The Train

      

by Jack Beslanwitch, Philip Mclaren, Ben Woestenburg, Bob Hanford, Trish and Lisa Nickles (if I missed anyone let me know and I'll add your name here)

       A steam powered passenger train with gas lights and plush velvet seats is chugging itís way west. There are spittoons on the floor. Cigar smoke and the smell of stale beer and whiskey permeates. It is late. You are not quite sure why you are sitting where you are. And you donít know who you are. That thought seems almost to comfort. As if knowing would make this all harder. Looking around, you see an assortment of people dressed in Victorian, Tudor English as well as someone in blue jean cut offs, tank top and a green mohawk. Gas light glints off his pierced gold ear and nose rings. Just then someone taps you on the shoulder and asks what time it is. Only, there are no hands on your watch when you look at it. Looking up to tell this to the stranger you realize it is Elvis Presley. Your heart pounds as a wave of panic spreads through you.

       "Donít worry about him, dear," the old lady sitting behind you observes. "He has a personality problem. Yap, he canít quite believe heís here. That one. Iíve seen him before, though. But youíre new arenít you?"

       "What?" you bark at the woman and frown as you glance over your shoulder.

       "We all know each other on this train, passengers rarely change on the 10:45."

       The carriage rushes into a tunnel: smoke and cinders find a way into the darkened cabin. Music can be heard up ahead; a man sings a slow ballad. You know the lyric and recognize the voice: it is Elvis!

       "I said youíre new here, arenít you?" she says again, a little more insistently.

       "That depends where here is," you say looking at her carefully. She is dressed like someone you saw in movies a dozen times Ė Debbie Reynolds in Molly Brown, or Daisy Miller. It makes no sense at all and until it did you donít want to say the wrong thing. Even as you think this, you realize, movies, you remembered movies, and not who you are.

       "Bit confusing isnít it?" she said with a smile.

       "Took the words right out of my mouth," you say with half a laugh, trying to sound sure of yourself; failing. "What is this place?"

       "You mean you really donít know?"

       "Should I?"

       "You shouldnít be here if you donít know where weíre going," she said with a friendly smile.

       "Couldnít you just tell me? Itíd save a lot of time."

       "Time?" she cackles. It seemed to echo through the carriage and you look around to see if any of the other passengers might have noticed her, but they seem oblivious to anything you or she were talking about.

       "Honey?" she is saying, catching her breath, which draws your gaze back to her, "We donít have nothing but time. This train is taking us nowhere. Look at your watch," she said quickly, reaching over the seat and grabbing your arm, drawing your attention to the Rolex, "it doesnít tell you anything. See? No hands?"

       "What does this mean? Please, tell meÖ"

       "You never heard of time standing still?"

       "Well, sure, butÖ"

       "We go in one direction," she smiles. "Nowhere. Now that could be anywhere, but it isnít. This is the 10:45. We leave at 10:45 and we arrive at 10:45, but we donít go anywhere."

       "But weíre moving," you point out. "I can hear that guy singing Ė I know that guy singing. Not personally, of course. But I know who he is."

       "Well, thatís nice. Do you know who I am?"

       "Should I?"

       "I was just as famous as he was in my day, as he was in his."

       "And what was your day?"

       "Why, honey, Iím Lilly!"

       "Lilly?"

       "Lilly Langtree!"

       Before you can respond, she stands, a look of resignation and just a touch of fear on her face. "I canít talk right now," she says. "I must go before he finishes. Itís his last song and Iím next. Did they tell you? No, of course they didnít. Still, you must perform, you know." She pulls her shoulders back and lifts her head, an almost manic laughter now in her eyes. "You must perform, you know. You must perform."

       Startled, you gaze out the window into the blackness of the tunnel. You can make out a thick gray haze swirling against the total darkness outside. As you look around once more, the reality of your situation sinks in. Sighing, you lean your head back against the plush seat and close your eyes. Suddenly, questions begin to form in your mind. Why had the woman mentioned seeing Elvis here before. Could he come and go at will? And why was he concerned with the time in a place where time stood still? Did this explain all the seemingly random Elvis sightings at Burger King and 7-11. The thought, so out of place, seems to bring a measure of comfort, as if a tabloid headline could fashion a measure of normalcy that was beyond your grasp at the moment.

       You look back in the direction Lilly had gone. Watch as he sashays down the aisle toward the lunge, waits at the door patiently as the conductor pulls it open for her. You have to figure out what is going on here. Hell, who was going on here, for that matter. Looking about at the few passengers seated around you, you wonder who they were and where they had come from. He certainly knew where they were. Nowhere. Like you.

       The landscape seems to float outside the window. The heavy gray clouds against a dark sky and your reflection stares back at you, lulled into a quick nap by the gentle rocking of the car and the constant clickety-clack of the tracks underneath. You want to sleep though, thinking maybe when you wake you will find this nightmare over. You wonder, even as you reach the point where dreams and reality mix together and wonder fills all those voids in between, you wonder what sort of dreams will haunt your moist mind. But none does.

       You are awakened by a gentle nudge on the shoulders as the conductor looks down at you, beaming happily and winking as you nod.

