Peter DeLuccio sat waiting for what could have been three hours to three hundred years in the train station. There was no way of telling what the day or time was since he’d discovered that the area lacked any clocks or calendars. The sun sat low in the west, giving a dull glow on the tracks that seemed to lead right into the orange-gold ball of light, but even that was no use in helping with determining the time since the sky had looked the same since Peter had arrived here.
Peter looked down and checked his ticket for the umpteenth time. There was no destination or departing time or day. Just a plain strip of parchment that read Elysian Rails in elegant green ink with Admits One: Peter DeLuccio onto train, in smaller print beneath. Even the sender of the ticket had been a mystery.
Peter had found the hefty strip of paper lying sealed in an envelope amidst a pile of bills and coupons on the floor under the mail slot of his townhouse’s front door after a rowdy night of partying where he had accidentally fallen off a fourth-story balcony. The ticket was accompanied by a short note saying Arrive ASAP and directions on how to arrive at the train station. No return address or information on who sent the envelope within. No one at work had answered any calls Peter had tried to make to let them know that he would be away for a bit and no one back home picked up when Peter had attempted to find out who had sent him the message. He figured it had been some late birthday gift from a friend or relative. So, the next day he loaded up his old sedan and departed for the station in a town he had never heard of. There was slight apprehension, but Peter liked travel and adventure.
The instructions for how to get to the station had read to get on the highway and head west. Apparently, it couldn’t be missed from the road, which was helpful since the location didn’t exist according to the phone’s GPS. Peter had entered the westbound highway early in the morning but found that it was still crowded with drivers. He hated busy roads. The anxiety of newer and bigger vehicles flying past at reckless speeds with others weaving in and out of lanes with no regard for themselves or others quickly dissipated, though.
As the journey continued, everything around seemingly vanished, like magic almost. Buildings gave way to open desert with nothing but the occasional lifeless tree or decaying animal carcass breaking the scenery if endless sand. Peter reckoned that if he veered off course and headed through the fields, the ends of this desert would never be found. The radio had stopped playing anything but a hallow static on all stations and the dashboard clock continuously read 3:33 o’clock, Peter’s cellphone had even refused to work at all. The sun started its departure over the vast are of sand.
It had not felt like he had been on the road that long, but with no radio or clocks, it was hard to tell. Time seemed to be nonexistent here. Peter wondered if he should turn back, but a voice inside assured him that all was okay. Images flashed through his mind of his tank going empty with no one to help for miles. The tank remained dull, though.
The sun had now fully given way to a full moon and bright stars against a jet-black backdrop. No streetlights lined the now two-lane road, but the full moon provided enough light to see if anything was ahead. Peter figured he wouldn’t come across anyone else, though.
The open sea of stars made everything seem like a journey through time and space. Like traveling to another dimension to reach the station. Peter kept on.
Eventually, sunlight started to creep on the horizon. However, the sun seemed to be rising in front of the car. Odd since he was traveling west, a white glow appeared in the distance.
He found new energy at the sight of the building with a train waiting in the back on rails that started a few yards beyond the station. He pulled into the sandy lot across the street between two other vehicles. A rusted-out cruiser from the 1950s and a new car that could have rolled off the lot yesterday.
The building was and old brick rectangle that looked compact from the outside, but the inside revealed that the exterior had been misleading. Peter staggered to the front desk where a beautiful woman in an all-white uniform was sitting with a kind smile.
“Ah, Mr. DeLuccio,” she said in a friendly manner, “We have been expecting you. If you would just take a seat and we will notify you when to board.”
Peter was taken aback that the woman knew his name without checking the ticket or his ID but tried not to show it.
“Ah. Excuse me, ma’am,” he began slowly, “where exactly does this train go?” Peter tried to hold up his ticket, but the woman at the desk either knew where he would be going already, or she didn’t care enough to look and verify.
“Don’t worry, Mr. DeLuccio, we’ll take care of everything. Now if you would please wait,” the woman motioned her hand toward the seating area of people. She really was beautiful. Peter determined that it was not a romantic attractive, but more like a peaceful look as if everyone who had been kind to him was wrapped up in one face.
“I’m sorry, one more question,” Peter asked, hoping to not annoy the woman. If he was, though, she didn’t show it, “What should I do about my car and luggage?”
“You won’t need those where you are going,” she replied, still smiling. “We will have to kindly ask you to leave all that behind.”
“But-,” Peter began before the woman interjected.
