Flash Fiction: The Journey

flash fiction journey chuck wendig travelThis week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig on Terribleminds.com is about travelling. It can be any genre, but no more than 1000 words.

It’s been a while since I’ve written something that’s a little chilling, and this one developed from a train of thought (pun intended) after watching ‘The Lady Vanishes’, the Margaret Rutherford one of course.

Let me know what you think.

Flash Fiction: The Journey

The rhythm of the train buffeted Mark, his eyes wanted to close but the noise from the other passengers stopped them. A child in a bassinet cried incessantly at his mother next to him, and teenagers conducted a loud conversation with each other as tinny music blared into their ears. Even the old woman’s knitting seemed to click in an abnormally loud way.

Mark rubbed his eyes and stared at the empty seat across from him, the strong coffee he’d had was keeping him in a limbo state of both brutally tired and wide awake.

‘Ticket’s please’ said the balding inspector as he pushed his bulky frame down the restricting train aisle.

Mark frisked himself, even checking an inside jacket pocket he didn’t have for his ticket, holding it out to the emotionless inspector. The ticket was snatched out of Mark’s hand and punched. As Mark reached out for his ticket, something happened. It was like the train shook but he didn’t feel anything, and his eyes stung forcing them to close. As he struggled to open his eyes again, something changed but Mark wasn’t aware of it until he re-opened his eyes.

The train was silent, then his brain processed the information and it hit him like a sandbag, the train was empty. Everyone had gone; the old woman, the mother and baby, the two teenagers. Mark half stood up, and looked around the entire carriage ‘Hello?’

He stood up and walked down the aisle. ‘Hello?’ Mark repeated. There was no response, the carriage was empty. Well, nearly empty. As he passed the seats he noticed the items seemingly left behind. Mark peered into the empty bassinet, and pulled back the tucked-in blankets. The baby certainly wasn’t there but his clothes still were, still forming the outline of a baby, its dummy placed on his pillow. Mark tucked the blankets back, and looked at the seat next to the bassinet. The seat was covered in an ash like powder and there was no sign of the mother.

Mark continued to search the carriage, the seats of the two teenagers were covered in the same white powder, yet the old woman’s clothes were draped over the seat with her knitting, and her shoes sat on the floor with her thick stockings hanging out of them.

‘What the hell is going on here?’ Mark thought. His heart was thudding in his chest and as his mind raced he started to sweat as if the temperature in the train had been turned up to full. The train’s whistle pierced the rhythm of the train causing Mark’s brain to stop panicking long enough for him to think clearly.

‘The whistle? Someone’s driving the train? Someone must be driving the train.’ Mark ran down the aisles through the carriages in the direction of the driver’s carriage. Each carriage had seats covered with the same ash or laid out clothes as his own cabin, though he didn’t stop to inspect any of them. The look of the buffet car screamed of the Mary Celeste, steaming meals and coffee sat on the tables. He continued to run through the carriages, his mind focused on finding the driver’s carriage.

Finally Mark got to the driver’s carriage and knocked on the door, surprising himself a little at how polite he was even when terrified, to the point of second guessing whether knocking was appropriate in this situation. When his fear returned, and after a few seconds silence, Mark opened the door.

‘Thank god’ Mark said as he saw the shapes of the two drivers in front of him ‘Everyone’s gone, what’s happening?’

The driver’s continued to face forward their hands flicking the various switches and buttons of the dashboard in front of them.

‘Hello? Can you hear me, I said everyone’s gone.’ Mark reached forward to put his hand on one of the guard’s shoulders. As he reached out the two drivers spun round, their faces were gaunt and blackened holes stared back where there eyes should be. Mark recoiled, and backed away towards the door.

The drivers pointed their grey bony fingers at Mark ‘Get out! It’s not your time yet.’

Mark felt the train shake again, and his eyes stung. When he opened them again he was back in his carriage. The baby was crying, the tinny music from the teenagers was back as was the clicking of the old woman’s knitting.

Mark blinked his eyes a few times, coming to terms with what could only have been dream. He sighed and hoped he hadn’t made a complete fool of himself while he was asleep, but everyone seemed to be ignoring him so he relaxed.

