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The Water Heater

Studio Room

Jan Fortney had come to hate that water heater. She knew that moving from a 3 bedroom home into a studio apartment would require some major adjustments. The leasing agent had called it a "charming efficiency apartment". Yeah.. sure, call it what you will, it was still just a one room place. Well two rooms if you counted the bathroom.

Yes, there were plenty of adjustments needed. Sleeping in the same room as the living room and the kitchenette (partitioned off only by a counter) made it feel like she was living in a Ramada Inn. And that water heater in the closet -- making all kinds of funny noises.

Jan had never paid much attention to water heaters before. In her previous home, the water heater was in the basement and was out of sight, out of mind. And out of hearing range. Here it was in the closet, just a few feet from where she was trying to get to sleep.

Clacketly Clacketly Clack. Click Click Click. Knock Knock Knock.

Maybe this is the way water heaters always sound, she thought. Or maybe there's something wrong with it. She remembered a few years prior, the water heater went out and flooded the entire basement. Such a mess! She could not understand why they couldn't manage to build a water heater such that when it stopped working, it would just cease functioning and not leak all over the place.

Jim, her ex husband, had tried to explain the reason behind that, but the explanation was lost on her. Jim, the eternal mechanic and her the ultimate non-mechanic who never even lifted the hood of her car.

Her thoughts turn to Jim. Jim, who drained their joint bank account and took off with Gloria, that NASCAR babe. She didn't even know where he was although she had suspicions that he was in West Virginia.

She couldn't sell the house without him. She recalled the conversation with the mortgage company several months earlier.

"But my husband has taken off, I've filed for divorce, and I just want to sell the house," she had said.

"The mortgage is in both your names, Mrs. Fortney" Mr. O'Brian, the mortgage agent explained. "Unless he's deceased we need his release before you can sell the property."

"But I've already said, I don't know where he is."

Mr. O'Brian thought for a minute. "There might be something we can do once the divorce is finalized. I assume if he's AWOL, the divorce will default to uncontested. But until then, I'm sorry, there's just nothing I can legally do".

It didn't take long for the home go in to repossession -- Jan couldn't afford the mortgage payments on her tiny waitress salary. So here she was, lying here in a tiny studio apartment, wide awake tonight. Listening to the maddening noises coming from the water heater.

She finally switched on a light, picked up a book, and began to read hoping it would draw her mind into a state of drowsiness, ready for sleep.


Morning finally came heralded by the repetitious beeping of the alarm clock. Jan had set it for 5 am since she had the early shift today. She stumbled to the bathroom and readied the shower. It seemed as though when she turned on a hot water tap, the noise from the water heater got worse - now it sounded like it was rocking or shaking.

'I must remember to call the maintenance people later today', she thought. 'Surely there must be something wrong with that water heater'.

She stepped into the shower and felt the nice hot water running all over her. She turned her back to the shower to get her hair rinsed and ready to shampoo. The she closed her eyes and began massaging the shampoo in.

If only she hadn't turned her back. If only she hadn't closed her eyes. Then she might have seen the tentacles oozing out of the shower nozzle. Then she might have had a chance to escape. But she realized only after a tentacle wrapped itself tightly around her neck, in a deadly choke hold, why the water heater was making so much noise.

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The Plantation

The Plantation

Kyle and Kevin Ashby wiggled and fidgeted restlessly in the back seat of the Mercedes ML500. The long trip from Houston was taking its toll on the 9 year old boys. The boys both had finished their assortment of Nintendo DS games and had since become bored.

"Dad, are we close yet?" came the inevitable question from the back seat.

David Ashby checked his car navigation system. "Sorry son, still about 40 more miles to Rosedale," he replied. "But that's only about an hour." He glanced in the rear view and smiled at his sons.

David looked toward Sarah, his wife who was fast asleep in the passenger seat. There were just not enough of these family outings. This was the first major getaway since he had married Sarah -- other than their honeymoon. The twins were not quite to the point of calling her "mom" yet and David hoped this trip would change that.

