Chapter One.


Their memory's like a train: you can see it getting smaller as it pulls away And the things you can't remember Tell the things you can't forget that History puts a saint in every dream.


.................................................. .................................................. ........

The carriage smelled like wet tobacco and waxed jackets, the moon outside broke the weather sometimes, other times clouds swirled around it, trying to block it out.

A man in a blazer that was both too big and too small looked up from his deck of cards as a young woman entered his carriage. his old hands moved a card across the table.

The wind howled distantly and a chill crept over them both.

She wore a dusty pink overcoat and smiled with white teeth.

‘is this seat taken?’

The man put both his hands on the table between the two seats as if testing its construction.

‘no, it isn't.’He had a gravelly voice, the voice of a sea captain, hoarse from storms.

the woman took off her coat, placed it next to the window and sat beside it, opposite the man.

‘There’s an awful lot of other seats if you’d like more room.’ said the man in a sales pitch kind of way, gesturing around the room.

He looked about the compartment, save for himself and the woman the entire carriage was deserted.

It was dimly lit and everything had dark wood paneling. Oil lamps flicked occasionally, shadows bubbled in their light.

‘My names Elspeth Van Hassel by the way, my friends call my Beth. This seat will do fine, Its hard to find decent conversation these days,’ she sat down and smoothed out her skirt. ‘My father used to say that. did you say your name? I didn’t catch it.’

She extended a gloved hand across the table.

The man extended his own arm slowly, cautiously, his fingers were rough, looked double jointed, the two of them gingerly shook hands.

‘Hansel, Winter. Hansel Winter.’ he spoke it as if he was surprised to say it, like perhaps he had just made it up.

‘Hansel?’ said Elspeth. ‘Like the childrens story.’

‘Yep, just like it. Did you know, that story’s supposed to have originated in the time of the great famine?’

‘No I did not know that.’

‘Makes you think twice, cannibals out in the woods building houses out of sweets.’

the woman smiled awkwardly and looked at the cards laid out on the table.

‘what were you playing.’

‘I’m playing patience, but sometimes its more like patients you know, feels like brain surgery or something.’

The woman smiled again.

‘I’m going as far as Jülich, near the Rhine. yourself?’ she nodded to him.

‘Skye, the isle of that is, not the one in Australia.’

Elspeth nodded distantly. ‘that’s a long way.’

‘yeah but its been a long time coming, i’ve got business I need to tie up.’ He moved a hand through his thinning grey hair and seemed surprised to find so little on the top of his head.

‘I used to be a redhead you know. before all this,’ he gestured up and down himself. ‘time.’

Elspeth nodded a third time,

‘I’m on business too, I’m an archaeologist.’ as she said archaeologist she seemed to feign embarrassment. ‘I guess its hard to imagine me down in the dirt digging up bones.’

‘Archaeology huh?’ He leaned his elbow on the table and his head in his hand. ‘Is there a lot of money in something like that?’

the train jolted sending playing cards into the air. the lamps shook on their fixtures. Hansel fell forward and smacked his face on the table.

one of the oil lamps fell onto the floor and smashed. burning oil spread out across the floor.

‘Oh my god!’ Said Elspeth. she stood up and moved towards the window.

The train had stopped moving completely, the sound of hissing steam could be heard throughout the carriages.

‘Hansel?’ she said loudly.

The man didn’t respond.

‘Somebody help!’ she pulled herself out from the table and opened the door into the next carriage. two porters in Ivory coloured suits were heading towards her.

‘Quickly. there’s a fire.’ she said as they approached.

‘Are you alright miss?’ one of them came over and checked on her as the other headed into the burning carriage.

‘I’m fine but my friend hit his head quite badly.’

the Porter nodded and looked at the smoke spreading out across the ceiling.

‘you're going to have to move to another carriage Miss.’

‘my case is in there, I-’

‘Wait in another carriage, we’ll get your belongings back to you as soon as possible.’

And with that, he walked passed her and disappeared into the smoky doorway.

.................................................. .................................................. ........

‘I think thats why no one sits in the end carriage,’ Said Hansel nursing his hurt face with a bag of frozen peas. ‘sorry about the coat, I think they used it to suffocate the fire.’

laying on the table between Elspeth and Hansel was the badly burned dusty pink coat.

