Thursday, April 11, 2013

'J' is for Journey - Blogging from A to Z

There was something strange about the man, but Odd couldn't quite put his finger on exactly what that was.  He certainly was an unassuming little man, sitting three seats down in the nearly empty way-station.  His bald head, rimmed with a bravely clinging horseshoe of white fuzz, neatly reflected the bright white overhead station lights.  Green, or possibly blue -- it was hard to tell from this angle -- eyes darted around behind a pair of sensible gold-rimmed spectacles set on a squat, permanently reddish stump of a nose.  A white avalanche of mustache covered the majority of his upper lip, and part of his lower lip.  It twitched occasionally as the man mumbled unintelligibly to himself.  It was exactly the kind of face one would expect of a man dressed in a tidy little tweed jacket with a red bow tie and sharply pleated khaki trousers, which was very well and good considering that was exactly what he was wearing.  The weight of time had stooped the man at the shoulders, carved a series of deep lines into his face, and robbed his wrinkled, spotted hands of their steadiness.  Odd could see the ticket the man was holding waving and bobbing in his white-knuckled shaking grip.
     The man paid no attention to Odd.  Instead his gaze seemed to alternate from the ticket in his hand to the brass clock on the far wall that was mounted next to a placard that boldly proclaimed YOU CANNOT GET THERE FROM HERE.  Odd watched as the man looked from the ticket, to the clock, to the ticket, to the clock, and back again.  Every three to five minutes that mustache would have an extended twitching fit as the old man mumbled something to himself.  Everything remained exactly this way until around fifteen minutes to the hour, when the man underwent a remarkable transformation.  The man suddenly seemed to stiffen, sit up, and try to shrink into his clothes at the same time.  The shock even momentarily stilled the tremble in his hands and the twitch in his mustache.  The man's eyes slowly moved from the ticket downward, to his shoes.  Odd's eyes followed.
     It was a cat.  A perfectly ordinary furry black cat with green eyes was happily rubbing itself against the old man's pant leg.  It was an incredibly ordinary thing for a cat to do, at least to Odd.  The man, however, seemed exceedingly distraught at the sudden presence of the animal, and blanched a few shades whiter than his mustache.  He looked at the cat, then his ticket, then the clock, then the cat again.  He pointed at the clock with a trembling finger as he addressed the cat in a shaking almost-whisper of a voice.
     "You're too early.  I still have thirteen minutes."
     The cat stopped in mid-rub, dropped on its haunches, and regarded the old man with those piercing green eyes.  Tail flicked lazily as the cat turned its head to look up at the clock, then slowly back to the old man.  Without much ceremony, the cat propelled itself off the floor and into the old man's lap.  The man let out a gasp-moan of horror and lifted his free hand as if to shoo the cat off, but stopped, finding himself unable to push the fiend away.  The cat waited, tail still idly swatting at the air.  The old man seemed to collapse with a sigh, resigned to spend the next few minutes with his newfound companion. Shoulders stooped even further as his hand slowly, cautiously, fell into the cat's fur.
     A most curious thing happened.  As the man stroked his fingers through the cat's fur and the feline rumbled a deep purr that echoed throughout the empty way-station, the dreadful weight of time seemed to slip free from the old gentleman's shoulders.  The deep lines seemed to fade away, and the man's back slowly straightened.  The trembling eased as fingers continued to smooth through soft black fur.  There was an unmistakable serenity in the man's eyes and a dreamy quality in his voice as he addressed the cat.
     "I will call you Delilah.  It's a beautiful name, don't you think?  I have a girl named Delilah.  She has the most incredible green eyes.  I think it was those eyes that I fell in love with.  She's waiting for me at the end of the line, you know.  That's why I have to catch the train.  Got my ticket right here."  He shook the ticket in his hand.  The cat looked at it, seemed to nod, then went back to purring under the man's attentions.  "She's been waiting so patiently for me for so long.  I cannot afford to be late."
     At some point while watching the man and the cat, Odd had become peripherally aware of a far-off rumbling that was slowly drawing closer.  The platform under his feet had begun to vibrate slightly, growing stronger as something very large and very fast approached.  At exactly the top of the hour, a long, sleek train with a nose like a bullet pulled into the way-station.  It stopped with a hiss and a squeal of brakes, coming to rest right in front of where he, the old man, and the cat were sitting.  The double doors along the train's side opened simultaneously with a sound that was akin to a wind chime dancing in a light breeze.  The old man looked from the cat to the train, and then back to the cat again.
     “I believe this is my train.”
     The cat seemed to nod again and jumped from the old man’s lap as he stood and brushed himself off.  Odd watched as the old man slowly made his way across the polished white concrete of the way-station platform towards the waiting train. As the man walked, another remarkable transformation took place.  The old man’s back slowly straightened as the weight of time seemed to lift itself from his shoulders.  Those deep-set lines that creased his face smoothed and faded just like the spots on his hands.  The wispy white tuft of hair on his head darkened and thickened, and his mustache retreated until it disappeared completely.  By the time he arrived at the double doors, the old man had become a bright-eyed young man who couldn’t have been much older than Odd.  The now young man took a seat in the train as the doors slid closed.
     As the train began slowly pulling out of the station, the young man waved in Odd’s direction. Odd raised his hand to return the wave as he watched the train disappear into the inky blackness beyond the platform.  Just as he was lowering his hand, Odd became aware of something shifting against his pant leg. He looked down to see the perfectly ordinary black cat was now eagerly rubbing against his leg.  Much as the old man had earlier, Odd pushed himself back into his seat and raised his hands as if to ward the cat off.  He addressed the cat softly, almost apologetically.
     “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I don’t have a ticket.”
     The cat uncurled itself from Odd’s leg, settled on its haunches, and gazed at Odd with its large green eyes.  Odd slowly relaxed and leaned toward the cat as if in a trance.  A sudden overwhelming urge to pet the cat had washed over him, and Odd reached out gingerly towards the creature’s fur.  The cat’s reaction was immediate, drawing up and appearing to double in size as it hissed at Odd.  Before he could even think, the cat’s paw shot out, raking across the back of Odd’s hand and leaving three parallel scratches that burned like fire and refused to bleed.  Odd recoiled back into his chair, cradling the burning hand against his chest.  The cat stared at Odd for another moment before turning and walking away with a flick of its tail. 
     Odd held his aching hand and watched as the cat walked away.  As soon as the cat had disappeared around a corner, Odd stood quickly, snatching up his briefcase with his non-burning hand.  He checked for the cat one more time before he turned, quickly fleeing across the platform and up the exit stairs into the world of the living