Even I didn’t believe that.

If I heard the train that clearly, then surely my neighbors did as well. I threw on some shorts and a shirt and ran out the front door. It was Saturday Morning; Mrs. McGrath would be grooming her pony in the front yard, Mr. Beardly would be sitting on the porch with his pipe, and then the elderly Jacobs brothers, who owned the last three house on the hidden lane, would be tinkering with whichever communal project they were working on at the moment.

Mrs. McGrath waved, Mr. Beardly nodded his pipe in acknowledgement, but the Jacobs’ brothers weren’t outside trying to make a lawn mower that ran on lemon juice. I had to strain my eyes, but it looked like something was going on at the end of the road.

The Jacobs’ and I were very friendly with each other; my first day in the neighborhood and I had a water main leak — all three Jacobs’ brothers; Elroy, Bartholomew, and Magnus, were under my house and repairing the pipe. Ever since that day, I tried to find ways to repay them for their kindness.

I hadn’t realized until I was running down the unevenly paved street that I wasn’t wearing shoes. When the soft grass of a perfectly manicured Jacobs’ lawn caressed the soles of my feet, the ambulance had shut its doors.

Bart and Magnus were standing stone faced at the ambulance, no urgency for whoever was inside. I was hoping it wasn’t Elroy.

“Bart, Mag,” I announced breathlessly, “is Elroy okay?”

“As alright as he’ll ever be,” the newly minted eldest Jacobs’ brother, Bartholomew answered,

“he’s not suffering anymore.”

“Oh no,” my stomach dropped, “I’m so sorry.” I meant it. Elroy was always good for the neighborhood Halloween prank, for dropping off bottles of homemade maple syrup at Christmas, and just being a joy to be around. I couldn’t imagine how Bartholomew and Magnus felt.

“Me too.” Magnus answered; Bart’s chin was quivering and if he had tried to speak, his emotions would have come flooding out.

“…maybe now isn’t the time,” my experience from the night before was still swimming in my head, “but did either of you hear a train come through the neighborhood last night?”

If looks could kill, Bartholomew would have been found guilty of murdering me.

Magnus grabbed his arm, “He’s only been here a year or two, Bart. He doesn’t know.”

Bartholomew’s expression softened, but still contorted in sadness. He looked off in the distance, his mouth trying to stiffen to command over his chin.

“That train is a family tradition.” Magnus finally answered, “When the Good Lord calls one of us home, he sends the Three-Forty-Five to the Otherside to collect us, usually with a relative or two to show us the way on the vessel. See, our great grandfather had been a rail man all his life, and wanted to be taken out by the train he loved so much. When he died, that was the first time anyone in the family talked about the Three-Forty-Five.”

Bartholomew opened his mouth to speak, but his voice cracked. After a hard gulp, he resolved to speak again: “I remember the first time I’d seen the train.”

Bartholomew removed his glasses and cleaned them on the rag that hung from his back pocket, “Mama had died. Elroy and I were sitting on the roof, just not saying a word to each other. The night dropped a few degrees, a thick fog rolled over the street, and a locomotive commission by God almighty thundered along the street. The unholy steam engine stopped in front of the house …Mama, who had been dead hours before, climbed on the train and waved goodbye.”

“Something very similar happened when Daddy died.” Magnus contributed.

Bartholomew smiled at the mention of their father. I hadn’t noticed until that moment, but Bartholomew looked just like the ghost in my room, the one with the missing arm and a mangled eye.

“Did your father work in the mines or somewhere dangerous?” I asked, curiosity drug the question out of me.

“Naw.” Bart answered, “He worked on the shipyard all his life. His arm got taken off getting pinched between two vessels. He wasn’t the same after that.”

“What happened to his eye?”

“Now how in the blue hell did you know about his eye?” Bartholomew squared up in offense.

“I’m pretty sure I met him last night.” I answered, “He said it was a great day, that he was going to take his son home.”

Bartholomew relaxed, having realized what stress the death of his brother was putting on, “Daddy’s eye was injured in a hunting accident. Elroy put his eye out, on accident of course.”

I nodded.

The moment was heavy. I had been a ticket taker in ghost central and the Jacobs’ brothers had went from a trio to a duo. It was time for rest.

The End.

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