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Coffee First

by Roger Wilbanks 2 months ago in Short Story
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A short story about a runaway train

A short story about a runaway train

Roger A Wilbanks

“Coffee first.” He tilted the empty cup in his hand.

Chaos had claimed the train. People were screaming, crying and fighting each other as news of the tragedy spread like oil across calm water.

“The conductor!” “Heart Attack?” “I heard he went mad.”

The 6:25 train was speeding out of control and no one knew why. The only thing anyone knew with certainty was that they were all about to die. Except him. He raised his empty coffee cup once more and said “Coffee.”

“Have you lost your fucking mind?” the carman asked. “We’re flyin’ to our doom and your gwan on about a cup of coffee?” He was incredulous but the man would not be moved. He wiggled the cup a final time as the carman found him a pot that had not shattered and poured this madman his coffee. The man regarded the contents with the care one would show a dear friend after a long absence. He drained the cup in one draw and put the cup down on the table. It held purchase there for a brief moment before smashing onto the floor from the violent convulsions of the car.

He looked up at the skylight that centered the car and then pulled a chair towards him.

“Hold this for me.” He said to the carman. He did as asked while the man hopped up and put a cloth over his hand.

“Stand back.” He told everyone. Their attention closed on him as the curiosity of a calm person in the middle of a hurricane superseded the panic they all felt. He punched the skylight, shattering the glass. It rained down inside the car as the man cleared away enough of it to give him a clear path through and he was through the light in one quick hop to the bewilderment of everyone in the car.

The train was closing on a turn and at the current rate of speed, there was no way it would remain within its tracks. The curving track was visible through a window as the first clatter of a shifting direction rocked the car.


Everyone standing now found themselves pointing in a different direction as the train struck something none could see. The convulsions of the train struggling against the ever-curving track shook the car like a hysterical woman in ever increasing waves.

“We’re not going to make it.” A crying woman whispered.

“Of course we are.” The carman lied.

“Have you ever been in a train crash?” she asked.

“Sure. I’ve been in a few.” This time, at least, he was being honest.

“Everyone, please return to your seats. That’s the safest place for you when…” he looked out the window at the nearing curve “…it’s just safe. Please now…”

A calm embraced the group as every man and woman settled themselves in their assigned seat. Glassware was still falling to the ground in waves with the shaking when the carman felt it.

“Someone’s pulled the brake!”

The high-pitched scream of motionless steel wheels scraping long thin rails was unmistakable.

“Is it too late?” the woman asked.

“I dunno.” He said. “We’re goin so fast.”

Now the train had a champion. Sir Isaac Newton dueled the massive train for supremacy, wagering his gravity and friction against the metal beast’s momentum and velocity. It was a duel to the death. If Newton won, the people lived.

If he lost, hundreds die in violence.

The carman felt the train slowing. He regarded the curve passing the horizon and getting closer to him with each accelerated heartbeat.

He began saying a prayer and the passengers joined in out of instinct.

There was another violent lurch as the train now felt as if a giant weight had just been lost from around its neck. The slowing became more obvious as the curve now approached with caution. As it was just approaching the car, the carman felt the reverse lurch that told him the car had come to a complete stop.

He looked out the window at the curve just another car length from the train and saw the engine and empty cars at the front as they continued along the tracks. At the exposure to the curve, first one wheel and then the entire snake roiled and rocked to the side and then plunged sideways off the tracks disappearing into a symphony of smoke, flame and flying metal.

He saw a single figure just a dozen feet away rise from the ground and begin dusting itself off. The man from before started walking back to the car with a slight limp the only indication he had just lept from a runaway train. He entered the car and returned to his original seat, picking up an empty mug from the floor and making eye contact with the carman one more time.

He wiggled the cup and said nothing.

It was filled immediately.

Short Story

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Roger Wilbanks

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