The train had been stuck in the station for too long, which shouldn’t have been a surprise to Fynn, because he always had the worst luck with trains. Trains and every other mean of transportation. He was on his way to Munich, where he promised to meet his friends for Oktoberfest, though he didn’t drink nor particularly liked crowds. If it were up to him, he would stay in the Black Forest to look at trees. But he hadn’t seen Mina and Luis in almost a year, so bad luck or not, he promised to go.
Fynn wandered what was happening with the train this time. Usually the speakers would announce if the train was delayed, broken, or was about to break—all of which he had seen happen many times—so that people could either settle their minds to hours of wait, or know if they needed to change train. There was no speaker this time, only, eventually, the sound of sirens, and later two men in striped emergency uniforms carrying a stretcher, covered by a white sheet. The ambulance must have been too late.
In that moment a man walked through the wagon doors and sat back in his place in the group of seats at Fynn’s right, where a man was reading a newspaper.
“Someone died,” he told his travel companion, loud enough for Fynn to overhear, “that’s why the train is stopped. Someone jumped under.”
Newspaper Guy looked up from the pages and commented, “Couldn’t go hang himself like in the old days? We all have places to get to.” He returned to his newspaper.
“Someone died … that’s why the train is stopped. Someone jumped under.”
Fynn looked out the window. It was different when the bad luck was about someone else. He knew that stretcher, moving silently in and out of his restricted view from the windowpane, would continue to haunt him.
Because the train was stuck for a while, they had to get on a bus that took them to the next station, and onto another train. When Fynn finally stepped out to what was supposed to be his final connection—one hand lifting his trolley, the other holding on to the slippery metal bar offered for balance—he was the only new person to have arrived. And yet he’d cued up with a group of people waiting to get off. Some stepped out before him but seemed to have vanished. The place was almost deserted. The countryside extended in all directions, interrupted only by a single train track, a signal light, and telephone poles. A few men in long trench coats and fedoras were walking inside the small station. A woman sat on the only bench. It was a strange place he’d ended up in.
It was sunny but the wind was freezing. Fynn was wearing large cargo pants and the sweater that Luis always called his ‘grandpa sweater.’ They weren’t enough to keep him warm.
As empty as the place was, it was full of cats, at least a dozen of them. One sprawled in a pocket of sun and was intent in cleaning its paws. A kitten chased a fly around. A giant Persian cat sat up straight and stared at Fynn. He smiled and went over to pet it, but the cat jumped up, hissing. Fynn gave up and went to sit next to the woman, careful not no step on another cat who slept in front of the bench.
She sat with her legs crossed, her long dress tied at the waist and red to match her lipstick. She had a mole under her eye. When Fynn set next to her, she ignored him, so he pulled out his journal and started to scribble—notes about that place, the train ride, the stretcher—next to a page filled with a drawing of a centuries-old oak and notes all around it. Because there was only one track, he decided to pass the time until the next train arrived.
“Did you also get lost?” the woman asked.
“Me? No, I’m just waiting for the next train,” he said. He closed his notebook and turned to her.
“How do you know it will be the right one?”
Fynn had the feeling he was in the wrong train station, but he knew he would get to Munich eventually. This was just one more bit of bad luck. He was also not in a hurry to get lost in a crowd of drunk people.
“I don’t,” he said, “but I’m sure I’ll get on the right one eventually. I’m Fynn by the way.”
“Names are such an arbitrary thing,” she said, looking up, as if she was just now contemplating that thought, all alone. “Tell me about the outside world, the one you’re from.”
Fynn chose to just go along and began to tell her all about the different species of trees in the Black Forest, and how a lot of them were in danger if there was a drought. He looked around. He finally realized what was off about the place. In all directions, where the area should have been filled with trees, he couldn’t see a single one.
“Once upon a time,” the woman said, “a woman stepped off a train and was in a different time. Once upon a time, a family of three stepped off a train and was in a different world—it sounds like a story.”
Another cat passed in front of them, a small tabby dragging around a discarded shoe. Fynn pulled out his phone to check the time but the screen was dark and refused to turn on, even if he remembered the battery being charged. Two inspectors in unfamiliar uniforms walked by too fast for Fynn to make his mind to ask them about the next train. As strange as the woman was, he thought he understood what she was saying.
“How long have you been here?” he asked.
“Oh, I live here now,” she said.
“In this town?”
“In the train station. I live here with my family. See, it’s not so bad here, and who knows where we’ll end up if we get on another train. So we all decided to stay.”
Fynn couldn’t imagine anyone living in the train station.
“You could stay too.” She continued. “It’s quiet here.”
He pictured Mina and Luis waiting for him at Munich’s central station, only for him to never show up.
“I don’t mean to be intrusive,” he said, “but where is your family now?”
As a response, the woman turned into a ginger cat, and blatantly ignoring him, she began to chew on the wooden bench.
That explained why those cats were so standoffish.
