Runaway on a Train
a Tale of Suspense and Intrigue
The train conductor looked at his watch, again. “Another late trainee. Awesome.”
The door of the control room opened, and a young man walked in, closing the door behind him. “Sorry, I'm late. I'm, uh, I'm Newman, the uh...”
“Yes, I know, you're Newman the trainee.” said the conductor. “I'm Connor. I'm the conductor. I'll be your supervisor today. We don't have a lot of time, so let's get straight to it, alright?”
“Okay, sounds good.” said Newman. “I just need to take my meds first, for the narcolepsy, and uh... what was the other one? Oh yeah, memory loss. I really shouldn't forget to take that. If I fall asleep without taking my meds, I lose any memory of where I am or what I've been doing. Last time that happened, I woke up on an island with a leaky rowboat, three magazines about wood-turning, a box of beef jerky, and a tricorn hat, and I thought I was a pirate."
“Fine then, be quick about it. Just take your meds, and let's get going, alright?”
Newman took off his backpack and set it down on the floor, then slowly took out two pill bottles, and set them down on a counter next to the train's control station. He then slowly took out two more. “Oh, yeah, I forgot about these. I have another one for panic attacks. I also have this one here for the nausea that I get from the other meds.”
Connor looked at his watch, and began tapping his foot. “Okay then.”
Newman reached into his backpack again, and pulled out a tea kettle, and a cup.
“Don't spill that on the train's control system, please.” said Connor.
Newman very carefully set down the tea kettle, and the cup, then reached into his backpack again, pulling out a small bottle of creamer, and a box of sugar.
“Seriously?” said Connor. “We have about 2 minutes now to do the departure announcements and leave. This is a train. We're on a very tight schedule.”
“Oh.” said Newman, still holding the cream and sugar boxes. He put them down on the counter and wiped his hands on his pants. “Sorry.”
“I'm taking a lunch.” said Connor. “Handle the departure announcements, please, before we're late for our departure. I'll be back in an hour.” He looked at Newman's tea kit, and the mess quickly accumulating in the control room. “Or two.” He walked out of the control room and quickly closed the door behind him.
“Hey, I do need to walk out too.” said Newman, while opening the door. Just outside of the control room, Newman picked up a microphone to make the announcements. He yawned, then rubbed his eyes, trying to stay awake. “Thanks for riding with us today. We'll be departing shortly.” He could already see that most of the passengers weren't paying attention at all. “Please make sure you've fastened your seat belts, from left to right. Left to right, please.” Most of the passengers were talking to each other. One of them was listening to music. “If you grabbed the one on your right, that is not your seat belt. Left to...” He yawned again. “to right. Left to right. And uh. If you have any questions, please feel free to press the button by your seat. Have a great day, and enjoy your ride.”
A woman in a red shirt, behind a man listening to music with large headphones, quickly raised her hand. “Excuse me!” she shouted at Newman. “Hey, excuse me, I have a question!”
Newman walked over to the woman in red. “The button is right here, next to your...”
“Don't most modern trains not have seat belts?” she asked, before Newman could finish talking.
“That's your question?” he replied.
“Also, this man next to me took my seat belt.” she said, pointing to the man next to her.
“Excuse me.” said Newman. “Sir. Excuse me.”
The man finally acknowledged their existence, and looked at Newman. He then frowned, took off the woman's seat belt, and waved Newman away, as if he was shoeing away a fly.
Newman rubbed his eyes again, but when he opened them, he noticed he was leaning a little more toward the seats than he expected. He grabbed the back of the seat next to him, to steady himself. “Oh, wow, I feel woozy.”
“You know, there's meds for that.” said the woman in red. “Do you need something for that? You look like you're about to pass out.”
“Oh, no, I'm fine.” said Newman. “I've just been on my feet a long time today.” He sat down next to her. “I just need...” He yawned again, his biggest one yet. “...just need to sit. Just for a minute.” His eyes slowly drooped, until they closed. Before he realized what was happening, he had fallen asleep.
