Her Voice

Impasse – Chapter Five

There was a rough hand on Farva’s bare chest, shaking him awake. “Your phone is ringing, big boy.”

The detective shot up, pushing the hand and covers off and yanking himself to the edge of the bed. “Don’t touch me,” he grumbled, stealing a glance back at the dark, curly-haired woman.

She stuck her arms over her breasts and slid off the other side of the bed, standing and making her way to the bathroom with heavy steps. “You know, you’re the second asshole I’ve slept with in this town. You get off, roll over, and suddenly decide you’re too good for girls like me. Go to hell, I’m moving on, the lot of you.”

“I’m sorry,” Farva held his face in his hands.

“Yeah, right. I hope that’s your wife calling.”

The detective pushed himself off the edge of the bed, bending his stiff back to pull the phone up out of his nearby slacks. He flipped it open to answer the call. “Chief?”

“Took you long enough,” Schultz huffed at him through the phone.

“It’s late.”

“I know that, Farve,” he said back, attempting a slight amount of compassion. “But you know how things are. Can you come down to Second? By the tracks. Something pretty odd we got down here, I’ll tell you.”

“Yeah,” The detective answered tiredly, dragging the discarded pants across the floor with his foot. “Yeah, give me some time to get dressed. Won’t be long,” he finished, clacking the phone back closed.

The dark woman sauntered out the door, fully dressed, as the detective got himself together. The headlights of her vehicle glared in the window as he finished putting on his shoes, the keys to the motel in hand. He made sure to drop them in the metal box outside the office before he made the necessary call.

Sounds like something is up downtown, so she’ll believe me that I’ve been working. I’ll just leave a message for when she wakes up. The phone rang, once, twice, closing in on the answering machine taking over. And then the phone picked up. “Hello?” The woman answered.

Farva pulled the phone from his ear to double-check the number he had called, regardless that he had heard the voice belonging to his wife. Her voice came through the speaker once more before he forced himself to answer. “Hey. I’m sorry if woke you up. I know you have work in the morning…”

“No,” She answered tiredly. “Well yeah, I do have work. I was up getting some water and using the bathroom. Something… must be up if you’re out this late. I mean, the bars have been closed almost an hour now.”

“I haven’t been at the bar,” Farva answered quickly without thinking, then glancing back to the dim motel sign flickering on the corner of the lot.

“I don’t care if you were or not,” she answered, her true feelings hiding behind the words. “I’d just like it if we could spend some nights together.”

“Listen, babe…”

“You don’t owe me an explanation for this. I need to get back to bed.”

“The chief called me downtown. This is just gonna be something small, I bet. I should be home for breakfast time.”

The silence on the end of the line dragged on. “You bet. Let’s hope it is something small. Goodnight, Robert.”

The phone clicked before he had a chance to respond. Shoving the phone back in his pocket, he made his way to his car.


The wind blew hard that night, rocking his wide car back and forth as he rode through the dark, silent streets towards the place the chief had called him to. There was a train on the tracks, stopped, high beams and police lights illuminating it. The detective’s heart skipped a beat. He sat in the old Lincoln, engine still running, lights on, and unlit cigarette resting in between his lips. The mustached and uniformed man eventually marched up to his car, tapping on the glass of the driver’s window.

“Farve?” The chief’s voice was muffled through the glass.

The detective twisted the keys, turned off the car, unbuckled himself, and pushed out the door. “I’m sorry. Just thinking.”

Schultz had his arms crossed. “Save some attention for the task at hand, Farve.”

The detective shook his head, blinking at the lights cast on the fine paneling of the train car blocking the crossing. “The train stopped.”

“Good attention to detail, Einstein,” The chief sneered, walking forward with his hands in his pockets. “I guess you can tell it shouldn’t be here, right on the damn crossing.”

“This… isn’t right.”

Schultz glared back, looking Farva up and down, finally into his eyes. “You haven’t been drinking? You don’t see all there tonight.”

The detective glanced about at the two patrol cars. Up beyond the crossing, the guard rails still down, another officer was scanning the edges of the tracks by flashlight. “Where are the passengers? The driver?”

“Well, if you aren’t quick to catch on,” Schultz praised tiredly. “All gone, the lot of them. Like they were never there. At least, there are no signs of anyone leaving on foot, why they would abandon their fancy train in mass doesn’t make sense either. But we haven’t gotten a chance to give the interior a proper look-at. I want you on that, Farve.”

The detective froze. “I don’t think… me being here would make a difference. I can… I can find out who we need to call to get the train moving again.”

Schultz sighed, shaking his head. “I’m not able to offer you a choice, at least not right now. I was first on the scene, so I’m stuck filling out the reports that you’d be given otherwise. That’s our compromise, Farve. You know very well that if it weren’t for me pulling strings, there wouldn’t be the budget to pay someone with the title of Detective, a small town like this.”

Farva bit at his lip, then held out his hand. “Looks like the power’s off. I didn’t come with any of my gear, I need a flashlight at least.”

“That’s the spirit,” Schultz smirked, yanking the gear from his belt. “Just take notice of anything out of the ordinary. Some reason why the lot of them bailed somewhere. You might start down at the far end.”

Heavy knurled handle of the flashlight in hand, the detective crossed under the guard rails, over the ballast stones, and down to the end of the train where a thin set of stairs led up to the car.

They hold all the extra cargo and luggage in here. There’s no reason for this to take longer than this needs to. The beam of the flashlight flickered off and back on, but the room was clear and lit up for long enough. The fancy suitcases belonged to people, those who boarded the train for its journey. They were gone, for whatever reason, but their belongings still remained. They left without heed for their things.

