Contest #168 shortlist ⭐️

Far Away and Fast

Submitted into Contest #168 in response to: Make a train station an important part of your story.... view prompt

53 comments

Coming of Age Speculative Drama

There were too many of us, Lizzy thought, tucking herself behind a door jamb.

Her father smoked in stony silence in front of a television, while her mother swatted her brothers who snatched fingerfuls of mashed potatoes from a large bowl on the dining room table. 

In various sizes, her brothers pushed and yelled, whining about being hungry, complaining about being late for football or wrestling practice, asking if there were any more chocolate doughnuts from the bakery.

As usual, her mother was cross, but she never yelled. She would slam cabinets and drawers full of silverware. She would burn the rolls and watch frozen peas spill out from the freezer and onto the floor. She’d forget to strain cans of fruit cocktail, mixing it all with Cool Whip and mini marshmallows until it was all a gray, soupy mess. She’d fail to cut the fat off pot roasts, serving it balefully on a pewter dish, decorated with half-cooked potatoes and mushy carrots, glistening in its oleaginous glory on a chipped ceramic serving dish. 

Her father never yelled. 

He didn’t talk much, either.



Dinner was served precisely at 5:30 p.m. 

Her brothers would descend from the upstairs bedrooms like locusts, impatiently waiting for the precursory prayer to be mumbled before eating their mother’s cooking, hand over fist. When the boys were satiated, they’d disburse, leaving the house for a variety of activities and adventures. 

Lizzy stayed home.

The brothers were all much older than she, and Lizzy was glad when they left, taking their manic energy with them.

If they weren’t eating, they were hurling creative insults or shoving one another. Sometimes they hit each other. Sometimes lamps and glass panes were broken.

The house almost sighed with relief to have them gone.

Only when she was sure they had left, she’d gather her books to board her train—the train in the basement closet. 



Lizzy was the youngest, the “accident.” She often found her way into the basement closet, a nondescript place, unremarkable in every way. But it was quiet and cozy.

After dinner, Lizzy asked her silent parents to be excused from the table. When they tersely nodded, she scampered downstairs. She opened the closet door, then clambered over boxy pieces of luggage, baskets of gloves and mittens, piles of sporting equipment, bins of various winter boots and galoshes. 

I am on a train, she imagined, finally reaching the far back wall. How wonderful to pretend to be in a sleeper car, sealed off from the rest of the passengers, alone, a window open to the picturesque countryside that streamed by!

She envisioned the train car holding all of her worldly goods: a few books, a yellow teddy bear, a purse full of penny candy, her favorite sweater—all within arm’s reach in her tidy, small compartment. 

Maybe the stewards would bring her meals to eat in her room? She sighed with pleasure at the possibility.  In her mind, she conjured up plates of spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread, toasted to a buttery gold. She would order glasses of whole milk and corn on the cob and ice cream. She imagined dishes filled to the brim in a dazzling array: pork ribs, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, pancakes.

Rarely did platters of food make it all the way around at her own dining table, as her brothers were “growing” and needed to eat their fill. 

I am on a train, she decided. And I can order what I want to eat.

Lizzy heard the train’s wheels turn, the brakes hiss and creak, the calls of the conductor, the quick steps of passengers settling in. With great joy, she switched the scenery in her mind from the low deserts of Arizona to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania to the fertile greens of the Carolinas. 

I am heading south. She felt the warmth of a fictitious sun on her cold feet. She opened the basket of wintry things, pulling out a thick wool blanket. Though it smelled musty, it comforted her.

She secured it tightly around herself.

I am going far away and fast. 



Her oldest brother was angry like her father, but restless, like a panther locked in a small cage. 

He had bumped into her, coming down the stairs one night, when the other siblings were gone.

Watch where you’re going, he said.

She made herself smaller and said nothing.

I said, watch where you’re going. 

She looked at him briefly, but there was something dark in his eyes. 

It made her stomach hurt.

She turned and scurried up the stairs.



Another time when she’d disembarked from her train, she climbed out of the closet only to find her oldest brother there, dressed in his skimpy wrestling outfit. 

