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News & Features » March 2017 » “Out of the Woods” by Nathan Ward

“Out of the Woods” by Nathan Ward

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, Nathan Ward watches a stranger run into death.

Out of the Woods
by Nathan Ward
Outside New Rochelle, NY

“You better come get me,” George mumbled into the phone when his wife Connie answered brightly on the third ring.

“It’s late. I waited at the station but they—”

“I know. I know. Sorry about it, but you can’t imagine. You can’t.”

“Imagine what?” George could hear her voice alter as she stood shrugging on a coat to make a second trip to the train station. “Your supper’s still warm, but it’s not what it was two hours ago.”

“Anything’s fine,” he said. “I’ll be waiting then, okay?”

“Of course, “ she said. “I’ll be there.”

George knew he was keeping her on the line. She no doubt had her keys by this time and a hand on the kitchen door.

“Okay,” he said again.

“What is it, Georgie? You have trouble on the train tonight?”

George gathered a long breath and considered not answering. It had destroyed the young conductor, retching his guts into the dark bushes. Running out of range of the headlamp holding his face. The other three, George and the two older conductors, facing the smeared front of the engine.

“A man died on the tracks tonight,” he answered. “I’ll just be here.”

They had been ten minutes out of the city; this was the part of track where he always brought the engine to speed, testing it for the longer stretches after the first station. Most of the passengers hadn’t yet been ticketed when it happened. There was the gleam of his shirt coming out of the woods and an astounded look that came too quickly to read before the awful sound, and then the panic at realizing what the sound had been. There was no palpable disturbance, the collision came too quickly to apply the brake. What the passengers and other crew felt was a gradual halting as for a “slow” signal. Only George saw him when he was still a man.

Afterward, the crew were all summoned to meet by the front of the engine. “Obstruction” was the word they used over their radios, although the collision had not been that. “What obstruction?” the rookie conductor, Anderson, called back, but George gave no answer. They gathered by the headlamp, hands in their trouser pockets, or, in the case of the rookie, on his hand radio. “Oh, Je-sus!” McCormack, the head conductor, cried out when he saw it. He walked to the edge of the lighted circle and unfolded a stick of gum, offering the rest to George and Mead. McCormack had been last to see it because he ticketed the rear section of the train. Anderson, the new conductor, was vomiting in the bushes when McCormack arrived.

“My god,” he said. “Was he lying on the tracks? Look at him!” George briefly obeyed, as McCormack turned away to find Anderson, parting the dark branches with his radio. George had stared long enough now that his revulsion was almost becoming something more clinical, as he imagined a coroner would look at the scene, the lay of the body and still unsettled expression on the dead man’s face.

Mead was calling the police from George’s cab. There was a tramping behind him, and George recognized the shapes of McCormack and young Anderson emerging from the dark woods, Anderson slightly hunched and McCormack with a hand at the boy’s elbow. In his other hand he held Anderson’s conductor’s cap.

George had closed his eyes listening to the hum of platform lamps when he heard his own car pulling up. Connie was wearing his raincoat.

“Want to just sit here?” she asked joining him on the bench.

“For a minute, maybe. You’re wearing my raincoat.”

“It was right in the kitchen, and I was rushing over.”

“Looks nice.”

George liked how she wore the trench collar up over her neck.

“Let’s get you home, eh?”

“Man died on the tracks tonight, Con.”

“I know, baby,” Connie said. “Tell me about it when you can stand to.”

“What I don’t get is, if you want to end it, just step onto the tracks and end it. But this guy came running out of the woods like he was being chased. Why the hell was he running?”

“Maybe he was afraid he’d lose his nerve.”

“No,” said George. “You should have seen him. Something was coming for him even worse than the train. ”

***

NATHAN WARD is the author of a crime history called Dark Harbor: The War for the New York Waterfront (FSG/Picador), as well as The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett (Bloomsbury), which has been nominated for an Edgar Award.

***

Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Mar 27, 2017

Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , , ,



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