Tori couldn’t relax. As the sun started to fill the fields, she could make out hares and deer foraging in the sepia dawn but they didn’t delight her. Even as she headed north, she remained tense and alert, staring out of the window at the scenery, the towns, the stations – looking, looking to see if someone was staring back.
Then she saw the sheep. They were slowly moving together in a wide valley which led down to the river as it ran alongside the railway. The flock was not bunched up or spread out. They were head down, nibbling at the dew soaked grass but they were moving in formation. Tori sat forward as far as she could and tried to keep watching them before the train passed. She quickly looked round to see if any of the other passengers had noticed but they were oblivious: asleep, reading, playing on tablets and phones. But the sheep nonchalantly continued, formed into an arrow pointing south, back down the line. And then they were gone.
Tori tried to look back but it was impossible. The next station came and the next and another long piece of countryside. She checked her timetable. The train was running behind.
“Look at that” said the man opposite it, roused out of his sleep as his neighbour shifted in his seat, “that means bad weather coming, that does.”
Tori looked where he was pointing. She realised the field was full of sea gulls and they were…
The man’s neighbour looked out, “it’s not so far from the estuary though is it?”
“Far enough mate, they only come inland when there’s something brewing.”
Was Tori the only one that could see the gulls, settling and flying up, forming themselves over and over into an arrow all facing south, all flying up and settling down further down the line? And then they were gone. Tori shook herself. It had been too early a start. She was too apprehensive. She needed to calm down or he…
An announcement reminding the passengers that the train would not stop at the next station. The pace continued, sped up perhaps. Tori imagined the passengers standing on the platform, stepping back to avoid the suction of the passing train and then she saw them – a whole row of passengers, shoulder to shoulder, staring at her and pointing south – all of them pointing south. And then they were gone.
She looked at the man opposite but he’d fallen asleep again. She had to change trains at the city. For the first time, she hesitated. Searching for her platform, she saw the one which would take her home and paused, not sure which was more terrifying the returning or the continuing; then she found her onward train and climbed aboard.
There were no more strange sights. She tried to relax but the closer she got to her destination, the closer she gripped her bag, the more she clenched her teeth. Finally she arrived and alighted. Among the people rushing about, there was no-one waiting for her, no-one paying her attention. Perhaps he was on the other side of the barrier, out of sight. She stood still while the train pulled away and another came in and then she started for the exit.
Tori bumped into a guard. Or he bumped into her. He suddenly put his face very close to hers and spoke very deep and very urgently. “Go back” he said, “you can get on the train behind you. It’s going back. Make something up if they ask about the ticket, but go back.” And then he was gone.
Copyright 2015 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission