This story is by Deborah Nicholas and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The last bit of sunshine fades behind a dark cloud as I board the train. The smell of rain is heavy in the air. Thunder rumbles.
My hopes for this ride through the countryside to clear my heart and mind might be in vain if this storm opens up, I worry.
A middle-aged woman with brown curly hair and her two children jostle me as they cut the line.
“Hey!” I exclaim.
She ignores me, but a chill goes down my spine. She’s my mirror image, a doppelganger!
A drop of icy rain hits my face, startling me. The conductor doesn’t bother looking at my ticket as I hurry aboard to avoid the rain shower.
I glance out the window as I settle into my seat. The dreariness outside intensifies the light in the cabin. My reflection stares back at me.
As the train slowly chugs out of the station, the conductor enters to check tickets.
“Mr. Grayson! Nice to see you. Looks like you have this compartment to yourself.” I lower my ticket as I realize he doesn’t see me.
Am I invisible? I wonder in confusion,
Sunshine in the distance catches my eye through the rain-smeared window. A hillside bathed in golden light and white daisies among bright green grass mesmerizes me. As the train nears, I see a figure watching its approach. Sky blue eyes pierce me as my window parallels his position. The connection between us is palpable. I reach my hand toward him only to hit the smooth, glass of the window. As our eyes lock, he steps toward me. Then he’s gone, fading into the distance. Loneliness consumes me.
Maybe the conductor will know who the figure on the hillside is. Anxiously, I search for the conductor.
Grizzled brown eyes furrow at me as I ask my question. “Hey, Billy! Do you hear someone talking?”
“No! You hearing things again? Hey! Mrs. Patterson was telling that lady with the brown hair and kids about seeing Mr. Brisbane on a hillside a while back. Said the sun shone down on him like an angel. Was quite a sight I gathered.”
“That’s crazy, Billy. Mrs. Patterson is just spreading rumors again. Probably trying to scare those kids with a ghost story. Mr. Brisbane has been dead two years now.”
“I’m just telling you what I overheard.”
“Well keep your gossip to yourself. We don’t need to scare the passengers.”
Wandering through the train my thoughts race. Am I dead? Is that why no one can see me? Mr. Brisbane saw me, I’m sure of it…
“The train leaves the station in five minutes. Don’t miss it. You don’t want to be stuck here.”
A light breeze brings the sweet scent of flowers. Sky blue eyes are staring intently at me.
“Mr. Brisbane, I presume?”
“Philip” he smiles.
My heart melts with his smile.
“You can see me?”
“Of course! But don’t miss the train. If you get stuck here, I can’t find you at the next stop.”
I look around, feeling intoxicated by his presence, “Honestly, I thought I was on the train.”
“I know. It’s confusing at first. I’ll explain at the next stop! Hurry, now!”
“And then the goddess took hold of the blacksmith, and then they both turned to stone, and then the blacksmith turned around, and he broke the ring…and everything went downhill from there.” The woman with curly brown hair looks frazzled as her teenage son rattles everyone’s ears about the newest video game.
My reflection catches my eye in the window, a mirror image of the woman, even the white streak at our temples matches! The hair on my neck prickles. It’s only been 20 minutes since I saw her with two young children. Now they’re teenagers?
Rain pelts everyone as they rush through the station. Within moments it’s empty, except for me.
Why isn’t he here? He said he would meet me at the next stop.
Some commotion at the train’s entrance catches my attention.
“Hello, Mrs. Patterson!” The conductor’s voice boomed, as he helps a vibrant elderly woman aboard. She’s wrangling a bright feather boa under her overcoat to protect it from the rain.
“Hello, Conductor. Any recent sightings of Mr. Brisbane’s ghost?”
“No, but there’s been talk of an old woman with curly hair haunting the station and compartment twenty-seven.”
“Twenty-seven? Oh! I must sit there this time.”
“Oh! It definitely smells a bit musky in here. There’s always a distinct scent when spirits are around,” Mrs. Patterson starts chattering as soon as she enters the compartment.