Elspeth wrinkled her nose as she looked the coat over. ‘damn ugly thing anyway, my father liked it-’ she stopped talking and looked out the window. The curtains in this carriage were blue.

‘where are we?’ she said quietly to herself. The lands they were traveling through looked like a christmas card, large sweeping hills covered in snow caked pines. The sky was poster paint blue with trails of cloud streaked through it.

‘I think we must be in Russia still, but maybe we’re in Finland already.’ said Hansel.

A smile flickered on Elspeth's face ‘The days are getting longer now, so we’re out of the Arctic belt at least.’

Hansel nodded and looked at the newspaper beside him.

‘If you don’t mind me asking, how did you get a ticket onto this train?’

‘Oh. A friend owed me a favour and a friend of hers had a ticket going, all very hush hush though.’ she whispered the last part.

‘A ticket going,’ said Hansel tasting the words ‘I didn’t think you could use someone elses ticket, used to have the name printed on them. Thats what it’s like these days, you can get on any train with any ticket but you can’t smoke and you sure as hell can’t buy a drink without buying a coaster set first.’

Elspeth smiled. ‘and you? how did you get a ticket?’

‘I, uh, they owe me a few favours, I get to ride it as much as I want, haven’t done for a long time though.’

‘As much as you want?’

Hansel nodded. ‘I helped built the line, hammer in some pins, move some sleepers, beast of burden kinda stuff.’

‘You helped build this track?’

‘We call it the line, yeah, helped build it.’

‘But I thought that, I mean, where are you from originally?’

‘well I can’t say for sure, never met my parents. By the time I was five I’d moved across russia and into singapore. Apparently I was found with a little name tag in a manila bag tied round my ankle, just said “Hansel” on it.’

‘so you never met your family?’

‘Well I don't know, can’t say that I did but-’

‘So,’ Interrupted Elspeth. ‘who raised you up?’

Hansel paused looking down at himself before saying

‘My hands.’ He looked stern and cold. the sounds of the carriage intensified in the silence between them.

Hansel repeated ‘my hands’ again under his breath before continuing,

‘what do they say? you don’t miss what you never had, something like that.’

Elspeth looked out the window. ‘I think thats true.’

The snow outside had been blown into glittering dunes. the wind chattered along the outside of the train. things chimed and shook.

‘How did he die?’ Hansels voice was soft and calm, like waves lapping sand.

Elspeth looked over at him, her eyes glistened with unshed tears.

‘Who?’ her voice cracked with cold.

‘Your father.’

she sniffed and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. ‘He, he got Cerebral Meningitis’

Hansel nodded. ‘Right, well I’m sorry for your loss, how long ago did he-’

‘about a month, I came out to Russia for a job, just ignored it, pretended like it never happened, you know? I guess i’ve been working ever since, If I ever went home, I don’t know if I could, its too close still.’

‘I’m sure it’s none of my business but-’

‘no it really isn’t, so if its all the same with you i’d prefer to talk about something else.’ she wiped her eyes with a silk handkerchief this time.

‘well, before I decided to smack my head into the table we were talking about Archeology,’

He took the frozen peas from his head finally and put them on the table, there was a small almost circular cut just above his eye.

‘Is there a lot of money in something like that?’

Elspeth looked down at the bag of peas.

‘well no, not for sure, I never really had to worry about finance so I never thought about it like that. I work for a private collector currently and he pays very well but but most jobs aren’t like that. The private collector I’m working for is actually quite an interesting man, his house is filled with masks and totems from the America’s, he has a small museum’s worth of artifacts, he is mostly interested in folklore and myths, like the Grail only usually more traceable.’

‘Well lets hope folklore doesn’t get too interested in him.’ said Hansel with a smile.

‘what do you mean?’

‘This line, how do you think it runs from pole to pole in a straight line yet allows us to get of at any station, at any time?’

‘I don’t know, my friend told me not to think about it.’

‘thats good advice, don’t want to prove it doesn’t work or maybe it won’t.’

‘so how does it work?’ said Elspeth, leaning on the table.

