I spent the entire day wandering around Wishing Cross Historical Park, and I had the sore feet to prove it.
The Park was due to close at five o'clock. The sun would set soon after, and if I could just manage to stay out of sight, somehow, I could try Seymour's key and see if it got me anywhere.
I waited until the woman in the nearby ticket booth was distracted and then waved my hand in front of the sensor at one of the turnstile exits, so it would appear I'd left the Park when they counted up the numbers at the end of the day.
I ducked behind the nearest building and kept moving...darting between groups of exhausted tour guides and historical re-enactors as they exited the Park and ended their workday.
It seemed to take forever until they were all gone. Seymour had told me night security was sparse in the Park these days due to cutbacks, especially during the days leading up to seasonal closing. I was counting on the fact he was right.
I navigated easily enough through the darkness with the flashlight I'd brought with me, and even as I was questioning my own sanity for the fifteenth time that day, I took the key Seymour had given me from my pocket and was soon using it to unlock the chains securing the door to the roundhouse.
Once inside, I found the metal ladder leading down to the working floor, where the tracks leading out and pits beneath were located. On the center track, just as predicted, rested glorious Aurelia Belle.
My heart raced. What the hell was I doing? It wasn't technically breaking and entering. I had a key, but it wasn't like I had any kind of authorization, either.
Just as I was about to jump down into the pit, I heard voices.
"Should we start on the Belle tonight?" one man asked, his overalls as filthy as his face while his huge halogen lantern illuminated both.
"Nah, after the holiday. She's done for the season now, there's no point," his equally grungy companion replied. "They don't want us working overtime, and I'm already close."
"Well, all my kids are sick anyway. If I don't get home quick my wife will have my head," the first man said. "Hey, that's weird," he pointed to the door where I'd entered and as they turned their attention to the chains I'd locked from the inside, I switched off my light, jumped down into the pit, and hid in the locomotive's shadow. "Look, the lock is wrong."
"Probably Dave's idea of a joke, just to rattle us," the second man replied. "You know he's always saying the house is haunted."
"Well, I'll fix it just in case," the first man said. He undid the chains, and then both exited through that door.
They secured it from outside, and I panicked a little. Now I was locked in.
Then I realized I was getting ahead of myself. I'd find a way out when the time came. For now, I had a job to do, and hopefully this 'honoring an old man's wishes' stuff would end quickly. I inspected the floor more closely and found there was nothing there at all but, well, floor.
I flicked my light back on and coughed as I inhaled more of that glorious—and dangerous—combined aroma of burnt oil, coal, and their byproducts. My hands were filthy now, just from lowering myself into the pit, and I set my light on the edge of the space above me, tilting it down so it shone on the cinderblocks beneath my boots. They felt solid, as they should. I grabbed a nearby rag and tried to clean my hands, but it was little use. I didn't want to get anything on the book should I have to take it out, and then it occurred to me: the leather gloves Lila had given me for my birthday the week before were still in my jacket pockets. I'd handle the book with them if it came time to take it out.
I noticed my pack was beginning to vibrate against my back again. The low hum returned, and I shivered. Something was emanating from that book.
I took three long paces forward and wobbled upon the cinderblock there. It appeared uneven at the edges where it met those around it.
Another step, another loose block.
The book vibrated much harder, and I felt the thrumming envelop me, traveling down through my feet and into the floor.
Suddenly, the blocks were vibrating, too, and I saw a light shining from the cracks between them.
I bent down and struggled to lift the first heavy block out of its place, and then the next, then the next. With three of them out, I had just enough room to climb down, through the hole in the pit and into whatever lay beneath.
I had to take off my backpack to fit. I held it over my head in my hands as I dropped, having no idea how far I'd fall or what I'd land on.
I hit with a thud in the darkness and heard a noise it took me a moment to process.
The chugging, the wail and cry. The puffs of smoke. The wind, rustling in my ears. The same as when I stood on the platform at the Park entrance, waiting for the train...
"Alllllll aboard!" a voice cried, and I hurried to climb up out of the pit. I was about to have a hot locomotive coming in, right over the top of my head.
I scrambled onto the platform, trying to discern where the voice was coming from, but I saw no one.
All I saw was the Aurelia Belle, only behind her now she towed very old-fashioned, enclosed passenger cars.
"Last call! All aboard!" the voice cried again, and without thinking, I held tight to my backpack, climbed the steps and went inside.
The car was completely empty, and I sank down into an elaborate, upholstered chair in the pristine, beautiful space. I reached into my pockets and pulled out the leather gloves, covering the dirt on my hands before I removed the book from my backpack.
I gently withdrew it from the pillowcase and looked at it again. The exterior was unchanged, though it still hummed beneath my fingertips. My hands shook. I gripped it tighter.
I closed my eyes, drew a deep breath, and tried to tell myself I wasn't just delusional as the ghost-voice was heard again as if speaking from the next car to mine:
"Now leaving the depot, Aurelia Belle, bound for the end of the line: Wishing Cross Station."
I tried to focus on the first page of the book, but the text was still too faint for me to read. I found as the train began to chug onward and pick up speed that my eyelids grew heavy, impossible to keep open.
It didn't feel like falling asleep, it felt more like passing out. I had an instant to tuck the book beneath my arm before I could do no more.
My world went black, and when I opened my eyes again I couldn't believe what I saw.
YOU ARE READING
Wishing Cross StationFantasy
Retracing a powerful man's footsteps through the past, Keigan finds himself caught in the same dangerous trap: falling in love with a woman he was never meant to know, and unsure he will ever find his way home. Wishing Cross Station is a bittersweet...