An Old Wind

Image by Владимир Харитонов from Pixabay

Janie wrapped her arms around herself “brrrrr, I’m freezing”.

Paul looked over at her “babe…it’s 92 degrees out. What are you talking about?”

But just like that it was over and Janie was once again perspiring. “I don’t get it either. I mean, I was roasting and then I got chilled for like 10 seconds and now I’m hot again.”

“Cold flashes?” Paul teased.

“Very funny. You see me laughing?” But Janie was laughing despite herself. It was hard to be mad at Paul…he had a perpetual mischievous grin and with his wavy blonde hair and a single prominent dimple he was extraordinarily handsome. Not that she was a slouch herself: she had long brunette hair and had been a high jumper in college with the long lean body that went along with that. Once she fixed a man with her bright blue eyes he was a goner. In short, they looked like two people that belonged together; both having won the lottery when they were born and then hitting it again when they found each other.

“I just hope I’m not getting sick. I have to leave for Florida in two days!”

Paul snorted, “Oh yeah. For your ‘girls last fling’. I can only imagine. Meanwhile I get to stay here with your psycho mother while she freaks out about the wedding.”

“Please don’t call her “psycho” Paul, you know she has been through a lot and all mothers get nervous about weddings. Besides, she loves you to death and you know it.”

“Yeah ‘to death’ being the key phrase.”

“Now just cut it out” she admonished. “You two will have a fine old time together. Meanwhile lets get home. It’s hot as hell out here now.”

When they got back to Janie’s place she took her temperature just to make sure. It was fine so she wrote the whole thing off to a freak occurrence. Maybe Paul was right. Ha! Nervous cold flashes about the wedding. About one thing Paul was definitely right: her mother did not care for him. She could never say why, only that he reminded her of someone and gave her a creepy vibe. But even she admitted it was probably just jealously about losing her only child to marriage. To her credit she had never said anything to Paul and did her best to love him, perhaps even overcompensating a little.

The next morning Janie was up early and went out for her morning walk. She was back out on the trail and there it was again, and just like before it came and went in a few seconds. She looked around; nowhere near where it had happened yesterday. Was she going nuts? Why here, on this converted rail trail? When she got home she took her temperature again but decided against telling Paul. He might insist on her going to the doctor and she didn’t have time. Besides, what if he tried to make her miss her trip?

The trip to Florida with the girls came and went. It had been a fantastic success even if they did get thrown out of a couple bars. Hell, you’re only young once. The plane ride back had been quiet because they were all sleeping off the prior night’s festivities. And she’d forgotten all about the cold spells on the trail.

She decided to go for a long walk when she got home to shake the rest of the cobwebs out of her head. Paul was still at work so she decided to take the afternoon to recharge a bit and maybe stop and relax at one of the town center cafes. Everything was fine until she got near the old depot and suddenly the cold came over her. Except this time it didn’t go away. What the hell? Now, to be honest, she was getting a little worried. Maybe it was her nerves. In any case she was freezing and decided to turn around and head for home. She was about 100 yards from the depot when all of a sudden she was hot again….just like that. Well at least it wasn’t permanent. Then on a hunch she did a 180 and headed back towards the station and boom! Just like that she was cold again….another 180, walked a few yards away from the station and yep…hot again.

She was standing there scratching her head when she saw a familiar face walking towards her from the direction of the depot. “Lucinda!”

Lucinda walked over towards her “Hi sweetie! It’s been awhile.”

Janie tried to be polite and they exchanged pleasantries but then she burst out “Is it cold near the depot? I mean did you just walk through a cold spot?”

“Whatever could you mean? It’s crazy hot out here today.”

Janie replayed the whole story for Lucinda, they had retired to a trailside café and despite the past days activities Janie was having a cocktail. Lucinda offered the opinion that perhaps Paul was right and it was a case of the nerves. She recommended a therapist for which Janie thanked her and they parted ways. Lucinda was always trying to fix things and while she was kind, sometimes it was a little much. At this point she just wanted to be home before Paul got there so she could make a surprise dinner.