The doors between the cars were unlocked. The detective proceeded without delay, nothing more than the bare minimum on his mind. Why do I know this place? The long galley, the tight tables of the dining car, the rooms made up for the guests, they all look familiar. Was this train on TV some time? If the train had power, it would be infinitely easier to look around.

Farva continued on, silently shining the beam around the walls and carved wood fixtures, passing over the couplings between the individual cars. There were cheaper-looking rooms near the beginning of the train, obviously closer to the noise of the locomotive. The following door before the next car was mounted with a sign reading off in a fancy typeface: No Guests Beyond This Point. The staff car.

There was a buzzing on the detective’s hip, the muffled ringer following. I forgot to put this away when I parked, didn’t I. When he was safely across at the next car, his senses begged him to answer it, barely glancing at the number calling before putting it to his ear. “Hello?”

“I can’t sleep,” said the voice belonging to his wife.

“I’m sorry,” Farva said lowly, shifting the flashlight in his opposite hand for a better grip.”

“No. No, I’m sorry. I figured… I would just call and leave a message. Just in case you didn’t make it home before I left for work in the morning. Didn’t… expect you to pick up. I should—“

“Don’t hang up. I have the time.”

The silence dragged on. Is she still there? He almost took the phone from his ear to check the call and the signal, but the voice finally returned.

“You are working, right?” She asked with uncertainty.

“Down at the train tracks, yeah,” Farva said, marching extra slowly past the tight bunks and privacy curtains of the staff quarters. “This train… it stopped. Right on the tracks on Second. The chief has me… just mapping things out.”

“Oh. Are they going to be able to move it? A lot of people head across there during the day.”

“I suppose so,” He said back absently.

The wife hummed. “Since you’re out so late, make sure to get a form to report your overtime. We could use the extra money to pay down the bills after all.”

“I will,” Farva answered, knowing that the chief and his secretary down at the station would always stall and deflect requests of that sort, eventually causing him to forget or move on. “You said… you wanted to leave a message?”

“Oh,” her voice cracked. “Just wanted to say that I love you, and miss you and that we should plan a night out. So that… you can… should plan ahead to make it home early some time during the week.”

The detective nodded along with her words. “Sure,” he muttered. I can’t promise that, though. Finally reaching the end of the rail car, something caught his eye; a metal breaker box, glaring in contrast to the old-fashion decoration of the rest of the train. “Oh, found something.”

“Yeah?” The woman’s voice perked up.

“The breakers for the train here,” he said, shoving the flashlight between his neck and shoulder and tugging on the metal latch to reveal the heavy switches inside. “I’ve been running around on just a single flashlight in here.”

“That’s my detective man…” came the dreamy voice. “I should… let you go… and get some sleep myself.”

Farva’s eyes passed over the printed labels beside the individual breakers as his wife’s words trailed off. “I’ll try to be home for breakfast, like I said. I… love you. Get some rest.”

“Goodnight.”

The phone clicked closed and he shoved it into his pocket before reaching for the lowest breaker on the panel: Emg. Lights – Batt. Power. The switch flipped over to ‘on’ with a hefty clack. In the blink of an eye, dim red lights in the room illuminated, one bank at a time, in a domino pattern of flowing electricity and newfound assurance. Through the foggy window of the far door, he could see the faint glow of the other train cars making use of the limited power as well. This should get the chief’s attention. Though if this is battery power, it won’t last forever. I need to look for… anything and get out of here.

Two cars ahead was the locomotive, absent of the low emergency lights, cold after its long wait on the tracks. The detective held still to the heavy flashlight, illuminating the dark corners hiding out of the reach of the red glow. He began to trace his steps back through each car, looking for signs of something that would have caused the passengers and staff to depart midway through their journey.

People were here. A half-empty pack of cigarettes on a staff bunk. Coal dust footprints on the vinyl flooring. Open packs of sodas and water bottles behind the counter of the snack bar. Trash half filled, and a napkin fallen to the back corner of a seating area. Surely people were staying in rooms.

Before Farva could make it deeper into the reaches of the train, the emergency banks of lights flickered, once, twice, then cut out completely. Battery must be out. And I still haven’t found anything that helps this make sense. Is there even anything? This is a fool’s errand.

Following nothing but the flashlight beam once again, the detective crossed over to the next car, desiring only to reach the end of the train and descend once again. He found himself in the observation deck, the car fashioned with wide windows and benches, meant for looking out on the passing sights along the tracks. It’s quite fine that they would pass through here in the middle of the night. Nothing to see here. The darkness captured everything except for the strobing lights from the pair of patrol cars.

Farva’s pocket vibrated and sang once more. I can’t answer it now, I’ve already wasted too much time talking and not enough looking for whatever the captain hopes he might find. Ignoring the phone the best he could, the detective marched forward, heading for the next door. The handle stuck, unturnable, the door refuging to budge either.

Smoke found Farva’s nostrils, though not the sort he was used to. The ceiling grate at the opposite end of the car trickled winding clouds. He ran for the door at that end, hoping to find it unlocked, but the metal fixture instead burned with searing heat, untouchable by bare hands. The vibration in his pocket returned.

“Farve,” the voice called out before he could answer himself. “You need to get out of there.”

“Wish I could, chief.”

“There’s a fire. What car are you in?”

“The one with… the big windows,” the detective coughed, holding his sleeve to his face to ward off the billowing smoke. “The door… it won’t open.”

“I see it. The fire is already catching there. I’ll try to get you out of there.”

