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Next Stop Unknown

This is not the Piccadilly Line. This is a chance to tell a story.

By Dan GeePublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 18 min read
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Next Stop Unknown
Photo by Dan Roizer on Unsplash

There are parts of the Atacama Desert which are less dry than my mouth. I’ve woken up lying across four seats on a train where getting just one is normally a miracle in itself, and it feels like I’ve been eating sandpaper.

My head is swelling and as I sit up the pain swishes around all sides of my skull.

Based on the evidence at hand, I would say I got royally pissed, am massively hungover, and now I am on my usual tube home but for some reason it’s empty.

My eyes come into focus. The light floods in and a shooting pain jabs at me again.

I have worked out what kind of condition I am in, now it’s time to decipher where I am. I’ll work out how I got on here in a bit.

“Arrggh,” I let out as I close my left eye to contain the pain.

With my open eye, I manage to just about focus enough to look at the sign on the other side of the carriage. I expect to see the usual blue line in front of me, the Piccadilly Line, Heathrow at one end, Cockfosters at the other.

But all I see is one single black line, slightly thicker than I am used to seeing, and it’s at this point that I open my left eye and panic a little.

Where am I?

The clatter of the train seems to get louder. A cacophonous roar of rattles with the odd punctuation mark akin to a baseball bat hitting a beer barrel. The white noise surrounds me as I look left, and smothers me as I look right. A gust of wind blows life into my face.

Where is everyone?

I steady myself again and look down at my crotch. Partly because I am building up to the act of standing up and I’m not sure if I am going to be sick or not, but also because I have a feeling that I’ve pissed myself.

It’s worse than I thought, as while there seems to be a bit of a wet patch there, and I have indeed urinated in my boxer shorts, I also seem to have shat myself. It must have been a hell of a night.

I stand, more or less peeling myself off the seat fabric. I’ve never been 100% sure what fabric it is that they use, but I do know that it's quite possibly the itchiest thing that has ever been invented. Add some shit and piss into the mix and it’s like peeling yourself off a hedgehog that’s been decorated with PVA glue and crafting felt by a particularly unhygienic five-year-old homeless child.

I stumble down one end of the carriage, following that thick black line where the blue one should be. I come to the door with the little window, look up at the line again and realise no dots are marking each stop on the journey. Just a thick black line that cuts through the whole downward slanting part of the ceiling where the ads should be…

There are no ads. Where are my ads? I like reading the ads. I like seeing them change, not change, move around. I like changing the letters on them in my head.

I wander up to the other end of the carriage; there must be a dot somewhere or an advert about erectile dysfunction. But all that happens is I get to another door with a little window and out of nowhere I vomit.

I’m covered in puke, I have a piss stain over my crotch, shit rolling down my leg, I have no idea what train I’m on, how I got here, or when it’s going to stop, and I don’t even have the entertainment of a constant reminder that I am heading towards Cockfosters cheer me up.

Now I have drunk a lot, either for work or socially, but I’ve never been this bad. Not even close. So surely this is just my twisted version of the “turning up to school naked dream?”

“Shitting and pissing yourself on a train with no marked end destination” isn’t quite as catchy I suppose.

How does one test if it is a dream? Normally I realise I am having a dream, and wake up from said dream, but if this is a dream, which it would seem based on the fact I am yet to wake up, then the usual dream realisation to get out of the dream tactic isn’t working, or, as I hope isn’t the case, this isn’t a dream.

Let’s test it.

I pull the stop lever and I pull it hard. I pull it with the kind of couldn’t-give-a-fuck attitude one does when they are already covered in at least three bodily fluids.

In films, in the imagination of the general populace and in the moment that I pulled the lever, I fully expected there to be a jolt, a violent firework display of sparks and the screech of brakes struggling against the tide of forward motion. But as I pull the lever with all my might and none of my care, all that happens is I put my shoulder out slightly.

