I woke up from a nightmare in cold sweat; I had been tossing and turning for some time, I assumed, since my clothes were in disarray. How long was I asleep, I wondered? It was white outside and not a single sign of civilization as I have come to know it. Just forests covered in snow, endless forests passing by my face. Where am I going, I thought to myself. For some strange reason I could not remember. I straightened out my clothes and made my way out of the cabin into a narrow hallway with polished wooden panels on the sides. I wanted to find someone and ask them where the train is going, but there was no one in the hallway. I knocked on a door yet no one answered. I knocked on a few more, yet no one answered still. A small panic began to boil inside me, as the thoughts of being alone on this train clouded my mind. I started banging on the doors violently with my fists and screaming, although knowing that the strength and loudness would not change the result. After few doors of banging I started opening them only to find the cabins suspiciously missing occupants and any luggage or other items confirming existence of an occupant. Walking from wagon to wagon, I finally reached the restaurant. I chose a table and sat down by the window and attempted to try to arrange my thoughts and figure this situation out. I looked out the window onto the whiteness and the forests. I could almost hear the pounding of my heart in my ears. I did not know what to do or think at this point and looking out the window, I saw my own blank expression staring back at me.
A few minutes later a man in a red vest walked up to me to ask what I wanted, I was so relieved I nearly got up and hugged him. I ordered a coffee and asked the man to join me. Since there was no one else in the restaurant he agreed and brought himself a cup of coffee as well as for me. After an uncomfortable glances at each other, I asked him where the train was headed, to which he smiled and asked where I thought it was headed. I shook my head and looking down into my coffee; I told him that I did not know. Looking a bit confused, he told me, in a serious tone “it is not important where it is going, rather from where it is going.” What a strange answer I thought, and quickly followed up with another question.
“Where are we coming from?” I asked and looked up at him.
“You do not remember anything?” he asked me, with a somewhat concerned look on his face.
I thought about my answer and told him that “I remember I just woke up and walked out of my cabin and walked down the hallway. I knocked on many doors and nobody answered. I wanted to know where we are going. I was beginning to be scared that I am alone on this train and then you came and asked me what I wanted to order. I don’t know how I got on this train, and I don’t know why. Last thing I remember is being in Amsterdam, looking out of my window onto the boats passing in the canal.”
He looked puzzled and said in a calm yet assertive voice, “This train left over two weeks ago. This was the last train out” he looked down took a breath and shook his head, “there is nothing left” he said.
At this point I began to doubt my sanity, what could be happening, how could I not remember two weeks of my life, what did it mean that there is nothing left, why is this the last train, I had more questions now than ever. Instead of asking him all these questions however, I asked him “what year is this?” He looked out the window then back at me, “Nobody knows what year it is” then he started to get up. I reached over the table and grabbed his arm stopping him and asked “what do you mean nobody knows, what happened, where are other passengers?” He looked straight at me and said “You are the only passenger” and walked away.
I sat there in the booth of this empty restaurant and tried to make sense of the conversation, thinking that maybe I should have stopped him again and got some answers out of him, but his last words hit me so hard I could barely move. I got up and found my way back to my cabin, where I dug through my things to find some answers. I found a journal so I quickly began reading the entries. The pages contained my thoughts and feelings about my life, my job, and my relationship with Kate, a name that kept repeating throughout the pages. We were together once, but I had a hard time remembering her. The name was so close to me, yet I could not remember who she was. I tried hard to dig in my memory and yet nothing came about except being in Amsterdam. She undoubtedly was with me there, yet I could not picture her face. What happened, what happened to my memory? Why am I the only passenger? I kept looking through the journal reading through the various entries. Towards the later entries I found an increasing worry in my tone, as though expecting something to happen. The pages contained descriptions of fights in the streets and police sirens filling the night air, a signature occurrence of large metropolis, but not this city. Unfortunately, I did not describe what the actual circumstances that had led me to this train.
My next trip down the hallway took me past the restaurant; I thought maybe if I could get to the conductor or another member of staff I could get more answers. We seemed to be speeding up, the forests outside turned into a blur and yet there still was no sign of civilization. The hallway after hallway seemed to never end. Maybe this is a dream and I am in control of this train; maybe I could stop it if I think about it. My attempt at this exercise did not produce any result and I continued walking down the hallways, one after next. Suddenly a girl appeared in the hallway at a distance, I ran to her to see who she was and talk to her. I came up to her out of breath and taking a moment to breathe bent over in front of her, I began to doubt her existence. Yet, she did not doubt mine and quickly said “Are you okay?” I nodded and got a question out in between breaths, “are you a passenger on this train?” “yes” she answered with a curious tone. “what’s your name?” I asked her. She smiled and said in a soft voice, “I’m Katya, what’s yours?” Did I know my name I wondered briefly but not wasting time I asked “Where is this train going?” She giggled and then in a more serious voice said “It does not matter, what matters is from what it is going?” Oddly this was what the waiter at the restaurant said earlier, yet he said where and she said what. The significance of her name had not yet registered in my head being that her name is the short of Katerina. “What’s happening?” I asked her. I never felt so confused or helpless. At moments like this you realize how important memory really is, how it serves as grounding for reality. But she did not answer; instead she asked if I wanted to take a walk with her, to which I agreed.
