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Ticket, Please.

Welcome Aboard.

By Ash TaylorPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 10 min read
Ticket, Please.
Photo by Clay LeConey on Unsplash

I awoke with the jarring sensation that one feels upon waking from an unplanned nap; I knew not what day it was, nor time, nor where I was. The cabin window and sickly green pleather seats indicated I was in a train compartment, but I had no recollection of ever boarding. Outside the scenery rushed past in a blur. Apartment and office windows lit from within were starkly visible against the otherwise impenetrable darkness. The city. A light above my compartment door dinged, and it slid open to reveal a thoroughly ordinary looking conductor.

“Ticket please,” he asked, extending one gloved hand. His voice and expression were lax with boredom; he barely looked at me.

“Uh yeah, one sec.” I shoved my hands deep into my pockets, scrounging around for a ticket or scrap of paper. They were empty. I glanced up at the conductor, anxiety mounting. “I don’t have one. I can pay though, I…” I trailed off. My pockets had been empty. There was no wallet, no cash. I couldn’t pay.

“I’m sorry sir,” the man replied, holding up his hand. “You’ll have to remain here. You do not have a ticket. You cannot leave.”

He left, and I fell back onto my seat, staring out the window. The only sound was the rattle and clank of the train as it travelled. The quiet felt eerie. Disconcerting. With nothing else to do, I replayed the events of last night, trying to mentally retrace my steps. I had stayed late at the office, finishing up work… then – nothing! Nothing happened tonight! Nothing at all. There was only static.

A speaker crackled to life above me. “Next stop, Mason Grey.” The voice was pleasant, light, and airy. It was a marked and welcome difference from the bored tones of the conductor earlier. “Please have your ticket ready to disembark.”

I rose, sticking my head out of my solitary compartment to inspect the hallway. I’d never heard of Mason Grey before; the other side of the city, I supposed. Maybe I could jump ship, I thought, find out where I was and how to get home. There was no one else in sight, though I could see numerous other compartments lining the unsteady hall. Each doorway had a name on it, written in diverse scripts and alphabets; I recognised English, Greek, and even Chinese. No two plaques were alike. Some had no names at all. A first-class train, perhaps? Booked, private compartments…? I held onto the logical conclusion like a drowning man holds his breath. Until I noticed it.

Across the hall, written in an unsteady hand, was the name Mason Grey.

I turned slowly, staring in horror at my own booth.

There, written in my own handwriting, was my name.

James Allen.

My heart leapt from my chest to my throat and the only thought in my mind was what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck. It kept time with the staccato beating of my heart.

“What the fuck…”

“Please return to your compartment sir, this is not your stop.”

I had not heard him approach, but there was the conductor again, expression unchanged.

“What the fuck is this, where am I?”

“You are on a train, sir. Please return to your compartment. You do not have a ticket. You cannot leave.”

“The fuck I can!” I shoved past him, racing away from whatever fuckery was being pulled. Doors rushed by in a blur as I ran aimlessly. I was on a train; there was an exit somewhere. We were coming to a stop – the announcer had said so.

And yet…

The train showed no signs of slowing down.

I fell into a jog and then a walk. And then, up ahead, I saw him. Standing, as before, beside a compartment branded with my name. I was back where I had started.

The conductor stood patiently. Waiting.

“Please return to your compartment,” he repeated. “You do not have a ticket. You cannot leave.”

“What are you?” I hissed, staring into those vacant, uncaring eyes.

“I am simply a conductor. Please return to-"

“Return to my compartment. Fine."

The door to my compartment – my cell – slid closed once more behind me.

I did not sit – I refused to sit in fact – but rather stood, staring listlessly out the window at the lights speeding by. They were too regular. There was no randomness, no variety. Like an old-fashioned movie set, the scenery outside sped by and then repeated, the same scene, over and over and over again. There was no life to be seen – only buildings. Outside of the conductor and I, there was no life on the train either.

