Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Only Train Out of Town

The girl sat on the edge of the bench, leaning forward, with her elbows on her knees. Dressed in blue jeans, trainers and a green overcoat buttoned up, she sucked on a cigarette and looked pensive, slightly nervous, as her eyes flickered up to the timetable above the platform. 36 minutes remained. She exhaled, with the cigarette perched between her first two fingers whilst her thumb picked at the nail of her third finger. Between her feet sat shopping bags of clothes she didn’t really want and certainly didn’t need or could afford, but buying them made her feel warm, made her feel like things were okay for a short while. She wasn’t alone, either. Next to her sat a young boy. He looked about 6 or 7, with mousey brown hair and grey eyes. He hummed aeroplane noises as he waved a small toy car in front of his face. His lip was quivering and occasionally his entire body would shudder from the cold, but he was content. He was totally absorbed in his plastic plaything.  His right cheek bore a fresh scar from colliding with the edge of a radiator having been pushed down a flight of stairs. He had been told that it had knocked him out for ten minutes, but he was still unsure what had actually happened. He couldn’t really remember. It was fuzzy to him. Curiously running his index finger over the scar, he looked up at the girl. To a stranger she looked no older than 17 or 18, but he knew that wasn’t true, he knew she was much older than that. He looked at her lovingly. He adored the way she would tuck her hair behind her ear, but he remained unconvinced about her choice of earrings today. Satisfied she was paying no attention to him he quickly observed the rest of the platform before slipping the finger from his scar up into his nose and rummaging around. No luck today, he was empty. He wiped his finger on his leg anyway, just to be safe, but also partly out of habit. He continued to wave the car in his left hand, now preferring helicopter noises even though he found them difficult to do. He was proud when he managed to click his tongue against the roof of his mouth just right. He’d be a pilot someday, he just knew it.  He squinted at the timetable, 34 minutes remained.

The kid’s stomach growled. He hoped she didn’t hear it, but guessed she was too absorbed in her own thoughts to have noticed. He wished he could ask her to take him back inside the station to the fast food shop so he could get a cheeseburger. He’d get the kind that came with bacon. Hopefully some chips too. And a drink of lemonade from a paper cup and lots of ice that would make a loud slurping noise when it was getting empty. He could throw the left over ice for the birds or he could play with the plastic lid, pushing the bubbles on it in and out. He always liked doing that. He stayed quiet. He knew it was best not to ask. She’d say something about saving money. He never understood that though; she was always buying clothes for herself but they could never get takeaway food. If she quit smoking maybe they could eat. She lit another cigarette and he let out a sigh.

The girl finished the cigarette and tried to flick it onto the tracks. She failed. It fell lifelessly within a foot of the bench. She pushed her heel into it and ground it along the platform, leaving a trail of broken ash behind it. She stared down at the remains. It reminded her of a slug trail, but powdered and black. It looked like the leftovers of an old, dried lava flow. She continued to look at the mess and pondered it. In truth she didn’t know what it looked like and she didn’t really care. She thought it looked sad and lonely. She took a glance around. Everything looked sad and lonely. She turned back to her left to where the kid was sitting. He had his feet up on the bench and, resting his chin on his knees and hugging his shins, was staring at his shoes. She wanted to reach out and put an arm around him. She wanted to pull him close and place a kiss on the top of his head, tell him that everything would be okay. Tell him that she knew where they were going. She couldn’t bring herself to do it. She couldn't lie, not to him. She had no idea what awaited them on the other end of the train journey. She looked back up at the clock. 28 minutes remained.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


There it goes. Yapping once, twice, three times. Some kind of hellhound serenading tonight's full moon whilst I lay in my bed wide-eyed, staring at the ceiling and waiting for sleep to drag me into an oblivion of dreams. I consider shutting the window to give myself some peace but know that I am in a stage of sleeplessness between consciousness and the land of nod. I'm in some kind of limbo. I'm paralysed. My senses are too sharp to sleep but I'm too tired to move. I'm trapped. I wait, and listen to the barks, to the growls, to the cries of desperate pain. I have no idea what the noise is, but it is continuously flooding through my window and it is relentless. It's starting to feel like torture.

Beneath my bed something felt unnatural; it creaked, shuddered violently and burst into life. I clung to the sheets, I clung to the mattress, and I clung on to anything that was in arms' reach. I was shitting my pants. The bed was moving uncontrollably and I had no idea why. The legs thumped hard against the cold, wooden floorboards as the thing started to lift into the air. I had no idea what was happening and I was trying not to lose my nerve completely. I exhaled deeply in a vain attempt to extinguish my panic. I couldn’t get a grip – on neither my emotions nor the bed beneath me.  If only I didn't bite my nails I would have something to dig into the mattress. I was scared. I was having reruns of horrible Hollywood horror movies running through my mind and none of them were any good and none of them were supplying any answers. The bed was moving by itself. Nothing else in my room was moving, it was just the bed. I was sober too, so I couldn't blame it on the drink and stretch a leg out, lay it on the floor and stop the world from spinning around me. It was alive and it was moving. I felt it, I heard it. I could even sense its pulse. This couldn't be real. I had to wake up. I had to challenge this nightmare. It erupted. My bed erupted upwards, towards the ceiling and bolted like a frightened colt, fleeing a venom filled cobra, and darted towards the window. My bed, which on so many nights had been my sanctuary was now inexplicably out of control.  The covers would be my only protection. I'd duck beneath them and find safety. I'd revert to a child and pretend to be mining some precious material before the mine would collapse, turning me into a martyr and leave a beautiful girl behind to mourn my loss. If I believed that, then I really was stuck in the world of dreams. I lifted my head above the covers and saw the window explode into fragments of diamonds as the bed hovered in the sky above the street. The moon was bright and full and gloating. The clouds cowered out of sight. The night was beautiful and my sheets were grubby. I inhaled hard on the clear night air and tried to fall back to sleep.

And then it tilted downwards. Like a cold, heartless killer - calm in the act and dangerously patient - the nose of the machine I floated on aimed directly at the ground and, shooting to kill, the thing plummeted. Surely I was done. It was the final chapter. Here'd be the story that might take up an inch or two of the local newspaper if anybody cared or even if it had just been a quiet week. Down, down it went. I expected to snap out of it. To jerk, twist and panic and find myself in between the sheets with my heart tapping on the inside of my chest as though it was begging to be let out and finally set free. It had decided that it could take no more suffering. There'd be sweat, too.  It would be gathered on my forehead and my temples. It would be gathered on my palms and the soles of my feet. Maybe even beneath my arms, too. My eyes would part and absorb the familiarity of my walls, but it never came. Down, down I went instead. Wind in my hair, stomach in my mouth, testicles six feet above me, still in the air from where I was falling. The ground grew and swelled. The pavement was spinning towards my face. I should open my eyes. Where was the jolted jump and return to safety? Down, down, down I continued.

Then it happened. The lights came on. I was safe. I peeled my eyes open prepared for the row of small spotlights of my bedroom ceiling staring back at me, but was fully aware I shut them all off before I crawled into my resting place. It must be morning, with the light coming in through the window. My curtains are thick and always closed tight. Nothing gets through them. I stared ahead and saw nothing but light. My peripheral vision was hazy - grey turning to black. The harder I stared the brighter and more focussed the light became. Soon there'd be nothing but light as it approached me. I had tunnel-vision. Now was the time to wake up. Pinch me, punch me, even fuck me, but this couldn't be it, not like this. A light at the end of the tunnel? Bullshit. I wanted a desperate, eternal emptiness. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to wake up.