The dry planks making up the train car were like wicks for the flames, causing smoke to pour up from the cracks in the floor, waves of heat from the ceiling, and finally orange tendrils of flame from the corners of the boxy compartment. Farva backed himself into the far end of the car. The glare from a light outside cast against the window, and a figure danced outside frantically. “Farva! Farva!” the muffled voice called out to him.

The detective ducked towards the light, attempting to send the butt of the heavy flashlight against the glass. He struck the hard surface once, twice, and on the third hit, a faint crack made its way across the surface. The chief’s voice found its way to him once more.

“Get down. I’m going to try something.”

The detective ducked back. The seconds passed like days, but the sound of the shot broke the air in a fraction of a second. What remained in the glass was a round hole, chipped on all edges, but the remainder of the glass held firm. “Farve! Hold tight, we’ll try to get the door open, or try to pry the pane of glass down, or…”

The chief’s voice was becoming more distant as the fire spread, goaded on by the relief of additional oxygen from the outside, and the smoke replaced the breathable air, even in the low corner of the train car. The beam of the flashlight was, little by little, swallowed by the glow of the flames and curling of smoke through the air, the same smoke that choked his lungs, sucking what remained of his consciousness.

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Falling Rain

Impasse – Chapter Four

The sing-song tone of the ringer sounded first, followed by the vibration that shook the rickety motel room floor all the way up to the bed. Detective Farva rolled over as soon as the feeling registered for him, planting his feet hard on the oily carpet before ducking to the floor where the pocket of his slacks held the phone.

“I’m here, what’s up?”

The deep voice wasn’t what he was expecting on the other end of the line. “Did I catch you at a bad time, Farve?”

“Uh, Chief,” he lowered his voice. The detective’s eyes adjusted to the dark. The covers of the bed behind him stirred, messy dyed-red hair flipping over in reaction to his voice. “No, I thought you might have been… the wife. What time is it?”

“Just before three,” Schultz answered. “Why would the wife be calling, especially at this hour? She out of town?”

“No, erm…”

“Or have you been out at the bar? Sleeping out in your car somewhere, now?”

“No, sir.”

Schultz hummed. “Well, it’s not my business if you are. But if you’re up and sober, I need another body. Down at the tracks. Second avenue.”

Farva nodded as he spoke. “Yeah. Yes, I’ll be there. It won’t be long.”

The detective stowed the phone and pulled his slacks on in one single movement. The bedded woman propped her head up on one arm as he finished dressing. “Out of here?”

“Something came up,” Farva shrugged. “You get some free time, I guess.”

“Free things are never truly free, love. Stay safe out there.”

Farva shook his head and put a cigarette to his lips in a practiced motion from his coat pocket. Opening the door revealed the parking lot soaked with pouring rain, the gutters and eaves of the motel dripping with engorged droplets. Before dashing across the slick asphalt to his car, he tucked the cigarette behind his ear and readied the proper key to enter the vehicle without a wasted second.


Somewhere between the motel at the far end of town and the avenues, the detective found himself tapping through the contacts to reach the landline of his home. I doubt she’d get up to answer, but at least she’ll hear my voice through the machine.

He sucked in a deep breath and waited for the line to decide that enough rings had sounded. After his own voice played back to him in the message, he enunciated the carefully chosen words. “Sorry, babe. Something came up, the chief is calling me downtown. Maybe I’ll see you in the morning before you leave for work. Love you, bye.”

The police chief stepped out of the patrol car, its lights strobing in the night, as Farva pulled up, the call not long behind him. Schultz and his mustache were dressed down in a covering of clear plastic, hood, and all to brave the rain. The tracks were occupied by a fancy tourist-type train, unmoving, and lit only by the patrol car’s headlights.

Farva pulled the wide-brimmed hat out of his back seat and covered himself with it as Schultz approached, nose flaring. “I’m surprised, I don’t smell even a bit of booze on you. Could be covered up by all the smoke, though.”

“I’m good, chief,” Farva muttered, blinking through the rain. “Road’s blocked, huh? Why isn’t it moving?”

“Before you ask, nobody ended up on the rails. Come on, let’s get out of this,” he said, turning and waving, the plastic parka crinkling loudly.

The sound of the crossing chime was nearly covered up by the downpour but was certainly noticeable as they ducked under the guard rails. The ballast rocks were slippery underfoot, as were the narrow stairs to the rear-most car of the train. The chief had his long, heavy flashlight out from under the parka by the time the detective had found his footing beside “You know what this train is, don’t you?”

“Not a clue,” Farva muttered, removing his hat and slapping the excess water from its brim.

“It’s one of those tourist type trains. I would have just guessed another random train if it weren’t for the kid back at home talking about them all the time. He saw an ad on TV for the package this particular one runs. He loves the things, ya know?”

“Kids, right?” The detective shrugged, looking up at the tin roof, rattling and pinging with drops of rain.

“You make it sound like you don’t want any. You’ve been married for what is it, a year now? You been tryin’?”

“That’s none of your business,” Farva said with a grimace, shaking his head. “Just tell me why we’re here.”

“Fine,” the chief retracted, arms folded across his chest. “Well, this train should be moving as you might guess. It should have a lot of things, to tell you the truth. Passengers, staff, a conductor, engineer. But by all accounts, including me and the boy having a look about, there’s nobody.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“It certainly doesn’t. Listen, this shouldn’t be our problem, hopefully, we can push this off on the state, being on their tracks and all. Maybe it’s just some technical fuck-up or weird circumstance that brought it here to our doorstep, but it’s still too early to decide anything. But I want to give this our due diligence just in case someone higher up the chain somewhere tries to point fingers.”

