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Late Night Ride
The train was supposed to be here 25 minutes ago. Where was it?
Laura had been standing under the rickety roof of the old, beaten down train station for an good 45 minutes. Her train was supposed to arrive at 8 PM, but now it was almost 8:30 and the train was still nowhere to be seen.
She was starting to get worried and cold. The sun had now set, as it was almost winter and the days were getting short. The only lights she had were the very dim train station lights that barely allowed her to see her hand when she held it out in front of her.
She took a seat on an old bench and silently wished her train would come soon. For she was the only one at the train station other than the women at the ticket booth and that lady hadn’t been friendly. Laura had tried to strike a conversation with her, tell her that she was going to meet her cousin on the train and they were going to travel on to New York to make it big. For it was the 1920’s and things were hopping. Laura had a heck of a voice and her cousin could play piano like no other. They were gonna make dance music. The lady at the booth had simply brushed her off. She hadn’t been interested in what Laura had to say. Laura was almost hurt at that fact. She wasn’t used to being shunned away like that.
Laura huddled close to herself in her coat and pulled her luggage nearer her. She had heard stories of late night train station robberies and even though she wasn’t quite sure why anyone would take aim at this place, she wasn’t going to take any chances.
Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a figure making it’s way closer to where she was. She turned. It seemed it was an old man, maybe in his late 70’s. He seemed a little sickly and walked with a limp. He didn’t have a cane, but it looked like he might be in need of one. She seemed harmless enough, so Laura wasn’t scared. In fact, she liked the elderly. Maybe he was waiting for the same train and could keep her some company.
“Hello,” Laura said when the man was in hearing distance.
“Hello,” he replied in a quite shaky voice, as if he was having trouble breathing.
“I’m Laura. Are you waiting on the train?”
“Yes,” he had to catch his breath as he made it to the bench. He motioned towards the empty seat beside Laura’s and she nodded to let him know he could have it. “It’s always late.”
“I’ve noticed,” Laura chuckled a little. “What, may I ask, is your name?”
“I’m Bill Lancaster.”
That name struck a bell. “Well, Bill, it’s nice to meet you. Maybe we can keep each other company on this cold, rainy night waiting on this slow train.”
“Why, of course,” Bill said with a smile on his face, “I love talking to those in the younger generations, with your new innovations and such.”
“Ha. Yes, I suppose we have had a few new ideas,” Laura’s face lit up with the optimism that some of those ideas and dreams would one day apply to her as she sang up on stage.
“What brings you here to this old station? Hardly no one uses it anymore.”
Laura smiled, a chance to tell someone her dreams, “I want to be a singer, a marvelous, famous singer! My cousin is on the train. She boarded in Fargo and I’m boarding right here in Dells. She plays the piano in such a way you wouldn’t believe. I have quite a voice on me, too, if I do say so myself and we’re hoping people around the country will think so, too. I want people to know my name, more than anything.”
“Sounds like a fancy dream you got there. You seem like a good enough girl. I wish you the best,” he said, with almost a hint of sadness in his voice.
“What do you dream about?”
“I used to want to be famous. A famous writer,” his eyes filled with a passion like none other. “I wanted people to remember what I said, long after I was gone. I wanted to famous for a long time after my time.”
“Such a fantastic dream,” Laura whispered to herself, almost in awe of the passion he had for what he loved.
“I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to write,” his voice filled with pain, “I never learned to read, or write, but old Miss Sally used to read me her books and as the pages turned, I dreamed things that I didn’t think were possible. I went places I could never actually go and I wanted to bring that to people, but I couldn’t.”
“That’s so sad,” Laura felt the old man’s pain. She wanted to embrace him. She wanted to write down his thoughts. She wanted to make him famous. As soon as those words left her mouth, she saw the train lights coming around the bend.
Soon the train pulled to a stop and she boarded with her luggage and found her cousin. The old man boarded a couple cars down. She didn’t see him again.
“Did you see that old man I was talking to?” Laura asked her cousin, Shirley.
“No. I didn’t see anyone,” she replied.
“You must have missed him. He was so sweet.”
“Well, I’m glad you had company. This train is so late.”
A couple of weeks later, Laura and Shirley, had booked a show in a club in downtown New York. Near the middle of the show, Laura decided to dedicate a song to Bill Lancaster. She knew he was out there somewhere, probably barely getting by and whether, or not he could hear her, she wanted to let him know she cared.
“Everyone, this next song goes out to Bill Lancaster. Don’t look around the audience. He’s not here,” Laura spoke into the microphone. “He was an old man I met at a train station on the way up here to New York and he was a nice old man who was most definitely struggling. He needs someone to care about him. That’s what I’m doing, caring about him.” From the piano, Shirley gave Laura a strange look. Laura saw it and knew she’d have to ask what it meant later.
Laura looked back at the audience and as she did, out the window she saw Bill, but as soon as she saw him, he disappeared, like a vapor. ‘I must be hallucinating,’ she thought. She was a tad bit dehydrated.
She continued with the show, getting appropriate applause and afterwards, getting booked at the same club for the next night. She was having a good night.
Then she remembered that Shirley had had something to tell her. She went over to talk to her. “What was that look about, Shirls?”
“Bill Lancaster. Late 70’s, walked with a limp, spoke in a shaky voice?”
“Yes. How’d you know?”
“He lived in Fargo. He died a week before we boarded that train.”
“Are you saying I saw a… a… a ghost?” Laura asked with shock in her voice.
“I’m not sure,” Shirley said, a tad bit scared.