Through the window I watch rural areas, plain and ugly, rush past with grey sky as backdrop and rain on the glass. There are people out there – outside this train, living in these plain and simple houses, living their everyday lives. It’s fascinating. Riding past the many small towns and watching the little cars and the little people go about their day, I see a mother with a stroller crossing a street and I think to myself that there’s life everywhere, every day, billions of lives just stumbling on. The man on the TV, who we all know and adore, he is sitting on the toilet right now fighting to get out a squirt of bliss, or shaving in front of the mirror, enjoying his own eye contact, it’s crazy, right? It’s completely nuts, if you ask me.
The ticket guy hasn’t come by yet, so I can’t put on my sleeping mask and try to get some shuteye. As I am waiting for him to do his duty, I keep daydreaming about the individuals everywhere, and about the theories around consciousness in general.
One interview I saw on YouTube comes to mind, with a guy, forgot his name, he had a strong British accent, went on and on about his drug addiction and how he overcame it. He was fiercely eloquent that I can remember, fiercely eloquent, and his sentences were mind-boggingly complex. There was this one statement he made, he said something about how our consciences are all intertwined, connected, and how he used to feel, while under the influence, that he could find a way to channel into the worlds collective conscience.
That statement enters my mind quite often, it’s one of those thoughts that joins a million others when the brain is unoccupied.
I remember what I thought about his eloquence and that I imagined how the aftereffects of his extensive drug use might have left him with the ability to still connect with this collective conscience he spoke of. In my mind, that was one explanation as to how he finds his words and complex grammatical structures so fluently. He really spurted them out at a rapid pace.
At the same time I remember that there was something off about him and the manner in which he spoke, the audience, the interviewer, we all had it in the back of our heads, this feeling that his brain, as powerful as it seemed, also seemed damaged in a sense, and a little damage to the brain can create all kinds of anomalies. In his speech there had been a certain mania, impressive yes, but concerning also, unsettling even. I guess there’s always these two sides of reacting when you’re confronted with something extraordinary, the one side is in awe, mystified, the other is always questioning, skeptical, slightly frightened.
We reach the first train station. I watch the people shielding their heads and eyes from the rain, walking around, looking around, searching for loved ones or acquiring information from the personnel. I just want to sleep. I am terribly tired.
“Hey, guy, this seat taken?“
There’s a man standing in front of me, pointing at the empty seat next to mine.
There’s also all kinds of empty seats all around. I look at him and raise a brow.
“What’s with the look, guy, don’t you like company when on the road? I do,“ he says. I shrug my shoulders, I couldn’t care less to be honest.
“I don’t, no, and I worry that I won’t be very good company, I am terribly tired, you see.“ He shrugs back. “I don’t mind,” he says and he grunts his suitcase up into the compartment.
The seats shake a little when he finally sits down.
He’s a big fellow, nicely dressed and well groomed. He’s not unpleasant to look at, but there’s a certain smell surrounding him that has me turning away at first. I look out of the window again and watch the countless strains of rain forming what looks like a network of synapses on the glass, pumping through the complex structure of highways, once they have been established. He brushes my arm a few times while he settles in his bulky, girthy limbs into this small confinement of a seat.
“Sorry…,“ he mumbles, “…big boned.“ I smirk.
“Name´s Rover, what´s yours?“
I look over at him. His hair is long, dark and thick and he pulls it back with a hairband. There are handsome strains of grey glinting through the black, thick mass of hair that connects at his sideburns with a massive, face covering beard.
I don’t see why I shouldn’t test out a fake name on this seemingly salt-of-the-earth-guy, he appears to be a person hard to fool, sort of like a salesman or a crook, and if it works on him, I will feel more secure with the next one later on. I raise my hand to shake his and try to smile with my eyes.
“Troyer, Desmond Troyer, nice to meet you.“
He shakes my hand firmly. His hand is warm and dry, it’s a pleasant handshake. He smiles and opens a pack of gum. “Want some,” he offers. I decline. I hate gum, it makes people look like mindless farm animals, chewing away.
He nods and throws one, two pieces into his mouth. “Suit yourself,” he says, and I wonder if he tries to make a subtle point or something, but at the same time, I couldn’t care less, I’m not planning on talking much anyway.
“What’s your stop,” he asks me. I have to think about it for a second, I´ve been on the road for what feels like forever. He interrupts my pondering.
“Mine’s up next. The delays are a pain in the ass, don’t you think?“
“I don’t mind them,” I say. “Never did. With my occupation, it’s sometimes nice to have a little time of unexpected leisure.“
“Unexpected leisure, that’s a nice way of puttin’ it. You a college man?“
“Not exactly, I just like language, I guess.“
“It’s a fine talent to have.“
Not quite sure I like where this is going.
“This rain’s a pain too, don’t you think,” he continues.
“Look, Rover was it? I…“
“You´re not one for small talk, I’m guessin´,“ he finishes my sentence.
“No.“ I shake my head.
We sit there in silence for a while.
“What’s that, then,” he asks, pointing at the envelope I have on my lap and therefore breaking the silence I am guessing he found to be uncomfortable.