I stared through the wavy glass of the booth’s door, waiting for the conductor to leave. I did not see him go – one minute he was there, the next – he wasn’t. It was as if he had vanished into the ether. There was something wrong with this train, something odd and unsettling. It rattled and moved in all the right places, but I could feel the wrongness now, could sense whatever existed beneath the train costume. Wherever I was, it wasn’t a train. And no one was coming to my rescue.

The conductor had told me to remain in my compartment, but I was feeling rebellious. And afraid, although I tried hard to bury those fears deep within my being. A plan began to formulate instead – if I needed a ticket to disembark, then a ticket I would find.

I opened my compartment door.

I waited.

No one came.

I ducked across the hallway into Mason Grey’s compartment. It looked much like mine, the same puke-green seats, large windows, and the ever-constant rattling of the train. Yet unlike mine, there was more… contents. A half-drunk cup of coffee, sitting on a table littered with rings of stains. Sticky notes in an illegible hand.

And an empty bottle of pills, rolling on the floor.

I glanced out of the window, expecting to see the same cityscape that was my own view.

Instead… I saw a house rush past. It changed colour, grew older, the grass grew longer, then shorter. Bikes appeared, with training wheels and laughing children, then disappeared – replaced by skateboards. A puppy grew into a dog, sleek adult coat turning salt and pepper. Then gone. Children, coming and going, growing in an instant. A for sale sign. Then sold. The family, laughing and crying together.

Rapt, I stood there just staring. Watching in fascination as this individual’s life played out before me, and I began to understand.

There was an apartment, grey and littered with trash. Half-finished pizzas lay in their boxes, stacked high in the kitchen. Counters littered with empty bottles. A laptop screen illuminated the slumped figure of a young man passed out on a piss-stained couch. And rolling beneath his table, dropped from his hand, was a bottle of pills.

The door behind me slid open, and I knew.

“Please return to your compartment sir. You do not have a ticket. You cannot leave.”

I turned slowly to face the conductor.

“Am I dead?” I whispered the words, afraid that if I spoke too loud they would come true.

“You do not have a ticket.” Unlike before, where each word was laden with boredom, I sensed exasperation. Confusion, even.

“What does that even mean?!” I exploded, throwing my hands up in frustration.

“You cannot leave. Please, return to your compartment. These people are looking for peace; you are a disruption.”

“I’m a disruption?” I asked, incredulous. “This whole thing is a disruption – a disruption to my life! How did I get here in the first place?”

“I do not know. I am simply a conductor.”

“Then who would know, please, tell me.”

The conductor paused, and I could hear the gears of thought turning in that bland head of his.

“I suppose… the Operator might.”

“Great. Where do I find them?”

“You… don’t.” The conductor pinched the bridge of his nose, appearing for the first time since we had met, like a normal human being (although I was beginning to get the sense he was anything but). “Without a ticket you cannot leave. Please return to your compartment. You are disrupting the sanctity of this place.” He waved a hand towards the window, and there, in the background of Mason Grey’s endlessly repeating life, were flashes of city lights, forcing their way to the front.

“Why don’t I have a ticket?” I asked quietly, allowing him to usher me back to whatever my compartment represented.

“Believe me,” he replied softly as he closed the door. “I wish I knew.”

I sat silently, sullenly. Slumped forwards, my hands hung limply between my knees as I stared desperately at the panelling opposite me, as if it held all the answers to the universe. None came. Bored, listless, and tired, I returned to staring out the window.

“You feel angry.”

The words were soft with understanding. I glanced up, expecting to see someone in my compartment, but there was no one. Only the soft tingling sensation of being outside in a lightning storm.

“You are somewhere unknown, alone, and afraid. And that makes you angry. I feel that you have been angry for quite some time.”

“The fuck would you know?” I muttered.

“I am the Operator. I know all.”

“You know why I’m here then? Why I don’t have a fucking ticket?”


The simple affirmation stupefied and infuriated me.

“This whole DAMN TIME you knew. And you said nothing?”

“Well in my defence, it’s only been about an hour.” There was gentle amusement in their words, the gentle amusement of a parent watching their child.