We walked down the hallway together, I told her my last memories and that I couldn’t remember anything else. To that she said that maybe it was for the best that I did not remember, maybe it was a space in time I should not have remembered. I told her that the waiter said I was the only one on the train. She laughed again, smiled and said, “well, obviously not.” We both laughed and continued walking down the corridor towards the restaurant wagon.
“You know, I saw a man at the restaurant, a waiter.” I told her.
“Oh, right.” she curiously remarked “so we are not alone on this train.”
“Well, the man told me that I am alone on this train and that there is
“Hmm, well maybe he was trying to scare you.”
“Maybe, but why?” I protested. “He seemed serious to me.”
“Lets go and see this man.” She said in an almost challenging tone.
We got to the restaurant wagon and sat down at a table near a window. I looked out the window at the still white scenery and asked her, “Doesn’t it strike you as odd that we are the only people in this restaurant?” “It does, its kind of creepy, but there has to be a few more people on this train. This can’t be it.” She said in a way that was intended to convince me, but it didn’t. The absence of the waiter endorsed my theory. “We should go through the rest of the train and see if we can find anyone.” I suggested. “Let’s go” she happily complied. We got up and started walking down the corridor, banging on every door, opening the doors, checking the toilets. We could not find anybody and by the tenth door I could see that Katerina was surprised and curious slowly realizing the fact that we in fact were alone here.
She was not as desperate as I was looking for others however and that intrigued, and worried me. “Do you remember getting on this train?” I asked her to which she replied that she had woken up on the train. “I only remember the flood” she added. “Flood? What flood?” I did not know what to make of this, could I remember a flood I wondered briefly. “You don’t remember? Well, let’s go to the end of the train to make sure there is no one and I will tell you.”
We walked to the end of the train and then to the other end and there was nobody in the train but us, the train was running itself it seemed since there was nobody driving it. Moreover there were no controls to stop or control the train, except a computer screen, which had words in various languages flashing on it. Japanese, Arabic, Thai, those were the languages I recognized but could not read. How could I have seen the man in the restaurant, I could not understand. I was originally going to offer to go back to my cabin but quickly realized that it doesn’t matter. So I opened the next door that was on our way and walked inside. We sat facing each other in this cabin with the window to our side and the little table in between us. “You mentioned a flood, what happened?” I asked her, looking right at her. She was looking down, and uttered a question. “Do you remember the riots?” she asked. “I don’t but there is a sense of worry in my journal and mention of a tense feeling in the city.” She nodded, “yea, it started months before. A ship carrying industrial waste came into the port of Amsterdam and the authorities did not allow it to unload. This was not the first time this happened, but the other times the ships ended up going to Africa and dumping their cargo there. This time the ship was leaking and the crew was terribly ill. By the time the bureaucracy worked its magic and ship was organized to go to Africa, the crew was dead. Many people living close to the port were also sick.” She sighed. “The government was quick in its action to try to contain the ship and move it out of the port, but there were growing numbers of sick” As she told the story glimpses came back to me. “I remembered the news buzzing about this issue.” I commented. She nodded and continued, “Although an attempt to help the sick was made on a large scale, the medical community could not figure out what was wrong with people and thus they just kept dying. Underground conspiracy began to spread that the ship in fact held a biological weapon that was not contained properly. This theory spread faster than the illness and soon various organizations were protesting and rioting in Amsterdam and The Hague, demanding answers from the government. The government had no answers, either because they themselves did not know, or because they were hiding something.” I kept nodding as she told me this story and bits of memories began to form a whole as though a puzzle..
