Dead End Train, страница 1
DEAD END TRAIN
A Short Story
Mark D. Evans
Copyright © Mark D. Evans, 2012
Published by Burning Mill
First published July 2012
This third edition published June 2013
Mark Evans has asserted his moral right to be identified as author of this work in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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Dead End Train
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Dead End Train
It happened tonight like it always did.
My hand must have its own brain, working independently of the grey matter up top, for not once have I ever dropped it. Sometimes I might find my thumb precariously close to the bottom edge of the page, waiting for the slightest rise in the tracks below to shift the weight and make it fall. But it never has.
It didn’t matter how enthralling the book was, either. By this time of the day, after the bulk of rush-hour passengers had arrived home and were running a bath or nuking a plastic-wrapped meal, not even the most daring escape by an elite soldier from an entire platoon of barbaric evildoers could compete with the soft melody of quiet conversation. It was my lullaby.
Like every other night I sat in the “Quiet” carriage, but so did the other office-workers who chatted to each other about the day’s business. I never focus on any single conversation, and with my head leant against the window—black from the night outside with odd lights streaming past in glowing lines—the inseparable voices guided me out of the pages of my book and into the scenes of my dream.
I was walking down a bright but deserted street, where even the shop windows were empty. They weren’t boarded up, but just plain bare with every mannequin as naked as a newborn. For some reason I felt at ease. I couldn’t explain it. I knew I should’ve been scared or afraid, but it was like I’d expected this strange kind of isolation.
It didn’t last long, anyway. My left foot faltered stepping from the curb. For the briefest instant I fell, but the hard tarmac of the road was never a danger for my body twitched, my head flinching away from the window before thudding back into it. I was back on the train. Sucking air to stop some drool from running over my lip, I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and rolled my head to peer out through the window.
My brief mind-fog cleared and I realised it was pointless trying to discern where we were, for no land features could be seen through the blackness of night. The LED panel at the front of the carriage was just as helpful, nothing but a flashing dot in the bottom left-hand corner implying its fault.
I’ll have to wait until the recorded announcement is played.
I looked back out of the window. There weren’t any lights whizzing past, neither close to the window nor moving along slowly in the distance, like the smooth and constant light of a plane flying high in the night sky.
We must be going through fields. Between towns.
We. The word seemed oddly strange. Stranger than usual, that is. I still hadn’t broken my habit of forgetting that my life with Elaine was over. Months had passed now since she’d found someone else who wasn’t “afraid to be spontaneous”. Those words had cut deep, but then any would when being dumped. And yet I still longed to be with her, despite the pain she’d caused. My cruel mind often assumed us still together and I’d have to pluck myself from the fantasy, realising I was doing the shopping or hanging out the washing, not we.
But now that word seemed wrong for an entirely different reason. After all—and for a change—I hadn’t been dreaming about my blonde bombshell. Coming to my senses from the drudgery of my slumber, I suddenly realised what was wrong.
The melody was gone.
My lullaby was silent.
My body rocked slightly. Like a Japanese skyscraper that was built to withstand earthquakes, my body was loose to absorb the tiny fluctuations in the track on which the smooth wheels glided. But that metallic hum—the one all modern trains have—was the only sound I could hear.
The double-seat next to mine was vacant when I first sat down—I always try to keep a bubble of empty seats around me—but I knew there had been a man and a woman sitting a few seats up ahead. From their conversation before I dozed off I could tell they were nothing more to each other than colleagues, but now they were silent… too silent if such a thing was possible. I looked through the middle of the two seats in front, unobstructed all the way up the perceived channel to the cream-coloured plastic partition separating the seats from the noisy space beyond. That space was the gap between cars where people would be crammed during rush hour.
I looked through the seats behind me, again all the way to the panelled wall, but no one was there. No telltale signs of shoulders or even a flick of a lady’s hair broke the straight lines of design. Certain that the carriage was vacant, I spread my book on the seat next to mine so I wouldn’t lose my page and stood up, confident that there would be no one to stare at me. Ducking slightly so I wouldn’t hit my head on the luggage rack above, I scanned the boxcar with my eyes.
I shivered at the haunting feel of the air, so different to how it felt before my nap. Frowning, I wondered just how long I had been asleep.
Where does this train go anyway? That’s right, Manchester.
A huge city, not some back-of-the-woods town or village. A bit odd, then, that not one person in my carriage would be going all the way.
I shrugged my shoulders. It could only be coincidence.
