Short Story
by Piper Davenport

Author's Note: This has been previously published at Centroid Cafe's Writers Corner.  I'm not sure now if I'm going to turn this into a novel or shorten it to a novella.  I will decide sometime later on down the road. Enjoy! 

I awoke in the middle of the night. I couldn't sleep; I was afraid. I had a terrible dream: At the exit of the nightclub, a crowd of eager fans surrounded me, pushing against each other in order to secure my autograph. Most of the fans were young women; I noticed immediately a little black boy standing off in the corner alone. The boy had on a dirty yellow shirt, blue shorts and was barefoot. He was probably homeless, I thought but shook the image of this little boy walking around with no shoes from my mind and continued to smile and dazzle the crowd.

The flash of cameras in my eyes blinded me for a few seconds and I used my hands to reach for the tiny notepads, the programs with my face on the front and even sometimes arms or shirts for me to sign. The odors of day-old whiskey mixed together with perfume and cologne intoxicated me to the point where I thought I might fall over. Instead, I stepped back a moment, almost falling over on the sidewalk.

My protector was an old face from the streets, someone I had seen before but didn't really know too well and he was too busy talking to a woman to pay attention to him almost falling over. Instead, a white man with glasses on and a newspaper wrapped under his arms grabbed my backside and pushed me back up. I turned around, tipped my cap and smiled at the gentleman.

But for some reason, I couldn't take my eyes off the little boy with the overgrown belly, the too-skinny legs and big, sad eyes looking at me from behind the rest of the crowd. The boy was standing in the shadows behind the doorframe, a ragged stuffed animal in one hand and a piece of red licorice in the other hand.

The woman that had been promised to me for a reason I could not remember at that moment wrapped her arms around my neck and bit gently on my ear. Her body turned towards me and posed for the smiling faces. The mink fur around her shoulders almost dropped onto the soggy red carpet. Her lips planted pink kisses on my yellow face much to the chagrin of the other women standing around.

It was lovely for me, the concert, but my body yearned for rest and the ability to go home and be left alone. I pulled back my sleeve to look at the time. Tomorrow morning, my next crowd of fans awaited me in New Orleans but alas, the beloved Circa timepiece watch I always wore on my right wrist was missing. Perhaps I had left it in my dressing room. As much as the attention of my fans was exciting and gratifying, I needed my watch. It let me know when it was time to move forward. I turned around again. My protector would have to let me go in through the back of the nightclub to where my dressing room was to look for my watch. But first, I removed the woman's arms from around my neck and my lips kissed her on the cheek. She looked at me with confusion on her face. The crowd was calling my name from the street.

“Where you going, boss?” My protector now observed me heading toward the entrance. I knocked on the door once and it opened. Everyone stepped aside so as to not block the entrance.

“Back inside. I left my gold watch in there,” I replied.

The rain was beginning to fall outside and the crowd was now beginning to disperse as I waved goodbye to everyone, including the woman that was supposed to wait for me. The alcohol, mainly whiskey, was beginning to relax inside of me. I pointed my fingers at one of my fellow musicians, whom the woman quickly wrapped her arms around and forgot about me as soon as I was no longer in her sight.

The door shut behind me with a thud and my nostrils were overwhelmed once again with a slight musty odor. My dressing room had actually been the janitor's closet. It was on the immediate right and the door was partially opened. I feared that my watch was gone when I looked inside. My fears were right and I saw nothing of mine left in the room. Then, I realized that I had not left the watch in this room because I had looked at my watch right before I went outside. The woman that had been promised to me had probably swiped the watch when she had wrapped her arms around me.

I wondered how she had been able to do that. No matter, she was gone and I was out of a watch. I opened the door slightly. Only a few people remained outside. I didn't feel like being bothered, not tonight. I decided I didn't want to go through the back door. I looked around. I could hear the sounds of a few people in front. Probably the servers, collecting their tips for the night. I opened the doors that weren't locked and looked for windows that I could escape out of. Finally, I found another room, an office, with an open window. The room also had that stale musty odor, shag carpet and an old metal desk. I locked the door behind me so no one could follow behind me. A chair from the corner was used to give myself a boost out into the alley. To my immediate right were the street but also my fans, the other musicians, and my protector that I didn't want to be bothered with and to my left was a backdoor leading into an old loft warehouse.

My gut instinct told me not to go inside that warehouse but my body was ready to collapse. I climbed out of the window and dropped down onto the street. Smells of garbage, cat urine and sewerage welcomed me into the alley. My senses were not strong enough to handle such senses and I gagged onto the ground. I looked back up and the same boy that I had seen from the doorway was standing at the corner of the next-door building, looking at me again. I ignored the little boy and headed towards the warehouse. Neon lights were blinking from the top of the building, though I doubted if anyone lived there, if at all. Though it was nighttime, it was cold and winter and snowing, and smoke from the loft's chimney reached out to touch the night sky. A shooting star fell then right before my eyes and I wished I had caught it in time to make a wish but I shook that notion off as silly and continued on my journey.