Farva nodded along with the words, trying to peer in through the back window. “And by that, you mean…?”

Schultz shoved the end of the heavy knurled flashlight at the detective. “Here, you’ll need this. Just go and have a look around the insides, just for anything that looks like funny business. I think the doors are mostly unlocked between the cars. I need to finish filling out a prelim report in the car.”

Farva grabbed the flashlight, shifting its weight around to better aim the beam. A shiver ran down his spine and he spoke up before the chief descended the narrow stairs, crinkling poncho and all. “No other trains are coming this way, I hope?”

Schultz shrugged, looking back up at him. “Pretty rare than any come around this time of night, apart from this guy. But you’d hear them a mile away, and they know how to use their brakes. Get to it… please?”

“Fine.” Farva huffed, tugging on the handle of the door in the beam of the flashlight. The caboose. What a name; a terrible, unserious one at that. This one only held cargo and baggage and dried foodstuffs.

The detective pushed back the brim of his hat, still very damp, to get a better look ahead. His free hand found the edge of a wooden crate, sealed and unmoving in the center of the floor. Whatever it contained was none of his business, despite a picking sensation at his brain telling him to peek through one of the cracks.

The platform to the next car was barely sheltered from the rain, slick with water and old oil too, with a daunting enough gap over the coupling. Farva crossed over, one foot and hand at a time, ensuring his grasp was on the door handle before daring to take a breath.

The individual cars were of an unsurprising nature considering the type of train and its expected passengers, with amenities and services tucked into uniform boxes on wheels. At the same time, it seemed as if such passengers and staff had been there, if for but an instant— the pans in the galley sink, coated in grease and food bits, beds in the private rooms slightly unmade, a newspaper, unfolded, sitting upon on a bench in the observation car. Despite such signs, not a shred remained of what could be called a personal item.

The people left, but it kept moving… why… how long, and what caused the train to stop at this place? Surely the chief has made all the appropriate calls. If there was anything to be found to answer at least some of these questions, it would be the locomotive.

The head of the train was just beyond one final car of bunks for the staff, equally devoid of life as the previous cars. Farva’s back became slick with rainwater as he passed between the bins of coal. The final platform there before the engine room was slick and narrow. The detective’s heart thumped and he nearly lost grip on the flashlight, his hands cold and wet. Droplets of rain passed and glowed in the beam for fractions of seconds.

I’ve been here before. How? Why? It doesn’t make sense.

Farva made sure the flashlight was tight in his grip as he stepped forward. In his free hand, he twisted the handle of the final door, holding his breath. Dust danced in the beam, inky specks from the movement of coal from the bins and the furnace on the head of a shovel.

The detective straddled the doorway, one foot left outside, no way for the door to close behind him. There was nothing but silence from the antique-looking engine and boiler until there wasn’t.

A push from behind felt as if he had been shoved, but instead, it was his wet soles gliding against the slick ground as the train jerked forward. The distinct puttering and puffing of the engine began to grow louder as did the clicking and clacking and grinding of the drive wheels below the locomotive. Farva jerked back only to see the sight of the strobing red and blue lights and glaring high beams trailing off in the distance. Pushing off the door frame, Farva jerked back and began to rush for the back of the train, his thigh aching as he increased his pace.

The detective passed the staff beds, leaving wet footprints, then made across to the rooms in coach, the snack bar, and finally the observation lounge. The rain darted by the window as the forward movement continued, the sound of the locomotive puffing in the distance, broken up by the clacking of the wheels over the rail gaps.

How did it start? Where is it going to end up? What happens if I can’t stop it? I have to stop it, there must be a brake.

And so the detective turned about, his feet gliding over the slick ridges of the vinyl flooring, determinedly headed for the locomotive once more. He flung the door open, amplifying the chugging of the engine and the clacking of the wheels and the whoosh of the freezing night air, and his feet lost traction, his hand couldn’t find the railing, and the flashlight tumbled down into the darkness of the ground below, followed by the detective himself. His body made contact with the coupling for only a moment before rolling off, his spine finding the hard metal of the rail and his eyes finding, in the dim light, the car’s rear set of wheels barreling towards him.

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Stoplight

Impasse – Chapter Three

Detective Farva yanked his face out of the pillow, the moist cough overtaking him and forcing him awake. He arched his back and forced himself up, rolling his legs about to find the edge of the bed and the floor beneath it, all while the phlegmy hacking continued to attack his lungs. The lights from the parking lot on the other side of the window crept through the crack in the curtains, just enough to illuminate the room and allow the detective to find his pants on the floor and shirt slung on the edge of the table.

The blonde sat up and watched as Farva’s back moved with his strained breaths. “You okay, hun?”

“I just need a… cigarette,” the detective breathing heavily, the cough abating. The pack was in his jacket hanging by the door.

“Don’t you think… taking it easy with them would help?”

“That’s the last thing I want to hear from you, woman,” Farva huffed, fumbling out a cigarette to place between his lips. Before he could find the lighter hidden in one of the other deep pockets, the nightstand erupted with the buzz and jingle of the phone. “Damn it, at a time like this? What time, anyway…?”

The woman tilted her head back to the alarm on her side of the motel bed. “Almost three. Time’s not up, but… nothing good ever comes of a call this late at night.”

Farva flipped open and answered the phone with a huff. “Hello? Chief? The tracks, second avenue, yeah? Give me a bit, I’ll be there.”