“Although this was by no means the plague, which the city lived through at high cost in life, it was a highly strange and frightening outbreak. Luckily for the rest of us, it was not contagious, but it did not matter at that point. The riots got more and more violent and soon enough small terror attacks began to take place in random places. Garbage can explosions, transportation sabotage, defacement of government buildings and demand for explanation from the authorities, who maintained that it was the leak of waste from the ship and they were doing what they could to clean up and get the ship out. By this point, the port was shutdown and secured by military, once again fueling the conspiracy theory. The situation was bad, but this was not the worst. About three months into this saga there was a terrorist attack on the world famous dikes, it was a well organized, large scale attack that flooded a lot of the country. The sirens in Amsterdam rang at six in the morning by ten the canals were gone and water was up to the second story. I was in a boat with a friend at the time and we decided to try to get out by boat, which may have been a good idea if we were not in a city where a lot of people had boats and the same bright idea to get out in that way. It was still dark out and we had no power anymore, people everywhere were screaming, there were helicopters with search lights all over. Although most people evacuated, a lot of people died. I remember looking out the window and listening to the radio in shock. I don’t think anyone expected it this bad. You still don’t remember any of it at all? ”
While she was telling me this story my memory of the flood started coming back to me. I did remember the sirens and I do remember rushing out of my apartment, the canal water was already overflowing and the sound of police and public in panic already filled the streets. It was useless to ride a bike just because there was already water on the roads next to the canals and there were people filling the streets as though Queen’s Day. Nobody’s mobile worked anymore, and there was already no electricity. I ran to Kate’s apartment, keeping close to the walls of the buildings in fear of stepping into the now invisible canal. I pushed the intercom button to her apartment but it did not work anymore. I scaled the wall to the first floor window of her apartment and broke it to get in, she was gone however. At this point I knew that I would never find her like this, but I looked for her anyway. Soon enough the water was up to my knees and I knew I had to get out. I tried to get to Centraal Station, since the word among the people was that the boats were being used to evacuate people still.
However, by the time I got to the station there were armed militia taking bribes for who can get on the boats and there would be an occasional shootout between them and the police. The military took control of the station soon enough and the evacuations became more systematic, with military vessels moving people as well. I don’t remember if I got on the boat or not, but how I ended up on this train was still a mystery since my last memory had the railways already flooded.
“Do you remember how you got out?” I asked her.
“No, I woke up here.”
I was living in Amsterdam, in search of something else, something more. I came to visit on my tour of Europe and ended up staying. My life in Amsterdam was pleasant and interesting. I found a tiny apartment in the Jordaan district and got a job at a coffeeshop selling coffee and hash shakes to tourists. This job allowed me to collect stories from people from all over the world and to add to my inspiration thirst, I wandered the city searching for echoes of past within the present.
I often sat on my window sill looking out onto the canal my window faced and wondered about the magic of this city, with all its inadequacies and difficulties, there was definitely something about this city. I remember this particular day in the summer; I was sitting there with my cup of tea and a joint looking out my open window at the magical downpour falling into the canal. The sky turned completely white, yet the colors of the trees had become clearer and more alive, as if through a polarized lens. The thunder above gave it a special auditory feeling, a full sensory experience. The rain was strong and constant, washing over everything in its path, this was truly wonderful. The air was suddenly crisp and fresh after the days of intense heat. Everything suddenly felt alive, in motion. I don’t know if it was the weed or if this experience truly was magical. I sat there after the rain had stopped and my cup of tea was empty and stared out into the emerging people who were hiding from the rain. I still heard bit of thundering as if in the background, yet this was also mixed with the sounds of the city as if awakening after sleep. These kinds of moments were not unusual in this place, I often found myself amazed by the experiences that crept on me here.
I met Kate the first day I came here, I stopped by a coffeeshop to pick up some grass and we crossed eyes briefly. Something forced me to go over to her and start a conversation. We spent days together after that conversation, wandering around this city, going to restaurants, having picnics in the various parks, talking in seemingly endless conversations about everything. She told me about her life and I told her about mine, everything flowed so naturally with her, I did not have to hide anything or dress up the truth for her, something I have done for others. She had lived in this city for two years and had a small apartment not far from what would become my favorite Chinese restaurant. In retrospect I should have just tried to live with her, but I wanted my own place. So I found a nice and cozy place in the Jordaan district with the rare and very affordable pleasure of facing the canal. Kate often stayed with me there, but kept her own place. Looking back it was probably my fault of not letting her in completely, but she had her own life as well.
We decided to move in together shortly before the event that changed our lives forever took place. We viewed several apartments but had not found the one we wanted. When the sirens rang, all I wanted to do was hold her and go through this together, but I couldn’t find her. I remember moving towards the station while at the same time thinking I need to find her. My logical reasoning that in this panic and chaos it would be impossible to find one person overcame my emotional desire to find her. I looked for her through the people at the station but could not see her. The walls of the station were covered in spray paint logos of the group that was responsible and various messages and misguided quotes of Nietzsche, Marx and other philosophers on the walls. This was a revolution, a desire for destruction rather than life in an organized chaos and control. This was a violent protest against violence. I couldn’t make sense of it, but it did not matter anymore. I never found Kate, I didn’t know if she got out or died, but I knew that I would probably never see her again.
