The Point of No Return

Impasse – Chapter Ten

The body next to Detective Farva there in the bed was warm. He sat up to put his hands to his face in an attempt to ease the throbbing of his head. His bare shoulders outside the covers riddled themselves with goosebumps and the brunette stirred, attempting to pull more of the blankets over her body.

“Lay back down, it’s cold,” she mumbled, eyes relaxed shut. “These places never have enough blankets.”

Farva felt the pain retreating from his head. He glanced about in the low light, identifying the tacky, tar-stained floral wallpaper of the motel. “Just why is it so damn cold?”

“I suppose it’s going to snow, they said.”


“That’s what the TV in the lobby was saying when we checked in,” the woman said more clearly, sitting up to find her grasp on Farva’s arm. “Maybe a white Christmas. Come on, lay back down, you paid for two hours. I’ll be sad if you want to ditch me this early.”

The detective flung his legs out of the bed. “Christmas? What day is it?”

“Uh, the 17th. No, the 18th now?”

“Of December?”

“Uh, yeah,” the woman giggled. “Was it that good that you lost yourself?”

“It’s moving backward—“ Farva said out loud, not thinking about the words. “It’s always been moving back.”

“Moving back, babe?” The woman asked, puzzled. “What is? What are you talking about?”

Farva leaned over and turned on the bedside light, casting the orange glow through the shade and across the bed. He turned back to the woman, sat up innocently. Small dots of red adorned her face and neck, up against her hairline. “It’s you. It was you. Damn it. Damn it!” His yell echoed about the room, and he turned his face back.

“Hold on now, stop it. You’re scaring me.”

The detective shook his head furiously. “When’s the last time you got tested?”

The brunette huffed, eyes averted, kneading the pillow by her side. “I use protection, you tool.”

“I don’t think you understand that isn’t enough. Damn it. Fuck. Fuck me!” His cursing found the corners of the cheap space once more. “You should know damn well that isn’t enough. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror? Wondered what that rash is?”

The woman thrashed the pillow and lunged up out of bed. “You’re going to shove that in my face, now? You think I have the luxury of going to the doctor for every little allergic reaction? Fuck you!”

As the woman stomped to the bathroom, retrieving her clothes off the bedspread and floor, the detective couldn’t help but shake his head. We’re back to this. This is where it started. Where… it wanted me to be. “It’s not your fault, I’m sorry,” he said loud enough to be heard in the bathroom. “You’d never had known. It’s too late for the both of us.”

His slacks were discarded on the floor. The lump in the pocket was his phone, silent and still. He extracted the device, flipped it open, and stared at the screen. It’s supposed to ring. The chief… he’s going to call me out… to the tracks… downtown somewhere. Second avenue is the crossing. I… can do something different this time. What haven’t I done? Why isn’t he calling? I need the excuse to get out of here.

He glanced back at the light creeping under the closed bathroom door. There was a fumbling on the other side. Shortly after the brunette had entered, she exited, fully dressed, and made a beeline for the door. “Why don’t you get your own self tested, hypocrite? Whoremonger!”

Farva kept his head down, shaking back and forth, as the woman exited, slamming the door behind her. If I end it here… how much further back will I go? Can I go back again? He thought of the gun in the glove box of the car outside. While deciding what to do with himself, the windows lit up with red and blue flashing lights. He stood and pushed open the blinds to view the sole patrol car outside. The yelling, huh?

The sound of knocking radiated from the nearby doors as the detective dressed himself. The knock finally came to his own door, and he was prepared to swing it open. “We got a report of some yelling, sounded like a threat, and— Farve?” The chief greeted him, questions prepared, beyond the entrance.

“I wouldn’t have expected you yourself to be here,” the detective murmured, glancing past Schultz at the parking lot for anyone else from the force.

The chief put himself in the way of Farva’s gaze. “Why the hell are you at a motel? Did the wife kick you out for the night?”

The detective stepped back from the door and looked at the ground. “Sure, something like that.”

Schulz clicked his tongue. “Listen, the person next door said the yelling came from this way. Did you… were you…? Hell,” he paused, turning around, hands in his pockets and cold air drafting in the open doorway. “This is gonna sound like bullshit, but before I got this call from dispatch, I was about to call you, specifically. I shouldn’t even be here, tell ya’ what, but you’re familiar enough with the calls we answer out here in the part of town.”

“Something… going on elsewhere, Chief?” Farva asked slowly, hiding what he knew and felt.

Schultz shook his head and turned back to face the detective, hanging just inside the door frame. “There’s a damn train stopped on the tracks, down on Second. Gives me the chills, weird fuckin’ situation it is. I’d be great to have your help, but seems like you’re already going through it…”

“No, I’ll come,” Farva answered decisively. “Let me check out, I’m not coming back here again.”