Trying to shake my petty fear, I knew I should just sit back down and wait—however uneasily—until the next stop. But I wanted to go to a different carriage. There would surely be people there and I needed that confirmation of not being all alone. But I needed an excuse. I couldn’t just go in, sigh in relief and retreat like a coward. Anxiously trying to deal with my irrationality, my stomach rumbled. My briefcase was void of food and I had my excuse, I felt justified in taking a quick trip to the buffet car.
With the soft movements of the train, a slight tilt this way and that, walking up an empty carriage was easy. Typical, for if there had been people present I would probably have been bumbling around and making a fool of myself. People would stare and smirk and I am not a fan of attention, avoiding it as best I can. But with no one there to notice me, I reached the doors at the end without so much as a sidestep. They slid open and the uninsulated noise of the track rushed past me. A window was half open. Normally I would go over and close it, for though it was the tail-end of summer and the air was refreshing, it was surely playing havoc with the malfunctioning air-conditioning and costing the train company at least 2 pence a mile. But even my anal retentiveness seemed subdued.
The doors of my carriage closed behind me and I was trapped in that noisy space until I stepped up to the next car. As those doors parted the tumult around me was softened slightly from the new expanse into which it could escape. A silent expanse. An altogether too-quiet void. Stepping in, the doors closed and for a second I had an urge to step back just so that the noise would return. Instead I stood my ground and allowed a subtle shiver to ripple through me at the uncomfortableness of the sudden silence.
Either side of me were the large luggage racks, where people would stow the bags that were too big to fit in the overhead rack. Both were empty. Every seat that faced me was blue with a uniformed pattern of red dots that had been dulled by thousands of backs, legs an
My steps were slow, bracing myself between seats. Only then did I notice the ride had grown a little bumpy. It gave me a brief injection of optimism, that although the cars might be empty there must still be a driver, speeding the train onward at a fair pace.
Or she, of course. The driver could be a girl. Perhaps a redhead with alluring eyes. She makes the uniform look good, the only woman who could. She’s saving up money for a plane ticket to Hollywood, but she has to pay for acting classes, too. The poor girl. It leaves no time for socialising, so when I knock on the door to enquire as to the creepy emptiness of the train, she’ll invite me into the cab and we’ll talk all the way to Manchester. Maybe we’ll end up in a bar, and…
The car shunted aggressively enough for my right hand to slip over the fabric of a headrest, making my right foot instinctively hop forward for stability. I became conscious that most of my bodyweight was now leaning on my left hand, which gripped the top of a seat tightly. Then I had to swing my right hand to another headrest on the left hand side, turning my body and finding myself facing the window, staring into the void outside the train.
Boy, she’s driving fast. Definitely a redhead.
The bend eased off and, no longer pressed to the side, I could start thinking about making my way forward. But I couldn’t stop staring out the window, through my reflection and that of the carriage behind me, into the black night. It was too black. I still hadn’t seen any lights, and I never saw anything rush past, momentarily lit up by the internal lights. Logic dictated that at the very least a pylon would whiz by every now and then, but I’d seen absolutely nothing. My mind toyed with the idea that there was no longer anything out there. The world had disappeared and the only thing left in it was this train running on cosmic tracks through an empty universe.
It wasn’t one of my most comforting thoughts.
With nervous determination I made my way down the car to the doors that parted for me. They wanted me to go through but the noise that met me—so loud now after the silence of the carriage—was an invisible barrier that I had to fight against. I almost covered my ears, but I knew that I’d quickly get used to the noise and miss it once I stepped into another silent compartment.
Ensuring I wasn’t onboard a ghost train hastened my actions and my movements. The doors of the next carriage glided open and the cold sweat that broke out implied that the seriousness of my situation was escalating.
I was in the buffet car. I could smell the remnants of a soggy, reheated burger rush past me until the doors closed, blocking off the chaotic noise and making the smell linger. Those burgers always smelled so good but tasted so bad. Did they have people working furiously away at that in labs? Creating a smell that was so misleading to consumers that they can’t help but buy the product? It was, after-all, exactly what I would’ve ordered had my situation been different.
At that thought my mind allowed me to imagine that this had all been a freaky coincidence, that almost everyone had left the train and one of the few who remained had just bought a horrible beef patty in a pulpy roll. With that glimmer of hope I took the rail that lined the left-hand side of the car and walked around to the front of the counter. My heart thudded once in defeat as my futile hope quickly drained away. There was of course no one to serve me, but something else wasn’t right. Something else unnerved me more.