The clouds, unsure of whether to offer up rain or not that night, blocked out most of the moonlight. The only other thing to light up the tracks were Farva’s headlights and the strobing red and blue of the parked patrol cars. The fine painted paneling of the train cars there on location glowed in the passing bursts of color.

The detective found the police chief at the edge of the tracks just past the guard rails, staring up at the unmoving vehicle. “Someone end up on the tracks again? Accident, or on purpose?”

Schultz pulled his attention away and turned back. “Well, finding that information would be your job, wouldn’t it, Detective?” he sneered, adding emphasis on the tiresome title. “But no, not this time. The train here just stopped on the rails.”

Farva glanced at the stretch of train in either direction, a fresh cigarette managing to sneak in between his lips in the meantime. “Are trains known for breaking down?”

“They might, if they end up with nobody at the controls.”

“The engineer fall asleep, then?”

“No engineer, conductor. No service staff. No passengers. Nobody.”

Farva shook his head. “Bullshit.”

“It don’t make sense, I know, Farve. But I’ve had Jackson up and down the tracks, shining lights inside, knocking on the windows. Not a single soul.”

The cigarette was lit by then and slowly turning to ember. “Maybe someone hijacked it and jumped off when they decided they were far enough along.”

Schultz shrugged. “You know what train this is?”

“A fancy one, by the looks of it.”

“A touring company runs it. The wife has been holding onto a neat little brochure for their packaged deal, says she wants to go, all four of us. The kid loves trains, after all.”

“Your point?”

“I woke up the wife to get their number from her little brochure and managed to get a hold of them. This train is right on track, right on time. Should be full of passengers. Should have a full staff tending to their needs. Should have a driver keeping it moving. None of those.”

“That’s something,” Farva breathed out slowly, releasing the last bit of chemical reassurance from the cigarette.

“Something my ass. It’s something that’ll give the whole town a headache if we don’t find out what’s going on. Listen, I’m filling out a report to the best of my ability, but I need someone to check out the interior. See if anything went down inside.”

“Fine,” Farva sighed, catching sight of the chief’s expectant eyes.

Schultz fiddled with his belt, unbuckling the heavy flashlight by his hip. “I take it you don’t have any of your gear? Here, take this. We dunno if the electricity is working.”

Farva felt the weight of the flashlight in his hand, the criss-cross pattern of the knurling against the skin of his palm, the cold metal. He took in a gasp, chest suddenly tight and hot.

“What’s with you?” Schultz offered a puzzled look.

Farva smacked at his sternum with his free hand, allowing his breath to return. “Nothing. I’m fine. I guess… I’ll start from the end.”


The caboose was decorative, at least only slightly more so than the rest of the train. It’s one of those steam trains, powered with coal… right? Did the chief say that? The door to the rearmost door of the train was open. Did Schultz open it? They call a blacksmith out? No, they never respond this quickly, especially in the middle of the night. I should take a note from them. If the train isn’t moving until the afternoon at the earliest, why should I be here at this hour? I forgot to call the wife…

The interior of the car contained various boxes and luggage. The wall shelves held a couple fancy rolling ones, likely for the passengers when they reached the resort at the end of the train journey. Other boxes and shelves were things for the crew to handle- spare parts, dry food, entertainment supplies. The center of the floor held a wide, stout wooden crate. The straps that would have held it in place were slipped off like it had been opened at some point. Farva ran his hands around the edge of the lid, but it gave no signs of budging. The flashing patrol car lights in the narrow windows near the ceiling reminded him to keep moving.

The next car was reachable across a short platform, bordering a gap that revealed the latching mechanism below. The detective crossed it without looking down. The long stride caused the old injury in his leg to complain, but nothing he wasn’t used to. The following door was unlocked like the first. Guess it doesn’t matter if they’re locked on not, on a moving train with plenty of staff anyways.

The interior was made up of cheap bunks with little privacy, intended for the staff that worked the train and entertained the money-flaunting guests. The upholstery smelled of smoke, which could have been from cigarettes or the train itself. If there were people on this train, most of them might have been sleeping in this very place at this very moment. But that was part of the problem that the chief explained, wasn’t it?

Beyond that car, the kitchen. A galley. Cramped, with ovens and counters and burners taking up most of the width. The faint smell of excess butter and meat lingered. The space was too cramped to feel comfortable in. Beyond, a dining car. Further beyond that, guest rooms, with locking doors, albeit unlocked and uninhabited. Smells of people- rich perfumes and shoe polish- but no belongings. The next car, the same.

The following rail car had wide windows and benches for watching the landscape pass by, but the night and condensation on the glass blocked out everything besides the strobing police lights. Schultz is going to throw a fit if I come back saying there is nothing… but I suppose he might not expect any more.

The following cars were catered to less spendy folks, with more compact rooms, tighter seats, and fewer dining options. Still out of my range or desire. The locomotive is just beyond here, if I had to guess.

The tall coal bins left only a slight space to pass between, leading finally to the main powerhouse of the train. Farva felt his chest suddenly heavy, struggling to take in air. He touched the handle of the door to the engineer’s compartment, expecting it to be warm, hot even, but the metal handle was no warmer than any other fixture he had made contact with. The heavier door swung open effortlessly. Inside, pipes and dials and a neat compartment for the coal to be inserted revealed themselves in the glow of the flashlight. In the wavering beam, all surfaces seemed to be immaculate, save a streak of old coal dust on the floor near the furnace door. It may or may not have been used, but… that’s not enough for the chief. One last look, just to make sure. Go back the way I came. Burn as much time not having to chat nicely with him.

