The frosty, winter wind bit at my face repeatedly, a thousand needles injecting themselves into my cheeks, nose, and lips. I felt like a patient in surgery whose careless doctor had forgotten to give the anesthesia, and the only thought keeping me going was the insane possibility that I might see my mother again, who abandoned my family when I was nearly six. She promised she'd be back, but she lied. And now I was risking everything to find her again.
Despite all this, I wondered how I'd mustered enough courage to even do this in the first place. Not only did I feel that my limbs were about to fall off, but I could hardly see the path in front of me, and I was doubtful that I was even going the right direction. The moon was no help either, hidden from view by the towering trees. Still, I had to try, even if I failed in the end.
As my destination slowly slid into view, lit only by a few rusty gas lamps, I sighed in relief, the tension escaping from my shoulders. The abandoned train station looked eerie at night, like a million ghosts and monsters made their home in the rotting wood ceiling. The shadows danced in the moonlight, playing tricks on my eyes, but I squared my shoulders and continued down to the ticket booth. Now was not the time to get jumpy.
“You’re late,” a grizzly voice spoke suddenly, startling me. I swallowed hard, gripping my small, worn out suitcase tighter. I knew I should have picked up my pace.
“My apologies,” I responded, letting my voice fall a few octaves to resemble someone older and more experienced. I’d practiced it over and over until I got it right, and it was paying off.
"Don't apologize, or you’ll be wasting more of my time. Name and reason for being here?” the man growled. He was still out of sight.
“Emmeline Clark. Caught for armed robbery and premeditated murder. Thirty year sentence,” I said, lying through my teeth and trying my best to sound confident. To be honest, I couldn’t fathom how I’d made it this far on my own without having a breakdown, but I guessed that some miracles did happen. For once, I was free of the chains of anxiety and silence.
The man materialized in the light, eyeing me suspiciously. He was older, with noticeably large wrinkles around his black eyes and gray hair fuzzing on the top of his head. In all honesty, he looked as if he could be a serial killer, luring out his victims to the train station. I shivered.
He harrumphed, as my grandfather often did, and floated off again. I was suddenly self conscious of my appearance, wondering to myself if I really did resemble a proper criminal. I let my hair grow without a good wash for months, and now as I wrapped my finger around it, its texture was stringy and brittle. My face also went unwashed, coated now with an oily residue. And of course, my clothes were tattered and musty, the final touch. However, it was one thing to look like a crook, and another to have the demeanor of one.
I heard the rustling of papers behind me. He was probably looking through the files that the ‘Agency’ had provided. The Agency was in charge of restricting certain people from getting on the train, which erased the minds of criminals and delivered them to a so called perfect destination for rehabilitation. If they gave you the okay to board, you received all the necessary paperwork for the station check. However, since the train was mainly for people who didn’t have anywhere to go, I knew I probably wouldn’t have been able to gain access, as I wasn’t a hard core convicted felon seeking a new life. Instead, I paid some guy to forge the papers for me in the illegal pub downtown. All I had to do now was pass the inspection, and I would be off.
Off to find my mother.
“One last question. Remember, I’ll know if you lie,” he said with warning. I took a sharp breath in. The last test. There were rumors of a lie detector behind the scenes at this part, and I didn’t doubt it, but it did throw a wrench in my plan, especially when the question varied from person to person. The only way I could prepare ahead of time was to learn how to lie well, and that hadn’t exactly gone down as planned.
“When you board, do you believe you will find a piece of yourself that was lost?”
I was quiet for a moment and rephrased the question in my head. Did I believe I was going to become a better person by boarding? To rediscover myself, the person I was before I turned to crime to answer my problems?
It was an easy enough question for someone who actually was a criminal, but for me, not so much. I didn’t think I’d even committed a small infraction, let alone steal a piece of licorice from a candy store.
My mother, though--she was a part of me. On that fateful day, when she deserted our family to ride this very same train to her perfect destination, she left a gaping hole in my heart. I suppose now, by looking for her, I was trying to find that piece of my heart again, to mend it.
“Yes,” I said softly, heart beating as if a swarm of butterflies had taken flight inside of my chest. The night was silent as I waited for the deciding answer.
“You may board. The train will be here in a few minutes. Sit tight.”
I smiled, hearing the shrill whistle of the train and the rattling of the tracks draw nearer. That hadn't been so bad-- but I still had a long way to go.