A Short Story – April 15, 2010 – “Sides”
A short story
by Chris Hibbard & Curtis M. Goodman
* * *
The music in her ears was the perfect accompaniment for the raindrops rolling down the window to her right, just inches from her face. Staring out from the moving train car, she could see her reflection, transparently floating above the passing landscape. David Gray was singing in her ear about empty pictures frames, while the individual drops splashed on the other side of the glass, sliding down and merging with others into streams, which in turn became pools before they overflowed.
Having boarded the train five hours ago, Carissa was now resigned to her fate. The idea of drastic life change had settled in as reality, and she sat silently, lost in thoughts about what to do next; where to go from here. Her own reflection was suddenly blocked; her eyes distracted then focusing on a dark moving shape at the back of the train car, still a reflection – but an interesting one. Not daring to tear her eyes away, Clarissa watched as the indistinct shape became a young man, shaking off a wet umbrella as he walked down the aisle, coming nearer. He passed in front of her row and their eyes met briefly in the glass. He settled into the seat facing hers. “Oh god. Here we go,” Clarissa thought. “Another horny weirdo.”
* * *
‘God, it’s really coming down out there,’ Nick thought as he tried to ignore the dampness that had crept into his pants from the rain, cold legs and a sticky crotch. As he walked down the aisle, he raised his head, noticing the emptiness of the train, before noticing the beautiful woman he was just about to pass. He noticed that she was staring out the window, so he continued past her and sat down in the next one, across the aisle from her but still able to be looking at her.
“Now I just need some kind of conversation starter to break the silence,” he thought his mind racing for a conversation topic to strike a casual acquaintance. She had yet to look at him, but he could still see her pale reflection in the glass. Their eyes locked in the glass for a second time and he blurted out, “so, where are you going?” He had second thoughts about it the minute it escaped his lips, realizing he had not even introduced himself. In fact, she looked mesmerized by the passing hillsides and power lines.
* * *
She turned her head away from the window and towards him. A suspicious look in her eye made it obvious she did not appreciate the effort. “Are you talking to me?” Carissa asked as she sized him up for the first real time.
“Uh-h yea, I guess so, since in case you didn’t notice, there’s no one else here. We are practically the only one in this car.” Richard replied. “My name is Richard, but my friends call me Nick for some reason, and I’m heading up to Thunder Bay. You don’t need to be worried.”
She hesitated before speaking, sizing him up. After all, she thought defensively. “He could be a secret agent or some stalker-rapist like from Law and Order on TV. He did have kind of a cute dimple, she thought, and a really shiny watch. “My name is Charlotte” Carissa lied, thinking ‘Why not get started on the right foot. To him, I can be whomever I want and he will never know about any of that other shit, that past life. I could leave that all behind and start over; no more threats, no cheating glances, no more never-ending frustrations.’
* * *
‘She doesn’t seem very happy,’ Nick thought, while admiring the ringlets in her hair. They looked natural, bouncy and… wow. He realized he was truly distracted, while he watched as she raised her left hand and pulled an ear bud headphone from her ear. “At last,” he thought, “a crack in the armor and an opening moment.”
“What are you listening to?” he asked, thinking it a good question; open ended with no room for yes or no answers, effectively leaving the conversational ball in her court.
* * *
“Well…” Carissa started, with a strange mischievous look in her eye. “I guess I’m listening to you now. I was listening to David Gray – a guy from England,” she sniped grinning mischievously. “I was listening to David Gray. He’s mellow,” she trailed off. “I was daydreaming.”
“David Gray eh,” Nick said, “kicking himself for sounding so…. Canadian. “I’ve never heard of him but he sounds appropriate for a miserable day like this. I think I still have water in my ear,” he added, putting a finger in his ear to emphasize the grievance.