Farva passed the bar and the cheap accommodations, the viewing deck, the fancy rooms, the dining car, the galley, and stopped, breath heavy, leg aching, at the crew beds. A smell crept up, one which he hadn’t smelled before. He tugged at the curtains, the narrow door to the latrine, and the tall storage closets. The smell wasn’t from any source in there. The doors between there and the caboose were extruding it. I thought I closed these. Was someone else here? He looked back, making sure the ones he had passed were secured as he thought.

The crate was there in that final car- the short, stout one- the one that looked as if it had been tinkered with. On his second pass, the detective saw the cracks where the nails had been pried up, the lid removed, and whatever inside seen, likely messed with. Was it the chief, maybe Travis?

The flashlight under his arm, Farva pulled at the lid, taking in the smell, sickly and sweet and something he now recognized, something he had smelled plenty before but couldn’t place. The contents weren’t packed neatly, nor with any extra material, an oiled-brown cloth resembling his jacket. There was hair, human, underneath it, a head, the same cut as his own— A body? — against his better judgment he yanked at the back of the material, pulled it up, the heavy, unwieldy mass, with limp arms and legs, and a face that slumped out of view but was somehow familiar.

“What the hell?” The flashlight fell from his hand and the mass of the corpse fell and slumped back into the crate, and before he could find the handle of the light there was a shrill sound that pierced the night air, a sound which he had heard plenty from his bed, half asleep.

Farva ran for the rear door, its frosted glass window glaring with a light brighter than the sun, the horn of the freight train on that same sole line bearing towards them, unaware of the stopped tourist trap. The caboose was decorative, certainly not heavy enough to take the impact of a much larger, more powerful train making contact. The car shook violently, causing Farva’s feet to slip out from underneath him. As the passenger separated itself from the rails and toppled sideways, both the wooden crate and the loose baggage toppled forward, heading towards him in the corner of the caboose.

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From End to Start

Impasse – Chapter Two

Farva and the chief marched the lengths of three train cars to the caboose at the very end of the line, climbing its thin stairs one by one to the rear platform and the door. “Thing like this, decorative, you know,” the chief said absentmindedly, glancing around at the red paint and round lights on the car.

“What now?”

“A caboose doesn’t really serve a purpose anymore on these modern trains.”

Farva shook his head. “That from your son as well?” he asked, holding his hand back for the long, metal flashlight the chief was holding.

“You know it. Here.”

The detective found a good grip on the knurled surface and clicked the rubber button to turn on the beam. He shined it to the handle of the rear door and gave it a twist. It opened with little force. Schultz shrugged and hummed. “Unlocked, good. At least we won’t have to call a blacksmith, wake up another poor dolt.”

“And here I was hoping I wouldn’t have to head on in.”

The chief took Farva by the shoulder and shook him. “I’ll be just below, getting some sort of detour signs up for the morning traffic.”

“Lucky you.”

“Don’t go freaking out and pissing your pants off any scary shadows, Farve. Look, just take a mental note if you see anything fishy, and I’ll have one of the boys take care of the paperwork. Get a move on now.”

Farva sighed and pulled the door open with a click as the chief clopped back down to the ground. The beam of the light found the specs of dust hovering in the still air like miniature stars in the black sky. The detective pulled on his sleeve, wiggling his wristwatch out beyond the cuff. Still three more hours until the sun comes up.

The floor and simple metal shelves inside, battered from many journeys, held wooden crates and a meager selection of well-used luggage, placed with just enough care to not move around with the starting and stopping of the train. Farva scanned the boxes and belongings for any sign of names; a shipping label or tag that denoted the owner or destination. Does commercial postage still travel on trains? At the very least, knowing the type of passengers on a train like this, this probably belongs to the crew.

More dust was kicked up, swirling in the light as the detective slid his feet closer to the opposite end of the train car. If there is anything to take notice of, it would be further down the line. The door handle was cold, almost painfully so. Farva pulled away out of reflex and shined the light at his hand, then at the shiny metal. Swallowing hard, he wrenched it again, the sensation more bearable the second time. The cold air at the junction of the two cars hit him, as well as the distant flashing of police lights.

The ledge at the end of the rail car was just wide enough for his feet. Beneath was the hitch connecting the individual cars, a mass of contorting metal parts shoved together in the dark. A wide step was all that it took to reach the next car ahead. It pained his bad leg to stretch that far, but hardly an unbearable sensation, and one that disappeared as soon as it came. Upon the next platform was yet another door, unlocked to allow him inside.

The galley was made up of two wide counters, put together with white-painted fixtures and well-used stainless steel, on either side of a central aisle just big enough for a single person to walk, two if they turned sideways. Nearest to the rear entrance were two wide compartments, blocked off by heavy metal doors. The smooth material was cold to the touch— the icebox or freezer, for any fancy meal that the guests were entitled to. On the stove were pots and pans, holding signs of being used not long before, albeit absent of the foodstuffs themselves.

Farva’s stomach rumbled. If he could finish with the investigation before the sun rose, he would be home for a proper breakfast. He marched forward, aiming for the next door. As the staff likely intended, moving from car to car was simple enough, as long as one did not look down while passing above the couplings.

The dining car was next in line, dressed like a fancy restaurant that had been squeezed inside of a vice. Two lines of tables and chairs and white tablecloths and candles waiting to be lit on either side of the car, with a narrow walkway between. If it had been used earlier that night, the staff had been quick to return it to a pristine state. That, or the supposed passengers had not even reached the dining hour that night before…

The red and blue lights flashed in the window, through the condensation that had gathered on the panes of the single-hung windows. Farva continued, hoping to find what would be passenger cars further ahead. He didn’t look at the gap between the cars this time, thinking over what he had seen thus far, and what made sense to make note of.

