Marie Katryna Wagner was 19. She was also very cold.
She was in the back seat of a black BMW sedan that wound its way through dark city streets. The sun was somewhere rising behind mottled gray clouds, its gauzy light spreading slowly from a distant point on the horizon; the day seemed hesitant to disperse the remnants of the moonless, rainy night. The wipers of the car, assaulted by wave after wave of wind-driven rain, swished intermittently left, down, left, down amidst the constant rush of water displaced by the tires. She had given up trying to write in the fleeting light of passing streetlamps, instead allowing the words to ricochet endlessly in her head, afraid that if she brought them to a halt they would simply vanish. Water continued to trickle down the long strands of dark brown hair, swelled into trembling droplets at the periphery of her vision, and dripped rhythmically off, slowly fading the words already cast on the paper into a cloud of bluish-black ink.
Marie was on her way to school. Particularly, Universität Regen in the Bavarian Forest, almost on the border with the Czech Republic. She was a ward of the state, and as such she was simply following the wishes of her parents. Incidentally, they were dead, which explained, among other things, why she didn't know the man driving her to the train station in Regensburg. He hadn't actually spoken yet, which was mildly unnerving, but she would only have to listen to his silence until she boarded the 8:45 train east. At some point, she would transfer to the rail line that led directly to the school. It struck her as largely idiotic, and rather like an overwrought concept from a children's book, that a college should have its own train line as a link to the outside world. The journey all in all was somewhere around one hundred kilometers, probably about two or two and a half hours by rail.
She sighed, carefully closing the black notebook she had been attempting to write in. Somehow she'd gotten completely soaked in the dash from the apartment entrance to where the car was waiting, which was a stellar way to end a sleepless night, and an even better beginning to a day that promised to be as cold as it was unsettling. Marie had lived mostly alone for the better part of six numb years, since her parents had left the lands of the living in December of 2004. They had departed the airport in Munich the day after Christmas, bound for a 2-week stay in Israel. She remembered the minutes before they had gotten on Flight 52, standing among the sterile sea of people.
She hadn't cried. In hindsight, she probably should have, but that would simply be revising history. She had given each of her parents a hug. Her father had reached into his left hip pocket, awkwardly searching for something, and once he had, he pulled out a small brown envelope. He laid it in her hand; it was heavy, and cold. “Open it when you're ready,” he said. As they turned towards the gate, her mother said over her shoulder, “don't forget about us”, and her father winked. Her mother smiled, and Johann and Rosalinde Wagner were gone.
Three days later, she'd been out walking, as she once often did, when several telephone calls came to the house outside of Regensburg. She'd returned home a few hours later to find the police waiting. Her parents, they'd been sorry to inform her, had died in hospital in Tel Aviv after being injured in an explosion. A terrorist attack, the Israeli authorities had said. They sent their deepest sympathies to the family. This time, Marie had cried, alternating between grief beyond words and anger beyond hope of release. The police requested that she stay at the house until formal proceedings to take care of her had been arranged, and posted an officer at the street in front.
She sighed, snapping back to the present. The car was slowing down, and the driver pulled into the taxi rank instead of the proper drop-off loop at the train station; Marie didn't have the energy or the interest to correct him. She flipped the notebook open again, tearing out the pages too wet to salvage, hoping to preserve the rest from the same fate; she closed it once more, and stuffed it into her bag.
“Fraulein Wagner, your train should already be here; your ticket and the transfer to the Universität line are already paid for.” The driver, having finally spoken, handed two laminated tickets over his right shoulder to her without turning to look. “Best of luck at school.” He said this in a flat voice that made Marie doubt that he even knew where she was going much beyond this station.
“Thank you, er...” she trailed off, not knowing his name.
He seemed to hesitate briefly. “Baumgärtner. Take care.”
She took the tickets, and he withdrew his arm. With that, she shoved her door open, grabbing her bag with her left hand. The rain had hardly subsided, if at all, although she was still too wet to care much beyond casual annoyance. She leaned forward, tucking her belongings underneath her, and made a dash for the station entrance; the minimal overhang of the roof would have provided some small region of dry path on which to run had the wind not been so ridiculous. The elements were perfectly aligned to be miserable, she thought.
She nearly crashed headlong through the entrance doors, which being automatic were naturally resistant to being opened swiftly when you actually needed them to. She paused once inside, taking a moment to shake excess water off. The nearest attendant looked at once surprised and annoyed that any one person could discharge so much water onto the floor in such a short time, but Marie felt it was best not to say anything. Water would dry with time. She, on the other hand, felt that she never would, and was shivering almost to the point of induced nausea.
Marie looked around, her teeth chattering slightly. The heating system in the station, if it were working at all, wasn't doing much to prevent the interior from feeling much like the January outside. “Platforms, right,” a sign said. Marie obliged. There was only a single person behind the counter, a rather pale and acne-scarred man who looked to be in his upper thirties. He appeared almost surprised to see her unattended, or maybe he was surprised that she was in the station alone at all – it was strangely empty, even for a Sunday. She dismissed this observation and walked over to him, carefully avoiding eye contact until absolutely necessary.