She made direct eye contact and her smirk disappeared, replaced by that stern look that her reflection has displayed minutes earlier. “I like the rain,” she said slowly. “It washes everything away – makes it all fresh and new, washes all the dirt away. And it smells good afterwards, I think.” Blushing slightly, as though she had revealed something sacred, she glanced away and adjusted the strap of the bag she was clinging to. The train suddenly began to slow; an intense de-celeration occurring. The whole train car gyrated with a rhythm, and the piercing squeal of brakes was almost overpowering. “What the heck?” Nick asked aloud, as he looked out the window. “Where are we?”
Pressing his cheek against the glass, he looked out the window, peering down the side of the train, looking towards the lead engine. The landscape was slowing, trees coming into focus and three black jeeps appeared in the distance, pulling out of a dirt road that ran parallel to the train tracks that had just become visible, emerging from the trees. The windows of the jeeps were all tinted black, and there were three tall antennas rising from the roof of each one. Glancing back at Charlotte across the aisle, Nick whispered, “I think I see something weird going on up there. There’s a bunch of jeeps that look military… like from Fringe or the X-Files or something – para-military even.”
“Shit.” Carissa thought. “Here we go again,” she thought, wondering how those bastards kept finding her so quickly. Reaching across the empty space, she grabbed Richard’s wrists and spoke firmly – her eyes drilling into his. “You seem nice, and you’re pretty good looking. You can come with me right now and we both might die. Or you can sit here and continue on your journey to Thunder Bay, forever wondering about that girl you met on the train that time.”
She confronted him with it so quickly that Nick had no time to think. There was a fire in her eyes; a gleam that was otherworldly.
“What do you know?” he asked, in a higher voice than he have liked. “What’s going on? What’s happening? Are those trucks here for…. where are you going….”, his questions trailed off, as she stood up and starting heading down the aisle toward the back of the train. His thoughts were racing, mulling over this unexpectedly tantalizing offer. “She’s really pretty,” he heard his body say, “but what the hell was going on…” His mind wandered, and he briefly imagined her curls bouncing on the pillow of his bed back home. This arousing thought was quickly interrupted by the sound of the train car’s emergency doors being pried open. “Something’s up,” he mumbled under his breath, “I should just be cool,” he feared, suddenly worried that there was a criminal on the train somewhere. He started thinking about the expired parking tickets he had been putting off paying for three months, these thoughts still mixed with the possibilities presented by the sudden invitation she had thrust upon him. He’d become so entranced with thoughts of this beautiful stranger with delicious curls, that he had not noticed her exit. He snapped out of his thoughts just in time to catch a fleeting glimpse of this girl’s nicely shaped behind, dashing down the aisle of the next train car, heading for the exit at the end of the next car.
He was getting up to follow her when the door at opposite end of their train car burst open, revealing two men in black military clothing. He tried to get a look at them, but his vision was drawn to the weapons they had just raised. One of them grabbed a communicator from his hip and started speaking a strange language. “Their guns look German or something,” Nick pondered, “with barrels that are twisted or something’.” Nick suddenly realized the fragile position he was in. She had left him here out one way, and these guys just came in the other. He had to make a choice – torn between two open doors on a train in the middle of lake country Ontario. One of the soldier types put a hand on his shoulder, pushing him meekly back into his seat. Hearing a muffled cough, Nick looked back over his shoulder, startled by a silent man wearing a blue suit and strange sunglasses with a red sheen. The sunglasses had a weird red sheen. Nick wondered what video game these guys had stepped out of. First the funny guns, now the ridiculous eyewear, not to mention this beautiful mystery woman – Charlotte.
Sitting down, Nick watched as the two soldiers started to run down the aisle, heading in the direction that she had bolted. “She’s probably five cars down by now”, he figured, noticing that he had unconsciously crossed his fingers for her. He thought back to 30 minutes earlier, when he had board the train, and could picture her making her way through the luggage compartment.
“Where is she?” Red Glasses asked Nick suddenly, with steel determination in his voice and one of those funny guns pointed into the side of Nick’s neck. It was like that cyborg from the Terminator movie was standing before Nick, he thought, fearing his pants might get a little bit wetter.
