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Fiction Contemporary Drama

Matthew Jakobs wakes and peers out a foggy window. A van pulls down the alley and he sits up. He’s alone in the car. He rubs his face and opens the glove box to feel around and finds nothing. He shuts it again. He feels underneath the seat and looks behind him. Charred remnants of rubber sits like a gooey mass behind him on the floor. Junk sprawls the pungent mound.

He looks down the alley shaking from the cold. He tries to open the door but it has been crushed in and mangled and it won’t budge. He sees his breath and he stiffly pulls himself up onto the open sun roof and climbs down to the alley. Ahead of him is a cluster of cars through the foggy haze. A murky and pale parade of car lights float pass. He shoves his hands deep inside his pockets searching for change. His shoulders hunch and he walks down the cracked alleyway concrete towards the grey streets. 

A bum tightly bundled in a blanket humps over a cardboard sign asking for money. Matthew has nothing to offer and moves on. Another blind beggar plagued by the cold sits in the vacuous street humming a melody while holding out a tin cup for whatever might fall inside. Matthew eyeballs the hobo. He thinks he recognizes him from the other night but pays him no mind. 

His eyes are drawn to a small unclaimed trolley token next to a filthy gutter and he bends over to pick it up. He crosses the street and steps into an open door of a standing trolley. He eases himself into the cold leather seat and looks out the window as lights come on from the surrounding shops. The doors of the train clatter shut and the it lurches forward. 

Pastel dome lights adorning the boxcar’s ceiling emit a yellow glow. The seats in the front of the street car are vacant and he passes a couple hanging on to the sidebars of the car while gently swaying with the trolley’s gathering speed. With the heel of his hand he clears a small window and peers out the frosted glass. 

He sees passing signs of icy neon that warms his sad countenance. He leans his head against the cold pain watching pedestrians walk from pool to pool of lamplight with trailing wisps of vapor from their breath. He can smell the old metal of the window panes and his head jostles against the cold glass as the trolly slows and moves again.

Cars pass beside with the rumbling sound of tires over cracked concrete. Under billboard ladders there are small clusters of illuminated domes. Light wires run pole to pole and look like sagging black rubber bands. 

His loneliness rolls around his stomach like a ball of gum that won’t digest. A bell rings and the train slowly grinds to a halt. People shuffle out through the folding doors. After they exit, a wet pneumatic hiss clanks into motion and the car moves once again. 

Matthew blinks at houses and domestic scenery. They look like half empty frames set about in a repetitive cycle. Beyond is a house with two faces peering out. Matthew thinks of his family and how his mother’s death hurts his heart. The train swings past a deserted park. He glimpses a shiny mudflat sprinkled with fossilized dog tracks. The trolley goes about rattling down another alleyway. The car pulls to a stop with dimming lights. 

“End of the line,” the driver calls back. 

“That’s fine, I’ll just ride back into town with you.”

“You’ll need to drop another token,” the driver says.

“I thought you could ride as far as you wanted with one token? I already paid you.”

“You’ve already gone as far as the line will take you on this street car,” says the driver.

Matthew rises and makes his way down the aisle. His eyes study the floor for the off chance he finds some change or unspent token amongst the sticky gum wrappers and crumbs of dirt. 

“Listen,” he says, “can’t I just ride on back with you? I’ve got a holiday celebration to attend on sixth street.”

“Looks like you got turned around, that’s where we just came from. But anyway, mister, ride is one way,” says the driver.

“I don’t have another token.”

“You can always throw in a quarter.”

“I ain’t got any money,” says Matthew.

“It’d be a great world if everybody could just ride for free.”

The driver stands up and takes his brown leather bag. He descends the steps of the terminal and crosses the dim weather gloom towards the dispatch office. Matthew sees a few car lights approaching him owl-like through the darkness. He stands beneath a street lamp with his thumb out. In his worn coat he is cold again within moments. With one foot in the gutter the trolley car screeches past and draws away into the cold night.

Matthew grips his thighs through his threadbare pockets and sets along the weedy walkway. The lights of the city glaring in a faint penumbra. With miles to go he keeps his eyes to the ground. He endures the chill under the lonely lamplights. 

He walks out onto a cinder path. He sets out on the road and across a viaduct towards the city. Sprinkles fall from the sky. A dozen or more crows spook and flail above him with a faint rasping sound as their wings clap. He looks down at a black watered creek swirling below. Shards of ice gather in veiny white clusters. 

Matthew moves on towards the city. A colorless winter evening. All things bear the subtle look of old photographs. He moves onto the main road with his shoulders slumped and his hands coddled deep inside his pockets. 

He sees them seated in stools facing out towards the window. They are looking at him and laughing and taking shots. An empty feeling of a loathsome life keeps him from accepting their Holiday invitation. Shame swells in his brain like a bad headache. He fidgets and paces mindlessly without the courage to go in and face them.

“No mistaking you for looking like hell,” says a familiar voice.

Matthew turns towards his jovial brother who reaches in to hug Matthew.

“Look, I’ll skip the pleasantries and ignore judgment,” says John. “Why don’t you come on in? We saw you walking past. Let’s get you some food.”

Matthew trembles from John’s touch and a tear drops from a weary duct. He looks to catch his brother’s concerned glance.

“I just can’t John. You have no idea what I’m going through.”

John draws nearer and once again embraces him. His breath smells of Whiskey and stale cigarettes.

“It’s the holidays brother. We all miss her too. We all understand.”

Matthew begins to cry.

“Hey man, it’s going to be okay. We’ve all missed you. Come on now. Let’s turn this sad battleship of a life around. Now give me some love.”

With tears in his eyes, he has none to offer and he enters the bar. He breathes in his cupped hands and takes a stool, wiping his wet frozen cheeks. They are silent for a moment until John raises a glass.