‘Magic, or maybe it doesn’t, sometimes I think i’m mad and this is just the train from Inverness to Lochalsh and I just ride it back and forth. Other times I think I’m riding the train of the dead, the train to the afterlife and that it’s kinda like limbo, like someones weighing up my behaviour whilst i’m here, working out where to put me.’

‘I’m afraid you lost me?’

‘I do that sometimes. How many days do you think we’ve been on the train?’

Elspeth paused, looking upwards, the kind of look that said she was counting.

‘about a week, I, um...’ she trailed off and looked down at her hands ‘I don’t know exactly’

‘thats because the train runs from nowhere to anywhere and takes forever to get there. you’ll arrive when you need to but you’ll never arrive on time, thats why mostly Humans don’t ride it.’

‘Excuse me?’

Hansel’s eyes flitted over to the newspaper.

‘This paper says its 1969, the year of music, tomorrow it’ll be 1922 or eighteen hundred, get me? what happens if you get of in 1965 and go looking for your father?’

‘I, I’d, I don’t know what your talking about,’

The wind howled distantly and a chill crept over them both.

‘I have to go.’ Elspeth picked up her burned coat and left the table, walking away towards another carriage.


Hansel stood shaving in a cramped bathroom, every tiny jolt of the train caused him to stop and hold the razor away from his face.

the mirror shook, it was made of flimsy plastic.

‘One time when I was talking to myself I’m sure my reflection answered me back.’ he waited, silent for a moment as if something may happen, his reflection did nothing, just stared blankly.

‘Perhaps it was god.’

He pulled the razor up his chin, catching some stubble. The train jolted.

blood and water mixed together and emptied down the sink. they’d go down the pipe and onto the tracks eventually.

the bottom of the train was made of solid gold. Nothing like gold to move through time. Gold’s elemental, like thunder.

.................................................. .................................................. ........

Elspeth was sat opposite a younger man now, a mane of black hair fell down about his shoulders.

outside the sun was setting, pink light shone on darkening snow.

‘I’m Elspeth Van Hassel by the way, my friends call my Beth. Do you think it’s hard to find decent conversation these days? What did you say your name was?’

‘Beth?’ said the man in a strong accent. His face was tanned like old leather and he had the kind of crows feet you only got from looking into bright light.

‘I think my names Ralph when I’m here, and It’s hard to find a decent anything on this train, it goes so slow, like its moving in syrup.’

Elspeth looked very confused. ‘Is everyone on this train odd in the head?’

‘No.’ he said licking his lips. ‘not everyone, my friend would be here otherwise, he was always mad.’

It was only now that Elspeth noticed how peculiar his eyes were, bright yellow with strange cat like pupils.

‘May I ask you a question? I don’t want you to think me rude.’

‘Ask away.’ said Ralph.

‘Are you, this is going to sound stupid but are you human?’

He nodded very slowly. ‘they tell me I am but doctors round here don’t seem to know a damn, a dam when they see one. Scientists here told me there were only one hundred and seventeen elements, thats like half of what I’m used to, its like this whole place is empty. Barren even.’ he smiled, his teeth were a kind of opalescent black, an oil sheen beneath the enamel.

‘I think you might be scaring me.’ said Elspeth. ‘elements are scientific, if they say there is only one hundred and seventeen then there is.’ she seemed certain about this, convincing herself perhaps.

Ralph nodded slowly and smiled. ‘I used to be quite charming you know, before I came here.’

‘I’m not sure what you mean.’ Elspeth looked down at her burned coat, it was on the seat beside her. ‘I Just remembered I’ve left my purse back in another carriage, I should go and get it.’ she looked at his strange eyes again.

‘oh, which one?’

‘Just, a few carriages that way.’ Elspeth pointed to the back end of the train.

Ralph nodded. ‘well, good luck Beth, talk again soon.’ he waved goodbye and smiled but it was more a baring of teeth than a smile.

Elspeth moved Hurriedly into the next carriage and collapsed in a leather chair, Its legs bolted to the floor. a tiffany style lamp was bolted down to a table beside her.

The sun disappeared behind a hill, the train fell dark, the lamp gave out yellowed light.

