Salve for Souls

Monday, March 30, 2015

Stranger On A Train

At first, he was just a stranger on a train, but things soon got creepy.

Traveling from Florida to New York, we were seated together on the crowded train. The long trip was made longer still, by heavy rain pouring down the windows and flooding the tracks.

To pass the time, The Stranger and I began to talk. This was amid the drone of passengers talking and laughing, their chatter occasionally punctuated by the cries of restless children.

Everything seemed normal as The Stranger told me about his job at a large ministry. He also told me about a near-death experience that had changed his life and inspired his conversion to Christianity.

As a newspaper correspondent and freelance writer, I'm always on the alert for an interesting story. Sometimes this has gotten me into trouble. This would be one of those times.

The Stranger was pleased to hear I'm a writer and I took notes as he spoke. When I told him I would write his story and try to get it published in a magazine, he was thrilled. He would have nothing less than one of the most popular—Guideposts.

Mentioning I had a few stories published in Guideposts, I said I would give them a try. That's when things began to get weird.

With no warning, The Stranger began praying at the top of his lungs.

Not knowing what else to do, I bowed my head. But I realized the train, just seconds before filled with chatter, had become deathly silent. I glanced up to see questioning faces staring our way.

After that, the trip dragged on as The Stranger talked non-stop about himself and the story he was certain would be published in Guideposts.

As the train approached New York City, we exchanged business cards and I told him I'd be in touch if I had any questions or news about the story.

I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally parted ways at Pennsylvania Station. But that would not be the last of The Stranger. No sooner had I unpacked my suitcase, than he began emailing me.

"Did you get it written? Did you send it? Do you have a contract?"

It was obvious this guy thought my entire life revolved around writing his story. Forget about my husband, children, cooking, cleaning and newspaper deadlines.

I imagine he pictured editors at Guideposts on the edge of their seats, waiting for his article to arrive. In reality, it would take its place at the end of a long list of stories vying for attention. The process can drag on for months, even years and ultimately, most are rejected.

Such is the world of publishing.

I was relieved to finally send the story on its way and get it out of my hair—but not the Stranger. His endless messages took on an increasingly creepy tone.

I thought you were going to get my story published. What happened? Did you lie?

When Guideposts rejected it, the messages got creepier still. He began addressing me as "sweetheart, dear" and "darling."

I kept my responses business-like, telling him I would submit the story elsewhere.

During this time, my husband Dan and I attended services at our church. We had a guest speaker that day, a well-known Christian musician and artist, touring churches around the country, mentioning them throughout his talk.

 Hearing the name of the ministry where The Stranger worked, Dan and I looked at each other in surprise. I didn't know, but Dan had hatched a plan.

Following the message, we went up to greet Mr. Famous Guy.

We told him we enjoyed his message, then Dan asked if he knew "so-and-so" (The Stranger) who worked at such-and-such ministry.

A big smile spread over Famous Guy's face. "Oh yes, I often speak at that ministry and I know him very well."

"My wife's a writer," Dan explained. "She's writing about the near-death experience that changed his life."

Famous Guy was familiar with the story. "That's great. It needs to be told.

At home, Dan composed an email to The Stranger. He told him we'd met Mr. Famous Guy and discussed the story I had written.

"And by the way," Dan added. "From now on, I'll be handling my wife's correspondence, so send all your questions and comments to me."

When the message was sent, Dan explained that he was making The Stranger accountable to someone influential, who could make or break his career.

"He probably never expected the connection between his personal life and his work," Dan said.

After that, I never heard from The Stranger, although Dan contacted him when his story was published in a Christian newspaper distributed throughout the nation.

I was glad for that, but the incident left me more wary of strangers. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.



  1. Replies
    1. As a reporter, I've met some strange people, but this guy takes the cake. He was actually frightening.