Time and Railroad Stations
Railways and Time
Noon, The Railroad Station Plus Five O'Clock
Noon, the shadow less mid-day. The time for a meal and/or a rest. Also the time for a showdown such as in the 1952 western High Noon starring Gary Cooper. Sometimes a man has to find the courage to make a stand.The movie was based on a short story.
In the TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-1963) there is a showdown similar in tone if nothing else to the famous showdown in high Noon.
The Railroad Station
by Thomas Wolf (1900-1938)
(Extract as seen on Platform One, Parramatta Station, NSW in 2015)
Few Buildings are vast enough
To hold the sound of time
And now it seemed to him
That there was a superb fitness in the fact
That the one that held it better than others
Should be a railroad station.
For here, as nowhere else on earth,
Men were brought together for a moment
At the beginning or end
Of their innumerable journeys,
Here one saw their greetings and farewells,
Here, in an instant,
One got the entire picture of the human destiny.
Men came and went, they passed and vanished,
And all were moving through the moments of their lives
All made small tickings in the sound of time
But the voice of time remained aloof and unperturbed.
A drowsy and eternal murmur
Below the immense and distant roof.
The passage of time has been dealt with in many ways over the centuries. There are warning still in place in cathedrals throughout Europe that if you don't live a good life then Hell awaits.
With H.G. Wells there was the scientific approach to time for a more scientific age. Would it indeed be possible to build a time machine?
In at least three episodes of The Big Bang Theory television show time has been played with as a concept. Certainly the title, The Big Bang Theory, plays with the notion of time. Five O'clock takes a different tact on the subject of time and also change that comes with it.
from Undead Reb Down Under and Other Stories collection.
Robert Paisley waited until the precious hour. He waited for the time he usually rang before upending the bottle and gulping down the contents. This night the red was human, not animal. It had to be to help him to remember, to help him to remain relatively sane in the face of such tragedy.
The redness warmed him going down like a smooth Scotch might do for someone else. But there was something that remained cold and aloof. It was his heart. Just because it hadn’t beat once in five decades meant little to him anymore. He was used to that. Still it usually defrosted with the red giving him the feeling that he hadn’t really changed in all that time. What it was, in fact, doing was responding to the absence of another richer, kinder heart that had stopped but for good and could never, ever be revived.
He wiped his lips and threw the empty bottle against the wall, shattering it. No one came running to help clear away the debris. No one cared. There was a police siren wailing in the distance and also the sound of a speeding freight train. His alarm clock indicated the hour of hours on the night of nights was slowly but most definitely passing. He wished he could stop time and then reverse it to but a week ago. And if he could do so then he would keep that week and treasure it forever.
Sunday night at five o’clock. The sun had barely set and in summer had not set at all. But even so it had been the designated time to talk with the most wonderful woman in the world. She was always by her phone awaiting his call. What’s more, she knew of his predicament and of how to keep his inner demon at bay. Now he would have to continue the taming of that inner demon on his own. It had not been easy. Now it would be infinitely harder. No more gentle humor. No more coaxing or well meant advice. No more love.
Outside the door to Robert’s unit in the suburb of Hurstville the wind blew hard against nearby homes. An antenna snapped its moorings and crashed against a roof. Tiles smashed. Rain came in freezing sheets. There was the sound of thunder followed by the blasting to a stump of an old ghost gum. Somewhere a dog the size of a wolf howled Robert’s feeling of abandonment.
“Gone,” Robert said out loud. He had not felt so helpless in at least a decade and he didn’t like it.
He’d been turned back in ’57. It was a barmaid at The Bat and Ball that had done the trick. She had wanted him to follow her into an unlife of murder and mayhem. He was glad he didn’t. Some six months later she came to a sticky end on the lance of a Secret Compass vampire hunter. A voice on the phone had saved him from taking her path. Now there was no longer a voice and both murder and mayhem had their appeals.
Robert made the phone call. He knew it wouldn’t be answered and it was already a quarter past the hour but he made it anyway. There was a very thin line of hope that a godly force would intervene in the normal fabric of reality and give him the voice. This hope was based on the certain knowledge everyone of his ilk who’d been around long enough had that there was indeed a hell. If one existed then why not the other? Why not heaven? And if there was a heaven why shouldn’t it have telephone lines and switchboards?
No reply. He tried again and again. Still no reply. Maybe it was just a wee bit early in a death for the deceased party to have her own number and the wherewithal to be able to contact the unliving. Maybe next Sunday or the Sunday after...
