Trains are the best to travel on. I never had a strange experience on it, until recently. It started off as an innocent journey to Mongolia from Moscow. I sat in the dining car enjoying some dessert when a kind, beautiful young woman asked if she could join me.
“Please, have a seat, my name is Logan.”
She held out her hand and I kissed the back of it. I didn’t normally act that way, but her silk dress and flashy pearl necklace made me feel fancy. “I’m Elenora,” she said as she settled into her seat, “It’s my first time on this train. Isn’t it exciting?”
“I’ve been on it hundreds of times and I still love it,” I said, and pushed my dessert plate towards her. “Would you like some?”
“Heavens, no,” she chuckled, “I don’t eat after four o’clock. Are you travelling for business or pleasure? I always choose pleasure.”
“Business,” I said, fighting the urge to lick my plate clean, “I’m an arts dealer, so I travel all over the world to collect pieces for my clients.”
“You must love this train then, it’s decorated so fabulously.”
“It doesn’t have any paintings, though.”
“Art is everywhere! It’s in the very mechanics of the train, the craftsmanship in this silver fork, and the engravings of the chairs. Surely, a man like you can understand that.”
I laughed and pulled my favorite novel out of my briefcase. “I’ve never thought about it that way. Thank you, madam.”
“Oh, please, stick to my first name. That makes me feel so old.”
“Oh, Logan, put that book away. I’m not done with this conversation. Since you’re an expert of travel, I was wondering if you could confirm a little rumor floating around.”
“A rumor?” I asked, tucking my book away, “I haven’t heard any rumors.”
“So, you don’t know anything about the train’s secret route? I heard that sometimes they pass through a ghost town that only comes alive at night. Isn’t that so fabulous?”
“It would be if it were true. Trust me, Elenora, I’m friends with the conductor. I would know if something like that had ever come up.”
“What a shame,” she sighed, and slumped in her seat.
We continued with casual chit-chat until it was time for her to retire to her cabin. I walked her through the cars until we reached her room, then noticed mine was two doors away. “I’ll see you in the morning,” I said, then immediately went to my bed.
The rumbling of the wheels rolling over the tracks lulled me to sleep. Moments later, or so it seemed, I was jolted awake when the train came to a screeching halt. I looked outside, and it was pitch black. Then, I checked my watch and saw that it was midnight. We weren’t supposed to reach the next stop until morning. What were we doing in the middle of nowhere?
Thinking it was a track issue, I closed my eyes and slowed my heartrate. The train didn’t move for twenty minutes, and I heard several people stirring in their rooms. I poked my head out the door, and saw a group of passengers getting off the train and heading through the darkness. Suddenly, Elenora was right beside me.
“I knew it!” she whispered, “I knew there was a secret stop. Let’s go check it out.”
“Are you crazy?” I huffed, “It’s freezing out there, and dark. We could get lost and die out in the snow.”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic. Aren’t you curious?”
I paused, then nodded. Elenora squealed with glee, and pulled my hand to the exit. The minute we stepped off the train, the darkness was illuminated by the streetlamps of a busy town. My jaw dropped. Elenora ran towards it, and I followed. Soon, we found ourselves in the midst of a marketplace. “Do you smell that chocolatey goodness?”
“I don’t know what you’re smelling, but I smell daisies. Let’s go find them!”
We elbowed our way through the crowd, and listened to the vendors calling out special deals for their products. Elenora dragged me to jewelry stores, flower vendors, and chocolate shops. I’d never seen one person blow through so much cash in ten minutes, except my ex-fiancée. It made my head spin. I was shocked to see that these vendors, who all spoke several languages, accepted every kind of currency.
We stopped to rest in a cafeteria, so that I could eat my sweets and steamed dumplings. Each place we went to was filled with happy chatter and explosive laughter. This place was livelier than any town I’ve seen. Every person was friendly, and openly shared their life stories. And I thought only trains brought out the best in people.
“I knew the rumors were true,” Elenora beamed.
“Okay,” I sighed, staring up at the night star riddled with stars, “You’ve been saying that the whole time we’ve been here.” A sharp breeze flowed through the cafeteria, and I wrapped my robe tighter around me. “I wish I changed into real clothes.”
“It isn’t even that cold. Between the amount of people stuffed together and those heat lamps, you should be burning up.”
“I don’t wear fur coats like you.”
“Would you like to wear my coat?”
“Heavens, no!” I exclaimed, in a voice that imitated hers.
We laughed, then she pulled a small black box out of her purse. “I bought something for you.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” I said, but took the box anyway.
“Oh, it was no trouble at all. It’s just a little thank you for keeping me company on the train.”
I opened the box and saw a gold Swiss watch. “Wow,” I said breathlessly, “This looks like a watch I owned many years ago.”
“It’s a piece of art. Can’t you tell?”
“Now that you’ve enlightened me, yes I can.” I smiled, and put it on. “Fits like a glove.”
“It looks fabulous on you!”
“How did you buy this without me noticing?”
“You’re easily distracted by chocolate.”
“Ah, yes.” My cheeks burned red as she stared at me with a longing gaze.
“You remind me of my late husband,” she said, and I noticed tears in her eyes.
“Is that a good thing?”
“Oh, it’s a fabulous thing.” She dabbed her face with a handkerchief. “He was such a kind man, always looking out for me. I’m actually travelling to find his family. They were estranged for so many years. I guess I thought if I could reconnect with them, it’d be like connecting with him again.”
“That’s a nice sentiment.”
“Are you married?”
“Almost?” She leaned in closer to me, and rested her hands on her cheeks.
“I was engaged to my high school sweetheart, but I messed it up. Work got in the way.”
“Can’t you win her back? I can tell you still love her. Your eyes tell the whole story.”
“I’m trying, but I don’t know where she is. That’s why I take this specific railway so often. I’m hoping she’ll show up again, because it’s where we met.”
“That’s sweet,” Elenora said, then got up to order us a bottle of red wine. She poured two glasses, handed me one, then raised hers. “To love.”
Her and I drank ourselves silly, and I have no idea how many bottles we drank. The next thing I remember, I woke up in my cabin, and we were nearing the next stop. I squinted as the bright sun shined into my cabin. My head pounded. Just then, there was a knock on my door. “Come in,” I groaned.
“Hey,” said the conductor, Ivan, “Wake up. I don’t want you to miss your stop.”
“Thanks,” I said, and he slowly closed the door. “Wait!”
“Where was that stop we went to last night?”
“Stop?” He furrowed his brows and scratched his chin. “We didn’t stop last night. I should know.”
“Quit playing around,” I chuckled, “Elenora and I got off when the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. It was crazy. There was this huge town filled with food and goods…”
“We didn’t stop anywhere last night. Don’t spend anymore time with Elenora. She’s a famous actress, and known for being eccentric and imaginative. She’s not a good influence, especially in your fragile state.”
Ivan left, and my heart sank. “What did I experience? Was it all a dream?” I gasped, then looked down at my wrist. The Swiss watch was still there. I ran out of my cabin, and knocked on Elenora’s door.
“What?” she said, yawning.
“Do you remember what happened last night?”
Elenora studied my face, then looked at me with disgust. “Sir, I don’t know who you are. Can you please leave me alone? I don’t wake up before noon. It is so not fabulous.”
“Elenora?” I said, pained. “Please, come back!” She slammed the door before I could finish my sentence. I spent the rest of my trip alone, and in silence.