She produced the first of the tickets, saying nothing. He looked at the stub. “I'll need to see your identification.” Marie reached under the bag's main flap and eventually found her ID booklet after some fumbling. She speechlessly laid it upon the curiously-patterned – if disgustingly colored – counter-top and slid it towards him. The man flipped briefly through it, holding it up as though he couldn't compare her face to the photo without an immediate juxtaposition.
“Thank you.” He coughed noisily, then tore the stub off of the ticket and handed it and her ID back to her with his left hand, gesturing vaguely behind and to his right with his other. “Your train's out through that gate.” The sign above said, again simply, “Trains”. Marie took her papers in hand, nodded, and walked towards the gate he'd indicated. She looked back over her right shoulder, noting the other railway employee still looking at her across the lobby with some barely-suppressed emotion; contempt or pity, she couldn't tell. Some people were so hard to read.
The platform was, thankfully, completely covered, and empty. The connecting train east to Regen looked like something straight out of the 1970s or 80s, led by a small diesel-electric locomotive that looked about to begin rusting. The coaches looked nice enough, though, even if they were the same age. She could see only two or three people on the train itself, which was perfectly fine. Talking to strangers was not one of her strong points.
She boarded the second coach, sitting down heavily in a seat nearest to the rear; it was maybe a few degrees warmer on the train than outside, and for this she was thankful. She removed her jacket, which was soaked to the point of uselessness and now weighed more than she cared to think about, and draped it over the seat to her right. She kept her bag in her lap, not sure what to do with herself on the 45-minute ride. She smacked her forehead suddenly, aware that she's completely forgotten what she'd been writing in the car on the way to the station...but no matter, poetry often came to mind, and if what she'd begun to write was so wonderful, she wouldn't have forgotten it.
At some length, the train began moving – slightly after its scheduled time of 8:45, if her watch was at all accurate. Not that it mattered. The new semester at the university was not to start until next Monday, the 11 of January. She had a week to arrive, arrange her new dormitory room, possibly make some friends – she shivered from the cold, and perhaps at the thought – and likely make some enemies, and prepare for the start of classes. Plenty of time, she knew. Well, except for possibly missing the connecting train to the school itself, although it wouldn't leave Regen proper until 10:00.
Her mind gradually drifted off as the train gathered speed outside of Regensburg. Trees, telephone poles and random other objects of disinterest flitted past the windows in the rising drab sunlight, which still struggled to gain a foothold amongst the clouds. Such wonderful weather. It seemed like with every major change in her life, it rained. Perhaps it was just coincidence; as a human, Marie suffered from some of the same delusions as any other. The same urge to believe in more than coincidence, to believe that her existence in the world was more than just eighty years, give or take, of a collision course with eventual ignominious disappearance.
But nonetheless, raining it was, as it had rained before. A lot like January 6 of 2005, she thought; her first attempt on death by hypothermia. It was the night of her parents' funeral; the bodies had been returned by airplane from Israel, and from the airport by train. The funeral service had been simple, short, and mercifully there were few people present. Most of them were friends of the family, a few her father's business partners, or her mother's acquaintances from the historical society. Marie was 13 then, but in that moment she had never felt more helpless and alone even in faint memories of infancy; none of the faces she could see surrounding her were familiar beyond what was on the surface. It was almost as if, behind those eyes, there was nothing. No sadness, no joy, no feeling at all, and no solace to be found therein, like the stone face of a gargoyle.
Marie had hoped for the same numbness as she stood in the rearmost right pew in the church that night. It never came. The caskets were brought in to some hymn she didn't know the name of and didn't particularly care to remember; they were draped with a black cloth bearing the family crest. Father Josef Köster, also a friend of the family, read the sermon and led the hymns, but Marie heard nothing. Tears she hardly felt had poured out from her eyes as rain began to fall upon the church's roof; she had clenched her fists against the pain building in her throat, threatening to make her cry out. Her life felt like it was ending, and the walls seemed to close in around her. She felt, for the first time in her life, distant, separate; a person no longer a part of herself. Somehow she made her legs remain beneath her, made her body remain strong where her spirit was shattered.
Somehow, she had survived the night. The caskets were never opened, and in the increasing rain and falling twilight, her parents were lifted by their friends that Marie never really knew, and filed past her into the family crypt. As the sun began to fall behind the trees, Marie reached into her pocket, finding the brown package her father had given her, and opened it. Inside was a silver ring, plain but for the engraved design of two gryphons, between which was a small, dark blue sapphire. It was her father's, and as he had said, his father's before him; it was the ring of their family line, of which she was the last. As Marie had watched her parents carried together from the church in which they had been married to their graves, she slipped the ring onto her right hand.