“Am I dead?” I pleaded. “I just want to know.”

“No, you are not dead. But you are stuck.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” I snorted.

“I could tell you many things you don’t know, James. I could blow your tiny mind. But I won’t. You are here because you are yet to decide. Do you live, or do you die? Do you remember what happened tonight?”

“No,” I lied.

“I think you do,” the Operator replied, voice still soft and comforting. “Until you confront that, you cannot move on. You cannot find peace. Find peace, James. Remember, and accept what you cannot change.”

My ears popped as the pressure within the compartment vanished. Whatever presence the Operator had was gone, and I was alone. I closed my eyes –

And the noise and din of the city rushed to meet me.

The office was empty, quiet, and dark save for the flickering fluorescent light that illuminated my cubicle. Outside cars and buses rushed past, and beneath it all was the ever-turbulent river of chatter and human existence. Outside, it was alive. Inside – all was still. I was alone on the 7th floor, not even the night shift to keep me company. Security was downstairs, not here. I stared at the screen, names and numbers blurring together until the data became unintelligible. What was I doing here? Better to be alone at work where I had a purpose than alone at home. My fingers gripped the edge of the keyboard, squeezing until I felt the plastic begin to give; I couldn’t break it. I was too cowardly. There was nothing else I could do for the night – it’s not like I was getting overtime.

With a resigned sigh, I shut my computer down. Its screen went dark without a sound, and I was left staring at a gaunt reflection of myself.

“God I look like shit.”

Stuck in some dead-end job, no career prospects. Surviving, not thriving. Eking out some miserable existence. I hated my life. But at least I was alive.

“You still here James?” The night guard glanced up as I entered the foyer.

“Not for long,” I said, forcing a smile. “Just had some things to take care of.”

“Alright then. You take care now, you hear?”

“I will, thank you! And you too. Good night!”

“Goodnight James.”

The glass doors hissed open at the push of a button, and I was thrust into the cold night air. The sounds and smells of the city washed over me, the good and the bad. There was anonymity in the crowd – no one knew who I was, and no one gave me a second glance. And yet there we were, all together. Going about our lives, separate individuals connected by our very existence.

I glanced up, staring at the office lights still lit up at this time of night. Interspersed between the buildings were apartments and hotels, each light another life, another story. I waited for the signal to walk.

It turned green.

I stepped out onto the road, blissfully unaware of my surroundings.

I heard a yell, and the squealing of tires. Saw bright lights. For a brief moment I felt fear and then –

Nothing. Just pure blackness.

I awoke with the jarring sensation that one feels upon waking from an unplanned nap. The green pleather seats indicated I was on a train. Outside the cityscape rushed past in a vast array of dazzling colours and lights. I couldn’t remember boarding. I must have fallen asleep – judging by the quiet and the dark outside it was very late.

The door slid open to reveal a strangely familiar conductor.

“Ticket please,” he asked, gloved hand extended towards me.

I checked my pockets and froze.

“Have we met?” I asked, as the strange sensation of déjà vu washed over me.

“I do not believe so sir. Ticket please.”

“Uh yeah, one sec.” I shoved my hands deep in my pockets, frowning when I found nothing. “Sorry, just one second.” My anxiety mounted as I slapped both front and back pockets. I fished again, and this time my fingers found purchase. A balled-up piece of paper. My ticket.

“Sorry about that,” I smiled, offering it to him. “Here you are.”

The conductor accepted it, and for a brief fleeting moment I thought I saw relief in his eyes. “Welcome aboard sir. Please remain seated, your stop is coming up soon.”

I nodded, taking a seat. A deep sense of peace and serenity washed over me as I breathed in. Up ahead there was a warm light, golden in hue. I closed my eyes as we drew closer, basking in its warmth.

The sun was rising.

“Next stop, James Allen. Please have your ticket ready to disembark.”

Short Story

About the Creator

Ash Taylor

Lover of fantasy and all things whimsical. Currently studying Writing and Publishing at UNE in Armidale, Australia. Living on Anaiwan land.


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