It's the Unusual Circumstances That Bring Us Together

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



It’s not an unusual circumstance to see a person boarding a train without a ticket. It happens all the time when people with little money have many places to go. In my case, however, it was because the cops got wise and I had to skip town in a hurry. Con men have to eat, we’re not an exception to the rules of life. I had spent the earlier part of my day dodging the conductor who was looking for tickets, and the two police officers searching the cars for me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made off with the mayor’s pocket watch, but when I see shiny things, I want them. I live my life on a strict diet of any means necessary, and the games I get people to play quench my thirst better than a cold glass of whiskey. I sat down in front of a woman in the dining car. She was a pretty young thing, with endless green eyes hidden behind modest wire rims. Without looking up from her book, she picked up her tea and took a sip. 

“I’ve been watching you run from the police like your life depended on it. Mind telling me why?”

I leaned across the table, “I heard there’s an axe murderer on board. Rumor has it he did his whole family in.”

She looked up at me, the faintest glimpse of amusement in her eyes, “Really? Is that why you’re here?”

“I’m looking for someone to hold me. I’m quaking in my shoes, see? Look at my hands, they’re shaking!” 

“Perhaps one of the officers will hold you.”

I scoffed good naturedly, “You’re no fun. Where’re you headed?”

“I’m part of a tour. I always wanted to see the sights of America.”

I nodded sagely, “Ah yes, the Statue of Liberty, the White House, and the stench of cow manure. Very lovely.” 

She set down her book, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose, “There’s much more than that, for those who are looking.”

“I suppose I’ve never looked then.” 

“Why do you remain?” She asked the question so abruptly that it shocked even her. I hid my surprise behind a casual smile, “What do you mean, sweetheart? I’ve only been in this car for a few minutes.”

“Never mind, it’s a stupid question.”

“No no, tell me. No question is stupid.”

She laughed, a light, nervous noise that sounded just the slightest bit forced, “Don’t worry about it. We’ve got more pressing matters to worry about.”

“Tell me about it. Say, how’re you going around on tours with a depression on? I’ve barely got enough for a place to stay and I’m practically rolling in dough.”

“I’ve got enough to get by,” she said, dodging the question entirely and moving on, “I suppose you think it’s all silly, putting personal fulfillment over money.”

“Money is king, sweetheart. You either have a lot and are happy, or you don’t and spend your days scraping together whatever you can in a dead end job.”

She sighed, her hand coming up to massage her temples, “I suppose that’s one view.”

“It’s the only view in this day and age.”

"Such a pessimist."

"Try realist." I paused, "You're one strange gal."

"How so?"

"You're choking, sweetheart, on all the things you want to say but don't have time for. Or is it can't?"

I had never seen a woman look so appalled, which confused me because my statement wasn't meant to be appalling. She slapped me with a perfectly manicured hand, "How dare you assume-"

"Assume what? In my line of work, if you can't see through lies you aren't fit to do the job. You, ma'am, have been lying since the beginning. You're not on a tour, but you are here for personal fulfillment. So what is it? Why do you remain?" 

She stood abruptly, "I don't have to sit here and listen to you ramble on about things you know nothing of!"

"Try me sweetheart, I’m not just a pretty face.”

She slowly sat back down, folding her hands on the table and staring at me like I had sprouted another head.

“What do you know of déjà vu?”

“It’s the feeling of having already experienced something, right?” 

She nodded, and I raised an eyebrow, “See? I can be smart and hopelessly attractive.”

“Try hopeless. Have you felt like this conversation has already happened at all while we were talking?”


“You never do.” 

I leaned forward, lowering my voice, “What do you mean? I’ve never seen you before.”

She glanced around, making sure the dining car was empty, before saying in a hushed tone, “We’ve had this conversation at least ten times before, and you never remember.”

“How? I’m sure I’d remember someone as pretty as you.”

“When you leave, you die. Sometimes it’s the police, other times it’s an accident. I’ve tried to stop it, but it can’t be stopped.”

“That’s a load of crap and you know it.”

“You’re so good at telling when people are lying, aren’t you? Tell me now, am I lying?” 

I stared at her for a solid thirty seconds. Her face remained unchanging, not a tell to be seen. Everyone has a tell when they lie. Some people scratch their faces, others avoid eye contact. My tell is shifting my weight onto my left foot, something I’ve found is easy to disguise when you’re constantly moving. She watched me until I was satisfied that she wasn’t lying, and only offered a sad smile when I leaned back in my chair.

“Wow,” I muttered, “Didn’t think this would be the end, honestly. I had plans.”

“Oh? Do tell.”