Elspeth opened her luggage bag and took out a notebook, she began writing.

for a while she wrote in silence, the sun never re-appeared. A train porter dressed in grey passed by, she tried to get his attention but he didn’t notice.

she returned to her writing.

This carriage was set out like a study or smoking room. leather chairs set out in a circle and bolted to the floor, bookcases lined two of the walls and a mahogany bureau was bolted down by a window seat.

the Porter in the grey uniform came back through the carriage.

‘Excuse me.’ Said Elspeth.

the young man looked up at her, his face partially hidden under his cap.

‘Yes Mam?’

‘Could you maybe explain to me what this train is? I mean, I mean that everyone I talk to on here seems to be,’ She paused searching for words ‘seems to be very strange, is it always like this, is it true that this is a magic train?’

The man smiled. ‘Can I see your ticket please Mam?’

‘Of course.’ Elspeth began searching through her luggage and pulled the ticket from a small purse.

‘Here.’ she held out the ticket for inspection.

The porter took it and turned it over in his hand a few times.

‘This is a red pass, meaning you're with the company?’

‘No it was a friend of a friend gave it to me, they said It would be alright.’

‘Uh-huh.’ said the man dulley, still inspecting the ticket. ‘Well it is all fine I think, it’s just, we’ve been changing some things around recently, changing management, would you accompany me to my managers office?’

Elspeth nodded. ‘I suppose so, I trust I won’t be thrown off the train or anything like that.’

‘you won’t be, I don’t think It even works like that, thats why we can’t have stowaways, I don’t think we can throw them off until they're ready,’ he outstretched a hand to take Elspeth's case for her.

‘I can manage.’

He nodded and began walking towards the front of the train.

Elspeth followed, wheeling her case behind her. they passed back through the carriage where Ralph was sat, he averted his eyes as the Porter passed and pretended he was reading something very interesting on the the table.

he smiled at Elspeth as she went, It made her feel cold, dead somehow.

.................................................. .................................................. ........

the manager’s office was utilitarian and quite different from the rest of the rooms Elspeth had seen. The manager was a short woman in a similar grey outfit to the porter except with a small golden wheel emblem on the breast.

she had a stern face and her brown hair was tied in a plait that went down her back.

‘You’ve never traveled with us before?’

Elspeth shook her head.

‘what were you told?’

‘That the train ran to the correct stop for me but that I shouldn’t think about it or ask questions about it.’

the Manager nodded. ‘Yep, thats good advice I guess but you have been thinking about it haven't you?’

‘Well yes, It all seems very odd, my friend did mention that it might be magic, or something, said it was a magical journey, I thought she meant in the normal sense.’

‘we try not to use the M word too much round here, makes it sound like we don’t know what were doing, which we don't or rather we don’t know what we're playing with. But saying so makes us seem unprofessional.’

‘right, what do you say then, if its not a magic train what is it?’

‘We call it the line, don’t have a clue what it is, the train wasn’t always here, theres no record of who built it but even before the train we had the line, its the road through the world, to anywhere you need to go. we talk about the line sometimes but we try not to think about the train, if you think about the train too much sometimes it stops moving and if it stops too long then the Crux catches up.’

‘the Crux?’

‘Probably best not to think about that either.’

Elspeth shrugged. ‘Well you’ve mentioned it now so i’m going to wonder.’

‘Right, yes, its hard explaining it, we don’t get many new passengers. That jolt that hit the train the other day, the one that started the fire in the end carriage, thats the Crux, its like a...its like a something, not a nothing, I think of it like a giant black wave that's sweeping up behind us, sometimes if we go slow then it bumps into us, we lose end carriages all the time, thats why no one sits in them.’

‘you lose end carriages all the time! why don’t you warn people about that? I was sat in that carriage!’

‘If we warned you then you might start thinking about it, we put up an out of order sign a few years back but people kept complaining that it took the fun out of it, like I said, we don’t get many new passengers so most know all about the Crux already.’

‘Its a wave?’

the manager nodded. ‘No, I think of it as a wave but some people think of it as other things. It doesn't really have a form, but its always chasing the Train up and down the line, right behind us. Anyway Miss Van Hassel, we are glad you chose to travel with us and hope you enjoy your time onboard, heres a passenger's guide to the train and train etiquette,’ the manager handed Elspeth a brown leather book with an etching of a two headed eagle over a train on the cover.

