Why Does the Cricket Cry at Midnight?

nightclawHalloween2015

Happy Halloween reading!

~*~

I stayed late to finish the Massey project. Yup, lucky me. I’d lost the coin toss… again. I could swear those partners rigged it.

It was 11:30 p.m., and the last train left at midnight. I’m not going to make it. What choice did I have but to indulge in a taxi. Those drivers! The way they zipped in and out of the most impossible traffic. I paid the fare and gave a generous tip when we arrived ten minutes early.

They announced the track number, and a rush of people ran toward me and the singular door leading to the stairs. Already standing next to the announced entrance, I was the fifth person inside. How lucky am I? With the crowd on my heels, I clambered down the stairs. For a brief moment I worried about the danger should any of these commuters trip and fall. My world would come crashing down.

This was the train’s starting point out to the Jersey suburbs, which meant I had my choice of seats. Lucky me again. I walked between cars until I found my favorite spot; the eggplant-colored benches with the extra high neck supports. They were two across, and I hoped no one would sit near me. There was a real chance of having some space for myself.

I placed my briefcase on the seat to my right and folded my heavy winter coat carefully beside it. I moved to the window and sat down, peering at the blackness of the station. I closed my eyes. Finally, some peace. It had been a long, tough day full of chatter and concentration, argument and debate.

Then I heard it. So loud in my ear it might have been a scream against the softly whooshing background noise of the train taking off. It was distinct: a cricket. Am I the only one hearing this? Start and stop. Start and stop.

Normally, an irritant like this would have been quickly sought out and destroyed. I was neither a fan of the sound nor its intermittent nature. I didn’t know when the next burst of interruption might come. It was undependable, and I didn’t like that. I couldn’t determine his location, but if that little bugger kept it up, I’d find him in no time.

Tired, I longed for bed. The cricket chirped once, as if in agreement.

The train pulled out with an unusual lurch. Every sensation seemed exaggerated. We rolled along, gathering speed. Though the noise inside the train grew with its rocking motion, the cricket outdid it by far.

A train passing in the opposite direction was completely dark inside. My heart sank a little seeing that. I wished to go all the way home without the lights going out. The night was frigid, and even a few moments without heat would mean the inconvenience of putting on my heavy coat, which I probably wouldn’t do.

I raised my head above the seat backs to have a look around the car. Surprisingly, there was only one other passenger, seated all the way in the back corner near the door to the next cabin. He had on a long black coat with the collar pulled up around his ears. A hat covered most of his face. His skin was taut against his teeth, stretching from his squared chin back through his jawline.

Dressed all in black gave him a familiar echoing ring, like something from a Sunday afternoon TV Chiller Theater. An odor of mud and moldy leaves crept down the aisle. A chill filled the train car as a shiver ran up my back. Brrrr. Shake it off. Your imagination is playing with you, William.

I wanted to call my wife earlier, but to my dismay the cell was dead. I had been too busy to phone before leaving the office, not that they encouraged long distance calls from there anyway. I hoped she would just realize it was one of those occasional late nights and not worry. She was prone to worrying. And now, I’m worried too. Get a grip. You’re just overtired.

The cricket chirped. I jumped, briefly forgetting about tall, dark, and creepy. It was the distraction I needed. There it sat, on top of my briefcase, rubbing those stalk-like legs together. It tilted its head while we observed each other. Isn’t nature weird? I would never have thought up such a creature. I wasn’t the creative type like that. I loved orderly things, plenty of sharpened pencils in the containers, folders straightened, coffee poured to a comfortable level in the mug. The simple pleasures.

Another train flew by. It was also dark inside, though this time I could see two figures by the windows. One in the back and one in the middle of the cabin. They seemed familiar, but I couldn’t be sure. There was a slight change in the pitch of the cricket’s song. It slowed down a bit and wasn’t quite as high and energetic as it had been. I felt concern. How odd.

I leaned my head against the window and exhaled. The resultant steam left a patch where I could do as the kids did and draw some message or picture, but I chose not to.

Another train approached. It began to slow down. This time I could get a good look at it. Dark like the other trains, I again saw two figures, and in my memory they seemed identical to the last set except for where one of them was. As it slowed even further, I noticed the one figure, sitting, was shockingly familiar. The other hunched over him.

The seated man’s suit appeared identical to mine, his five-o’clock shadow visible across the darkened track. It could have been my cousin or twin, but no. I knew it was me. My own self. My whole body gave a quick, violent shudder.

The cricket let out a weak distant chirp. I wanted to check and make sure it was still safe on the seat beside me, but I dared not look away from this vision of myself, now slumped in the seat, head against the window. There was no evidence of breath steaming up the glass. What’s happening to me? Wake up now!

My heart pounded as both trains stopped. Palms sweaty, I looked at my briefcase. The cricket leapt off it and onto the back of my seat, as the man in the rear of the car rose and walked toward us. The cricket let out a loud screech. A desire to snuff out its life before something horrible happened came over me. It would be the kind thing to do. Get up! Run, William! The lights flickered, and then, only darkness.

 

A Random Scene in Time

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Here is a short scene. I lay it out before you, and should you have something you liked or that didn’t work for you, please feel free to make a note in the comment section below.

~*~

On the third day of her solo road trip, Verna stopped for more than fuel, a rest room, and truck stop fare. She no longer felt an urgency to keep going. Entering a small town along an even smaller, forested road, she parked on the main street. Finally able to stretch her legs and back outside the shops and restaurants, she took in the fresh air that smelled of honeysuckle, roses, and hyacinths continuing their way upward from the soil.

Verna followed a wind-driven page, blown from her research folio the moment she took it out of her backpack. She ran after it through the propped-open door. Glancing around, she found confirmation of what she knew would be inside. As if she’d been there a thousand times, she strolled in and sat at her favorite table where she could people-watch those outside and in.

Wait. She didn’t have any favorites here. It was irritating, being in this constant state of déjà vu.

She couldn’t believe she was here, in this place, taking her seat. Passing through New Jersey for the first time in her life, she couldn’t possibly have been inside “The Crooked Needle” before. She would have known it for certain. Everything was well-made, clearly from a different era, with many planes and rounds of rubbed wood. Shade and light reflected the late afternoon hour. Around that corner behind the cash register, there would be, what? She knew it was the spiral staircase. She wondered whether it was still there.

She recognized the satisfying aromas of coffee, bacon, and blueberry pie.

“What will you have for lunch today, Ma’am?” Startled out of her reverie by the alto voice of the waitress, she blurted out an old favorite.

I was thinking about having an A.L.T. That’s avocado instead of the bacon. Your tomatoes are homegrown, right?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Finest in the county. The family’s been growing them out back for over 200 years. You been here before?”

“Ye… I mean, No. No I haven’t. I’ll also have a seltzer with a twist. Thanks.” She jabbed the menu outward and turned toward the window to see a teenage girl looking in at her from the other side.

She knew she was tired from her long drive, but realized after turning away that there was something odd about the girl’s clothing. She wasn’t sure of current fashion, but enough to know that it probably didn’t include crinoline.

There was a familiarity in her eyes and the upward turn of her lips. I’ve seen you before.