Dinner was nice, Paul had an exciting day at work and so he was in a good mood and he really made her feel good about her cooking and listened with genuine interest to her tales of their Florida bacchanal. She brought up the subject of the cold while they were laying in bed. Paul reiterated that she was just nervous and asked “what would it hurt to talk to someone about it? Worst case scenario you get some good drugs.”

“Do you really picture me talking to some head doctor?”

Paul laughed “No, you’d probably eat her alive, but it was worth a try.”

She felt that Paul supported her decision which should have made it easy to fall asleep. Instead she lay awake wondering what was happening to her. She really didn’t think it was in her head and she wasn’t opposed to seeing a therapist…she just didn’t think she was imagining it.

She slept late the next morning and her curiosity propelled her out the door and onto the trail. It was Saturday so she had all the time in the world. She walked everywhere she had experienced the cold and today felt nothing. So she put it aside. She mentioned it to Paul only so that he would get off her back about seeing a shrink. Besides, it was nearly time for the wedding and there were so many things to think about, she quite frankly forgot about it. But Paul didn’t.

Monday of the wedding week they were at a dinner thrown by some of his work colleagues and with the wine flowing fast and free he mentioned it to some of them. Janie kicked him under the table hard and he realized his mistake but it was too late…it was one of those dinners where everyone is hoping they wouldn’t run out of things to talk about with their immediate table mates. Janie’s story was like fresh meat and they all tore into it.

No one was unkind, nothing like that, just speculation as to what it might be. There were all the usual things, a fever, a nearby creek, etc. No one had the poor taste to mention it might be in her head though. She relaxed a bit and decided she liked this group of people. As she was laughing, in spite of herself at their half drunken speculation she noticed a waiter hanging close, listening in. It was an older gentleman, one of the types that looked like he might have been doing this forever and was proud of it. Everything about him was immaculate down to his perfectly trimmed gray moustache. She smiled at him “you too? Go ahead and tease me, everyone else is!”. She was actually hoping he would; he reminder her of her late father. He did not disappoint. But neither did he tease her.

“Miss, if you don’t mind me saying so, you’re not the first one to complain of cold spells on that trail.”

She stated at him…”What do you mean? Is this common? Is there something strange about this trail? Why me?”

He replied gently, “No, it’s not common and yes there is something strange about this trail. As to ‘why you?’ Here.” He pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket and made a note on the little tablet he used to remember orders. “This is an old map store on South Main street. The owner is a woman by the name of ‘Lively’. I think you should go see her and repeat what you said here tonight.”

She took the note and slipped it into her purse and assured him she would call there the very next day. “Thank you.” She actually had no intention of seeing this woman, the waiter was a sweet old guy but sounded a bit like a crack pot himself. Besides, she had not felt it in awhile and so was inclined to let sleeping dogs lie. She wasn’t even thinking about it when she went out the next day for a jog along the trail. There was a rehearsal to worry about in a few days and even more stressful, the rehearsal dinner. She was nearly done running, when anyone that had been around to observe her, and there were a few, would have seen her take off like a woman possessed. Paul had taken the day off work but was out running errands, thank goodness. She tore through a pile of clothes until she came up with the note the waiter had given her the night before. She ran back out on the trail and towards the store on South Main Street.

She had passed by the little map shop a thousand times but hardly noticed it. It was sandwiched between a storefront insurance agency and an antique mall. It was easy to overlook on the outside but the inside was another story. She opened the door and a little bell tinkled. From the the back room came a gentle lilting voice “I’ll be right there.” She looked around; the walls were covered floor to ceiling with bookshelves filled with rolled up maps and what looked like atlases. There were other books, some overstuffed chairs with doilies like her grandmother used to have and a lot of used tea cups scattered around. A laconic dog lay under a table, lifting it’s head to look at her. Satisfied that she had no food, it resumed whatever dog dream it had been having.

The old woman came in into the front room “ah…you must be Janie.”

Janie looked at her…”How did you know that?”

“It is written in the wind.”

Janie looked shaken, “oh my god really?”

“No, not really. My waiter friend said a pretty young lady might be coming to see me today.” Mrs. Lively grinned, clearly amused with her own joke.

