Trains and Tramps (A short story)Mature

A surreal short story that I originally planned to enter for a competition, but unfortunately shot way over the word count limit. I couldn't chop a chunk of it so I held on to it. Enjoy people, I really hope this isn't rubbish but if it is, please be constructive in your criticism. It is my first go at a short story after all :)


Trains and Tramps


The train judders to a halt with a teeth shattering screech.
Sickly orange light filters through the grime encrusted windows.
Muggy air encloses me in a sweaty embrace.

God I hate public transport.

Rubbing my jaw with a wince, I'm reminded of the length of time it's been since I shaved. Or washed. Or changed my clothes. That bastard would take me up on my word wouldn't he?

At least my dishevelled appearance has granted me some breathing space on this sardine tin. Although, I have to admit, this isn't your average train journey. No one's speaking. No one's reading the paper. No one's taking an irritatingly loud phone call. No one's tried (and failed) to pick their nose unobtrusively. There are no crying children. Actually, there's only one child. He seems to be only nine or ten years old. Glancing around, I don't see anyone with him.

What's a child doing alone? On an inner-city train?

His face has a curious expression. He doesn't appear nervous or frightened like most children would be. He just seems.... Blank. Like the lights are on but there's no one home.                                                                                                                                      Looking around the carriage, I realise everyone has the same expression.

Eerie isn't strong enough a word.

Feeling a drop of sweat slide down my chest, I smother it against my shirt with my hand.
Backing slowly into my corner, I try not to look at anyone. My hand fumbles in my pocket and finds a coin I have kept there, feeling the rough contours yield to smooth on the edges and back again, my heart rate falls somewhat.
I notice a conductor forcing his way through the throng. In my direction.
Now I don't remember having done anything wrong (well in at least the last hour) but when I see a figure of authority charging towards me, my well developed instincts react. Edging slowly towards the doors behind a tall, fat man, I attempt to blend with the crowd. The rail thin moustachioed conductor veers towards me like a bloodhound, pushing my fleshy shield aside.

He stares at me for a moment, with an unblinking gaze.
In a movement quicker than thought, he lashes out with the palm of his hand....
And hits the large glowing button next to the doors, causing them to slide open with a pneumatic hiss.

His other palm strikes me, sending me sprawling on to the featureless platform.
‘Hey what the fuck are you doing?' I shout. ‘There isn't a train for another...' I trail off. When was the next train? Actually, when did I get on this train?
He stares at me for a moment before wheeling and slapping the button. Within moments, the train has pulled away, leaving me....


Casting my gaze around, I see an empty ticket office with an arch leading out on one side and the platform on the other and.... That's it. No vending machines, no boards with times, no waiting passengers.... Nothing.

Pulling myself off the ground, I dust myself off (for all the good it'll do), shove my hands in pockets, pull up my hood and walk out.

Digging my hands around my pockets, I pull out a dented cigarette and a fake Zippo. Lighting up, I pull heavily.

Where the hell am I?

Looking around I notice a man next to a burning barrel, warming his hands.
Deciding that there was no use waiting for a train that might or might not come back again, I walk towards the city centre, hunched against the whipping wind cigarette in one hand and my coin in the other. Flicking the coin into the air, it comes to rest in between the joints of my thumb and index finger. Sliding it down to my thumb, I flick it again catching it in between my thumb and index fingertip. This was a trick I'd perfected several years previously. It helped calm me. The coin was worn almost smooth.

Flick, flick snap. Flick, flick snap.

If this wind puts out my bloody fag, someone's car will be a lot different to how they left it.
Just like last time and his car. Oh that worked well. For a time at least. Never knew it was me, but he suspected. But then, he was never stupid was he? Outright retaliation was never his style no.... Manipulation was right up his street.
So I moved in right next door on his street.

‘Hey boy!'
I jerk out of my reverie. It's the tramp.
‘You want to warm yourself?' he called.

Screw it.Why not?

I walk over warily, fingering the coin in my pocket. Another drop of sweat oozes down my chest.

Oozes? Since when is sweat so thick?
Flick, flick snap.

Shelving this for the moment, I try to remain focussed.
With a neutral face, I step up to the blazing barrel. .
Smiling from behind an iron grey beard he extended a hand.