It took me a couple of seconds to realise that the shelves were empty. There were no snacks, no chocolate bars, no miniature bottles of wine or half-sized cans of beer. As with every other carriage the lights were on but nothing else was. Bags weren’t on racks, empty coffee cups weren’t on the floor, and people weren’t on this train.
I turned back to the window and cupped my hand over it, pressing my forehead to my thumbs to rid my view of distracting reflections. Still nothing.
A train’s coming in the opposite direction, it’ll make this one shudder and the doors will bang.
Any second now.
But it never came, and it hadn’t happened since I’d awoken.
My forehead banged against the window having slipped under my hands. A kink in the tracks had made the train rock slightly more aggressively than usual. It was something that would be expected and go unnoticed were it any other journey—a normal journey. But the jerking of the empty carriage, accompanied with the lights flickering off for a second, changed the atmosphere. It changed everything around me.
It changed me.
Everything was the same but different. The thoughts running through my head simmered down, the clatter that had grown louder in my mind in order to save me from the feeling of isolation died away. It brought what I had known all along in my gut up through my heart—almost stopping it along the way—and turned that feeling into realisation.
I was alone. More alone than ever before.
My head wasn’t slipping on the glass, but it felt like it ought to with the cold sweat that soaked my brow and my back. All unrelated thoughts were excised and even my nervous humour had cowered away somewhere. I only had fear left and it told me to head to the front of the train, to the cabin and my only hope of salvation. Gripping the rail (the ride increasingly required it, but it was mostly to compensate for my heavy legs), I pulled myself along to the automatic doors. My hair was blown back and I crossed the windy space to the next carriage.
Propelling myself down the centre of the car using headrests as grips (I felt like a tobogganist at the beginning of his run), I swiftly moved from carriage to carriage. Every time the doors opened I had a flash of hope that I’d see a living body, but every time it was dashed, adding to my fear. The train was totally deserted of life and anything connected with it. Only the air alluded to people once existing with the lingering smells of half-eaten lunches.
With a quarry-sized pit in my stomach I arrived in a carriage that I knew would be my last. At the other end was a door which I knew wouldn’t open by me simply stepping up to it. It was a manual door that only the driver could open and close.
I stood motionless, braced between two seats. It felt like I’d been there for ages and I jumped when the doors behind me closed, blocking out the rushing noise for the last time. All I could hear now was the muffled clanking of the train wheels on the track and my heart beating in my mouth. I could feel the vein on my neck pulsing under the skin and my stomach felt like I’d just come off a roller-coaster, having done the loop-the-loop a dozen times.
The train shook and I tensed up, tightening my grip as the lights flickered some more. Those cosmic tracks were degrading, deteriorating beneath me.
What will happen when they’re too weak to hold the train? Will I plummet through an endless abyss?
I shook my head and took a deep breath. My foot was heavy and didn’t want to move, but I forced it, planting it forward. I had the same fight with the other. And that was my rhythm of walking all the way up the carriage. The closer I got to the front, the more nauseous I felt until I stopped a foot away from the cabin door. This was it, and with a deep breath I raised my fist, surprising myself at the manners that had been so strictly instilled into me from such a young age. I knocked on the door three times.
I knocked another five times as loud as I could.
And I waited.
The door handle was non-existent. Instead where it should’ve been was a socket with a square knob within, requiring a kind of socket-wrench to open and gain entry.
I hadn’t heard a voice for so long that my own sounded alien to me. And it was so loud. I’d grown accustomed to the quietened din of the train from within silenced carriages.
“Please, open up or—” I looked around and saw halfway down the carriage that familiar red button hiding pathetically behind a thin shield of breakable
And I waited.
The train rocked violently and made a horrible groan of twisting metal accompanied with flickering lights. I braced myself again until the turbulence—for that was how it felt—passed. Blindly, I fumbled in my suit trouser pocket and pulled out my house keys with a vain hope that one might be usable as a makeshift cabin door key. The bunch jangled and I started to quickly study each key in turn, beginning with the one next to my worn leather tag. There were two keys for the front door and then one for the back. Window lock keys, a key for the garage, a key for my bike lock and one for the safe hidden in my wardrobe.
Then I saw it. The key which didn’t belong with the others.
It used to, but now it was squatting. It wasn’t allowed there but it stayed anyway. It would stay there until Elaine forcibly removed it. Took it back.
But neither that key nor any other was wide enough to diagonally fill the square socket of the driver’s door lock.