“Have faith, Mr. DeLuccio,” she said. Peter knew that there was no use in trying to push the matter further. Whoever gave him this ticket was going to get an earful when Peter found out.
As he walked to find an open seat, Peter realized just how radiant all the workers looked. Both the men and women seemed to radiate a pleasant glow that was amplified by the happiest smiles Peter had ever seen. Each of them had been so kind and helping to the people who asked questions or the children who sobbed uncontrollably. They worked an almost magic to alleviate everyone’s woes. Then, Peter realized how greatly the uniformed workers contrasted the general population of the train station.
Men and women from their early twenties to possibly even over one hundred years old. Some of the crowd wore expensive clothes that fit their wearers nicely, others wore cheap rags that hung on the body like discarded fabrics on a pole. The other thing that struck Peter was the assortment of styles everybody wore.
Peter noticed a group of men that all looked like Roman soldiers from hundreds of years ago next to a young woman who was done up like a Victorian Era noblewoman. Others sat around in modern clothes, clad in t shirts and shorts, offsetting the ones in World War Two period clothing. Peter even noticed one woman sitting silently looked like a painting from Ancient Egypt. The diverse crowd, though grand, all sat quietly, no one spoke to anyone, not even a greeting of “How do you do?” or a simple “Hello”.
In fact, the only thing that anyone seemed to have in common with anyone else was the same downhearted expression on their faces. Everyone just sat alone amongst each other, eyes cast down or staring at the wall. Peter joined them and that was where he had been since.
The place had no bathrooms or concession, Peter figured it was a good thing that he hadn’t needed either. Actually, he hadn’t need to eat, drink, or use the bathroom since he left his house all that time ago. It struck the man odd, but he figured that there was some sort of explanation to it.
“Excuse me, son,” a voice spoke up above Peter, “do you mind if I sit here?” Peter motioned to the speaker that he could take the available chair next to him. He was too much in awe of hearing someone else talk, Peter had almost forgotten what it sounded like.
“How have you been so far, Mr. DeLuccio?” the man asked. Peter began to wonder how the guy knew his name before glancing down and noticing that his ticket bearing his name was sitting faceup on his lap.
“I- *cough*- I have been okay,” Peter felt weird to finally speak again. How long had it been since the exchange with the woman at the desk? He glanced over at the man and studied him.
The person was at least sixty years old, but a healthy figure at that age. He wore a tidy salt and pepper beard that concealed his neck but that did not hide his warm smile. The man’s hair was long but well groomed. He had tan skin with big brown eyes that showed nothing but tranquility. The grandfatherly figure wore a neat crème-colored suit.
“I’m doing just fine, thank you,” the man Beemer happily. No one else looked up to see the speakers. “It seems like you have been waiting here quite a while, now. Haven’t you?”
Peter thought about it. He’d already had a hunch that the wait had been longer than it felt, but it was long enough to sit uncomfortably and grow a bit impatient. Others had been waiting longer while some people had come right in and been led directly to the train before the engines started and chugged down the rail.
“I suppose I have, yeah- er- yes sir,” Peter answered truthfully. Something inside told him that he should be courteous and respectful to the old man.
“Something tells me you won’t have to wait much longer,” the stranger told Peter with a pat on the shoulder. Peter felt a coming come over him with the man’s touch. Like a reassuring breath of air. The man continued talking to Peter for a while. Discussing likes and dislikes, it was uplifting to hear this kind stranger be so positive. The conversation had gone well until the man took a moment and asked, “Peter, if I may be direct with you, what was the worst thing you have ever done in your life?”
The question sent echoes inside Peter’s mind, crashing against the walls of his head like massive waves of a stormy ocean. He felt his face go pale when the image if his sister appeared.
Sofia DeLuccio- just called Sofie- had been sickly her entire short life. The illness was something of a mystery to doctors where Peter’s parents had to fly in specialists from around the country to come visit her in the basement of their small house converted into a bedroom and makeshift hospital chamber. The DeLuccio’s, lower middle class to begin with, were falling into a pit of debt that they were still trying to pay off to this day, almost ten years later.
Peter mulled the question silently in his head, trying to find the correct way to explain. He didn’t want to, but knew he had to tell the guy.
“I-,“ Peter took a breath to hold back the shakiness and tears, “I let my little sister die.” The old man listened silently. Salty liquid streamed down Peter’s face, unable to be held back now. Peter had kept the memory of her suppressed for so long, now it all came crashing back like a dam breaking to allow the water to flood the town.
