With Half a Heart – A Short Story


Sometimes, he felt as if the train was part of him.

As he sat there, looking out of the windows at the scenery changing, he could feel the movement of the train under him and it seemed to hum inside his skin. It was as if the train was in his blood and the electricity it generated was mirrored by the charge in him.

He had always ridden the train. Could not remember a time when he hadn’t walked its carriages taking care of his charges. He couldn’t remember a time before the train. He had tried to picture it, tried to imagine what his life had been like before train tracks and whistles and station stops, but when he tried this he could only see blackness. It was as if a shadowy veil lay over that part of his past and he could not see through it.

Every day was the same: he would wake up, feeling a pulse inside of his skin. He would find the one person riding on the train that day that seemed to shine, that pulsed in time to the beat inside of his skin. Once he found them, the pulsing under his skin would stop.

He wondered if today would be the day when he would be allowed off of the train. He had tried countless times to leave it, but something always held him back. It was as if the train were a magnet and he was but a piece of metal. He wondered if he could find a way to open the window of the train while it was moving?

There was a flash of movement and he saw a well-dressed woman sitting across from him. She was wearing a suit coast and a handsome A-line skirt, done in a charcoal grey colour with red piping along the edges. She had her soft pink hair done up in a sleek bob and she regarded him with eyes so blue, they looked as if they had once been sapphires. She smiled at him.

“How are you feeling, Alexander?”

Alexander shrugged. “Can’t complain, really. Who doesn’t love a train ride?”

Her smile deepened. “I would say those that have always been riding it don’t love a train ride.” She cocked her head to the right and gave him a piercing look which made her eyes seem to glow. “You have that deer in the headlights look about you again, Alexander. You’re not going to try and run again, are you? You know how cranky the train gets.”

Letting out a loud raspberry, Alexander slumped further into his seat and looked at her, trying to keep the disdain from showing on his face. “I don’t understand why you won’t let me go, Diane. Surely I’ve repaid my debt?”

Smiling, Diane said “I can’t decide that. You know it’s not my call.”

“How long have I been at this anyways? Time loses all sense of meaning when you’re constantly on a train.”

“I know that hasn’t stopped you from looking at the dates on newspapers.”

Alexander scoffed. “What, do you have spies everywhere?”

“You see what we see, Alex.”

“Then you know that I can’t see them, dates or clocks or watches. They are blurry to me, like someone has put plastic film over my eyes.”

Diane gave him another small smile. “We find that time passes faster if people aren’t reminded of time.”

“Well, get out of my fucking head. You want me to do my job, leave me alone and let me do it.”

Diane looked slightly hurt. “You know I don’t like that kind of language. We know you’re upset, but there is no telling when your contact will be done. You have a lot of debt to repay, Alex.”

Alexander threw up his hands. “So you keep telling me.”

Sighing, Diane sat back and crossed her arms. “I don’t know what you want me to tell you, Alexander. You did some seriously bad shit. You have to pay for it. Karma is a wheel, my friend.”

“Well, I want off the wheel and I’m not your friend.”

Diane sighed even louder. “Alex, your sulking won’t get us anywhere. I actually came for a reason.”

“You mean you have a reason for riding on this train with me other than keeping me company with your stellar sense of humour? Do tell, I’m all ears.”

A grimace slashed across Diane’s face. “You’re a real douchebag sometimes, you know that, right?”

Alexander shrugged. “I thought that was part of my charm.”

Letting out a groan, Diane said “Look, this one is important. There is someone coming on the train soon and it could mean your going free, okay?”

Sitting up, Alexander looked at Diane with eagerness. “Free? As in free to go, off the train?”

“Alexander, your mortal body has aged beyond the years it had on this earth. It means you would be free, totally free, and your spirit would go home. Whether or not you reincarnated is up to you. The point is, this is the big one. The one you’ve been waiting for. Do I have your attention?”

He nodded and felt some of his hair fall onto his forehead. He pushed the spiky black hair back from his brow and said, “I’m listening.”

