I stood on the platform, watching and waiting as the train slowly approached the station. A gust of wind preceding it's arrival whipped snowflakes from the light fall into a swirl around the platform, making me shiver. I could not remember why it was that I was supposed to be taking this train. All I knew was that I felt possessed by a terrible sense of urgency to get on that carriage and leave this place behind.
So, as the train eventually came to a complete halt, and the doors slid noiselessly open, I pushed my way through the few disembarking passengers and quickly sat down on the closest vacant seat I could find. I looked out at the dreary platform with a feeling of relief about leaving this corner of the world.
After a short moment, the train resumed it's movement, and I sat watching out the window as the station slowly slid out of view. The last thing I saw as we pulled away was the deep green sign proclaiming the name of the station. In glossy paint with stylised calligraphic writing in a dull cream colour, the sign proudly displayed the words "Welcome to Nowhere". It was designed to greet travellers arriving at this wholly unremarkable station but, in the eyes of someone who was leaving, it seemed oddly out of place. Thinking about it though, and given the many miles of empty countryside ahead, I couldn't help but wonder if maybe it served a dual purpose.
As even that final reminder disappeared, I pulled my eyes away from them window and brought them back into the carriage, finally paying attention to my surroundings for the very first time. The trains that ran on this line were of an older style, designed in a time when the main consideration was for the comfort of the passenger, rather than the maximisation of capacity and profit. As such, the chairs were comfortable and spaced well apart, giving me room to move. A loose window frame somewhere in the carriage caused a pane of glass to vibrate slightly, creating a dull reverberation but, apart from that, all was silent. There were only a handful of other people in the carriage, and just about every one of them seemed content to just sit and keep to themselves.
One of those other occupants was an older gentleman sitting across from me. He wore a once-fine suit, the dulled fabric of which now showed the deterioration of too much age and too much wear. The lenses of his glasses had a dark tint to them, which served to emphasise the whitness of his thinning hair, and made the rest of his face appear very gaunt. Almost skeletal. When he noticed me looking at him, he flashed me a friendly smile, showing off a set of age-dulled teeth.
"Where are you headed today, son?" he asked politely in a raspy voice that matched his emaciated appearance.
I felt quite surprised at this unexpected question. Not surprised because he wanted to know but, surprised because I did not know the answer for myself. Thinking back, my whole memory just seemed so hazy before my arrival at the platform of Nowhere Station. I fumbled in my pocket for a moment before pulling out my ticket. I glanced down at the slightly crumpled piece of paper for an answer.
"Somewhere." I replied, quoting the ticket.
"Oh?" he said, arching his eyebrows slightly. "Somewhere New or Somewhere Far?"
I glanced down at the ticket again, flattening out the creased paper to reveal the whole text.
"Somewhere Else" I said, quoting again.
"Ah! Somewhere Else." He said, eyes glazing slightly, and mouth curving into a smile, as if remembering better times, "I've been there a few times now. Well worth the trip, too. I hope you have a good time there. No, I know you'll have a good time there."
"I hope so too, but I'm really not sure what to expect. Where are you headed today?"
"Oh, I'm just going where this train takes me. I can't say it's really in my hands anymore."
Not really knowing how to take this mysterious answer, or what to say in response, I just let the conversation drop. It was impossible to tell through the dark lenses of his spectacles, but I got the impression that the old man was watching me very intently. After a few moments of silence, I turned my attention back to the window, resuming my vigil of the unchanging and utterly monotonous countryside.
After a while though, something did change. Watching the dull grass and patches of snow roll by, I observed something in the distance. It was a grey strip, winding like a snake through the deadened winter scenery, and I quickly recognised it to be a road. Steadily, it came closer and closer to the tracks, and so I was afforded a better view of this one break to the uninteresting landscape.
There was not a single signpost to be seen along the expanse of asphalt, and grass grew raggedly along the sides. I could not even spot a single car on the road. Undoubtedly a highway somewhere now covered the same route in shorter time, leaving this road to fall into a state of relative disuse. At it's closest point to the railroad, however, I did see a lone hitch-hiker standing hopefully by the side.
"You see that?" asked the old man, rather rhetorically, "That's the Road Less Travelled. Doesn't look like much from the outside, but let me tell you, it's one hell of a trip. When I was a younger man I went driving on that road many times. Too old for it now, of course. Not many places for me to go now. Just taking this train to my final destination, and then I think I'll settle down for good. They were good times, though. Good times."
"You sound like you've lived a very interesting life." I commented.
"Oh, that I have, son. That I have. I've been all over this country. From the exciting metropolis Danger, to the dangerous city Excitement, and many places in between. Why, I've taken this very train to the towns of Romance, Victory and Happiness. But I've also been to some places that weren't so good. A village called Disappointment, a place known as Grief, and the bustling metropolis of Sorrow. That last one I would recommend you avoid, but many people end up going there in their lives anyway. You know what they say, I suppose - All roads lead to Sorrow."
A moment after he finished that last sentence, the train bucked ever so slightly as trains do when they begin to slow down. The wheels squeaked as the brakes forced them to surrender their speed, and the train began it's entrance into what appeared to be just another station along the line. I looked out the window at this new destination - a warmly lit, comfortable looking platform - but could see no signs proclaiming a name. The older gentleman also took a look at the station, before looking down at his watch.
"Oh my! Here already? Time does fly, doesn't it? Well, everyone has to get off the train sometime, I suppose, and this appears to be my stop. It was good talking to you, son. I wish you all the best in your travels, and I'm sure you'll end up travelling to many different places, both good and bad, before you come back to this place again. Who knows, maybe we'll meet again someday."
I stood up to shake his hand in farewell, and stayed standing as he made his way toward the open door of the carriage. Removing his glasses to reveal bright blue eyes, he smiled warmly at me one last time, before he disappeared out the door and out of sight.
After another moment the doors closed again, cutting off the draft of cold winter air from the station, and I sat down again. Not a single other person on the carriage had moved. I had just settled back into my seat when I glanced across at where the old man had been sitting, and I noticed that he had left his ticket behind on his chair. Curious as to the name of the signless station, I reached over and picked it up. On it was written the single word 'Mortality'.
I settled into my chair once more, thinking about the old man who had finally ended a life's worth of travel to face a cold winter in Mortality, and also thinking about my own journey ahead to Somewhere Else, realising that what awaited me there was entirely up to me. I was on a long trip, and this was only the beginning.