The Man on the Tracks

by Mark Figueroa | Art by A Forgotten Pen at @theforgottenpen

There’s a platform at the edge of my quiet, little town. 

The train shows up at 2:34 AM on peculiar nights, or so they say. To date, several people have gone missing, but no one seems to remember them very well, beyond a name and an age. The only commonality among the missing seems to be that they all have a combination of 3, 4 or 2 in their age, and they are all between 23 and 44. There’s an urban legend that claims the train is for the wicked. Those who board are bound for a place worse than hell. I have never believed such a tale. 

There is no train that runs through that platform, let alone any train, save for the freights, that run after midnight. 

I dismissed the urban legend altogether until I began hearing about it more frequently on my 43rd birthday. That was when I met him

He wore a trench coat, black gloves, a fedora and round spectacles. His moustache was curved, much like a gentleman’s, but this man was far from it. 

He was well-spoken, but very curt, some might even say downright rude, but in his eyes was a mischievous grin that wouldn’t be reflected by his foul, frowning mouth. His gaze twinkled with a certain kind of rage and violence. It was as if he were to nonchalantly ignite one’s home upon being invited in and feel nothing, save for the childish delight that comes from momentary excitement. 

I’ve encountered this man many times since my birthday, but have never seen a reason to converse. The train from the city where I worked would always arrive at half-past 4 p.m. I’d depart and encounter him exactly two minutes later. This occurred for approximately 2 months, 3 weeks and 4 days. I paid little to no mind. In such a bustling city, you’re bound to see the same people for weeks, months, if not years.  

This man, Mr. Francis E. Wayne-Wright IV, was of the peculiar lot. He seemed familiar enough, but his placement always felt off. His presence seemed contrived, as if he were a man of back alley shadows, perverse tastes and the kind of wealth that would make or break popular opinion.

Anyway, as it were on this occasion, Mr. Wayne-Wright approached with a most peculiar proposition. I hardly heard him as I sought mental and emotional refuge from his pale face, thick black suit and even black trenchcoat. His black gloves squealed as he squeezed his cane.

“Do you understand my request?” He inquired softly. 

“Pardon me,” I responded, scurrying away. Truth be told I did not understand his request. Nor did I comprehend how dogs and man did not relieve their fluids or turn into defensive beasts in his presence, but as fate would have it, that was not our only encounter. 

Several weeks ago, on a Sunday afternoon, my wife and I took our daughter to watch a play-read in the park. The play was slated for 2:30 p.m., but began 4 minutes late. That was when he appeared. Mr. Wayne-Wright was but a face in the crowd. A distinct face that appeared to be completely present here and elsewhere. The kind of face that stares back at you from the darkness when your eyes linger upon the shadows for too long. Even on this bright day, his face carried the same feeling. As the play-read shouted, I scrambled to my feet, clutching to my daughter and yanking her mother. We ran to the nearest road and I hailed a taxi, but there he was. Watching and waiting from the other end of the street. On our way home, I let out a shriek, as I saw his face in the glass. I saw his face on the driver. He was passersby. I glanced in a mirror, and he was me. It was then that my family and I stumbled out of the car. I recovered from the spell with a shot of brandy and some contemplation. Several weeks passed, and on my train’s arrival this afternoon at 4:32 p.m. Mr. Wayne-Wright stood on the platform.

“This is the wrong one,” he said, seeming to relish in my discomfort. “I’ll skip the pleasantries, Monsieur. At half-passed 2 a.m. and 4 minutes, March 24th, you were picked. Not by choice or by knowledge of course, but nonetheless, you were chosen. You are to meet on the platform on the edge of town. Do I make myself clear?”

Silence fell over me and I said nothing, but I could not fain miscomprehension this time. I heard and understood him perfectly. “May I say my peace to my wife and child?” I spat out, unintentional, but resolute. 

“Does one say good night to a dream? Does one say goodbye to a fantasy? I should think not, lest they wish to be cradled by the illusion. You are to tell no one. This ill informed delusion which you call a life is merely a train station, a platform of sorts, and your train, my good man has delayed long enough,” Mr. Wayne-Wright said. “One never asks for life to end, but conversely, one never asks for it to begin. So which is wrong? Ending life or bringing it to be? Are you wrong for leaving your life, or are you wrong for giving your child life?” He laughed and went on his way. “At half-past 2, we shall meet. Do not make me come looking for you,” He called out with his back turned.

Afraid of what else would transpire, I resigned to my fate. Despite his appearance and sick pleasure in my fear, it felt necessary. I stand here at the platform. I see no train, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I catch occasional glimpses of a giant masked face and white gloves. Profanity and shrieks compel me on to the tracks. The light becomes more focused as the platform and tracks behind me grow darker. Eventually a warm darkness surrounds me and the light becomes sharper and brighter, until it blinds me. 

A violent force yanks me from the station, from my life, from my existence and my mind begins to atrophy. The memories of my life fade with blink until my confusion devolves and I express myself through screams and wails.

“Congratulations,” a giant man yells. “It’s a boy.”

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