Dreams from the Darkness
I hide from sight as I wander through the maze of city streets. I see their influence everywhere I look. Every building is of their design, unwittingly constructed by those who hear them. Every arched doorway or angled roof has its purpose in their plan. They are puppet masters and their strings are knotted in our minds.
Lori awoke to the sound of track passing beneath the train. Shaded daylight streamed through the cabin window and the smell of Jasmine was in the air. Ashes still formed the symbol that the incense sticks had made when the five glowing tips had seen her off to a peaceful nights sleep. Almost twelve hours later, she felt calm and refreshed.
"Good morning." Kay's voice was a welcome sound. Lori turned to look at the dark haired woman who sat at the foot of the bed wearing her red robe with the green dragon. Her face was drawn and her eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep. She still managed a smile. "You seem to have slept well."
"I can't say the same for you," came the response as Lori drew herself out of bed. "You don't have to do this, you know."
Kay rubbed her eyes and yawned. "I do. At least until your learn how to protect yourself."
"Then you better start teaching me because you won't be able to keep this up for long."
"I will teach you, but you need time to rest and clear your mind. It will take a while for the events of the last few days to lose their edge and until they do, you'll need a little help."
"Thank you for watching over me at night."
"It's my pleasure," Kay said, getting off the bed to stretch her legs.
Lori looked down at her night-dress. "I should go back to my cabin and get changed. We'll be arriving in Constantinople later today."
Kay took off her robe and held it open behind Lori. "Here, put this on. We can't have you wandering around the train in your night clothes."
Lori put her arms through the sleeves and tied the silk sash at the front. It felt warm and soft against her skin. "It's a little big," she said, looking down to where it almost trailed on the floor.
Kay lifted Lori's hair out from behind the collar and let it fall down around her shoulders. "It looks good on you," she said, turning her around, "and the green matches your eyes."
"Yes. Now, go and get changed and then get something to eat in the dining car. I'm going to sleep for a few hours but I'll join you before we reach the city."
Lori nodded and left Kay to get her sleep.
She returned to her cabin and dressed, but not before modelling the silk robe before a mirror like a child who had gained access to her mother's wardrobe. She smiled inwardly at her playful immaturity and hung it alongside her own clothes that seemed so ordinary and colourless in comparison. She could still smell the Jasmine in her hair as she brushed it and for the few hours that followed, she felt the same as she did when she had stepped on the train for the first time. The Bulgarian countryside regained the mystery of a foreign land and Constantinople, the city of mosques, was looming ever closer.
She made her way to the dining car and walked its length in search of a table. The afternoon was bright and the dining car was alive with laughter and friendly conversation. Everyone was dressed impeccably. An old general sat with his wife and son, the breast of the older mans uniform more laden with medals than his protégé. The young man smiled and nodded to Lori as she passed. She did the same in response and kept walking.
A young couple held hands across a table, possibly newlyweds taking their honeymoon on the most romantic train journey in the world. Lost in each other's eyes and speaking in hushed tones, they were oblivious to everything and everyone around them, even the shrill laughter of the loud woman at the next table. She was old, dressed in expensive furs, gold jewellery and adorned with every colour of precious stone imaginable. She was with a young, scruffy looking man with a dark, weather-beaten face and obviously less refined from the way he hunched over his bowl of soup and slurped from the awkwardly held spoon.
She found an empty table near the end of the carriage. A waiter took her order and she sat back to observer the habits of a society she had only ever seen from a distance. She had always believed that rich people do the strangest things. The world revolves around the earning and spending of money. The average person spends more time earning but the few who can pass their days spending have to become more and more inventive to keep themselves amused.
She was watching the old woman laughing at the mannerisms of her young companion when her vision was suddenly blocked by a rather large man. He was middle aged and of average height but his waist suggested a lifestyle of little exercise and strong jaw muscles. "Good afternoon", he said in a deep voice. "I have been travelling alone for some time now and I was wondering if I could have the pleasure of your company, as I don't think I could face another meal with only the passing countryside to keep me amused." He smiled from beneath a thick moustache and waited for a response.
