The train was late.
Karen sighed as she waited on platform for the late night Underground train. Aside from a couple of people she was on her own, a fact she was eternally grateful for as her head was feeling like someone was using a high powered drill to crack her skull open, like an egg. She was tired, her mouth tasted foul since the last thing she'd eaten had been four hours previous. There were times when she felt physically sick listening and smelling the alcohol wafting off the drunken crowds made her feel worse, but not tonight fortunately. No, tonight was set to be a quiet night she hoped. Unfortunately for her there had to be a compromise, the bright lighting of the station. It was almost blinding. It had to be bright because they were underground, but Karen wished it didn't have to be at that intensity as it was helping her head feel sore. Karen made a mental note to take some paracetamol when she got home.
Karen Jackson worked the night shift - starting from 5 to 11, hence the late night trains. She missed her social life, where she and her friends would go out, laugh at pubs or bars, waiting for cheesy pick up lines from boys rather than men. Now she had to work late to make ends meet for the rent. Her roommate Steph worked the first half, she the second. The partnership worked beautifully, they were still living in the flat and not being thrown out on the streets because Steph wasn't being lazy. No, she wasn't one of those lazy scroungers who dozed all day long, letting their flatmate do all the work. No, she did her part, for which Karen was grateful for. Especially in the current economic climate.
She glanced at the destination board. Only a minute to go.
" Thank god for that," she whispered. If anyone head her they would've agreed quietly.
The train rumbled into the station and stopped. Karen was close enough to the edge to get on the train quickly. She thanked god again when she saw the carriage was as empty as the station, though there was someone else. A fellow co-worker, though they weren't friends.
Karen gratefully sat down as the doors slid closed and pulled out of the station, curving like a snake on its way through the tunnels. She checked her watch.
11.23. Just enough time to get something to eat, have a mug of tea as coffee would keep her up, and then straight to bed. Simple enough plan, but first she had to go through the train journey. It wasn't a long one, for which she was also grateful for in addition to the carriage itself being practically empty. Karen only had a couple of stops, so it was tolerable. She glanced at her co-worker. He appeared as tired and worn out as Karen felt. It was like looking into a mirror. If he looks that bad, how does he think I look? She thought for a moment.
From further down the train she could hear loud voices, but they were too far away for her to make out, but it sounded like there were drunks on the train. Her head throbbed.
Karen rubbed her eyes, trying to stop herself from falling asleep, but it was a losing battle.
When she woke up she wasn't on the train, she wasn't even at home.
She was in a well decorated sitting room, and she watched in astonishment as she saw a young woman tend a child, holding her in her arms lovingly. The woman had a striking resemblance to Karen, and her sister Katie. She was petite, rosy cheeks of good character, and long, wavy brown hair. The eyes were grey though, so it wasn't Katie.
Karen gasped when she realised this was Sophie, her niece. But this isn't possible, her mind protested as she gazed on the well dressed casual woman as she laughed, holding her child. Sophie wasn't this woman, she was 16, but this woman was older. At least mid twenties she estimated, but it was definitely her. On a more rational, logical level Karen could see this woman was Sophie. She was a possible view of what her niece would look like.
Sophie turned her head to gaze at a picture on a table. " I wish you could be here Aunty Karen," she sighed mournfully, " you'd have loved your great niece."
Karen felt as though someone had electrocuted her. " Sophie, what the hell are you talking about?" She started waving her hands to get her niece's attention. It didn't work. Sophie didn't notice her, didn't even hear her when she spoke.
But her child did.
The little girl cooed as she looked at her great aunt. " Aunty Karen."
" Karen? Karen, wake up," her co-worker was saying as he shook her gently but firmly.
Karen jumped awake, disorientated. She looked around for a moment, then she focused on him. " W-what happened?" She demanded.
The harried co-worker grinned tiredly. " You fell asleep, and you glowed green for a moment, but it was probably my imagination," he replied obviously, adding the last part a bit rushed as though he couldn't believe it and wanted reassurance, " and we're coming up to your stop." Karen didn't know what to say about the green light thing, but that was forgotten in a rush.
" My stop?" She said, looking at the train windows. The train was starting to slow down. It was coming to a station. With a grateful smile she turned to her rescuer. " Thank you," she said gratefully. " How many stops have you got left?"
The co-worker grimaced. " Four."
Karen winced good naturedly. " Ow," she hissed sympathetically before adding, " at least you've got the carriage to yourself."
" And who'll wake me up when I fall asleep?" He asked in mock horror. " I wish I can just quit." He added plainitively.
Karen nodded. " I know, but its getting harder and harder to find decent work. We can't lose our only income."
The train rattled into the station. Karen's station. With a sigh she got up, the co-worker kindly handing her the pack with her things and laptop inside it.
" Thank you," she said gratefully. When the doors opened, she turned back before they closed. " Have a safe journey." She told him.
The co-worker nodded, and was about to say goodnight when the doors closed.
When she went to bed that night, nursing a fourth cup of tea, she went out like a light in an instant. Karen didn't notice the green light glow around her body.
It had been three days since that strange train journey, and Karen had managed to convince herself it was a strange dream. Nothing to worry about. But something still nagged at her head. And it made her uneasy to think about any of what was in the dream; the older version of her niece, the little girl, and how Sophie had said that about her as though she was dead. It was like someone had walked over her grave.