We sat there in front of each other in silence really, looking out the window and thinking about everything she has just told me and my own returning memories. The image of Kate was in front of me in the reflection of the glass as though she was looking at me. I was both happy and miserable having remembered her. I didn’t know what happened to her, but then again I didn’t know what happened to me either. How I ended up sitting in this empty train alone. I kept looking out the window and saw an approaching city in the distance. As I saw it, I screamed out to Katya, “look its something, it’s a city.” She turned and looked and stood up with her face almost pressed against the window. We looked as the train approached this city and felt an immediate relief as though achieving some sort of progress. We left the cabin and walked to the doors of the train, looking through those windows at the city we have now entered, the train was moving slower, but not slow enough to stop. I saw the approaching station and people standing at the station waiting for their trains, activity and life. The city and the people seemed to be Asian, how could we have gotten to Asia from Amsterdam I asked Katya. She did not respond and so I turned to her to ask again, but she was gone. I yelled out “Katya!” over and over, but there was no response. I went back to the cabin we were occupying before, but she was not there. What could have happened to her I thought and walked through both cabins directly to my left and right. She was gone it seemed. I immediately began running through the cabins, opening doors and looking for her, yelling her name, but she in fact was gone.
I got to another door and looked out the window again, the train had stopped but there was no button to open the doors, and the people on the platform did not seem to move at all to board this train. I could not get off. I beat on the doors with my fists and kicked them repeatedly. I grabbed the fire extinguisher which was hanging not far from me and hit the glass with it, only to have it bounce off. Not being able to open these doors I started screaming and begging someone to notice me but they could not see me. The train began to slowly move again and I was crying and screaming as it touched off, still beating my fists against the glass. The city was Tokyo as I saw later by the familiar scenery that the train passed upon leaving the station. Was this a tease? Why can’t I get off, why am I alone on this train, Katya was not real as I at first suspected. I stopped with the questions being that there was no point to any resolution. Tokyo had been my favorite city and the fact that the train stopped at the station but would not let me off was incredibly painful. My memory however was coming back and that gave me some relief. I never made it to the boats in Centraal Station I remembered clearly all of a sudden. I got upon the roof of the Centraal Station with others and we sat atop this station almost in a calm state. The guy sitting next to me was Yob, a Dutch guy of late twenties. He spoke Dutch to me at first which I could only understand partially and speak even less, but luckily for me, he spoke fluent English as most Amsterdammers did. He asked my name and where I was from but not a word about the disaster. His clothes, as mine, were completely wet, and his shirt torn, he had some blood on his arm, but nothing overly serious. He pulled out a ziplock bag from his jacket pocket and took tobacco rolling papers and some pot he had in there. “Good thing its water proof,” he said and laughed, I laughed as well. He rolled a joint and lit it. “You know, they may not come back for us” he said and turned to me, passing me the joint. “There are a lot of us up here, come on, they will come back of course,” I responded after taking a hit. The panic by now had gotten quieter and all the boats were gone, the water had gotten quite high and helicopters had moved to search other parts of the city.
I looked out the window again and saw another approaching city, with a tower sticking up over the skyline. Paris, I thought to myself. The train once again stopped at the station, but I already didn’t panic but calmly tried to open the door or signal people on the platform. Nobody could see me, or probably even this fucking train. I found a cabin and I sat down by the window. Train stopped at Madrid, Barcelona, London, Berlin. It did not make any logical sense anymore, we could have stopped at the moon and it would have made no difference. I was stuck on this train and I would experience all the places I enjoyed traveling to just because. It didn’t matter anymore; I was beginning to realize this situation. I died that day in Amsterdam. This is my Hell.
I sat there with Yob and smoked the joint. He told me that he was often afraid of this happening to the city of his birth. “It was always just a matter of time,” he said “and now this water is probably infected with the shit off the ship.” I hadn’t thought of that before but now it seemed logical that that is in fact an added risk to anyone who was in this water. “I wonder if my girlfriend got out,” I said while taking another hit. Yob nodded, “Ya, my girlfriend died, she was electrocuted in her apartment, she lived on the ground floor.” “Holy shit, I’m so sorry,” I said. Yob nodded again, “ya well, what can you do she was not the only one who died, a lot of people died here today.” I had nothing to add, passing the joint back to him, I thought if Kate made it, if I am going to make it.
We sat there for hours, couple other people had joined us and we were all sitting in a group now, talking about a variety of things, anything except our current condition. We smoked a lot and told each other of our stories. It got dark soon, and the rescue had not yet come for us. The helicopters circled but there were people on every roof top and now and then a boat would come to get people off. The city was not yet dead or abandoned but Yob seemed to have given up already, and laid there with a mysteriously calm look on his face. “Do you ever wonder about what it means to be alive?” Yob asked me. “I guess its to learn and experience,” I answered him. “It is more about the possibilities, potentialities,” he said. I thought about his statement and nodded in acknowledgement. “Maybe they will come for us, maybe they won’t, our possibilities in this city are over, “ Yob said and sighed. “I guess so,” I said. “I guess so.”