The Train

So as I said in my opening post, I’m going to occasionally (i.e. whenever I actually get round to it) be throwing up the odd story that I’ve written… sometimes it’ll be rather long, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. Anyway, this’ll be the first one, and I’m quite happy with it, particularly the beginning. Let me know what you think.

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The ferocity with which the alarm was beaten was not a new experience for the abused instrument, and it obediently ceased its pliant cry. The hand slipped off the cheap plastic, the hairs littering its back held down with grime and dirt, testimony to days of squalor and thirst. A groan emanated from the heaped bed sheets, the grit lining the sound unmistakeable. Floundering like a dying fish, the hand searched. It was moments before it found the first of its treasures, but minutes before the second. Retracting into the bed-mound, it was only seconds before a section of the much maligned covers were thrown back to reveal a ball of tousled black hair, riddled with grease and dandruff. Somewhere in that veritable mass was a face, creased with frowns and the lines those frowns created. Four day old stubble lent unearned years to the jaw, and as the hand popped up a cigarette to the unsmiling mouth, its partner pushed back the worst of the hair, allowing light to the pale skin. Another groan. Another day.

It was a good three minutes before the worn husk of a man tumbled out of bed, a stream of curses erupting from his blackened lips. He picked himself up, daintily peeling a slice of cheese from the palm of his hand and feeding it into his mouth. Breakfast sorted, he set about finding his clothes. The room was a cross between a jungle and a dump, with enough vegetation and rubbish to fill either, the various pieces of debris and rubbish forming artificial mountains and making footing unsure. Navigating the terrain like a weathered explorer, he grasped a pair of shirts, some grubby trousers and a single sock. Emerging into his comparatively clean kitchen, he gave a curt and vulgar response regarding his insufficient foot insulation, choosing to abandon the sock’s partner and pull on his shoes regardless.

Stumbling over to the sink, the grim-coated hand turned the tap, granting the only clean thing in the man’s possession, water, access to the cesspit of his flat. It was a short visit, the stream only present for the time it took the man to splash his face and ears, some pre-pubescent mantra from his mother still holding him in its thrall, perhaps, before it was shut off once more, its cleansing presence no longer able to illuminate the squalor of its surroundings. They, too, were soon left to themselves, the door slammed shut, leaving the few rooms, and the partnerless sock, alone.

The sunlight attacked his eyes as he stepped onto the street, the biting wind providing artillery support in the assault, serving to sour his mood even further. He shambled down the street, thinking with regret the neglect he had shown the coat on the back of his door. It wasn’t so far to the station, but it was far enough to make the extra layer missed. It was only minutes before his resolve weakened, and he stepped into the nearest cornershop, lying to himself that he needed a new lighter, the half full implement in his back pocket smugly asserting itself into his right buttock. He strode up to the counter, his eyes narrowing with distaste at the dark-skinned man behind it. He did not stoop to speak to the man, not wanting to taint himself. He instead pointed to the lighters and grunted, his hand dipping into his pocket for his loose change. He felt the round shape of a fifty pence piece, pulled it out and placed it on the counter, snatching the object from the clerks hand, ignoring the ‘One pound please sir.’, before heading out of the shop, pausing in the doorway only long enough to mutter ‘Fuck off paki.’ Without even a smile, he lit up with his old lighter and carried on.

Rolling down the arms of his shirt, he pulled them over his hands, trying to keep the wind away from the vulnerable digits as he continued on, mild disgust still colouring his face from his encounter. He dipped his head, glancing up at the distant train station with contempt, cursing it for being so far away. With a sigh he continued on, barely noticing the few pedestrians on the road, let alone move out of the way for them. The single time he paused on his walk was for a woman with a pram, and even then only because he couldn’t barge past them like he had done the whole way down the pavement, as the pram took up most of the walkway on its own. Grumbling at the mother, he ignored her disdainful look and started to mount the stairs to the train station, his movements slow and deliberate, bringing his foot down on each step as though it had caused him personal harm.

