When All Grows Dark

Submitted into Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that takes place on a train.... view prompt



“Home isn’t where you’re from, it’s where you find light when all grows dark.” 

– Pierce Brown


“Welcome. The destination of this train is Providence, Rhode Island.”

Providence. The irony is marked. There’s no protection in Providence for me, no divine shelter.

"Please have your tickets or passes ready to present to the conductors as they walk through the train. Additionally, please be aware that our complimentary wifi will not be available on this train, we apologize for the inconvenience.”

As the automated recording came to a finish, a sharp pain in my temple forced me to close my eyes and move to the side so other passengers could squeeze by. I rubbed my temple and ground my teeth. 

The cynic in me speculated on how long the wifi had been broken for them to feel the need to record the notice. Probably just long enough or often enough for the employees to get fed up with making the announcement but not long enough for public outrage to force management to actually care.

I really didn’t need this. I was also over my data limit. I felt my phone in my jeans pocket with every step I took down the aisle. Its presence and its current uselessness felt like I was holding onto a severed limb, just waiting for the moment when it could be reattached.

I looked around as I took a seat by the window. 

The people seated around me were the same weird assortment of humanity that you see on every train but the air felt heavy with contempt. I couldn’t face them. I turned to look out the window. I didn’t want to think about these people. Their lives. Their problems. Their mistakes.

Whizzing past us was the same countryside, forests, orchards, and small towns that I’ve sped by on every trip home… but it felt wrong. It was a bright clear fall day and that especially felt wrong. 

Why wasn’t it raining?

Why weren’t there tornados ravaging the landscape around us?

Why wasn’t the train squealing or creaking to portend a terrible crash in our future?

I picked at a hangnail until it bled. I needed a distraction.

I reached inside my bag to pull out a book, but as I pulled it out an envelope with the bright red letters ‘FINAL NOTICE’ spilled out onto the floor. My stomach roiled and I stuffed the letter and book back into my bag. 

So much for that, and suddenly my thoughts overran my control. 

Those terrifying thoughts that I normally run from when I’m not locked inside a metal cage hurtling towards my reckoning. 

My go-to defenses fail me in this prison. I can’t throw myself into work pretending that if I work harder or longer it’ll be okay. I can’t distract myself with online threads and articles. I can’t drink to calm the chaos.

The lending agent’s words from earlier echo in my head, I’m sorry it doesn’t look like refinancing will be an option in your case.

I take off my tie. The air feels thin. 

I stare at the brown leather messenger bag between my legs until black spots in my vision obscure it entirely. 

I squeeze my eyes shut but am met with an image of my wife, Kathrine, in rags begging at the corner of some intersection with Charlie in her arms. 

I feel my stomach rise and I swallow bile.

My fingers dig into my scalp as if I could squeeze the image from my brain but it just morphs into a close-up of Kathrine’s face. Her lips curling, distorting her normally beautiful face. Her eyes coldly holding my own until she shakes her head and looks away. How did you let this happen?

It’s not real, I know it’s not, but the question remains. How did I let this happen?

My stomach is in my throat. 

I feel like I’m falling. I white-knuckle the edge of the seat. 

But the feeling doesn’t stop. My heart races, waiting for the inevitable collision.  

An invisible weight is crushing my chest. I can’t breathe.

I’m gasping.

I can’t feel my hands.

My heart is pounding. It’s going to burst.

I’ll never make it home.

I’m never gonna see my family again.

They’ll never want to see you again after you tell them.

I lurch forward out of my seat but I can’t see. I fall to the ground. 

I blink rapidly, but blackness fills my vision. I can’t see. 

My breath is coming in rapid bursts. 

I blindly fumble towards the window.

“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”

I’m dying. 

I don’t want to die.

The pain in my chest grows unbearable. 

I trip and I’m falling again.


When I open my eyes, I’m being strapped to a stretcher and carried out of the train.

My head is throbbing as they load me into an ambulance.

The nurse at the hospital tells me I fell and cracked my head on the edge of a seat on the train.

She tells me I’ll be fine but they want to monitor me for a couple hours. 

And suddenly I’m left alone again. I feel my heart begin to race slightly.

I try to count the dots in the ceiling tile above my head and each time my thoughts wander, I start over. 

The nurse pokes her head in and startles me from my mental exercise.

“You have a visitor,” she pulls back the curtain and reveals my wife and child.

I can’t take it. I feel the tears spilling over and streaking down my face.

I watch tears fill her own.

My voice waivers, “I’m so so sorry.”

She drops Charlie in my arms and grabs my face, wiping the tears away with her thumbs.

“You have nothing to apologize for, James. You’ve always done your best.”

My chest tightens at her words. The truth and confidence in her words break me.

I’m sobbing. Chest heaving. Runny nose. The works.

Charlie starts crying because I’m crying.

Kathrine picks Charlie up and says, “Jason called me. He was sloshed. But I think I got the gist.”

I fall still. I wait for her to continue. I wait for her rage. Her disgust.

“We’re losing the house, aren’t we?”

My throat feels tight. I nod and stare at my hands. The hangnail is still there, but now it’s also crusted in blood and more sensitive.

I hear her sigh and feel her hand lift my chin. Her eyes pin me in place. “It sucks, James... but we’ll get through this.”

I hate this. I hate myself. My voice shakes, “I’m so sorry, Kat. You don’t deserve this. You didn’t sign up for this.”

She scoffs.

“Yes, I did,” she smiles as my brows pull together in confusion. “In good times and in bad, right?”

“I don’t deserve you.”

She grins and I know she’s right. We’ll get through this. 

She’s my bright light in a dark world. 

She’s my home.

February 06, 2020 22:25

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Jennifer Denning
12:19 Feb 13, 2020

I absolutely love your opening quotation - and you go on to express it so well through the medium of your story. I love the life affirming, marriage/relationship affirming message. It's interesting as I kind of did the marriage/family affirming thing in my story too. I think your use of the train as a metaphor of a cage in which the character is trapped is effective and interesting. I used the train as a metaphor of freedom and escape, so I was particularly struck by that. I think your use of the mis-match between the weather and how the ...


Chantel Chamonix
18:45 Feb 13, 2020

Thank you so much for the kind words and constructive feedback! I think you're right about the severed limb metaphor, perhaps having it come back more in the story would be effective, because if its really like a severed limb, you'd prolly keep going back to it out of habit and be let down each time with the reminder that it cant help you.


Jennifer Denning
22:52 Feb 13, 2020

Yes, that would definitely be effective as just as with a phantom limb I think we develop habits of reaching for our phones when we're on edge - also when we're bored, need to escape, need to hide or appear busy in a crowd, need to look important or that we have friends etc etc as well as actually needing it for legitimate, useful stuff! I think it could be really developed further into such a compelling metaphor for this character's state of mind. I love how you just put it then - always retching for it out of habit but it always letting down.


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