The Train Story

 

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The Train Story

Travelling on a train, travelling forwards, beating a rolling passage across the grey environment towards our destination. Backwards?

So her hand was on mine, not that I was aware of it. The tracheostomy tube was doing my breathing for me. Her eyes were red and puffed from crying.

***

His own eyes peeling open anyway, K felt the soft, cushioned seat lining underneath his palms. The train bounced intermittently to the rhythm of the tracks. His throat felt torn and parched, as if the tube had just been yanked out. The man sat opposite him – dressed in mucky military uniform, separated from K by a flat white table extending underneath the window – had no eyes. Or at least, they were obscured by loose parts of his skull, skin and brain that were draped over his features.

K watched, feeling extremely groggy, licking at a line of spittle that trailed from his lower lip across his chin, as the man’s face gradually reassembled itself. Sections of flesh and skull crawled back up over his head to click back into place like pieces of a jigsaw. Er. Creepy.

***

I’d been told when/if I recover, I would be off work for a minimum of a year. Where does this fit in now?

***

Rebuilding-face man was staring vacantly out the window now at the rush of grey that soared by. He looked exhausted, but whole. K struggled upright a little more, and tried to crane his neck down the central aisle. He noticed for the first time he was wearing his black suit. Clearly he had not been wearing that in the hospital bed. How thoughtful.

A faint scratching noise on the other side moved him to stretch beyond his seat and stare down the length of the train. His eyes were drawn towards the floor. Two enormous, probing antennae appeared through a gap between chairs several feet away. This was followed by a huge pair of pincer-like jaws emanating from a smooth black head, which nodded politely. A multitude of small black limbs, each writhing within an impeccably tailored suit arm, eased through and a giant centipede, attired in its best Sunday wear, scuttled by. For a moment his antennae groped at and analysed the immediate surroundings before he arranged his lengthy frame upright upon one of the cubicle seats.

What is this, some kind of level playing field? K, slumped back into his own seat, observed the creature clicking and rubbing its tiny limbs together nervously, before his head began to throb with renewed vigour.

***

I didn’t want to be older…didn’t want to get any older, didn’t want time to pass, a little bit chronophobic, just a little, not taking a sledgehammer to my clock, just constantly aware, or aware of the wrong things. Eyes close, eyes open. (As in eyes close, then open, but one fluid motion, continuously across the spectrum of time, not time as we perceive it.)

***

He rested his heavy head against the train window and felt the dull rumble vibrating around his skull. As he drew his attention back to the vast stretches of grey mass shooting by outside, K realised there were shapes amongst the vague, gaseous clouds hurtling past. Thousands of interweaving shadows, gliding and soaring at hundreds of miles per hour, wrapping around the train, sliding through and around each other, cascading and billowing throughout the spectrum of space outside in a symphony of spectral, indistinct torsos and limbs, enraptured in the flow of the headlong current. Only very fleetingly did it seem faces were visible in their skewered, shifting, wraith-like forms; but these glimpses of features appeared ecstatic, ecstatic to be on the move again.

***

I wonder which one is mine? Though in a way, I thought I recognised each and every one.

***

In the seat beside him another man suddenly burst into existence, or the reverse, or somewhere in between. He looked incredibly old – his head lolled on his shoulder and he was drooling heavily. Thin wisps of white hair clung manfully to his liver-spotted dome. As K and the re-arranging face man observed the new passenger, his skin visibly de-wrinkled, ironed itself out, and in a matter of moments he looked young, vibrant, and in ownership of a bouffant, plush head of shining black hair. He, too, looked around in confusion as somewhere further ahead, a grunting pig trotted down the carriage to join the magnificent, dapper centipede. They appeared more at ease with the process and the journey, and engaged in cultured, amiable discussion; the pig gestured with his hooves and admitted in a deep, droll baritone that he was not afraid of time because there was no such thing; or at least not in the way that we commonly perceive it – just as he was not afraid of dying as there was no such thing, in the same way. The centipede drummed his many limbs thoughtfully.

***

I will do more to be aware of each moment this time around, and to be consciously involved in those moments, instead of thinking about what is going to happen next, or what has happened.

***

As newly-youthful-youthful-as-he-had-been-and-will-be-again-just-an-older-man-for-a-certain-series-of-moments-man acquainted himself with his new surroundings, K renewed his attention in the writhing shadows outside the window. He had been chiding himself for missing so many family get-togethers. But, come the holidays, you just want to collapse, after staggering to the finish line-

Eyes close, eyes open. Where does this fit in now? The locomotive ground to a halt and K saw the looping, joyful shadows condense into a singular, thick blanket that smothered the windows and cast them all into darkness. The suited centipede clicked and the pig grunted again. Age-reversing man (much simpler) clasped his seat edge and K wondered if this was a stop, if they were supposed to get off. Instead he felt the whole carriage begin to lift, the shadows melted from the window to support the frame of the train, elevating it somewhere else, to a new point in the spectrum of all things; a complete whole, neither beginning nor ending. Their excited hands and feet bounced along the underside of the train, now thundering upwards, or in all directions.

