The Tracks

Here’s a short story I wrote about a year back about Nick Ventner in his early years, before Whiteout. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!the_tracks

“I didn’t always want to be a monster hunter you know?” Nick had several empty pint glasses in front of his seat at the bar, but found that he was still able to draw an audience. Oh, you’re going to hear it now. “I was going to be respectable, not that I’m not now, but,” he paused, unable to think of a follow-up, and settled on: “more respectable.” Did you know that I had a masters in something real before I came here?” A bearded man with more liquor than brains took a seat and stared at him, entranced.

“I was going to be a lawyer,” the man said, spluttering and sloughing every syllable as if they were being thrown off a water slide.

“Course you were. We all were, right up until the minute someone took us and threw us onto the middle of the railroad tracks. Am I right?”

“Fuck yes you are!” The man slammed his glass down on the bar, and to Nick’s amazement, didn’t shatter it. He did manage to splash froth all over himself, completing the image.

Nick looked deep into his watery eyes. You didn’t ask for this, but you’re going to get it.

————————————————————————————————————–

                When I was a young man, I used to like playing on the railroad tracks. No matter how many times friends or family would tell me to stay away from the damned things, I couldn’t do it. When one wants to do something, they’re going to do it regardless of common sense, and the only thing that’s going to snap them out of it is the eventual negative outcome. Such was my experience with the crossing between Pine and Midway Avenue. This was long before the city sprang to its current heights mind you. Back in those days, you could see along the tracks for miles.

As a man pursuing a higher degree in one of the social sciences (I can’t really remember, as it didn’t matter much), I found myself prone to bouts of deep thought and philosophy. As such, the first thing to listen to me was always the object of my desire. In those days, the only thing that could do so was the reverberation of the train tracks as I spoke my secrets to them. I could sit there for hours, pouring my soul onto the warm metal, waiting for the moment it would start to talk back. I would always try to listen to as much as I could, and then right as the train’s horn blared in my ear, I would rip my head back, and revel at how close I had come.

The time I spent on the tracks was a very short period, no more than a week or two. After talking with others it became clear that this was probably not the best form of self-expression or catharsis. Apparently they believed that actual human beings were something to be prized, and might afford me similar comfort. For all it was worth, I would drown their advice in booze, not too dissimilar from what I do now, and would find myself back on the tracks, waiting for the tell-tale hum of my companion.

————————————————————————————————————–

                “I thought you said you were a monster hunter,” said a woman who had come to sit behind the drunken man. She wore a black leather jacket, with black hair to match. Her eyes glittered in the dull bar light, but Nick didn’t see much in them other than his own reflection. “You sound more like a whiny pre-teen than anything of substance.”

“Harsh words,” said Nick, calling for something a bit stiffer than beer. “But true. I cannot argue with you. I was quite the sad sack.” The bartender plopped a frosted white cup down before him, oozing steam onto the bar. Nick curled his hand around it, feeling its icy stabs moving through his fingers. In a quick motion, he put it to his lips and upended it. The feeling that spread through his body was one of both elation and slow death. “Thanks very much, I needed that.” He threw down the biggest bill he had on the counter and returned his gaze back to the woman now hovering just over the drunk’s shoulder.

“May I continue? You don’t have to listen; this is a free bar.”

She didn’t say anything, but gave a nod.

“Good.”

————————————————————————————————————–

                As I said, no one realizes how big their mistakes are until the consequences are barreling down on them with the speed of, well, in my case it was a freight train. There came a day when I looked down the tracks and told my last secret. A wall that I had kept built high was nothing more than a crumbling ruin. It was a relief to sit with my ear pressed down on the metal and feel as if there was absolutely nothing to be said.

All the same, a response still came. On that day I remember feeling a violent rumbling, rather than the soft hum I was accustomed to. Any idiot could have seen what was coming, but as I have told you before, I was addicted. In what can only be described as clear and determined understanding, I turned my head to look down the tracks, and saw the inevitable. Careening down the tracks was Midway’s new freight train, which boasted shipping speeds that took half the time.

There wasn’t time to move, there wasn’t time to breath. Before I knew it, WHAM, nothing but a splitting headache and the knowledge that it was all over. Now there’s an experience I’m not inclined to repeat at any time in the near future. At first there was nothing but white light, enveloping me at every turn, but in due time, shapes emerged.

My first thought was surprise at the fact that what greeted me was not the red hot flames of Hell. Instead it was a man, dressed in a nice suit, picking me off the tracks, and walking me around utter chaos. I could see what was left of myself lying there, as well as the glazed eyes of the conductor on more pills than he had fingers. From a distance it was the outcome that I had always expected, and brought with it no element of surprise.

The man gave me a choice.

“You have a choice here. I can put you back in that body, and you can continue on with whatever it is you were doing,” he motioned to what would soon be a bloody corpse. “Or, you can pull your dumb ass of those tracks, and come find me.” He handed me a black card with a golden seal on it. No details, just a gold symbol on black background. Now, mind you, this would have been confusing had I not just been struck by a train, but in the moment it was nothing short of an enigma.

“Well, I’m not keen on dying,” I said, in an air that was probably more melancholy than I expected, because all he did was laugh.

“Could have fooled me. You’re going to have about five seconds,” he clicked a button on his stopwatch.

“To do what?” My head was back on the tracks, and the man was gone. My guts turned over, and I flung myself back down the embankment and into the reeds. Just in time to, because the train followed with the exact swiftness it had boasted. Confused, I reached into my pocket and found that the gold card was still there.

————————————————————————————————————–

                “You were hit by a train?” The older man was slurring worse as he had attempted to follow Nick’s drink order.

“Sure was,” Nick said, standing up from the barstool and leaving his wallet on the counter. Hopefully there’s enough in there to pay for some of this. It was about time for him to replace his license anyway.

“You idiot,” snapped the woman to the drunk. “The train was obviously a woman.” She crossed her arms, proud that he had figured it out. Nick turned back to her for a moment. “Wasn’t it?”

With more cool than he thought he possessed, Nick reached into his pocket and pulled out a black card with a gold symbol on it. He thumbed it between two fingers and let it sail back to the bar. Enjoying the woman’s shocked face, he walked out. Rain fell on his face, helping refresh him from the stupor he had drunk himself to. Course it was a woman, he thought, looking up at the dry cleaners next door. Their sign was nothing but a gold symbol on a black background, but it certainly made for a good story.

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