After arriving in Rosedale Mississippi, the family stopped for dinner and then bought some necessities. They then made the final leg of their journey. Soon David saw his turn off.

"This is the place," he said.

He turned off the highway and onto a dirt road. It was a rough dirt road and was in dire need of grading. In a short distance, they arrived at a locked gate. David stopped the SUV and got out. After fumbling for a moment or two, he found the key, unlocked the gate and the boys rushed out to help him open it.

"Wow awesome place Dad," remarked Kevin. "Cool woods all around. We sure can get lost in here"

"That's exactly why you each have a handheld GPS." David said as he ushered them back in the vehicle. "I'll expect you to carry them with you at all times. I know how much you two are going to love to explore this place, but the woods are thick and they go on ... well for a long ways."

They eased through the iron gate and further into the property. The wood closed in on the road and branches began to scrape up against the Mercedes SUV as they slowly drove along.

"The woods are taking over the road," remarked Sarah. "Tomorrow, I'll call for a landscaper to come take of it".

"The boys can take care of the basic trimming," David said. "They do plenty of yard work around home right boys?" He turned around to look at them. They rolled their eyes as if to say "ah gee Dad do we have to".

Just then the SUV cleared the woods and the narrow dirt road led them out into the open where they could see the house.

"Oh it's even lovelier than the picture," Sarah exclaimed.

The plantation house was a 25 room place with an garden in front that badly needed tending. David pulled the SUV up to the front and stopped. After fumbling with the keys again, David swung the heavy oak doors open and everyone went inside.

"Whoa his place is old" remarked Kyle. "And huge!"

"Come on upstairs everyone," said David. "I'll show you the rooms".

There were a dozen rooms upstairs, but David had arranged to have only a few of them cleaned in preparation for their arrival. David and Sarah were to take the master bedroom at the north end. The twins were given their own separate rooms - two rooms on the south end of the upstairs overlooking the woods on that side.

The rest of the evening was spent getting settled and exploring. Much to Kyle and Kevin's dismay, David found a Caretaker's Cottage which contained a wide assortment of grounds maintenance tools. The twins were given marching orders to begin hacking back the overgrown foliage from the road in the morning.

Everyone was tired after the long drive and no one had any desire to stay up late. The family had all retired by 9:00pm.

The next morning, Sarah prepared a delicious breakfast in the spacious plantation kitchen. After breakfast, the boys were taken out for their assignment. David handed them each a pair of long-handle pruners and walked with them to the edge of the wooded road.

"Start here and work your way back to the gate," he said. "Just focus on clipping the really intrusive branches and limbs. I'll need to hire someone to grade this road anyway, and they can do the heavy duty clearing. Just worry about the worst offenders, clear?"

The boys both nodded affirmative.

"Oh and it's going to be hot today," David went on. "Here's some water" He handed them a couple of bottles of Aqua Fina. "I don't expect you to do it all in one day. Be sure to quit by noon ok?"

"Ok Dad" they answered in unison as the twins often did.

The twins immediately got to work as David made his way back to the house. Meanwhile, back at the house Sarah had found her way into the library.

She was awestruck as she leafed through the old books and document collections - many of them handwritten documents of the pre civil war period. In addition to the books and documents, the library wall had an amazing collection of old photos. There were photos from the mid 1800's and on through the end of that century. There were photos of the plantation mansion at various points and the families that lived here. Most interesting were pictures of the black slaves. There was a very clear photo of a young slave boy who looked to be about 10. Another clear photo showed the same boy with his slave family.

"I see you've found the library," David said as he walked in.

"This isn't a library," Sarah said. "It's a museum!"

David smiled. "I suspected the Vice President of the Greater Houston Historical Society would get a kick out of this room".

"It's completely amazing, David!" Sarah said. "These photos of slaves are extremely rare" she pointed to the photo of the young boy. "Especially to find them this well-preserved. And these journals! Well I know where I'll be spending the rest of this visit!"