What do you do in there, he asked.

She ducked her head and tried to go under his arm. 

He grabbed her by the collar of her tee shirt. 

I asked you a question. 

She just shook her head, pulling away from his grasp.

I could teach you to wrestle. 

She pushed past him.  

He laughed at her.



She had quit boarding the train in the closet for weeks, staying up in the bedroom she shared with her youngest brother. 

He was the loudest, jumping on both beds and throwing Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs at her. 

She had eyed their shared closet. 

Perhaps there was another train station in the house? 

She investigated it briefly, but it was no use. Her youngest brother's collections of rocks and butterfly wings and matchbooks cluttered up the floorspace. 

There was no room for her there. 



In time, she felt the overwhelming need to go—far away and fast. 

After dinner, she excused herself and descended the stairs. 

The closet door was wide open. 

She ached with the need to be nestled in the back of the closet, safe, away from her silent parents and problematic brothers and the stifled cries that stuck in her throat. 

She fought her way to the far back wall, eyes brimming with tears.

I am on a train, she begged, making her way over the luggage and boxes of forgotten memorabilia.

I am on a train, going far away and fast. 


🜋 🜋 🜋


After her third divorce, it seemed appropriate for Lizzy to get to the root of her problems.

In addition to her ex-husbands, she’d left a string of high paying jobs, moving into smaller and smaller living accommodations until she finally found a 600 square foot efficiency, right in the middle of downtown.

It seemed to suit her best. 

“Do you want to talk about your estranged daughter?”

“No,” Lizzy replied coolly. “We can save that for another time.”

“All right,” the therapist conceded. “What do you remember about your childhood?” 

Lizzy turned away silently, uncomfortable with the question.

She boarded a luxury liner in her mind, a sleeping car, sealed off from the rest of the passengers, wanting to go far away and fast. 

But the train did not move.

“What do you remember about your childhood?” the therapist asked again, waiting for Lizzy to respond.

An older woman, tucking herself behind a door jamb, let out a small cry, one that had been lodged in her throat.

"There were too many of us."


October 21, 2022 23:44

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53 comments

Cindy Strube
02:31 Oct 23, 2022

This quickly drew me in. It’s not my experience at all, myself being an only child from a non-chaotic background - but as an introspective person it makes me uncomfortable to read about such a home life. Uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing - it means your character touched me. The mental picture you created of the food… almost made me gag. The soupy fruit mixture, the “glistening oleaginous glory”. Ugh! Well portrayed! Lizzy needed that sanctuary, and if she’s at all you, I hope she’s found it. Reading the comments, I find it interesting that yo...

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14:20 Oct 23, 2022

The 1970's were probably the nadir of American cuisine. Pass the Crisco, trans fats, margarine, fondu forks, and Pet Rocks. Lizzy will be just fine. What doesn't kill us makes us incredibly bulletproof. :) Off to read your story!

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Cindy Strube
17:49 Oct 24, 2022

I’m also a child of the 70s - think I’m just a little older than you. We never had margarine in our house. My dad was a farm boy, and refuses to eat any substitutes for good dairy products. But — the era was also the heyday of frozen bricks of spinach, boxed convenience food, Jello, Kool Aid… And we not only survived it but have learned to take better care of ourselves.

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18:03 Oct 24, 2022

I remember my mother mixing up powdered milk in the kitchen. Tasted like liquid cardboard.

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Cindy Strube
07:03 Oct 30, 2022

👏🏻 Shortlist congratulations!🎈 (Shortlisted stories should get the $5 back!)

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Sophia Gardenia
14:08 Oct 22, 2022

Oh my. I don't have the words to describe how I feel after this story. Your characterization of Lizzy and her family is so great! Just a few lines and we already know a lot about them. You infuse this story with so many little details (fingerfuls of mashed potatoes, chipped ceramic dish, dinner at 5:30) that make it pop. I also like the metaphorical train station; Lizzy has been getting on "trains" her entire lifel trying to escape her problems, but in the end, they catch up to her and the train stops moving. The fast forward in time made th...

