The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Michelle Joy Gallagher
Petra closed her eyes and felt the sun on her face. She took a deep breath and opened them and watched as the train pulled slowly into the station. Traveling from Wyoming to Iowa was not her idea of a great getaway, especially since it was for a funeral. She hardly knew her Aunt Margaret, but as an only child, she was elected representative of her father who was too ill for the journey. She climbed the stairs to the passenger compartment and paused, looking back at the station mournfully. She was already homesick, and she hadn’t left her home state.
She could only afford regular fare and did not have a sleeper cabin. She found an empty row of seats and settled in for the 4-day journey. The conductor made a last call for passengers to board. She heard the brakes release and felt the train jolt forward. She was on her way whether she liked it or not.
It was close to sunset when they left. She watched a parade of couples and families pile into the dining car, laughing and enjoying each other’s company for dinner, then pile out again to find their overnight cabins. Her face went a bright red when a child asked her mother why the lady in the corner had to use her jacket as a pillow and the mother without looking over at her asked, “What woman?” The girl looked at her with sad eyes as they passed but dropped the subject.
Petra’s embarrassment slowly turned to anger as she watched the landscape roll by outside the window. How dare they treat poor people like they are invisible. What right did they have? When the conductor entered the cabin to check tickets, her embarrassment won out. She dug through her coin purse, counting her bills and change to see if by some miracle she could an afford an upgrade to a sleeper car. 3 dollars and 45 cents. Fuck. She felt tears burn her eyes and the back of her throat felt like it was on fire, when the conductor approached, she ducked her head down and swiped at her face quickly with her hands. When she lifted her head again, he had moved past her down the row to a gentleman seated at the front of the car she was in. Mortified, she got up from her seat and made her way toward the conductor with her ticket in hand. She didn’t want to be accused of hitching a ride. The conductor was handing the ticket back to the gentleman when she arrived.
“Sir, I’m sorry… you must have missed me.” She held out her ticket to him. He didn’t turn to acknowledge her, or even flinch when she spoke up. He was still looking down at the gentleman he’d handed the ticket back to.
He nodded at something the man was holding. “Tragedy ain’t it? I was on duty. Horrible sight. I don’t think I’ll be sleeping right for quite some time.” The man nodded gravely in response. “Shame she was so young. And on her way to a funeral no less…”
Petra leaned in and looked over the man’s shoulder to see a copy of the local paper and read the headline.
“LOCAL WOMAN FOUND DEAD ON TRACKS.”
A picture of Petra beneath the headline smiled back at her. The one she’d had taken when she graduated. She stifled a scream and stumbled backward, hitting the floor of the passenger car hard. She closed her eyes, willing what she saw away. Suddenly, she felt the warmth of the sun on her face. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes and watched the train pull slowly into the station.
Fiction © Copyright Michelle Joy Gallagher
Image courtesy of Rie Sheridan Rose
More from author Michelle Joy Gallagher:
Blackhawk: Volume 2
Welcome to Blackhawk, Colorado. Blackhawk has always been strange. Natural disasters. Disappearances. Murders. High strangeness is a part of daily life. We can’t hope to explain it, but we can chronicle its past. Learn from it. Fear it. Blackhawk is an experimental fiction series set in a shared universe, written by a variety of talented authors. It is the brainchild of David M Brown (Plague Doctor, Modern Animals) and Carl D Smith (Moleb the Giant, Darkness Out of Carthage). Each story will contribute to an organic, evolving mythology as diverse as the voices behind its tales. For fans of True Detective, Lost Highway, Twilight Zone, and The Terror. This is Volume Two of the series and contains five stories by five different authors, each in tune with the specific strangeness Blackhawk has to offer. NOTE: For fans of Lake Lord Publishing’s prior horror titles, be warned that Blackhawk will contain content that is perhaps more disturbing and mature.