The Runaway Train – wrote a story

Back in August 2022 I happened across a competition on to write a story about a Runaway Train. That’s all there was to the challenge – write a story between 600 and 5000 words about a runaway train and you could win $10,000! Alright, so specifically they said “Write a story about someone who wakes up on a train. They have no ticket and no memory of how they got there. Oh, and one more thing: the train shows no signs of slowing down“, but left things quite open in my view and for some reason I found it an inspriing idea to write about. Anyways, what with various other things happening around the same time and getting the closing date slightly wrong I never managed to finish by the deadline, but I continued writing my story and finally, well over a year later, finished it today!! So if you’re really bored for an hour or two and fancy something to read here it is (all 15,500 words of it).

The Runaway Train or “An Honourable Journey”

Wake Up

Edward woke up, blinking. He looked about himself with a grimace, where was he? The first thing he heard upon waking was a continuous click-clack sound, the tell-tale sound of moving along railway tracks, which made him assume he was somehow on a train. Glancing around confirmed this, he was indeed lying on a chair, in a 4 person cabin, onboard a train carriage, but that made no sense to him. The last thing he could remember was the bar and drinking that first pint of beer at the meeting. So how did he get here? Where was the train going? The cabin was decorated with wooden slats and the seatings were made of felt. There weren’t any motifs, maps or posters around to give any clues as to his location or destination. The seats with their blue background and scarlet stripes bordered on the hypnotic and after a few moments of staring at them Edward rubbed his eyes. He stood up and turned the cabin door handle. He peered outside and then stepped into the narrow corridor.

All Empty, But One

He explored along the carriage, glancing at the passing countryside. He had expected to see some fellow passengers accompanying him on the train, but the other cabins in this carriage appeared to be empty. Looking out of one of the carriage windows he saw a lone boy on a bicycle waving from outside as the train passed by. Edward tried opening the window shutter to get some air, but found he couldn’t move it, so he gave up and continued his journey along to the next carriage.
He opened the connecting door between the carriages and stepped in, once again he found the first two cabins empty. He was then startled by a sudden jolt, as one of the doors ahead began to slide open. He moved towards the door and spied an old man slowly pulling the handle to let himself out, he had a kindly look about his face. Edward assisted him with the door, asking, “Excuse me sir, do you know where this train is going? Where might be the next stop?”
“Oh yes very good!”, laughed the old man, “I saw you asleep earlier, you must have a far bolder constituion than I to be able to sleep at such a time as this. I am Kevin, pleased to meet your acquaintance”, the man chuckled as they shook hands.
The man continued, “I’m just going to see the others in the dining car and I’m guessing you are coming too? No doubt you’ll be very well received!”.
“The others?”, replied Edward, somewhat confused. The man seemed oblivous to Edward’s confusion and started to walk towards the next carriage. Still at a loss as to where he was and with no other direction, Edward simply followed the man, thinking that perhaps these ‘others’ would be able to give him some answers.

Meeting The Others

They passed through one more carriage and then entered a dining carriage.

Edward was greeted by a somewhat surprising sight. A small crowd of people were either sitting or standing around a sizeable bar area. Normally this would not be unusual, but it occurred to Edward that the train seemed to be entirely unoccupied except for this dining area. Why would that be? Upon the bar itself lay an arrangement of food, snacks and drinks. A custom beer tap and two open Champagne bottles sat at one end. A neat stack of glass tankards, crystal wine flutes and a silver bottle cooler decorated the other end. Towards the centre of the bar stood a guilded sign stating “Welcome Honourable Guests”. The word Honourable was in a slight italic typeface. Edward assumed that these people must be rather wealthy to have such luxuries on-board a train. He then thought to himself, maybe somehow, mistakenly, he had become one of these ‘honourable’ guests, maybe there had been a mix-up in the invites or something like that. Yes, he thought to himself, perhaps there had been a mistake and that was why he was here. He pondered the thought a while longer, then sighed, as he considered himself anything but honourable. If only they knew the truth about his current life situation.

Looking across the bar area, Edward counted seven others, three women and four men. That made nine people in all, including Kevin and himself. The seating layout in the carriage consisted of two felt-covered benches, each adorned with the same styling as the cabin he had woken up in. The benches were adjacent to the carriage windows, where three people sat. The rest were at the bar, helping themselves to the various snacks and drinks. A tall, broad man, the most prominent of the group, reached and grabbed a handful of nuts, shoving them into his mouth. The movement of the train swayed the liquid in his glass as he chewed the nuts. He quipped a joke from the side of his mouth to which the others, especially the women, laughed. Edward was just under 6ft tall, but had a stooped, shy manner and the other man although only slightly taller appeared to tower over him. These “others”(as Kevin had described them) had been in various elements of conversation, but the arrival of Edward and Kevin sparked their interest in him.