The detective had joined the Chief in the patrol car, the strangely familiar words of his explanation playing out from the driver’s seat. Farva sat and nodded, watching the beams of the headlights bounce up and down over the rough roads. As they wound up downtown, flakes of nascent snow began to tumble down from the sky to glow briefly in the light before melting on the asphalt. “Great, now the weather wants to gum things up on us,” the chief muttered lowly as they pulled up to the railroad crossing. “Hopefully the serviceman get here before we get snowed in.”

“Let’s hope,” Farva responded, unbuckling himself from the seat, hand on the door latch. “Hey, chief?”


“I’ll need your flashlight.”

“Wasting no time? Sure. Here.”

Farva grasped the knurled handle tightly through the cold. He punched the pliable rubber button to turn on the beam, perfectly round with wrinkles of oddly reflected light inside. The chief cleared his throat. “We’ve tried the main side doors. They don’t want to budge.”

“The caboose, then?” Farva pointed the light down the side of the train as far as it would reach. Even further was the rearmost car with a way up.

“You’re on top of things, it seems,” Schultz said, breathing long clouds of condensation. “The title detective is coming to fit you. I’ll get back to my reports, then. Be safe, eh?”

Farva nodded despite being out of the chief’s sight. He pointed the beam down and let it guide his path under the guard rails and over the ballast rocks, already slightly slippery with sleet. His free hand traced the edge of the train cars, one by one, until he reached the very end where a set of narrow stairs invited him up.

Will it be different this time? I’ve seen the cars of this train… how many times now? How could I ever know? Every time… it was empty. I know… I remember that. There should be passengers. How does an entire train of people disappear? There must be names, passengers, staff, people who have families and friends elsewhere. The last time… I left this little shithole town was to… get tested. But… that hasn’t happened yet here.

The beam fell upon the rail just below the final metal wheel of the train car, crossing endless treated timber ties and infinite parallel stretches of rail. It isn’t the train I need to look at, but where it came from.

Farva’s boots crunched the rocks as he stepped over the first rail, finding a footing on the long timber between. Out of the shelter of the tall train, the wind blew, pulling at his hair and the tails of his jacket. Hunching his shoulders up allowed his collar to barricade a decent amount of the wind from his neck.

The beam of light fit perfectly between the two stretches of track. If I keep walking… what will I find? Anything? The detective took one last glance back at the train, then began forward.

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Return to the Tracks

Impasse – Chapter Nine

When the detective came to, he was sitting in the back of a patrol car, an emergency blanket spread over him. The car was running, hot air from the heater blowing into the back seat and crinkling the thin, metallic material across his shoulders. The cold grasps of air from the outside were blocked partially by the chief, leaning on the edge of the door frame. “Farva, you with us now? What were you doing in there? You’re lucky the power wasn’t on.”

“I… wasn’t thinking, Chief.”

“No, you weren’t. I thought it was weird that your car was still here,” Schultz huffed. “It’s fortunate the serviceman from the touring company showed up early. I was letting him look around. Just by luck, he decided to check out the fridge in that kitchen car there.”

“Travis…” Farva mumbled.

The chief shook his head. “You’re thinking about him? You might have seen, we cleaned up after the scene he caused. It’s a shame, but like I said, nothing you could have done. It’s just as much my fault, sending him off inside.”

Farva pushed the blanket down and leaned forward, allowing his hands to catch the heat directly from the vents. “Why… how did he manage… what he did?”

Schultz stood up and clicked his tongue. “How should I know? Is that what you were in there for? Farve, this is out of our hands. The coroner is going to make the call, the cause of death. Best we can do is make sure his family isn’t going to go through it too hard.”

“The train isn’t right,” the detective muttered.

The chief grasped the car’s door frame hard, leaning in close. “The only thing that isn’t right is you. You’re just going to end up stepping on people’s toes if you can’t learn to stop, stop trying to solve problems that aren’t yours to deal with. You think you’re some big, brainy TV show detective ’cause you have a badge and a fancy jacket? You were lucky I was able to negotiate enough money for you at city hall. Let you stay in the force, fancy title and all. You ID transients who OD or freeze to death in back alleys, nothing more. I need your mind on things that will actively help us out, especially with all the bullshit we’ll be dealing with from here on out.”

Farva grasped his hand hard, allowing the feeling to return to his fingers little by little. The chief yanked open the driver’s door and leaned in to twist the keys off, killing the idling engine with a sputter and a shake of the car. “You warm enough, now? Get back in your own car and head back home. Get some sleep. Spend a night at home like a normal person. I want you fresh tomorrow morning. Got it?”

