Tuesday, 6 July 2010
Short Story - 'The Train'
I belong to a writer's group, based in my local library. We meet once a week, and attempt to hone our craft or simply keep our enthusiasm going and our skills ticking over. Every Monday somebody takes charge of the group with a writing task, ranging from poetry to prose.
For this task, we were all given a single sentence to start with: "Oh dear. The ticket inspector is coming." We had ten minutes in which to write something that utilised those words. Then we were given a second random sentence,"The camel bent down and kissed her." with which to do the same thing, but carry on the story. Lastly, we had to do the same with a third sentence, "Fred Smith found a hoard of whitefly on his cabbage." Obviously the results were often humorous, having to work those into a single coherent (theoretically!) tale. The direction my story took was somewhat macabre, but still perhaps a little amusing in a dark way.
One day I hope to be published, including my selection of short stories. Most of those I wouldn't be willing to post online. After all, there's no point throwing them around if I'm going to try and get them in print one day. However, I'm not so reticent about the quick and fun pieces written in the way described above. After all, they're essentially exercises. They're not particularly original or inspired, but they're fun and great practice. So here is another short story, written in about three ten-minute chunks. I've improved the odd bit of grammar (I hope!) and formatting, but the whole point of this, is the curious results of writing with speed and without time for embellishment or refinement. As such, I have kept everything else the same as it was written by hand. No word changes, rewrites or deletions, so please forgive the imperfections. I hope you enjoy!
Short Story – "The Train" (© Copyright W.D.Lee, 2010)
He gazed out of the carriage window, mesmerized by the spiky crags and the flame filled world beyond. Sweat glistened on his brow, only to gather and drip without notice.
“Oh dear. The ticket inspector is coming.” The old lady in the seat opposite half whispered, as the door at the end of the carriage slid open with a tired clatter amidst the cacophony of the ancient thumping engine.
He turned automatically to look at her, wishing he'd remembered his own mental note not to. Her face was withered and torn, the fiery red of glowing embers glimmering between the cracks. A distorted and misshapen figure waddled up to the old woman like an animal. It was bent over almost double by the hump on its back.
A camel, he thought. That's what this... 'thing' reminded him of. The old woman looked up as the 'Camel' bent down and kissed her. With a hidden expression of repulsion, the man returned his gaze to the burning world outside.
The old woman continued to talk. “My husband and I are taking a day out. We thought we'd see some of the lower tiers. You hear so much about them.”
“Tickets please!” The inspector worked his way slowly along, seat by seat.
Carrying on, the old woman seemed intent on striking up a conversation despite the lack of interaction. Something buzzed past the window, a pale and horrid mix of man and subterranean insect. The old woman pointed at it, as she spoke to her husband, the Camel. “Look! Ooh, I've heard of these, but don't they look like, you know... when Fred Smith found a hoard of whitefly on his cabbages, back when we were alive.” The Camel nodded, muttering agreement through bestial flapping lips.
“Will you please shut up?” The man said calmly but forcefully. “I came on this train for a break, and all I have to listen to is you!”
The glowing cracks in her face brightened and sparked, talons forming from her finger tips. “You'll learn your place, young man!” She cried in a voice like liquid granite.
Clawed fingers belonging to the ticket inspector clamped down on her shoulders. “That's enough! Calm down!”
The old woman glared at the inspector, then the man. “You'll pay, once you reach your stop.”
The inspector clipped her husband's ticket, then hers. “Sir?” he spoke to the man through his sharp toothed maw, holding out his hand.
Withdrawing a season ticket, the man gave it to the inspector, who promptly bowed before handing it back. “Your majesty.”
The man waved him on then smiled at the old woman, who shrank into her seat as the cries of the damned outside reached a crescendo.
When I was given the first sentence, it obviously triggered the scenario of being aboard a train. However, in an effort to try and think up something a little different, I decided that perhaps the train was travelling through the depths of hell, on a tour of the different levels. The wording of the sentence suggested to me something that would would be said by an elderly woman. The kind of thing you could imagine in an old black and white film. I simply used that thought, and transferred her into my unusual locale.
Given the setting, it was difficult to then work in the camel sentence. At first I imagined some sort of underworld nomad with his skeletal camel, going somewhere on the train. I then decided that was too literal, and chose to turn the camel into a description of something horrid and foul, which became the old lady's husband.
The final sentence was the most difficult. It was clearly out of tone with what I had written, but given the characters, I thought perhaps I could make it work. It was a seemingly mundane and everyday sentence that would not be out of place within the absent chatter such a couple in the real world, so in this case I thought it would be used as an utterly contrasting reference. Given more time, I had thought of hinting at some horrific purpose for the man-insects flying around that level of the pit.
Although I didn't get to describe it, I imagined the train to be filled with hellish characters, all in various disgusting states that were symptoms of the reason they were sent to hell. The old couple were the equivalent of tourists, perhaps from an upper level of hell that was less horrific, who's idea of a vacation would be to tour the lower levels and witness what torments and horrors lay down there. Old Scratch is obviously taking an incognito break from his duties overseeing the pit, in order to simply get away from the day to day hassles for a while. I used his repulsed emotions to not only initially mislead, but to hint in retrospect that perhaps running the underworld is more of a job for him, rather than being outright evil.
Obviously it is a rather disjointed and unusual story, but considering the twists it had to take, I was quite pleased that it came to its end with an amusing and appropriate moment.
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