Lori hesitated for a moment but invited him to join her. "Tim Burlington at your service," he said, reaching into his jacket pocket and producing a business card.
"Loraine Winters," Lori said, taking the card and reading it.
"You're an editor?"
"Yes, of the renowned monthly publication Unbelievable World. You've probably heard of it," he added confidently and turned to the side and called "Waiter!"
Lori looked blank. "Umm...I don't read many magazines," she said apologetically but, if he heard her, he appeared unconcerned.
A waiter stepped up to the table. "Yes, sir. What can I get you."
"I'm famished. Bring me a plate of whatever you can prepare the fastest," the big man said. The waiter paused for a moment at the strange request, made a note and left.
Mr Burlington turned to Lori again. "Let me guess. You like romance novels, don't you."
"No, I can't say I've read many of those," Lori said.
His eyes narrowed and then shot open again. "I've got it." He snapped his fingers and pointed straight at her. "Mystery. You love a good murder to solve."
She shook her head again. "No."
"Alright then," he conceded. "But you're a writer. I can always tell a writer when I see one. Tell me, what do you write about?"
A lucky guess, perhaps. She didn't care. She was just happy to find something she could talk about. "Adventure. I like to write adventure stories in my own world with my own characters."
"Ah, now that requires imagination. I bet you've concocted some great stories in that head of yours and there's even one brewing as we speak. Tell me, are you published?"
"Oh, no. I just write to pass the time. My stories aren't all that good."
"If you're not a critic of your own work then it's not worth reading. However, that doesn't mean it's bad; only the readers can be the judge of that."
The waiter returned and placed plates of food before both of them. "Will there be anything else, madam?"
"No thank you," Lori replied.
"And what about you sir?"
"Yes. Can you bring me another of these," he said, pointing at his plate.
"There is something wrong with your food, sir?" the waiter asked.
"No, it looks like a fine meal. There's just not enough of it. Another should do nicely."
"Very well, sir." He nodded politely and left.
"So tell me," Burlington began between mouthfuls of food. "What brings you aboard the Orient Express?"
"I'm assisting a professor in some research for the University of London."
"Oh, that sounds interesting. What kind of research is he doing?"
"He's a she, actually, and her research...just involves some old books. It's not very interesting at all," she added, hoping he wouldn't ask further on the subject.
"Old books? So, she's a historian. I'm more of a twentieth century book man myself and to be honest, you don't look like the sort of girl to have your head that far in the past."
She wasn't offended, but it did seem like a strange statement. "Well, what does a girl with her head in the past, as you put it, look like?"
"I don't know," he said, making good headway through his meal. "A little older, maybe. And glasses, you definitely need glasses." He paused momentarily on seeing her amused response and added non-apologetically, "Excuse my generalisation but I've travelled widely and I have found that we live in a world of stereotypes. If you're not a stereotype then you're very lucky to have something that few others have.
"I, on the other hand, pride myself on being the stereotype of a fat businessman who likes his food, his wine, luxurious living and foreign travel. 'You only live once', is a great motto for those who can afford it."
At that point, the waiter returned with his second plate of food. He placed it before him and tried to escape before another request could be made. He wasn't quick enough.
"Yes, sir," came the slightly annoyed response.
"What are these things?" Burlington asked, pointing to some food on his plate.
"Those are peppers, sir, stuffed with various herbs and spices."
"They're very tasty. Bring me some more."
The waiter paused and then answered through his teeth. "Of course sir."
Burlington turned to Lori again. "They are rather tasty. You should try some."
"No thank you," she said politely. "I'd be more interested in hearing about your travels if you have the time to tell me about them. Where have you been?"
"Where have I been?" He laughed. Those four words were the spark that set off an explosion of stories that lasted far into the afternoon. He had visited almost every European country and had a story to tell about each. He'd travelled Africa, Asia, America, both north and south, and had spent a little time around Australia and New Zealand.
He'd seen it all; the vastly different environments and living conditions of cultures from all around the world. The range of religions and beliefs, linked in many ways and unique in others. His stories changed form the dramatic to adventurous and then to the bizarre. Outrageous tales of Japanese fire walkers were followed by dramatic stories of cultures with such simple lives as to have a life expectancy of thirty years. Settlements of people existing in the most adverse conditions and surviving all that the world had to throw at them. The arctic conditions of northern Russia contrasted with the blistering heat of central Africa.