“Back together again,” John says.

Matthew cracks a faint smile.

“Better late than never,” he says. 

They set their glasses down and rally around Matthew with a big welcoming hug. 

December 19, 2021 19:53

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26 comments

19:43 Dec 21, 2021

You're really good at setting an atmosphere mate. I really like how the bleakness of pretty much everywhere he walks through reflects his mental state. That's the beauty of perception - it might not be that way, but it's how he perceives it because of what he's going through. I really like how the story is uplifting in the end though. Great stuff. :)

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Dustin Gillham
02:57 Dec 22, 2021

Thank you so much Shuvayon. I'm always grateful when people read my work. The prompt before was a bit dark so I was trying to end with something a bit more lighthearted.

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05:51 Dec 30, 2021

I enjoyed reading your story Dustin and felt that I was drawn in to the journey. I loved some of your analogies “ His loneliness rolls around his stomach like a ball of gum that won’t digest.” (scrap “His” ) “Loneliness rolls…..”😊 “Charred remnants of rubber sits like a gooey mass behind him on the floor.” Try “sit”.😊 “Light wires run pole to pole and look like sagging black rubber bands.” Great! 😊 Your use of the word “he” and “his” is excessive. Try to structure your sentences to avoid this. Punctuation needs attention throughout. Howe...

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Dustin Gillham
22:10 Dec 31, 2021

Marie, Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. I'm grateful for your editing suggestions. I'm working to edit with greater fervor for the small details you speak of. Happy New year and I look forward to reading more of your submissions as well. Great work.

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00:11 Jan 01, 2022

You are most welcome. Happy New Year.

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Michael Maceira
15:56 Dec 28, 2021

Great story! One of the first things that grab me in a story is texture. The way you add that to your story's world, like: His eyes are drawn to a small unclaimed trolley token next to a filthy gutter and he bends over to pick it up. He crosses the street and steps into an open door of a standing trolley. He eases himself into the cold leather seat and looks out the window as lights come on from the surrounding shops. The doors of the train clatter shut and [it] lurches forward. I can hear the creaking of the leather as Matthew sits down. ...

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Dustin Gillham
21:00 Dec 28, 2021

Michael, You made my day. I'm just so grateful for each and every person that takes their time to read my work. You pretty much nailed it on what I was going for with "The Long Way Home."

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E. Pentecost
03:18 Dec 28, 2021

This story captured me! I thought as I was reading it that it would be an unhappy ending, so I was glad to see that it wasn’t :) You’re really good at setting a scene, and I loved the dialog between Matthew and the bus driver… I don’t know why, it just felt authentic. I’ll be looking for more of your submissions in the future!

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Dustin Gillham
20:58 Dec 28, 2021

Thank you so much. I'm flattered by your comment and appreciate you taking the time to read it. I've been immersed in improving my writing with each submission. If you get a chance please read "Old John Joseph." Have a wonderful New Year!

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E. Pentecost
21:15 Dec 28, 2021

You as well :) If you have time, I’d appreciate it if you took a look at my story “Roger”. I’m excited to read “Old John Joseph”!

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Miriam Esessien
22:26 Dec 23, 2021

I think it's a wonderful story. The way you captured the pain of character was so vivid, I could feel it. The pictures in my head too! It felt like watching a black and white movie. Keep up the good work!

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Dustin Gillham
01:20 Dec 24, 2021

Thank you so very much Miriam. I'm honored that you read my work. Would love to have you for our January writing group if you're interested. Blessings, Dustin

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Ann Kitching
02:32 Dec 23, 2021

This is tenderly written; smashing ending. Favorite image: "All things bear the subtle look of old photographs."

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Tara James
00:36 Dec 23, 2021

I like what you did with the prompt! Great atmosphere, as someone who has been down on their luck from time to time I felt the character's pain :)

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Dustin Gillham
01:13 Dec 23, 2021

Thank you so much Tara for reading my story. I tried to subtly make the character needing either sympathy or empathy. Blessings this holiday season to you and your loved ones.

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Tara James
17:55 Dec 23, 2021

You too!

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Elisa T K
01:22 Dec 20, 2021

Excellent writing, as always. A few little things that could be fixed: in the fifth paragraph, I think "saying" was supposed to be "swaying", and "heal" should be "heel." Also, in the line: "After they exit a wet pneumatic hiss clanks into motion and the car movers once again", I'm pretty sure it's supposed to say "moves", and there should be a comma after "exit". I also think you might've used "bare" when you should've used "bear" at some point, but I'm having trouble finding it. Other than those little errors, it's a great story.

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Dustin Gillham
20:37 Dec 20, 2021

Thank you so much. I will correct those errors.

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23:05 Dec 21, 2021

You should try using prowritingaid before you submit, it catches that stuff and shows you things you didnt even think of.

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Dustin Gillham
02:51 Dec 22, 2021

Nice! I haven't heard of it but I'll check it out. Awesome!

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Dustin Gillham
21:10 Dec 20, 2021

I made those corrections. I cannot thank you enough!

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Elisa T K
01:47 Dec 21, 2021

No worries! Happy to help.

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Valerie Cuffie
04:43 Jan 21, 2022

I really enjoyed reading this story! I truly felt the ride on the trolley and chill of the air. Awesome job!

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Grown Folks
01:54 Dec 27, 2021

This story is so good

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Kevin Broccoli
06:32 Dec 26, 2021

I felt like I could see every corner of this story. Your attention to detail is just remarkable.

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Jon Casper
23:09 Dec 22, 2021

Hi Dustin! I'm impressed with the scene-setting you've achieved here. It's a very sensory piece. Sets a somber and lonely atmosphere. Little touches like the crows taking flight really bring it to life. It has an artistic quality, like an animated vignette. Enjoyable read!

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