It’s as if she knows I’m here.
“Oh yes, I know you’re here. I have the Gift, you know. Ever since I was a little girl I could sense spirits. Sometimes I can even see them like Philip Brisbane. You haven’t been here long. I take this train every week and haven’t noticed you before. You must be very confused. Do you even know you’re dead?
“Oh don’t bother to answer. I probably can’t hear you, anyway. New spirits always seem confused. Have you learned how to project yet? I’d love to see you. Do you think you’ll be here long? I’m sure you’re looking for a way to move on, of course, find the light and all that. I’m wondering if that’s what happened to Philip last I saw him. Ten years ago it was, bathed in beautiful golden light on a dreary evening much like this. Oh, but I don’t know that time means anything to you spirits. I wish I knew your name? Maybe if you’re here long enough you can project a way to tell me.”
Her nattering fades into the background as I process her words. Ten years? But it’s only been an hour! Philip crossed over? I just saw him!
Bustling noises bring me back from my thoughts. Mrs. Patterson is gone. The woman with curly brown hair is sitting in her place, except her hair isn’t brown anymore. It’s white. I glance at the window and my reflection. We could be identical twins!
Oh no!! Did I miss a stop? As I leap up, a cane, leaning against the armrest, crashes to the floor.
She jumps, looking at her cane, puzzled. “Who’s there!”
The compartment door slides open.
“Mrs. Brisbane? Is everything alright?”
“Huh? Oh, conductor. Everything is fine. I just…my cane fell over is all.” She mumbles.
“Hmm, please use the bell if you need anything.” He slips the cane onto a hook next to the door right before he clicks it shut.
Mrs. Brisbane? That Philip’s surname…
Moments later he returns with Mrs. Patterson and her feather boa.
“Mrs. Brisbane, we’re a bit short on seats this evening. I hope you don’t mind. This is Mrs. Patterson.”
“Oh yes! I remember you. We spoke many years ago when my children were just toddlers. I’m Mary Brisbane.”
“Mary! Yes, I remember you well. Philip Brisbane’s wife. Your children were quite young. They must be all grown up.”
“Yes, Michael is a video game developer…..”
I plop back into the seat in shock. Mrs. Patterson sends a sharp look toward me.
I ignore it. Mary Brisbane. Philip Brisbane. She’s his wife.
Mrs. Patterson knocks smartly on the armrest. “Yes!” she exclaims, “Philip must have passed when the children were very small?”
“Yes, I have felt like nothing but a shell since he passed. Philip loved the train. I always brought the kids on his death day. This year, the kids were too busy to come.”
Doppelganger…Philip knows me…she’s nothing but a shell…I’m Mary Brisbane! The revelation hits me like a brick. Everything lurches. I inexplicably feel solid again.
“OH!” Mrs. Brisbane exclaims—I exclaim—as a sharp pain runs through my chest. I see my reflection in the window sitting next to Mrs. Patterson.
“It was me!” I gasp. Everything lurches again.
I watch as chaos erupts. Mrs. Brisbane is clutching her chest. Mrs. Patterson is ringing the bell. There’s yelling. The conductor and porter bust into the compartment. Suddenly, Mrs. Patterson is pointing to a golden glow of sunshine topping a beautiful daisy-covered hill. “Look!”
Without hesitation, I start running to jump the train. Moments later, I’m face to face with Philip. I cry, “You weren’t at the station!”
Philip smiles as he takes my hand. “Don’t worry, I’ll explain at home.”
Moving together, as husband and wife, we top the rise of the hill. Sunshine bathes a beautiful valley with a white farmhouse. A light breeze brings the sweet scent of flowers as a pond sparkles in the golden light.
I look back at the train moving through the countryside. You couldn’t see this beauty from the train, but I could see Mrs. Patterson standing at the window of compartment twenty-seven.
Philip puts a hand on my shoulder, gently pulling me back to him. “She has her own happily ever after to find. This is ours.”