The 93 Eastbound had only two passengers on this cold May twilight, which was unusual – yet everything seemed to be unusual in the recent months. High upon the distant hills, there remained snow that glistened against the setting sun and the shadows rose to chase the locomotive, as it raced Eastward.
To the hum of the rails beneath and the passing of each idle town, his fist gently clenched with increasing strength.
Hours ago, he had left the abyss, on a mission of desperate hope for some help, of any sorts.
It was seven-thirty in the evening,
To his right, on the vacant seat, a satchel sat unopened. In his breast pocket, there were papers and a passport that few could obtain.
This evening, he was traveling East, then North through the pass and into The Town.
In restlessness, he walked the five cars rear to front, passing seventy empty seats in each. The cafe car, normally populated by an underpaid but enthusiastic patron facilitating a commuter’s usual journey back to the eventual reality, was dimmed, empty and quiet.
All of this he took in.
The 93 careened around the pined forested cliffs and ascended the final vertical through the wafer thin clouds with all its effort. Eventually, it slid to a gentle stop, exhausting steam.
No conductor announced the station, for it was not necessary and the only other passenger, sitting stoically in the front seats, did not stir.
Stepping out into the crisp air, it was immediately noticeable.
No one wore a mask.
A baker on the far end of the platform was hugging an elderly woman while handing fresh cupcakes to gathering children. Beyond the platform, there was foot traffic on the streets, an open barber shop and food stands also serving beverages. All of the establishments were congregated by the chatter and laughter that is so associated with customers, without a care in the world.
From his left, wearing jeans and a sheep-skin leather vest, with outstretched arms was the Man whom he had come to see.
The Man was older than himself, that he knew before stepping aboard the train six hours ago. Yet he looked younger, with a sturdy build, a broad smile and welcoming deep blue eyes. His effortless gait was as fluid as his long white hair, while his grasp when they shook, was firm and reassuring.
They walked through the village and no one looked their way, though he could feel the Man’s presence. He also noticed in the reflection of a shop window that the other lone passenger on his journey here, followed twenty steps behind.
The Man picked up on this observation and chuckled, while thanking him for not bringing his cell phone, nor any other nefarious gadgets of communication.
They then followed a narrow alley way up to a small cabin overlooking the village. When they stepped into the room alight with a roaring fireplace, he handed the unopened satchel to the Man.
The Man refused however, saying that the contents were fully known to him. The travelers’ bewilderment was by now complete, so they sat and talked.
The Man explained to the traveler before him with the wax-sealed satchel, that it was a message of good faith, now being delivered. Adding that he had traveled up into an unknown part of this world at his peril and that it was his Faith that was most appreciated. Additionally, the Man explained that the details within the satchel had been discussed within the Town for some days.
While the Man would welcome him to stay another night, week or even months, the Town had decided that it was time to move with haste, as the situation outside of the Town was spreading with grave concern for all humanity.
It was decided that the traveler would return tonight with three-hundred and fifty of the Town’s people, all 100% immune from the deadly spreading global pandemic. Upon reaching the six-hour destination, their papers would facilitate domestic and international travel around the globe.
Their interaction then, merely speaking with others, along their varied journeys would create the contagious antivirus that would exponentially facilitate putting out the ‘fire’, as fast as it had started.
The Man then presented him with the Town’s Medallion and urged him to go catch the train. The traveler thanked the Man with the white hair, not for the medallion, but for what he was doing, leaving the satchel at his feet.
As they stood, the Man replied with a hug: ‘it is all taken care of, be well my friend’.
He then walked alone down the narrow path and through the village, thinking that he was in a dream.
However train 93 was facing in the other direction and was indeed full of passengers! The cafe car too, was also now open.
It was on that clear May night, in the year 2020, that the tide turned.