Janie burst out laughing…she liked Mrs. Lively already. “Did he tell you…?”

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Lively. “And I have what you need right here.” She had already pulled a book down off the shelf and she motioned for Janie to come sit on the settee next to her. “This is an old map of the railroad that used to occupy this trail. It started service in 1871 and kept it up all the way until 1974.”

Janie took a look at the map and the towns that the railroad passed through, including their own town. “This a really cool map…look at all these things that used to be right around here. But what does this have to do with me getting cold?”

The old woman nodded…anticipating the question. She pulled out an old yellowed news paper protected in plastic. “This was a very safe operation, this old railroad. But there are always incidents.” She handed the newspaper over to Janie. There is a story of a train wreck on the front page. Seventy-one people died on a rainy night in 1955. They think it was sabotage, but it was never proven.”

“That’s horrible,” said Janie, “Why would anyone do that?”

“Why does anyone do these types of things?” The woman sighed, “anger, greed, lust, envy. The story was it was a jealous lover. His ex-fiancé’ was on the train. He worked for the railroad and had keys so he threw an old switch that was never open. The train switched over at speed and piled into a stack of logs. Most of the cars fell into the river: all of the dead people drowned, trapped inside the coaches.”

“But what does this have to do with me? Wait, Walter said this had happened before.”

“It has. And that is why I can tell you, that someone important to you died in that train wreck.”

Janie looked at her and shook her head. “I don’t know anyone that died in a train wreck. And that was way before I was born…even before my mother was born. But if I had an ancestor or someone aboard I would have heard about it.”

“Would you?” The old woman said this as if she knew something.

“What are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying that the only other time I’ve heard of someone getting cold like this they had someone on that train.”

“Okay…I have to tell you that sounds weird but I’ll ask my mom,” Janie said “but I’m curious about something…why did I feel this at different places on the trail and why was it for so long when I was downtown?”

Mrs. Lively smiled “trains move dear. I’m sorry, that sounded condescending. “

Janie laughed “don’t worry about it…I can be slow. But why did the cold last so long downtown?”

“You were by the depot. So was the train…”

“…and it was stopped!” Janie exclaimed. “Oh my god” she said quietly and gave out a low whistle.

The old woman put her arm around Janie, “go talk to your mom. I’m betting you’ll be surprised.”

Janie was back the next day: “My aunt died on that train.”

“I knew you’d be back. Did you get any details?”

“It was strange, my mother didn’t want to talk about it. I was lucky to get that out of her.”

“Let’s take a walk to the library.”

They’d been in the library for three hours and still hadn’t found any record of her aunt being on the train. There were photos in the old papers of many of the deceased passengers but not all, and no one with her aunts name was on any of the newspaper lists. But then Janie thought of something and texted her mother.

“What’s wrong?” asked Mrs. Lively. Despite her enthusiasm, she was beginning to fatigue and it showed in her voice.

Janie already had an answer: “my aunt’s last name was different!”

Suddenly the fatigue was gone and they went back into the old newspapers and hit on a gold mine, and something they were not expecting: her aunt was the ex-fiancé that had triggered the jealous rage. There were pictures of her with her friends, pictures of her at her high school prom, even pictures of her in bathing suits meant to boost circulation. And of course, there was a picture, that appeared in every story, of her with her supposedly murderous ex. There was something else that Janie noticed, something about the jilted lover. It had to be a coincidence and she would not let herself contemplate any other explanation. She was shaking her head; “Okay the cold I feel has something to do with my aunt being on that train…but why and and what does it mean? Not that I’m saying I really believe all this.” The truth was, though, that she was much closer to believing it than not.

Mrs. Lively was silent for a long time, she was trying to figure out that best way to say something: “Your aunt is trying to warn you about something. What exactly, we have no idea. But you must be alert to any signs. Don’t alter your routine…that’s important. And you must go where she can communicate with you…and that is along the trail”

“Communicate? How? It’s not like she can hop off the train and have a chat.”

“No, but she will do something you will notice. It might be subtle, maybe not. Either way keep on the lookout. I am very tired dear. Will you walk me home? And I suggest you get some sleep as well. Have a little nip of something…it almost always helps me sleep. When that doesn’t work I have a big nip of something,”

One thing for sure about the old woman, she wasn’t boring. “Sure, lets go and I am sorry for keeping you at it so long.”

“Oh, I enjoyed this immensely! It is just that this old body can only handle so much excitement in one day. You just keep alert.”

Janie had a drink when she got home, not that she needed anyone to tell her that. She had stayed calm for Mrs. Lively but the truth was her nerves were raw. One of the pictures in the paper continued to haunt her and she continued to try and ignore what was obvious. Finally, she got up and just read a book.

When dawn broke she wanted to go out on the trail but Mrs. Lively had told her not to alter her routine, and her routine this week was finishing the prep for the wedding on Saturday and the rehearsal and dinner tomorrow night. She had last minute dinner reservations to adjust; her idiot future sister-in-law had chosen this week to decide she was vegan so that was another adjustment to be made…annoying or not she couldn’t let her eat some thrown together salad. By the time she had finished with all the last minute details and a few errands the day had flown by and it was time for her walk. And time for the afternoon train…well the ghost train at least. Ghost train! She must be losing her mind. If she told Paul he’d probably run like hell before it was too late.

It was actually a little later than normal when she got out for her walk, and when she felt the ice cold of the train she was far from the depot. The train must have been running late as well. It was still speeding along so the cold sensation was gone in a few seconds. But still she had felt it. She walked with her head on a swivel and saw nothing. She listened and couldn’t hear anything unusual. She had stayed out later than normal and was way past the station before she gave up and started heading back towards home.

She got distracted for a few minutes when she ran into a couple of old high school frenemies whom she invited to the wedding hoping they would decline, which they did with regrets. The niceties observed they took some selfies together and parted ways. She completely forgot about looking for any signs and was going through the selfies deciding which one to post on Facebook. She was checking out Estelle’s hair…it was as blonde as always. In school everyone was positive she bleached it…maybe not. Either way Estelle was a pretty woman and not a bad sort. She was cropping the picture before uploading when something over Estelle’s shoulder caught her eye. On one of the old telegraph poles that stood decaying in the overgrowth she could make out some writing…she zoomed in on it and applied a filter. It popped out: “WILL”. What the hell…?

Janie started walking faster toward home, looking for the next pole. There it was…writing in the same style: “HE”. That was it…a message on the poles for sure. “WILL HE” But will he what? She ran to the next pole. Nothing. Maybe it skipped for some reason but the next pole was blank as well. Dammit. All she had was “WILL HE”. She was walking towards home trying to figure out the rest. The map store was closed by now so she would wait until morning and go talk to Mrs. Lively. It would be a busy day with the rehearsal and dinner but she had to know.

She was almost back to the side trail that would lead her home when it hit her: Idiot! She ran back towards the poles and saw “HE”, then “WILL” and then on the next pole: “KILL”. She was breathing fast and afraid she would pass out. It was getting dark and fortunately the few people she passed probably couldn’t see the fear on her face. As she ran towards the next pole the terror rose in her because she already knew what the next word would be. There it was: “YOU”. She didn’t need to go on. She knew that was the end of the message but she checked anyway. Nothing “HE WILL KILL YOU”. She found a bench alongside the trail and sat and cried. She didn’t need anyone to tell her who “HE” was. But was she going to break up with Paul over a supposed message from a ghost? She processed every scenario she could think of. Her mother didn’t like Paul.. had she set him up? Or maybe meeting Estelle and her suggesting a selfie right in front of that pole was not coincidence. No. She was clutching at straws….she felt it deep down in her soul. She was trying to think of what she was going to say to Paul. She would say she was nervous and had to postpone it. That would soften the blow until she could think of something else. Plus it would give her the chance to see how he would react.

Paul was waiting for her when she got home “lets go grab some dinner and drinks. At this point, if it ain’t done it’s not going to get done.”

Janie decided not to mention the ghost train or the cold. “I think we should wait Paul.”

Paul shrugged, “sure, we can eat later, I just thought you might need…”

She cut him off “I mean wait to get married.”

