The gentle rocking of the train carriage slowly roused the old man from his sleep. As he gradually woke strands of his thin grey hair fell across his furrowed, worn forehead. He pushed his round gold rimmed glasses back up his long thin nose with his left index finger and allowed his eyes to readjust to the strange light in the carriage. He looked down at his right hand and noticed a small blue ticket in between his finger and thumb.
The carriage was immaculate, the padded benches on either side beautifully upholstered in brown and black fabric. It had the feel of the 1930s but he knew it wasn’t anywhere near the 30s and it looked like it had only just rolled off the production line. Above the seat backs were adverts for products he had never heard of punctuated by small brass lights above which were beneath luggage racks that stretched the length of the carriage on either side. He was alone in the carriage yet there was one case above him. He did not recognise it and so assumed it was another passenger’s who had stepped out for a moment.
As he slowly began to gather his thoughts the old man began to realise he had no idea where he was, how he got there or where he was going. He looked out of the window hoping he might see a landmark or perhaps a station sign to jog his memory. He knew he’d begun to get more forgetful in the last couple of years, but that was with things like losing his glasses or forgetting appointments, but this, not remembering why he was on a train was new, and troubling.
He looked down at the ticket in the hope it might offer a clue, all it said was admit one.
It was a small simple sugar paper ticket that had been pre printed with a number. He leaned forward to look out of the window and all he could see was standard British countryside fizzing past him. He resolved to find a guard to ask for help. Just as he was about to lift himself out of his seat the door began to open slowly and a guard walked in.
“Can I see your ticket please sir?
The old man looked at his hands and instinctively held out the ticket.
“Thank you, that’s good, enjoy your trip sir.” The guard said as he looked at the ticket, punched a small hole in and handed it back.
“I’m sorry, where am I going to?”
“All the way sir, end of the line.”
“No, I mean which stop?”
“You are one sir, the last one of course!” The guard chuckled to himself as he turned and left the carriage shaking his head.
The old man looked back down at his ticket hoping that it might give a clue to his destination but other than the newly punched hole it was the same. He closed his eyes and thought hard, why was he on the train and where was he going? He thought hard but his brain was a haze, it felt like he was dragging through cotton wool each time he thought there was something coming clear it disappeared from view, the only thing that came into focus was the word procedure.
He sat and turned his attention to the window and the countryside flashing past the window. There were no landmarks of note, no stations, nothing. He sat back with the intention of looking around the room again when his attention was distracted by movement in the corridor. He saw a young woman being manhandled by a man, they were both wearing unfamiliar clothes, he assumed they were in keeping with the era of the train. She looked very distressed and as she passed she looked into the carriage but straight past him. Her face was haunted, almost lost. She was shouting in protest at being moved but he couldn’t make out the words.
He decided he should get up to intervene but as he did the guard followed them down the train. He settled himself back down deciding there was little he could have done anyway. His thoughts returned to his foggy memory but it was disturbed again as the guard came back, it was strangely quick given the circumstances but he had little doubt that the situation had resolved itself. Before he had managed to get himself comfortable the other man walked back past hurriedly following the guard. On his starched white collar was a splattering of fresh blood. He briefly looked into the room and for a moment he seemed to catch the old man’s eye before disappearing down the train.
Procedure. His son was going to drop him off. He remembered. He had a son, maybe his son had dropped him off at the station. He tried again to recall and allowed his eyes to drift back to the window and the scenery. Then, just for a moment, a pathetic white bundle lying tattered in a bush caught his attention and just as quickly as it flitted into his view it was gone.
The girl, it was the girl. He leapt to his feet and dashed to the carriage door, he swung his head up and down the empty corridor. He turned towards the direction he last saw her and made his way down. He strode past the adjacent carriage. He looked in to see more people. An old man around his own age dressed in a smart suit, and a family clearly off on holiday judging by the amount of cases and buckets and spades. They all ignored him and stared out of the window but just as he was walking past the small bespectacled boy looked up and stared at him. For a fleeting moment he felt there was a wisp of recognition but as quickly as it arrived it was lost as the little boy returned to his game.
He continued down the corridor and found himself next to the guard’s room. He knocked on the door, he waited, there was no reply. He knocked again, he waited again and again there was no reply. He turned the handle and the door opened with a click. He looked in to see what looked like an academic’s office. There were shelves filled with books, there was a wooden desk with a chair behind it. It looked out of place in a small train cabin, it was, however, empty. He turned to leave when something caught his eye. Sat on the table was a bowler hat, he hadn’t seen one in years, the last time was the one his school headmaster wore, he kept it on an old phrenology head behind his desk, it was a desk not unlike the one he was currently looking at.