Somehow I have managed to add injury to the insult of shitting myself.

New plan. Check my phone.

I am fully aware that I should have done this earlier. I could have probably WhatsApped the lads telling them how funny it is that I am stuck on this train, or maybe even more sensibly, found out what train I am on, when and where it is stopping, and then perhaps find myself the nearest 24-hour supermarket to replace this mangled mess of clothing that’s clinging to me.

My hands go into my pocket, and there’s nothing there. No phone, no wallet, no keys, nothing that should be there. I check again and pat more violently as if that will somehow convince all my lost property to come into being. But this cunning tactic doesn’t work, and it seems losing all my essential day-to-day items has been ticked off this seemingly endless list of non-stop laughs I had on my night out.

In some kind of vain hope that fate might not be handing me an absolute shitter, I pat my suit jacket pockets. There’s no phone, no wallet, no keys, but we do have something.

It’s a small piece of orange and cream card with a black strip on the back. Bereft of writing, with not a single Transport for London logo in sight. I believe this is what is called a ticket.

It’s blank. Why is it blank? I look at it, then look at the lever, then look at my reflection in the window. Fuck me I look awful.

Anyway…

Why have I got a blank ticket? Did the night end with me breaking into a ticket machine using my phone, wallet and keys, only to end up in the wrong part of the machine and running off with a bunch of blank tickets? It’s not likely, but I’m not discounting it.

I try the door, and to my amazement, it opens. In my temporary state of amazement, I almost fall out of the train completely and onto the tracks, but I manage to keep my balance and though I am still very much not awake from what has to be a dream, I am thankfully alive.

As quickly as I can, I make it over to the next carriage, and when I get inside, I am met with the same black line, a complete lack of adverts, and the same shuddering staccato sound that’s been soundtracking this whole sorry affair.

I follow the line. No dots, no adverts for bunion removal, just a big black line that is going to tell me where I am going. I stumble through each section of the carriage, using the bars to steady myself. The train careers round a corner and I almost go flying, but I stay upright. It’s good to know that even after I have pissed and shat myself that I can stay upright on a train.

Some life skills never leave you.

A DOT! AND WRITING! THERE IS A DOT AND WRITING AT THE END OF THE LINE!

I read it, squint a little and pull my head back in confusion, and then I hear a voice.

“Ticket?”

I turn and look at the source of the voice and it appears I have met this train’s conductor.

“Ticket, please?” he says with absolutely no interest in the question he’s asking.

“I’ve got this?” I reply and hold up the ticket.

“That’s it, yeah. Giz it here and I’ll punch it and we can both be on our way.”

“But where am I going?”

“You not worked it out yet? Come on man I ain't got all day.”

“Look mate, do I look like I am in a state to work shit out? I can’t even work out where to fucking shit!” I scream as if this clever turn of phrase somehow gives me the intellectual upper hand in the conversation I have just decided to turn into an argument.

“Oh wow, you’re covered in shit and piss. Great. Now, ticket?”

Why does he not care? I look like I have had a fight with a nightclub toilet and lost but he just looks bored.

“Where is this going? Is this some kind of joke? I pay good fucking money to travel EVERY FUCKING DAY on this train. I’ve even supported when you fuckers have gone on strike. So just tell me, what train is this and when can I get off?”

An incredibly loud click-clack-filled silence fills the space between us.

“Read the map,” he sighs.

“What?!” I shout.

“Read. The fucking. Map.”

Train conductors are many things. Sometimes they can be happy, mostly they can be distant, but never in all my years of riding the Piccadilly Line have I heard one swear with such apathetic rage. This stops me in my tracks, and I do as commanded and re-read the map.

Hell/Heaven

“Yeah but that’s a joke right?” I say with absolutely no confidence.

“No.”

“Nah come on. Why would it say two places for one thing? Come on man, clearly full of shit isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is. This is bullshit. I am going to wake up soon in my bed. I’ll probably still be covered in shit and piss but I’ll be in my bed and off this fucking train. Right?”