Farva yanked the mylar blanket off and twisted himself to the door. His legs wobbled just slightly as he found his balance. The chief slammed the door behind him and stood, unmoving, as he trotted back to the Lincoln parked on the other side of the road.

Through the frosty glass of his windshield, he could see Schultz making his way back to the train. Farva dug around for his keys in the deep pocket of his jacket, pulling them out and shoving them into the ignition. The car cranked whinily, once, twice, three times. Another twist of the keys gave the same result even after a few pumps of the gas pedal. He yanked and spun the window down, offering him enough space to poke his head out and look for the chief once more.

A cloud of his breath dissipated out the window. The chief had already disappeared into the train. What if he ends up like Travis? Like… me. The two of them. I need to go.

Farva pushed out the door, shutting it quietly, window still down. He made his way quickly up the road and the berm, under the guard rails, watching the frosted-over windows for any movement. His feet tread carefully over the rocks, attempting to stay as quiet as possible, as he retraced his steps. Down the tracks, up the stairs of the caboose, through the doors, and finally in a straight shot through the series of train cars.

The detective pushed carefully through the doors in the case that the chief or the technician was beyond. He came across the galley kitchen once more, just as he had left it, including the rack of knives, all as he had last seen them. His heart beat harder with each car he traversed, the next door possibly the one with the other two men.

His chest was tight as he opened one final door, only the coal car and locomotive beyond. Striding across the gap, he found himself between the two tall hoppers. While finding his footing, a small clack entered his ears.

Looking back, he found the hollow end of a pistol pointed his way, chest height, held in the chief’s tight grasp. Schultz’s eyes were cold and hollow, looking right through him, his skin pale. Farva held his hands up the best he could in the tight space. “You don’t want to do this chief. My car… won’t start. I… promise, I wasn’t back here for any other reason. Just… put the gun down.”

A metallic dragging and scraping came from the other side. The technician, eyes fixated like the chief’s, had stepped out from the cabin, a long wrench in his grasp over his shoulder. “What is wrong with you two? Listen to me!”

The chief inched forward, the pistol unmoving in his stiff grasp. The trigger was pulled. The detective felt the sharp, sudden feeling of the bullet piercing his side. The floor creaked under the technician’s movement. He swung the wrench, but it was too late to feel the pain from its contact with his skull.

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The Light of Day

Impasse – Chapter Eight

The night was still cold and dark as Farva made his way back downtown, eventually arriving at the tracks down where the chief had called from earlier in the night. There were two patrol cars, their lights flashing and headlights facing the train stopped there on the tracks. The chief had set up a detour sign, pointing south to the other crossing down several blocks. Taking up the rest of the crossing road was an ambulance belonging to the regional hospital and the coroner’s white work van, an exempt sticker on its license plate, otherwise unmarked.

Farva parked far enough away to keep from blocking in the other two vehicles. Bundling himself up against the wind, he marched up the berm to the crossing and the rails perpendicular to the road. The slamming of a car door forced his eyes back. It was the chief, stepping out of his patrol car to join him.

“What happened?”

Schultz shook his head, hands buried deep in his pockets. “Wish I could say. I had Travis go inside. Head inside the train here, that is. From all angles, it’s abandoned, but somehow it’s just ended up here for some reason.”

“I see that,” the detective nodded.

The chief eyed him in the low light. “The kid was just supposed to look for signs of anything strange in there. Now look what’s happened.”

“Strange things at work here.”

Schultz let out a low huff, his breath forming a wide cloud that was immediately sucked away by the wind. “Yeah, and we’re here to clean up the mess. There’s no signs of anybody else, I just don’t understand. But the kid ended up stabbed, bled out before we had the chance to come and check on him. Right there in the little train car kitchen, galley. Multiple times he was hit, right in the stomach, left with the chef’s knife sticking out from him. Damn it. Not a single wound on his hands, anywhere else. Like… he stabbed himself all those times.”

“The hell…”

The surface of the road crunched under the movement of heavy tires behind them. They both looked back to watch the ambulance drive off back down the road, its tail lights glimmering in the dark. Inside the train, several sets of flashlight beams waved back and forth through the condensation-clouded windows. Not long later, the side doors were being forced open, the coroner and his partner stepping down with a long black stretcher hoisted between the two of them.

The chief shuffled back and forth, glancing at the body bag as it moved by them. “Listen, what I said over the phone… that this is your fault… this whole fucked up situation has nothing to do with you.”

“That’s not right,” Farva contradicted.

“Yeah, it could have been you in his place. But we couldn’t have seen something like this coming. Can’t change how it went down.”

“Damn it,” the detective muttered to himself. “What can I do?”