He had only been in the office once during his whole time at school. It was the Wednesday he was taken from his maths lesson to see the head, he wasn’t told why, just that he needed to wait. He could remember the strong smell of tobacco in the room and the lack of light that came past the heavy curtains. He waited in that room for the head, he remembered feeling terrified that he would be caned for something he didn’t know he had done.
When the usually stern headmaster walked into the room with a smile and a bottle of cola he knew something was wrong. This was how he found out his father died.
The man was jolted from his reminiscences by the train shuddering and picking up pace. He shut the guard’s room door and headed back to his carriage. He moved past the carriage with the family, he looked in to see them but found they weren’t there, now there was only a young man, head in a book, oblivious to everything going on, especially the countryside rocketing past the window. The cases piled up around him betrayed his destination of college. He was sad and seemed very lonely. The man took one last look and moved back towards his own carriage.
Before he got there the guard returned from up the corridor and stopped in front of him.
“I saw something, I think I saw someone get hurt.” He spluttered.
“No you didn’t sir, you didn’t see anything sir. If you would take your seat sir, not long till the end of our journey.” Came the calm but unnerving reply from the guard.
“But we are speeding up.”
“We are rather aren’t we.” Came the reply as the guard headed back down the train in the direction of his room.
It took the man a moment to realise what had happened and in that time the guard was gone. He turned and made to follow him but stopped dead in his tracks. In the carriage that held the student moments ago was now a young couple in an embrace. They were clearly newlyweds on the way to their honeymoon. He looked in, their faces were obscured by the woman’s large hat. His wife had owned a hat just like it when they were younger. She had used a whole week’s salary to buy it, but what a hat it was.
The train shuddered again and the pace had increased again. Unnerved he made his way back into the first carriage where a young boy sat sobbing into his hands. The man stepped over to him and put his hand on his shoulder.
“Are you lost young man?”
“No, my mother has died, and I don’t know where my father is.”
The boy’s voice was unnervingly familiar, he sounded just like his own son. He glanced down at him again, he looked like him too. In fact at the age when his own wife passed. He stooped to see the boy’s face more clearly. Before he could properly see he felt a strong hand on his shoulder. He span round to find himself face to face with the man who had the blood on his shirt. He stood and looked directly into his eyes, they were strong and determined with just a hint of menace.
They stood silently for a while before the man began to take everything in. The bloodied man was younger than him, but everything else seemed similar. He looked harder into the figure’s grey eyes and suddenly there was a flicker of horrible recognition. He was staring at himself.
“It’s time you took a look in your case.” The younger man said pointing up at the luggage rack.
He turned round and lifted it down the battered, brown leather case placing it onto the seat below. He clicked open the clasp and opened the lid. Inside was a clutter of odd items and photographs. It took a moment but gradually he began to recognise things. He sat down and began sorting through it.
There was a small metal boat he had been given on his first holiday to the seaside as a child. There was a photograph of his family all standing smiling the day his family had beaten him so badly he had broken one of his ribs. There was the order of service from his father’s funeral. His old college scarf, a teaspoon from the cafe he took his wife on for their first date, the sketch his wife had drawn of the church they would later be married in. He picked up a tiny knitted sock, it was his son’s from when they brought him home from the hospital.
His son. A memory flashed into his mind of him saying goodbye, he was an adult now, was it at the station? He didn’t think so.
Then there was a do not disturb sign from a motel. He stopped for a minute and held it up. This wasn’t a memory he could really place. Then he looked down it had been hiding a photograph of himself with his arm around a young woman. He knew her, he had tried to forget her. An affair, a mistake, a younger woman from his office. Beneath that photograph was a pressed flower. He knew what that was and the guilt was great. It was from his wife’s grave. He had been with the young woman when she died, he had been out of contact and it was three days before he found out and got home.
He paused for a moment with tears in his eyes and looked out of the window. The scenes outside were almost impossible to make out as the train shot along the lines blurring the outside.
He looked back into the box and pulled out a small broken necklace, it was delicate and ornate. He stared at it in his hand and he was filled with pain and deep regret. He remembered the last time he held it in his hand, it was he who had given it to his young lover, it was he who blamed her for not being there for his son. It was he who got so angry, it was he that ripped the necklace from her. It was he who knocked her down. A flash of remembrance and he looked up to see the bloodied man but both he and the boy were gone.
He looked back into the box and almost all of the contents had disappeared. All that remained was a paper hospital bracelet. He picked it up and read the words on it. It had his name, his age and today’s date written on it. He looked at it and remembered, he was due to have an operation today. But he didn’t live a train journey from the hospital, and he felt like he recalled his son dropping him off.
There was a screech of metal against metal and the train stopped violently. The man looked out of the window into nothing, a deep dark blackness. The carriage lights flickered as they attempted to keep the darkness out. The man turned away from the window and saw the guard had returned. He stood at the door to the carriage smiling a sickening grin. He looked directly into the man’s tear filled eyes.
“This is your destination sir.”