“Why…what? What the hell?”

“It’s not you,” she lied, “It’s me. Let’s just give it some time. It’s going to be a hassle to postpone everything I know but…”

“Come on Janie, we know you’ve been stressed out. Let’s just relax and watch a movie for awhile. You’ll get some rest overnight and….”

Janie cut him off. “No, I’ve made up my mind…we have to postpone things while I think things through. And please stop talking like I’m crazy or something.” Janie thought she knew Paul and thought he might cry or plead or maybe even storm out. It would be hard to blame him. She didn’t expect what came next.

“You stupid bitch!!!” He swung and connected with the side of her head knocking her against the wall. She slid down onto the floor stunned. He came at her again intending to kick her in the stomach but she squirmed away and it landed on her thigh…it still hurt. “I’ll be fucking humiliated. My whole family will be humiliated.” Afraid that he would hit her again she started screaming at the top of her lungs. In a few seconds there were footsteps coming down the stairs and that was enough for Paul to run out of the apartment, but not before he’d managed to knock over her TV and laptop.

After a visit from one of Janie’s cousins, Paul made himself scarce. Janie moved in with her mother for awhile and became fast friends with Mrs. Lively. The memory of that day, the ghost train and Paul eventually faded to the background. She moved out, got back on her feet and married a man who wasn’t a psycho. Her daughter, Wendy, was two years old and at any rate kept her mind fully occupied along with running her own business. It was a Saturday afternoon and her husband was out doing some kind of guy stuff with his friends and she had just put Wendy down for a nap.

She picked up her iPad to catch up on social media. A couple of her friends were talking about something awful but the thread was so deep she couldn’t make out what they were going on about. She messaged her best friend, Haley; “what’s going on?”

Haley came back instantly “you haven’t heard?”

She sighed, this was just like Haley…being dramatic “No Haley, I just got 2 minutes to myself finally…can you just cut to the chase.”

“I’m sending you a link…it’s too awful.”

Oh for god’s sake she thought…then she clicked on the link and gasped; There was a picture of Estelle, the pretty blonde she’d taken selfies with on the trail. She’d been murdered and the suspect was her husband. Poor Estelle! They weren’t close but she seemed like a sweetheart. She regretted not getting to know her better and started tearing up as she scrolled through the story.

Haley texted back “I’m coming over.”

“Don’t be silly, you’re getting ready to move.” What was with it Haley? It was tragic and she felt sad but it wasn’t like she was a super close friend.

She could see the three little dots as Haley typed a response “Did you see the whole story?”

“No, I’m looking now.” Suddenly her blood ran cold and she found herself struggling to breathe. “Haley, please come I need you.”

Haley poured her a large glass of wine as soon as she arrived and sat down to comfort her. “It’s not your fault hun.”

“I should have said something…let people know. I was just so glad to get him out of my life,” she whimpered.

Haley shook her head “It would not have mattered. They were in Florida, and besides, you rarely spoke to Estelle.”

“I know I hardly spoke to Estelle, that’s the point. I wish I would have. There’s more. Something I’ve never told anyone except my mother.” They went through another glass of wine while she filled in Haley on the incident with the cold, the train, and Mrs. Lively.

“You have to know how that sounds sweetie…” said Haley gently, “but what exactly would you have told Estelle? ‘Don’t marry that guy, a ghost from an old train wreck warned me about him?'”

“I don’t know. And I know it sounds crazy. But there’s one more thing.” Wait here. She went into the closet and pulled out a shoe box. In the box was a picture of her and Paul and an old newspaper clipping. It was one of the clippings about the train wreck she and Mrs. Lively had snuck out of the library. She laid them side by side and took her phone, with the picture of Paul and Estelle and laid that beside them. She called Haley over.

Haley looked at the picture of Janie and Paul next to the new picture of him and Estelle. He didn’t look like he had changed a bit. Then she looked at the old newspaper clipping. The one with the picture of Janie’s aunt and her murderous, jilted fiancé. There stood a very handsome man; it was black and white so she couldn’t make out the color but he had wavy hair, a mischievous grin and one prominent dimple.

“Oh my god…”

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