“Tickets, please. I need to see your tickets.”
The loud voice woke Newman, suddenly. “...um, what? Tickets?” He looked around, and discovered he was on a train, a moving train, and it was accelerating. “Is this a train?” He looked at the woman in red. “Who are you? Are we... together?”
She leaned slightly away from him. “Is that your way of flirting with me? If so, I'm not impressed.”
“Tickets, please.” said the man walking the aisle, still checking tickets. “I need to see your tickets.”
“Ticket?” Newman quickly patted his pockets, searching for anything resembling a ticket. “Uh, my ticket?” He put his hands in each pocket, to check more thoroughly. “Oh no, where's my ticket?”
“Seriously, are you okay?” asked the woman in red.
Newman patted each pocket again, then quickly glanced back to see where the ticket-checker might be. “I can't find my ticket.”
“My cousin has panic attacks too.” said the woman next to him. “You know there's prescriptions for that too, right?”
“Wait, what?” said Newman.
The man listening to music then turned around. “Look out, that guy is right behind you. If you don't find your ticket, they're going to throw you off the train.” He tried to maintain a convincing, serious expression, but started to chuckle anyway.
Newman looked back again, and could see the ticket-checker getting closer. His eyes widened. He started breathing quickly. Then he quickly stood up, and walked briskly away from the ticket-checker toward the front of the train.
“Hey there, cutie.” said a smiling woman in an employee uniform, with “Nancy” on her name tag. Her smile turned into a pout as she watched him squeeze past her, avoiding eye contact.
Newman quickened his pace. He didn't stop until he got to a door. He opened it, and rushed into the small room on the other side. He closed the door behind him. At the front of the room, through some large windows, he could see the train tracks rushing toward him in front of the train, and trees rushing past on both sides. There were more buttons and levers than he was comfortable seeing, but also a small counter, with a tea kettle, a tea cup, and cream and sugar. “Nice.” said Newman, looking at the tea. “I wish I had some tea right about now.”
He looked back at the door. “Or maybe...” he said to himself, opening the door slightly to see if there was anyone outside. He closed it again quickly. “Well, I'm sure whoever owns this won't mind me having some. They won't miss one cup.” He poured one serving into the cup, then added some cream and sugar. He didn't see a spoon, so he stirred the tea with his fingers. He was about to take a sip, but the cup started to slip from his wet hand. He caught the cup before he dropped it, but not before some tea spilled on the controls.
The control panel popped loudly, and sizzled. A little smoke started rising from the controls. Then the lights on the control panel turned off.
“Well, that's not good.” said Newman, taking a sip from what was left of his tea. “I feel sorry for whoever's running this train.”
The train then began to accelerate again.
Newman looked around at the landscape outside, passing by quicker, and quicker. “That's also not good.”
The train continued to accelerate.
Newman put down the tea, quickly walked out of the control room, and shut the door behind him. He quietly made his way back to his seat next to the woman in red.
“Well, look who's back.” she said. “Have you been off somewhere practicing more pickup lines?” She glanced at the front of the train. “Hey, there's no other seats up there. There isn't even a restroom. Where were you?”
“Um...” said Newman, sinking down in his seat. “...in the control room.”
“You?” said the woman in red. “In the control room? That's not good.”
“Yeah, I know, that's what I said.” said Newman, covering his face with his hands, and sinking even lower. “I think I just broke the train.”
The woman next to him turned to face him directly, with any hint of a smile disappearing completely. “Um... what?!”
Newman's breathing quickened. He could feel himself starting to sweat. “Yep. This is totally a runaway train now.”
The train had not slowed, at all. If anything, it was still accelerating.
Behind him, he could hear a small child starting to cry, and some murmuring. Most of it was inaudible, but he could hear one of the voices saying “Don't cry. It's okay. The train is fine. It's not a runaway.” The child kept crying anyway.
“This is my fault, isn't it.” said Newman. “I had a feeling I was going to die like this.”
