15 January 2014

the stranger on the train

short story, about a fantasy i've been having since the end of November... 
partly real life, partly my imagination gone wild


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She took the first available seat without a reserved sticker on it, in carriage 6. Most of them had, and Lucy spotted a four-seater with a table in between, plonking the big rucksack under the small table, noticing a figure in the seat near the window. The man, professional looking, slightly annoyed that his state of peace had been curtailed, gave her a pleasant smile, which she answered with one of her own. She sat down after she'd taken her coat off and enjoyed a few moments of calm. The wait for the delayed train had been long, despite standing in the main hall of Kings Cross Station being fun, listening to the conversations by people near her was enjoyable, and the notion that many of the trains on the boards were leaving for Edinburgh, or Aberdeen, filled her with a mild form of excitement. Places that she'd wanted to go to as well. One time. When arranging it wouldn't be the hassle that this trip had proved. 

Lucy checked the display of her phone, to see if anybody had been trying to contact her in the time it had taken her to go from the waiting hall to the seat she was in now but there was nothing. The train slowly juddered itself into motion, and she knew that it would take at least another hour and a quarter before it was going to halt again, so she placed the phone on the table in front of her and intended to make herself as comfortable as possible. The man next to her had taken his laptop out and waited for the wireless internet connection to be established. The young woman in the seat near the window on the other side of the isle was listening to music; tinny rhythms drifted through the air, and she tapped her fingers on the window sill. 

The seats opposite weren't taken, despite the claim made by the bits of paper on the headrest. 
"I'll do you a deal," she suddenly heard the man next to her say, "I'll take that chair over there in a bit if nobody else does. I'll give it ten more minutes."
His smile was winning, and she nodded.
"Can't see why not."
They carried on in silence for a while, in which nobody but an elderly woman wandered along, looking for the coffee carriage, and Lucy let the sound of the voice that had just spoken to her bounce around her head. It was a nice voice, with an accent that she hadn't heard much before. Apart form a children's programme that her oldest son used to watch, years and years before. Northern, Yorkshire probably, seen as that's where the train was heading for.

Nine minutes later the man grabbed his laptop, turned it to face the chair opposite  him, grabbed his jacket and scarf, and waited for Lucy to get up and make enough space for him to squeeze through. Another smile adorned his face, but she felt too shy to keep looking his way. She hadn't, apart form staring at London which rolled past the window he was sitting next to, lights coming from office windows, then houses, shops, petrol stations, and slowly there was darkness. She didn't want to make him think that she was trying to work out what he was doing on that laptop. Though she had been curious enough to consider it. 


A quick glance when she thought he wasn't looking told her that he was as attractive as he sounded. He had dark curly hair, which stood up a bit, and a small beard, which gave him something trustworthy, reminding her of someone she'd seen on telly - a comedian, or an actor on a BBC sitcom. He must be in his early thirties, worked in an office, going by the state of his hands, which were perfect. He then glanced up at her and she quickly looked away, not wishing to make things awkward. She didn't do this kind of thing, making contact with complete strangers on trains, preferring to work out their lives in the safety of her imagination. She closed her eyes for  a while, hoping that time would speed up that way. It didn't, and the darkness outside hadn't changed. The odd yellow spot of an illuminated farmhouse window occasionally broke pitch-black views. The battery on her phone was low, and she still had to make a call before the chance arose to connect it to a charger, so distracting herself with music was not a option. She sighed.
"Boring, isn't it?" he spoke, to her alarm. "Where are you heading for?"
"Oh, ehm... Sheffield... Visiting a friend..." Lucy stammered, feeling herself flush as she did.
"O right, that's where I live," he answered with that lovely smile, in that lovely sounding accent. "You're not moving there then?" he pointed at the rucksack.
"Not yet, no," Lucy smiled. "Just staying for a few days."
"You from London?"
"The continent. Been travelling since nine this morning."
"Oh right... On an adventure..." he grinned, then went on with tapping on his laptop, and looked on his phone which had made a sound that said he'd received a message. Lucy clicked her phone into life, hoping for something to make her less talkable to. Although this really was shockingly welcome. 
"What were you doing in London then?" Lucy asked when he'd finished with his phone, her shyness oozing from every syllable. Or so she felt.
"Talking to some people who can help me with my work. I help run a publishing company... Really quite boring. You?" his eyes penetrated Lucy, which would've been disturbing if he'd looked any less lovely, or like a village idiot. 
"I work in a caf inside a bookshop." 
"Ah, I work on one end of the process and you the other..." he grinned, baring nice looking teeth. "My name is Miles, by the way." and he stuck out his hand.
"Lucy. Nice to meet you..."

