#FridayFlash: Tickets, Please.

The wheels clattering over the track junction woke him from a restless sleep.

He blinked into the strange light. For a moment he couldn’t find the source of the blue-white glow, but gave it no further thought when he couldn’t recall getting on a train in the first place. He slid upright in the uncomfortable vinyl seat, and rubbed his eyes.

The car seemed impossibly wide. It rocked and clacked as the train rolled fast down the track. The engine droned somewhere, but he couldn’t tell from where. The long seats stretched to a wide aisle, and the car ceiling arched overhead in a way reminiscent of old, wooden train cars. Time-forgotten old, and the wood around the windows glowed with amber varnish and many years of sunlight streaming through the windows.

He sat alone on the bench, near the middle. The aisle to his left had to be four feet wide before another long bench reached to the windows opposite him. Doors punctured the walls to the fore and rear of the car, gleaming brass handles set into dark, rich wood grain and a café curtain squatting taut behind the mullions of the glass.

He tried to focus his thoughts, but the car’s dimensions distracted him. It’s huge. Immense. He craned his head to look behind him, and the smattering of passengers in their seats caught his eye.

They all seemed dazed, confused, eyes unfocused, most turned toward the windows.

He slid to the end of the bench, and stared out. A bleak, barren landscape rolled past. Long, solid plates of barren rock, an occasional spike of something like vegetation stabbed up. The few leafless trees seemed dead, the trunks and limbs an ashen gray. The sky, a heavy slate color, hung low. The rises in the distance jabbed crystalline skyward. Some vanished into the nesting clouds.

An alien, colorless landscape. He had no idea where he was.

He scanned the compartment for a conductor, and didn’t find one. He turned back to the window for a moment and realized the few plants crowding near the tracks rocketed by in a blur. The train sped along at a mind-bending speed, and the desert outside spread long miles into the horizon before the broken-glass mountains sliced it off.

“Do you know where we are?”

The voice startled him and his heart spiked. He jolted and spun on the worn seat. A woman sat beside him, her face powdery white, her eyes sunken into blue-black sockets. Her white hands fluttered in her lap, two agitated birds. When the train bounced over a bump in the tracks she jerked in start. A tiny, quivery sigh escaped her.

“N-no,” he said, but she stared past him out the window. “No, I don’t. I was hoping someone would tell me. Is there a conductor anywhere?”

“I … don’t know,” she said, and her thin, airy voice whistled from her. “I don’t think I’ve been on very long.”

“You don’t think?” He tipped his head at her with drawn brows. “You okay?”

Her dark purple and black clothes seemed dated to him, but he couldn’t tell. He didn’t keep up with women’s fashions, and she seemed young. Less than thirty-five, he felt certain. A strange little hat perched at the top of her head near the back and matched her dress, shawl and black lace-up boots. Her long, dark hair snaked around in an elegant braid and vanished beneath the hat.

“I … can’t be sure. I’m having trouble … remembering things.”

He stared into the middle distance and tried to recall how he came aboard. Where the train left from. When he bought a ticket. Where he’d be going by train. He glanced down at himself and saw the sharp-creased black suit, a rich crimson tie, his gleaming black wingtip shoes. He reached for his jacket pocket but felt nothing in the depths.

It occurred to him then he couldn’t remember his name.

“I’m … I’m having trouble remembering things too.”

“Are you?” her voice drifted, dreamy and absent.

“Yeah. I can’t … I can’t even remember my name right now. Do you suppose …?”

She blinked, slow and sleepy, and her eyes rose to him. “Suppose what?”

The door banged open behind them and they jumped together with all the other passengers, turned toward the sudden noise. The lights blinked out for a moment then snapped back on.

The conductor pushed through the opening. A massive, black form in a classic conductor’s hat and uniform. It rose nine feet toward the high, arched ceiling, and the yellow, featureless orbs glowed with an internal preternatural light. The tusks emerged from a thick, rolled black lip and ended in a blunt tip just below the eyes, a heavy brow working as the head swung on a thick stump of neck to and fro around the cabin. The talons on fat, powerful fingers scraped with chilling solidity on the wooden bench backs. The floor shook and thudded under the massive weight of its thick, clawed feet.

It glowered at the woman for a moment and then turned its baleful stare to him.

“Ticket.” The word rattled like stone falling into a vast well. The voice ground with gravelly baritone. It breathed in heavy puffs of fetid air.

“I-I don’t–”

The thing reached out with blinding speed and sank a steel-hard finger into the breast pocket of his coat. The lining tore with a shrieking rip when it pulled a solid gold ticket from its recesses. The conductor punctured it with one savage, spit-coated tusk, then stuffed it back into his pocket.

He sat frozen, eyes locked on its wide back as it waded up the aisle.

He turned to the window, gripped the wooden edges with white-knuckled fury. “Where are we?”

She shook her head, haunted eyes staring out the window at the bleak, unchanging landscape.

The train roared onward down the tracks.

23 thoughts on “#FridayFlash: Tickets, Please.

  1. “one savage, spit-coated tusk” of a story – fantastic, and worth waiting for. Lots of good description in here.

    Thank you, Skycycler! I’m honored to have you read and am glad you enjoyed it. 🙂 I appreciate the feedback.

  2. Loved the conductor — very imaginative description. I always perk up at the sound of a good monster. This one ROCKED! I liked the alien world also. I could actually picture it in my over-imaginative mind!