“Good.” She took a slim piece of paper out of her bag. It had the same red piping that graced her coat and skirt. She held the paper out to him.

Alexander stared at it. “What gives?”

“It’s information you will need.”

“I’m not normally given a bio on the people I help. What gives, Diane?”

“This isn’t your normal case. I told you this was the one that could set you free, right? Well, we feel you need some background information, just to prepare you for what’s coming.”

He took the paper from her gingerly, almost as if he was afraid to touch it. When he read what was on the sheet, all the colour drained from his skin. He could feel it seeping away and pool in his feet. “No way, no, absolutely not.”

Leaning forward, Diane took the paper from him and slipped it back into the clutch purse. Then she took his hands in hers. “It’ll be okay, Alexander. You can do this. We’re all rooting for you. There’s a bet on in the office whether or not you can do it.”

He sneered. “Yeah? Having a good laugh about me?”

“Actually, no. I bet you would be able to pull this off. They gave me one-hundred to one odds. I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces when you succeed.”

That stopped him short. “You believe in me that much?”

She gave his hands a soft squeeze and let them go. “I just want to see you happy, Alexander. There is good in you, deep inside. You couldn’t have done this job for so long without there being a speck of light in the darkness.”

Alexander was taken aback. He could only blink at her for a moment. Finding his voice, he said, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Alexander.”

“I have a question, though.”

“Go ahead.”

“How long have I been doing this? I figure it’s got to be a very long time. Wouldn’t she be dead already?”

Diane nodded. “She is dead. But her spirit lives on.”

Letting out a long breath, Alexander looked at Diane with wide inquisitive eyes. “So, if she’s already dead, what am I supposed to do?”

Patting his cheek, Diane stood. “You’ll figure it out. You always do.”

“You’re leaving?”

“This is my stop.”

The train slowed to a stop and when the doors opened, Alexander could see only bright, white light, laced with shots of pink and ribbons of purple. Then the doors slid closed and Alexander was left in the shadows once more and Diane was gone.

“Well, this is just fucking great.” He said. He looked up at the ceiling of the train car. “Hear that, Diane? Fuck, fuck, fuckety fuck!” With a groan of metal, the train gave an alarming lurch and swayed dangerously. Alexander looked at the ceiling again. “Look, I’m sorry okay? I’m sorry. No more bad language.”

The train settled down into the tracks again and began to run smoothly. “Sorry, not sorry.” Alexander whispered. A bolt from one of the windows shot out and hit him in the forehead with a smack; a current of electricity ran from it and it singed his hair. “Okay, sorry. Geez.”

Giving the bolt on the floor a scathing look, Alexander went to give it a kick with the toe of his boot when it happened.

It started out softly as it always did, then ran along his skin as if it were on fire. When the heat dissipated, he could hear the thump of his heart loudly in his ears, as if that were the only sound in the world. He could feel the heat coming from his heart. If he waited too long to find the one person whose body gave off a soft orange glow, the heat would burn through his shirt.

The first time the pulse had happened, he had ignored it. He was dead, what did he care? Then the heat came and with that, the fire. His shirt had caught fire in a matter of minutes. Now, being dead he didn’t feel pain and his skin didn’t scar. However, it had been a damn fine shirt, hand tailored for him. He only had a handful of them left.

Letting out a loud groan, he stalked from the train cabin and began to walk along the hallway. He saw what looked like a little tongue of flame a little further away from him and he walked towards it. As he did so, Alexander heard the thump of his heart grow louder in his ears. He knew that she wasn’t very far away now.

Practically running down the corridor of the train, Alexander saw others in the corridor, those of the flesh and blood variety, but they didn’t look at him as he moved quickly past. He was so intent on getting to the source of flame that he almost ran right into her.

The pulse stopped beating in him as if seeing her had calmed it. His heart was beating loud in his chest and his ears and then, when he looked at her, he heard the sighing of wind in his ears. The woman glowed as if made of fire itself, all curling flames of blue and orange and red. It was almost beautiful.