“That’s an envelope,” I reply dryly. He laughs and punches me in the arm.
“You’re a dry son of a bitch. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re a Brit.“
“Ha-Ha,” I utter sarcastically.
“Ah, Mr. Troyer, I’m just breakin´ your balls! Relax!“ The way he says my fake name bites me a little, though I can´t say for sure why it does.
“So…“, he starts, but this time I interrupt.
“So… nothing. Mr. Rover, you have to understand something that will evidently not enter your mind,
unless I make it absolutely, 100 %-ly, crispy clear to you: I prefer not to converse while on a train, not on my best days, and certainly not on a day like this, I am tired and would really like it for you to keep your talking to the very minimum.“
“So… this is my stop…,“ he says, and he is smiling while he says the next words: “…Mr. Troyer. Have a nice day in whatever hell it is you’re travellin’ to.“
My eyes follow him walking along the isle. Before he steps out of the train, he turns and looks back at me. There’s a glint in his eyes. I can’t get a read on him, I usually can. I watch him starting out into the rain, he walks through it with such force, such comfort, as if the sun was shining just for him, but no one else could see it. I close my eyes and start massaging them, moving them around in circles beneath my eyelids while my fingertips press gently against them from the other side. It’s my usual headache, one that begins at the eyes and pulls all the way to the back of the head. After a while I let my hands fall on my lap and sit there with my eyes closed. The ticket guy can go fuck himself, I’m sleeping.
The last thing I manage to do is to blindly pull my ticket out of my coat pocket and place it on the table in front of me. The noises slowly fade out and all I’m left with is the calming vibration of the rails beneath me, while I gradually drift away.
“Hey, guy, this seat taken?“ This voice, sounds so familiar. The seats shake a little. “Guess he’s sleepin’.“
I can feel his hand slowly trying to take the envelope off my lap. I can smell him. It’s the same odd smell from before, smoked salmon or ham or something. It can’t be him, he just got out. I open my eyes and see Rovers grinning face.
“What the hell“, I let out, still quite sleepy, forcing composure. “What the hell? I thought you got out at the… last stop,” I mumble.
“Yeh… I was all the way out the station before I noticed.“
He points up at the compartments. “Forgot my suitcase. Doofus. There’s essential stuff in there. Was a fucking hassle to get back on the train. The delays actually were a big help.“
I rub my eyes. It’s him alright, the same meaty eyebrows, the same beard, the same grey streaks. I look around. The window is still overrun by a network of drops, yet Rover’s dry as a bone. How does he do it? I can’t seem to find an umbrella on his person.
“Checkin’ me out, are ya,” he asks, smiling and showing some crooked yellow teeth. I can´t help but laugh.
„Now we’re talkin’! That’s a face I can get used to. Makin’ peace with the world, are ya?“ He watches me react to that last part. What a strange fellow he is. Makin’ peace, yeah, I sure am, with every last annoying overweight guy on a train. Never talking to one again, that’s for sure.
“You wonderin’ why I’m so curious about that envelope, are ya? Why I wanted to snatch it from ya?“
“I’m sure it was just to break my balls, right.” I answer, and send his head back laughing out loud. The whole scene vibrates. “Yeah, that’s it, that’s the guy!“ He takes out a flask and unscrews it. The smell of cheap bourbon hits my nose and I gag a little. I despise bourbon.
“Wanna sip?“ He holds the open flask under my nose. I shake my head. “Come on, don’t be a wuss. Have a sip.“
It might actually help with the headache, the voice in my head argues, so I have a little sip. It’s better than expected. I have another. I even smile a little. His laughter, while being at times way too loud and crass, is also quite infectious.
“So we’re pals now, are we?“, he asks.
“I wouldn’t say pals, but…“
“So you can tell me your real name then, huh sparky?“
My shoulders freeze up.
“Whatever do you mean?“, I reply.
“Your real name, you know, Verne Troyer!“, he says, a big smile on his face.
Who the fuck is Verne Troyer?
He watches me get more and more defensive, up to the point where it almost seems like he enjoys seeing me retreat.
At last he says: “You know, the Mini Me guy, Dr. Evil’s clone!“, he nods and laughs and pokes my arm. I remember now. The dwarf from the Austin Power’s movies. Shit, that was intense, good on you to try that name out first. He hands over the flask again. I take a big slug. In my periphery, I can see him staring at me while I down this diarrhea of a drink. I give him the flask and he puts it back into his jacket pocket. Did he actually have a drink? I ask myself, before things get blurry and I pass out. He poisoned me!
I wake up with my face pressed against the glass still streaking with the countless rain trails and I need a few seconds to regain my consciousness. I rub my eyes, then I look over to the empty seat next to me. I push myself up on the crammed seat to stretch out my legs. Fatigue sends shivers through my body to slowly rid me of the rotten feeling of waking up on a train. God, how long was I sleeping for? I look out at the grey urban dirty shitty city we rush past. It’s a pool of crap, all of it. Man, it’s depressing.
“Hey, guy, this seat taken?“
I rush around, startled and puzzled I look at the old, familiar face.