    Thanks for coming by, Louise! I appreciate you spending time with my work and letting me know what you thought! 🙂

  3. I don’t know if I’m right, but I pictured this as the after-death train and the conductor was Death himself. I think I’d rather be asleep during that trip. Fascinating. I really enjoyed it!

    Thank you Laura! I’m really happy you enjoyed it! Thank you for letting me know what you thought and for spending your time with my stuff. 🙂

  4. I hope I never find myself on any of your trains! Very good. I like the way you created the dreamlike atmosphere.

    Thank you, Linda! I’m flattered you chose to spend your time with my work and sharing your thoughts on it. Much, much appreciated! 🙂 Hope you have an outstanding weekend.

  5. And he knocks another one out of the park!

    Good work sir!

    Aw, thanks, Al! I appreciate the ongoing support and encouragement. Thanks for the read, retweets and comment, bud. Have an awesome weekend.

  6. There. That’s the spirit. You thought you didn’t have a story but you did.

    And a very good one it is, spookily good!

    Thank you Marisa. The encouragement of folks like you is integral to my writing. I appreciate all you did to help me get off my considerable rear and do the work. Thank you also for the read and comment. 🙂

  7. Rock solid description of a train ride to Hell. The best this poor guy can hope for, I fear, is that this is all just a nightmare. Alas, I don’t think he’s going to be waking up. Very effective piece.

    Thank you very much, Jon! I really appreciate the time to read and comment, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece! Thanks for coming by!

  8. Great stuff, I love the old fashioned looking train, and the clothing of the woman that the MC can’t quite place in terms of modern fashions!
    The alien landscape came through very clearly.
    And I liked the monster, although that’s generally a given 🙂

    LOL! Well, I do my best to make my monsters as charming as I can, Mazzz. Thank you so much for coming by, reading and commenting. I’m really grateful for the time and very happy you enjoyed it!

  9. steve

    I can relate to the “dazed & confused”. 🙂
    Good job here! Geez, reminded me of a time about 40 years ago at the University of Maryland, I had a problem … thought I needed help (as I thought I had died and gone to hell … bummer) and set off the fire alarm. Needless to say chaos was abundant that night around 2 a.m……
    Very good story. Your writings are excellent. You need to publish a book of short stories.

    ROFL! Well, I hope this one didn’t cause you to set off any fire alarms, Steve, but I AM glad you stopped by to read and let me know what you thought. I really appreciate it. And may it go from your lips to God’s ear about being published. I’m workin’ on it. 😉 Thanks again!

  10. I especially liked this line :
    “The talons on fat, powerful fingers scraped with chilling solidity on the wooden bench backs.”
    It makes the monster scary with an ATTITUDE in my mind.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Karen :0)

    Thank YOU, Karen, for coming by and spending some of your time with my work, and letting me know you liked it. I appreciate that! Thank you so much!

  11. Unbelievable skill in constructing a setting and filling it with plausibility nestled in among the insane. Wow, very beautiful. The only thing that got me was why was the train so wide? What was the significance of the width of the thing, if not only to accommodate the demonic conductor. Leaves me to thinking, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. You leave me wanting more.

    Carrie, thank you very much. I don’t know if anyone has ever used the word “beautiful” to describe my work before. I’m flattered. 🙂 Thank you so much for coming by and commenting; it means a lot to me. 🙂

  12. Great stuff. I immediately thought they were dead on on the train to the afterlife.

    Thank you, Deb. I appreciate the kind words. 🙂 Thanks for coming by and letting me know what you thought. 🙂

  13. I hope you know I will never step foot on another train. Between this one and the other you wrote I am done.

    Fabulous imagery. Too fabulous to be reading right before bed. What was I thinking??

    I’m so glad you … liked? … it, D. Thank you for taking the time to come by and read and let me know what you think. I know how busy you are and it means a lot to me. Hope you and the familial are well and happy!

    1. Like it? Loved it. It’s just that I’m a wimp. I can’t watch horror flicks and I don’t read horror stories. Slasher gore stuff doesn’t bother me, but well-written supernatural stuff–now that’s scary. So if I’m freaked out, take that as a compliment. 🙂

      *Blush* Aw, thanks D. I will take it as a compliment. I’m flattered you took the time even though it’s not your cuppa. 🙂

  14. I really liked this reminds me of a story I read about an old man getting on a bus – can’t remember what it was called though!

    Thank you very much, Sarah! I’m glad to know you enjoyed it. If you ever do remember the story you’re referencing, please do let me know. I enjoy stories of old men on buses. 😉 Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Much appreciated!

  15. Hi Dane, just stopped by to check your stuff – awesome! I loved everything about this, especially how the woman’s braid “snaked” around and under her hat. Glad to have you in Nov. Writers!

    Susan, thank you so much and welcome! I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece. It means a lot when people read my work and even more when they give feedback. Thank you for warm welcome to the group. I hope my presence is a positive one and I look forward to working together. 🙂

  16. The vivid descriptions tell the story. I like the conductor, and that’s my kind of train.

    David, thank you very much for your kind words! I’m very glad you enjoyed the story, and I’m sorry I was so late in responding to you. I haven’t checked back for comments in a couple of days. Thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment on my work, and I hope to see you again soon!

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