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How to begin…let’s see…Hmm. A complete account of the incident…no. A complete account of the…the. A Complete account of the events of…ugh…I need to start. I’ll just…start.
The Railway line from (beeped out) to (beeped out) was to be reopened. To many, this seemed like a foolish endeavour. Why try to reopen the line when maintaining the roads would take as much effort and much less steel? The railway hadn’t been used in over a decade – not since the last war and subsequent depression had wiped out the transport budgets on both sides. Someone in some department was determined though, determined enough to push through the plan, and their ideas may have had some merit.
The line was winding, it was true, but not as winding as the roads, which had to be moved about every year – sometimes by miles – to adjust to floods and landslides. Whoever has built the original track had clearly taken time to plan properly – the route wound around the hills when it needed to, avoided the marshes, included sturdy bridges and most importantly tunnled through the mountains instead of trying to climb them. It was built to last and it would be a waste to let it decay any further. A comitee was formed, the words ‘infastrcture for the public good’ were typed on a file and eventually, months down the line, the first tentative explorative missions were planned.
Surprisingly little can be found of these first missions. I tried to find some records after my own expereinces of the tracks, but if there is one thing a government in crisis is good at, it’s a cover-up. After months of searching all I could come up with was a single non-official log book that a woman had kept after her friend vanished. I believe it was overlooked due to clear lack of understanding of the relationship between the two women. When I found her she was still wearing black and a matching pair of rings – one on her finger and one on a chain around her neck. She was more than happy to meet, urging me to take the log book and try and discover what I could. I could see how the sight of my scars hurt her – she was surely wondering what sort of fate her partner had encountered if a survivor was so badly marked. I was tempted to lie and claim the scars were from the war but this was a mission of truth. There was no point giving her false hope.
My name is (beeped out) and I was assigned to the midway railway station six months after the last exploratory missions ended. When I was given the job I was told that the missions had been a success – the lines were damaged but the buckling would withstand the tough military trains that were leftover from wartime. These were the most efficient way to access the damaged areas and carry over the supplied to fix them. Every station along the way was derelict and the villages that they marked were still too impoverished to support the operation – if they even still existed. The trains would need at least one refilling station where reports of their journey could be sent back to the capital. I was to run this location.
I arrived at the very beginning of spring, when snow still lay on the ground and only the very earliest buds had appeared on the trees. I started out in (beeped out), armed with only a small suitcase and a packed lunch. The train station was little more than a warehouse, grimy and echoing, filled with the rusting hulks of the military trains. I made my was to the only active platform and waited anxiously among the soldiers. The train we were taking was massive – more like a tank than anything else. The sides were plated with thick sheets of studded steel and the only windows were thin slits near the top. It belted out smoke as it waited for us to board. I tried not to cough in front of the men surrounding me.
They were friendly enough once they learned I was going to be the new station master. One of two exchanged looked I didn’t understand and I was asked a few times if I had much knowledge of the railway line. I don’t know if my obvious naivety or orders from above kept them from spilling the truth.
The ride was bumpy; the rails below us were warped and rough from age. The train moved along slowly. I couldn’t see outside the dim carriage, so I spent my time chatting to the soldiers, sharing out my little packed lunch and – mostly – sitting in silence. The atmosphere was strange. The soldiers seemed on high alert, even for military men. Looking back, I can’t even imagine how afraid they all must have been.
I fell asleep once during the journey, resting my head against my rolled up jacket. It was a fickle, restless sleep, but it must have lasted several hours. Now I think back I can barely imagine how I managed it. When I woke it was dark, the only light coming from the swinging bulbs that lines the walls. The train had stopped.
Still half asleep, I turned to the nearest soldier to ask whether we had reached my destination, only to see he was pale and sweating under the yellow light. No one was moving and weapons were now glinting in various hands. I shrank back, more confused than afraid, still half-asleep.
Before I could ask what was going on a long shrill whistle came from the front of the carriage and the atmosphere immediately relaxed. The soldier next to me – really just a boy, certainly younger than I was – closed his eyes and I saw tears rolling down his face before he quickly wiped them away with his sleeve and turned away. I sat up, pretending to have just awoken and spent the last few hours of travel in quiet contemplation.
We reached my destination at dawn. The train stopped, slow and creaking and the carriage was opened, letting in the golden rays of sun like a path to a better place. I fought to make myself thank the soldiers before escaping the confines of the metal train. I stepped out, glad to have finally arrived.
The platform was wood, almost rotted through and I nearly tripped as I navigated its rough surface. No one got out with me. An officer, exhausted and stern, handed my a dossier, shook my hand and handed my a large package, all without a word. He got back on the train and soon it was off again, groaning as it went along the worn out tracks. As it passed by me I noticed my carriage – which had a large number six painted on the door – was now the last one on the train. I had been sure there was another behind it when we started out. As it pulled away I saw that there was an off discolouration on the rear of the carriage – black like soot. I stood and watched it until the train finally went out of sight.
The station itself was what you would expect from an isolation building that had been ignored for a decade. It was built in the pre-war style – simple and made of wood with a stone foundation and a long sloping roof. It was raised up on a stone platform to make it level with the platform with steps leading down to the ground and the outbuildings behind it. The platform itself was short, ending on each side with stone ramps. On the other side of the tracks was a wide meadow that lead across to the forest beyond. Behind me, the meadow continued to distant foothills and on either side the forest curved around, encircling the meadow on three sides. The land felt wide and flat as it spread out before me. I could see the tracks on each side for several miles until they vanished into the trees. Other than my own little compound there were no other buildings – no sign of humans other than the station and the tracks. The sky was bright, the sun warming me as it rose over the forest. It gave me some comfort. That glorious sky was a barrier between me and the mystery of the night before.
I opened the dossier and pulled out a ring of rusted looking keys and a thick folder. The words ‘instructions for the role of station master’ were printed in red on the front. I looked through keyring until I found one that matched the huge padlock on the station doors and spend several minutes wrestling with it, finally opening with the help of some grese from the remains of yesterday’s lunch. I pulled off the chains and undid the bolt.
Inside it was blessedly intact. It was clear to me that there had been no work done in preparing the place for my arrival. But the walls were firm, the roof seemed mostly solid and I saw no signs of leaks or break-ins. Once upon a time this would have been a comfortable and pleasant place.I wondered about the previous inhabitants – so much had been erased from our past. I felt a pang of sympathy and used it to spur myself to work.
The first full week I cleaned and mended; airing out the waiting room, exploring the outbuildings and marking the ones that were suitable for storage and which would need more extensive repairs. The rest of the compound had not lasted as well as the main building but had been chained up with the same heavy locks and inside there remained old old equipment and supplies. The best surprises I found were in the basement of the station – a sizeable storage area that contained full stacks of firewood and several barrels of some kind of alcohol.
The supply package I had been handed off the train had contained dry rations for several months as well as a bundle of fresh apples that I suspected had been bought out of the officer’s own pocket. There was fresh water in a brook nearby. My diet for the next few weeks was dull but manageable. I was used to this kind of eating.
I found some old packets of seeds and the remains of a vegetable garden near one of the outbuildings and began to replant. I never knew if anything grew from them. The events that left me haunted and scarred came long before anything had a chance to sprout.