She stood with his back to him. Wearing a flowing dress made of purple fabric, she stood as still as a statue, looking at the world as if passed away behind her. He wondered what he should say, what could he say? Finally, he just spoke her name.

“Rachael.” He said softly.

She turned at the sound of his voice. He saw the same face, kind and lovely. Her brown hair, mixed through with shots of red and blond, framed her face. Her lips curved into a smile and those deep brown eyes that he knew so well. The smile widened when she saw him.

“Alexander?” She whispered.

“Hello Rachael.”

“Alexander…” She said again.

She came toward him slowly, as if she didn’t quite believe her eyes. When he didn’t disappear, her smile turned fierce a moment before she slapped him hard across the left side of his face. The slap seemed to echo in the corridor and Alexander put his hand to his cheek and felt the warmth there.

Rachael smiled even wider and her eyes narrowed. She looked as if she was only reading herself for an attack. “That felt good.” She actually let out a little laugh. “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to do that!”

“Oh, I have some idea.” Alexander said.

“I can’t believe that on all the trains in the world, you had to be on the one I chose. What the fuck are you doing here?” She turned around before he answered her. Alexander knew that she didn’t want to hear what he had to say, but he responded anyways.

“I work here.”

“Well, go work somewhere else, okay? Let me live my afterlife in peace.”

Knowing that saying anything else would only upset her further, Alexander walked back down the corridor and entered his compartment. He threw up his hands and yelled out loud: “What the fuck am I supposed to do now, Diane! She won’t even fucking talk to me!”

There was a flash of light, shimmery and gold, and Diane was there in front of Alexander with a cross look on her face. “I told you that I don’t like that kind of language, Alexander!”

“Yeah, well, I knew it would get your attention.”

“Well, you have my attention now, so what do you want?”

He crossed his arms. “I tried talking to her and she slapped me. It won’t work.”

Letting out a little laugh, Diane walked closer to him and patted his arm. “You’re awfully cute when you want to be Alexander. Did you really think saying her name and making her turn around would be enough? That you would have some miraculous event and that you would forgive each other and be free?” Diane shook her head. “It’s a little bit more difficult than that, I’m afraid.”

“Look, I didn’t do anything. She was the one who took her own life.”

“Yes, but you’re the cause of it.”

“What the fuck-” Diane gave him a stern look. “Sorry, what the heck did I do?”

“Alexander, isn’t it obvious? You broke her heart.”

She sat down on the compartments bed and patted the spot next to her. “Come sit.”

Giving her a sour look, Alexander did so. Diane held out her hands to him, palms up. He watched as a light began to come to life in her hands and shape itself slowly.

“The heart is the most amazing thing. It can store memories, feelings, both light and dark.” The light began to shape itself. Alexander watched with awe as the glowing light began to form into a heart shape. It pulsed like a real heart within Diane’s hand. “There are those of us, living or dead, that think the heart is the ultimate in alchemy. There are others that give what the heart can do a simpler term. The heart is magic.”

The heart in her palm began to turn. After each rotation, cracks began to appear along the hearts surface. With each turn, it looked more worn and tired. “Over time, pain will break a heart. There are all kinds of pain the world. The most painful is rejection.”

In a final burst of light, the heart broke apart into a cloud of dust. Diane rubbed her hands together and held them out to Alexander. “That’s what you’ve got to do. You have to mend a broken heart.”

“But all of this must have happened years ago! I didn’t hold onto all that shit, so why did she?”

Diane rolled her eyes at “I’m going to let her explain that to you.” She made a shew motion with her hands. “Now go on, Alexander. I’m pulling for you.”

There was a flash of light that flared like a gorgeous pink flame and then she was gone.

Alexander looked at the space where Diane had been and sighed. “Fuck.” He whispered. Walking out of the train cabin, he went in search of Rachael. He didn’t really have to try hard to find her. The pulse within his body was connected to the person he had to free. Until he was able to get Rachael to move on, he always knew where she was.

