Tommy followed numbly. His eyes were trained to the carpet at his feet and Tommy dared not look at any of the other commuters on the train. The Conductor did not stop, and led him further and further away from his seat. Further and further away from what made sense. He looked back, hoping the train would melt away.
Tommy felt sick to his stomach. Was he going to see his mom again? Was he ever going to see Sam? Why was he here? Where was here!?
Nothing made sense. Tommy had no answers. The only thing he could do was follow the Conductor as he led him to the back of the passenger car. Tommy watched as the man pulled a key out of his pocket, inserted it into the lock, and then turned.
The door to the train car opened and a blast of air rushed inward. Tommy went rigid, as the Conductor stepped from car to car. Tommy went to follow, and stopped as he glanced down at the chasm between his car and the next. The color drained from his face as he watched the ground stream by in a blur. One wrong step, and he would immediately be dragged under the train.
“Watch your step, Harold.”
The Conductor had his hand extended, and Tommy greedily grabbed on. He practically leapt into the man’s arms as he traversed the gap. Tommy’s heart pounded in his chest as the Conductor commenced his journey through the next car. The elevation of his pulse brought a little clarity to Tommy’s thoughts, as he began to piece together what he was seeing.
Nothing seemed recognizable to his modern eye, which was helpful to some degree for it meant Tommy was not on a modern train. This theory aligned with the strange dialogue unfolding all around him. The words and mannerisms falling from the lips of the passengers sounded familiar, but definitely not from the nineties. The style—large button coats on the men and box shouldered dresses on the women—was nothing like parachute pants and jogger clothes.
Yet, something, still was familiar. It was a familiarity which was on the tip of his tongue—like a memory which drifted foggily in his mind. Before it could take form, however, the Conductor was leading him through a door and back into the rushing torrent of air. This time, it was a little easier for Tommy to make the jump, though the squeal of the train’s wheels sent a shiver of anxiety up his spine.
The two men entered a car which was taken up almost entirely by tables graced with fine tablecloths. People were seated at each table, eating fanciful plates of food. The aroma of the delicious entrees wafted towards Tommy and he was momentarily lost as his stomach growled.
“How is your son, Harold?”
Tommy’s mind froze.
“My son?” He poised. The deepness of his own voice startled him.
“Yes, Rog. How is he?”
“Yeah. He’s good. Enjoying being a boy,” Tommy said vaguely.
“I see.” The Conductor gave him a sidelong glance and fell silent. Tommy felt foolish as the heat rose in his cheeks. If he wasn’t careful, he was going to be discovered as the fraud he was and probably dropped off in the middle of the wilderness to fend for himself.
“Just a few more cars,” the Conductor stated as he continued onward. Tommy followed as they entered the latter half of the train car, which was converted into a kitchen. Tommy waded through columns of steam and simmering pots towards another door as waves or rich aromas battered his nostrils. Despite himself, he felt hunger pull at his stomach.
Once they were through the kitchen, they entered a few more train cars which were mostly empty. They walked in silence which Tommy didn’t mind as his thoughts worked through his situation. He watched the back of the Conductor as he walked ahead of him. It was obvious the Conductor knew who Tommy was impersonating. If Tommy were to ask the man for his name, then he’d immediately be discovered for the fraud he was. Then what? They’d probably throw him off the train. But, it was obvious that Tommy was not Tommy. He was Harold. Which made no sense whatsoever to Tommy.
Where was the Conductor leading him? The more he thought about it, the more Tommy realized that he simply assumed this man was trustworthy. Tommy had basically listened to him and followed him at his word. From what he knew about trains, they were going to be in the last car soon. And then what? Was he going to interrogate Tommy? Was he going to throw him off the train? Was the Conductor part of some evil plot that involved making Tommy believe he was an older man on a train that was not from his generation?
Was the man an alien?
The possibilities were endless and not knowing what came next ate at Tommy’s confidence.
Another blast of air buffeted Tommy as the Conductor held open the door to the last train car. Tommy looked past him, into a dimly lit car filled with crates and boxes. It was the perfect place for an ambush. Tommy looked the Conductor in the eyes, but nothing on his face gave away what was in this last train car.
“It’s just inside, Harold,” the Conductor said with a tilt of his head. Tommy reluctantly stepped through the open door as he entered semidarkness.
Once he was in the car, Tommy’s eyes scanned his surroundings. Objects hanging from the ceiling swung back and forth with the rhythm of the train. Crates groaned with each bump. Otherwise, nothing moved. At first, Tommy didn’t understand why he had been led here. But, as soon as he entered the room fully, he heard muffled voices coming from the back of the car. Stacks of crates obscured his view and he could not see over the cargo.
“Right this way,” the Conductor stated as he led the way. Tommy followed him as they weaved their way through the rows of crates. Eventually, they approached the very end of the car. Tommy saw two other men standing at the back of the train car. As Tommy approached, he could tell the men were uneasy for both men were pale and rigid, as if they had been caught doing something wrong.
“Gentlemen,” the Conductor said firmly as he clasped his hands behind his back. “Please show Officer Perkins what you found.”
The two men nodded gravely, and then stepped aside to reveal a white sheet draped against something which was resting against the wall. At first, Tommy didn’t understand why this covered up object was so important. But as his eyes traveled down the sheet, he noticed the way the sheet draped over the object underneath in a shape he knew very well. Eventually, his gaze rested on a pair of black shoes sticking out from under the sheet.
“As you can see,” the Conductor began as he bent down and gripped the top of the sheet. Tommy’s breath felt sticky as he traced the outline of a face hidden beneath the cloth. The sheet did not stir with breath from the body beneath it. “We have quite a situation on our hands,” he stated bluntly as he pulled the sheet down. Once the fabric was pulled back, Tommy’s heart leapt to his throat. Staring back at him from a pale face were blank, endless eyes. The lips were blue tinted. The skin was mottled and lifeless.
Tommy felt the world begin to spin around him, and he had to steady himself against the wall. He gulped in thick air and tried to swallow the vomit collecting in the back of his throat like a stopped-up sink as he stared down at the body of a dead man.