My confidence levels are now less than zero. I have the feeling that I am not thankfully alive.

“Look mate, the map is right, this is the train, and you’re going to Heaven or Hell. It’s pretty hard to get into either these days so you’ve done well. If you don’t believe me, then just open that door and jump off and see what happens.”

So I do this and this is what happens.

First, a gust of wind, as you’d expect to feel as you’re hurtling through a dark tunnel. Then, as I jump with the same gusto as I pulled the stop lever, I feel as if my body is thrown to the back of the train, and as I land, my headache vanishes.

Before you go out and throw away the headache tablets, I can say that throwing yourself off a train in this manner is not a cure for a migraine, a hangover, or any kind of ailment for that matter. While the cold air, the roar of the passing carriages and the dissipating flashing lights from within did indeed distract me and in a manner of speaking dissolve my headache, it’s hard for me to say the whole experience was pleasant.

I jump, and in an instant, my headache is replaced by almost every part of my body being broken in two. All my regrets flash before me, and I pass out from the pain.

By Dustin Tramel on Unsplash

And now I am back on the train. My bones are fixed, my soiled clothes remain, the ticket is still in my pocket, and all I am left with are those technicolour regrets.

If this is a dream, then it’s a pretty fucked up one.

“See? Now, can I have your ticket, please?” says the conductor with his now famous levels of friendliness.

“What does that prove? This is clearly just a fucked up dream and I’ll wake up in a minute.”

He lets out a sigh so loud you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for part of the mechanical orchestra that I somehow seem to be trapped in.

“Look, I have told you once, this train is going to Heaven or Hell. If you let me punch your ticket, we can find out which one. There is only one stop.”

“Hang on, since when did the tube have conductors? I’ve ridden this line pretty much every day for the last god knows how long and I have never seen you or a conductor. So explain that!”

“Look mate, they like trains, but you know, not all the details have to be right. They made it however they saw fit.”

“They? Who are they?”

“Is. It’s one person. They/them are their pronouns.”

This is his big issue. I am apparently hurtling to an afterlife of eternal bliss or whatever fucked up shit they do in Hell, and this is the point he wanted to clarify.

“I don’t care whether it’s a fucking sea otter! Who made this and why am I on it and how do I get off and how is me showing you a blank ticket going to fucking help?” I scream.

“Can I see your ticket please?” he dryly replies, which sparks me into a fit of rage. I lunge forward and wrestle him to the ground. He kicks me in self-defence and I tumble backwards and before I can work out what is going on, I have fallen out of the train, and am now back on the train.

I sit where I started, and decide to reflect. Maybe if I can work out what I did last night and how drunk I got, then I can work out how I got here and how I can get off.

I know I lied to the wife; I do that fairly often. I told her I had a late meeting but really the boys and I just wanted to have a few drinks. So that means we would have met in The Oak, which is just around the corner from the titty bar. Good chance we went there. Now, if we went there I would have rang her and lied again saying I was now entertaining clients or something and that I won’t be able to say “goodnight” to the kids. From then on it’s a case of tequila, possibly some cocaine in the toilets and then maybe spending the additional £10 to turn a £20 private dance into a “dirty thirty” which to be honest sounds way dirtier than it actually is.

This is complete guesswork but there’s every chance I am right. And if I am right, then I’ve either taken something I shouldn’t have and am tripping absolute balls, or, as I suspect is the case, I am dead, which could be from taking something I shouldn’t have.

I keep my eyes planted at my feet.

“So this is it? I am on some train in the afterlife and you get to decide whether I go to Heaven or Hell?”

He replies with a grunt.

“And I am guessing trying to fight you ain’t going to improve my chances.”

Another grunt.

“So who are you then?”

“I’m the conductor, mate.”

“And why a train?”

“Told you, they like them.”

“So what is this then? Like the pearly gates or whatever but for some train god?”