‘That should tell you everything you need to know, and give you some simple thinking exercises to clear your head if you start thinking about the train too much.’

Elspeth nodded.

‘And the people, are there any normal people on the train.’

‘yes many, but most people who ride the line are slightly eccentric, i’m sure you’ll get along fine with them though.’

Elspeth took the book. The Porter, who had remained silent for the duration of their talk, led her out of the manager’s office.

.................................................. .................................................. ........

The train moved through snowy landscapes in shades of blue. The sky was star-studded, shining down on snow fields as the train passed them.

Hansel recognised this part of the journey, the train would pass into Karelia and the lakes that followed.

He had a thick gash on his chin where he has slipped with the razor, his hair looked like a collapsed volcano, all mad at the edges but sunken in the middle.

Carriages seemed to moan in the wind, wheels and pistons moving had become the sound of drums, the footsteps of the train, the heartbeat of the earth.

The end of a cigar in an ashtray still smoked at Hansel’s table. He took an old rolled up piece of hide from his rucksack and laid it flat on the table.

A bunch of symbols that resembled kidney beans with arrows in them populated the centre of the hide, notes were scrawled all about it and round the edge, in a kind of rough border, were the words-

Fox an ice house. Hare a wood house. Spring killed the ice house, Fox stole the wood house. Dogs don’t dare. Bear doesn’t care. Ox is a yak. Cock takes it back.

Hansel studied it carefully, he took out a small pair of tortoise shell glasses and placed them on his nose.

‘Excuse me.’

Hansel looked up and saw a dark haired man with tanned skin.

‘Yes son, what is it?’

the dark haired man sat down opposite him. ‘Is that perhaps a map between worlds?’

Hansel squinted at the man, looking closely at his eyes. ‘what’s your name?’

‘I’m sticking with Ralph while i’m here.’

Hansel nodded and held out a hand to shake. ‘I’m Hansel Winter, you got a surname?’

Ralph extended his own hand and they shook, Ralph’s hand felt corroded, burned even.

‘Orazio.’ he pulled his hand away quickly.

Hansel looked him up and down.

‘No, It’s not a map between worlds, its a map to people, A, uh, a map to a time, like a lunar chart but for people, phases of the moon kinda thing.’

Ralph nodded. ‘I like this,’ he pointed to the words bordering the hide. ‘Ox is a Yak. I like those words, what do they mean?’

‘I don’t know, I guess it has something to do with the similarity between Oxes and Yaks.’

‘I’ve not heard of either.’ His yellow eyes darted to the ashtray. ‘do you mind?’

‘Mind what? how have you never heard of an ox?’

Ralph took the burning cigar end from the ashtray and put it to his lips, red embers burned in it for an instant as he breathed smoke, He opened his mouth and let it rise out slowly, hanging about his face like a pale cloud.

‘I’m from a different world.’

Hansel looked at him confused. ‘what?’

‘One minute I was on my world, a vast waterless salt desert, trying to avert the collapse of space and time and then bam! I’m on this train, and I see water out of windows and people eating with napkins made from trees.’

‘you're from another world, like an alien?’

‘I don’t know, but I was right there, at the river crossing, I could see the wall’s of Anathema.’

‘Have you been taking anything?’

Ralph’s eyes narrowed. ‘like what?’

‘Put the cigar down a second would you?’

Ralph dropped the cigar onto the table.

‘yeah as it happens i’ve been taking a lot of stuff, mostly out of other peoples luggage.’

Hansel took his glasses off and put them in his breast pocket. ‘I’m not talking about theft son, I’m talking about mind altering substances.’

‘Yeah, me too, from peoples cases, little pills, little bags of powder, tea tree oil, anything, this world is like grayscale or something, no, it’s like a kids painting, really bright but few ingredients.’

‘what are you talking about?’ said Hansel folding the map up, away from the cigar.

‘I need to get back to my world, the last thing I remember doing there was taking a lot of Transience and black and then something about a boat, something about crying a lot, I don’t know but I thought maybe this was all part of it but i’ve been here a long time.’