I passed a homeless man, lying on top of a pile of dirty blankets. Fire breathed from a rusted barrow with firewood. An old tin can near his boots contained a million pennies and a few nickels. I looked in my pocket for loose change but I couldn't find any. The only thing in there was a box of matches to a place called Paradise Valley . Tossing the box into the man's tin can made me feel good about myself. At least I had acknowledged him. He acknowledged me by turning over on his side, snoring at a slightly louder pace, revealing a few rotted teeth and a missing arm with a sling over it. I walked over to the door. Through the fogged windows, I saw a faint light blinking on and off. A whistle opened my closed ears for a second. Was it a code from my protector that he was far and something more sinister was near? Perhaps a train about to pull away? A lovely, full-figured woman in a purple sequined dress and matching peacock hat pushed past me, almost pushing me back outside as she made her way up the stairs. I could hear the tinkle of her glass slippers against the metal of the staircase. I continued to listen to that wonderful sound until I could hear no more.

I saw frost and snowflakes falling down from the top. Each snowflake was shaped like a musical note or instrument but I felt heat from down below. The faint light of neon colors reverberated off the wall. I placed my hand on the railing and walked slowly down the stairs but then, I heard a loud, crashing noise up the stairs and a feminine voice screaming. I immediately thought of the lovely woman that pushed past me earlier. It was something about that scream that I wanted to hold onto. I decided to go back upstairs to help her out but when I turned around again, there was a cage with bars in front of it, blocking me from going upstairs. I tried opening the door I came in through but it was locked, almost as if someone had put a chair against the door.

Then, I heard the sound of laughter. It was a man's laughter, bellowing and hearty. So loud in fact that the staircase was shaking. Sweat was pouring down my eyes and I could barely see in front of me. Back down the stairs I went, the stairs getting smaller and smaller with each turn of a corner. I saw a puddle at one corner, a smell of old urine that I was now stepping in. I continued going down the stairs until I reached the bottom: a train platform. I was now uncomfortable and pushed my sleeves up. I took my hat off and wiped my forehead with my shirt. I looked around. The place was completely deserted. Rows and rows of benches were covered with some liquid, which I assumed (and hoped) was water.

I heard a voice deep inside me echo out, “Hello?” The sound bounced off the walls around me. The lights above me were slowly dimming. I saw a luggage rack across the tracks, filled with luggage but no passengers. A brown rat scurried along the tracks; I wanted to jump over the tracks and go to the other side where I saw an exit sign and another metal door.

Steam was rising up from the ground but from where exactly it came, I wasn't sure. I heard the crash of lightning, which made my heart almost leap out of my chest. I wanted to jump down on those tracks and then climb up on the other side, but then I was worried that another train might come along. Before I could jump down onto the train tracks, I heard the slam of a door in the ticket booth. A red-haired, white man with freckles and a conductor's suit came out. He had a newspaper in one hand and a suitcase in the other. He walked over to me and pulled out a round timepiece watch from his pocket and looked at it. He nodded his head toward me. I started to walk toward the tracks but he put his hand in front of me to stop me. He whispered, “Wait!” I stood back. Something small and bony tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and there was the little black boy standing behind me.

He looked a little bit older now with lines under his eyes, like he had been crying. I bent down to touch him on the shoulder. He was eating a piece of melon but handed me a golden ticket. I held it up in my hands. It was too shiny for me to clearly see the gold lettering. I turned it over and over in my hands. Gold dust from the lettering was smearing onto my hands. I tried wiping my hands onto my pants but the gold dust wouldn't come off. I realized then that I hadn't asked the boy where he came from, where he got the ticket from, and why was he giving the ticket to me? I turned around and he had vanished.

I asked the train conductor where the little boy was at and he looked at me strangely. I asked my question again and he pointed towards the east. Heading in our direction was a train. I heard that loud whistle again. This time I could see the train headed our way. The conductor walked up close to the edge with his luggage in his hand. He motioned for me to move forward. Instead, I walked back toward the staircase I had come down from. It now had a cage across it with bars in front.

I grabbed onto it and pulled but it would not budge. Frustrated, I looked around to see if there were any other exits. The only thing I saw were the bathrooms, a waiting room and right in front of that a lost-and-found box and above that, a departure board with no destinations. In fact, the only thing on it was: The writing is on the wall. The phrase repeated itself over and over again in gold neon letters.

