"The Next Train" by Chris Gray — Our December 2018 Bronze Medal Winner

by - Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Chris Gray is our third place winner from the contest posted in our December, 2018 issue!

What the judges had to say:

"There was a strong sense of emotion in this story."
"It's refreshing to read stories from a male perspective on pain and anguish."
"I felt for the main character... his pain was visceral."

Meet Chris:

Chris Gray works and plays in the Grey Highlands, Ontario, where he dabbles in homesteading, literature, and outdoor adventures with his five wild and imaginative children. Find him on Instagram @thedarkreverend.

The photo prompt:

 the unedited story:

The Next Train

by Chris Gray

The platform carried the rumble of the subway to him well before the train came into view.  He quietly braced himself, looking around nervously.  At the screech of metallic brakes, dozens of people jockeyed for access on and off the train.  Within minutes the bustle subsided, as had the crowd.  He was somehow alone, the thronging exchange carrying everyone on to their next destination.  Not him.  Not this train.

“Next train,” he sighed in resignation, as if to someone with him.  His own voice brought him out of a daze.  He glanced sheepishly at the schedule board, then checked his watch with unease.  Fingering the collar of his shirt, he yanked his tie from his throat and undid the top button with a frantic, if subdued, motion..  As the roar of the departing train grew faint, the calm baritone of his own heart filled his ears again.  Steady.  Confident.  Dependable.  Fifty five lies a minute.

“Next train,” he repeated, glancing at his watch again.  It was a stupid gesture; the suit and tie and watch and briefcase, everything about him just like it always was.  Except him.  He wasn’t like he always had been.  Had he dressed the part for himself or others?  Didn’t really matter.  He had always prided himself on presentation.  First impressions, the whole bit.  The pleasure of a second glance from the barista, or the disarming effect it had on sales calls.  Now it all meant nothing.  He choked down the urge to scramble up the stairs, to the warmth and the light and the smiles and the lies.  The lies were so damned comfortable, holding you like the heat of your bedsheets just before the alarm goes off.  But reality always wins, and at some point, you have to fling back the blankets and feel the cold rush of life yank you out.

“Next train,” he reiterated, as much to the empty corridor as to himself.  That’s all this was- facing up to the harsh truth of what was really going on.  No more lulling yourself back to sleep with vague promises of ‘Just five more minutes,’ or ‘maybe I’ll take the day off.”  Those fantasies had been flushed with the first agonizing rounds of chemo.  Pills, vomiting, constant agony and platitudinal smiles were enough to drive a man mad.  It wasn’t getting better, but at least he could decide whether it got worse.

“Next train,” he vowed, his resolve rising up inside him.  He walked away from the platform, placing his briefcase beside the men’s washroom entrance.  He delicately removed his coat, folded it and lay it across the handle.  He paused, studying them until his chest tightened with held breath.  In a fury he lashed out, skittering the articles across the dull tile platform with a sharp kick.  Vague regret pierced him, and a choking sadness clutched up his throat.  Gasping, his hands pawing further at his shirt, he fell against the wall for support and slid around the wall into the sinks.  Plunging his hands under the taps, he desperately flung water over his face, wheezing and blubbering and crying and choking. 

“Next train, next train, next train,” he intoned, allowing the comfort of those words, like a guru’s mantra, to bring him back to himself.  He straightened, wiping his eyes clear, and smiled wryly at his reflection.  His shirt and tie were soaked across the chest, his eyes were swollen and his hair was a disaster.  For the first time in months, the sweet release of laughter erupted from him.  It echoed sharply around the filthy restroom, painfully acknowledging the stupid truth right to his face.  Nothing mattered; not  his salary, his sales, his shirt and smile and stupid hairstyle.  He threw his face up, his laughter swelling from giggles, to chuckles, to a mad, exhausting cackle that both exposed and softened his anguish..  Smirking ruefully, he twisted the dryer and blasted hot air onto his shirt and face as he patted his hair down into its familiar sweep.  His long sigh broke with the aftermath of his sobs and laughter, but there was an ease to his breathing now.  He found himself revelling in the feeling of doing something just for himself; he bathed in it for a few moments.  Satisfied at his own reflection, he winked charmingly into the mirror through a fresh trickle of tears.

“Next train,” he promised, walking purposefully away from the stranger in the mirror.

[Read the first and second place stories]

Learn how you can participate in one of our Write-Prompt Flash Fiction Contests HERE

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