‘How long?’

‘like, I can’t tell, the sun here is trippy, goes up ,goes down, does it again ,long hours, small hours. how long have you been on the train?’

‘Well the thing with the train is, it kind of works at the edges of time, its quite loose really.’

‘exactly, and I woke up on this damn thing and now i can’t find a way off.’

‘you woke up on the train?’

‘yeah,’ Ralph picked up the cigar butt and put it back in his mouth. it was then that Hansel decided he looked strikingly like Che guevara.

‘woke up, In a little toilet cubicle, naked with a rope around my neck.’


‘yeah, the guards in ivory shirts found me-’


‘they found me and took me to lost and found, asked me to see my ticket but, I uh, obviously didn’t have one, they said something about how tight security was and then one of them said they found my luggage.’

‘found your luggage?’

‘they had found some luggage, it had two suits in it that were about my size, a single yellow ticket and a glass bottle of water, water, pure water, I thought I was rich when they gave me that.’


‘Where I come from waters worth as much as, well, like, something real valuable, what do you have that’s valuable here?’

‘Like gold?’

‘yeah like gold, gold or tripet, do you have tripet here?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Its like a little plant with red leaves, it grows in dark wet places.’

‘no, I don’t know it.’

‘shame, its good, it smells good.’

‘so,’ said Hansel rubbing his old fingers on his forehead. ‘you’re from another world, how come you speak my language?’

‘don’t know, Just woke up and well, I don’t even know if its different, I think this is the language I’ve always spoken, maybe its common to both our worlds?’

‘English? you think English which is from a small Island, is common to two completely separate worlds?’

‘I don’t know, things pass through don’t they, like a membrane, like I did, maybe English did the same.’

‘Well, so, I guess you’re not supposed to be on the train then?’

Ralph shook his head. ‘nope.’

‘So I should go and tell someone about that.’

‘well I’ve tried getting off before but Its never my stop.’

‘where are you trying to get to?’

‘Back home.’

‘No, the train, I mean,’ Hansel paused thinking. ‘The train can only let you off and your stop, which is anywhere in the world, in this world, just pick a place and get off there.’

‘I don’t know any places though, I read about New york and Holland, neither sounded that good to me, I just want to get home.’

‘Oh god, so you can’t even pick a place to get off at, you may not even be able to get off, technically we are at the edge of the world whilst traveling along the line, you may exist here but if you stepped off you might just evaporate as you came into contact with Earth.’


‘Or something.’

‘Or something! like what, just become nothing?’

‘yeah, something like that, this is the thinnest part of our world, where time is the bendiest, you might be able to live here but the earth is much more rigid, much more dictatorial, you might just become nothing.’

Ralph looked faint and slumped back in the seat. ‘Not good news, not good news, don’t go round telling people they might just fizzle into nothing.’

Hansel smiled slightly. ‘we should take you to see someone else, the Line collector might know more about it than me.’

‘the line collector?’


The Black forest cracked and creaked with the fall of heavy rain.

A man knelt down over a small fire, he worked to shelter it from the rain using his own body.

A woman emerged from the trees carrying sticks of varying sizes. She moved over to the fire and began placing them on top of hissing flames.

The man looked over at her with sad eyes, his dark hair wet to his head, his beard heavy with water. He moved away from her and went into a small tent beside the fire.

Inside sat two small children, the older was a girl with sandy hair, not much older than six, her brother was only four, a mess of red hair curled around his face.

The man took the boys arm and pulled him out of the tent, he didn’t cry, rain landed heavily on his face. He was picked up and carried by the man, carried into the woods. he looked up at the sky,It was dark, black as pitch.

The young girl and the woman sat with firelight and warmth between them.

She watched her brother go out of sight.

The woman turned to her, touching her cheek and told her where her brother was going, that he was going to live with another family and never go hungry, that his new house would be made of all kinds of wondrous foods.

The man walked deep into the forest. it smelled of moss and pine. He stopped when he had reached an old silver tree, it was unlike the other trees, its branches splayed out like fingers, its bark bright and fair.

He lowered down the boy onto the ground. The tree was split down the middle, cleaved in two, its two halves had kept living and their branches near the top had crossed over creating an arch.

