It wasn’t that the mediocre town square held no relevance. Despite it’s drab façades of pealing paint, chipped brick and rusted hinges, it was still the place the townsfolk liked to gather. Just not this day. Steam rose from bold cups of morning coffee to mingle with the thick fog. It was going to be there awhile, its denseness declared. Nothing to do about it, but carry on. Sharpen your senses. Keep a more watchful eye, but carry on.
A solitary man sat in a dark suit at one of the small, round tables outside of the local café. He read the paper intently, searching the type print for answers to some personal mystery. His eyes were too bright for the dreary scenery, slowly devouring the headlines about a recent train collision in the countryside. Passenger train. Over a hundred and twenty people killed. Total fatality. No survivors. It was tragic. The mourning was a heavier impedance than the merciless fog, smothering the town.
It was too quiet in all this grieving sorrow. Windows shuttered, doors locked. The smokestacks couldn’t penetrate. Life would make no difference this day. Finishing my coffee, I slid bills under the empty saucer still holding the one shortbread cookie I hadn’t touched and the crumby remnants of the one I had. My only witness was oblivious, a thin sheet of sweat beginning to ooze from the tiny pores along his brow. His heartbeat echoed dully in the silent air, amplified rather than muffled by the fog.
My heels clicked along the sidewalk. An incessant rapping in the man’s temples, demanding his attention at last. Twenty-six steps to pass him. His movements conveyed annoyance, the sudden assault of harassed newspaper raped the silence when he angrily thrust it away from himself and turned to glare at my retreating figure. The metal chair scraped cement like a head-on collision. It was a profound moment lost. I stopped and slowly turned to face my would-be assailant. Words of fear evoked defiance layered his tongue, while I continued to count under mine. I could all but feel the wounds of their intended violence. His paranoid guilt permeated the air with it’s decayed stench, as I reached the twenty-fifth name.
Yet, the lashings did not come forth. The man’s face glowed like embers in a dying fire, as he clutched at his arm and chest. He grabbed at himself, as if tearing the suit from his body might allow him to breathe. Might bring the sharp, shooting pains tightening his muscles to an end. His choking, gurgling emissions captured the attention of the barista. Ceramic shattered on the sidewalk’s face and was swallowed up by her panicked laments, before she rushed back inside to undoubtedly call the medics that would never get there on time. The fog would delay them too long.
It was what it was. Casually, I came to kneel beside the man, who’d dropped to his knees in an attempt to wrench his tie and shirt loose from around his throat. My touch persuaded his position, easing him down onto his back. His liquid eyes rolled wildly at me, the verbal weapons choking him turned to remorseful mewling. The brackets of strain creasing his taut face, begged of my forgiveness for damage never caused, while pleading for me to be a far better person than he. I carefully pulled his tie loose, undid the buttons of his collar. It was of little relief. There was an ever-increasing crowd now. Life held no sway over the grieving, less it was life hanging in the balance. A new tragedy to erase the last.
Leaning ever so closely, I placed my lips to his ear and revealed his fate. “You’re not going to make it. The medics will never get here in time, and no one watching you die knows how to perform first aid…”
His eyes locked onto my profile in horror, his shallow gasps coming faster. He so desperately wanted to fight against me, yet he could not. He was having second thoughts about his remorse, with just cause.
“…Your hostility toward my presence was never unfounded. I am not here to repeat any miracles.”
His guttural gasping turned his body into an animated puppet on strings of spasmodic fingers. The life slowly seeped out of him, and all went still. Dead eyes stuck at half-mast were blind to my endeavors. Sliding my hand across his bowstring chest, I slipped my fingers into the breast pocket of his suit and retrieved an unused train ticket. Opening it, I glanced over the information before letting it rest upon his sternum.
Sirens crooned in the far off distance, blanketed by the constant murmurings of speculation, as I rose and walked into the lingering fog. My heels clicking a more solemn tempo now; a dirge for the ironic death of Passenger Twenty-Six.