David laughed. "Well do come out for dinner and some family time" he said as he kissed her cheek.


The twins had a fair amount of work completed as noon approached. They sat down on a log to rest.

"Whew it's hot" remarked Kevin as he wiped his face with his T shirt.

Just then, seemingly out of nowhere, another boy came walking up the road toward them. He was a black boy who looked to be around the twins age but he was dressed rather strangely. He wore very old style looking shorts - the kind that Kyle and Kevin had only seen in movies. The shorts were made of some heavy patchwork material.

"Hi ho" the boy said as he waved and smiled. "Sho is warm today ain't it?"

"Aye yea," said Kyle. "I'm Kyle, this is my brother Kevin".

"Please to make ya acquaintances. I be Jimbo".

Kevin noticed that Jimbo's pants were dripping wet. "You been swimming Jimbo?" he asked.

"Yep. I gots me a nice swimmin hole. Wanna see? Youz guys look all hot," he said.

Kyle and Kevin looked at each other and grinned. "Lead on Jimbo!" Kyle said.

The boys followed Jimbo into the woods by way of a trail they had not previously noticed. Soon they arrived at a nice clear pond fed by a small creek. Jimbo jumped in and splashed the two twins. "Last one in!" he laughed.

Kevin and Kyle took off their shoes, socks and shirts and joined him. Soon the three boys were frolicking in the water like 3 old friends.

After a while Jimbo said, "Hey ya how long can you hold your breath?"

The twins thought about it for a minutes and Kevin said "Well we have dived before but never too deep, why?"

"Cuz they be an underwater cave that goes to a really neat place. You jez to have to see it to buleeve it" Jimbo said. "But you have to hold your breath for about 60 seconds".

"Oh we can do that," Kyle said. With that the boys took a huge deep breath and dove down with Jimbo leading the way.


Sarah was in the living area completely lost in the old manuscripts she had brought out from the library. David came down stairs rubbing his eyes after taking a nap.

"Are the boys back yet?" he asked.

"Goodness, look what time it is" Sarah said as she snapped her manuscript shut. "No I haven't seen them".

"I'd better go out and have a look" he said as he looked at his watch. "Oh look at that, they forgot to take their GPS handhelds" he pointed to the 2 units sitting on a table by the door.

"Oh my, I hope they're not lost," Sarah said, concerned.

"Never fear," David fired up his notebook. "Unknown to them, they're wearing GPS trackers on their shoes. I'll just see where they are".

Sarah laughed, "Now that's what I call keeping an eye on the boys" she said.

"Well they have always been boys who love to explore and they've always had the tendency to wander off. I'm just a doting father," He smiled as he opened his map software. "Hmm, looks they've abandoned the work assignment and went off into the woods. I'm going to go surprise them." He closed his notebook and tucked it under his arm.

"Ok I'll get lunch started," Sarah said. "I'm sure they'll be hungry boys when they get back"

David went out the front door and followed the road while looking at his map on notebook. He kept an eye on the signal coming from the boy's shoes. He eventually found the trail they took and kept following their signal until he reached the pool.

But there he only found 2 pairs of shoes, socks and T shirts.


Sarah headed back to library to put the manuscripts away. She glanced at the photos again and then did a double take. The photo that showed the little black boy now showed two white boys standing alongside him. "I could have sworn he was in that photo alone" she said aloud.

Then she looked closer and gasped. Even though the photo was old and grainy, the white boys looked very much like Kyle and Kevin.

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Night Train

Train Tracks

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
Everybody thinks its true
What is the point of this story
What information pertains
The thought that life could be better
Is woven indelibly, into our hearts, and our brains (Paul Simon 1983)

Tom Haverill stood at the bedroom window and drew back the vertical blinds quietly. He drew them slowly so as to avoid the 'clackety clack' noise they usually make when drawn back abruptly. He did not want to wake his wife. He listened and waited.

