The train rocked its passengers sideways as it pulled into the station. The carriage came to a halt, and Arthur stepped out onto the platform, into the damp coldness of the winter evening. He was glad there was no wind, or he would have found this journey to be even less agreeable.
Just half an hour to go, Arthur said to himself, and I’ll be at my mom’s place, sitting near the fireplace, sharing stories, and sipping delicious mulled wine. It had been over a decade since he visited. Arthur and his mom had stayed in touch, but in all these years he had foregone a Christmas visit. This year though, the two of them had arranged to spend the holiday period together.
The train departure board told Arthur that the train wasn’t running. A station clerk informed him about the replacement bus service, though the bus wouldn’t be arriving for a while. He texted his mom to tell her he’d arrive at the train station with a half-hour delay, and then sought out the waiting room, which provided a welcome relief from the winter chill.
Arthur boarded the bus. He found a seat near the back, close to the window, where he could look out. He gazed through the window at the few people walking in the area. There weren’t many. It was close to Christmas, and he figured that most people would have already been holed up with their families in their homes. The figures he saw roaming on the street must not have family, he thought. The city felt dreary, empty, lonely.
The engine rumbled to a start, and the bus started its journey. It drove along dimly lit roads which Arthur had trouble recognising. He had taken this route by train many times over, but the route the bus took wasn’t the same. An unfamiliar start to a familiar journey, he said to himself.
A disembodied, electronic voice announced the next stop. The bus slowed down and came to a halt. Nobody got on, and nobody got off. Arthur peered through the window, but couldn’t make out anything about the surroundings. The bus continued on its way. It was a dozen more stops for Arthur.
A long while later, the electronic voice said “Bridge.” That was Arthur’s stop. The name of the village never quite made sense to him: it certainly was a curious name for a place that did not even have a bridge.
Arthur, as the only person, stepped off the bus onto the sidewalk. He recognised the area now: the bus had dropped him off at the other end of the village, a ten-minute walk away from the arranged meeting point.
The coldness had started to creep into his clothes. The bus had little comfort, but it at least provided some warmth. He shivered, hoisted his bag onto his shoulder, and started making his way towards the train station.
The bus drove off and the noise of its engine faded into the darkness. There was no other sound now, Arthur realised, apart from his own breathing. The animals, if any were around, were keeping silent.
Back in the day, he had a handful of good friends living in the village of Bridge, and he had had the habit of visiting them frequently. Right now, though, most of the houses looked unfamiliar to Arthur. Some of the buildings were newly built, but even the ones that were many decades old did not ring a bell.
What they all had in common right now, though, was that they were all empty. A few houses had the light on, but Arthur couldn’t discern any movement inside.
Arthur arrived at the train station, but couldn’t spot his mom’s car. He walked past the parked cars, peering inside every one of them, but they were all empty. He sent his mom another text: I’m here — where are you?
He sat down on a bench and waited another minute to see whether a car would arrive. No luck. The village remained silent, and the only sound was that of his own breathing. He got up and shuffled around on his feet, to break the quiet and stave off the cold.
Arthur called his mom, but she didn’t pick up. There was still no sign of his mom’s car. He walked past all the parked cars again, and called his mom once more. An unfamiliar voice picked up, answering in a foreign language. Before he got the chance to respond, the line disconnected.
A pang of worry overtook Arthur. He picked up his bag and started following the main street, heading towards his mom’s place. Staying at the station was not worth it, he thought. He estimated the walk would take just over twenty minutes, at a brisk pace that would keep him warm, too.
He turned onto a road branching off into the countryside. The roads started to look less familiar to him now. He grew increasingly worried, and wondered whether he’d even recognise his mom’s house once he got there.
No matter — just five minutes more walking and he’d be home, he reassured himself.