An Introducing

“Hey look who I picked up on my way back!”, announced Kevin to the crowd.
“Hi Richard!”, a unison of voices called towards Edward.
“Good to see you’re awake ‘at last’. I’m Kerry, nice to meet you at last!”, said one of the girls in a drawl emphasising the words “at last” both times.
“Indeed, I’m very glad Mr.Snorer is awake ‘at last'”, quipped an upright lady with long tousled auburn hair. Kerry and a couple of others laughed or nodded at this.
The woman continued brashly, “You were in the carriage next to me and your snoring really was incredibly loud. I am Mrs Sian Matthews for your information.”. Kevin nodded amusingly, giving Edward a wink to indicate he was dealing with a difficult character.
“Thank you, very nice to meet you all”, began Edward with his arms upheld in an attempt to silence any further comments about his snoring, “…but my name isn’t Richard, my name is Edward and I think there’s been some kind of a mistake”.
The tall man who had been drinking at the bar then joined the conversation, “Sorry pal, old Kevin here told us your name was Richard and he said you told the guard that was your name!”. Before Edward could reply the tall man leant back and continued , “So unless your surname is ‘Richard’, which would imply your full name is “Edward Richard”, which sounds kind of funny, you are not making any sense!”. He ended this remark with a big smirk on his face, causing the women to chuckle once again and Edward to frown.
A man in late middle-age with a goatee then confidentally stuck his head forward and chimed in, “Let me interject and say ‘No sir’, you are wrong, there has definitely been no mistake! When you turned up this afternoon, you told me your name was Richard only seconds before you ‘fell’ into your assigned carriage! John C Powell does not forget introductions as memorable as that!”
“I told you that, really?!”, was Edward’s immediately question, raising his eyebrows in surprise.
A man with a foreign accent and a colourful cloth jacket then said, “Yes and besides the guard would have checked your ID card before letting you on this train, they do not make mistakes!”. The man looked Edward in the eyes kindly and as he reached forward to shake hands he added, “They call me Peter”.
Edward gladly responded to the man’s warm handshake, but was still left quite confused. None of this made any sense to him. Why would he have told them his name was Richard? He then started to feel around his pockets for his wallet, maybe the answer would be in there.
As he was doing this, a large man with red cheeks who had been sitting on one of the benches stepped forward and said, “I am Derek and I heard the porter let you on the train”. The man finished his introduction with, “You sounded in a real good mood, when I say that, I mean you sounded drunk to me!”.
Edward stood in a daze at this remark, but immediately afterwards a short lady with a pleasant smile spoke up, “Oh this young man seems very confused and we should be nice to our new friend, we are all in this together. I am happy to call you Edward, if that is what you would prefer”. Edward nodded a quiet thank you to her, to which she responded with a smile, “As long as you call me by my name, which is Chloe, we can all be happy”. Edward uttered a thanks this time and decided that he liked this lady most out of all the group, her kindness relieved him somewhat.
Sudddenly the tall man shouted, “Yeah I agree with Chloe!”. His volume caused everyone to look towards him, as he continued, “Richard…Edward, whatever! if you want to be called Marilyn Monroe, we will call you that!”, he smirked his biggest smirk of all at this remark. “I am Gary Nero, that’s my full name pal!”, the man winked upon saying this, “We are all in the same boat or rather train as Chloe says, so makes no difference to me! Glad to meet you, Edward”. He finished his remark with a joyful grin and another swig to finish his beer.
Edward was speechless at all this attention and still utterly confused. At this point he pulled out his wallet and found an ID card. He peered at it and scratched his head. It was his brother’s ID card. Why would he have his brother’s ID card in his wallet? At least that explains why they think my name is Richard, he thought. As he held the ID in his hands, the man named John with the goatee lent forward again and proudly pointed towards it. Thrusting a finger onto the card, he said scathingly, “You see, You see! It clearly says ‘Richard’, make no mistake, sir, make no mistake what John C Powell can see with ihs own eyes!”.
Edward sighed and tried to explain that it was his brother’s ID card, but John had already turned to one of the women and re-confirmed his certainty about the ID card, “John C Powell does not forget this kind of thing!”, he repeated, “It clearly says ‘Richard’ on the ID card!”.

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