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Thank you, Korah, for your emotional and a little bit melancholic christmas story.
Dark and musty, a train station holds flickering lights and the frosty breath of a stern English man. He has a bitter brow and angry eyes, and the last thing he wants to do is visit his flaky sister and her new-age bearded boyfriend. But, it's Christmas, a time when people are obliged to visit people they don't like so they can pretend to have a good time just once a year. Where families send lukewarm invitations to distant relations and pray and hope they see through the cheery message towards the subtext that screams, “Please say you are too busy this year.”
It is not that this stern English man particularly disliked his sister; it is just that as they both grow older he sees just how different they are. She embraces this fact as a part of life's rich tapestry, and he considers it inconvenient. He would rather have conversations about Nicholas Cage in the movie “Lord of War” or the narration of Herzog in “Into the Abyss.” She, on the other hand, would rather talk about what she read on Facebook thirty seconds earlier, or how come the vampires do not sparkle in the sun during the later Twilight movies.
Life has a habit of pushing people apart because we all grow and change over time. Some people grow closer, some discover new things about others, but most people grow apart. This fact, amongst others, is one of the reasons this stern English man doesn't like Christmas, and why he was unerringly certain that this Christmas and all Christmases are used as a mask to hide people's collective misery.
Boarding the train, he gave a sly smile as he saw a few familiar faces. There was the Goth teen boy with purple lipstick being accompanied by his mother. The Goth boy sat with a disinterested gaze, wondering why he was ever born, whilst his mother wonders why her son looks like a slutty girl. There is also the reasonably good-looking guy sitting with his very good looking girlfriend. He clearly wore the face of a guy that is treading water in his relationship, but every now and again he would crank out a line that made you understand why such a woman chose a beta male such as him.
The stern Englishman took his seat on the train's foam chair. They have that sort of gray dust that sticks to your hand if you rub it with a sweaty palm. The gentle murmur of a British train car is calm and quiet enough to make out separate conversations. The most prominent, or at least the loudest, involves two women telling a young toddler and his sister that they were going on a train ride. To most, the wait between stops and starts on a train is nothing but a whisked blur, but to these children it was like waiting for Christmas itself. They must have gotten on at the same station because the threats, “Sit down or the train won't start” were woven into their conversations like a brute holding a choke chain over an excitable puppy.
If you concentrate on the negative for long enough, it starts to skewer the memory of your past. His past Christmases were no more bad than they were good. On average, there had never been anything fantastic about his Christmases in the same way there had never been anything devastating. Still, resolved was his attitude when it came to Christmas: it was just another reason to be miserable.
As the doors close, the most predominant sounds come from the two ladies talking to the young children. “We will be there soon” and “not long now” were heard across the train car. The sound of two women riling up the young children was lulled by the gentle roar of the engine. Away it pulled from the station…only to brake to a shunted halt! The young boy at the back piped up, “Are we there now?” His voice whistled with expectant optimism--much to the merriment of the two women.
The train conductor walked down the train bellowing for tickets. She is proud-breasted and firm-buttocked, which is not a common pairing with ticket collectors as they are usually a lot less “Vogue.” Being a frequent train traveler, the stern English man was a little surprised by the usually buxom filly that graced the aisle like a catwalk, and he partook of a sly glance as she leaned over the travelers in front to collect money.
The station from which he departed was only a small village station with no ticket machine, so it was not uncommon for people to purchase tickets on the train. The average-looking man with the beautiful girlfriend were addressed by the conductor. The average-looking man leapt to pay for both his and his girlfriend's ticket like a hungry dog begging for morsels of juicy appreciation. He held true to the typical beta male stereotype to the point where it made the stern English man want to hit him around the back of the head. The beautiful woman opened her purse to put in her ticket as the conductor gave the average-looking man his change. The conductor dropped a bit of the change, which trickled into the woman's purse. The conductor apologized for dropping the money in his girlfriend's purse, to which the average-looking man replied, “No problem, it would have ended up in there anyway.”
The train drew on and the stern English man gazed out the window in an effort to ensure he made eye contact with none of the few scatterings of people on the train. A tunnel approached, and the train roared as it entered. The sound of the engine echoed through the windows. The children in the back screamed in terror, which raised a dry smile on the stern English man. The tunnel opened up into a larger tunnel and the noise died down, as did the lights outside. At this point it became as black as night outside and eerily quiet. Being jittery of the dark the stern English man looked around but the other people on the train were acting normally, which gave him an odd sense of comfort and helped stop his imagination running away from him.
