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  • Writer's pictureMerle Emrich

Refractions - Part III

Read Part I here.

Read Part II here.


3:12


The moss that grew on the dark brick stones of the train station could not hide the fractures in the rock. The building had stood there for the past 140 years, through countless autumn storms and spring rains it had endured. Two world wars it had witnessed and seen more people pass through its doors than anyone could hope to remember. For some, the passage through those doors was the start of their journey; for others, it meant their return. It was a place where firsts and lasts, endings and beginnings converged.

He pushed open the door just wide enough to slip through. It fell shut behind him with a thud. The dim light inside was comforting and he took in a deep breath of the cool air that smelled of memories and damp stone. The walls threw back the echo of his footsteps as he made his way to the bench at the far end of the hall.

He liked to sit there. He liked to watch the people come and go. It reminded him that there was movement even when the world seemed static, and consistent even when life felt as if it was rushing past him too fast to hold on to it. It reminded him that there were countless possibilities of escape and return.

A woman sat down next to him. She did not speak. Neither did she look at him. She had no luggage and no evident purpose. Over time, he had observed that she was to be found at the station only on Thursdays at two past noon. She would sit for a while, then disappear as quietly as she showed up. He appreciated her companythere was something reassuringly familiar about her.

The door to the platform opened and light spilled on the cracked floor as a shadowless figure of a man stepped through. His old-fashioned trousers and jacket were too large for his body. One of the straps of his backpack was broken and tied into a knot. He stopped a few steps into the hall, scratched his mustache, and looked around expectantly. But when no one came to greet him, he dug a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. He dropped the burnt matchstick on the floor, pulled his flat cap deeper into his gaunt face, and left.

The light outside was already beginning to fade, edging closer to the horizon. Shadows began to seep from the cracks in the stone wall; they crept out of the ground into the sky and crawled through the crevices of time. With a whisper, the woman next to him vanished.

He rose from the bench and there was a moment of hesitation when his eyes wandered over to the door through which he had entered the station. He took a step towards it but then turned and quickly walked in the opposite direction and through the door to the platform. He was alone. There were no trains, no passengers at this time of day; there never were. At least as far as he knew and admittedly, his knowledge was limited in this regard as it was not often that he went beyond the hall of the station.

He pulled the sleeves of his jacket over his hands against the cold and cast a glance at the clock that was mounted on the wall of the building. It had stopped at 3:12. And yet, if he stood very still and listened very carefully, he could hear the tac-tac-tac of the second hand, faint as a hollow heartbeat. A breeze that smelled of snow swept over the tracks and sent shivers through his body, but it was only when he heard steps behind him that he moved.

He turned to face the kid walking towards him. He was in his late teens and walked with an air of unconcern. His head bobbed from side to side in time to the music from his headphones. While he had put a noticeable effort into the angle at which his baseball cap sat on his head, he seemed to be not in the slightest bothered by the shoelace of one of his sneakers that had come undone.

“Ha!” The kid stopped in front of him and even though his eyes were on him, he did not really look at him. He didn’t even bother to take off his headphones. “Thought I’d see you tonight.”

He didn’t say anything. Only a narrowing of his eyes betrayed his hesitance, his unvoiced question of whether he should have walked out onto the platform. If he should have stayed and waited. If perhaps it was wiser to turn around and walk away.

“Look”, the kid sighed, “it’s not as if I’ve got to be anywhere but I can’t say I’m chuffed to see you either. So, what do you want?”

He dug his hands into his pockets and gritted his teeth. “How could you have possibly known that I’d be here?”

With a shrug, the kid pointed at something behind him a few inches above his right ear. “It’s stronger today, innit?”

He turned his head. A fissure was spreading through the air. It widened so slowly it was almost painful to watch and a faint glow of black began to spill into the evening.

“Anyways, I hear things and there’s been talk…”

“Never mind what you hear. Stay out of it.” He involuntarily took a few steps back and cursed himself when traces of a smirk flitted over the kid’s face.

“What’s on the other side?” He nodded at the blackness behind him.

The kid raised his eyebrows, and the trace of an expression that might or might not have been a smirk flitted over his face. “Can’t say.”

“You can’t or you won’t?” The sharpness in his voice cut through the air but the kid merely raised his shoulders and let them drop, exaggeration in every movement.

“Listen, mate, it makes no difference. I can’t and regardless I mightn’t tell you anyways. I don’t owe you nothing.”

“Why are you still here then? Why do you even talk to me?”

The kid made a sound somewhere in between snort and laughter and let his eyes drift over the empty platform as if searching for an excuse to leave.

“You’re kinda keeping me here. Cheers for that by the way.”

“Am I? I didn’t ask you to stick around, did I?”

The light that poured from the still-growing gap cast the world in sharp contrasts. With it a wave of voices washed over the train station and the two people standing by the tracks. He squinted his eyes to make out the expression that washed over the kid’s face, but his contours seemed blurred, his face distorted.

“How daft are you? It’s not like I have a choice, is it? As long as you’re around I’m stuck here. You know that. Maybe you didn’t then but by now you should’ve figured that out.”

He gave a shrug and strolled towards the rupture in the air. “Anyways, if you want to know what’s there, why don’t you have a look for yourself?”

Without giving him the time for an answer, the kid stepped into the black light and vanished leaving him alone again. The ticking of the clock faded with the fissure that was closing in on itself and leaving only the night and the cold. He noticed that his knees were shaking, and his nose was so cold it felt as if it would fall off. And so, he turned back to the station building and walked towards the door, past the broken bench that no one had bothered to fix or remove, into the darkness of the hall. Past ticket machines and service desks that were out of service for longer than he cared to remember. On to the road on the other side where he walked with only his shadow, elongated by the light of the streetlamps, for company.


Read Part IV here.


Written by Merle Emrich.

Cover photo by Merle Emrich.


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