Once again this week Chuck Wendig, in his ongoing attempt to whip wannabe writers into fighting shape, has instructed us to write the traditional “1,000 words or so” based on a random title generated here. After getting my five titles and letting them marinate in the syrupy goo that is the organ formerly known as my brain, I wrote this for your edification and enjoyment, weighing in at a trim 971 words. As always, comments and constructive criticisms are welcome:
The Express and the Blackwell
Morrison placed the small pet carrier on the concrete, causing Mister Snarkybutt to shift inside and look out through the grate at the end. He let out an inquisitive “Meow?” about their surroundings, but settled for a small treat from Morrison’s pocket instead of an answer. He curled back into a ball in the carrier and waited patiently.
Morrison checked the time on her phone before walking over to the information kiosk to confirm the status of the trains. It was comforting to see that they were both on time as expected. She doubted that she could go through with this a second time.
The station was empty. A century ago the red and black brick façade of the station offices had been assembled in complex geometric designs, but now the walls were so grimy and dirty that one could scarcely tell which were the red bricks and which the black. Some enterprising thug had gone to the effort of spraying his brief graffiti manifesto into the grime using cleaning fluid as his medium instead of paint. This had no doubt confused the local officials into debating a way to reintroduce the dirt in order to obscure the message.
Harsh and bright LED lights lit up the station so that you could see it from low Earth orbit. The retrofitted fixtures saved the railroad millions per year in energy and maintenance costs, but in doing so they made the platform look like an operating room after a fire. The blue-white tint to the light had none of the warmth of the old incandescent lights. The darkness wasn’t so much pushed back as it was beaten into submission.
Glass frames containing advertising, schedules, and route maps lined the walls of the station, along with bandit flyers taped to the glass for haul away services, guitar lessons, and babysitters. The flyers fluttered in the light breeze and some threatened to fly away down the tracks toward oblivion.
Two sets of tracks stretched off into infinity on both side of the station platform, the polished steel faintly reflecting the moonlight that managed to filter though the thin layer of clouds. On both sides of the platform, display panels hanging from the ceiling gave status updates on the two approaching trains. Far off in the distance in each direction was a tiny, fluttering light that from the oncoming engine.
From inside the display panels, speakers came to life with soft chiming sounds, and a soothing woman’s voice said, “The train is now approaching. For your safety, please stand in back of the yellow lines.” From somewhere in the night the clanging of crossing guards bells could be heard faintly, along with the mournful sound of train whistles.
Morrison went back to the pet carrier and squatted down next to it, peering into the dim interior. She could faintly see Mister Snarkybutt’s glowing green eyes. She stuck a couple of fingers through the small holes in the carrier’s gate and the cat shifted nearer to her hand so that she could scratch the back of his head and between his ears. Soon he was purring loudly.
“It’s time, old man. Let’s do this,” Morrison said as she removed her hand and stood. Both trains could be seen to be approaching quickly and the mechanical sound of their brakes and engines could be heard over the gentle sounds of the night. As Morrison picked up the pet carrier, the two trains slid to a stop from opposite directions and their doors slid open. High above the station an ancient bell began to toll midnight.
From the east was an ancient collection of rolling stock, looking like a prop from an American western movie. Despite its anachronistic styling, the train was in immaculate shape. White curtains in the windows were held back with braided gold cords and red velvet upholstery covered the seats. While the car was well lit with a flickering yellow light, no passengers could be seen. Above the open door, painted with a flourish in red script letters and gold trim was the word “Blackwell”.
From the west was a sleek and polished bullet of a car, its windows round like portholes on an ocean liner, but dark. As Morrison watched, the windows along the car simultaneously shuttered open with counterrotating polarized filters spinning. The car appeared empty of furniture. Indistinct shadows could be seen on some walls, cast by many small somethings unseen as they walked past lighting strips along the base of the walls. An electronic panel above the door was lit with the word “Express” in moving LEDs that kept shifting through all the colors of the rainbow.
As the trains stopped and the clock tower bell began to ring, the traveler information display panels for both tracks began to count down from sixty seconds.
Moving quickly, Morrison picked up the pet carrier and walked over to the Express. Reaching carefully past the open door she placed the carrier down on the floor and unlatched the door. She quickly straightened up and turned to walk back across the platform.
Entering the car on the Blackwell, Morrison found a seat on the platform side of the car. She heard the car’s door closing behind her. Quickly she glanced across at the Express to see its doors closing as well, just as Mister Snarkybutt jumped free of the carrier and ran off into the car. The windows of the Express irised shut again as it began to smoothly pull out of the station.
With the first jerk of movement by the Blackwell, Morrison leaned back in her seat, closing her eyes. No longer caring what lie ahead, she clasped her hands together in her lap and let herself relax at last.
For better or for worse, it was done.