The caskets were interred in the same vault as the rest of the Wagners; Marie had stood in complete silence as the gates to the stone stairwell down were shut and locked. The sun set in the still-clear skies of the west, red light flowing eastwards; Marie had thought that she could almost see the light illuminating individual drops of the swelling rain. Father Köster had come to her as the others left; he laid a heavy hand on her right shoulder as she stood beneath the church roof's overhang. “There is nothing I can say that will make this easy for you. I wish that it was not so. Trust in the Lord, and he will help you through this time; and one day, you will be with them once more.” With that, he had walked back into the church, leaving her to her grief.
The old world had passed away as she cried in the rain, unable to stand, unable to run, unable to come to terms with the way things would never be the same. The January cold had slowly seeped through her coat, through her black dress, straight to the bone. Taken by the chill, she had begun a descent into unconsciousness by the time the pastor came outside to the graveyard before leaving his church; he'd found her, carried her inside, and covered her in blankets while he called for an ambulance. She didn't remember much beyond that, but had woken the next day in the family home under a mountain of pillows and assorted coverlets and duvets. She'd never been able to thank the pastor for his kindness, probably the last friendly act anyone had done for her.
And so now, she rode the train to a new life; her parents' will had provided for her education at the university, which they had also helped to fund over the years. She was never sure where in the family line money had become so plentiful, and even now tended to ignore the fortune, and legacy, left to her. She wiped the beginnings of a tear out of her right eye, and then spun the perpetually-loose ring once around her ring finger with her thumb. The train was nearing its destination, evident by its marked slowing. Marie felt slightly warmer than before, and certainly drier without the heavy jacket. She lifted her bag up, and brushing her skirt down, took a deep breath to clear her head.
As the train slid into the station, the platform at Regen was clear to be even less frequented by passengers; stacks of mail waited in bins at the far end, and a solitary railway worker waited on the platform. The doors opened themselves after a few moments of stillness, and Marie stepped lightly out and down. It was just after 9:30, and there was yet no sign of another train on either of the two lines not currently occupied. She walked past the railway worker, who still hadn't moved or even turned, and sat down on the only bench by the gate into the station building.
Judging by the line turning south on the last leg of her journey, it would likely be another hour north on the next leg, she thought to herself. If the day were more pleasant, and by relation she were not so uncomfortable, such a train ride might almost be soothing enough to sleep on. The other passengers exited the train at length, one pausing to ask the worker which way he might find a coffee shop. The worker gesticulated frantically for a few moments, speaking too quietly for Marie to hear, and the passenger continued on into the station building. The time passed slowly as the platform clock, its hands weathered, ticked the seconds by.
She let out a sigh, almost too loud to have been anything but to the end of making the railway attendant react. He didn't, his hands remaining clasped in the small of his back, and Marie cast her eyes down into her lap where her bag lay. It was brown and catastrophically ugly. “SA”, it said in sans-serif lettering stamped on the flap between the buttons. She guessed it meant “Suomi” and whatever the Finnish used for “army”, and it was actually an old gas mask bag. It had just enough pockets in it to hold her traveling belongings – namely, two pens, one blue, one black, and a mechanical pencil; her notebook, in a black cover bearing her name in silver; a chromatic tuner and metronome; a handkerchief; and random toiletries.
The rest had been sent ahead to the university, about which she was continuously reminding herself each time a brief moment of panic followed the revelation that she was lacking her violin case. She didn't particularly believe in makeup, or fashion in general, beyond what was necessary for the occasion, so that meant less weight to carry around. She also didn't own any music players or a handy1, the latter of which was especially useless, since she was effectively without anyone to call, and tended to be in places where a land telephone line was present.
Marie's usual attire was accordingly plain; on an average day she wore either plain jeans or khakis, or perhaps a skirt if it was appropriate. She had been made fun of by other students in the upper school back in Regensburg for her conservative dress, though this was in some ways ironic; Marie was not a girl of perfect proportion, and she knew it. She was short, bordering on very short, slender, and wasn't really of the design that an average male of similar age would notice – her appearance, all in all, lent itself greatly to the image of a stereotypical good student, or as her peers had been kind to note, a nerd, among other things.
Marie sighed. The damn train still hadn't arrived, and even more maddeningly, the railway worker on the platform had moved maybe once, probably so his joints wouldn't solidify after hours of standing still – she assumed so on the grounds that he'd only moved once in 30 minutes, and even then neither foot had left the ground. She considered calling him over, but wasn't sure what reason she could come up with to do so. To ask for the time? The clock, and her watch, could tell her that. To ask when the train arrived? She knew that as well, and 10:00 was yet a quarter of an hour away. She drummed out a little rhythm on her knees with her hands, wondering why the sun hadn't yet broken through the clouds, perhaps to provide a little warmth. It was also still raining, and mist that formed when the rain struck the shingles drifted in small clouds under the platform's roof, making her squint occasionally with distaste.
There was nothing nearby to read, as it appeared the local paper hadn't even been issued yet, and she wasn't in a mood to write anymore. She considered counting random things – the rivets in the gutter running at both ends of the platform, but quickly realized they were the same on either end. Counting the seconds of the clock was not an option, especially to pass the time. She rolled her eyes, as though imploring some cosmic entity to entertain her.