Last Train to Denver

a Short Story by Raquel Swann

 

Clinging to her valise, she glanced over her shoulder before stepping onto the platform. Dark blue clouds stretched from the prairie to the heavens. The blizzard was coming fast, and the conductor was pleading for everyone to get on board so they could depart before the storm arrived. As she placed her foot on the first step, anxiety prickled the back of her neck. She couldn’t shake the feeling she’d forgotten something. Vera looked back towards the station one last time and then climbed onto the train.

A porter grabbed for her valise and smiled. She scowled at the gentleman as if to decline his offer. Vera rode the train before, many times, and she fancied no one’s help. She pulled her ticket out of the inside pocket of her coat and looked it over one last time before taking a seat.

The train moved away from the station at a snail’s pace. To her disappointment,  the seat next to her was still empty. She turned her head towards the window and watched as the scenery changed from concrete to hills of white. A brisk snowfall began, and she watched as it spiraled and whipped against the window as the train’s speed increased.

“That valise looks heavy, miss,” a deep voice muttered.

Vera jumped out of her skin, spun her head around, and noticed a tall handsome gentleman wearing an expensive suit pointing at her valise.

“Yes, I travel a lot. I’ll just move it in front of me,” she responded and expeditiously moved her light green valise.  She was excited to hold the company of such an attractive man.

The gentlemen sat next to her, opened a newspaper and read. He was the first person ever to do this. The men she had met, especially the married ones, were the first to converse with a woman of her stature. She waited a few minutes yet he still clung to the paper flipping through page after page as if the stories were all interesting. She tapped her foot against the floor and let out three shrill sighs but he did not notice.

“Let’s see, newly married?” she inquired.

“No, not at all. Actually, single. Why would you think that?” he questioned never taking his eyes off his precious newspaper.

“I don’t know. Just making conversation. Honestly, when I travel I am so used to handsome gentlemen, such as yourself, flirting with me. I guess I was getting a bit lonely.” Vera smiled at the gentleman as he folded the paper and placed it in his lap.

“I’m so sorry. I assumed someone as attractive as you, must have a boyfriend or fiancée. I guess I figured that I would be a bother,” he grinned.

“I’m Vera,” she extended out her hand.

“My name is Maxwell, pleased to meet you,” he placed his hand into hers. She giggled. “What’s so funny?”

“Your hands are so soft. Probably never did a day of hard labor in your life! What is it you do Maxwell?”

“I do nothing. Ride the train from time to time and meet new people. Some I see for a while, others I don’t. Some… Well some give me money. It’s a living.”

“That’s psychotic,” Vera had never met such an interesting person. She was in awe of his honesty and candor.

“Isn’t it? What is it you do?”

“Well, that is none of your business, mister. Perhaps you’re just after my money,” Vera responded. Her smile widened stretching across her face from ear to ear.

“Don’t worry, Vera. You’re not my type. I mean you’re gorgeous but just not the type of woman I would go for,” Maxwell callously replied and picked up his newspaper again. Vera snatched the paper out of his hands and threw it to the ground.

“No, no—not that paper again. I’m curious. What about me isn’t your type?” Vera tapped her foot against the floor again.

“You’re too normal. You know—fancy and proper. I like a woman who has a certain degree of crazy. You know, like a bad side.”

“How bad?”

“Bad.”

“I can have a bad side,” Vera whispered. She leaned over Maxwell’s shoulder and placed her lips into his ear, “A very bad side.” Vera’s breathy whisper had the hairs on Maxwell’s back stand at attention like little soldiers. Still, he shook his head in disagreement.

“What? You don’t believe me?” Vera shouted. A few passengers around her looked at her like she was insane.

“Shh,” Maxwell laughed, “Don’t get all exited!”

“I don’t have to prove anything to you. Who are you anyway?” Vera folded her arms and turned towards the window.

“You know, you do look familiar. I know you’re coming from Denver Station. Did you stay at the Windsor? I think I saw you in the bar with some older guy.”

“Yes, the Windsor,” Vera answered. Her jaw dropped to the floor. Although her exterior seemed fine, a volcano of panic had erupted. She gave Maxwell a half-hearted smile.

“I thought so. I think you forgot something. Excuse me for a moment I have to use the restroom.”

As Maxwell walked away, Vera remembered what she had forgotten. She was always so thorough, so organized, so methodical. This one time she left something behind would be her undoing.

She snaps back to attention. That day on that train from Denver thirty-two years ago still etched in her memory. The executioner stood by the switch as the living relatives and families of her victims watched through the window. She sat there strapped to the chair, squinting into the shroud of darkness beyond, wondering if Maxwell would show his face, one last time.

“For the crimes of Murder in the first degree. Calisa Reinhold AKA Vera’s sentence of execution shall be fulfilled.  Any last words?”

“Maxwell!” Cried Vera, “I told you I was crazy! Crazy!”

“Can you believe she carried human heads around in a valise with her,” said a woman in attendance to another.

“She left my husband’s head in the bathroom at the Windsor,” said the other.

“Who is Maxwell?” A man asks the widow.

“He was her first victim. She was so in love with him. When he tried to leave her, she killed him and every other man she ever met on the train, including my poor husband.

The executioner flips the lever and the lights flicker.

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