I’d given fair warning and it was time for me to get off this ride.
I strolled back to the middle of the car with determined purpose, banging into the sides of seats and not caring if I tripped. There was no hesitation as I clenched my fist, brought my elbow up and smashed it into the small square piece of glass. There was no crack or shattering sound, just a thud and my pained yelp as my arm bounced off and I rubbed the bruised bone.
“Retrieve hammer. Break glass.”
White letters on a background the colour of my rage. Gritting my teeth, turning my anger inward, I gripped the small handle of what the makers of this dinky safety device called a “hammer” and pulled it out of the bracket. The head was surprisingly heavy, having metal hidden away in the red plastic shell. Swinging the small tool I hit the glass dead centre and it fell in pieces to the seat on which I knelt. The blow hadn’t depressed the button so I did, feeling the sweet relief of salvation. But as quickly as it filled me, it drained. I pushed the button again, keeping it pressed in. The train ploughed on through empty space with no sign of slowing. There was no sudden jerk, no squealing of brakes.
I should’ve been flung over the seats by now, like they do in the movies.
I didn’t care about the glass and sat down upon it. I could feel the edges of the pieces through the fabric of my trousers and my boxers, but I didn’t care. In my left hand I still gripped the useless hammer and lifted it before my eyes. Maybe not so useless. I looked at the small yet heavy head of the T-shaped tool.
One of the ends might fit.
I got up, went to the door of my freedom and tried slotting the squarish face of a striking-end into the lock. Amazingly, as if it was the first thing that had gone right all night, it fit. I turned it, half expecting what happened next. The metal edges of the socket peeled away the rounded corners of the tool’s plastic coating. It made the squarish face into a round one. Ripping the tool out, I span around and threw the hammer like it was a throwing knife with such force it would’ve smashed through the door window at the other end. Predictably, I couldn’t even do that right and the hammer bounced off the top of a seat not even halfway down the carriage. I half expected it to bounce back in my face. I half hoped for it.
My eyes began to sting.
No, I won’t cry or weep. What good will that do?
This was no time for self-pity, no matter how much I wanted it. I was, however, out of options. Except one.
Do I jump?
There was no easy exit. The last carriage would’ve been the engine with no way through, so the only way out was through one of the doors at the side, either end of the carriages. I started to make my way back down when suddenly all the possible scenarios played through my mind: I prepare to jump as the wind rips the door from its hinges and the door rips my face from its skull; I dangle a leg out and a pylon tears it from its socket; I manage to jump free of the train but land on parallel tracks and fry in a white ball of lightning; I jump whilst going over a bridge and fall fifty feet instead of five, into concrete instead of water.
Then I remembered there was nothing out there: I jump into the vacuum of an abyss and fall forever.
And then there was a sound other than that of my heart or the rattling tracks below. A mechanical sound, but old-fashioned. It wasn’t automated machinery but a simple device. A high pitched clunk. A lock. Turning.
In the relative silence of the carriage I heard a tell-tale squeak of the driver’s cabin door swinging ajar. There was no breeze, but a shiver ran up my spine anyway.
I was in two minds. If this were a movie and I was watching it, I’d be telling myself to run away from what was obvious to the viewer as being something to run away from. A locked door doesn’t open by itself unless someone—or something—has plans for you.
I’m not a virgin so if this was a horror movie, I’d be fair game. I should run away.
But what if it was just a stuck door? I tried to remember if I’d even attempted to prise it open or whether I was so angry at having something so small defeat me that rational thought had been swept aside. Because if that was the case then I could stop the train. I could get off.
I closed my eyes tightly and was about to turn around to face the open door.
Why have I closed my eyes to potential danger?
I opened them and span around before I lost my nerve, but the door wasn’t open enough to see into the cabin. But it was open enough to know that there weren’t any lights on inside.
That’s normal though, right? It is night after all. With the internal lights on the driver wouldn’t be able to see past his own reflection.
Creeping like it would do me any good, I approached the door. It gently swayed, coerced from the rocking of the train, but it never swayed open enough. It only teased me. I looked around for anything that could act like a pole so I could open the door from a little distance, momentarily forgetting that the train was empty.
Another deep breath and my fingers wrapped around the edge of the door. It squeaked as I pulled it open. Not a wooden creak like a saloon door in a cowboy movie, but a plastic screech. It was just as unnerving.
I gulped air and stepped back, the door wide open. My view of the infinite beyond through the windscreen was obstructed. I could see something, faintly lit in the flickering light that seeped into the blackened cabin from the carriage behind me.
