This Train Terminates...

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


Fantasy Mystery Science Fiction

“It should have been here by now!”

This from an angry commuter stood at the very edge of the platform as though breaking the rules and taking an unnecessary risk by standing well beyond the line would prompt the late train to make its arrival now challenged to an unequal game of chicken, or perhaps the man fancied himself a matador.

There were murmurs of agreement. People might not have liked the man standing there, puffed up with his own self-importance, a legend in his own lunchtime, but they agreed with the sentiment. The train was long overdue.

“Why have there been no announcements?” said a rake thin lady seated on one of the few benches. 

Seating on a platform is either superfluous or inadequate, there is never, ever any middle ground thanks to the ebb and flow of battle worn commuters and the more casual and carefree travellers.

“Never mind that,” said another voice nearby, “where are the staff? There’s no one here! Like the place has been abandoned!”

Usually, this over dramatization would be disregarded, but the silence that fell in behind this last comment was ominous. There was an explicable feeling of abandonment accompanied by a slithering dread. No one mentioned the absence of the yellow characters on the black announcements board. The information that flashed up and ticker taped across that board may not always be reliable and was subject to annoying and disagreeable last minute changes, but there was something reassuring about its presence. The dead board was as far from reassuring as it got. The black edifice hanging over the crowd on the platform was a tombstone yet to have their names etched onto it.

“Sod this!” said a young man off to Phil’s left.

Phil watched as the lad who was probably no longer a youth, but not all that far from that phase in his life, turned on his heel and walked to the turnstiles. He tapped his card a second time on the yellow circle that reminded Phil a little of his own youth and the yellow smiley faces that were the banners for an age of frenetic music and even more frenetic dancing and partying. The yellow smiley face and some of the stand out tunes were as much as he could remember of weeks, if not months of a period of his life where he should have been studying but was instead out playing and having fun. Still, it didn’t do him any harm. Not in the long run it didn’t.

“Flipping hell!” exclaimed the lad as he slapped the card on the blank yellow face a third time. 

Phil watched him side step to the next turnstile, but somehow he knew he’d have the same outcome. Phil was right, but he was now also curious, so he walked up and retrieved his own card. As he did, there was a weight of futility that fell upon him and something like the beginnings of an awakening. He supressed this irrational feeling and went ahead regardless.

“Here, let me try,” he smiled at the lad and for an instant he worried that he might be misconstrued as something negative, whether that was controlling, patronising or creepy, it didn’t matter. Phil knew that sometimes, good intentions didn’t always land well.

The lad nodded curtly and watched as Phil placed his own card firmly on the blank yellow face lacking the all-important smile. Phil’s own smile now faltered.

“Strange,” he said as much to himself as the lad.

The lad shrugged, “I’m going anyway,” and he did. He pushed down with his hands to the side of the turnstiles themselves and vaulted over. The move was fluid and impressive and Phil found himself wishing he was that young again, the lad strode out of the station with purpose and his retreating back was a reminder for Phil of the inexorable passage of time and the loss of his youth.

His own steps were slow and heavy in comparison as he turned and retook his place on the platform. There was nothing out there for him. This was not his stop and it was nowhere near where he needed to be. He envied the lad as he imagined him walking back to his home turf, or maybe dropping into a nearby pub for an impromptu beer.

Now that was a thought. Phil might be a fair way from home, but where better to sit it out? He was considering this as he heard a wave of murmurings about phone signals.

“Anyone got a signal?” 

It seemed no one had. As the question travelled the platform phones came out of wherever they were kept and raised in a half-arsed Mexican wave. 

“What network are you on?”

“All of them?

“How’s that even possible?!”

Phil looked along one side of the platform and then turned to look at the other side. There were easily well over one hundred people, all of them fully paid up members of the mobile phone club. In this day and age there was always signal. Especially in a place like this. He looked up at the dead board again and something tickled the nape of his neck.

He jumped as he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Bloody hell!” he hissed as he theatrically clutched at his heart.

“Sorry mate,” whispered a familiar voice.

Phil turned. It was the turnstile lad. Phil’s face was a question, and a question the lad did not answer directly. 

“I think you better come with me,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper.

Phil looked askance, but the lad was turning and going back the way he had come. Following him, Phil wondered at what he was doing and that he was doing it at all. A young bloke asking an older bloke to follow him who knew where? This wasn’t just breaking etiquette in any city in the world, it was positively suicidal in its disregard of risk and the necessary urge to survive long enough to be home for dinner that very evening. Still Phil followed, even as the lad vaulted over the turnstiles again. Phil’s clumsy climbing action and panting with the exertion of it were embarrassing, but the lad had the courtesy and respect neither to stare or comment.

