The sun beat down upon my face, my skin frying like a pair of eggs in a greasy pan. My shirt was sticking to me, trapping those damn mosquitoes in a river of sweat. Silky and me were stuck in Alveriz, the most southern part of the southern Alabama, waiting for a damn train. We were here on a scam and a card game. Neither one happened and we decided to blow this sleepy town. Not the best of ideas, two black men in the white part of town. But I damn for sure wasn't walking ten miles to the other side of the county to catch the same train in a black neighborhood.
“Al,” Silky said, wiping liquid from the back of his neck with his handkerchief that had his initials embroidered on them. “We gotta find a new line of work.”
“I ain't goin' back to snooping for Ross, silky.” I snarled. “Gettin' pics of men and women cheatin' on each other for that damn slob. Him keepin' most of the paydirt. No way, Silky my friend.”
“Aw, shit, Al.” Silky kicked a stone on to the train tracks. “We got no prospects, except Ross...waitin for a stinking train with three dollars in my pocket.” He snapped his suspenders.
One thing was true. Me and Silky was good at snoopin'. I just got tired of getting' my noggin caved in over a lousy seventy bucks a week.
I tossed a couple pebbles across the train tracks when blurry figure was creeping up that winding iron boot. “The hell is that?” I said, trying to shade my eyes with a hand.
“Somebody walking the tracks? That's not too bright.” Silky remarked, squinting his already tiny eyes to see who it was like he knew the person.
“They walking funny,” I saw them stumble up the slope, fall to their right side, then catch themselves with a hand.
“It's a woman,” Silky was sneering at first. Realizing what he said, he had a grin on his face like a cat that just got in the fish tank. “Yep. That is a woman.”
I shoved him out of the way. I heard him curse me as I walked the railway to meet the woman. She was a young white woman, hair the color of molasses, knotted up and down her shoulders. Her dress was torn. Stockings in shreds, hanging around her bruised and bloodied legs. Her oval face had deep cuts, the blood had run down her chin and dried.
She was murmuring to herself about being late. I could see in her eyes she was hollow. Long gone.
“Miss,” I said taking her hand and leading off the train tracks. “Are you alright?”
Silky came running, stopped beside me and walked along side of us. “What the hell happened to her?”
“Lord only knows, Silky. Looks like somebody attacked her.” We helped her to bench outside the train station. She was still twitching and murmuring to herself about being late. Appologizing to Jim. Whoever he was.
“Or something...” Silky let his words trail off. Both of were now spooked. Our eyes met, I swallowed dryly. Silky shook his head. “No sir, Al, I don't like this at all.”
I shook my head, wiped beads of sweat from my eyes. “Me neither, Silky. Me neither.”
“He wont like it,” She said. “No, no, no, no...Jim wont like it I'm late..”
“Who is this Jim?” Silky asked, rubbing the woman's bruised hand softly.
“He's the Father of lies....that's who he is. I can't be late for Jim...no.” She said, almost angrily.
Silky let go of her hand. He sighed, looked at me. Silky paced around the bench and the woman.
“What?” He wouldn't answer right away. He kept pacing. “What, Silky? What the devil is wrong?”
He stopped in his tracks. “That's just it, Al.” He said. I smiled at him, shook my head. “Don't smile. That woman is talking about the Devil, Al. I don't like this at all.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and saw a pale man in a train conductor uniform. He was smiling sideways at me. I felt odd. Happy, sad, angry...all at the same time. I saw on his name badge it said Jim Scratch. I backed away from him, breathing uneasy. His milky eyes had a red tinge that rose and fell with every mood I was in.
“I'm afraid this little lady has a train to catch, friends.” He spoke slowly, yet impetuous.
“There ain't no train yet,” Silky said, standing in between the two of us, protective of me.
“Oh, my friend, that train is just a tick away... now I need for this fine young thing to be on that train.” The train conductor said, waving his hand. The sun disappeared and the night had given birth to a starless night.
“Silky!” I screamed hid behind him.
“It's okay, Al. Don't be scared. He ain't nothing. He takes orders, not gives them.” Silky kept his eyes on the train conductor the whole time he spoke. “He probally is nothing but a toad stool down there.”
The train conductor laughed, tipped his hat up. “That, my friend, was a millenium ago. Eons. It really don't matter what I am. If I I don't get this soul on the train, I have to take two more.”
“Well, I have something to say. My Aunt Mim taught me this: "And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried..."