And it was moving.
Something flowed toward me. Reaching for me. I was frozen in place and my mind worked out what it was. Strands of hair furled in a non-existent breeze as if underwater. The square shoulders of a jacketed body was wider than the thin backrest of a seat. But the body didn’t turn or even flinch. It sat like a statue.
There was no response. I said it again but louder, the answer unchanging in its dormancy. Looking past the body in the dark, the night outside into which the train sped was so black I could see the panel of dashboard lights clearly in the angled windscreen, as if the window was the dashboard with tiny words here and there in a foreign language. Upside down. If the train had headlights and if they were on, there was no indication of it. That void consumed all light.
Suddenly the train shook more violently than ever and I braced myself between the first two passenger seats of the train. In the cabin, the body moved in sync, like it and the train were one.
With uneven and shallow breaths, I swallowed hard to try and moisten my dry mouth. Before me my hand rose. My eyes almost widened in surprise that my limb obeyed my order, and with subtle trembling like that of an alcoholic lifting the first drink of the day, my hand reached out and toward the shoulder of whoever—or whatever—was sitting with its back to me.
As if there was an invisible barrier surrounding the driver, my fingers began to curl under my palm when they were an inch from her navy blue jacket—the hair made me certain that it was a she. I stopped moving, my hand froze
My eyes opened and my breathing stopped.
There was movement.
The head was slowly turning. To the right. Slowly she turned to look over her shoulder at me.
I wanted to run again, but I was frozen now against my will. Unable to move I couldn’t stop the mental images of a missing nose, missing eyes, missing flesh. A skull with beautiful flowing red hair.
I could see it now that my eyes had adjusted enough to allow the faintest shades of colour to seep through the darkness. And then I could see the smooth silk of flesh, not bone. A dull white in what little light invaded the cabin. The tip of her sharp but delicate nose came into view.
The shoulders started to move, turning toward me, and before my wits caught up I was stepping back into the flickering dim light of the carriage. The highlighted edges of the girl’s face and body turned and rose from the seat. Silently.
She stood, straightened herself up and faced me. Surrounded by darkness I couldn’t make out her features, only her smooth legs from under the hem of a skirt and her smooth hands from under the cuffs of her jacket. But her face was a mystery.
She stepped forward. Into the light.
It was her. The redhead that I never bumped into at the cafeteria every day. The redhead who never replaced Martin in the office next to mine. The redhead who never moved into that empty shoebox above my own. The redhead who, in no plausible circumstances, would be driving a train while saving up money to escape to Hollywood.
My breathing restarted.
Have I been holding it that long?
The cold sweats, the shivers, all had gone and the horrible twist in my guts had smoothed itself out. It was a miracle. Fate. Destiny. I stepped forward, closing the gap between us to only a couple of feet.
“I-it’s you. My—“
My what? My fantasy? Does this sort of thing actually happen? Is this fate? And if it’s predetermined then it makes no odds what I say.
But I have to say something charming. Of course it matters what I say. I want to be charming.
No. Fate’s too easy. This is a chance and I have to say and do exactly the right thing to make it work.
“I’ve dreamt of you?” No, too sappy. “I’ve waited for you?” Oh, God no. That’s worse.
“I’ve always wanted to—“
Finally the clock distracted me. I looked around to find the source of the dull, low-pitched ticking while the redhead stood motionless. But there was no clock.
I looked down. It was coming from below. I looked at the scuffed carpet, it too with patterns similar to the seat upholstery. But there was a new shape not in-keeping with the symmetry.
It slowly grew as a brief sparkle accompanied the ticking before soaking into the fibres.
It was a dark patch, right by the red-head’s left foot. I traced up from the floor, over smooth bare shin and uncreased skirt. Over hem of jacket and slither of white blouse.
Her jacket was unbuttoned and the parting revealed an inch or two of the blouse tucked into her skirt. Curiosity had chased away reason and without even asking I reached out and delicately took the left edge of her jacket between finger and thumb, opening it while stepping slightly closer.
I let go, stepped back, hunched forward and almost heaved. I put my hand to my mouth and stared at the floor. Her slender feet stepped closer and around them her jacket fell having been slipped off. I straightened up and took another step back, putting my other hand up like a traffic warden would to stop cars. But I couldn’t stop my eyes flicking back to the fist-sized hole in her chest.
