The Last Train from Avignon by Guest author Candice James

My name is Memphis Andromanya. I stand deep inside the parallax flux between yesterday and tomorrow.  It is the day after yesterday. It is today. It is the day before tomorrow. It is today.  Time moves in static shadows cast forevermore against the solid statue of upward mobility’s downcast eyes.  This is the universe I live in. This is a world of torn tears caught in the treacherous jaws of a barbed wire riptide. I stand unzipping the sky, loosing lost demons, carving my voice onto the black of the night in the parallel flux between yesterday and tomorrow. Ear to the hard edge of the wind, I listen for the hollow whistle of the approaching train to nowhere. I am Memphis Andromanya.

A drooping, pale-yellow horizon melts into the surreal train tracks. A bright navy-blue ribbon of twilight falls lazily across a fading summer field of wheat.  Gray butterfingers of dusk slowly spread dark honey onto this moment in time.  There is a face in the train window. A lonely face stained with teardrops, etched with a deep sorrow, grooved into a memory the soul can’t recall and the heart can’t forget.

In the window of the train there is a lonely face that looks like mine; that has witnessed a million miles of melting surreal train tracks slowly disappear into a fading tear stained horizon.

~

I board eternity’s train. The zipper of time breaks. The groin of the world is exposed.  Darkness seeps out; sweet, cloyed, lurid, tempting. It snakes through watery canyons gathering tears for alms; sliding, slinking toward the pending chaos. The shadow people emerge to drink from the darkness and caress its slake. They are battered bowling pins strewn down life’s lanes. They harbour and hold fast to their needles of iniquity, piercing the eye of midnight, slaying the moon, sun and stars to become one with the darkness they’ve become. They are daylight dragons hiding in the corners of this continuous night, ready to clip the nails of life to the quick, threatening to sew the groin of the world to the broken zipper of time.

I sit at the edge of darkness on the last train from Avignon. The flickering overhead lights are dim, covered in caked-on dust from another century.  I am trying to flail off this feeling of dank trepidation that rests on my shoulders and creeps into my mind like gritty sand pushing into an empty shell. I am so weary, so tired; but my nemesis, sleep, continues to evade me along the hazy steeplechase we travel on. Ghosts come out to play with my mind throwing up jagged images to impede my journey into unconsciousness.

In a darkened corner of my mind I hear disembodied voices, tangled in broken vines and fractured veins of sound, chanting their shrill incantations; hurling them at me like poisoned spears.  They hang from broken branches protruding from my heart. Somewhere in my freefall into darkness, a spark of sentience bursts forth, jarring me into a state of semi-consciousness; and in this haze, I wonder: “Am I awake? Am I asleep?” and then in horror, “Am I dead?” I grope for a tissue to wipe the sweat from my forehead. I try to settle myself as the train lurches and groans through the ebony edge of this endless night.

Inside this speeding metal cocoon, I am lashed to the cross of frailty, stoned with barbed-wire words and crucified with sordid deeds from my past. These rabid ghosts of the fourth kind snake through my spirit, lacerating my soul with their rusty spears and arrows pillaged from yesterday’s ill-fated battles. In my nightmares, I have seen the blood of lovers running rampant over broken hearts. I have seen the scarred aftermath of love’s most treacherous wars; and more of these atrocities will be perpetrated in the name of the dark angel, turned ghostly, sitting beside me tonight.

The drooling black lips of night whisper my name in a babble of muted incoherence. The dark angel that knows no mercy takes my hand and leads me away from everything I’ve ever held dear yet, at the same time, never held near. He leads me away from everything I’ve ever known as we travel in tandem alone yet together on the last train from Avignon.

~

A fading train whistle invades my consciousness. I awake on the other side of time and place in a land where everything looks the same but is totally different. Windows are doors; doors are windows, and people are people but they are a race of another ilk.  I see them but they do not see me.  I am an invisible, interloper; an interdimensional observer unable to interact.  I simply watch.  I don’t know how long I have been here, but it seems like forever.  I crave conversation, touch, sleep but none of them come; none of them come.  I am totally alone, trapped in a bubble of insanity it seems, suspended between heaven and hell.  I am the ghostly residue of the millions of dreams these strangers in this strange world dream. I quantum leap in their space for awhile and them am shunted like ghostly boxcar to another line, another life, another dreamer’s dream.

~

The dark side of night is fading, burying slices of moonbeams in its damp sticky pockets.  A reluctant sun pokes its eye through fading beads of sweat on the sky’s forehead. In the cool wet damp of an ebbing rainfall I hover at the edge of Charlie Usher’s dream.  He stands casually staring at the mist covered horizon. Here there is a cool wet damp expanding beneath a drunken sun riding broken bicycle dreams down a lost highway to nowhere. Charlie is daydreaming of a shimmering beach, tanned bodies walking, running, splashing and laughing. He stands casually waiting to hitch a ride to anywhere.

Charlie is running away from cardboard creatures and lost souls. He’s tired of candling the night down to the core and weaving phantom dreams that won’t come true. Under the vapid eyes of a paling twilight, he breathes in the foggy remnants of second hand wishes. He churns them and burns them to ash beneath the hot buttered sparks of train wheels grinding the tracks of his tears to dust.

