The Last Train
Paul was on the train, the same train he caught home every night. Roy was next to him, trying to sit up straight, hoping to give the impression of being sober. He wasn’t doing much of a job of it. His eyes were half closed; his speech slurred and looked as if he would fall over if the slightest breeze touched him. Paul wasn’t much better. It had been quite a session, the usual end of week booze up. They had been lucky to catch the train at all and it was the last one for the night. But as usual, they had half staggered, half fallen into the carriage.
The train pulled into their station at twelve thirty and they stepped out onto the dark platform. Vandals had left their signature graffiti over the walls and fences and obviously smashed the lights. It was cold and Paul pulled his coat around him in a futile attempt to block the wind.
Paul and Roy both lit a smoke and threw the matches onto the ground. What difference did a little more litter make? Fog curled gently around them and although they could still see ahead of them, the soft mist made visibility difficult. They could see the lights on the street ahead, glowing dimly through the fog.
”Come on, it’s bloody freezing, let’s get going,” Roy slurred. Paul hurried as best he could, aware that he wasn’t walking straight. Roy followed closely behind him. Paul presumed he wasn’t too steady on his feet either.
Their train was just pulling away from the station as they crossed the double track. Paul looked back for a second and saw its lights disappearing around the bed. As he stepped across the other track, he saw a strange thing. It looked as if the train was coming back. But that couldn’t be right, could it? The he realised. He frantically reached behind him to grab Roy, hoping to pull them both off the track before the oncoming train hit them. He saw Roy’s face, surprised at first, then the horror as he too realised they weren’t going to make it. The both screamed as the train bore down on them, and even when it was only a few feet away, even when Paul knew they couldn’t possibly make it, even then he tried.
“No!” he screamed, “No!”
Paul sat up in bed, sweat pouring from him, the sound of his screams still echoing in the room.
“Christ,” he thought, “should have woken with the alarm, sleep’s a killer.” His head was pounding and his bladder was bursting. He solved the second problem first, then took some Panadol and put the kettle on. “Going to have to tone down these Friday nights. Getting too old to cope with the hangovers – and the dreams.” He made the coffee and after adding the milk, poured some into a saucer for his cat.
“Hey, Mog, where are you?” Normally she would be there, clamouring, crying, purring, anything to get his attention.
“Hey, Mog?” He called again and went looking for her. She was in the laundry, huddled in the corner. “Hey, girl, what’s up? Milk’s here.” He reached out for her, but pulled his hand back quickly as she arched her back. Her hair was bristling and a low growl rumbled in her throat. Confused, he reached for her again, but she lashed out, claws raking as she spat and hissed. She leapt passed him and ran through the house.
“You’ll come back when you’re hungry,” he shrugged and stopped thinking about it. Thinking too hard made his head hurt. His whole body hurt.
He finished the coffee and lay back on the bed. He must have nodded off again because it was mid afternoon when he next looked at the clock. He couldn’t believe it; he was supposed to play golf with Roy this afternoon. He never slept like this. More proof that he was getting old. So much for life beginning at forty. He went to the phone and tried Roy’s number, but didn’t get an answer. He was probably at the golf course already – he’d be pissed off that Paul hadn’t shown. He thought of trying Roy’s mobile but decided against it. It was too late to play now anyway, it would be dark before they got half way through. He’d phone him again later. He gave Mog another shot at a truce, but the cat was just as aggressive as before, so he left her in peace and had a shower instead.
The hot water felt good, the steam swelled around him, clouding up the room. It reminded him of fog – fog at the railway station. Fog blocking the view of the train until it was too late. No. Not too late, just a dream. He turned off the water. His hands were shaking. Just a dream. He tried not to think about it. Instead, he tried to remember the train trip home last night, the real train trip home. But he couldn’t recall any of it. Not surprising, he told himself, after all he’d had to drink.
He pulled on his robe and made another coffee. Should eat something, he thought, but he didn’t feel hungry.
He tried Roy’s number again just before six but still got no reply. He turned the television on to watch the news.
Lead stories were about politics, a new tax, a minister opening a shopping centre, followed by a string of advertisements.
Next story was about two men who were killed by a train in the early hours of the morning. Paul dropped his coffee cup on the floor. Coffee spilt everywhere, the mug shattered. Paul jumped to his feet and flicked the television off.
Someone else, somewhere else, someone else. Over and over. The minutes ticked by, the hours, with Paul staring at the blank television. Eventually he had himself under control. He had figured it out. When he had drifted off to sleep the news on the radio would have mentioned the train accident. He had fed that information into his dream. Simple. Understandable really.
He tried to ring Roy again, at home and on his mobile. This time when no-one answered he decided to try Roy’s ex wife. Roy had given him the number once in case he ever needed it. He needed it now. Carol answered on the third ring.
“Carol, it’s Paul, Roy’s mate. I was meant to…..”
“Hello, is anyone there?” Carol asked.
“Carol, it’s me, Paul.”
“Hello. I’m hanging up if you don’t speak now.”
“Carol, wait, it’s Paul. I’m looking for Roy.”
The phone went dead in his ear. Paul dropped the receiver back into its cradle. He sat on the edge of his bed.
At eleven o’clock he stood up and dressed in the suit he had worn the day before. At twelve o’clock, midnight, he left the house and headed towards the railway station. As he walked up the ramp the fog swirled gently around him. He watched it caress the lights on the street as he waited for the train. He heard it coming, a few minutes before twelve thirty. It wasn’t rumbling on the tracks as it normally would but he heard it anyway. It drifted up, slowly, a grey, almost transparent engine, pulling a single carriage. When it stopped, the door was level with Paul. He opened it slowly and stepped inside.
Roy was sitting there waiting for him.
”You’re late Paul,” Roy said softly. “You almost missed the last train.”