It had been a heart attack. The open heart surgery had gone well only the patient had not survived because her lungs were not up to it. During such an operation the lungs are collapsed and then re-inflated. This puts stress upon them and, if they can’t take it, the patient can linger thanks to modern medicine but the show is really over. Her lungs were like tissue paper. She was just too old.
The first night Robert was tempted to go on the hunt he’d phoned her instead and was told of the alternatives. He already knew of them but it helped hearing about them from someone else. He felt stronger than he had ever felt before and his senses were suddenly a lot sharper. “Why not prey upon the humans,” he told her. “I was picked on when I was human.”
“I’m human,” the voice had replied and that’s all she needed to say. She went on though reminding him of the good times they’d had together and of the good people still in the world. It was a big ask to have him slack his thirst on anything save an open vein he’d opened himself. Yet she did ask and he knew, while she was around, he’d always try to keep well away from temptation.
He had a night janitor’s job. It didn’t pay well but that didn’t worry him. So long as he could buy his bottled blood he was fine. In his unlife he’d also been a newspaper reporter, a police officer and a hospital orderly. Every fifteen years he had to change careers because he didn’t age and not aging tended to make people nervous. Dying one’s hair grey could only do so much to dispel their fears and then it was a case of too many questions being asked. With the coming of the computer age, however, there was the possibility of a permanent position. If he was to work from home on his own P.C. who would know how young he looked or how young he remained?
When Robert was reborn his rebirth came with all the instincts, desires and needs of every vampire that had ever walked the earth. Even when full all he had to do was run his tongue over his teeth as a reminder of what he truly was and where that could take him.
Constantly fighting instincts, desires and even needs hadn’t been easy. In years gone by he was able to take from a victim just enough blood so as to preserve his existence and at the same time not kill. Now he wondered if that was possible. He was much better off buying what he needed from butcher shops specializing in the animal varieties and disreputable dealers selling the human varieties. Sometimes he was reduced to stealing it from clinics and hospitals.
One time, in the country near Orange, he went through an entire herd of cattle without anyone noticing. Each night he’d only take enough to satisfy his needs while keeping the respective cow alive and relatively healthy. Still, living in the country was not for him. You got too close to people when you are in a small community and then out would come the inevitable questions about one’s past that were increasingly difficult to answer to anyone’s satisfaction.
Television had been a distraction but now it was waning. Very few good shows were being made and too often the good ones were cancelled within a year of creation due to penny pinching studio heads and television station executives. “Candid Camera” had been but a minor upset in the 1950s and ‘60s. Now, under many names, it was a regular torment. Meanwhile some crazy European experiment in the ‘90s concerning the filming of ordinary people in an ordinary house doing ordinary things was suddenly continuing prime time. Humans had the technology to do much, much more with the so-called ‘idiot box’ but no longer had the will to even try.
Roddenberry’s widow, one of the last pioneer producers of good television, was barely holding her own. It was enough to make one weep. It was enough to tempt one to go out and kill a few of the more stupid humans simply on principle. Certainly, when all was considered, they shouldn’t mind. After all they were not truly living any more than he was truly alive.
Novels did a little better. He had a most impressive Star Trek collection and was half way through Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Local novelists, however, were a letdown. They were still finding their place in the world of literature and relying too much on the snob factor produced by some universities and colleges to sell their wares.
Writers such as Richard Harland (The Vicar of Morbing Vyle) and Peter Corris (the Browning series) being lively exceptions to the general rule. Still he was happy to read American and British novels and to wait until Australian writers eventually caught up to them. New Zealand writers such as Lyn McConchie had already done so.
Now, with that special woman out of his existence, all he had done to quell his hunger and his less admirable desires seemed somewhat pointless. What did it matter what work he did or what he watched or read to make himself feel human if she was no longer capable of guiding him?
Maybe he should visit the new casino in Sydney and gamble for a while. Not only would he be gambling with his money but, simply by being in close proximity to people for an extended period, be also gambling with his fellow gamblers’ lives. They’d be there and he’d smell their sweat and their blood and maybe at last become the menace he always suspected he would eventually become.
Slowly, with trembling hands, Robert opened a window to the night’s fury. Anger enveloped him. How dare she die and leave him all alone? How dare the fates allow someone so wondrous to simply go the way of all things? It just wasn’t fair.
With the ease and grace of long practice he morphed into a bat and flew outside where the rain pelted him and the sound of thunder fueled his gathering rage. He plotted a course that set him against the wind and thus tried his strength. Working his muscles and leathery wings somehow helped calm his mind a little but only a little. It had to compete against his super heated thoughts and, of course, the overall vileness of the weather.
