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Dead Man Train by J. Andrew Clark
published in Volume 6, Issue 1 on March 1st, 1999

     old leather seats, with velvet drapes and dirty windows
     steady rhythm of the wheels as they struck the tracks
     "attack... attack... attack..."
     cigar exhaust hanging below the dim cabin light
     and ashes in the aisle

Outside the window, the world ran away from me
while the horizon decided to stay at my side,
and the sun was indifferent.

I had the seat all to myself.

Four rows away,
a dead man sat peacefully, as dead men tend to do.
His shoulders sagged slightly
and his head drooped to the left a little,
and his body gently swayed with the movement of our car.

"attack, attack, attack"

I slipped silently into a memory of the glass lake,
with the glass fish,
and the floating petals of evening flowers
that she so carelessly tossed away;
her gentle, red hair pranced at her shoulders
as she laughed and danced,
while the night wind closed the door to the west world;
and angels, gracing us in silent poses, whispered a laugh
to the whirling lady as she sang and weaved;
her arms outstretched, her head back, feet gliding past the others
who only watched;
stones beneath her dance cried out in a gravelly breath
as she twirled and sighed, and her shoulders rose and fell
with the squeals of youth to which she clung;
and the moon above her gave no notice.

"Tickets, please."

     suitcases with dangling straps hung from netted racks
     above the dingy pane of the sealed window
     that displayed the fleeting terrain
     and my cracked hands, dry from labor and lost love
     had stopped bleeding for a while

I looked up and saw the dead man sitting in front of me now.
His dusty black suit displayed a solitary white carnation
that mocked his dark disposition.
His curled lips had rotted back, displaying white gums
over yellow serrated teeth that grinded as he spoke.

"This train only stops for the dead," he mused.

I thought back to her, and her silent whisper of apathy,
as she danced by the shore of the lake,
adorned with light,
with a summer dress and crimson lace,
in long hair and afternoon smiles worn as a murmur of mysteries;
and the day embraced her quietly;
and I could not help but to feel bound
by the sway of her fragrance against the handkerchief I carried;
by the echoing sound of her laughter at something said tenderly;
by the way she would look to me with solace I could not disavow.

"attacker, attacker, attacker," the train reminded me.

     tattered seat of worn leather, frayed rests beneath my arms
     and notched floorboards that felt coarse
     beneath the thin soles of my feet

Freshly dug earth clung to his sleeve
as Cadaver Man raised his bony arm to the window.
His long fingernail lightly scratched the glass,
and I watched a tear protrude from his empty sockets
and run down his cheek, carrying with it tiny bits of fragmented flesh
that decayed in the dank heat of our confined car.
A slow, soft moan was all I heard
as I followed his vacant gaze out the dreary window
and into the escaping sky.

"She'll never come back, you know," he sighed. "This train
only stops for the dead."

     broken tin of the dirty ashtray, and a travel magazine
     on the withered leather seat
     coarse knuckles of my empty hands
     and a dead man to keep me company.

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