Raising his hands over his head, Nick said honestly, with an appropriate level of conviction: “I swear to you man… I thought she was cute and I flirted with her – but she took off and went that way when the train stopped. I was just about to give her my phone number and now…“, his voice trailed off, lest cowardice begin to make it tremble. His eyes told the entire story.
Red Glasses poked Nick in the chest with his twisted rifle barrel. The gun seemed to be made of a kind of metal unlike any other that Nick had ever come across. More aggressive weapon handling by Red Glasses forced Nick back into his chair. “Sit and stay,” Red Glasses boomed, his authority unquestionable.
“I’m not going anywhere – trust me – I just want to be in Thunder Bay by Saturday, there’s a big hockey game at the -” he was cut off, noticing that Red Glasses had taken off in the direction that Charlotte had gone, the two soldiers having already followed. Red Glasses was moving quickly, a stiff gait in his walk.
Alone now for first time since he had boarded the train in Winnipeg, Nick quickly slipped his watch off his wrist, flipping it over before using his fingernail to pry the back panel off, revealing a glowing green bar within.
The watch was actually a satellite transponder, now set to record; providing detailed location information of the subject, Carissa. He was assigned to protect her. Nick thought it was kind of cute that she had picked the name Charlotte when she had been asked. “It’s like she really wanted to try something new and have a fresh start,” he thought, before his mind wandered to the name Charlotte and its relation to a childhood story about a spider and a pig. He hoped that ‘Charlotte’ would appreciate the incoming backup. Nick was sorry he had to miss it, and wished that the boss had allowed him to carry his .45 on this mission. At least he knew he could always catch the backup SAT-feed recordings in a few hours. He closed his eyes and sent a mental wish to this pretty target – praying she would be safe for just a few more minutes. The train sat motionless, until the gunfire started.
* * *
After entering the luggage compartment Carissa grabbed a dozen duffle bags off from the racks, stacking and piling them to create a makeshift ladder, tall enough to reach the rooftop fire escape. Climbing up the stack awkwardly and trying to keep her balance, she extended her arm, her fingertips stretching to reach the small lever that would release the catch. She had flipped the hatch up and was just pulling her feet up through the opening when she heard the first shots.
The soldiers were shooting at her feet as they dangled. She could not let them disable her, Carissa thought – staying immobile would mean certain death. The thought was fleeting, and Carissa was off and racing down the train towards the last car – maintaining her balance and leaping over the gaps between as she went.
The universe of stars above her made her head spin, suddenly filled with paranoid delusions about satellites and being under observation. She thought briefly about what to do next, and then saw that the train was currently resting over a small ravine filled with snow. The snow sparkled in the late night air. She jumped.
* * *
The air was suddenly filled with the tremendous buzzing sound of helicopter rotor blades, and Carissa identified two aircraft fast. Moments later, troops of men wearing black combat gear began to rappel, sliding down ropes and landing on top of the train. Guns raised, the men swarmed over the train, blowing open hatches and dropping inside. Carissa took advantage of the moment, keeping one eye on the helicopters overhead while she crawled on her belly towards the next clump of bushes. She could see the beginning of a forest that stretched for miles, only 100 yards away. Keeping her head low and sprinting toward the trees, she kept expecting to hear gunfire and be hit in the back by a cannon round.
She dove into the woods, rolling and coming to a crouch behind a large tree trunk.
Breathing heavy, she thought about that nice guy on the train, who seemed so kind and harmless, even with his wet pants. She smiled at the memory of the dimple on his cheek, then remembered that he didn’t even know her real name. Taking a deep breath, she listened carefully for 30 more seconds, and then backed away into the dark to disappear again. She wondered how they kept finding her and how long she could stay free. She still half-wondered why they wanted her so bad; why they had been after her since she escaped that institute with all those other freaky experiments. Wishing one more time that Nick would have joined her on the run, she shook her head and muttered to herself, “Nah… Come on… he would have just slowed ya down – you know Carissa – you’re fast as hell.”
Then she was gone.