He found her in the trains bar car. She was drinking a dirty martini. By the looks of it, she had made her way through several drinks already. He stood in front of her table and said nothing but his shadow passed over her and she looked up.

“Well, what do you know? It’s the shithead.”

“Hello Rachael.”

“Hello shithead. Want a drink? Otherwise, get lost.”

“Sure.” He said and sat down across from her. She snapped her fingers and the bar tender took another drink off of his tray and kept on going. In front of Alexander was a mai tai. “I don’t drink mai tai’s.”

“Well, you do now. I can only get him to drop one of his drinks at a time and I can’t choose. He can’t even fucking hear me. Can any of the people here see me?”

Alexander shrugged. “Some of them can, those that see. But we never look dead, so they don’t notice.”

“And the others? Can they see us?”

“No, they don’t see anything that’s not in front of their face, really. You can’t blame them, they have too much to live for.”

“What about us? Are we just supposed to fade quietly into the background? Are we just supposed to go away?”

“Well…” Alexander wasn’t sure she knew, so he tried to say it in a way that wasn’t so blunt. “We’ve passed on, you know.”

Rachael’s face became hard and she threw her drink in his face. He was covered in gin and olive, vermouth and olive juice. “I don’t like martini’s anyway.” She snapped her fingers again and the bar tender placed a cosmo in front of her. “Much better.”

“Rachael, I’m sorry, but I wasn’t sure you knew.”

“Of course I fucking know.” She showed him her wrists. They had been slashed repeatedly and the scars had never faded, even in death. “I live with a reminder of what I was stupid enough to do every fucking day. Eternity has been very long.”

“I am sorry Rachael. More sorry than I can express.”

“You don’t even know what you’re apologizing for, do you? You had no idea and you have no idea now?”

Letting out a long breath, Alexander slugged back the rest of the mai tai. Rachael snapped her fingers for another drink and the bar tender left a Guinness at the table. This was much more to Alexander’s taste and he took a long sip of the cold, dark beer. Putting the glass back on the table, he looked at Rachael and began to speak.

“You have to understand that I was a different person then. I wanted different things. I always thought that I was meant for more than I had. I was also in love with a person that wasn’t you.”

Rachael’s face grew hard and her eyes narrowed at him. “I can’t believe that you would-”

“Please let me finish.” Alexander said softly.

Rachael made a motion with her hand that Alexander understood to mean ‘Go on’ and took a sip of her drink.

“I was in love with your brother.” Saying it out loud after all this time hurt. All the old memories of Sebastian came back to him, the way he looked with eyes a deep brown like Rachael’s, only speckled with gold. The way that his voice sounded like music when he laughed. The way his lips would curl up at the edges every time that he smiled. The way he smelled like something spicy and sweet all at the same time, like lemon and sandalwood.

“I loved him so much.” Alexander whispered. “I loved you, too. But not in the same way.”

Letting out a loud laugh, Rachael finished off her cosmo and snapped her fingers. The bar tender left a Tom Collins in front of her. “Ugh, fucking hate this drink.” She took a sip anyway. “You must have known that I loved you.” She said.

“I did know. I chose to ignore that fact.”

“You lusted after my brother and he wasn’t even gay.”

“I know.” Alexander said. “But what you did was really unforgiveable, you know. I’m the one who should be mad at you.”

“I know, all right. I already know what you’re going to say, I don’t need to relive this.”

“Well, you have nothing to relive, you’re dead.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yes, I do.” Alexander thought about keeping silent, but now that he had started his story, he had to continue. He had to get all the words out into the air in front of them where they would finally be free.

“Your brother and I got drunk one night. I don’t know how it happened, but we ended up kissing. I think Sebastian always knew I was gay and that I loved him. I choose to think that what he did that night was out of kindness rather then being drunk. I don’t know.” He shook his head and pinched his eyes.

“You know what happened next.” Alexander continued. “We kissed that night. He was the one to kiss me first. It was like all of my prayers were being answered. I still remember the feeling of his lips against mine.” Alexander touched his lips, and re-savoured the sweetness of that kiss from so long ago.