Since she worked the night shift, Karen had plenty of time to sleep during the day before getting up and having something to eat before she left for work. For three days it had been relatively easy to forget the train dream, as she called it, but she still heard about the green light. Yeah, Steph had talked about it when she'd woken up and she'd gone into Karen's room to check on her where she found her friend glowing.
That was why Karen was uneasy and determined to deny anything about the whole thing.
But she couldn't.
On the fourth night since the train dream, Karen had another one. This time in her own room and not in public.
" Oh, not again!" Karen exclaimed as she found herself once more in Sophie's future house, but it looked like the house itself had undergone some changes. There were pictures of her great niece starting from a small toddler all the way to a little girl in a school uniform. Karen reached out and brushed one of them with her finger. " How far ahead have I gone? Am I time travelling into the future?" She whispered.
Karen certainly didn't expect a reply, but she certainly got one.
" I was only three when you saw me, and I saw you," a voice said from behind her, " now I'm thirteen years old."
Karen turned around. Standing there was a girl who reminded her of herself at that age. The girl's resemblance to her mother and aunts was uncanny only her hair was in a bob.
Taking a step forwards Karen asked her, " Why's this going on? Am I here or not?"
The girl smiled. " We're ghosts, you and me." Her smile widened into a full blown smirk as she caught her aunts confusion. " Yeah," she giggled, " its hard to wrap around, but its true. You and I can talk over time. All this," she waved her hand, " is the possible future."
Karen shook her head as she tried to understand. " Why is this happening to me?" She begged for an answer she could make sense off. " Why am I travelling through time like a ghost?"
" You are a ghost, I've just said so. " The girl replied as her eyes caught something behind Karen. She walked over to it. Karen turned, finding herself staring at the same photograph Sophie had touched on her last visit here. The girl even brushed it like her mother had before. " Like I say, you're a ghost," the girl said, but the atmosphere was so quiet Karen had no trouble overhearing her speak. " But I am, too. A ghost of the future. You're a past ghost. Past and future colliding."
" Is that scientific gobblydegook, or is there a point?"
" You're dead," the girl replied brutally. Honestly.
Ever since Karen had started having these weird dreams, she'd been terrified when she'd seen and heard her niece talk like she was dead. Now that feeling was back, but it's brutal honesty shocked her to the core.
Her great niece took her great aunts shock as permission to keep talking. " You died one cold night, coming home from work. No one really saw you as you were taking a shortcut home, so it took a while for anyone to find you. By then it was too late." The girl looked sad. " You were dead."
" How am I a ghost in the future?" Karen asked.
" Mum did it," the girl explained. " You'd be proud of her, she managed to create a way of communicating across time, sending holograms through time. That's how we're communicating. You're still at home in bed, but you're also here. In the future."
" All this to help me?"
The girls smile dimmed at Karen's skepticism. " Any other explanation of why you're here? Any idea why you saw my mum sad as she gazed at your picture? Do you feel like this is a dream, or does it feel more solid, real?"
She shook her head. " I don't know if I can," she replied honestly. Part of her was tempted to believe what she listing to, but the other part said no. It seemed like something out of Back to the Future.
The girl, seeing this, sighed disappointedly. " I understand," she murmured, " really I do. I don't know if I can understand it myself, but it's true."
" What about the green light?" Karen asked as she remembered the other weird thing. " Why couldn't Sophie see me and you can?"
" The green light, as you call it, is actually the temporal field, which made you into a time travelling ghost," the girl explained patiently, " and I could see you because I was looking in your direction, but I couldn't hear you. Mum did see you, briefly, but you'd already begun to fade. It was an accident for you to be there. It's time for you to go back, remember don't go down any shortcuts home and avoid a blue transit van. It will happen on Friday."
Karen woke up, breathing heavily. This time she saw the green halo around her body. She tried to touch it, but it faded quickly.
" What the hell have I got into?" She asked to herself. A thought dropped into her mind, and saw Karen reach over for her mobile. Turning it on she saw it was Thursday. Her stomach sank.
Tomorrow night, she would die.
Friday came and went.
Karen still avoided walking down any dark shortcut, she kept herself as far from the road as she could, but she had to cross one to reach the train station to get home. It was a Monday night.
She'd just nipped into Costa to grab a coffee - she didn't want to fall asleep on the train again - when she crossed the road. Despite the lights being red, Karen was terrified when her eyes caught a speeding blue transit van heading straight for her. It wasn't slowing down.
Avoid a blue transit van...Her great niece had said. Terrified, her mind went blank, but her legs took her forwards in a run.
When she reached the other side of the crossing, she looked over her shoulder at the speeding van. It hadn't slowed down, it hadn't stopped, but she'd caught its number.
Karen would enjoy giving it to the police.
What Karen didn't know was from a future time, she was being watched. Sophie looked through the foggy computer screen as the timeline corrected itself. The temporal computer was designed to monitor temporal changes in the timeline. Sophie sighed. She'd be in trouble, maybe even lose her doctorate for what she'd done, but it was worth it.
Her aunt Karen was still alive.
And it had happened because she'd become a ghost.