“There are gates at the station.”

“Of course! This is a load of bollocks.” I cry as I cry.

“Ha. Everyone says that. More than happy with some bearded white bloke or an elephant god but god no way can you introduce the London Underground into it all.”

“So I’m dead, I am on a train, designed by whoever, and I’m either going to Hell or Heaven and this ticket will help you decide.”

“Not me, but yeah.”

“Who then?”

“Well, them. So, can I have your ticket please?”

I hand it over without looking at him. I take a deep breath. I’ve never believed in anything but right now I have faith in the fact that I am completely fucked. A vivid slideshow of things I did and didn’t do thunder in, one after the other.

That time I didn’t give up my seat for a pregnant woman because I was drunk. That time I had a pop at the bouncer of a club and told him to get a proper job. That time I stole £25 worth of steak from the self-service checkout at Tesco. That time I joined in bullying the weird kid on the school bus. The time I didn’t say anything to the racist in the street as he shouted at a woman and child. That time I shouted at my son. The next time I shouted at my son. The time I physically restrained my son. The fact I wanted him aborted and still sometimes think it would have been better if he had been.

All the times I lied to my wife. All the porn I watched. All the women I gawped at. All the homophobic, racist, rape and dead baby jokes I made. All my selfishness and all my anger, all the bad decisions I’ve made.

The fact that only phone number I can remember off the top of my head is the local curry house.

Every single regret comes and goes in an instance and in my heart, I know where this train is headed.

I hear the punch of the ticket. I see a little disc of paper flutter to the floor and I force myself to look up at the conductor.

He sighs again, drops his shoulders, closes his eyes and says “Tell me your story.”

“What?”

“Look mate, I have punched your ticket and nine times out of ten I then get a clear Heaven or Hell, But it seems they aren’t sure about you. So I need you to tell me a story. That will help them decide. Make it a good one and you might even live to see another day.”

I go to question this latest development, but there’s a jolt and I am thrown to the floor. I collect myself and look up at the map. Heaven is flashing, and so is Hell. If this is a dream, I may as well go along with it. I drag myself up, take hold of an overhead handle and look him in the eyes for the first time.

“My story?” I ask for clarification.

“Yes. Tell me your story and we’ll either go, Heaven, Hell, or at a push you might wake up...”

“What about me?”

“You. Seriously mate come on…”

“Okay, okay, lemme think. Right, well, I am a Client Experience Manager, I went to Exeter University, I support Newcastle and I have a 13-year-old and I have been married for 8 years, I think.”

“That’s it?”

“Um, yeah?”

“That’s your story? Come on man, think about it for a minute. You’re already dead. What is there to lose?”

So I think. But nothing comes. It’s easy to summarise my regrets and my LinkedIn profile but a lot harder to give someone any level of justification that my existence should continue. Somehow the train gets louder.

“We will soon be arriving at our final destination”, states a voice on the tannoy. I immediately look at the ‘Heaven/Hell’ signage and its flickering like mad.

“Guess they are making up their mind now. Now or never bud,” he says.

“Okay, okay. Well, I’m not a bad man, I know I’m not. I’ve done some good things. I swear. Like the time I gave that bloke a Greggs breakfast, or the years I helped out with the kids' football. That counts right?”

“Tell. Me. Your. Story.”

If I’m dead, this is it, so here I go.

“OK. I come across as confident, but inside, I question every decision I make. I wonder if anything I do is good enough. I make people laugh and laugh at everything, but sometimes I want to cry. If I am in the kitchen I sometimes cry but I don’t know why. I don’t know if my kid loves me, but I love him more than anything. I’ve used my clothes to mop up his blood, shouted at random strangers who have scared him and I have tried to teach him everything I can. I work hard so he has everything he could ever want. Every toy, every ticket, whatever. If he is happy, then I am happier.”

The words are flooding out.