The present train car had a curving path, with private rooms on one side, the aisle and rooms trading sides halfway down. With the head of the heavy flashlight, Farva knocked on the first door, then slid it open, shining the light first, then daring to look with his own eyes. By the window was a bench and storage shelf, a pair of bunks behind, both areas pristine, despite a meager spray of dust.

Each proceeding door and room shared the same layout and immaculate nature, for the entire length of the rail car and the following. Shaking his head, the detective continued. The next car was made up with seating only, facing wider than normal windows. The strobing of the police lights were barely out of sight. Ahead, another car of private rooms, less fancy but likely still pricey, certainly more than he would have liked to pay.

The next room, a bar and more seats. At least, it looked like a bar, with a sleek, dark wood-grained counter, but behind where a worker would have been stationed were baskets of snacks. From the side, he shined the light under the counter, but nothing that looked like alcohol could be found. No wonder all these people wanted off.

The next car across the platform and coupling was labeled with a sign reading ‘no guests beyond this point.’ I’m neither a guest, nor the staff here, but the chief would moan and wail if I didn’t comb over this place all the way up to the front.

There were more bunks in this car, the only privacy provided by simple curtains. The beds were made without great attention to detail, but showed no signs of being slept upon, nor were there remains of any inhabitants at all. If this were anything close to a real job, these bunks would have working folks snoring away in them, a deserved rest after being bossed around by needy and cooped-up upper-middle class folks.

There was no roof over Farva’s head on the next car over, at least the little platform at the rear of that car. Instead, on either side, were tall bins with just enough space to slide between. Farva sucked in his stomach and pushed through, the smooth black-painted metal on either side of him, daring to hold him back. The bins held coal which tumbled down into lower troughs that could be shoveled from, just before the last destination on the length of train; the locomotive.

Somehow, the train got there… powered and pushed along the tracks until it inevitably stopped for whatever reason… on purpose, or the simple lack of busy back-broken workers to load coal into the furnace. Funnily enough, it’s the same type of person to complain about the ozone layer or global warming while riding smoke-coughing little trains like this very one.

Farva tugged on the final handle and yanked the door open. The beam of the light danced around the inside of the control room, finding all the little dials and handles and gages on the control panel, seemingly untouched by working hands.

What would the Chief and his son say about this little room? It’s hot… The little door at the base of the control panel is for the coal, burned to heat water, and… pressurize steam to… do something and drive the wheels…

The heat inside was too much, especially with the door having closed on its own behind him. The flashlight reflected in the glass window of a gage, reading red. Pressure. Farva leaned in and tapped at it with the nail of his finger. A crack sounded, sending a crooked line through the glass of the little window. What the living…?

Hiss—

The steam began to whistle out of the crack, screaming like something from hell, filling the room and shooting hot vapors to the detective, who jumped back but found the edge of an old pipe with his temple and sent himself to his knees and the flashlight to the ground. Scrambling for the source of the light, his eyes were blurry and tight and the handle was suddenly hot in his grasp, forcing him to drop it once more. The pipes squeaked and squealed and cracked and finally burst, filling the room with hot vapor and making the direction to the door impossible to determine. The backs of the detective’s hands felt clammy and cold as the steam ate away at his skin, but his lungs were already in a worse state, filling with liquid. He found what felt to be the door handle, tight and unturning as the whistling grew louder and the heat grew worse and more humid, finally causing him to collapse to the ground.

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Wake-Up Call

Impasse – Chapter One

It was just past two in the morning when the passenger train of the Foothill Express pulled through the town, not a single blow of its horn or light in its windows as it crawled to a stop on the tracks of the little community.

Severville was a town neither here nor there, simply a name on a map, a place to stop for gas, a blur of meager colorless buildings passed by on the highway on the way to somewhere else. Most drivers refused to slow for the local speed limit on the thoroughfare passed through the meager city limits, unconcerned with whatever sort called the town their home.

The other sets of eyes that fell upon Severville were from the conductors and riders of passing trains, similarly moving through without pause. The Rail Tours of the Foothill Express made sure that their weekly journeys would meet with the town while all of the well-paying passengers were sound asleep. When they awoke, they would find themselves in surroundings certainly more charming and fair. By all accounts, the stopping of the train that night should have never happened.

The lights began to flash at the crossing on Second Avenue, followed by the guardrails descending, but the regular, shrill call from the locomotive failed to pierce the night as it would usually. The sloppy drivers returning home from bars hoping to avoid DUI charges waited patiently, holding their eyes open, but the lethargic crawl of the neatly decorated passenger cars gave the impression that they would have to wait. The train eventually stopped completely, the foggy headlights of the idling vehicles painting orange spots on the dim train like the running lights on the floor of a dark theater.

Despite the late hour, the impasse on the two-lane road caused a backup long enough to reach the next block down. Those with waning patience backed out and u-turned the best they could in hopes that they would find the next crossing down on eighth free for passage. Out of the small collection of sober drivers, at least one called the local emergency number to complain to the police about the injustice of the gaudy train blocking their way through town.


Robert Farva rubbed his eyes open to the sight of the brunette on the other half of the bed, her bare back facing him uncovered. He had drifted off, but certainly not for too long. Something had awoken him, it was the trilling of his cell phone’s ringer. The tone was muffled inside of the pocket of his slacks, strewn on the motel floor hastily. It grew louder as he extracted it from the clothes and flipped it open. “Hello?”