As they stepped out of the station Phil asked the most obvious question in the circumstances, “why me?”

The lad walked a few more steps and checked behind him to make sure they were out of sight. He sighed, “because you tried to help me and that makes you half way decent.”

Phil nodded, but he wanted more and it was obvious to the young man that he needed to say something more.

He sighed again, “look, I needed to share this with someone. I needed to… have a witness…”

He was waving his hands around in the air before him as though there was something there and he looked worried and about as uncomfortable as it was possible to be.

“Are you OK?” Phil asked him.

The lad looked up at Phil, tears welling in his eyes, right there and then he looked like a helpless little boy and any concerns or worries about the danger this person may pose to Phil faded away as his heart went out to him.

“No,” the lad said, his voice creaking with the effort of the words, “I’m far from OK.”

“Let’s see whatever it is you’ve…” Phil trailed off and raised his hand to indicate that they should walk on.

They did not walk far. They did not have to walk all that far at all before they saw what the lad had already seen. Rising up ahead of them was a wall that gradually arced up over them. Phil craned his neck upwards and turned around to see whether he could see the extent of it. He turned back and eyed the wall suspiciously. The surface was opaque and crazed. It looked like milky clingfilm, or a plastic window that had aged and degraded over time, only, if you stared for long enough the imperfections on the surface moved. The movement was a very slow swirling and it was hypnotic. 

Phil blinked his eyes exaggerated, “oh dear.”

He felt the lad staring at him and took his time to return that gaze. Knowing that the lad would be demanding an answer. An answer that only Phil could give. 

“You’ve seen this before haven’t you?” asked the lad once he had Phil’s full attention, holding him with an intense gaze.

Phil exhaled a long breath and told the lad the truth, “not exactly.”

“Not exactly?!” the boy hissed, “what kind of an answer is that?!”

Phil looked around, he didn’t want to linger here. Not by this wall, “we need to steer clear of this, and in no circumstances touch it, OK?”

Phil started walking and the young man fell in beside him, “why? What is it?”

“Unstable,” Phil replied, “highly unstable.”

The lad grabbed Phil’s arm and pulled him to a halt, “I think you need to explain,” he said. 

Phil’s shoulders slumped. He looked around as though eyeing an escape route, his eyes coming to rest on a sign on the street corner.

The Eagle.

He nodded towards it, “shall we?”

The lad smiled, seemed like a good idea to him.

The main doors into The Eagle were unlocked and the place was open, but there was not a soul in the place.

“Hello?” called the lad, “shop!”

“There’s no one here,” Phil told him as he raised the hinged length of bar that would give him access to the business side of it, “what you having?”

“Guinness,” said the lad with a dry smile.

“Nice one,” said Phil, “pick the harder of the beers to pour decently, and me a novice here!”

“I…” began the lad.

Phil laughed and shook his head, “it’s fine,” he said as he slid a glass under the pump and poured half a pint.

“Where is everyone?” asked the lad as the half pint began settling and Phil poured himself one.

“Gone,” Phil told him before turning to retrieve a thick bottomed glass that he filled with two optics of whiskey. He chose the Irish tipple as he saw that as more fitting in the circumstances. 

The lad watched as he poured the contents of the tumbler into his half pint of Guinness. 

“Want the same?” Phil asked him.

The lad nodded, “why not?”

Phil obliged and hearing the lad inhale awaited his next question, “if they are gone, then how come we’re here?”

Phil knew he meant not only the two of them, but also all those people on the platform. He shrugged as he filled the pint glasses and managed not to overfill them. The pints began settling and promised a good head. Not perfect, but not bad for a first attempt.

He handed the lad his pint.

“No shamrock?” asked the lad.

“Bugger off!” Phil smiled before taking a decent drink.

The lad followed suit, “not bad!” he said from under his newly acquired Guinness moustache.

Phil leaned on the bar, “it’s all experimental,” he said before having another swig of his beer, feeling the warming effects of it already, “they weren’t supposed to use it, the outcome was never certain, but I’m not surprised that the people on the periphery are gone, and those in the epicentre have… come through,” he sighed.

“What is it?” asked the lad.

“Well, I called it matter transference,” Phil told him.

“Moving matter from one place to another?” said the lad, “like teleporting?”