He gazed out of the window, which is almost as reflective as mirror because it is so dark outside. He had taken this route quite a few times, but had never known the tunnel be so dark. As he tries to look beyond his reflection he thinks he sees a glimmer in the dark. As he gazes with a concerned look on his face, he notices his own reflection…is smiling.
He jumped back in his seat, and startled, he looks over the seats behind him but there was nobody there. Worried at this point, he looks towards the couple sat across from him, but they too have gone. He jumps out of his seat, becoming more and more flustered as he notices there was nobody on the train at all.
It is silent for the sound of the train moving and the car shaking as it pounds the tracks. He hollered down the train cars and ran to the drivers cab. He banged on the door but nobody answered. He looks to the right at the emergency exit release. On the window just above it, filled with condensation, someone had written, “Remember me” with an arrow pointing to a seat just ahead.
Shouting at the top of his lungs for any attention, he moved cautiously to the seat as directed, and upon it was a cuddly bunny toy about the size of a baby rabbit. As the car moved the toy fell onto its side, which startled the now frightened stern English man more than it should. It wasn't a scary toy, but as he grabbed it by the neck and lifted it up he felt as if he knew it.
The coloring, size, shape and even the feel reminded him of a rabbit he once had. One Christmas, whilst living with his girlfriend Josephine, he and she brought all of their rabbits into the house because there were Facebook posts about rabbit thefts in the area. Sadly, a lot of illegal dog fighting still goes on in Britain, and the dogs are often tempted to fight by offering them a young bunny or cat to fight over.
On Boxing Day, both he and Josephine were walking their dog when they caught a stick-figured old woman releasing a house rabbit onto a field. The stern English man was furious at such irresponsible behavior, especially since it turned out she bought it for her teenage son, who had told her to stick it up her bottom (though not in such pleasant terms). Josephine rescued the rabbit, and it eventually joined their group of rabbits at home, though not before it had its Christmas baubles chopped off by a vet. A sad smile wiped across the stern English man's face as he thought of the rabbit he and his girlfriend rescued over Christmas.
The train drew to a stop in the tunnel, and the man finally began to calm himself. They had stopped in a pitch black tunnel, but he could now use the emergency release mechanism and get himself off the train.
He tried the release buttons, but they didn't work, nor did the crank, and nor did trying to prize the doors open. He kicked a window with the hopes it may smash but it didn't. He even considered squeezing through the open windows at the top, but knew he would scarcely get his head through. He hollered and screamed until his throat was sore, but nobody came and there were no sounds besides that of his voice echoing off the tunnel walls.
Running down the train, trying every door and looking for something to smash a window, he noticed a bin on the train near where the carriages connected. It looked new, with fresh plastic, no scratches and no marks of any kind. He puzzled over this odd anomaly within the train. Had the cleaner stopped half way through cleaning the train? How did the bin get there without him noticing the last time he ran up the train aisle? Why was it filled with only chocolate wrappers?
He fumbled around within the bin hoping to find a glass bottle he could throw at a window, but all he found were sweet wrappers, chocolate wrappers, confectionery tinfoil and selection boxes you only buy at Christmas. He remembered the many hours he spent as a child filling up on chocolate on Christmas morning. Everyone always said he would get a stomach ache, and he took great delight in the fact that he never did. He always hated how his sister made her chocolate last all week, whereas his was mostly gone within three days.
He slowly rose from the bin, took a deep calming breath and let his head roll back. He had spent so long in a blind panic that he had actually become tired of being scared. His breath was eerily warm as it caressed his tongue on its way out into the atmosphere. His hands were sticky with the remnants of chocolate from Christmas past, so he lumbered down the aisle with the form of a stroppy teen and shoulder barged open the flimsy toilet door.
Sadly, within the toilet there were no people. Part of him hoped that the beta male had cracked out another stunning line and his drop-dead girlfriend had pulled him into the toilets to join the meter high club. He washed his hands and stared into the murky mirror, almost missing the bright red apple sat beside the bowl. He splattered crystalline water onto the apple as he snatched it from the side. It was made of wax and on it were Japanese figures from ancient texts. He recognized the symbols because one Christmas his girlfriend Stephanie bought him the Japanese anime series “Death Note” in which the demon Ryuk was addicted to apples.
So fiery and keen was the imagination of the jittery but stern English man that he didn't look into the mirror as he slipped out the toilet door. He has full control of his mind, but fears he may lose it if he looks in the mirror and sees a Japanese demon god staring back at him.
The train cars had grown stale and mellow in the short time the stern English man had been in the toilet. A dim mist hung in the air even though it had not become cold. The darkness outside the train seemed to hug the cars as if it were looking for an excuse to enter. It felt as if the darkness were pushing against the windows and that it may spill in like murky water in a swamp.