“I’d like to know what any of us could do, Farve,” Schultz slumped back. “This is beyond me, and as far as I’m concerned, out of any of our hands. The company who runs the train is having a technician come our way, some time tomorrow… later today, in the afternoon. Likely only to get it moving, but it’s better than nothing. The missing people, on the other hand… if the feds or whoever come our way, the best I can do is record every little detail. On top of that, it’s Travis’ family I’ll have to be dealing with. Lucky for you, you’re able to take a break from all the reports, detective,” he finished with a sneer.

Farva had his eyes locked to the train, head shaking. “Give me your flashlight, chief.”

“Huh? Now you wanna play ball?” Schultz huffed. “I told you, it’s out of our hands. Go and fuck off to whatever you were doing. I can’t bring myself to care right now.”

“Tomorrow…” Farva repeated. “When the company rep comes…”

“You want to handle that? Fine,” the chief rolled his eyes. “Go home and get some sleep before then, cuddle up next to your perfect wife.”

The detective sat in his car, far back enough from the scene, watching through the darkness as the chief continued about his business. I should leave before he does. Then I can come back after and get into the train. But how long is he going to stay here? The lights on the patrol cars finally shut off, but the dome light of Schultz’s car stayed on, testing Farva’s patience.

The detective’s head was suddenly heavy. He felt a drop of drool down his cheek. His arms had fallen down in his lap, leaving his body cold. As he wiped the spit from the side of his mouth, he realized that the morning light had crept up over the road and the tracks.

The windows of the Lincoln were completely frosted over. The ice crackled as he pushed the door open, the crisp air not much colder than the temperature of the car. His teeth began to immediately chatter.

The train remained in the same place, frosted over with tiny pale spikes. The only remaining sign of the others being there earlier that morning was the orange and black detour sign and several short cones blocking off the road to the crossing. A handful of cars, driven by those barely beyond the grasps of sleep, pulled past the blocked intersection and begrudgingly jerked their wheel in the direction of the service road.

The detective rubbed his hands together before shoving them into his pockets, slumping his shoulders to shield his front the best he could from the wisps of freezing wind. The road up to the tracks was icy, untouched by recent feet or tires. The bars for the crossing were still lowered, but the chime and flashing lights had been disabled from the service box not far off the edge of the tracks. While there was a break in the already dismal traffic, Farva jogged up the rock berm and down out of sight of the road to the caboose at the end of the train.

He was forced the use of his bare, cracked, dry hands to grasp onto the freezing metal railing to climb the narrow stairs, then to turn the handle of the sole door there at the back of the train. It opened for him without resistance. The interior of the train car was painted with pale light through the rectangular windows, a sight he hadn’t managed to see before.

At least I don’t need a flashlight. But… what am I looking for? Nothing stays the same here. It keeps changing. To… throw me off. Or because… it can’t help but be different. What’s different, and what’s stayed the same all this time? Is that the key to this hell?

Farva looked about at the packed shelves and storage boxes and suitcases. He paused, pushing the image into his mind before making his way to the next door. The following car held the fancy, spacious rooms, with locking privacy doors. The following, cramped bunks, shielded by curtains for the staff. Beyond that, the dining room. This layout doesn’t make any sense. What’s going on? The car after was the viewing deck, its wide windows still decorated with swirls of frost.

The following car was dressed with stainless steel. The galley. The detective nearly walked forward without a second thought, but the memory of the chief’s report from the night before came to the front of his mind. This is where Travis… The floor was made up of thin metal plates, fastened down with smooth rivets. It had been cleaned, the room stank with the odor of bleach. Still, there remained hints of blood, clinging to the cracks between the metal plates and hardware and up at the adjustable feet of the cabinets. The rookie’s blood. He was stabbed… or he stabbed himself… with one of the knives.

The detective’s gaze found the magnetic strip where they were held between uses. A gap was left, where the makeshift weapon would have been held at one point. Did someone… something do that to him, or was he driven, himself, to take his own life? Was he trapped, like me? How… how many times have I been through this, now? If only there was a sign…

Farva took one last look at the hanging knives before making his way to the next door. Just as his hand found the latch, he heard the slamming of a car door somewhere outside. Who could that be? Damn it, my car is still out there. The chief would recognize it. Why would he be here? He’s going to rip me a new one if he finds me inside here.

The detective let his hand off the door and stepped back. Trying to get to the next car would get me seen. Which way? The observation deck is a no-go. What’s beyond here? His eyes darted back and forth between the two exits. At the far end, where he had come from, there was yet another door— the walk-in.

The heavy metal door with a latching handle led to the wide refrigerator. Cold air crept out across the floor as he yanked the fixture open. Still cold, even after all this time, but about as bad as outside. Without thinking further, the detective stepped in, allowing the door to close after him.