“We were so enamoured at that moment, that neither of us noticed you, taping the whole thing on your phone and posting it online. Did you want to hurt him or hurt me? I’m still unclear on that.”

“It was always you! I told you that I loved you and you told me that we were just friends! You said that you loved someone else! I had no idea you were gay and that you loved Sebastian! I had no fucking clue! You could have told me! I was your best friend!” There were tears streaming down her face leaving tracks that looked like glass along her skin.

“Well, your actions had the opposite effect, then. Everyone else already assumed that I was gay. You ruined your brother’s reputation. He thought you had ruined his life. You are the reason he took his life a week later.”

“You think I don’t know that? You think I didn’t live with that knowledge every day I lived beyond him? You think I don’t carry that knowledge around in my head now, even during my death?”

“Of course you do. The thing is, I blame myself for all of it.” There, he had said the words he had never said to anyone else. “I’m to blame.”

“What are you talking about? I did it! I took the video! I posted it online!”

“Only because I hurt you. I broke your heart, Rachael.”

Taking in a shocked breath, Rachael looked at him with wide brown eyes. She clutched at her chest as if her heart was hurting her. She took in a deep breath and more tears slid down her face. She moved her hands away from her chest to wipe the tears away.

Alexander knew what he had to do then. The answer was so clear to him that he wondered why it had taken him so long to think of it.

Reaching into his chest, he slowly withdrew his heart. Holding it in his hand, it pulsed with a soft white light that reminded Alexander of the twinkling of stars. Taking his heart in two hands, he broke it apart to that he held a half of his heart in each of his hands.

Holding out one half of his heart, Alexander said “Here.”

Rachael looked at him, her eyes filled with wonder. “What do you want me to do with that?”

“I want you to have it.” He held his hand out further. “I may not have loved you like you wanted me to, but I want you to have half of my heart, to heal what is left of yours and to show you that I loved you the best way that I could.”

Reaching out with a shaking hand, Rachael took the half of the heart slowly. “I can’t accept this.”

“You can and you will. That half of my heart you are holding holds all the love I ever had for Sebastian and all the things I loved about him. In this way, you can have a part of your brother again. He’ll always be with you because I loved him so much.”

She held the half heart in her hand as if it was made of glass. “Did you ever find another man to love you?”

Alexander shook his head. “No. After your brother, there was no one. I only ever loved him.” Tears slid out of his eyes before he could stop it. He had never shed any tears over the loss of Sebastian or Rachael. He was grieving now.

Rachael nodded as if she had made a decision. Looking at him the entire time, she slid the half of his heart into her chest. She took a deep breath, a big intake of air. A smile spread across her face. “I can feel him. I can see him so much clearly then I’ve ever been able to. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“You must have really loved him.”

“With all my heart.” Alexander said.

They looked at each other, sharing a moment of grief with no words. Rachael reached out a hand and took Alexander’s in hers. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too. More than you can know.”

“But I do know.” She tapped her chest. “I love you Alexander.”

“And I love you, Rachael. More than you can ever know.”

The sound of bells ringing filled the air then. A glowing door shaped opening appeared in the wall behind them. None of the other patrons of the bar car noticed anything. Alexander and Rachael stood and clasped hands. They stood in front of the opening and they could see the land moving in front of them. They could hear the wind and see the stars. Alexander relished the feeling of the air on his skin.

“So, what happens now?” Rachael asked.

“Now? We go on.” Alexander said. “Together.”

“Together.” Rachael clasped Alexander’s hand tighter.

Alexander leaned in close and kissed Rachael’s cheek. “Let’s go. Our next adventure awaits.” Rachael squeezed his hand again. Alexander and Rachael stepped forward into the unknown and whatever they would find.

The doorway sealed itself. Standing in front of it, Diane smiled and the dining car was filled with a bright light. “That a boy, Alexander. I knew you could do it.”

A bell rang through the air again and Diane faded away, leaving a shower of light behind her.

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