The concrete behemoth of the station leered down on him as he walked through the threshold, the bustle of the morning traffic darkening his features as he tried to navigate through them without conceding space to anyone. With a few more grimy coins in his hand he headed for one of the ticket machines, foregoing the manned desks for the virtue of not having to deal with people. He thumbed the screen, leaving large smudges on the plastic, his grimace growing even tighter as he began to feed the change into the receptacle, pulling away his ticket as he made his way towards the platforms, his furrowed brow keeping his gaze straight ahead, ignoring the busy people around him.
The ticket never left his hand, held there with a grim determination that bordered on obsession, his desperation to escape this throng of sociality dominating the forefront of his mind. He inserted the slip of card into the gates, snatching it from the machine as the doors swung open, allowing him onto the platforms. Free of the worst of the people, he stopped for a moment and took in a polluted breath, taking out a cigarette and placing it in his mouth, just sucking on it now as he made his way to his train, a look of disgusted satisfaction on his face as he noticed how dirty and in ill repair the vehicle was. His hypocrisy went unnoticed in the bitter ramblings of his mind, more focused on poking the button and waiting impatiently for the door to open, only to push past those trying to exit the train and seek the first empty four-seater he could, eager to take up as much space as he could.

His morning train was not a busy one, whether it was by virtue of the late hour he usually awoke, or the unpopular nature of his destination, he neither knew nor cared, but he did enjoy the tranquil nature of the trip, so much as a man of his type could enjoy anything. He sank down in the chair, the cigarette glued to his lips by dried saliva, allowing him to open his mouth without fear of losing his precious relief. As his thin lips separated themselves he took another deep breath, triggering a series of pathetic coughs that barely disturbed the silence of the carriage. Despite this he eyed his companions, as if daring them to make a fuss. Across the aisle from him was a business woman utterly enraptured in a paperback whose title the man read only so he could bitterly gloat at the trashy nature of the novel. Further down in the carriage was a silent couple, their drowsy faces belying that their lack of conversation was not born of animosity, but merely an unwillingness to wake properly. They glanced at each other occasionally, their mouths half open as if there was something they wanted to say, but every time they thought better of it, and resumed their vacant stares to the length of the carriage. The final occupant was a young man, dressed in the bitter man’s personal pet hate of half casual, half business, jeans overlaid with a business jacket and a scruffy shirt, the top few buttons undone to reveal a t-shirt, no doubt showing off some concert or band the man was currently listening to, or just thought it would be cool to listen to. Turning away with disgust, the man glanced out the window, sinking further into his seat as he propped up his feet on the cushions opposite him, the sound of the engine speeding up soothing his ranting mind.

The fields flitted by like memories, his mind wandering silently as he shifted in his seat, the light of the day making him squint with anger, occasionally looking at his carriage-mates to condemn them for some inane act or another. The cigarette between his lips did a merry dance, raising its head eagerly before he let it drop once more, the weight on its short end removed. IT was a train journey like any other, filled with contempt and boredom, wishing for that great event that would unlock his anger and allow him to reveal his inner humanity. He laughed quite suddenly, the thought so utterly ludicrous that he found it hilarious, and in the silence that followed his outburst he mumbled to himself, giving a leer to each one of those who glanced over at him in confusion.

Stations passed, and new passengers started to fill the seats, all giving the man a wide birth, as if his mood permeated the air around him, leaving it sour and stale, distasteful to breathe. He smiled at this, inwardly cursing them all for shunning him so. The now full seats ignored him, people continuing along with their lives, oblivious to the man on his own, not even giving him the benefit of contempt. Routine governed their lives as they governed his, and with a bitterness that surprised even himself, the man hated the shared trait.

He was dosing when the first signs began. There was a loud, disjointed sound further up the train, mechanical in its awkwardness, almost as if punctuating a beat in a song no one could hear. It was this sound that woke him from his half-slumber, the cigarette between his lips wagging attentively, as if apologising for his sloth. He glanced out of the window, his brow furrowing as he tried to make sense of the wilding askew landscape. It almost seemed as though he was going towards the fields, rather than along them, and as realisation sparked in his eyes, he dove under the table separating him from the seats his feet had sullied, bracing his back against the thick plastic as those around him began to wail, their voices melding into one overwhelming scream, a siren call from the depths, a warning, not a lure. The cigarette fell from his lips as the whole carriage began to spin, his hand snatching it out of the air to glue it back to his mouth as pieces of mundane life flew through the air, almost in stasis as the environment around them constantly reasserted itself, the ceiling becoming the floor, the walls the ceiling, and the floor the walls, a desperate circle, blows raining down on the man as his body flung itself against the different sides of his confines, the chairs, the table, the table post, the floor. He bore it all with a bitterness and stoic attitude that hinged on his thin grimace, and the desperation to keep that damned cigarette between his lips.

