A train whistle called from somewhere just outside the station. 9am. Right on time. The train arrived precisely at 9am each morning, and young Avery Kase jolted awake and flew off of the bench on which she had been napping and ran up to the yellow line on the edge of the platform, eagerly awaiting its arrival. This mid-morning train cam to carry her to work every day, and Miss Kase treasured the time she was able to spend on board in her own world, staring out the window and enjoying the gentle rocking of the train car as it made its way along the tracks. She would always watch as the countryside around her flew by, and always found herself thinking the same thoughts every day: how quickly it is that life passes by without us even realizing. People and animals die every day, and yet hardly anybody so much as bats an eye, and what effect really does their life and death have in the great scheme of things? Very little, she decided.
The train pulled into the station and jerked slowly to a stop, wheels screeching against the tracks and steam bellowing from the blast pipe. The locomotive was aging, but it was aging well. Its wheels weren’t rusted too badly, and almost all of the cars’ windows remained crack-free. In all fairness, the few windows that did have spidery fractures crawling up their surfaces did not succumb to the crushing weight of age as most things do. These windows instead fell victim to some neighborhood kids playing some pranks that unfortunately went just a bit too far. They fled the scene as soon as they had realized that damage had been done to the car, but nobody really cared enough anymore to repair the glass or pursue the hooligans further. They got off scot free.
A sense of calmness washed over Avery, and for a reason unbeknownst even to her, she felt home. She rode the 9am to work once a day, naturally because 9am only occurs once a day, and that was the only time she needed to go to work, but something embedded in the familiarity of the 9am train comforted her.
The conductor, Lou, leaned out of the engine’s window and smiled at Avery. She was there every morning for the train, rain or shine, right in the front of the crowd of people waiting to board. He’d been conducting this train before she had been born, and he only saw her once a day before boarding, but the consistency that came with her standing just behind the yellow line every day comforted Lou. It reminded him that he stayed at this job for so many years for a reason. It was his job to get these smiling, hopeful people wherever it was they needed to go, nevermind why they needed to get there. He cupped his hands around his mouth and called out to the crowd in the station.
“All aboard!” he cried.
The train doors slid open, and almost in perfect unison, the mob on the platform lurched forward with Avery being the first to board, just as she was everyday. She boarded car four, just as she did everyday. The sun shined through the windows on the opposite side of the car and filled the space with a warm, yellow-tinted light. It very well might have resulted from the thin layer of dust and grime that had accumulated on the windows since their last cleaning, but Avery preferred to just think it came from the morning sun. She sat herself next to a window and watched everyone else board. Watching the organized chaos unfold just beyond the glass, just as she did every day, felt so surreal to Avery. It was almost as though they were an exhibit that existed purely for others to enjoy as they gently pushed and slid past one another in a hopeless attempt to get on board sooner; as though boarding faster would get them to their destination at an earlier time. Reality was nothing but the contrary, since their pushing and shoving only delayed the boarding of other passengers and the train couldn’t depart until everyone was on board. Quite counterproductive, really.
All the passengers boarded and found their seats in just a few minutes. Nobody sat down next to Avery; they never do, but she didn’t mind. In fact, she preferred to make the morning commute alone. It was much easier for her to enjoy her mornings without having to force some sort of small talk with a stranger she wasn’t quite interested in talking with at the time. She picked up her purse and, since everyone was already seated, placed it on the seat beside her. Everyone had already found a place to sit, so there wasn’t any reason to leave the seat open and unintentionally invite unwanted company.
One by one, in almost the exact same order as everyday, the strangers around her pulled out their newspapers and buried their faces in the walls of text. Not many people were so inclined to try and make friends on the train; they didn’t know what kind of people they were riding with. Maybe the woman to their right was some dangerous criminal on the run, or perhaps the gentleman across the aisle was just waiting for someone to initiate conversation so he could spill his entire life story and launch into a rant about his ex-wife and her bastard children. Why take that risk?
Avery pulled a newspaper of her own from her purse and glanced at the front page. “Woman Killed Aboard Train to Work” took up the majority of the page in heavy black text. Not the most uplifting story, but it certainly grabbed Miss Kase’s attention. She hesitated for a moment. Did she really want to read about a woman murdered on her morning commute on board a train while she was in precisely the same position? Not particularly, but against her better judgement, she continued reading.