He drinks in the horizon, gulping it like wine. On this hot thirsty night of no reprisals, he sways in drunken repose and mind-chases his shadow down the path of better days gone by. His soul, weather beaten, hangs in pockets of leather chafing the edge of night, opening his wounded dreams to the scalpel of his own home-grown terror.  His face is wet, but he hasn’t been crying.  The sky is crying.  He doesn’t remember when the rain started but he’s certain it shows no sign of letting up soon. Each random drop, whipped by the want of its own need, relentlessly pursues the razor’s edge of the one in front of it.  He’s trapped in a never-ending circle game of never win.

Charlie broke his mirror of truth years ago; lives in a fantasy world; thinks he’s still handsome. His torn mouth twitches, groans into a grin showing yellowed and cracked teeth that glint in the broken bits of moonlight that decorate the one shoe he wears; the other foot bleeding and scarred. This damaged Prince Charming limps along these railway tracks searching for his broken Cinderella, knowing full well he will not find her.

Wasted chants and wishes, unanswered prayers and rituals, shattered hopes and dreams and broken Cinderellas and damaged Prince Charmings are living and dying in obscurity; and I am forced to bear witness to their pain and live through their sorrow.  The story, told through the scarred black lips of night, is always the same, only the faces and names change.

~

The walls narrow; the floorboards fly away and I fall through the ceiling of an unmanned, runaway, pump-car trolley traversing the tracks of Jenny Chalmers vibrant and dangerous dream. White time cracks building to black. Raindrops un-stack. Clouds come un-tacked from the frayed fabric of a weakened sky. Jenny’s secrets and lies lure the ghouls of a demon train into her lair of lust. One touches her gossamer nightgown as she throws her crown of thorns onto the devil’s throne, becoming a satin doll, falling, barely alive in this altered atmosphere she has been transported to. She’s spent a lifetime polishing her tears to a shiny gloss with the mist from her wine scented breath. She rides the rails of karma seeking expiation from this deep black chasm where the hands of time hold court every night.  She sees a tunnel too narrow looming in the distance.  She and the train are hurtling toward it; toward their destruction. The night squeezes the light into lost works of art painted for her dark demise.

Now, back to the wall Jenny’s rose-coloured glasses shatter and she is blinded by the light.   Slowly she regains her focus and sees a bony, accusatory finger pointing to her blood-stained portrait.   She bears silent witness to the depth of her fall. Crash! The charcoal smoke lingers then fades. Death! The train wreckage shape-shifts into a cracked and broken tombstone bearing her name which is unreadable; leaving not trace of her at all. I am her pain, her sorrow and her death.  It’s all too much, but still not enough.

Winter’s soul exits this mad masquerade ball and throws off it’s tattered disguise. I keep trying to climb out of this unblessed hell hole that keeps sucking me deeper into it’s depth. Torn dreams on parade mimic and ape the dreaded moment of truth approaching in thundering of engines and grinding wheels. I am ripped from this universe into the dining car of an antique steam engine train.

~

I’ve been catapulted into another dream. There is no rest for me. No reprieve. No respite. I am standing on a railway platform. I see a newspaper. It is the Transylvania news. The date is 1871 and I am one of a handful of people waiting at the Cluj-Napoca train station. Beside me on the slick, gun-metal gray platform, a snowy woman stands, hand in hand, with a midnight man packing a small child on his back. The child is crying, his sobs growing louder.  The snowy woman reaches for him, gently caresses his fevered forehead, pressing her cold cracked lips to his burning cheek. They are the lost souls written onto the dog-eared pages of eternity.

Rain streaks down the cracked, dusty windows of the stations facade, fighting the dirt in a paned wrestling match. The black, sweating train pulls up to the platform and belches out a pale gray column of steam into the thick atmosphere. I board the train with the dreamers I am escorting: The Snowy Woman, The Midnight Man and The Small Child. We sit in silence. They cannot see me or interact with me, but I am a part of them. I feel each of their emotions, worries, sorrows, pains. There is no end… no end to this hell I am trapped in. The train leaves the station and continues its journey. The dreamers fall asleep. I stare out the train window. Damaged landscapes, scrap metal yards and broken buildings scar the dark side of the cities we pass.

Finally, the train stops.  The Snowy Woman, Midnight Man and Child debark the railcar. Danger and death shadow these lost orphans of a lesser God as they stumble toward the skid row alleys they call home. Unmasked, and stripped of all disguises, they’re ghostly apparitions, caught in the cold clutch of an icy hand, trapped in the harsh hold of a strangled scream. The last thing I see before the train departs is the lost souls shuffling like worn out cards into the wounded deck of night.

~

The last train from Avignon stops at its final destination. A wayward star glistens on the whetted lips of an outlaw breeze. Across a pale-yellow sky a rising moon sits astride twilight’s fading coat tails, spinning haphazardly, riding slices of shadow and shimmer. I, too, spin haphazardly on a torn and tossed renegade wind, dissolving in the misty tears of a dying sun under the half-mast eyelids of a pale-yellow disintegrating sky; the sky and I, both old beyond our years.   The scarred black lips of night whisper my name, in tones growing louder, as I step down from the train. The dark angel that knows no mercy lets go of my hand and leaves me back in the warm hold of everything I’ve ever known. Finally, the nightmare is over.  I am home; in my own time and place.

My name is Memphis Andromanya.  I held hands with the devil on the last Train from Avignon and lived to tell the tale.

© Candice James

Candice James is also a Poet Laureate Emerita from New Westminister, British Columbia in Canada who has contributed many fine works to our magazine. You can see these by going to our ‘Search Engine’ in the right hand column of our Home Page, by typing her name there. She is also a very accomplished artist and you can see some of her paintings attached below. TAEM