“Don’t you already know?”

“You never believed me before. This is the farthest we’ve gotten.”

I crossed my legs and looked up at the ceiling, “I was going to settle down somewhere, maybe Boston or New York City. I thought it’d be nice to get an apartment.” I stopped, and in a split second my brain processed her words, “If we’ve never gotten this far, maybe I can change what’s going to happen.” 

“I doubt it. As I said, I’ve tried everything. You’re what I like to call an Unusual Circumstance. Obviously you’re not supposed to die, otherwise we wouldn’t be trapped on this god-forsaken train, but you did die.”

“You were on this train to save me.” The realization struck me like a bullet at point blank range. She nodded, a glum look crossing her face, “I keep track of Unusual Circumstances. Call it my pet project, but I was too late to save you and I got sucked into the mess.”

“Is that why you slapped me?”

“I slapped you because you were being a pretentious idiot.” She pinched the bridge of her nose, “This conversation has gone so far off script, I don’t know what to say.” 

“What if I got off the train right now? Pulled the emergency brake and just left?”

“You’d probably die.”

“Worth a shot, right?” 

She shrugged, “I suppose. Can you reach the emergency brake?”

“Of course.” I stood up and walked to the corner of the room, only to find that I was about an inch too short. She laughed at my attempts to reach the brake, and I eventually grabbed a chair, my pride wounded. The train screeched to a halt and I looked out the window. Nothing but cornfields as far as the eye could see. She had joined me by this point, holding her book to her chest, “You know, it’s the unusual circumstances that bring us together.”

“If I get out of here alive, I’ll look for you. What’s your name?”

“Dorothy. Dorothy Brookes.”

“I’ll be seeing you, Dorothy Brookes. Keep an eye out for me.” I climbed out the train window just as the cops ran into the dining car. One of them yelled something at me, but I kept walking. The colors around me faded to a greenish yellow as I wandered through the cornfield, and the sun was setting by the time I made it out. A quaint little farmhouse sat across the field from me, and I started toward it eagerly. That was a mistake. See, some folks don’t like it when strangers trespass, and some have special tools for these trespassers.




It’s not an unusual circumstance to see a person boarding a train without a ticket. It happens all the time when people with little money have many places to go. In my case, however, it was because the cops got wise and I had to skip town in a hurry. I sat down across from a pretty woman in the dining car and smiled, initiating the conversation for the first time.

“It’s the unusual circumstances that bring us together, huh Dorothy?”

Her teacup dropped from her hands, shattering across the table and spilling scalding liquid everywhere. She stared at me in shock before her lips twitched up into a bitter smile, “It is indeed.”

February 07, 2020 01:53

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Graham Kinross
23:25 Dec 20, 2021

Watched Source Code? Also Groundhog Day and Live, Die, Repeat? This is was cool but like one other commenter said I wanted just a bit more, to see if they manage.


Kathleen M.
18:54 Jan 03, 2022

Thanks for reading! I've seen Groundhog Day in passing but I've always been fascinated by time travel and time loops. I wrote this for a club in school and was feeling particularly uninspired, but it's nice to see that people are still reading it! Because it was a school project it is rather short and ends kind of abruptly, but I'm sure they do manage to break the loop eventually. With both of them remembering now it should be easy to start finding inconsistencies so they can escape.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Yuk Yuk
15:53 Jan 09, 2021

I loved this. I wasn't expecting that


Show 0 replies
Yuk Yuk
15:52 Jan 09, 2021

Waittt😭 is there more? Why did he remember this time? Are they stock in a time loop? Are they going to get out?


Kathleen M.
18:36 Jan 15, 2021

:) They are stuck in a time loop because he's not supposed to die on that train and the universe is trying to correct itself. He remembered because he changed something by dying off the train. Whether they get out or not is up to the reader.


Yuk Yuk
19:50 Jan 15, 2021

Ohhhh wow✨ I didn't think of that. Nicely done.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Yuk Yuk
15:43 Jan 09, 2021

I just had to comment. Have fun and not cry😂 ... how's that been going for you.


Kathleen M.
18:34 Jan 15, 2021

Well seeing all the nice comments you left helped with the not crying bit. Other than that I've been having a lot of fun, but the tears keep coming out on their own and quite frankly I don't know how to stop them.


Yuk Yuk
10:37 Jan 16, 2021

Tears of joy I hope


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Eddie Lay
15:07 Feb 15, 2020

This is a well-written story. I enjoyed it very much. Keep up the good work.


Show 0 replies
17:17 Jun 17, 2022

I really enjoyed reading your story. Keep up the good work !


Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.