Filling the Void

What would it be like to fade away, to simply cease to exist, as if you never were? To be full of so much pain, yet so empty, that erasing yourself from existence would be preferable. What could possibly cause someone to fall that far, to make such an option even remotely desirable? How can a void like that ever be filled?

The train car lurched and I almost fell out of my seat. I groggily righted myself and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. It was hard to even nap on a train, but I was so exhausted from the trip that I'd managed to drift off for a while. I looked around the cabin I was seated in. Scenery flashed by the window so quickly that my mind could do little more than process the sight as blobs of color. I was alone, had been alone the whole train ride. Even though I enjoyed solitude traveling across the length of America in a train with little in the way of human interaction, it was starting to wear on me.

That had to explain the strange dream I had just before I woke. It didn't feel like a dream, more like a voice in my head, but not my own voice. Someone else's. If it was something like that, then I felt bad for them. Though it wasn't like I'd never had such thoughts. Some days the notion of oblivion was preferable to life. Luckily, today wasn't one of those days. By evening I should be in L.A. and home.

Home, a new home. I grabbed my bag and hugged it to my chest. Soon enough I'd be in a foreign land, far removed from everything I was used to. I was born and raised in Virginia, just a short walk from the beach. Every event in my life, everything that made me who I was today, was there. Now I was leaving it all behind, maybe forever. All for a dead woman I'd never met. I held my bag tighter. It was the closest thing to a safety blanket I'd ever had. It contained all the important little things that told a story about me.

I sighed and tried to relax, focusing my gaze out the window. Looking in the distance I could clearly make out the details of the California landscape, spread out before me in all its glory. At least I'd be near another beach, even if it belonged to a new ocean. I think I'd go crazy without a large body of water nearby. My mother used to joke that I had to be a nereid, or a selkie because I all but lived in the water. As a child I'd loved the idea that I was something more than human. A kind of faerie, or other exotic creature. Not some mundane little girl. Unfortunately, reality eventually set in and I grew to mostly accept that I was in fact average and uninteresting.

Having boring brown hair and uninteresting hazel eyes didn't help with my body issues. I blamed my dull looks for my unsuccessful social life. My mother simply said it was because I always looked so sullen. The only friends I ever had were like myself. Bookworms who are far more content staying at home then clubbing and dancing. I always had something on hand to read, which was yet another thing my Mom complained about. She would chide me, saying that no one was ever going to approach me if I was lost in my own little world. I liked it that way though. As much as it would be nice having a boyfriend and a life, I was much happier avoiding all that emotional baggage. No one can break your heart if you keep it locked away.

The idyllic landscape began to fade away as civilization crept in. First there were only a few scattered buildings but soon enough the outskirts of the city filled the window. I could see the perpetual pollution that hung over the city. It was like a gossamer brown blanket had been laid over the sky. A sudden wave of home sickness swept over me and I longed for the clean blue skies that seemed to go on forever. Now I was starting to regret coming there, but it wasn't like there was any reason for me to stay home. Life held nothing for me there, so I might as well make something of myself here.

The train slowed as it neared the platform. I got out of my seat and removed my luggage from the overhead storage. Despite the fact I was moving there, I didn't bring much with me; just clothes, a few knickknacks that I would feel terrible about leaving behind and little else. While I was removing the second suitcase the train screeched to a stop. I fell forward and then was flung flat on my back as the train moved again. The suitcase landed on the floor, right next to my head. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, making sure the train was done moving before I got back up. One more spasm and it seemed to be finished. I got up and shouldered my bag and grabbed both the suitcases.

Everyone was pouring out of their cabins and forcing their way down the narrow corridor. I waited inside the door, watching people pass. I did have an appointment to keep but thankfully he was coming to me and not the other way around. He was both my grandmother's lawyer and my cousin. Second cousin. By marriage. I'd also never met him before and at the moment I'd completely forgotten his name. It was written down on a paper in my bag though. Finally everyone cleared out and I followed the last few passengers onto the platform.

The only reason I'd taken a train and not flown was because I was afraid to fly. It was also nice to see the country while I traveled too. I'd had plenty of time to read, beat a few games, twice in some cases and lots of introspection. It was easier than giving up all my worldly possessions, moving to Tibet and living in a cave.