All light was suddenly cut off. Damn it, what am I thinking? Before he could retreat, the latch clicked with the sound of the door sitting fully back in its sealed frame. His hands ran across the cold, wavy metal, moist with condensation from the rising temperature. He found the mechanism on the other side of the latch, but it refused to budge.

With shoulder pointed at the door, he slid back as far as he could in the thin space and shoved himself forward. Ouch. The only result was a low smack and a lingering pain in his shoulder. He rubbed at his arm, leaning back against the metal shelf. It’s colder than I thought. He pulled the collar of his jacket close to his neck. Who was that outside? They might check in here. Or they might not. Damn it. My phone?

The detective found the bulge in his pocket. It had been turned off since the night before after the chief had called him. Holding the power button, it began to light up, chiming lowly. The home screen that eventually appeared teased a connecting message but conceded no bars of service. No calls, in or out. The tiny, dim screen was only enough to illuminate the damp boxes of vacuum-packed cuts of meat and wilting lettuce and half-empty bottles of sauces.

Farva’s teeth began to chatter. He slid down to the floor and held his knees toward his chest, hoping to cling to what warmth was left inside the insulation of the jacket. Jess bought this for me after I got out of physical therapy and got assigned this detective job. If only I could call her now… Death by hypothermia… will it start again after this? Will I be back to the start? Will… Travis be back? I haven’t fixed or recognized anything.

The feeling began to drain from his fingers, even tucked into fists, his eyes becoming heavier. Head throbbing, his breath came and went quickly from his chest, collecting in heavy clouds in front of his face.

The latch clicked. The light outside was blinding. The bleary shapes of two figures stood outside the door. “Farva?”

“Is that your man, the one whose car you pointed out?”

“Yeah. Farva, what the hell are you doing in there?”

The detective attempted to stand but could only manage to make it to his knees, pulling himself forward on numb hands. The chief and the other man pulled him up by his arms. “You can’t be serious. Let’s get him to my car, we can have the heater running.”

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By Any Means

Impasse – Chapter Seven

There was a pair of arms around Farva’s shoulders. He felt at the hand strung over his chest, warm and soft. When he opened his eyes, he saw the tacky wallpaper and stained upholstery of the motel room chairs. He pulled away from the woman’s grasp, someone dark-haired and noticeably younger than him, and sat on the edge of the bed, face in his hands. She sat up, already awake.

“What’s the matter?”

The detective shook his head and muttered lowly. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be here. You, neither. Just… you should probably yourself tested.”

The woman shuffled the bed covers loudly. “Excuse me? Tested for what?”

Farva sighed. “Please. I’m sorry.”

The woman stood and began to stomp about, dressing herself. “You son of a bitch. I’m calling the police. You do this, knowing you have something?”

“Don’t bother. I mean… I’m sorry. I’m with… the police force. But… I don’t blame you. I’ve really messed up.”

“Damn right,” the woman muttered, yanking on her discarded clothes. “Fucking small town hicks, dirty fuckers, son of a bitch, what I get for getting with whoever… people like you ruining people’s lives. You know what, I’m going to the papers. Not here, unless I dare getting lynched…”

The young woman bustled about the room like a tornado, still cursing under her breath until her heeled shoes finally took her out the door, disturbing the night with a loud slam that shook the walls of the structure. Farva glanced at the square packet, ripped open, on the nightstand. At least… we used protection.

His slacks were discarded on the floor. Leaning down, he fished around in either pocket until he found the one with his phone, quiet and still. He flipped it open and checked the time— just before three in the morning. I need to call her. I need to confess. Or better, I need to—

The phone rang, shaking his hand. The police chief’s name lit up the tiny screen. The detective waited for the call to end, but a second one came soon after. I should answer it. Tell him no. I know… something is going to happen… if I go where he is… the tracks. The train…


“Got you awake finally, did I, Farve?”


“If you’re up and sober I need you. Come down to the tracks, second avenue.”

“I can’t,” Farva responded quickly.

Schultz huffed, breath heavy through the speaker. “You’re going to make my life hard now, are you, Farve? I know it’s late, but-“

“I need to take care of something,” The detective interrupted. “I… can’t go without doing this. If… I go to the tracks, I won’t be able to make it back and do it properly.”

“What are you talking about?”

The chief’s voice was cut off as Farva clacked the phone closed, terminating the call. The phone vibrated and chirped another time as he dressed himself, and once more as he dropped the keys to the motel room in the box by the office. Halfway through the phone’s noisy call for attention, the detective choked it out finally with a long press of the power button.

The open windows of the Lincoln let in the frigid air, keeping Farva awake, lucid enough to think of the words he would say when he got home. About ten minutes later, he was pulling up to the double-wide, flipping off the headlights, and turning off the car. He climbed the stairs and opened the doors without a thought to be quiet, knowing he was going to wake her up anyways.