“I pretend I know more than I do. I have no skills, no main string to a bow and no instrument with which to put the string on for fuck’s sake.”

The train speeds up. This is not how you normally approach a station.

“I lie. I don’t lie to hurt people, I lie so I can escape. So I can escape washing up, escape parenting, escape the everyday grind. But my lies hurt people. My wife knows I lie, but she lets me.”

Faster still. The flickering intensifies.

“I’m not proud of much, but I am of my son. I’m proud of the way he can do maths and how well he’s turned out despite it all. I can’t do maths, haha…oh look, laughing again to protect myself. I love sport, I like drinking, I do drugs, I’m just a shit middle-class man who has made shit decisions and now I’m here.”

I look at him and say, “but I don’t want to die. I’m sorry for all that I have done, I’m thankful for the life I have. Had. If I die let me say goodbye, please? Please, wake me up, have a word with them, but do not let this train stop at either of those stations.”

Shit, vomit and piss are washed away by a flood of tears and the conductor now seems satisfied. He nods, gives a curt smile, puts his hand on one of the emergency levers and then looks me in the eyes and says, “we’ll stop, whatever happens, so now’s the time to think of something special, just in case.”

It’s a balmy Sunday and we’re in the park. He’s 11 years old and full of beans today; it must be one of his good days. Somehow, we have the park all to ourselves yet all he wants to do is swing on the crossbar of an old five-a-side football goal. I’ve tried time and time to get him interested in football but because he gets the mick taken out of him every time he plays it, he would rather dive further into maths. His happiness is all that matters, so I accept this, but just once I’d like to have a kickabout with my son.

“Be careful, mate,” I say, as I look down at my phone and check the football score. We’re winning 2-0.

He makes his usual noise of corroboration and I am satisfied.

“Wanna go on the swings or anything, bud? Whole park to yourself!”

“No thanks, no. No thanks.”

“Okay, mate. All good.”

So I let him swing because his happiness is all that matters. The goal is tilting as he swings but surely he’ll be fine? I worry too much.

“We’re going in five minutes, ok?”

This of course means ten minutes, but I’m in no rush to get back anyway.

I feel my phone vibrate, and can you believe it? We’ve scored again! IT’S 3-0! We might actually win a game. I go to send a message to the lads’ group, and then in the corner of my eye, I see the goal tilt over, my son falls to the floor, and the crossbar comes crashing down onto his face.

I run over, take my shirt off instantly, and press it to his mouth. Howls and wails and tears and useless attempts at comfort. There is blood everywhere and I am pretty sure he has lost a tooth already. The bar weighs a ton and it came straight down on his mouth. This is not going to win me parent of the year.

I pick him up and start to chaperone him home, and then he looks at me.

Everything has always been a challenge for him from the day he was born. A battle to breathe, eat, drink, talk, walk, listen, understand and survive. Living has proved even harder.

But right now his needs are simple. He needs me and he needs someone to stop his mouth from gushing blood. He needs someone to comfort him and he needs to get home. He needs everything that I can give him and I am the only one who is here to give him it. He looks at me, and I look at him, and for the first time, I know exactly what I need to do to help him.

“It’ll all be okay,” I say through a lying smile, “you’ll be fine.”

He smiles back.

This is the memory I go for. I remember it on repeat.

“It was just a heart attack, mate. You all shit yourself when you die I swear.” says the conductor.

The train speeds up again and I jolt back into my seat.

“Now arriving at our final destination. All trains terminate here,” says the tannoy.

The conductor vanishes.

My memory is on repeat. All the lies, happiness, regret, missed opportunities and love.

There is a whirring, another jolt and that mechanical orchestra reaches its crescendo.

I’m sorry for all that I’ve done and not done.

The sign stops flickering and silence descends.

And I have arrived at my destination.

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About the Creator

Dan Gee

Writing from Brecon, Wales. Father of two, lover of music and spicy food. Artist Relations/Marketing by day.

Much love.

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