“Boy oh boy, someone is tense today,” he flaunts.
“Who the hell are you!?“, I press out, trying hard not to shout.
“Well, I am something else, I can tell you that much.“
I stare at him. “That’s nothing, you told me nothing. Who the fuck are you, Mister?“
“First, let me tell you who you are, Mr. Troyer. You’re not Mr. Troyer. You’re a real piece of shit. You’re a horrible person, am I right?“
I am at the very end of my seat, as far away as I can physically be from this strange, scary man, and believe me, I have no idea what he’s talking about.
“Your name is Trent Hoffmann, am I right? I am only askin’ for the fun of it, I know who you are, I can read it on your forehead, along with all the fucked up shit you’ve been doin’. I know it all. I know where you’re headed and I know where you’ve been. We’ve been pals for a long time, you just don’t care to notice.
Will ya do something for me, Trent? It’s easier to explain this in a metaphor, you see, so try to picture your life as a tube, a pig´s intestine if you will, and you are a stinkin’ hunk of shit being pressed through it, and when I look at you, I see not only you, the hunk o’ shit, but the whole fuckin’ tube.
I can see what you did to Kimberly, when you first noticed you had a thing for it, I see Carl, I see Jaqueline, I see them all, the fear in their eyes you find so arousing. I see them on the ground, hurtin’. I see it through your eyes when I look at you, I see your whole life through your eyes. And I want you to know, you’re going through hell. This is hell. It’s all around you. You’re being punished every second of your existence. Right here, and everywhere else you go. See, hell is not some place you go to after you’re dead, it’s not that simple, no, see, you’re always dead, and always alive. The tube, guy, when you see it, it has no end, it’s a circle. And I am all over that fuckin’ circle. I am there every step of the way. And my job is to enforce it, to fuck with you, all I am is your punishment. Remember Déjà-vu’s? Well these things have been in movies for years, o’course you heard of them.“
His eyes are glowing now. They seem to rotate inside his head and with every rotation the pain pulls stronger and deeper and it singes the insides of my skull. I can’t fucking take this!
“The thing is, Trent, ya fuckin’ animal, while you’re riding on this train, I am all around you, and I will punish you in every sort of way imaginable. I will irritate you, I will annoy you, I will make you uncomfortable, I will hurt you, I will cut you up into little pieces, I will burn you alive, I will piss in your mouth, I will open your veins, I will… well, I say „I will“ but the truth is, I already am. Wanna have a feel?“
His eyes twitch and suddenly I see it all, feel it all, an infinity of pain, humiliation, abuse, every second of it an eternity long, and I feel it all at the same time. My brain is screaming, glowing, burning, but I can’t pass out, I am not dreaming, I am alive and in pain an infinite number of ways, and it’s always him, he is everywhere, smiling at me, talking to me, slaughtering me, torturing me, I scream a million times in a million different ways, I run, I hide, I cry, I tremble, all at once, Jesus! It’s going on forever!
He pulls me out of it just as sudden as he threw me into it.
“You’re burning, Trent, forever.“
I can´t help but break out crying. With shrugging shoulders and snot and tears I fall off my seat to the ground, my hands are shaking uncontrollably as they grab his knees and I beg for him to stop.
“Trent, Trent, now, now, come on, you’re getting ahead of yourself. It shouldn’t be pain you fear. It shouldn’t be my forgiveness you seek, it should be theirs, see? You fucked up more lives than your life can bear, thinking that if you’d do it right, there’d be no consequences. I am here only to make sure you know there are, you’re just not aware of them. And relax, Trent, there is a you that’s still not aware of them, see, there’s a Trent that will eventually get to leave this train. It just won’t be you. And, you see, I would feel bad knowing that you don´t know who to blame for what’s to come!“
With these last words, he rips open my shirt and in his hand I see a long, thin needle, almost invisible, and he’s slowly inserting it into my chest, it’s red hot and it burns and I scream out in agony trying to push him back but I know that it won’t help. I made this happen, I am this, I saw it with my own eyes, going on forever and it’s never going to stop. My cries lose themselves among an infinite number of others. And the worst part is, I deserve it, I know I do, and while the needle slowly cooks me from the inside, I find crooked relief in that.
I wake up with a strange aching in my chest and a foul taste in my mouth. Man, waking up on a train sure is one way to fuck up the pleasure of sleeping. How long was I out for? The rain has stopped and it’s dark out. I look at my ticket, it has been clipped, guess the ticket guy saw it and chose not to wake me. Very considerate of him.
I turn to my right, there’s a guy sitting there, how could I have missed that. He’s huge, a good dresser, has a nice beard and a beautiful head of dark and grey hair, pulled back with a hairband.
“Gave him your ticket, thought you might need the sleep,” he says, reading some magazine. I nod. “Thanks.“
He turns to me. His expression bites me a little, can’t quite make out why. Fiendish, that’s the word, he looks at me with a fiendish expression.
“Don’t mention it, guy.”, he says. “Don’t mention it.“
Gregor was listening to his refrigerator groaning mechanically while writing this short story.