After several more side orders and a generous desert, they moved to the salon car so that Burlington could continue with his stories. Lori had warmed to his friendly personality and didn't mind the subtle exaggerations he slipped in for dramatic effect, nor the colourful language that sometimes lined his stories. He appeared to be grateful for the company and was obviously at home talking about himself and his travels.
The train had crossed from Bulgaria into Turkey and it was late evening before Kay joined them. They had passed through Corlu, Tcherkesseui and Sinakli and Constantinople was less than an hour away. Kay greeted them, mildly surprised to find Lori had spent the entire day talking to Mr Burlington but relieved that she had found someone to take her mind of past events. Burlington quickly realised that it was time for him to leave but took the time to enquire where they were staying in the city. In the rush to leave Rome, Kay had not made any reservations.
"I'm staying at the Pera Palas Hotel in the Beyoglu area," Burlington said. "If you haven't decided on accommodation yet then I highly recommend it. I'll be travelling there directly if you care to join me."
Lori looked at Kay with eyes seeking approval to accept his offer. "The Pera Palas it is then," Kay conceded.
"Excellent!" Burlington said with a jolly laugh. "I'll see you on the platform." With that, he took leave of their company and returned to his cabin, but not before stopping off in the dining car to finish off any food they may have had left in the kitchen.
Kay turned to Lori with a sly look. "I see you didn't have to spend the day alone after all."
"He's a very interesting man," Lori said. "And, he approached me first, just in case you thought otherwise."
"I'm sure he did," Kay teased.
"He's an editor," Lori said, showing his card to Kay. "He's travelled here from Venice after receiving a telegram from an associate in Constantinople. He's following up a big story for his magazine."
Kay recognised the name of the publication on the back of his business card and held back a laugh. "I'm sure it will be a great story, whatever it is." It was the best she could do without completely discrediting him. "Come on. We better get ready for our arrival."
They returned to their cabins and repacked what few clothes they had taken from their suitcases. Lori put the silk robe into her suitcase instead of bothering Kay with it now. She could return it at the hotel.
Lori returned to the saloon car to get a better view than the small window in her cabin offered. The train slowed down and entered the city form the south-west, passing the remains of the ancient walls that were no longer able to contain the sprawling Turkish city. Lori couldn't keep a look of excitement from her face and ran from one side of the car to the other as she got her first view of a world that had only existed in pictures, until now.
"I thought I might find you here," a voice said from behind her. Lori turned briefly but returned her attention to the enchanting world outside with a smile.
"It's exactly like I imagined it," she said. "It's not like the pictures in those old books but I knew a city like this could never loose its charisma."
The train followed the coastline along Sultanahmet where the city bordered the Sea of Marmara and the unmistakable minarets of the Blue Mosque and the Haghia Sophia pierced the darkening sky. Separated by over a thousand years and built by rulers of different empires, they stood together and shared the skyline as if time had no influence on them.
The train curved around Seraglio Point, skirting the great Topkapi Palace that had seen the passing of almost five centuries. Every sultan from Mehmet II to Abdul Mecit I had walked its halls and courtyards since the Ottoman empire had seized the city in the fifteenth century. Lori could see the faded illustrations of their faces in her mind and felt humbled to be passing the walls that once protected them.
For the last time on its eastbound journey, the Simplon Orient Express came to a halt. The magnificent Sirkeci Station was its final destination where the passengers were greeted by an architectural montage of Constantinople's varied traditions. The Byzantine alternating stone and brick courses and the Muslim horseshoe arches around the windows were a traveller's first indication that they were a long way from home. The next hint came in the sudden wave of street traders that flooded the platform with their baskets and trays of wares, shouting in Turkish and English and hoping to lighten the wallets of the excitable tourists that were taking their first step into this foreign city.
Safely standing behind the window of the saloon car, Lori watched the animated picture before her and whispered to herself. "Constantinople. I'm finally here."