flash friday · Writing

Friday Flash: Slow Train

I wasn’t going to post this at first, was afraid it’s be too boring. But I figured, WTH.

Shelia swiped her card, pounded up the stairs and just barely squeezed through the train doors. They caught on her backpack and slid open again. She slipped her navy backpack down her arm, out of the way. The doors closed again and the train started moving.

Shelia leaned against the doors, catching her breath, looking around. Other kids and people in business clothes crowded the train. All the seats looked taken and she really didn’t feel like forcing her way through the middle to look for an empty one. Couldn’t even wrap a hand around the poles; not enough room. Well, she didn’t need to hold onto to anything anyway, just needed to brace herself.

She opened her bag and pulled out her sheet of formulas. Couldn’t afford to flunk the calculus midterm today. Twenty minutes to review before the bus.

The train stopped at the next station and Shelia was forced to step off before anyone else could get off. Back inside, she propped herself up against the seat railings, flipped the page over and continued reviewing a convergent series example.

The train lurched to a stop. Shelia looked up, fingers curled around the railing, and realized they were between stations. A large pregnant woman stood next to her, but didn’t block her view door windows. Tiny cars ran below and gulls flew high in the sky. A few people in bright orange vests did mysterious things on the tracks.

An hour left until the test. Shelia frowned. She should have been at the bus stop by now. The train started moving again and she breathed a sigh of relief. Lucky she gave herself twenty extra minutes today. Looked like the subway was running late.

But the train moved slowly. So slowly. The people around her shifted, bored and worried. The minutes trickled away. Another station came. 82 Street-Jackson Heights. Shelia stared outside and unease tickled her spine. Should she get off here? The bus would be easy to get. But it would definitely make her late and the train might still get her there on time. Maybe.

Shelia watched the station disappear and wondered if she’d made a mistake. A crackle from the overhead speakers, but no announcement.

The train stopped entirely. Shelia shoved her cheat sheet back in her bag, no longer able to focus.

A man stood up, gave up his seat to the pregnant lady. “She been standing too long,” he said gruffly, when Shelia stared at him.

Shelia nodded. “Right.” She dug her phone out of her bag and called home. No one answered. Hell. Mom must be out.

She wished for a smart phone so she could the check the MTA website. She looked around, but none of those business people had a blackberry in their hands. Everyone had a watch, though, and they kept checking the time.

Three hours later, Shelia arrived in school. Her classroom door burst open and her fellow classmates poured out.

Some waved to her, stopped and asked questions. “Subway problems. Where’s the – Professor!” Shelia spotted him, hands full of papers. “Professor, I can explain. The train, the subway, it was really late and I -”

“The train isn’t an excuse, girl.”

Stunned, Shelia watched him walk down the hall, seeing herself fail calculus.

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39 thoughts on “Friday Flash: Slow Train

  1. oh man we’ve all been there. Do I get off the train and try the bus – how many times have I been through that? Particularly liked the detail of the crackle of the speakers, but no message issuing. Good stuff. But if she was any good at calculus, she could have worked out the algorithm of the likelihood of the train being late!

  2. Lol. That professor is harsh!

    I wouldn’t say it was boring. The pace is good and it held my interest. There were some great elements. I agree with Marc about the crackle of the loud speaker–that was a great detail. The shiver down her spine, her anxiety, the pregnant lady standing for too long–all great details that felt like it was building up to a fantastic twist.

    In the end though…it was a little anticlimactic for me…I dunno…I got to the part where the train stopped for no reason and I thought it was gonna take a wild turn…like they were suddenly on a one way trek to Hades, or launching into the sun, or about to be overrun by ghosts bent on revenge–or just starved for fresh souls. I dunno…something.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with ordinary life. I’ve just read too many off the wall tales. LOL.

    1. Yeah, I think a lot of people have had stuff like this happen to them. Happened to me, too, and the ending is never happy, especially when school or work is concerned.

  3. You shouldn’t regret posting this at all! Yes it’s just a slice of life, nothing surprising, but it’s nicely written. Not everything has to be exciting. For something the length of a novel, certainly you want a little more oomph, but for a nice little bite, this works just fine. 🙂

  4. No, it’s not boring, Sonia. It’s pedestrian and the running to catch the train at the beginning doesn’t hide that, but that’s not bad. We can write about every day life, and one expects that this’ll lead to an unusual payoff.

  5. Oh poor Shelia! I think you built tension at the right pace, Shelia becoming just that little more anxious as time ticked by. We’ve all be on trains that don’t get us where we want on time, this piece depicted that anxiety and frustration well.

  6. Boring? More like tense! Oh, I’ve been there – although not for exams, as I was walking distance from my university (I still set off 20 minutes earlier than I needed to!)

  7. I lived on campus, so I never had that problem, although I did fall asleep in class after an all-nighter (hard crash, they couldn’t wake me up). The prof thought it was funny though.

    Nice slice o’life here — I was expecting something odd, but the evil professor was good enough! Only quibble is you might want to not post in all-italics.

    1. Lucky you! At least the prof thought it was funny. LOL

      That’s this new theme, 2011. I put it in quotes and it automatically italicized the whole thing. And plus, this new theme has the widgets only on the main page. I am going back to the old one. As soon as I remember what it was that is. :p

  8. It’s a nice little slice of life.

    As for the formatting, many of the WordPress templates put blockquotes in italics. Try removing that tag from around your story and set your statement at the top in italics and/or bold.

  9. Good slice of life as it captures something we have all been through, and that absolute helplessness. The little details like the crackling speaker add to the realism.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  10. I’ve been on trains that crowded. (When in Sweden, I translate the Swedish warning people to stay clear of the door as “do not cheat the doors”). You recreated the tension of multi-stop runs that always lead to problems when trains or buses aren’t reliably running on time.

  11. I think there was a lot of steam built up and a lot of really good tension, but at the end it seemed like kind of a letdown. I’m not sure what I would have been looking for, but that might have been why you wern’t super happy with this.

    But nobody can be on all the time. I personally dislike my flash this week as well…

    Keep on writing.

  12. Oh how many times have people been unlucky enough to be in the “should I/shouldn’t I” dilemma? And whichever choice you make, it always seems to be the wrong one doen’t it?

  13. I hate it when you’re in the situation where you’re not sure if you should try a different form of transport or not. You really captured that sense of rising panic.

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