I walked into the stationhouse and looked around in amazement. It was designed to look almost like the inside of a Greek temple. It even had a giant statue of Athena in the center. Faux marble columns mimed supporting the massive bronze dome ceiling. All the thousands of voices echoed and bounced around the room, leaving me very disoriented. I stood in the center of a mass of people, looking around lamely for my cousin. Someone slammed into me and for the second time that day I fell flat. My suitcases flew out of my hands and slid across the slick tile floor away from me. I groaned and rolled onto my back, looking to see who had tried to run me over.

"I'm so sorry!" A man about my age said franticly. He rushed around me and quickly collected my luggage and brought it back. "I wasn't looking where I was going and well…"

"That's ok." I said rubbing my chest. The wind had almost been knocked out of me.

He held out one hand and with the other pushed up his wire frame glasses. "Again… sorry."

I accepted his hand and stood gingerly, afraid I'd slip on the smooth floor. Once I was upright he released my hand and stepped away. I looked him over, actually paying attention to him this time. He was carrying a laptop, backpack and looked like he was about to head off to computer class. His dirty blond shortly trimmed hair, skinny build and crisp white shirt with jeans combo made him look completely nerdy. The shy apologetic grin he was giving me softened my heart though.

"It's ok," I repeated, picking up my suitcases. "Really."

"If I was brave enough…" he said shyly. "I'd probably ask if you wanted to go get some coffee or something… but you're probably busy anyway. So I'd only be wasting our valuable time."

"Actually… I am busy," I said regretfully, amused by what he'd said. It was the most adorable come on I'd ever heard. "My cousin is supposed to be here to pick me up…"

"Oh," he smiled and pushed up his glasses again. "Have a nice day then…"

I nodded to him and he left, looking a little sad, like a kicked puppy. Now I felt bad and despite his awkwardness he was kind of cute. I sighed and walked towards the front of the station. Just inside the row of glass doors there was a fountain with seats around it. I sat down there and put my suitcases on either side of me.

The station cleared out slightly, as one group left and another boarded the next train. I watched people as they walked past me, trying to locate my cousin. Half the people around me seemed to be looking for someone else as well. It wasn't going to be easy to find him.

I reached into my bag and fished out the letter he had sent me. It was the first bit of communication I'd received from him. In a rather bland manner he had informed my of my grandmothers death and also of my inheritance. He left his number so after dragging my feet for a good week I had finally called him. On the phone he sounded just as lackluster as he had in the letter. Quiet obviously he'd been completely unaffected by her death. That did make me feel bad. Did anyone care that she was gone? I resolved to visit her grave as soon as I could. It was the least I could do since she had been kind enough to leave me something. From what my cousin had said, it had something to do with her home.

His name was Daniel Kendrick. It was too strong of a name to belong to the weak voice I'd talked to. I imagined he looked like a greasy nerdy lawyer type, so I looked around for someone liked that. Now that I had a picture in my head of who I was looking for it was fairly easy to stop him. At least I think it was him.

Standing only ten feet away from me was a man in an ill fitting business suit holding a briefcase and a piece of paper in his hand. He would look from the paper to the crowd around him, searching people's faces. His face was pockmarked and his hair was thinning. It was a weak brown color and was slicked back, just like the man in my head. If it wasn't my cousin, I'd be shocked. He looked just like the kind of person who belonged to the voice I'd spoken with.

I stood up and collected my things, walking towards him. The worse case scenario would be that it wasn't him and I'd have just briefly disturbed a stranger. I could think of worse things. As I approached him he looked towards me and studied me.

"Cynthia?"

"Daniel?"

We both stared at each other in surprise then laughed. He tucked the piece of paper into his pocket and held out his hand. "Here, let me help you."

"Thanks." I said holding out my heavier suitcase. When he took it he got a look of surprise and seemed to strain himself to hold onto it. I didn't realize it was that heavy.

"How was your trip?" Daniel asked, leading the way out of the station.

"Bumpy, boring and long." I replied honestly.

"You know, you could have taken a plane." He said shaking his head.

"I don't like to fly." I said in annoyance, having already told him this over the phone.