The blouse was torn with shreds hanging down from the top, disappearing into the dark red mess that glistened as her chest rose from breathing. Bits of bone—broken ends of her rib cage—jutted into the hole from the torn flesh around it. Blood oozed and dripped out the bottom of the cavity. Around it the edges of the torn fabric soaked up the thick red sludge, the blood expanding its reach by seeping through each weave, thread by thread. I didn’t need to be an expert on human physiology to know that the heart was missing.
She took another step toward me.
I was about to turn and run when instead I doubled over in agony. But it wasn’t my stomach. I looked up from under my brow as the redhead took another step and I edged backward in pain. My right hand reached for stability while my left clutched my torso. I felt a warm moisture. A dampness. I took my hand away and it glistened red. Against the pain I stood up straight and rested my chin on my chest, looking down at the growing patch of red in my own white shirt.
Hyperventilating, I spread my legs to keep my balance and used both hands to rip my shirt apart. I almost fell backward when I saw a gaping hole in my own chest, the flesh violently torn around the edges and blood oozing out. I was faint and dizzy.
There was movement from the corner of my eye.
I looked up in time to put my hands out in front of me to catch the redhead as she silently launched herself at me. We both fell backward to the floor, face to face, hole to hole. She was still a familiar picture of beauty, but that only made me feel more afraid as she pinned me down without any emotion. There was no aggression furrowing her brow and no exertion parted her lips. Helpless and defeated, I had little strength left to keep her off of me.
The lights above flickered ever more violently and the train rocked from side to side, the sound of twisting metal rising from non-existent tracks. Somewhere from the back of the train there was an almighty boom. I tried to look down the carriage at the door but could see nothing through it, my angle was all wrong. Then there was another boom, it was closer and the train rocked.
I felt breath on my face and was reinvigorated to get away from this emotionless crazy. She raised herself slightly. I saw her throat swallow the wrong way. Something was coming up. There was a subtle convulsion and then her mouth opened. I flinched as she coughed blood over my face. Then she spoke in a raspy, gurgling whisper that sounded like the words themselves were tearing her throat apart from the inside.
She spluttered sporadically, while from her lower lip strings of bloody saliva oozed over my chin and my cheeks as I shook my head and tried to prise myself free. From the rocking of the train she shifted slightly to the side and I took my chance to escape, but at the same time there was another rattling, vibrating bang. Less restrained, I was able to look up easier than before, in time to watch through the windows of the carriage door the car behind being torn from the coupling. It didn’t have time to fall back or fall down as with a deafening roar the metal twisted and contorted. In less than a second the whole carriage had folded in on itself. Imploded.
The red-haired fiend had found her balance and repositioned herself, with her knees spread either side of me. She started to shake me violently, banging my shoulders onto the floor. Then finally an emotion. Anger.
“No,” I screamed, finding my voice once more, but like the redhead’s it gargled. My mouth was full of blood, too, and my vision began to blur through tears.
My head banged on the cushioned floor, my chin wet with her blood and mine. Tears streamed down my cheeks.
The voice was changing.
My vision began to clear, but the shaking continued. It was Elaine. I could see the outline of her face now, such a gentle outline. Not too unlike that of t
“Sir, you must wake up.”
Why is Elaine calling me sir?
I blinked and sucked in air. In a flash I knew I’d drooled all over myself and I could already feel the cooled saliva starting to dry into an invisible crust over my chin. I heard myself groan and the shaking ceased. In front of me stood Elaine, her hair still blonde.
“Sir, this is the end of the line. You must alight here.”
I looked out the window and knew exactly where I was. Manchester. Over an hour past my stop. I looked back at Elaine with her bleached-blonde hair, only now I realised it wasn’t Elaine. I’d never seen this woman before, though like her they all wore the same navy-blue uniform and white blouse. But I never recognised them. Day after day they woke me up in this city I’d never walked, but for all of the three months that this had been happening, not once had I been woken by the same stewardess.
Dazed, I began to collect my things. I stood unsteadily and was left to my own devices. People moped past outside on the platform while the doors to my carriage closed behind the last commuter to leave.
I looked around the empty car, at my world which was as bare and desolate now as it had been in my dream. On the floor in the corner was my book, fallen from my grip. Next to it my bookmark, a strip of photos I kept of me accompanying a redhead wearing her favourite navy-blue jacket. Elaine, before she bleached her beautiful hair. I bent down to pick them up, noticing the crease running down the strip of pictures on a slant, slicing my heart in one frame and hers in the next.
It had happened tonight like it always did.