Into the Valley of Madness
BY DONALD H. ROBERTS
No one ever knows a train conductors name and few ever concern themselves with discovering it, so throughout this story the man who is the second most significant person aboard the train will be identified simply as, the Conductor.
The Conductor strode easily up and down the aisle of the train moving from car to car assisting where needed and admonishing where necessary. Mostly he simply observed, but his attention had a shadow to it masked with a sly grin.
Sarah Weshlyn said to her husband, “That man, the Conductor seems odd. It is like he knows something but isn’t telling anyone?”
Johnny replied, “That’s just the writer in you picking out some new and sinister characters.”
“Maybe but wait until he catches you in his gaze. It really is discomforting.” Sarah mused back.
“Let’s go to the observation deck. I doubt he will follow you there.” Johnny replied then ushered his wife out of the passenger car and quickly out of sight of the Conductor.
Jake Taggart watched as everyone milled about, more interested in the occasion than the scenery flashing by. But then it was still mostly urban with some suburban sprawl. Once the rural plots gave way to the wild wilderness their eyes would all be glued to the living video rolling past the windows. It made him think about his life, his dilemma, and his future, which were all in chaos with little hope of relief unless he could just disappear. Make Jake Taggart disappear and… “And then what?” he thought. “Empty oblivion. Maybe I should just go back and face my stupidity. What’s a few years against a life time of hiding, always wondering who is going to recognize you?”
The Conductor stopped next to Jake’s seat. He smiled ruefully and said, “I have seen that expression on many faces Mr. Taggart. Whatever is gnawing at your conscious is trying to help you. I would listen to that inner voice.” Then he moved on.
“Hey. How do you know my name?” Jake demanded.
Without looking back the conductor replied, “I am the train conductor.”
“He saw my picture in the papers and he saw through my disguise. Who else will?” Jake muttered and pushed himself deeper into the corner of his seat and turned his eyes to the window. The suburbs were gone and the rural fields were fading into a mist even though the sun was burning nearly white, new, and fresh against a clear azure sky.
Trevor and Anna Morris found a seat on the observation deck. Anna had her camera ready to capture their honey moon trip in a video. Trevor watched the city diminish and suburbia grow. It wouldn’t be long before he and Anna would be living in one of those nice bungalows on a quiet street treading through life together, “To where?” he thought. Then he let his thoughts drift back to the reason they were on a honeymoon. He was pressed by everyone to own his responsibility to the life he helped to create. Now his own plans were fading out of site with the city into the empty dreams of the wilderness which was being masked by a thin veil of mist. He muttered, “It’s ironic that this trip is reflecting my future.”
Anna didn’t get it. She replied, “Yes. Isn’t beautiful.”
Trevor forced a smile on his lips and said, “Yah.”
The Conductor stopped at the table where the party of six were sitting talking and sipping on their drinks. They were discussing the events of the night before and how they really tore up the city. The one named John Weshlyn was laughing and trying to talk, saying something about the waiter in the restaurant being a jerk for insisting they were disturbing other guests with their boisterous celebration.
The Conductor admonished, “Which you are doing now. If you do not curb your enthusiasm and stop disturbing the other passengers I will conduct you to the caboose.”
“You can’t do that.” Weshlyn snarled.
A traveling companion, Marie Bolt sneered at him and said, “John. I think he can. We should do as he asks.”
John Weshlyn lowered his eyes and muttered something unintelligible.
Another table of four were playing poker. The Conductor suggested they were missing the point and should be enjoying the scenery. The dealer just dealt another hand.
Outside, though the sun still broke through, the morning mist was growing deep, turning the passing rural scape into a surreal dream. Some people were complaining and others thought it was a work of natural art. Sam Wakes turned away from the window, appalled at the fact that the passengers were all being endangered by a fleeing killer and that there was too much risk in apprehending him. All he could do is hope once they were off the train in the valley he could herd the killer away from the crowd. He had no doubt there was unlikely to be an arrest. This one was a do or die fugitive. Sam’s service pistol weighed heavy on his shoulder.
An automated voice came over the speaker. “We are now leaving the city behind and for the next hour we will be travelling through a section of the Boreal Forest that has never been harvested and some claim is one of the most mystical places in the world. You might see some wonders, even ghosts wandering in the woods but they are simply an illusion caused by the effect of mist and sun rays.
“How perfect is that. It is turning out to be a real magical honeymoon for us Trevor.” Anna said happily.
Trevor conjured up his best smile and replied, “Get lots of video so we can look back on today in a few years.” He tried to sound excited but it was difficult when his mind was toying with a dark and sinister idea.
The Conductor escorted Anna and Trevor to the stairs rising to the observation deck. He fixed his gaze on Trevor and said, “The gloom you sense now will pale if you carry out your thoughts.”
Trevor stared angrily at the conductor but didn’t say anything, he just thought, “How could you know what I am thinking?”
“You look so eerie honey. What is your problem?” Anna teased, though she was half serious.
The train gave a little jerk and the steel wheels screeched on the tracks a little. The train whistle blew but instead of sounding lonesome it wailed urgently.
Episode 2 will be available in the November issue – watch for it here!
Watch for the next Opal Writers’ Magazine in November!
Published by Opal Publishing
Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada