"The Man That Creates Skies" by Michael Vincent Manalo.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
This story was an Honorable Mention in our 2015 Joust 24h writing contest.
Competitors were emailed a first and a last sentence. They then had 24h and 1,000 words to span the two.
by James Grzejka
They laid the train tracks back to front and this caused a great deal of confusion – you’d think you were on the train to New York and arrived in Kinshasa, or to Shanghai and found yourself lost in Istanbul. There was a feeling that the station had been left adrift in space, the rusty gutters, the mildewed oaken platform, the muddy roads to it which lay cracked like canyons. The malformed tracks themselves bore an epidermis of rust, scarcely able to support their own weight. Even the air smelled neglected. A musty cellar perfume endured through ceaseless rain.
The elements assembled their own entertainment.
The sheet of water overflowing from the gutters now slowed, parted, framed the sodden tracks and anonymous grassland behind them. Rain-mist curled catlike along the platform and then stood upright. In this murky dusk, the mist allowed itself to be mistaken for three figures: two tall, one small, all holding hands.
The rain murmured its curiosity.
One tall figure (a man, it now became clear to see) broke off from the others, pulling his arm into smoky scraps. The fog’s broad strokes painted square shoulders and a spine stiffened with desperate pride. The remaining two figures – a woman and girl, their shifting contours slimmer and sadder than the stray – reached out to the man as he drifted to the edge of the platform. The wind picked up, gusted across the tracks, and carried him away.
The mist remained still for some time; long enough for the shadow of the platform’s jagged edge to creep across the tracks. An intermission.
The wind plucked and crafted new shapes. Here was a woman, different from the first and yet familiar. The woman who had once been the girl; she stood in the same place she had before, her hands folded in front of her ghostly skirts. Beside her, a new man, or a boy who wanted to be a man – this was clear from the youth in his otherwise featureless face, the shapeless right hand clutching a suitcase that wasn’t there. Thunder rumbled like a summons to war. The wind eddied, tilted the woman’s head forward – a nod of approval, or at least, acceptance – and then gusted again, shredding the man. His tatters dispersed along the black ribbon of track. Lightning cracked twice, gunshot-sharp. The storm did not return him.
In the crevices of the station, dripping rain whispered its sympathy.
Faster now, a photo-shutter procession of images. The woman remained where she was, sheltered beneath the dilapidated overhang of the platform. The mist around her boiled into a crowd, a riot of comings and goings, sons and daughters, cousins and friends never met. The mass of ghosts shuddered, sobbed, compared souvenirs and heirlooms left unseen, and all promenaded around the woman, who in the growing shadows became gaunt and bent. She wore the darkness like makeup, and it festered in the hollows of her cheekbones, it etched wrinkles on her misty skin. All the while the gale streaked down the track, carrying these luckless phantoms over the horizon, peeling them off the station one by one until the woman was, again, alone.
The storm abated. The coming nightfall painted the thunderheads a bruised purple. The woman’s degraded form stood hunched beneath an eave like a mushroom, her hands still clutched across her skirts. She was losing substance. Mist bled from her as though she’d been punctured. Even in the deepening dark, where her chalky outline seemed to glow, she was rapidly turning invisible.
And then, a distant whistle. The wind blew hard enough to send water skittering off the tracks. In its passing, the woman straightened and became attentive.
At the edge of the platform the fog coalesced into another figure. Its features were smoky and smooth and there was something familiar in the set of those shoulders, the curve of that jaw – here was the man, the first who’d left. And now, beside him, the second man (or had he been a boy?), one hand raised in greeting, the other with fingers still curled about his pantomime suitcase. The storm continued, it chiseled a multitude from itself; all the figures the woman had seen. Those who’d left. Those she had met, had wanted to meet, had wanted to meet again. As the woman’s form turned thin as thread, the mist condensed into bulbous raindrops running down her face, and she raised her arms, and stepped forward, and added her form to theirs. The weather bowed them low, swept them up, and with one final orchestral gale, ushered them over the horizon.
For almost a full minute, the rain stopped. The silence was sepulchral.
The clouds burst. Water drummed madly on the roof of the station, the platform, and the churned mud around the tracks. Thunder boomed as though the rain’s applause had echoed from earth to sky.
The night pulled itself around the station. Rain dripping from the rusty gutters made a curtain between the platform and the tracks.
James Grzejka is a laboratory clerk and Susquehanna University graduate. He lives in New Jersey, works in New York, and writes in his spare time. This is his first publication.