There it was again - the train horn. It wasn't that distant and was clearly a train horn. He had been hearing what he thought was a train horn for a week or so now, but he had always been partially or wholly asleep. He was never sure whether he had been dreaming or not. But now he was wide awake and quite sure of what he was hearing.

There really is a train, he thought to himself - a freight train. Tom and Julie Haverill had lived in this house for going on 20 years now and he had never heard a train.

In fact, Tom loved trains. One of his regrets to living in Pineville was that there were no trains. He had learned some time ago they were a full 100 miles from the nearest train. Oh, there were those downtown underground commuter trains but they didn't count. They rarely appeared above ground and when they did, they made very little noise. And no horns. At least no horn like the grand freight trains made.

The horn blasted again - this time a bit fainter. Tom stood listening for 15 more minutes and the train horn kept getting fainter and fainter. He went back to bed and laid down, falling asleep thinking about trains.


"No, I didn't hear a train," Julie sipped her coffee. "Is that what you were doing standing at the window in the middle of night?"

"Yes, and I know I heard a train," Tom answered. "Several times in fact. Today, I'm going down to the library to do some research. Maybe they've laid down some track nearby and somehow I didn't know about it."

"That's hard to imagine," Julie got up and put her breakfast dishes in the sink. "You and your railroad buff buddies surely would have known about a new train in the area. And I don't remember reading about any such thing, do you?"

"No ... but I know what I heard," Tom answered.

"Aside from that, there're suburbs for miles," Julie said as she wiped her hands. "Where would they put an above ground freight train?"

"Dunno", Tom shrugged his shoulders and stared into his coffee.

"OK dear" she said as she kissed her husband on the forehead. "Speaking of trains, I need to get to the station or I'll be late for work."

"Bye dear, have a nice day," Tom said blankly.

Julie sighed and made her way out of the house.


Julie stood on the train pretending to read her latest copy of RedBook. She wobbled and vibrated slightly as the Yellow Line made its way downtown. Every once in awhile, she glanced up to see if anyone she knew was on the train. She could really use someone to talk to.

Tom had not been right since the operation. Ever since they tore him open (ripped open like a lobster as he often described it) to replace a heart valve, things had not been right. The doctor said he made a splendid recovery and by all physical standards, he seemed to.

But something in him changed. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but in some ways he wasn't the man she married. It's almost as though the replaced heart valve made a subtle change in Tom that no one else but his wife would ever notice. It wasn't necessarily a bad change, but it wasn't a good change either.

He never wanted to do anything anymore for one thing. Tom used to love to do things like go out to movies or go see the baseball team play. He also loved the theatre and so did she. But he never wanted to do any of those things anymore and she couldn't coax him into anything, no matter how hard she tried.

She supposed it had a lot to do with his sleeplessness. He had not been sleeping well in the 8 months since the operation. He frequently got up in the middle of the night and went out to read or watch TV. But this latest thing standing by the window hearing trains was fairly new and only added to her growing concerns about her husband.


Tom lay wide awake staring at the clock on the night stand. It was nearing midnight and this is about the time the train could be heard. He quietly turned to see if his wife was asleep. She breathed deeply and slowly and her mouth was half open. Even in that less than flattering view, she still looked beautiful to him. He eased out of bed and crept into the family room.

He quietly eased the patio door open, stepping outside onto the deck. It was a warm June night and he could hear the crickets chirping in the field next to their property. Within a few minutes he heard the first train horn. His research had not revealed any trains in the area, but yet there it was.

He craned his neck to try and determine the direction it was coming from. After several minutes, there were more horn blasts and at one point he thought he could hear the clacking of the metal wheels on the tracks. He stayed out on the deck until the last horn had long faded away and then finally retired for the evening.

Over the next week, Tom went out on the deck each night around midnight to wait for the train. And each night he was rewarded with the sounds of the train. But there was one thing that was extemely odd. Each night the train seemed to get getting a little closer. Each night the train horn was a little louder, more distinct.

