One moment, I breathed freely and healthily. The next, my feet were pounding on a substance I could not identify, and I was desperately trying to sprint faster than humanely possible. I ran on something that was soft and delicate all at the same time as being hard and gravel-like. I didn’t breathe, and I felt no exhaustion, but yet it was still difficult as ever to run much faster than an overweight dog.
At first, I didn’t really register why I was running, then I noticed the train beginning to slowly move along the tracks not far away from where I seemed to be heading, and therefore assumed that was my purpose. The fact I wasn’t at all tired only increased my irritation on the lack of speed I could muster. The train was gaining speed… I realised I was going to miss it.
I decided to slow down and consider why the hell I was here. Perhaps the train wasn’t for me, and I had misunderstood. Slowing down proved to be far, far simpler than speeding up; despite no breath leaving my body and little feeling swelling through my consciousness, I was grateful to stop and take a break for a minute. I absent-mindedly rummaged for a train ticket in my pocket as the last of the train disappeared down a mystically glowing tunnel.
The platform was colorless, yet all the colors at the same time. If I thought it to be blue, I would see it as blue, but then if I realised it was tinted slightly pink, all of a sudden, it seemed to be pink. Not like it was changing with my thoughts, but more as if it was playing tricks on my mind – an optical illusion. I studied the ground apprehensively. It appeared to have no texture, but just like with the colors, every texture imaginable.
At last, I produced a train ticket from the same hoodie I’d worn in the moments before I’d appeared here. I glanced down at it for a second, then found I could hardly take my eyes away from it:
“Anette Gartner one-way ticket to The Goodlife. Mon. 4th November 2022. Train boards at 12:00pm. Leaves 12:30pm. No trips available after.”
“Damn it, I’m dead.”
“May I be of assistance, ma’am?”
A kindly conductor stood in front of me, his long, sharp nose tip inches from mine. His features were peculiar, even in comparison to his abnormal length of nose: his skin seemed to glow and radiate a calming warmth and his eyes were colored in the same way as the platform. His tone invited a confidence, but yet I felt a strange rebelliousness to defy it.
“Uhm,” I glanced down at my ticket again, considering what to say. “What time and day is it?”
The conductor didn’t even look at a watch and immediately replied: “It is 12:32pm on Monday the 4th of November, ma’am.”
Swallowing, I glanced about the platform, purely for something to do. An unfriendly peculiarity settled on my skin. “Could you – sir – could you help me get on another train? I think I missed mine.”
The conductor’s kindly expression dropped immediately. His eyes looked icy and unwelcoming as he looked into me; I could swear I felt the tip of his nose brush the hairs on my cheek. “You missed your train?”
“Well, I think so. If – if this ticket is correct?” Nervously, I held out the slip of paper still clasped in my hand.
He snatched the ticket from my grasp, eyes scanning the ticket like lightning. “You’re Anette Gartner?”
I flinched. The conductor tore the ticket with such a ferocious manner that the ripping sound seem to echo loudly, sounding awfully similar to what I expected tearing flesh would. The wound in the paper steamed; there was a malice glinting in the conductor’s eyes.
“Nobody dares throw away their opportunity to The Goodlife,” he snarled. “You were privileged. How dare you…” The last three words escaped his lips like a hiss.
He clicked a button, and a strong clunk shook the floor beneath my feet. One last glare shot in my direction, and then wings burst from his back and he flew swiftly away.
I was suddenly aware of a bar that spanned the width of the platform slowly approaching. It was like a maximized version of one that sweeps pins away into nothingness when bowling. It was about eight feet high, far too tall to jump over. I stared at it for a while, a confused glaze across my eyes, before it hit me: in this case, I was one of the pins to be swept away.
“Wait! I only appeared here as the train was leaving – hey, wait up – it wasn’t my fault!”
I was running after him, barely thinking where to place my feet. I skidded to a halt at the edge of an endless cliff drop seconds before I would’ve fallen off. The conductor beat his wings one final time and then disappeared.
“Shoot, okay…” The bar was still approaching slowly, but I realised no matter what speed it continued at, there was no escape. There was no jumping over it, or going around it, and by no means could I sprout wings like the conductor had. Sure, I was supposedly already dead, but I knew well enough that wasn’t going to be the worst punishment. The abyss had to leave somewhere, and I wasn’t keen on finding out.
I tried to focus – to hone in on logic. I was certain I was going delusional – all I could smell was my favorite food – my brother’s homemade lasagne – and all I could think of was my friends’ voices, softly calling “Anette, Anette…”
Now I was losing focus. The bar was too close now; I braced myself for impact. I still couldn’t drag my thoughts away from the voices and that smell, my favorite song, too…
The bar was inches away from me when the conductor’s nose appeared inches from mine once again. His words echoed around the platform and bounced up and down vigorously inside my head: “Life is no place for the dead.”
They continued to echo inside my brain… the lasagne… “Anette! Anette Gartner!”… “I’m gonna live forever, I’m gonna learn how to fly”–
“Life is no place for the dead.”
–and everything went black.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
Vivid. A bad dream it feels like I've had. Thank you for sharing!
Wow! Zoë, this was a thriller. I was instantly intrigued by the ticket. It gave me serious Polar Express vibes. Especially with the way you described your MC as they ran. I loved the way that you added in the details of the individual voices and I felt the fear. Nice job and congratulations on the shortlist!
Thanks, Amanda. I appreciate the feedback! :)
I always come down on the side of open-ended narratives being a good thing. I don't see it as ambiguity at all. I think it's a specific choice to let the reader take the future of the story wherever they want to, and I love that. Great job.
Yeah, I agree. As a reader, it's fun to think about what could've happened after the story ended. Thanks for the feedback. :)
Captivating read Zoe. Congrats.
This was a very interesting read. I was not expecting the conductor to grow wings and just fly away. I liked the premise and the pacing. I think you could have added a twist at the end, like maybe she woke up to being resuscitated and that's why she missed the train. It just feels unfinished to me but that's just my opinion. Congrats on making the short list!
Thanks. Yeah, I suppose I could've done that, I get where you're coming from. I considered doing that, only deciding on the ending I did because I wanted to leave it ambiguous. That could've been a nice twist though! Thanks again :)
Ambiguous can be good! A lot of people like ambiguous. I just personally like some form of closure, even if I'm not given exact details. You still did a good job though!
Everyone has their preferences, I understand that. Thanks for the feedback!
Oooh I loved this! Eerie but still cool, calm, and collected. If I were the MC I would probably be freaking out a bit more, but I like the tone set by the fact that she isn't. Very cool imagery with the man sprouting wings like that. And the ambiguous ending was just enough to be satisfying! Congratulations on making the shortlist this week! 🎉
Thanks, and glad you like it! Congratulations to you too on being shortlisted! :)
Thank you! Look forward to reading more from you!
Congrats on making the shortlist. You paint an interesting scene in your story and I like your clear prose. question, why did she miss the good life and we is she being punished? Is it a metaphor for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Thank you. Yeah, it is pretty much a metaphor for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I thought it'd be interesting to play about with, seeing as it's a strange fantasy, and to have the conductor exaggerate the situation.