Phil nodded, “kind of, except it’s a one way ticket, whereas teleporting gave you a way back.”

The lad put his half drunk pint down, “one way ticket?” he said sombrely.

Phil nodded.

“You don’t know where to though?” asked the lad.

This crushed Phil. The lad was bright and intuitive. He was quick witted and smart and he got right to it. He’d gotten to it now and Phil wished that he hadn’t. That he could take this burden away from him, because sometimes knowing is a curse. Sometimes it is better now to know.

“Why?” asked the lad.

Why was the big question. Why was a question that never had an answer when someone thought they needed it the most. Phil thought he knew why though. He had a good enough idea of why this had happened.

Phil was the why of it.

“I said that I called it matter transference,” he gulped at his beer like a fish breathing in water and was surprised to feel the last of it, he barely paused in putting his glass back under the pump.

The lad finished his and slid his glass across the bar. There was a moment where they both stared at the glass and it’s foamy legs and they knew they were both thinking of that wall only a short distance from this pub and the people who were waiting for a train that would never come.

“Are you not adding the special ingredient this time?” asked the lad.

Phil smiled, “I usually only have the one special.” 

This time was different though, and they both knew it.

“What did they call it,” asked the lad as Phil poured the whiskey into the tumbler, “the people that did this?”

Another wave of sadness washed over Phil. In another life, he and this lad could have been friends, and this lad would have had a bright future ahead of him, he would have shone brightly and Phil found he was wishing he could have shared that future and basked in that light.

“They called it the Smart Transfer Bomb,” Phil told him as he poured the first of the whiskeys into the next half pint of Guinness.

“So they weaponised it?” it wasn’t a question. Not really.

Phil nodded an affirmation.

“Why here?” asked the lad, “why us?”

Phil handed him his pint, “me,” he said simply.

“But!?” blurted the lad with indignation.

“They wanted me out of the way,” explained Phil, “I’m the only one that knew how it worked.”

“But you don’t know how it works do you!?” the lad actually laughed then. He laughed at the absurdity of it all and his laughter went up another notch as he saw Phil standing there agog, his mouth hanging open at the sight of the lad’s mirth.

“What makes you say that?” asked Phil, once the lad’s laughter had abated.

The lad drank some of his pint and eyed Phil, appraising him, “because you don’t know all that much about that wall out there.”

Phil returned that appraising stare, “what makes you say that?”

“You told me not to touch it,” said the lad.

Phil’s eyebrows shot up, he was shocked. The lad had touched the wall and he was still here? The lad waved his hands theatrically at Phil so he could see that they were still very much there and unharmed.

“It’s not a wall,” the lad said, then he drank more of his pint, “it’s more of a membrane.”

“And?” asked Phil.

“What makes you say that?” asked the lad coyly.

Phil smiled despite himself, “because you are sharp. Possibly one of the sharpest people I have met in a long time.

The lad was nodding. The way he was nodding sent a chill through Phil, “who exactly are you?”

“I’m not as bright as you think. I was briefed. You see, I’m with The Company,” said the lad with a smile that conveyed a dangerous cunning.

“They sent one of their own?” Phil put his pint down on the bar, “why?”

“Two reasons,” said the lad.

Phil was nodding, the lad didn’t have to tell him the reasons, and the lad knew that. He was here first and foremost to ensure Phil never made it back, but he was also here to see what happened on the other side. After all, the matter had to go somewhere and this was the simplest way to see where it went.

The only problem was that the lad could not report any of his findings back to The Company, “this is a one way ticket,” Phil reminded him.

The lad nodded, “I volunteered.”

“Why?” asked Phil.

“Curiosity,” said the lad candidly, then he smiled a winning smile, “and I’ve admired you from afar for quite some time.”

Phil felt himself blush, this was an unexpected and disarming development.

“You want to see what’s on the other side of the membrane?” asked Phil, focusing on the more business-like element of the lad’s interest.

“Don’t you?” asked the lad.

Phil didn’t answer, instead he took up his pint and finished it. There was a part of him that did not want to know any more than he already knew, and the drink was for that part of him. The other part of him, the curious part. The one that had gone seeking answers and discovered how to magic matter out of existence? That part would always win over. That was the way that Phil was built.

Besides, he had at last found a kindred spirit. Not that he’d been searching for one, but sometimes that was how life worked, you found something if you stopped looking for it.

“One more?” he asked the lad.

“For the road,” agreed the lad.

October 17, 2022 17:28

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