“A young woman, name and age yet to be determined, was murdered on board a train during her morning commute. The currently unidentified woman was strangled to death by a young man by the name of Cecil Kelsey, 24. According to witnesses, the murder was unprovoked, and Mr. Kelsey gave no reason for his actions. The only comment he was willing to share was his surprise at the lack of help the woman received from the other passengers in the car with her. According to Mr. Kelsey, nobody on board appeared to make any sort of effort to help the woman fight Mr. Kelsey off of her. The train where the incident occurred has been put out of commission until the investigation is closed, though it seems unlikely that the specific car will run again.”
Avery gently set the newspaper into her lap. A young woman had been murdered, likely just the other morning considering that it was on the front page of the papers, on a train to work, just as she was now. She sat there and thought to herself for a moment. That woman could have been her. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and now she was dead. Cecil Kelsey, whoever that was, didn’t even have a reason to take her life away, but he did, and now that woman wouldn’t be riding the train to work ever again. Life truly is fleeting, she decided.
“Excuse me, miss?” An elderly woman approached Avery, and Miss Kase turned toward the woman with a welcoming smile. She wasn’t particularly in the mood to have a discussion with a stranger at the moment, but she felt that it would be rude to turn away and elderly woman possibly in the need of assistance.
“Would you mind helping me get to car six? I’m afraid I’ve mistakenly come the wrong way from the bathroom in car five, and I’m not sure I have the energy to get back to my seat alone.” she explained. Avery nodded.
“It would be my pleasure,” she lied. Without looking, she shoved the newspaper back into her bag and slung it over her shoulder. Gently, so very gently, she took the woman’s hand.
“I’m Regina,” she said.
“That’s a lovely name,” Avery replied, careful to hide the frustration and annoyance she felt towards this Regina woman. She had only wanted to enjoy a quiet train ride to work, and somehow she was now escorting an elderly woman back to her seat two cars back. She wasn’t mad at the woman, how could she be? Regina had approached her probably because she believed that she looked kind and willing to help, and really that was Avery’s fault more than anyone else’s. Perhaps if she had slouched in her seat and looked bitter about everything, she wouldn’t have been approached in the first place. Oh well.
The pair of women slowly walked through car four and made their way through car five. Regina seemed to only have one speed: snail’s pace. Her bones seemed to creak and scrape each time she lifted her leg to take another step, and her cane thumped, thumped, thumped in front of her. The sound of the wooden end of the cane connecting with the train floor was enough to drive Avery momentarily mad. She just wanted to return to her seat and spend the rest of the trip alone, but she had agreed to help Regina, and she never broke her word.
Car six was almost completely full. This particular train had ten separate passenger cars, so it was strange to Avery that so many people would sit in car number six despite others cars, such as her car, car number four, having so many open seats. Why sit in a cramped car with so many other people when there were perfectly good, open seats all over the train? Maybe this car was warmer than all of the others, Avery thought. Maybe the ride was somehow smoother in the middle of the train. She decided not to bother herself with silly questions.
“Where is your seat, Regina?” Avery turned to the old woman she had escorted in, but she was suddenly gone. She had been holding onto Avery’s arm not moments ago, and yet she had vanished. Miss Kase glanced around the train car to try and spot Regina, but still, she wasn’t anywhere. How peculiar.
Slowly and still confused, Avery turned back to the door and grasped the handle. She still had a few minutes left before her stop and she was determined to enjoy them alone. Further interruptions were unwelcome. If someone else needed help, she would kindly inform them that she was unable to meet their needs and instead gently direct them in the direction of the man in the seat just in front of her.
She began to slide the door open when she felt a pair of large, cold hands wrap themselves around her neck. The sensation shocked her, and she exhaled sharply in response. The hands yanked her backwards, away from the door, and began to tighten around her windpipe. Avery could not see her attacker, but judging by the scent of cologne overwhelming her senses, she decided that it was a man. His hands were soft, so he was likely young, maybe in his mid-twenties.
Avery grasped and pulled and scratched at the hands around her neck as it became more and more difficult for her to breathe. She tried to run, to somehow get away, but to no avail. She wasn’t strong enough.
Soon, her scratches became gentle brushes against the man’s hands, and her choked breaths began to grow quieter and less aggressive. She couldn’t go on fighting him; she could barely breathe anymore. As the world around her was engulfed by a progressing darkness at the edges of her vision, Avery wondered why nobody in the car, car six, filled to the brim, had been trying to save her. She dropped her hands at her sides and felt her body hit the floor of the car as everything around her disappeared into an endless void.
A train whistle called from somewhere just outside the station. 9am. Right on time.