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18:03 Oct 22, 2022

Perfect criticism. I was able to input my trademark: 🜋 🜋 🜋 for a scene break... It was sorely needed. :) Thanks so much for your generosity of spirit and help in making this story better. I know this character very, very well. Lots of free therapy in this one.

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Sophia Gardenia
19:30 Oct 22, 2022

I listened to the episode on your podcast "Read Lots, Write Lots" where you talked about your work and you did mention that you had a lot of brothers. I wondered as I read this story how much of it was autobiographical...

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19:32 Oct 22, 2022

More than I realized.

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11:03 Nov 06, 2022

new story

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E.T. Lamarr
02:30 Nov 01, 2022

Deidra I enjoyed really enjoyed this! The simplicity and creativity in your work has given me another view of writing. Thanks a lot. Using the closet as a way to escape is awesome. I can relate, my writing has always been my escape. Takes me to places one can only dream.

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14:14 Nov 01, 2022

Agreed. Writing is the best train to take :)

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Philip Ebuluofor
17:42 Oct 30, 2022

Congrats Deidra. You are in familiar terrain. Fine work once more.

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18:08 Oct 30, 2022

❤️

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Philip Ebuluofor
15:46 Oct 31, 2022

😁

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Tommy Goround
12:11 Oct 30, 2022

Solid

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14:52 Oct 30, 2022

:)

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Kevin Broccoli
16:45 Oct 28, 2022

I love the sparseness here. You're someone who can utilize words so well and usually it's with wit and flexible language. I loved seeing you show how careful placement of words and their meanings can create such a huge impact.

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18:19 Oct 28, 2022

I'm honored, Kevin. Huge fan of yours. Ever since "Meep Meep..."

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Brenda Wilson
17:31 Oct 27, 2022

Wow... I wish I didn't relate to this but I do. I used to hide in closets to get away from my less-than-loving family. I still sometimes hide in there when I'm overwhelmed as an adult. The idea of making the closet a train to take you far away is a good depiction of what it's like to disassociate. Nicely done!

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20:46 Oct 27, 2022

I used to have tea parties with my stuffed animals in my closet. It was pure heaven. I miss that feeling of having everything I needed right there, and shutting all the chaos out. :) Yay for us :)

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Olivia Rozanski
16:59 Oct 27, 2022

I love how this story changes between the different phases of her life and how she tells with them. All of the phases have one thing in common, the need to escape somewhere else to avoid problems. I feel like this can resonate with so many people who hide away or go somewhere else in order to distract and divert themselves from life's problems. And when Lizzy says "there were too many of us", this also seems to symbolize the too many problems that someone has to deal with, and the fact that they were portrayed in family members says that a ...

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20:48 Oct 27, 2022

Thanks so much ;) I majored in Escapism in college (hahah)...now I get to escape through writing and spinning worlds into existence. Very fun (and cheap and noncaloric!)

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20:15 Oct 26, 2022

I wasn't going to read this. I'm in a 'mood' and frustrated with my writing. But your story grabbed me and pulled me in. I love it. Have you read any of Shirley Jackson's work? Yours reminds me of her, "Living Among Savages."? I'm looking forward to reading more of your stories.

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22:31 Oct 26, 2022

"The Lottery" is one of my favorite :) I am definitely a Flannery O'Connor acolyte, though. I was in a writing slump as well. For me, the best antidote is reading someone else's work to get inspired...just started a great historical fiction novel on the Vikings and Lewis Dartnell's "The Knowledge - How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm." You know, just case the Vikings come back and usher in the end of the world :)

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23:15 Oct 26, 2022

Those Vikings got around long before Christopher - so, you never know!

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Kyle Bennett
19:05 Oct 25, 2022

The imagery in this, along with the precision and efficiency of your choice of words is absolutely top-notch. This was a 5000 word story told in what felt like less than 2000 (or it just went by too fast), and is all the better for it. Here's a girl who was not abused, exactly, but suffered some of the same stresses and lived the pattern they imposed on her life. Excellent story.

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20:50 Oct 25, 2022

Thanks, Kyle. High praise, indeed :) As the Bard wrote: Brevity is the soul of wit (and drama, for that matter.) Thanks for the read.