The woman stirred in bed as he stepped into the bedroom, floorboards creaking beneath the old carpet. She forced her face into her pillow when he flipped the light switch. “Turn that off, please? Can’t you manage with the hall light?”

“Jess, we need to talk,” Farva said, the breath leaving his chest.

The woman sat up, eyes mostly shut. “Can it wait until morning? Or even after I get back from work tomorrow night?”

Farva sat on the edge of the bed near her feet. “I don’t know… if I’ll last that long. With how things are going.”

“Wait… what now? Are you okay?”

“I… I’m sick. That’s why… I haven’t let myself be around you.”

Jess sat up and reached for her husband’s hand. He felt her skin but pulled away before he could enjoy the touch, sully it. “I don’t understand.”

“Please, don’t,” the detective began to explain. “A month ago. When I was gone for the two whole days…”

“I remember.”

“It wasn’t for work. I was… getting tested. Because…”

The cold trailer sounded with a sudden, shrill ringing from the next room. Jess shook her head. “I think it may be your boss. The chief. He called earlier, left a message asking for you. I just let it go to the machine…”

“Damn it,” Farva muttered, trying to ignore the ringing. “Jess, I’ve been unfaithful.”

The woman shuffled her head back and forth. “I… I had thoughts… that that might be… what’s going on.”

The answering machine clicked on in the next room, the tape beginning to reel up to record the incoming message. “Farve… if you get this… we need you out here. Travis is… he’s dead.”

The detective bit his lip and jerked up from the bed, rushing to the phone before the call would hang up. “Chief,” he answered, pushing the phone to his ear.

“Now you answer,” the gruff, hoarse voice answered. “This is your fault, you know. I had the kid doing your job. If only you’d come out. I’d ask you to come out now, but whatever or whoever you’re fucking around with now is obviously more important.”

“I’ll be there. I’ll be there, as soon as possible.”

“Good on you,” Schultz said sarcastically. “Well, at least you can help me clean up this fucking mess. Let’s hope I can think up something for you to do, keep you out of my sight…”

Farva set down the phone in the cradle. Jess’ arms reached around him, holding him tight from behind. “We can fix what we have here any time. You know I’m patient. Go take care of what you need to out there. Go.”

Farva pulled away from her grasp without another word, stomping outside in his boots and avoiding the urge to look back. Before he started up his car, he leaned over and tugged on the handle to the glove compartment. Beneath the old napkins and blank service reports was a bundle, and an old handkerchief, holding something heavy and uneven. He unwrapped it in his lap, revealing the revolver. The cylinder was loaded with a single bullet, with others tucked away deeper in the compartment.

It will only take one. One to restart this cycle all over again. To save Travis. To do the right thing. What is the right thing? How do I stop it from repeating? I don’t… I don’t remember enough. But with enough tries, I can find the right way out. But… I am out. Right now. I’ve escaped. It will all repeat again, won’t it. And when I’ve gotten to this point…

Farva forced the barrel around, pointing it towards his mouth, the cold steel finally coming to rest on his bottom lip. He had seen the results of people doing the same thing to themselves. It was only a small margin of error between quick and painless to slow and agonizing, or even not at all. His thumb made contact with the hammer, ready to push it back into firing position. The light in the trailer flicked on and glowed through the curtains of the window, the shadow of a silhouette moving beyond. I… can’t. I have to… do this the right way. Accept that this is the way it has to go.

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The Mistake

Impasse – Chapter Six

Rough, long nails and scrawny fingers dragged across Farva’s scalp, pulling him awake suddenly. He recoiled from the smell, stale smoke from a cigarette. The platinum-haired woman was sat up beside him in the bed, getting what she could from the last bit of a glowing ember. She ruffled his hair one last time and pulled her arm back. “Did I wake you?” She asked with a raspy voice through creased lips. “A lot of my customers like that, getting their hair played with once in a while. Men usually aren’t on the receiving end of stuff like that.”

“Was this a smoking room?” Farva rolled over and sat on the edge of the bed, glaring at the floor.

“I dunno, hon, you booked it. And you were smoking like a chimney when you pulled up anyway.”

Farva shoved his face in his hands and shook his head. “I need to get out of here.”

The older woman made a loud puff on the remaining cigarette and let the smoke out her nostrils. “Well, I’m sorry my company couldn’t be more comforting to you, hon.”

The detective glanced back. “No, it’s not that. Something came up… it’s… work… a work thing.”

“Sounds convincing.”

“I promise… it’s not. It’s just… what was it? Downtown? Why do I feel like something is wrong?”

“Something is wrong, you’ve got that right” the woman sat up, pushing the butt into the ashtray on the nightstand. “But I don’t want to be the one to spell it out for you.”