***

Where does this fit in now? I will make more of an effort from now on, but people will understand if I do not make it along anyway, as there is no real separation, and I have had to go through several lifetimes to get back to this point, plus the end of term, holidays etc.

Her hand was on mine, not that I was aware of it. The tube was doing my breathing for me, not for long though. She strokes the loose skin between my thumb and forefinger as our diving, whooping shadows propel the train, our train, to the next stop, eternally excited.

***

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23 thoughts on “The Train Story

      • No I mean there is so muc more that COULD have been. This place and the untold events as you described tehm leave me hungry for a fuller telling. I feel like I did when we went to see Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix at the IMax and halfway into the film it broke. We had to wait two weeks to see it again!

  1. Mind totally blown. I am not even going to try and understand what’s going on here, but let me just say (and pardon the pun), it was nice to go along for the ride. This is unusual, imaginative, heavy on the reader’s senses, and original. Great work, Stephen, and as always, a pleasure to read.

  2. The likening of the end of life, as we understand it, to an incomprehensible train journey, resonated powerfully with me. In the last few days of her life, mum told me that she was full of the excitement and nervous anticipation you get before going on a journey, that she felt as though she were standing on a platform, bags all packed, ready to board the train when it pulled in. Her faith meant that she was certain that what was coming next was worth travelling into, but that didn’t stop the apprehension she felt at times. It was a privilege to travel as far as I could with her, and I have no doubt that once it’s my turn to have my bags packed, I will discover the same destination.
    Well done on a, as ever surreal, thought-provoking piece.

    • I’m glad you identified with it, Julia, and it was lovely to read your thoughts on your mum’s journey, I appreciate it. Thanks for thinking about the story, it’s great to get feedback like this.

      • Whether we like it or not, we cannot avoid sharing something of our self whenever we write. Sharing in return is part of the exchange and mutual trust and respect. It’s about more than being able to string words and sentences together.

  3. Ah….I see you have been doing some heavy thinking. πŸ™‚ What happens when we die? is there something more ahead for us than this particular journey we call life? “P

  4. So much to love here, Stephen. It’s a bestiary, though clearly not a medieval tale (unless K is a medieval man projecting his mind into the distant future!). Your word choice is spot-on. I was especially grabbed by this: “obscured by loose parts of his skull, skin and brain that were draped over his features.” I cannot fathom better diction than “draped.” It’s beautiful and quotidian and surrounded by utterly nonquotidian goings-on. Oh, and “Sections of flesh and skull crawled back up over his head to click back into place like pieces of a jigsaw.” Crawled and click are superb here, cozying up to the insect imagery, as it were, though I think you could get away with dropping “Er. Creepy.” My 2 cents’.
    I see so many influences in this piece, from the surreal, eugenics, dystopian train metaphor/psychoanalysis angle to various literary and art and even pop-culture references, but the result is wholly your own oeuvre. Naive optimist that I am, I figured K was going to get off that breathing tube at the end and get merrily on with his life, but like watching “The Twilight Zone,” I’ll entertain the opposite view, too. Great, great work. Bravo, Stephen! πŸ™‚

    • Ah thankyou. Yeah the er creepy bit is probably a bit too throwaway, cheers for giving me this type of feedback I appreciate it. Actually when I first first put this up there was no ‘***’ separating past and present, and I quite liked the stream of consciousness thing, but when I saw it on the blog I realised it looked a bit mad and nonsensical without the breaks. I am off to look up what quotidian means! And eugenics and bestiary. Thankyou for reading and telling me your thoughts! πŸ™‚

  5. My sister–W.K. Tucker–passed this tale along. You writers of fiction ( perhaps) continue to amaze me with the way y’all’s minds operate. Thoroughly enjoyed this journey.
    Linda

  6. Unique and intriguing. Really enjoyed the imagery and train analogy. Truly surreal and captivating, with so many possibilities and directions this journey could take. Well done…

  7. You’ve posted so many good stories, but this might be my fave yet. In some ways it reminded me of the film, The Seventh Seal and Emily Dickinson’s poem, Because I could Not Stop for Death.

    Wherever you got your inspiration from, it’s an absolutely gorgeous, elegaic, yet optimsitc tale. Or at least, I find it optimistic, since I view death as a new beginning.

Thankyou for reading, feedback/constructive criticism always welcome :-)

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