Surrealism fled like a thief as reality lumbered back into the carriage, the rolling stopping only in the train car, not in the stomachs of those passengers still conscious. With a grunt the man pulled himself from his place under the table, placing a battered palm on the surface, his face wincing slightly as he pulled it away again. He took hold of the nearest person he could see, a young woman, and gently lifted her from her chair, ignoring her soft moans. Pulling her over his shoulders like a newly culled lamb, he plodded forwards, constantly shifting his feet as he made his way down the skewed carriage, one foot on the side of the seats, the other on the diagonal floor. The occasional grunt was all that came from his lips, the cigarette raising its tired head with each one.

The train was gone, ripped from the carriage half way down, the blaring sunlight spilling into the wrecked car along with the dirt and grass from the field it had cleaved into, shards of twisted metal forming a dangerous obstacle for the burdened man. He took a deep breath, readjusting the woman on his shoulder before launching himself from the metal prison, landing awkwardly and slipping to his knees, almost losing the woman on his shoulder before tensing his grip and holding her there. He took another deep breath, the cigarette quivering with trepidation as he softly lay her down on the earth, clearing a strand of hair from her face before gently rising to his feet, his dogged steps somewhat alleviated by the soft earth.

He used one of the broken windows to re-enter the train, not wanting to use the shattered opening unless he had to. He took a broken metal bar and cleared the glass, wincing as the odd shard flew at him, breaking his skin. Using his shirt to cover him from the worst of the glass he climbed back in, heading towards the couple he had so recently condemned, the male half of the partnership groggily climbing to his feet, the woman unconscious, her blood smeared over the window she had been glancing out of. Slapping the groggy man in the face, he grabbed his shirt, pulling him up so that their faces were only inches apart.

“You are going to wake your blood arse up, and then you are going to help me get her” He jerked his thumb at the unconscious woman. “out of this gods-forsaken place before the whole thing goes up in flames.” There was suddenly alacrity in the man’s eyes and he planted his feet firmly on the ground, murmuring nothings as they both gently lifted the woman up, each taking a side as they moved carefully down the aisle, making sure not to jolt her. As they neared the sheared metal of the opening, he turned back to the partner.

“Jump through that opening. I will pass her down to you.” Hesitating for a moment the man nodded, tenderly passing the woman across before leaping forward, passing through all the random blades and landing safely below. Taking a deep breath, he passed her down, making sure the woman’s partner had all the weight before releasing her. He turned to go then stopped, glancing over her shoulder at the couple, the man bent over the woman’s motionless form, desperately clearing the hair from her face and worrying over her.

“If you have a phone ring for an ambulance, she’s going to need one.” The man looked up, outraged at the man’s callousness, but he said nothing, instead dropping his gaze back to the woman on the ground. Shaking his head, the rescuer returned to the carriage, looking for the next one.

It was two hours before he had cleared the carriage, the passengers littering the empty field surrounding the long metal cylinder. A good amount of them were unconscious, and he did not know whether they lived or not, nor did he much care. He had done what he thought needed of him, and with a sigh he sat, gazing up at the railway. There was a great brown rift in the undisturbed green of the field, littered with metal and plastics, the scene of some great battle perhaps, or a shuttle landing. Not this, not some mundane train crash. He brushed himself down, ignoring the numerous cuts and bruises adorning his dirt-covered skin, and looked out again at the morning sun. Not this.

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About Phill Cameron

I've graduated, had a look at the world, and spat. Now I'm devoting my time to moving from 3/4 of a games journalist to 9/10ths. I figure I can get away with 9/10ths.
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