The detective’s slacks, folded on the chair by the window, vibrated and chirped with a call. Farva took no time in pulling out the phone and flipping it open. “Hello?”

“Sorry to call you at a time like this, Farva,” said Schultz on the other side of the line.

“No, don’t worry, I’m up,” he said lowly, glancing back across the room at his company.

“Good, and it sounds like you’re nice and sober too. Or am I wrong?”

“I’m quite fine, chief. Something’s come up?”

“I need you down by the rails on second.”

“The train?”

“The-“ Schultz stumbled. “Yeah. How did you know? One of the other boys call you?”

“I’ll be down there. I won’t be long.”

The cold air from outside flooded the car, windows down, trying to flush out the smoke and old perfume smells from his clothes. Barely stopping at the stop intersections, Farva kept feeling at the phone in his pocket, hard up in deciding whether or not he would call the wife to explain his absence. If I call her to let her know now, she’ll expect that I call her other times I’m out. Even if it is for work.

By the time several possible situations had crossed in and out of his mind, he was already at the tracks, the patrol cars there flashing and shining their lights. The fancy passenger train sat on the tracks, dark, stretching from one end of his vision to the other. Schultz was in the street all of a sudden, hand up in a motion to have the car just before the closed crossing.

The chief was at his door, arms crossed as the Lincoln sputtered to a stop. “You sure you’re okay to work tonight?” He asked before any other formality could cross his lips.

“Just tired, chief,” Farva sighed, eyes still studying the train.

“Slap that sleep outta your eyes,” Schultz muttered, supporting his back in a stretch. “’Cause your expertise is actually going to come in handy tonight.”

“I’ll be fine, chief. Train’s stopped, huh?” The detective asked plainly.

“Don’t push it, Sherlock. Yeah, that’s it. The big issue, mystery really, is that there’s not a single soul left on that train. And we don’t know where they might have gone. And because it’s on our doorstep, we’re going to be the ones having to explain to the touring company, the rail authority… the feds… who knows? At the very least, we have to start the paper trail to prove we did the best we could.”

“I understand. I… I can look around the tracks maybe.”

Schultz smirked. “Nice of your to volunteer, but I need you looking around the inside. Making sure there were no signs of struggle, foul play, whatever it might be that caused the guests and staff to abandon the train.”

“Pretty dark.”

Schultz already had the heavy flashlight off his leg, with its knurled handle pointed the detective’s direction. “You’ll have this at least.”

Farva took up the light but hesitated to push the rubberized button. “There should be some emergency power or something. Might make it easier to look around.”

“If you find something like that, that’s fine. But don’t disturb anything that might be suspicious. Hell, you know enough about crime-scene bullshit. You’ll find the caboose open, the main doors don’t open unpowered from the outside. Get to it.”

The rear car was unlocked as told. The shelves inside were packed neatly with boxes and crates and luggage, held tightly in place by elastic straps. Despite his premonition, neither a breaker box nor a set of batteries were there to be seen in that part of the train.

The handle of the door to the outside and the second car opened without any complaint. The space above the coupling felt larger than it actually was, especially when attempting to cross without looking down. I’m glad I don’t have to cross these when the train is moving, but it probably wouldn’t be going that fast in the first place. It would be better to have the lights on for this, regardless.

The train cars were dark, but their purpose clear even through the beam of the flashlight. The bunks were tight in the following car, intended for only the hard-working staff. The kitchen car smelled of food and had pans soaking in a narrow sink. The dining car tables had small droplets of wax from the candles that had burned down just slightly. The bedrooms of the guest cars contained random articles of clothing, strew on the feet of beds or the backs of chairs, and had divots in the down pillows where people had laid their heads. In the observation car, a sweatshirt hung over the back of one of the wide benches. People had been aboard at one point, but there was nothing out of the ordinary, at least through the beam of the flashlight. I need the lights on. Why?

Farva trudged through the last remaining cars before finally finding pause at the coal car, looking upon the cold locomotive just beyond. I… shouldn’t move beyond here.

Stepping back inside, the detective shined his light about the space, a bar, albeit only under its first impression. Instead of spirits and beer taps behind the shiny wooden counter were sodas and snacks and overpriced souvenirs ready to be purchased. A painting of a nondescript mountain on a canvas hung on the wall beside the bar, stretched on a heavy wooden frame… the hints of a hinge hiding on one side. What’s this now?

The detective pulled on the edge of the picture frame and swung it outward. Disguised beneath was the metal door hiding the train’s breakers. The switches matched up with each of the cars, plus a few extras, one of which was the one that Farva desired- Emg. Lights – Batt. Power.