Fynn decided to go and explore his surroundings, to get a better idea of his situation.
The signal light was still off, neither red or green, no hint of a train arriving any time soon. Fynn walked up and down by the single track, surrounded by cats minding their own business. Would he also turn into a cat if he stayed long enough? There was a vintage-looking newspaper stand on wheels, but no newspapers. A metal gate separated the track from the actual station—where he could go ask for any information on the next train—and the gate was closed.
Would he also turn into a cat if he stayed long enough?
The woman did say they lived there. Fynn wondered if they’d ever even tried to leave. Who knows where we’ll end up if we get on another train, she’d said. But for Fynn, getting on a train had been a risk from the very beginning. When he was eighteen and learning how to drive, with his parents’ car and both of them in the car, a wheel had detached itself and went rolling cheerily on its own way. They ended up in a ditch. Until that moment, there hadn’t been anything wrong with the wheel. Once the vehicle was restored, they decided he would try again, but overnight the car was struck by lightning. He was banned from ever touching a car again.
He didn’t mind that so much, but he wished he could go on trains without anything bad happening. He loved the calming lull of the train tracks, and looking out at the scenery, and feeling as if his life was paused for a while, and he was just watching the world run past him. It just happened to be an unrequited love.
Stolen bags, delays that never ended, sudden stops, and bad storms, were just quirks along the way. Until that day. Did he bring bad luck, or did he just happen be there when it happened? He felt there was a fundamental difference, and he wished he would know the answer. Maybe he should just stay put and become a cat.
“Is anyone there?” he called beyond the gate.
One of the inspectors he’d seen earlier appeared on the other side.
“Do you have a ticket?” he asked.
Fynn pulled out of his pocket his ticket to Munich and passed it to the man through the metal grid. He held it up to examine it, twisting it in his fingers as if it were a strange object.
“That’s not right. Come in, we’ll find you a real ticket.”
Surprised at how easy that was, Fynn walked hesitantly through the gate after the man unlocked it. He led him to the ticket office, an entire wooden wall with a closed wooden window that said ‘tickets’ and a wooden door that said ‘private’.
The man walked inside and gestured for Fynn to follow.
“Come in, come look for your destination,” he said.
The office was small and had the distinct smell of small spaces with not a lot of air circulation. There were cracks in the walls and spots that were beginning to mold. The place’s only inhabitants were a desk and a chair, both covered in pre-printed tickets. They were on the floor as well—hundreds of tickets spread all over as if a stack of them blew up.
“No one ever comes here,” the man said as way of explanation.
“Do you want me to use one of these tickets?” Fynn asked.
“Yes, yes, just find the one with the destination you’re going to. I will leave you to it.”
The man then walked out, and before Fynn had even time to question it, locked him inside.
“Wait,” he tried, uselessly, to open the door, but the sound of the lock should have been clear enough. He was trapped.
Nobody replied to him hitting the door and calling out. He tried lifting the tickets window to crawl out of it, but it was stuck as well. So he resigned himself to looking for a ticket that had Munich as a destination, thinking maybe the man would come back. There was no point. The tickets were all identical and the destination was a place he couldn’t recognize.
He brushed some tickets away and sat on the chair, not knowing what to do. Oktoberfest was starting to not seem that bad.
The last time his friends had visited him, they were walking back from the only pub in the small city, after Luis threw up on the bus and they got kicked out. As they walked, they tried to decide who the event was to blame on: Fynn’s bad luck, or Luis’ drunkenness. Mina, as the impartial judge, and not too sober herself, decided it was both.
“You should see him at Oktoberfest,” she said, while Luis got himself stuck into a rosebush he tried to walk through.
“Alright, I’ll be there.”
“Really? You promise?” she said. “I know you don’t like crowds.”
“I promise,” he said.
A train’s whistle made Fynn turn to watch it run into the station, so fast and loud against the quiet that the window shook with it. It looked modern, like the one he had arrived in. He jumped up and started knocking on the door again.
“Please, let me out. I’m not going to be a problem, I promise, I just need to get on that train.”
No response came from the other side.
He’d thought about breaking the window, but also hoped he wouldn’t have to resort to that. As the train finally stopped—with no way to know for how long—Fynn took a deep breath, grabbed the chair, and hurled it at the glass. The window came crashing down. Glass exploded all over the floor. The chair fell outside. Fynn kept his face covered the entire time. Then he went, one crunching step at a time, over the shards to reach the window. He had to break the knife-like points that had survived before he could finally climb out.
The way the train had stopped, the last wagon was the closest one to reach, and the door was still open. Fynn made a run for it, but on the door he turned back.
The cats were still lounging around, as if they had all the time in the world. Who knew for how long they’d been living in that limbo.
“You should come too,” he said.
The red cat who’d been the woman looked up from resting on her tail, and was the first to run into the train. One by one, an entire colony of cats sprinted from every side of the station to leap inside. He followed the cats in, hoping that would be enough bad luck for one trip.