“We're all going to die!” shouted a man a few rows back. Someone then jumped up and ran toward the emergency exit.
The child started crying louder. Others started yelling. A few more people jumped up and rushed to the emergency exit. A passenger in the exit row tried to keep them away from the exit of the moving train, but was overwhelmed by the crowd gathering around him, and pushed aside.
Newman crossed his arms, and started rocking back and forth. “Looks like this is the end of the line for me.”
The woman in red rolled her eyes.
“And it's my fault.” said Newman. “It's all my fault.”
A loud whistle broke through the noise. The whole train became silent. The passengers fighting their way to the exit all stopped.
The passengers in the aisle stepped aside, and Connor, the train's conductor, stepped through, walking to the front of the train. “What is going on here?”
The man who rushed the exit first pointed at Newman. “He says the train is broken and we're all going to die.”
Connor frowned, his eyes narrowed, and he stared at his new employee. “Newman.” He walked over to Newman's seat. “You're off your meds, aren't you.”
“Ha!” said the woman in red. “I knew it!”
“Come on, get up. You really shouldn't be sitting with the passengers.” said Connor. “You do work here you know.”
“I do?” asked Newman. He looked down at his clothes, suddenly realizing he was also wearing the same kind of uniform he was seeing on Connor, the same one he had seen Nancy wearing. “Cool.”
“And no, the train isn't broken.” said Connor, looking around at the passengers. “We have redundant controls. No one is going to 'break the train'.” He then leaned closer to Newman, and more quietly said “The controls in the front are mostly for show. This is a new train. It actually drives itself.”
“Oh.” said Newman, sitting up, looking clearly more relaxed. “Then why do we work here?”
“Mainly we're here to help passengers.” said Connor. “We answer questions. And we make them feel more comfortable.”
“Oh.” said Newman.
“And less like the world is going to end.”
“Oh.” Newman looked down at the floor, unable to handle the looks of judgment from his boss. “Well then, sorry for making everyone think they were all going to die. Am I fired?”
Connor sighed, loudly. “No, you're not fired. But I probably do need to pin a note on your shirt, explaining to people what's happening if you forget your meds again.” He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a stack of adhesive notes, a marker, and a safety pin. He quickly filled out a note, then pinned it on Newman's shirt.
Newman wasn't paying attention to the note-pinning, but was instead staring at the conductor's pants. “You had all those things in your pockets? You just walk around with those things in there? All the time?”
“I'm going to get your meds.” Connor replied. “And your tea, I guess. Can't take meds without a drink.”
“Oh yeah, the tea. I do like tea.” said Newman. “And... some cookies?”
Connor was about to walk away, but paused for a few seconds. “Okay, fine.”
“And a blanket?” asked Newman.
Connor had just started to walk away, but stopped again. “Seriously?”
“Sorry, I guess I got carried away.” said Newman, just before Connor left. “Or I guess you could say I have a runaway imagination, am I right?” He smiled, beaming with pride, and looked around to see who may have noticed his obscure pun.
“No.” said the man in front of him with the headphones.
The woman in red just shook her head. “That was horrible.”
Nancy then walked up from behind them. “Please don't say 'runaway' on a train.”
“Excuse me,” said Newman, “who are you?”
Nancy took a step back. Her jaw dropped. “Hey! You don't remember me? I'm your wife.”
Newman started sweating again, breathing harder. He took another look at her face, trying to find something he might recognize. “Seriously?”
“No!” said Nancy, laughing pretty hard. “I'm just joking.” She immediately stopped laughing. She stared at Newman and bit her lower lip. “But... I could be.”
“Wow.” said Newman. “Um... I gotta' go.” He stood up, and very quickly walked to the front of the train, closing the door behind him.”
The man with the headphones turned around, toward Nancy and the woman in red. “Well well well, I guess you really made him...”
“Don't say it.” said Nancy.
The man with the headphones sighed, and turned back around. “Okay, fine. Whatever.”