He began to become cognizant of his own death and how this scenario may be the prequel to the event. He thought back at how he lusted for the bigger things in life because they led to the smaller things wanted. It was a moment of clarity he achieved when thinking about…free-range chicken.
The epiphany began with how he had spent a total of three Christmases completely alone. They were not particularly the best Christmases ever, but recalled the best of the three, which was when he cooked a ham joint that was bigger than his plate and ate it all by himself. He had worked hard to achieve a great deal that year, but had done it at the expense of a social life, which meant he could afford finer things, but had nobody to share it with.
He then thought back to the his days with Stephanie and how a buffet made of cheesy nibbles, sausage rolls, cheap wine and tiny wieners was a perfect Christmas buffet. He recalled the year he and Josephine were so poor they had to wrap their presents in newspaper and only had a chicken instead of a turkey, and even the chicken was a £3 free-range bird on discount that had less meat than a pigeon. His happiest times didn't occur because of his wealth; they occurred because of the things he did with the people he loved.
Of course, it wasn't all about the penny-pinching times. He thought about the Christmas he bought himself one liter of 8-year old Famous Grouse Whisky, or the time near Christmas when he and his hippy girlfriend stole two big bottles of Southern Comfort from a local bar that fired her just before Christmas. They lit some candles, drank and sang from Christmas until New Year (when the bottles were empty). There was also the time he bought Stephanie a Nintendo Wii package with all the trimmings including controllers, steps, mats and cameras with no expense spared. He even got to present it to her in front of his family, which was fun because it was a subtly obvious way of showing off his hard-earned wealth.
The lights went out and the stern English man screamed in raw terror as if he had swallowed broken glass. So hard and loud did he scream that he ran out of breath and fell to his knees feeling dizzy. As he scrambled around on the deck like a worm in bleach, he hammered the floor with his fists and cried out a petrified tantrum with tears flowing down his red-cheeked face.
The lights flickered back on and he was laid on his seat. He sat up to see an empty train, black outside, and nobody else in view. He thought hard and stood to his feet. Did I pass out? Did someone put me back on my seat? Is this real? Did I die on this train?
He had seen too many horror movies. So many in fact that his psyche was at the point where even the most implausible explanations were worth considering. From a young age he had been cursed with a very active imagination that led him to believe things of pure fantasy without question. He recalled when he was younger, his mother bought him the Final Fantasy VIII video game for Christmas. It featured a mystical world where he could never go, and yet in his mind he visited it every time he played the game. He named his characters the names he wanted to be called, and named the female characters names of female celebrities that gave him funny-good-downstairs feelings.
He bounded to the nearest door. “This is it,” he thought with a newly found resolve. “It is this door or me.” With a mighty dash he shoulder barged the door and a crack sounded down the aisle. Freshly encouraged, he took another run at the door with his shoulder and like a raging bull he hit it like a sledge hammer. The door cracked once again like winter ice in a fish pond, but it did not open.
Just last year he received a Christmas gift that gave him a great idea. He had received the full series of Farscape, an Australian TV show from the 90s. In one episode, they rang the fire alarm on a military ship and the doors opened automatically. Like a rat caught in a maze he scurried around looking for a fire alarm or a detector, but sadly he saw neither. Unperturbed, he bounded back to the door to give it another shouldering. He was brazen, encouraged and quite sure of his Captain-America ability to smash open the door with his shoulder.
Shunt, after knock, after impact, the door would crack like a rusty beam in an old building, but the doors were not opening. Upon his final thrust he saw the emergency panel fall out of its placing to reveal a manual door release behind the emergency system. If pulled and manipulated, it may be possible to open the door manually. He put in his hand and a green light flashed where the door release was. He quickly jabbed at the button and the door opened.
He stepped out of the train, closely followed by other travelers. He stepped into daylight and was quickly greeted by his sister who was there to pick him up. She hugged him and he half-heartedly put his arm around her as he furrowed his brow whilst vainly trying to comprehend the situation. He looked back and the train had people in yet again, there was no door damage and he was clearly outside.
“Did you have a nice trip,” his sister sweetly inquired as she noticed his frankly odd behavior. He half hummed his answer to her as he spouted the usual generic pleasantry. She pressed with, “It has been ages, are you looking forward to Christmas?” He cast her a dark look for just a second, almost as if he suspected her for his ordeal. His sister paused with an inquisitive smile in anticipation of another pleasantry for a reply. He thought hard, to the point where it was becoming awkward, until he finally said, “Maybe.”
Written by Korah Morrison
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