“Detective, sorry about calling at a time like this,” Schultz grumbled at him through the speaker.

Farva turned back and glanced at the red digital clock face on the alarm at the opposite side of the bed. “No, no. Not at all. Something come up?”

“Come down to the rail crossing at second. There’s something you should see.”

“Got it, I’m on my way,” Farva said, clapping the phone back closed. Still holding it in one hand, he felt around for his boxers on the cheap, scratchy bedspread. He finally set down the phone to slide them on, then find his feet through the holes of the previously discarded slacks.

The brunette sat up as Farva flicked on the bathroom light in preparation to relieve himself. “Work?”

He answered after the flush of the toilet and a quick wash of his hands and face, a stroking back of his dark hair. “I guess. The chief needs me for something.”

Pulling her knees up and tugging on the bedspread, she looked up at him with eyes that lit up the room. “Well, you still have twenty minutes left. I can let those roll over if there happens to be a next time.”

Farva looked at himself in the dim mirror by the door one last time, pulling on his jacket and then patting himself down to make sure his wallet, keys, and phone were still firmly in his pockets. “Yeah, maybe. You better remember because I won’t.”

By the time the door clicked behind him, he had the phone out again to speed dial the first of a handful of numbers. The answering machine picked up after several rings as expected, and played his own voice back at him. “…say what you want to say after the tone… beep.”

“I won’t be home tonight, babe, after all,” he said, knowing the wife would just be able to hear the speaker sounding off his voice from the living room. “Something came up, the chief is having me come downtown. Maybe I’ll be back for breakfast before you leave for work. Love you. Bye.”

The detective had burned through two cigarettes by the time he had reached downtown, allowing the smoke out through the window and into the chilly night air. Detective was little more than a decorative title. The job description was given to him after an early retirement from what Severville deemed to be its police force, a total of eight employees. Nine, officially, when he had served, but the pocket knife wound to the thigh by one of the local junkies had been enough to leave him ‘disabled’— a label made by the state, not himself, surely. Unwilling to begin sucking up government handouts at the age of thirty, he opted for the long-unfilled position of Severville’s detective, a job that had since mostly involved paperwork, to his chagrin.

The callout to the tracks had probably some paperwork to go with it as well— an accident with the train, such as a stuck car, even a suicide. It wouldn’t have been the first time. The flashing red and blue lights were his sign to slow and creep his old Lincoln down the side of the crumbling road. With one last suck on the dying cigarette, he exited the car, flicking the butt down and scanning the dim area for the silhouettes of other officers.

One officer was guiding impatient drivers back in the direction they came. Schultz was awaiting the detective at the crossing while at least one other squad car’s worth of officers was scanning the long length of the train from the outside. The chief’s eyes remained closed for longer than they were open, but the mustached man was quick to shake his head to attention as Farva stepped up, hands in his jacket pockets.

“Who offed themselves this time, Hank?”

The chief didn’t expose his usual distanced remorse, neither a half-hearted shrug nor stroking of his whiskered chin. “Wish it were that easy this time, Farve. If the coroner just had to peel someone off the tracks, I wouldn’t have to be out of bed at a time like this.” He glanced back to the train, its rearmost car not too far from being able to pass the crossing.

One of the electrical boxes usually locked up by the crossing guards had been left open, wires yanked free from whatever panel usually controlled the flashing red lights and piercing chimes that warded off ill-attentive drivers.

“Did it break down, then?” Farva asked, gazing down the line to the locomotive barely visible in the weak moonlight. “All the passengers must be happily asleep. Gonna be mad when they wake up behind schedule, though.”

Not a light was lit in the cabins of the passenger cars. The strobing of the patrol car lights lit up the foggy windows in alternating flashes of red and blue. “Not a one from what we can see,” Schultz huffed, turning back to the train. “Side doors stuck closed, so no one in or out. But the kicker is that it looks like there wasn’t even anyone at the controls, either.”

“No driver?” Farva hummed.

“The engineer,” Schultz corrected. “There’s a conductor, too. Normally, at least. My son is in love with trains at the moment, he’d have a cow if you called it a train driver.”

“Whatever the hell they’re called. So, someone stole the train and they ran off when it ran out of fuel?”

Schultz shook his head. “I managed to get the number for their home agency from the 411. Phone rang for a hell of a long time, though.”

“And?”

The chief clicked his tongue and rolled his head. “Yeah, well, this is one such scheduled trip. Meaning, this train was supposed to be full up with people. And they’re all gone. Not a single one seen about here, shined lights in enough windows— not much to see.”

The detective dragged his feet about the paved area of road leading up to the tracks. “I don’t suppose we can get it moved, at least?”

“They’ll have a technician or whatever out tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. Says they might be able to move it if everything is working as it should, and that’s if. But the shit we’ll see if these missing folk… all them and their families and their money… what sort of story are we supposed to make up?” he trailed off, grumbling.

Farva ducked under the guard rail and stepped onto the gravel, the loose material crunching under his loafers. The line that constituted the edge of the town was not too far in the direction that the train had come. If they bailed somewhere before here, Severville would be off the hook. He stared at the ground and his feet, thinking, when the chief finally caught up after him.

“Look, Farve, we’ve had a look now all up and down the train, nothing but hobo shit-piles and used needles. We’ll leave it to you to head up inside and give it a once-over. Just to make sure there’s no foul play.”

The detective stared up at the windows, as dark as the station’s coffee, and shrugged. “You got a flashlight?”

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