Peter was able to see the pictures and hear the name of his sister while visiting his parents but had moved away as soon as high school graduation came to avoid anything beyond that. It was a guilt that carried him fir six years. The time between twelve years old and eighteen, when most boys enjoyed the freedom of their youth, Peter had shut himself in, riddled with the sickness and dark emotions of what he had done. The girl was going to die anyway, Peter had just allowed the five-year-old to go a little earlier than she could have.
It killed him whenever he would have to go to that dark room under the kitchen. His sister was all twisted from inability to control her muscles. Her hair was a scattered mess from it falling out in clumps, and she could talk save for grunts and screams. Sofie had to be spoon fed, which Mr. And Mrs. DeLuccio usually took care of, but would sometimes fall onto Peter to do.
He would scoop the dark green sludge of a meal that had been prepared then battered around in the blender. Sofia’s rotted baby teeth made her unable to chew. The noise of his sister struggling to breath with those inhuman grunts she made added to the sight of her mangled body connected by tubes to various machinery made it unbearable to be around. The cost of her ailment had taken its strain also.
Peter had had to endure years of bullying and beratement by his classmates for wearing thrift store clothes and not having the latest gadgets his friends all had. The DeLuccio adults had argued so violently in front of Peter about his dad having to work two jobs with various other chores he did for neighbors for peanuts and his mom working extra hours at her own job, Peter began to fester a resentment towards his sister. It wasn’t her fault that she had been born like this, but it also was not fair that Peter and his family had to endure the repercussions of her ailment in his mind.
One night over summer break, the DeLuccio adults went out of town for the night to visit Peter’s grandmother for dinner and to ask for another loan that they wouldn’t be able to pay back. Peter was to feed Sophie at seven o’clock then diver her the assortment of medicine she was to take after eating. While holding the bottle of water up to Sofie’s mouth to drink, Peter saw that his sister had taken a breath with a mouth full of water.
She began coughing and squirming. Drowning in her bed. Peter panicked.
He ran upstairs into the kitchen, out the back door to avoid hearing her coughing and screaming. The heart rate monitor had began beeping erratically until the coughing ended. The heart rate monitor had straight lined, making a loud hum that reverberated throughout the neighborhood.
The boy had been found him lying on the back porch in the fetal position the next morning.
The old man sat quietly while Peter relayed the story. Peter later told about how he had spent the last four years in a city in a different state, traveling and adventuring to keep his mind off the past.
The man sat quietly and contemplated over what Peter had just told him. The younger man was crying but was gaining composure. He left out the fact that even though the family still struggled financially after Sofie’s death, it had been an unspoken relief.
“Peter, I know you blame yourself and still feel the guilt, but you have to let go,” the man finally spoken up after Peter had wiped the last of his tears away.
“I can’t,” Peter confessed. “I can never forgive myself for what I did.”
“Son, I know it was a troubling time and that you blame yourself for your sister’s passing, but you’re a good kid. Always willing to help others when in need and never kept your family out of your heart. You were young and afraid. You didn’t know what to do.”
Peter thought about it. No matter who told him the same, he had never been able to let go of his guilt and self-conviction. Something about this man, however, seemed different. It wasn’t like he had said anything profound, but Peter felt like a veil had been lifted off of his eyes and he saw things in a new light. An invisible weight came off of his chest.
“Ah there you go, you look relaxed,” the man said, “you haven’t looked this well in years. I think your train is about to leave, go on out and board.”
“But…” Peter began without knowing what to say.
The old man stood up and said, “Don’t worry, I have pull with the boss, I’ll let him know you’re ready to leave. There’s a special person waiting for you there.” He gave Peter a pat on the head and began to walk off.
“Wait!” Peter exclaimed abruptly, “I never got your name.”
“Just call me Gabriel,” the man answered, “Now, the train is leaving any minute.” He began to stroll to the front before turning around, “Oh. And don’t worry about your stuff, you can’t-.”
“Take any of it with me,” Peter replied while standing up. “Thank you, Mr. Gabriel.” The old man smiled and waved before seemingly disappearing.
Peter showed his ticket to the conductor. The handsome worker took it and said, “Ah, welcome, Mr. DeLuccio, I glad to finally take you.”
Peter found an open row and sat next to a window. A few other individuals occupied the other rows, these people were smiling now, looks of excitement shining in their eyes. A roaring hiss indicated the engine started and a voice came on the intercom, “Thank you choosing Elysian Rails. This is train seven seventy-seven. We will be arriving shortly, your loved ones are all waiting.”
Peter rode the train into the low hanging sun where his sister stood waiting, healthy and happy.