To shake mine? Forget it buddy.

If he was insulted at my distance, he didn't show it.
‘So' he said rubbing his hands over the flames ‘What brings a young fella like yourself out here?' he inquired.

Hmph. Awful cheery isn't he?

‘Just waiting for a train' I replied.
‘Is that right? Where you headed?' he asked.

Where am I going?

‘Must be awful important if you've gone dry in mouth just thinking about it' he said winking slyly.
‘Yeah....Yeah it's important.' I said, panic rooting in me.
More sweat begins to flow down my chest, on to my stomach.
Flick, flick snap. Flick, flick snap.

Something's wrong here. I should leave.

Backing away, I run down the street and turn corner after corner and finally stop, hands on knees breathless. I take an unsteady drag before stamping out the cigarette. I cough, pain stabbing my chest.

‘But where you've come from is as important as where you're going wouldn't you say?'


To my right in a dead end is the same tramp with his barrel. Grinning.
My shirt is soaked through with sweat.

Flick, flick snap. Flick, flick snap.

I turn on my heel to retreat.
Brick wall.
‘Wh-what? How?' I flounder.
‘Running here will get you nowhere fast boy.'
I walked slowly towards the tramp, circling.
‘What's going on here? What do you want?'
‘Me? I want nothing. I did not bring you here. You brought yourself here. You and another.'
‘Who?' I demand.
‘I think you know well enough who brought you here.' He said, never taking his eyes off the fire.
‘What do you mean? I arrived by train and was fucked out by some prick of a conductor!'
‘Oh did you now? And tell me, did you keep the ticket stub? Surely that could remind you of your destination.' He said
‘The fuck is it to you?! Who the fuck are you anyway?!'
I glare at him, breathing hard through my nose.

Fuck it.

Rummaging through my pockets I take out my fake Zippo, empty cigarette carton and....

That's it.

My shirt is drenched.

Flick, flick snap.

‘No luck then?' He says, looking at me finally.
‘Perhaps looking at yourself will help?'

Stumbling towards a window, I see a seventeen year old teen with greasy dark hair, a month's growth of facial hair, worn, torn clothes and.... A dark red stain spreading through a dirty shirt.

Sinking to my knees I look at my hands, realising they are stained with blood I'd been wiping away.
Ripping open my shirt, I wipe away blood from around a deep gash in my abdomen.

Memories crashed down on me.

‘Oh God. Oh God....'

Flick fli-

The coin drops.

I remember. A month living on the streets after arguing with that asshole after mom's funeral. The worst thing to happen to us since dad died. I couldn't bear his manipulation, turning me and mom against each other, him reaping the rewards. Me, out of his way. Her, relying on him as a confidant. Bastard. Moving out, thinking I could do better on my own. Well that worked out just fantastic didn't it? Returning home, finding him clearing out dad's old room and selling mom's stuff.
Bellowing and attacking.
A glint of a knife.

‘I remember' I sob, shuddering.
‘They always do, in time.' The tramp responded gently.
‘They?' I asked ‘So I'm dead?'
‘Mmm, I wouldn't say dead. Think of this as a crossroads.' He strode over to me, helping me up.
Leading me by the elbow, he brought towards the brick wall.
Or at least where there had been a brick wall.

The arch from the train station stood in front of us.
‘Come on, you're hardly surprised now are you?' He said.
Entering, I saw there were now two trains in the station. One was the one I'd been thrown off. It was full and I could see the conductor standing next to the door waiting.

The second made it look bright and shiny. Yet it was empty. An identical conductor stood in front of it.

‘So if that one is used far more than that, why is it in much better condition?'
Looking at me he replied ‘The first one is dirty and tired because of how much it's used. The second is wearier because it's used so rarely. You understand?'
Nodding, it began to click. ‘So I have a choice?'
‘That you do' he said bobbing his head.
‘But if I could have gone on the first train, why was I thrown off?'
‘Because it was not yet your time. But it could be if you choose to return to it.'
‘And if I choose the second?'
‘I think you know where you'll go.' He replied softly

Pulling my fake Zippo out, I held the coin out over it, burning one side black.
‘What do you say? Black for number one, white for two?' I said.




The End

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