I thought perhaps the bathroom might have a window I could climb out of as some public bathrooms had windows. I didn't know what time it was but I knew that I needed to get back to my hotel room. Though I was tired, I was surprised that I had enough strength to continue moving around. I walked over to the bathroom door and pushed against it but it was locked. Pushing with all of my might, I was still unable to open the door.

I kicked the door with as much disappointment as I could muster and then I heard the sound of another whistle, a human one. The conductor was motioning for me to come over to him. Since there was no other way for me to get out of the train except jump down on the tracks, which I thought was pointless since all the doors on the departing side were locked, I walked over to him. Boarding on the train was the same lovely woman with the purple sequined dress.

I had not seen her appear from anywhere else either but decided perhaps to board the train. I thought there was a possibility that I could hop off the train once it arrived at its next destination and then hitchhike back to town. I ran over to them as I could see that everyone else was already on there, though I did not know where these people came from, though I assumed they went on board when I had my back turned.

The conductor was twirling his mustache; he had a big grin on his face. I walked up to him and handed my gold ticket. The little boy came up behind me and tugged on my suit jacket. He was pointing at something on the train but the windows were too foggy. I could not see what he was pointing at.

It was my mistake to ignore him. He didn't have pants on anymore but I was too tired to care. I was tired of this place and ready to go. I wanted not only out of this train station but I needed to get away from this town. I boarded the train and noticed that the immediate cars to both my left and right were full. One thing I noticed though was that everyone was wearing hats. I could not see any of their faces. The lovely woman was ahead of me and moving towards the back of the train. I decided to follow her but before I could, another conductor blocked my entrance. He told me to have a seat in a row of empty seats I had not seen before.

I looked out the window. The little boy was looking up at me through the open window. He had a suit on now, with oxford shoes and a felt hat. He was tap dancing with everything he had. The harder I stared at him, the harder his feet beat against the ground. Everyone around me began snapping their fingers. No one was looking at the boy, though who tapped to his own sound, his legs stretching him and making him eight feet tall.

Another whistle erupted then and then on cue, everything stopped. The boy walked off the platform, disappearing into the smoke that was now coming from the train. Everyone went back to what they were doing and I looked forward. I could hear the sound of someone weeping around me. I turned around and around again but I wasn't able to see where it was coming from. The sound of it saddened me.

Then there was a loud crash. Glass shattered from above us and pounded down on the roof of our train and covered the platform. Lightning was striking all around us. The lights inside of our caboose went on and off. The sound of the person weeping, which I was sure now was a woman, I could hear very loudly. It began to rain inside the train station. The sound of raindrops against the shattered glass reminded me of the lovely woman's glass slippers against the metal staircase. I heard someone shout, “We must get them out of here!” The lights went off again and stayed off. I heard the woman weeping move forward until she was sitting across from me. She had on a black veil covering her face but there was a familiarity about her.

Once she sat down, her weeping quieted. I was not sure where I was headed next. I heard another loud scream but this time I did not turn around. I was focused on reaching my next destination, which I did not know. Lightning struck again and then I could hear no more. The train conductor began to speak, his lips were moving but no sound was coming out. I heard him point in a northern direction. The woman with the veil began to protest. Everyone around me stood up and they were protesting too.

My head began to spin and a rock came through the window next to me. The little boy was rain-soaked in his suit. I guess he had been trying to get my attention. He was jumping up and down but the train was slowly moving ahead. He stepped back and began pointing furiously at something over my shoulder I could not see. The black-veiled woman removed her head covering and I saw that she was my mother. She had a picture of me in her hand. It was the same grown man whose hands I was staring at. I opened my mouth but no sound came at. One bright light bulb slowly dimmed behind me. I saw a shadow inching forward. I was fascinated by its shape. I had seen it somewhere before. I saw an object being pulled from the depths of the shadows. The little boy was now running along with the train and he tried to grab onto the now-broken open space but his legs and strength were too small to lift him up. I tried to grab him but I felt a force that I could not feel yank me back forcefully into my seat. The train had reached the tunnel by then. Sweat began to cascade down my forehead. I panicked and yelled out, “Stop the train!” I wanted to be away from the darkness that I could not see. I ran into the bathroom. I splashed cold water on my face. His large shadow was behind me. I looked in the mirror and was blinded by the sight. It was me, only older and sadder—standing next to the boy, young and gullible. They were both looking at me. Good versus evil. I screamed out but no one heard me. I pushed past them outside the bathroom and screamed in the hallway. No one turned around. I was invisible. The last thing I remember was the man behind me, the feel of his gun against my head. We were not too far from the tunnel light. He pulled the trigger then and I was gone.

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