"How long are you going to be in England then?" 
"A week. Never been further north than Nottingham, twenty years ago."
"Right... Hope we won't put you off too much..." 
"Doubt it. I've lived in England before..."
"Ah, thought you're English was good - down south?"
Lucy nodded. Her memories of her life along the south coast had been happy, and she still missed it. But now wasn't the time to go into that. 
"Nobody missing you then?"
"Suppose, yeah." Would she mention the husband and two kids? Nah, she was here to leave that behind for a while. A break, that's what this was. 
"You're not giving away much, are you?" he smiled once more. "Can't blame you... Not many people you can trust these days, are there? My ex was conned out of her savings by some good-looking bloke in a suit... They caught him in the end, but she never saw a penny back..." he glared her way so as to emphasise his annoyance, then smiled again. "Sorry, didn't mean to go all Daily Mail on you there..."
Lucy smiled. "It's alright. There's quite a few others to balance out the bad ones..."
"True... Suppose we al get too swept along by a few horror stories and lose sight of the good things in life..." Miles grinned and moved a finger along the swipe pad of his laptop to kick it back into life. 
"I'm here to have a break from a very unremarkable life, to figure a few things out, and that's all you're getting..." Lucy sighed, smiling, and looked at the phone in front of her that had suddenly pinged into action. An icon of an envelope popped up and she swept her finger along it to read the message it contained.
- where are you?! has the train vanished? sheffield is waiting for you!! said Suzie, her friend, via text-message. 
- still on my way. train delayed, but should be arriving in about 20 minutes. having very nice view, btw... she answered.
- it's pitch black out there
- i know...
-ah. i see... lucky woman... behave, will you?!
Lucy replied with a winking smiley and switched her phone off again. Across the table Miles was reading something gripping on the screen of his small computer, absorbing him until about five minutes from the station, when he started tidying away his things, lowering the bag and case that he'd placed on the luggage rack. Lucy watched him quietly, then made to move her own bag, put on her coat and lug the rucksack out from under the table. The woman in the seats next to theirs glanced over when she attempted to put the big bag on her back, but went back to the world of her smartphone quickly.

"Have a good time, then, Lucy from the Continent," Miles said, ready to move out towards the exit. "Nice to speak to you."
"I will, and same here..." she dithered, wishing herself to say the words that only her bold friends would ever do, but she knew would stay stuck somewhere between her brain and her mouth, gearing herself up to move forward to the dividing door and walk out onto the platform, ready to meet her friend, and enjoy a week of silliness and deep conversation, the very thing she agreed she needed more than anything.

The train halted and most of the people in the carriage got up to leave, and after a nod and a smile Miles disappeared into the throngs on the platform within seconds, disappearing from her life with as much lack of drama as he'd entered it, an hour and fifteen minutes before. She spotted Suzie waiting for her near the stairs, and hugged her like the long lost friends they were. Together they walked over to Suzie's car, put all her gear in the boot and drove off to the cottage in the countryside, ready for coffee and a nice meal. 

Much later on she found it. While looking for her toothbrush in one of the side pockets there was a small card, black, with white letters on it. Miles Jones, Managing Director of Sheffield House, Publishers. And a mobile phone number, under which was written give me a call, yeah? Lucy stared at it for ten minutes, then put it on the bed and closed her eyes. Ever since when was this kind of thing happening to her?! Meeting a stranger on a train? 

She smiled, sighed, sniggered, then found herself laughing out loud. She had asked for an adventure. Be careful what you wish for...


3 comments:

Kati H said...

No! I want more! Don't leave me hanging!! Come on.. What happend, did she call him? What? You áre an evil woman.. ;)

Daan (Dan) said...

it's called an open ending... might do a follow up, might not...

Kati H said...

I know them, I write them myself. Hate to read them, love to write them, weird isn't it? ;)