The train pushed past a few more stations, but nobody got on. In fact it wasn’t until the stop before his that someone entered his carriage.

Mark looked at his watch as the man sat in front of him, Mark looked up and saw the man disappear behind a large newspaper. Mark returned to his watch, and flicked through the settings. Then something he had seen only briefly flashed in his mind. He looked up and read the front page heading of the passengers newspaper.


The paper lowered, and staring back at him was one of the train drivers from his dream with the same empty eye sockets and leering grin

‘Now it’s time’ said the driver, as the train breaks screeched and Mark was thrown from his seat.


It took rescue crews twelve hours to sieve through the wreckage of the trains, no survivors were found.


17 thoughts on “Flash Fiction: The Journey”

  1. Great atmosphere in this piece – doing odd stuff with eyes always manages to ‘press my horror buttons’ for some reason.

    Not to mention that it reminded me more than a little of my daily commute… :-/

  2. The afterlife puts a lot of effort into our demise; it’s nice they care so much.

    I liked the story.

    1. I suspect that the people who work for ‘death’ see us in the same way as battery chickens, or cars on a production line.

      They need to work on their PR in any case.

      I’m glad you liked the tale.

  3. I liked this story quite a bit. The spookiness is good and I particularly like the creepy conductors. I do wonder about the white powder though. It just didn’t seem to have any connection to what was going on or the ending so it felt a little strange, in a distracting sort of way. Otherwise though a good twilight zone style scare.

    1. Ah ok, I guess it was a little too ambiguous.

      It was a sort of seperation between the good and bad people.
      The piles of clothes represented the ‘good’ people being taken to heaven, while the white powder was the remnants of them after being burnt from the fires of hell. I probably should have mentioned ash somewhere in it.

      Glad you liked it.

      1. Aha. Ok, I get it now. Probably more my fault for not getting it than any fault. I didn’t make the connection between some people (baby, old woman) leaving clothes and others leaving powder.

        I do think “ash” would have got my poor brain thinking in the right direction more. Also, and this is terribly nit-picky for flash fiction, if you had written:

        “Each carriage had seats covered with the same white powder or laid out clothes as his own cabin..”

        instead of:

        “Each carriage had seats covered with the same white powder and laid out clothes as his own cabin…”

        then I think I really would have clued in.

        Really though, I do like the story.

  4. Hi Jim. Definitely Twilight Zone material. I saw the white powder as the residue of the people. They were clearly gone, but their chemical components were left behind.
    One thing I like about the flash fictions for the terribleminds challlenges, is that they’re immediate and raw. The original idea and author intent is fresh and not lost through overediting, as happens in some full length books.
    I set my story on a train too. (It’s not finished yet.) What is it about trains?
    There’s more to your story than meets the eye. We get to know the people more, and care for them, through the description of their empty clothes. Then they’re back. So the second death has more impact.
    Good story. I enjoyed it.

    1. I think trains conjure up so many images and metaphors, well they do for me anyway. The tracks are a metaphor for fate for example, with the passengers in most cases being unable to change their destination. Well, You get the idea. Plus you have the literary advantage of not having to worry about writing about anyone actually driving the things.

      I certainly agree with your thoughts on the flash fiction challenges. They also provide snapshots at so many different styles of writing, not to mention allowing other writers to exchange ideas.

      I’ll keep an eye out for your tale, you can link to it from here if you want.

      1. I think in addition to the metaphorical level, trains also have some very practical narrative advantages that make them attractive as a setting, and more so than other types of vehicles.

        For instance, they bring a large ad hoc group of strangers together in one place (unlike cars); they stop fairly frequently, which allows for a certain ‘turnover’ of characters if necessary (unlike airplanes); and they are relatively spacious, which gives more narrative freedom (unlike most buses), but till more enclosed than e.g. a ship.

        1. I’ve never really considered that, but you’re right. They do fit so many occassions.

          There’s also so many different types to fit the situation, an old rickety steam train, a graffiti’d inter-city travel, maybe a high tec bullet?

          The train almost becomes a character in its own right.

So, what are you thinking?

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