The train conductor extended his jaw, a new line of sharpened teeth protruded as his face contorted to inhuman proportions. His eyes were a fire red, his skin a sickly yellow. But it was all show. In just seconds, he'd evaporated into the air.
I didn't handle things so well. Screaming, I had fallen to my knees and began crawling backwards away from the demon and Silky. Silky was as steady as a rock. He faced that thing as if it were a ninety pound old woman.
I got myself together. Brushed the dirt from my suit. I walked up on Silky, said, “He's gone.”
“Oh, he'll be back. Trust me.” We both looked over at the bench. The girl was gone. She was a few yards ahead, stumbling back towards town. We ran after her.
“Miss!” I screamed at her, my forty year old body can take so much running, but I got to her before Silky 's slow ass did. “Look,” I panted when I stopped her from walking. She was looking all around, frightened like a baby doe alone in the woods for the first time. “You can't go running off like that. Something bad is going to happen—you need a doctor---”
“Do you hear?” She said abruptly, threw her hands over her ears. “It's coming!” She screamed and fell to her knees.
“She's crazy, Silky,” I hollered to him. He finally reached us, out of breath.
Silky held on to me for dear life, panting hard like he's just ran the Boston marathon.”She...ain't..crazy..Al..she's scared....”
“It's coming....it's coming..” She sobbed.
I put my hands under her arm and gently lifted her up. I hugged her, told her everything was alright. Silky tapped me on the shoulder.
“Al?” he said in a shaky voice. “I wouldn't do that if I were you.....”
“She's human, too, Silky. Even white people need comforting---”
Then I saw why he was warning me. A gray Chevy pickup pulled up beside us. Two brutish white men in jeans and checkered shirts was standing beside that Chevy. The bald one came from the driver's side, sporting a baseball bat. The shorter, dark haired man had bicycle chains in his hands. These fellas looked awful angry.
“Look here, Sirus. We got two niggers here assaulting a white woman,” The bald man said.
“Justice is got to be served, Dave. Right here, right now, before God's eyes.” The dark haired one started twirling those chains.
I sighed, shook my head at Silky. Silky shook his head. I showed them my switchblade I inherited from my older brother when he was killed over a card game in Frisco ten years ago. I wasn't thinking of using it any time soon, but always had a feeling I was going to need it.
“You fellas don't understand,” Silky held his hands up. “This lady is in trouble, not from us.”
They laughed. “Why is her dress torn, she on her knees, boy?” The bald one said. “Looks ain't deceiving, not in this case.”
“Ain't no cluing these fuckers, Silky. Might as well fight if you gonna die anyway.” I told him as the two white men circled around us.
The young woman screamed again. “It's here.” She whispered. Then she stood, started to run, the dark haired man caught her. “It's hereeeeeeeeee!” She screamed.
“Oh my,” The train conductor appeared, a smooth, larcenous grin on his face. “I love a fight, especially if death is apparent.”
“Where did he come from?” The bald one said.
“I've always been here,” The train conductor said.
The dark haired man, dropped his chains. “Look at his eyes...they are red...red, I tell you!” He staggered backwards, stepping on his friend.
I heard wheels coming to a halt and saw steam rise into the air. Sure enough, that train had arrived. A long black train with cars that were attached for miles upon miles. I saw movement in those cars, heard their moans. I knew what those passengers of that train was. Souls of the damned. Just what Silky had been hinting at. I put my blade away. Somehow, I knew I didn't need it anymore.
That young woman ran to the train. “What are you doing?” I yelled at her. “You wanna go to hell?” I saw what she was doing. She opened the gates on the cars. Lost souls stumbled out. Soon the train station was littered with hundreds of people wandering around.
“I heard the two of you,” The train conductor took hold of the bald man by his collar. The man's baseball bat turned to tree shavings in his hands. “You were wanting that young woman, I suppose you'll take her place then?”
The dark haired man tried to run, the train conductor laughed, flicked his fingers and the man's legs turned into a puddle of liquid, just leaving his torso laying on the ground. The train conductor pulled the bald man closer to him.
“Look at me, see the heat rise in my eyes, friend.”
The bald man screamed as the sockets of eyes became two blackened, charbroiled holes.
Silky smacked me on the arms, he pointed at the gray Chevy. I grinned. “Good thinking.”
We drove by the train conductor screaming at at those lost souls to get back on the train. We were heading out of town, the lost souls were populating it.
Silky was driving fast, his foot glued to that gas pedal. I looked at him laughed.
“What are you laughing at?” He grinned.
“That train conductor is gonna have to start all over, ain't he?'