He took the boys hand and walked under the arch with him. Under the cover of the silver tree they built another fire, the boy helped by gathering sticks. silver sticks, from the silver tree.

the boy looked about, it seemed to him that a great path ran through the tree, splitting it down the middle, the path went north and cleared all trees before it and the path went south, the south trail was equally bare.

The wind howled distantly and a chill crept over them both.

When the fire was lit and large enough to cook on, the man took a stone and dashed the boys brains against the silver tree.

.................................................. .................................................. ........

Hansel opened his eyes, he had drifted off, He and Ralph Orazio were stood in the Line Collectors office. His room seemed like it was carved from solid Yew, polished with oils until glossy and black.

The line inspector looked like a villain from a war movie, he had the sharp features of a hawk. His eyes were like deep water, his skin pale and he walked with a perfectly straight back.

He and Hansel embraced each other as brothers.

‘Back on the line eh, good to see you.’

Hansel nodded. ‘I was in the neighborhood and thought i’d drop in, I’ve got to sort some stuff out over in Scotland.’

the Line collector nodded. ‘Good, its not good to have to-do’s hanging over your head.’

‘Hanging?’ said Ralph quietly.

‘What was that lad? speak up?’ the Line collectors voice was clear and sharp.

‘I, uh, I shouldn’t be here.’

‘oh, no, not this again.’ He turned to Hansel. ‘Hans, this man’s playing you for a fool, which story has he laid on you? he's a prince from another world? got himself killed and woke up in the boiler room?’

Hansel shot a look at Ralph who did his best ‘i’m innocent’ face.

‘He said he was from another world, that he didn’t have a ticket and couldn’t get off.’

the Line collector shook his head. ‘He’s got a ticket, its even got his photo on it, this is Raph Orton,’ he paused and walked Hansel over to the other side of the room before he continued, in a whisper. ‘he got on the train about a month ago, I didn’t see him get on personally but i’ve seen the ticket, his case, he was a normal passenger, nothing remarkable, then one day we found him trying to hang himself in a bathroom.’

‘was he naked?’ asked Hansel.

‘No, in his underwear and socks, why do you ask?’

‘He said he was naked?’

‘he says a lot of stuff, it seems like he may have taken an awful lot of LSD but It may be he’s having a mental breakdown of some kind, anyway, I assure you that he is a resident of this planet, nothing weird, he has a photo ID ticket and a passport. The only thing odd about him is that since his episode, he doesn’t seem to want to get off the Train and as you know, if he doesn’t chose a stop then we can’t force him off, I’ve actually been talking to some people about moving him to the end carriage, you know, just to get rid of him.’ The Line collector smiled a lupine smile.

Hansel looked him up and down. the two of them walked over to the other end of the room and talked in hushed voices.

‘I’ll keep an eye on him if you want, save you the trouble, I’ll get him to come with me to scotland, get him out of your hair.’

‘Well by all means, yes, If you want to give it a go it would take a weight off my shoulders. So be it, he’s in your care from now on.’

Hansel nodded to the Line collector, it was almost a bow, and turned back towards Ralph.

‘Come on, we're going back to our seats.’

‘What were you talking about?’ his amber eyes flitted between the two grey haired men.

‘nothing, Ralph, nothing’ Said the Line collector.

Hansel moved next to Ralph and patted his shoulder. ‘We were talking about you, now come on let’s go eat, the buffet is still open for another half hour.’

Ralph nodded like a child and followed Hansel from the office, His eyes never left the Lineman’s face.

The Buffet room was filled with guests from all ends of the carriage, there was a silver dinner service laid out along a long table, which was laden with different meats and savory dishes. A chipped crystal chandelier hung low from the ceiling, it swayed to and fro with the train’s motion.

Hansel spied Elspeth sat alone picking at ham with a cold cuts fork in hand.

He loaded a silver plate with potatoes and spices, sausages, cauliflower and many other things. Then he headed over to Elspeth and sat down to her left.

‘Would I be troubling you if I sat here?’

Elspeth looked up, she had a copy of ‘Train etiquette concerning The Line’ open on the table.