       "yer on, kid," he is saying.

       "on?"

       "Itís yer turn. Everyoneís waitiní fer you," he adds as he gently lifts you by the arm and guides you to the lounge ahead. You feel your head to see if it is still there - God it felt so fuzzy. You are confused. You look down at the kid with the green mohawk and wonder if he had been up to perform yet. Then you laugh, wondering what you could possibly do to offset the image of your own self. Still, they say everyone has talent. You guess in your case that would have to be "had". Now where had that come from?

       "But what am I supposed to sing?"

       "Whaddya feel like singing?"

       "I suppose it doesnít matter much, does it?"

       "You could sing ĎJingle Bellsí aní itíd be all right."

       "Jingle Bells?" you think with a wry smile. Now that was a thought. But he couldnít do that tonight. It seemed too out of place Ė even more out of place than you feel with yourself.

       The lounge seems to open in front of you, like a stage that goes on for miles. You look through the door behind you, but it is gone. It was as if it had never been there. The sky is a deep blue for some reason and you think, "thatís neat. Howíd I get outside?" You could see your guitar leaning gently on its rest and wondered how they knew it was yours. You'í lost it years ago, doing that gig down in Frisco. Someone stole it you thought and yet, here it was. The thought is a shock, memories flowing back, threatening to overwhelm. The who with the what. As soon as you pick the guitar up everything else leaves you. It didnít feel uncomfortable or out of place. It was as if youíd never left the stage. You could feel the heat from the stage lights and shield your eyes as you try to search the crowd in front of you. You couldnít see them, of course, just like the last time you were on stage, but you knew they were there.

       You strum the strings and nod your head, let the gentle melody take you with it as you seem to sift through the strings themselves. You were lost in it. You played and sang and waited for the roar of the crowd below you, know they were into it, but all you meet is silence. It is complete, too. Vacuous; vacant; vapid. It was like you are alone in your bedroom and then you realize that you are.

       Your guitar is a gun and you are alone in your room. You hear someone pounding on the door, but when you turn the door isnít even there. You pull the trigger and all you hear is the crowd screaming for more. They were actually calling your name, pounding their feet, some of them crying Ė though you couldnít figure out if it was tears of joy or not Ė you just hear them scream your name: "Kurt! Kurt! Kurt!"

       And all the time you are listening to it, wondering how you are are going to get out of here and back onto the train, you keep singing that same song, repeating the same lineÖ"No Apologies."

       Your eyes closed, you fear to open them. Still strumming the guitar, still mouthing the lyrics. A strident brash angry cascade of chords from an electric guitar sweeps away every thought. You knowÖ.your eyes open. Hell, man, you think to yourself, he doesnít even have a guitar. The Star Spangled Banner with an attitude, the bombs bursting in air coming from an electric guitar. It was a clichť. A Woodstock clichť. And the best damn guitar player in a generation. Heís standing in front of you in the gathering shadows and fog, a black man in psychedelic sixties Edwardian coat and rose dark granny glasses. "Itís time to go back," he says simply.

       "JimiÖJimi Hendrix," you say slowly.

       "Youíll have the time," he said seriously after a moment.

       "What?"

       "This is all about forgiveness. Someday, someway, you have to learn how to forgive yourself, the world, the universe. All of it. And move on. Mostly itís about ourselves. None of us are quite there, but we got the time to get it right."

       You shake your head, try to clear the confusion and look. Heís still there. "Are you ready?"

       Your mouth opens, closes, opens. "Yes," you say after a while, "Yes, I think I am."

      

Epilogue

       A steam powered passenger train with gas lights and plush velvet seats is chugging itís way west. There are spittoons on the floor. Cigar smoke and the smell of stale beer and whiskey pervades. It is late. You are not quite sure why you are sitting where you are. You look around and see an assortment of people dressed in everything from Tudor to modern. You look at your watch and curse thinking you forgot to get batteries for it. The display is blank on your cheap digital. Only, just then, Elvis Presley taps you on the should and asks what time it is. You open your mouth but no words come out and before you can think of some he is gone.

       "Donít worry about him deary," the old lady sitting behind you was observing, "He has a personality problem that young man. Far back as I first saw him come in here. But youíre new arenít you?"

       "What?" you bark at the woman and frown as you glance over your shoulder.

       "We all know each other on this train, passengers rarely change on the 10:45."

       The carriage rushes into a tunnel; smoke and cinders find a way into the cabin. Musci can be heard up ahead. A man is singing a slow ballad. You know the lyrics and recognize the voice: it is Elvis!

       You wince. You never really did like his music; but strangely, you find yourself listening-almost feeding-on the melodies. The only semblance of familiarity around you.

       "You will forgive me my forwardness, of course." Comments on dark suited man, "We certainly did not appreciate the tone you used with the lady."

       "Indeed," continued a matching man in light colored attire, "We must never speak harshly to one another here." His tone of voice is stern and he seems to glare at you.

       You try to think how to respond to these two unlikely apparitions when a wiry long haired man who is somehow familiar intervenes. "Cut the girl some slack. She just got here. Hi, maybe we can be friends. My nameís Kurt."