Breath was held while he flipped the switch from off to on. Somewhere below the floor boards, there was a click of a solenoid or something similar, followed by the sudden wash of red light from the ballasts in the ceiling. Farva blinked slowly, allowing his eyes to adjust, while he flipped the flashlight off. The flashing of the patrol cars and their red and blue lights were harder to see outside the windows but were still there nonetheless. The windows themselves were already frosted over with condensation from the cold. But in the condensation were other marks.

They could have been seen as streaks of curious and impulsive fingers, pointing out sights and views passing by on the train’s journey, but they were more than that. If the staff was so meticulous, these would have been wiped down. The marks covered every window, full hand prints, greasy and stretched and streaked by pulling grasps. The detective ran his finger through them, confirming the side of the glass they inhabited. Were they trying to get out? This… at least… is something the chief needs to see.

The latches to open the sliding panes were old-fashioned and tarnished, but with enough leverage, they popped open. Pushing on the pane of the window was enough to have it slide up slightly, sufficient to push his finger underneath to wrench it open more. Maybe I can get the chief’s or one of the other guy’s attention. Then I can get the side doors open.

Farva’s hands made it out the window frame, forcing the moving pane up little by little. Just as he made enough space to fit his head out, his wrist caught on the edge of the jamb. He yanked his arm back, grating it once more against something sharp. In the dim red light, he could only see the rough slice and the dark liquid beginning to run from it. His legs went weak. Fuck. Fuck.

The flashlight dropped from under his arm. His feet shuffled, wanting to move in the direction of the door. He held tight to his wrist while shoving the door open with an elbow. “Help! I need help!”

The red light spilled out onto the ground from the train’s windows. The gravel crunched under the feet of the chief attempting to reach the detective and his calls for help. “Farve? Where are you? Hold on, I see you!”

The detective stood on the train’s landing, hovering over the coupling, the world moving back and forth beneath him. He attempted to inch his way down, but before his feet could find the ground, his body left the platform. The coarse gravel found him, stifling his fall with limited success. Still grasping hard to his arm, he heard the chief approaching.

“I’m bleeding. Don’t touch me!” Farva yelled. “Just… call the ambulance! I don’t want you to… you can’t…”

“I’ve got you. We have a first aid kit in the car, I got the boy getting it. Shit, that’s a bad cut. Hold on.”

“Don’t touch me,” the detective continued to cry. “You shouldn’t… get involved.”

“Hurry up with the kit,” Schultz yelled back, quick to attend once again to the detective. “Listen, we can get some pressure on the wound before the ambulance gets here. You know how backed up they can—“

Farva jerked away as soon as the Chief’s hands came near. “I’ve… got it. I’m… fine. My blood…”

“Damn it, Farve, I’m not letting you bleed out on me, not on my watch—“

“I’m goddamn HIV positive, Hank!” Farva shouted, foam at his lips. “If you get… if you’re not careful… I can’t have you end up like me.”

The chief sat back on his knees, glancing at the rocks beneath him for any signs of blood on the ground or his clothing. “Since when? And why am I just hearing about this?”

Farva’s hand could barely move as the warm blood dripped from his wrist and onto the ground before him. The world continued to shake, the pounding in his head louder and louder. “I got it from some hooker. Couldn’t tell you which one,” he said with a weak laugh. “A few months ago.”

The chief’s face, plastered with disappointment, could be seen in brief moments of the flashing police lights. “You’re sure?” He jerked back, looking for the other officer. “Drop the kit! Get the ambulance here as fast as you can! Go!”

Farva sat back, landing on his butt weakly. “I… I skipped town for a few days. When I told you I was on a trip with the wife. Told the wife I was working, got myself tested some place where nobody would know me or my face. They say… I’ve got… I forget… a few months before it goes full-blown… and…”

Schultz sat up. “Stay with me. Keep talking. Damn it, even some gloves…”

“And… I’ve only made it worse… since then… I’ve avoided her, I don’t want to tell her, pass it on to her. I’ve slept around, damn it, given it to… whatever strange women.”

The chief leaned down to catch sight of the detective’s drooping face. “Don’t think about any of that right now, you just focus on me and my voice.”

“I’ve… I’ve been through this before.”

“You’re not making sense, Farve. Breathe. Keep a good hold there.”

The detective glanced back up at the windows of the train, windows still glowing with the red emergency lights. “It… keeps repeating. But…I’m close.”

“Just hold on until the ambulance shows up. They have the protective gear to deal with… you.”

“Don’t… tell my wife, chief…”

Schultz shook his head. “If you stay with me, I promise not to. But you’ll have to tell her yourself. You understand me, Farva? You can’t lie to her like you’ve lied to me. You can’t. You can’t. You…”

Farva couldn’t help but closed his eyes, the chief’s voice fading.

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