Beat of the train

The sun’s glow lit up the sky with a crimson colour, while the beat of the train slowing down for the station sounded like the heartbeat of an old man dying. One solitary person stepped off the train and looked around to see no one to greet her, at what was once a busy platform twenty years ago. It had changed so much in that space of time from a blue painted roof and green doors to murky coloured panels with daylight showing through where stones had been violently thrown.

As she walked through the rickety old building, hoping that it would not fall, she saw a dusty plan of the town, as it was in the days she lived here, and saw the school and her own house marked on with charcoal or some other black substance. This, she worked out, was her father’s map that he had owned when he worked at the local station. Fighting back the tears from her tired, pale face, she walked out into the sunshine. To anyone else this would seem to be a ghost town, but to her it was where she had lived her childhood, watched her parents die and had now returned to.

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The one difference was that it was now a deserted place that nobody knew about, a forgotten village. Everything looked different. Her own house, or what was left of it, was hardly recognisable due to the vindictive wind that had torn through it making people abandon their homes so many years ago. She had never wanted to leave. She had wanted to help everyone who was trapped under the rubble and debris. Even now she could see the terror on her parents’ faces as she was dragged away from them, screaming and crying. They were covered in blood, helpless and suffering.

Knowing, even now, that they were going to die anyway, she felt guilty for having left them. Guilt that she could not overcome, not in normal life, at night or at any other time. That is why she came here, to try and say sorry to her parents and to friends she had also lost. She had to lie under the stars that night because there was nowhere else to sleep. The owls and other night-life were noisy but at one point the hairs on the back of her neck had that prickly sensation that people get when they feel they are being watched but when she looked there was no one there, so she fell back into an uncomfortable sleep.

She woke up to a nauseating stench. It reminded her of a mixture of dog’s food, sour milk and rotten eggs. Her eyes were still not in focus when the boy ran up to her and stuck some of the cold, smelling ‘food’, as he called it, in her mouth. She spat it out immediately and looked at this apology for food. It was chocolate coloured with small black lumps in, which appeared to be dead flies. The coffee-coloured sauce appeared to be mud with some sort of herbs mixed in. Whatever it was she was not eating it!

Instead she took to studying the boy while he was digging into his portion of the food. He was wearing what might once have been a hand-made woollen jumper but was now only thin strands of thread and leaves stuck in here and there to hide the really bare patches. His trousers, or what was left of them, were also a tiny bit on the old side or, in other words, little more than lace. They not only were dirty, worn to shreds, and pointless to have on but they were unbelievably smelly. It was the same odour as the food, which made her wonder whether it was the food that smelt or was it him?

Whatever the answer she decided that it was time for him to have a wash anyway. His face and body were covered in dirt. The knots in his hair when she tried to brush it were like a cat trying to catch a ball of wool; the cat can never unravel it and it always rolls away. After failing miserably to clean him she gave up. It was as at this point that she realised what day it was. It was twenty years ago, today, that her parents had died. She had planned to have a ceremony, or something similar, today at her old derelict house.

However the little boy had hidden her shabby rucksack, which held all the equipment for the day to come. When she asked for her bag back he thought it was a game and said that she needed the magic word to get it back. She screamed at him so hard that huge tears rolled down his face as he picked up her bag from under his torn blanket. She walked away with her battered bag in her arms, feeling a twinge of guilt as she glanced around to see the boy following her ten metres behind with his head hung low, like a dogs’ tail between its legs when it’s been naughty.

She walked to her house and began to take out her equipment that she had brought with her. The six candles in each of the six black holders burnt vibrantly as she placed them in a circle. The last thing that had to be done was to put down the picture of her parents in the middle of the circle. This was to be done in five minutes at which moment it would be the exact time that they had died. In the five minutes that she had to wait she remembered that very night. All the details were as vivid as they would be if she were watching a film over and over again every time she closed her eyes.

She had been listening to the radio, her favourite program, when she heard the wind chimes blowing in the breeze. Her parents weren’t home yet but they were going to be soon and they expected her to be tucked up in her cosy bed, fast asleep. She could still hear the wind chimes, swinging more and more violently, when the door slammed and she heard her fathers’ strong, bold voice shouting her name. She thought he’d seen her light or something but his voice sounded more urgent than angry. Running downstairs, she stopped halfway because she could hear her mothers’ voice shouting.

She watched them arguing about the fact that her mother should have stayed outside and waited for them in the car. Just at that moment there was a howl of wind whistling through the house. In one catastrophic second the ceiling had collapsed on her parents. She ran to them and started to haul the dusty rubble off her crushed parents. Even then she knew there was no hope because even more debris kept falling, but she had to try. Her friends then pulled her away from her parents and they all just managed to get out as they watched the whole house cave in on top of her parents.

It was time. She said a small part of the bible that she had learnt before she came and then put the photo in the middle of circle. One by one she placed the candles on their sides and each one lit part of the photo. As the photo burnt to ashes she prayed that they forgave her for leaving them. She was sorry that it had taken this long to face up to what had happened and hoped that they also forgave her for that too. She collected the ashes and poured them out in the same circle that the candles had formed and then left the area.

Meanwhile the little boy had watched the whole service in utter amazement. He had never seen fire before but had only heard of it. He went up to the ashes and put his hand on them. Unfortunately he ended up with a line on his hand where the hot ashes had burnt him. The boy decided he did not like fire and ran to catch up. He spent quite a while looking for her and finally found her at the train station waiting for the next train to arrive. Timidly he asked her what she was doing and whether she was going to leave him alone like his parents had done.

For the first time she realised that he was the same as her. He was parentless and on his own and so was she. She decided to take him back with her and treat him like a brother. When the train came the little boy ran and hid behind some trashcans. She coaxed him out just as the train driver said that he had to leave now if he was to be on time for the other stations. Life from now on would be better for both of them. The girl would be able to live life without thinking her parents blamed her for their death and the boy now had someone to look after him.