Over Bexley North he spotted a stray dog wandering the streets and zeroed in for a closer look. He landed beside it and was not surprised to find the wettest and most miserable mongrel he’d come across in ages. Surely if he drank its blood no one would miss it. Surely, after all he’d been through, he was entitled. Then he saw a middle aged man running in the direction of the mongrel and realized it was, despite appearances, someone’s pet and that it would, indeed, be missed. He took off before master and dog could meet up, before the man could ask him who or what he was.
Wheeling past Arncliffe, Robert saw a young woman fighting the elements to keep her umbrella. She looked rather comical and, at the same time, quite vulnerable. No one else was around. He could simply swoop in, destroy her and her umbrella and it wouldn’t be until the morning that others would come to know of what had occurred. He’d be safe and she’d be dead. But somehow he couldn’t, especially not on a Sunday, not even on this Sunday. He flew on toward Central and toward a certain truth concerning what is and what might be.
Central Station, as per usual, was aglow with nightly lights only gifted humans, the undead and the deceased were and are capable of seeing. The lights emanated blue from souls marking where their graves used to be before they were moved. Why so many had not crossed over was a mystery. Occasionally they made their presence felt to the living but this was rare. Generally they were content simply to moan and move about in circles around where they were once expected to rest in peace.
Robert swooped in for a closer look and a talk with a couple of these less than happy entities. Once he was satisfied that the particular ‘she’ he was after was thankfully not among their number he took off and then headed back to his abode. Of course she’s not there, he told himself bitterly on the flight back. She’s too good for the likes of them and surely she would have crossed over immediately and not be stuck in any God awful situation such as they were in. Heaven was where she belonged and no doubt where he would find her if there ever was a chance of him, in his condition, going to such a place. Being damned simply because of what had happened to you was not much fun. In fact it was down-right unfair.
The flight back had the wind on his side and so the journey was made swiftly and without incident. The weather was also improving. The rain was now a mild drizzle.
What was I thinking? He wondered after morphing back to human in the comfort of his home. Why would she be conversing with the long forgotten at a long forgotten cemetery that was now part of Sydney’s railway system? He then realized that he missed her so much he was even willing to put the absurd to some kind of test. Anything to hear her voice or, hope of hopes, see her face once more.
Bone weary, he shut the window and drew the curtains closed against the rising of the morning sun. He then made his way to his bedroom and dropped onto his bed with the intention of getting a little rest. He didn’t think he would sleep but the exertions of the night did finally catch up with him and so he began to drift.
Sometime between noon and three in the afternoon the smell of homemade biscuits and roast leg of lamb came to him. Such smells did not relate at all to his present way of being but harkened back to an earlier more promising time. When he opened his eyes he saw, against the backdrop of his wardrobe, a certain someone softly outlined and as warm and fragrant as cinnamon atop freshly baked apple pie. “You!” he called. “Here?”
She did not answer. Perhaps she couldn’t as yet. Maybe it was too soon for that. She tried to take his hand but that was not quite possible either. Her smile, however, was there and it was as radiant as he remembered it from long ago. How indeed could it be otherwise? She knew how he had suffered and how he had sought redemption over the years for something that was not even his fault. Now he could feel her urging him on in spirit because that’s all she was anymore.
“Is this our new five o’clock?” he asked but she did not, could not answer.
It was then, through a kind of sixth sense, he knew she would always be with him and that she would fight for him past the pearly gates and beyond. All he had to do was to keep to the covenant he had made with her so long ago. It was that or never, ever be with her again.
Soon after he had been made they had turned to phone conversations and the occasional letter and photograph in the mail. It was too dangerous to continue meeting in person. She trusted him not to turn on her but he was loath to trust himself. Now communication was down to this but, at least, it continued. And he could draw strength from its continuation no matter how tenuous that continuation might be.
As she faded out he said: “Next Sunday?” She nodded and then was gone. It wouldn’t be five o’clock in the afternoon ever again because it couldn’t be but it could still be Sunday. It was something he could take to heart in his continuing struggle to not betray the human he once was and to somehow move beyond the pain created by his present state.
The next night he rummaged through his old boxes and photo albums to revisit that place in existence when he was a young man meeting young women for the first time and expecting, somewhere down the track, a family all his own. Among the snapshots were those of that special woman who would forever want that better eternity for him. Among the other trappings were details of that special someone who had nursed him through the usual childhood ills and had stuck with him even when vampirism promised to tear their feelings for each other asunder. She was, all up, that someone everyone had but he had in spades. She was, cherished being that she was in any plain of being, his mother.
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