Now, a full week later the train horn thunderously blasted first around midnight. He stood on the deck to try to get a glimpse of the iron beast he knew was out there. He raised his binoculars and swept the horizon looking for some sign of the train. The next blast of the horn nearly jolted him. He expected his wife to wake up after that one.

'That would be good if she heard that', he thought. 'She doesn't believe me.'

The train sounded so close now, he couldn't understand why he couldn't see it. It sounded like it was right on the next street of their suburban township. But it came and went again tonight; all out of view. And when he returned to bed, he found his wife still fast asleep.

The next night Tom was not quite sure what to expect. First off, where is this train, he thought. He questioned his own sanity and then wondered if he were really hearing anything at all? How on earth could a train be getting closer each night when trains run on fixed tracks? A Ghost Train?

Today he had gone down to Best Buy and purchased a digital camcorder. Tonight he planned to record what he saw, or at least heard - the device had an external microphone. He had given up even going to bed before Midnight. For the past few days, he simply waited out on the deck until midnight.

Soon midnight arrived and with it, the first blast of the train horn. He switched on his camcorder, aimed it in the direction of the sound and held out the microphone. Tonight the train was really, really close and what was this? A light? He could see the headlight of the train! It was coming right toward the house, directly from the south. He could feel the deck vibrating as the train rolled toward their house.

He was suddenly reminded of a time when he was 8 or 9; when his family went to spend a week with Aunt Marion. Aunt Marion's house was in Nebraska, set right alongside a set of train tracks. Each night during that visit, Tom and his brother squealed with delight every time a train passed and shook the house. Mother had not been so pleased however, and swore they would never visit there again because she didn't get any sleep the entire week. And so they never saw Aunt Marion again.

Another train horn blast - this time the train was right on him. Still he maintained his aim with the camcorder. The train rolled closer and closer approaching the house. "This cannot be REAL!" Tom shouted above the now deafening roar of the oncoming train. And then....

Julie awoke with a start - she heard something. Something had dropped or fallen. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, looking at the clock. 12:20am. As usual her husband was no where to be seen, but by now she knew where to find him. She donned her bathrobe and headed to the deck. She opened the door and stepped out into the quiet evening.

"Tom?" she called. But Tom was nowhere to be seen. The only thing she could see was a camcorder lying on the deck - still running.


Julie Haverill stood looking out at the snow quietly falling on the deck. It had been six months since Tom's disappearance and she was finally giving up hope that he would ever return or be found. The video footage had baffled the detectives and left all kinds of questions for which there were no answers. No fingerprints other than Tom's and her's had been found on the device. And no one could explain the movie showing the train coming toward the camera.

But without Tom's contribution to the bank account, Julie had reached the point where she could no longer afford to live in the home. She had begun the long, slow process of selling the unneeded things and eventually the house. Tonight Julie was waiting on a potential buyer to show up.

A knock on the door. It was Mike Riley who had called earlier about Tom's model railroad set. She let him in and showed him to the basement where he could see the model railroad that Tom had built over the years. At first he didn't say anything. He just walked around the large grouping of tables several times. Finally he spoke up.

"This is an absolulutely spectacular set," Mike exclaimed. "The detail and scale are meticulous. And this foam scenery and landscaping. Beautiful! You want $2500 for it?" Mike knew this set was worth a great deal more but didn't say so.

"Yes," said Julie. "I'll take cash or a cashier's check".

Without much further consideration, Mike said. "Consider it sold. I'll be back tomorrow morning with a Cashier's Check and some boxes. This will make my son so happy this Christmas - thank you."

"No problem, I'm happy to get rid of it," Julie said.

Mike stopped to admire the set again and rubbed his hand on one of the buildings. "Why just look at the detail on this station house."

"If you say so" Julie answered, uninterested.

But if Julie Haverill had paid more attention to her husband's model railroad and its accessories, she would have noticed there was now one more figure waiting at that bucolic station house platform that hadn’t been there before.

Station House