Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Night Train

There are rail tracks outside my flat. They're a little way away, but trains run all the time. Sometimes, late at night, you can look out of the window and watch empty trains, the lights all on, pass gently by. Sometimes there are people but from here they all look the same; indistinct fuzzy blobs that rock and sway with the motion of the train.

Sometimes the trains that pass are freight trains, full of gravel or piled with metal frames or just empty. Then it looks like a jaw with all the teeth pulled out; just sharp, pointed gaps where things should be.

And once, the train that passed billowed smoke. The carriages had curtains in them, but they were all drawn, and I could see the passengers inside.

And they could see me.

You understand what I mean when I say that, of course. We all know what it feels like to suddenly be aware that someone is staring at us. It prickles the back of our neck; it sets us staring all about us. Between myself and the passengers were two panes of glass and metres of empty air and yet I felt their eyes on me as intently as if they had been sitting on my balcony.

There was no end to the carriages. I could feel now each set of eyes settling closer on my features; where before they had grasped at my countenance now they luxuriated in it, devouring every inch of me. And I stared back, unable to grasp who these people were. I saw flashes of silver; forks and knives that glinted in electric lights. 

The diners put down knives and forks in a symphony of metal and china. I must have imagined the sound, for how else could it have been so clear to me? Against all instinct I stepped closer to my window, and as the windows flashed by I saw that each carriage had one window, and in each window was one light, and lit by the light was one pair of diners. 

And yet every pair of diners that I saw looked almost precisely the same to the previous pair. The only difference was a slight change in position, as though each pair had been carefully posed before each window, so that any viewer might be fooled into thinking they were moving. 

The carriages kept coming, and each new pair had moved a little more, and a little more. They seemed to stand and stretch, keeping always their eyes fixed on mine. The train increased in speed and the movements began to blur so quickly that my eye was fooled; that it began to seem as if there was only one pair of diners that stepped closer to the window, and closer. Only one pair of diners whose eyes stayed fixed close to mine even as they set their fingernails to their cheeks and pushed through the skin, clawing off gobs of flesh, splashing red blood agains the windows.

I had not realised until now how close to my own window I had stepped. The window was thick with blood but still their eyes were visible, fixed now, unblinking. They had torn off their own eyelids.

A whistle shrieked. I jumped, blinked, and saw the last carriage retreat away. It was a single carriage, with one window, and in the window was one light, and lit by the light there was no-one at all.

And then the night was silent but for the drip-drip sound on my balcony.