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Mary Lehnert
20:46 Oct 24, 2022

Deidra you are good. Love the clear , spare, concise writing. Thankyou always learn from reading you.

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20:51 Oct 24, 2022

*Big Hug* Thanks for the boost today. I needed it. :)

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Mary Lehnert
21:01 Oct 24, 2022

Oh don’t we all. You deserved it.

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Nora K.
20:35 Oct 24, 2022

This is awesome, Deidra. You never fail to impress. Vivid description, and close attention to detail. Wonderful job 👏

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20:51 Oct 24, 2022

You flatter me. (And I love it.)

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Zelda C. Thorne
19:03 Oct 24, 2022

My heart is breaking for this little girl and the woman she becomes. Loved the rich details describing their home life. The comment that the boys needed food because they were "growing" really pissed me off, like Hello! She's growing too! A very engaging read. Good luck 🙂

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19:47 Oct 24, 2022

Thanks, Zelda. This was one of those stories that wrote itself. I was just tapping keys.

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Mike Panasitti
00:40 Oct 24, 2022

Deidra, if this was more autobiographical than you realized, perhaps I can see where some of the misanthropy in The Medicine Girl comes from. Let's hear it for wellness writing, may it heal more hearts than yours alone. Also, if you were to tone the tragedy of this one significantly down, it might make for a fabulous children's book...which leads me to ask...how goes the latest oeuvre? Take care, and if you have a moment will you please take a look at my latest entry...a couple of weeks old, but a call for help from Foley Gaspers/Me. T...

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19:49 Oct 24, 2022

"Wellness writing." I love that concept. Reminds me of the WWI Poets, trying to get through their "shell shock" by writing sonnets about poison gas. (Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum est" should be required reading...) I was thinking of "The Little Matchgirl" when I wrote this, for some reason. A very dark children's tale...(and the Brothers Grimm were the most misanthropic writers out there!) Foley is back - YAY

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Aeris Walker
23:55 Oct 23, 2022

I love my mother, god bless her, but the meal you described reminded me so much of her cooking 🥴 Middle America’s finest. There are a million different directions to go with sibling dynamics, and in a home where the parents have kind of checked out and signed off, it only makes sense that Lizzy would feel uncomfortable around her wild brothers, and alone in her own four walls. I love how you incorporated the train theme into this one—super creative. Great story!

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19:58 Oct 24, 2022

I laughed at your comment. Moms and their cooking! My kids still ask me to make the only two things I've mastered: chocolate chip cookies and . . . wait, that's the end of list. (I inherited the bad cookery gene myself.)

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Amanda Lieser
22:36 Nov 13, 2022

Hi Deidra! Congratulations on the shortlist! I really enjoyed your take on this prompt. I thought your capturing of a young voice was beautiful and I was surprised a bit by the ending. I was certainly intrigued by your characters and disheartened to have your MC call herself an accident in the piece. Nice job and congrats again!

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Oh, Deidra - Lizzy’s pain is so raw. I’m especially hit by this part: [I am on a train, she begged, making her way over the luggage and boxes of forgotten memorabilia. I am on a train, going far away and fast.] [her youngest brother. He was the loudest, jumping on both beds and throwing Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs at her.] This sounds like my little brother. I grinned. [If they weren’t eating, they were hurling creative insults or shoving one another. Sometimes they hit each other. Sometimes lamps and glass panes were broken.] Ugh, p...

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Edward Latham
08:44 Oct 30, 2022

Amazing story, you made me want to hide away in a cosy cupboard with lizzie, away from all the noise of the world! It seemed like such a little safe haven. The jump to many years later was a surprise, but it provided a sad twist to see she had been scarred from childhood.

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Anne Marie Miles
13:25 Oct 29, 2022

Congratulations on making the short list! I really relate to Lizzy as I have 3 of my own siblings and often felt like the odd one out. Definitely influenced my decision to only have one of my own! Well done!

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18:11 Oct 29, 2022

I was definitely the odd one out, the black sheep, the flower in the arrangement that doesn't face the way it should... Good for us :) :) :)

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