Daniel made a noncommittal sound and walked into the parking building beside the train station. He sat down my suitcase and pushed the button for the elevator. I stood patiently beside him, holding my suitcase in one hand.

"I'll be taking you straight to grannies place," he announced as the elevator doors opened. "Unless you need to make any stops?"

I shook my head no and stepped into the elevator first, he followed me. A couple came scrambling towards us, carrying arm loads of bags. I leaned forward and put my hand over the elevator door, holding it open. They stumbled in, both panting and thanking me between breaths. I nodded to them and let the doors slide shut. Daniel leaned past them and pushed the second floor button. The husband pushed the four floor button. I scooted away from them and leaned against the wall of the cramped elevator. One thing I hated was having to snuggle up to strangers in tight spaces.

A short ride later and the doors opened for us. I squeezed out first and turned around waiting for Daniel. He smiled and nodded to the still breathless couple and hefted up my suitcase, stepping out. I watched him expressionlessly, not wanting to give any cues that I thought poorly of him. It was hard though. I wasn't exactly Mrs. Universe and the suitcase wasn't that heavy to me.

"My cars right over there." He said pointing down the rows of cars behind me. "It's the blue minivan."

At least he didn't drive a midlife crisis car. I took the lead and headed for the only blue minivan in the row. It had two bumper stickers proclaiming his children honor roll students at two different schools. One was a privet school. How fitting.

Daniel unlocked the back and dumped my suitcase into the van. I placed my second one beside it and walked around to the passenger door. He unlocked his door then unlocked the van. I sat down and belted myself in. He started the engine and pulled out of the parking spot, still unbuckled.

"Shouldn't you buckle up?" I asked.

He looked at me, then himself and said: "You sound like my wife."

"I'm not performing first aid on you if you get ejected from the car." I informed him, looking out the window.

Daniel stared at me in surprise and did as I suggested. "No offence but: My aren't you pleasant."

"It would be your own fault, so I see no need to render aid." I shrugged.

He cleared his throat and I could tell he was thinking unpleasant things about me. I didn't mind, I wasn't there to be his friend and after finishing up the inheritance business I would never see him again. So I had no reason to play nice.

The radio was on some local talk station. They were discussing politics so I quickly tuned it out. Instead I stared out the window and tried to distract myself with the sights of L.A. There wasn't much to look at really. Only a few buildings scattered amid the ultramodern skyscrapers were old enough to be visually pleasing. The people of the city also proved to be mostly uninteresting. I saw the standard range of individuals, if you can call them that. It was like only a small number of unique molds had been created, then the rest of the citizens were made from those same models.

I was happy when I realized he was taking me away from the heart of the city and towards the beaches. To get us there he got onto the freeway and in that moment, I decided to never drive in L.A. if I could manage it. He didn't signal, just drifted right over into the lane he wanted and almost everyone else did the same. The speed limit said sixty-five but he was going eighty by the time he leveled out and people were still passing us. I found myself clutching the armrest with a death grip. Daniel was oblivious to my discomfort. When he got off the freeway I almost let out a sigh of relief, but held it back. People drove only marginally better on surface streets and at least mostly followed the traffic laws.

To my right the buildings suddenly tapered off until the beach came into full view. I turned my head and stared. The waves lapped up to the shore and throngs of people covered the sands. It was a Saturday afternoon, so I wasn't surprised to see so many people. Out in the open water I could see boats and the occasional seabird diving into the water.

Daniel turned left down a street, putting the ocean to our backs. I watched it dwindle in the side mirror. He abruptly turned down an alley then parked in a small parking area behind a building. I looked around then raised an eyebrow at him.

"Why'd we stop?" I asked.

"We're here." He explained, stepping out of the van.

I hopped out and followed him around to the back. He took my lighter suitcase and held out the one he'd carried before out to me. I took it without complaint. It wasn't like I'd be carrying it for long anyway. I paused and stared up at the small building. It was old, had to be at least from the turn of the century, maybe from the 20s. A tiny fracture in the stone surface crept up a few feet along the back wall, reminding me that I was in earthquake country. Oh well, at least I wouldn't have to worry about hurricanes.

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