What follows is my first ever attempt at a short story. If you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it, you’re in for a treat. Either way, please feel free to comment below, or tweet me, and let me know what you think.
John stepped onto the train and took the last available seat. The carriage was full; a seat near to the Driver was unavoidable. Cigarette smoke and gangster rap polluted the air. Opposite him, a businessman of some kind shouted down his phone. The doors slammed shut and the carriage pulled away from the platform.
Just another day on the subway.
Shit, this is a bad idea, John thought.
A bead of sweat slithered down his forehead. It was hot in the carriage, but this was not the reason for his clammy skin. As the conductor made his way from the back of the carriage, John shifted in his seat. There was a reason he never sat in such an exposed area. The conductor was old, tired, and often missed people in seats slightly back from the aisle. John was right in the firing line today. Being within touching distance of the Driver made him uneasy, too.
Just stay calm.
The door to the Driver’s cabin slid open; a head peering out from its work area. The Driver’s piercing, black eyes met John’s.
“Morning,” he said, somewhat happily for a Monday morning.
Not wanting to draw any undue attention to himself, John forced his gaze out of the window opposite, following markings on the concrete wall as they raced by.
Just ignore him, keep staring ahead.
“Lovely day for it,” the voice called.
Shit, he’s talking to me, isn’t he?
“Um, yeah sure, morning,” John half-heartedly replied, doing his best to nip the conversation in the bud there and then.
“How are you doing today?” the Driver asked.
Jesus Christ, would you just shut the hell up!
“Yeah, not bad,” John answered, setting his gaze back out the window and away from the increasingly unwanted attentions of the Driver.
“How was your weekend, John?”
What the hell, he knows my name? John brushed this thought aside, not wanting to make a scene with the conductor approaching.
The conductor was now perilously close, and John was in no mood to be forced to explain his presence in the carriage.
“Look, no offence, but I’d like to be left alone, if that’s alright with you?” he snapped.
A grin stretched across the Driver’s face.
The conductor checked the ticket of the loud man on the phone opposite John. The sweat on John’s head had reached fever-pitch: it now looked like he had just swilled his face in the sink.
Not too conspicuous, dumbass!
The conductor now stood over John, whose gaze had now switched to an old piece of chewing gum, now squashed and stuck to the carriage floor. He daren’t look up; maybe the conductor would pass him by.
John didn’t move, pretending he didn’t hear the question.
“Sir, ticket please?” the conductor asked again.
Realising the burying-his-head-in-the-sand approach was not going to work, John looked up, smiled, and began the search for a ticket he knew did not exist.
“In your own time, Sir,” the conductor said, his condescending tone further aggravating John.
John slowly checked every pocket he had on him, some of them twice.
Just keep it up a bit longer, he might get bored and leave.
The Driver watched on.
“It’s OK, I’ll deal with this,” the Driver said.
The conductor nodded, turned, and made his way back down the train.
John looked up from floor, pulling at his collar: it was getting hot in the carriage now.
“In a bit of bother, aren’t we John?” the Driver asked.
“Look, it’s only a ticket. If it’s such a big deal, I’ll get off at the next stop,” John answered.
“That’s not what I mean. And I certainly don’t want you to get off. Not yet,” the Driver responded.
Shit, what the hell on you on about!
“Now John, there’s no need for that. It’s stuff like that which has you here in the first place”
Shit, did he just hear what I was thinking?
“Yes I did. I know all about you, John-”
John squirmed anxiously in his seat.
“-and what you’ve done.”
“Look, I don’t want any trouble. Just going about my day, that’s all. I’ll get off at the next stop, promise,” said John, panicking now, shifting further back in his chair.
A grin returned to the Driver’s face. John’s gaze now shifted from left to right, up and down. Anywhere but the Driver’s eyes. He didn’t know here to look, what to do. He was trapped in this carriage until the train stopped. The Driver knew this.
“Relax John. This’ll be over soon. I promise. Now, take a quick look around this carriage for me. What do you see?” the Driver said.
John turned to his left and surveyed the carriage. The man opposite was still shouting down his phone. The black youth to his right continued to play his music loudly through his own phone. An elderly man towards the back shifted in his seat, looking even more uncomfortable than John. To this man’s left sat a timid looking, petite blond, nose in book. Between them all sat a variety of other colourful looking characters.
Just a typical train carriage, John thought.
“Not exactly,” the Driver replied.
John was almost used to this by now: he hadn’t even spoke.
“John, do you honestly have no idea why I might be talking to you like this? No idea at all why you might be here?”
Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it! “No, really I don’t!” John exclaimed. The carriage seemed even hotter now; he found it hard to breath.
“Maybe this might help, then. Listen carefully. See the boy playing the music? He stole his grandmother’s savings last night. He’s on his way to spend most of it on drugs to supply to kids in his neighbourhood. The lady reading her book? Killed her husband last night by lacing his dinner with rat poison. Loud mouth on the phone there? Walked out on his sick wife and kids, to run away with his mistress.”
John’s face went blank.
“Shall I continue?” the Driver asked.
“No, no. That’s enough.”
“And so, that brings us to you, doesn’t it? John McNally. Construction worker. Husband. Father. Murderer.”
“Fuck indeed. Did you think He wouldn’t notice? He always notices. What you see around you is the lowest of the low. Last night’s worst. And you’re His gem.” the Driver said, proudly.
Not my fault. They deserved it. Couldn’t help it. Sweat now covered John’s entire body. He grabbed at his collar again. He could barely breathe.
“Excuses, all of them. Getting hot in here now, isn’t it?”
“Look, please. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do it. Any of it. They forced me. Picking on me, pressuring me all the time,” John pleaded. “If they had just left me alone I’d have been fine. They couldn’t help themselves. Always picking faults, telling me what I was doing wrong.”
“Too late John. Far too late. He’s got a special spot already reserved for you. Don’t you worry about that,” the Driver revealed.
Shit, gotta get out of here! He tried to move, his body wouldn’t respond. Tried to shout out, his lips would not move.
“Relax John. Just accept it. We’re almost there,” the Driver advised.
Heat engulfed the entire carriage now. John panted. He couldn’t scream even if he was able to.
“He’s got high hopes for you, John. There are some real specimens where we’re going. But you might top the lot. I can’t wait to see what you can get up to,” the Driver enthused.
I can’t believe this is happening.
“Believe it, John. This is very real. As real as you’re ever going to get.”
The man continued to scream down his phone. His grating voice destroying the façade of cool John had displayed until this point.
Shut up! Shut up before I shut you up! I’ll cut out your tongue, see if you can shout then!
“That’s better, John. Much better. And just in time. We’re here now.”
The carriage began its descent into the dark, soulless chasm below; into the welcoming arms of fire and death.
Flames quickly consumed the entire carriage. Screams filled the air. The smell of cigarette smoke was long gone, the air now filled with the putrid odour of burning flesh and charring bone.
As the carriage sank, John allowed his thoughts to turn to his wife and two children, his mum and dad, his brother and sister, the Smiths next door and their two little girls.
All of the people he had killed.
Ah, fuck it. They deserved it anyway. Just accept it.
The Driver smiled.
“I can’t wait to see what you’re going to get up to, John,” he said, “I really can’t.”