(Editor’s note: SHORT SHOTS is a column where I review short stories from horror anthologies.)
“A Traveler Between Eternities” by Atlanta-based author Amanda DeWees is a tragic but hopeful tale of a woman named Ruth Whitlock who’s in the midst of a pregnancy where the unborn child “had suddenly gone still.”
Set in 1864, the story introduces Ruth during a doctor’s visit with her husband Alfred two days after the baby “had ceased moving.” In her heart, she knows something is terribly wrong, but the doctor prescribes only rest. “Not to worry, Mrs. Whitlock. I’m sure your baby is perfectly fine.”
Alfred is twenty years older than Ruth and is obsessed with having a son. “Everything I have worked to achieve in life means nothing if I have no children to inherit it.”
Then, before Alfred leaves the room in anger, he cruelly foreshadows to Ruth. “What good are you if you cannot bear live children?”
The comment stings but reminds Ruth that Alfred’s first wife died during a miscarriage “after a string of such calamities.” She wonders if the first Mrs. Whitlock’s death was an accident or doctor assisted at the urging of Alfred.
Ruth is a country girl who married to escape the boredom of farm life. Now, after two years, she longs to escape her marriage and return to her family.
Since Alfred will not allow a visit from her mother, Ruth plans to flee when he’s at work. After a tension-filled trip to the train station, Ruth boards the Necropolis Railroad. “This train carries the departed … to the largest cemetery outside the city – and, of course, it carries their loved ones to see them interred,” explains the man at the ticket window.
Thinking Alfred would never guess that she’d take this train, Ruth boards and blends in with all the black-clad mourners. At this point, I thought I knew what direction the story was headed, but a surprising encounter on the train steers the plot onto an even more emotionally satisfying track than I expected.
Think about this. The author DeWees writes a tale about a woman pregnant with a lifeless baby and trapped in a joyless marriage by a domineering husband and somehow transforms it into a feel-good story brimming with the kind of hope that only the combined forces of freedom and love can create. That takes talent.
“A Traveler Between Eternities” is one of 15 stories in the horror anthology Fright Train. Published by Haverhill House and edited by Tony Tremblay, Charles R. Rutledge, and Scott T. Goudsward, Fright Train was released in 2021.