Fiction: Rhythm of the Train
By Zary Fekete
The man wondered, what would the city be like? He’d never been there, but he’d had time enough to think about it. As the train carried him through the countryside, he spent hour after hour visualizing it. He pictured the moment he would see the city rising up on the horizon. He imagined the skyscrapers almost touching the clouds. He thought about the city’s wide streets and leafy parks.
The first day on board the train he walked up and down the narrow corridor which connected the compartments. He met many other travelers. The kindly older couple in the cabin next to his planned to get off at the next station; a small village. It was where their daughter lived, they told him. She would meet them at the station and then bring them to her cabin up in the woods. When he told them about his city, they marveled and said they hoped he’d find the place everything he’d dreamed it might be.
He met all the young people in the cabin three doors down from him. They were going on, past his city, to some destination along the coast. There was a beach event happening there and the young folks chattered about it with excitement. There would be dancing and lots of food. Their sunny smiles seemed filled with glittering sand and sunshine. They had plenty of energy and they slapped each other on the backs and laughed at each other’s jokes. He mentioned his city to them and they smiled politely. They told him they’d heard of people who had gotten off at his city and had a fine time there.
He looked out the train window at the countryside flashing by. The train passed several small villages. He saw people driving cows to pasture and big wagons bringing in hay. From time to time the train crossed a river and he saw fisherman on the water and great barges floating by.
He thought about his first day in the city. He meant to get off the train and put his luggage in a locker. With no baggage he’d be free to explore. He wanted to eat a good meal. He meant to take in several parks and smell the flowers. Toward evening he thought he might stroll along the river walk. Perhaps he’d meet someone. They might have dinner together.
When evening came he walked down to the dining car with the rest of the people. Music was piped in through the speaker system. The lively melodies gave the food a festive quality. Some of the young people got up to dance. Nothing raunchy. Just young people having fun. And then, after the rhythm of the train settled into its nightly lull, everyone drifted back to their own compartments. He lay down on his bunk after he changed into his pajamas and felt the gentle back and forth of the tracks below the train. He fell asleep thinking of his city.
He woke sometime later. Something in the car’s rhythm had changed. He felt the movement of the train, but there was no tick tick of the rails beneath him. He hopped up opened his cabin door, still in his pajamas. When he looked out the train window his mouth fell open. The countryside was gone. There were no villages flashing by, no people. It was nothing but vast, yellow dunes of sand. The train seemed to be sailing on it like a boat.
He knocked at the older couple’s door but got no answer. He moved down to the young folks’ compartment. They were all just waking.
What happened, he asked them?
They didn’t seem alarmed. Trains change, they said.
What will you do, he asked?
It will be fine, they said. There’s bound to be a party or two waiting up ahead. And even if there isn’t, this place is just as good as any other.
He left the young people with a sense of desperation growing within him. He saw the conductor coming down.
He rushed up to him and asked about the older couple.
They got off about an hour ago, the conductor said.
But where did they go?
The conductor shrugged.
How much farther to the city?
No city now, the conductor said. Nothing but this, he gestured out the window at the vast desert moving by.
The conductor continued down the corridor. The man looked out the window at the dunes. He felt he could feel the heat baking on them. The brightness of the sun hurt his eyes. He squinted painfully, searching the sand as it whizzed past. There was nothing but miles of waste.
He walked back to his cabin. As he walked he felt pain in his joints. The piercing sun outside his window was blinding. He pulled the shade. He lay down on his bunk, wincing from an ache in his back. His body felt strange to him. He lay on his bunk, feeling the rhythm of the train. Slowly he fell asleep.
Zary Fekete grew up in Hungary. His debut chapbook of short stories is out from Alien Buddha Press and a novelette (In the Beginning) is coming out soon from ELJ Publications. He enjoys books, podcasts, and long, slow films. Follow him on Twitter: @ZaryFekete