‘No, not at all, I went looking for you earlier, I couldn’t find you’

Hansel nodded.

‘I met this guy, he seemed like he could use some help, I’ve been busy with him the whole day’

‘uh huh. I’ve been reading this book on the Line and thought exercises and stuff, there’s a lot in here actually, I never thought riding a train could be so complicated, then again, It’s best not to think about it.’ she exhaled and took a deep breath.

Hansel smiled and looked across the carriage and out the window. It was dark now, almost black as pitch. sometimes the moon would reflect off of something out there. bright lights on still water.

‘I think we’re passing the lakes of Karelia now, shame, they’re so beautiful in sunlight.’

Elspeth looked out the window, Inky darkness met her gaze.

‘someone told me something called the Crux is following us.’

Hansel nodded. ‘The Crux yes, the wolf with one hundred mouths and it howls from each of them.’

Elspeth looked at him and smiled slightly. ‘Is that what you think it is?’

Hansel nodded, ‘I have seen it.’

Elspeth’s smile vanished. ‘what?’

‘A memory before life almost, I lived and died on the Line, you could almost say that the Crux was my mother, my father.’

‘but I thought, you said that story about the Manila envelope.’

Hansel nodded and began chopping his potatoes. ‘yeah, thats true too, I’ve been around I guess, the Crux is my earliest memory though, all its mouths howling. it’s where the wind comes from I think, maybe.’

‘Are you human? I thought you were?’

Hansel nodded. ‘I am but thats a loose term to begin with, I was born a long time ago, I don’t know where, but I was reborn on the Line, where I met the Crux. That said, Its many things to many people, it was my she-wolf though, my resurrection.’

‘I’m afraid I don’t follow.’

‘thats how come I could work on the Line, It runs through me as it runs through the land, a child of the line. I don’t really know how to explain it, I just, I remember the Crux and then I remember walking across Russia and down to Singapore. I could always feel the Line though, I knew it even before I knew it, like the wind, I always felt it.’

‘How old are you?’ said Elspeth.

Hansel shrugged. ‘as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.’

She smiled.

Ralph sat down at the table. his plate was meticulously organised, three chicken wings, sixteen peas with equal spaces between them and a salted herring chopped into six.

‘Hello again Beth.’ He said to Elspeth.

she nodded to him. ‘hello.’ Her voice was calm and hollow.

‘you know each other?’ said Hansel.

Ralph nodded. ‘we met briefly, as passers on trains often do.’

Elspeth looked to Hansel. ‘is this the man you were helping today?’

‘yep, strange story he’s got on him.’

‘as strange as yours?’

‘well, strange is subjective I guess.’

Ralph leaned across the table and whispered to Elspeth. ‘I’m from another world, but keep your voice down about it, its all very hush hush you know.’

he sat up, put a bit of herring in his mouth and chewed it slowly savouring the taste. ‘did you know that fish is from the sea? it tastes a bit like the earth where I’m from but better.’

Hansel smiled. ‘he’s going through some stuff at the moment, I said i’d keep an eye on him.’

‘I can hear you, you know.’ said Ralph through a mouthful of fish. ‘and thanks, that Line collector gives me the creeps.’

Elspeth stared at the dark haired man. ‘your eyes.’

‘got them altered, like upgraded or something, I wanted to be able to see in the dark but It cost too much, they work a bit but they’re mostly for show, they’re based off of this little nocturnal lizard that lives on cliff shelves where I come from.’

She nodded and cut a small piece of ham.

‘they look like cats eyes to me.’

He nodded. ‘Someone else said that, I don’t get cats back home, they’re furry aren't they? like mice?’

Hansel laughed. ‘you really got some Ideas boy. like mice, do you have mice where you come from?’

Ralph looked offended. ‘yes we do, I have a collection of stuffed ones with little glass eyes, I really like mice, there’s not much else with hair where I’m from though.’

Hansel laughed again and started eating his spiced potatoes.

Elspeth watched Ralph as if he were some exotic bird. she watched his black teeth as he bit into a chicken wing.

None of them talked for some time, the Buffet slowly emptied of people. The clouds came out and took away the moon.


all criticism is welcome as long as it is constructive.

Show more