The Train Stopped Suddenly

Forest, dense and dark stretched away in every direction. His axe, once light in his massive arms was now heavy. He hauled it across the scarred earth…”

Suddenly the train came to a stop; I was pulled roughly from Dur’rut and his quest. I slammed into the real world, annoyed. My book fell against my knee, all immersion lost. My tired eyes moved around the carriage, several people were turning in their chairs as if they could possibly see why we had stopped. I too found my eyes migrating to windows. All was dark outside except the shivering skeletons of wrinkled old gums and the windy screeching and wavering of the wild bush. Several uncomfortable seconds passed before the intercom crackled to life.

“Apologies ladies and gents, we’re experiencing minor delays, but we should be moving again in five minutes.”

I squirmed in my seat. A voice once as broad as the night sky through gum trees was made small and alien as it was pumped in on top of our fidgety annoyance. I longed to return to my book, but as I turned back to it the bush seemed to dance menacingly against the glass that used to seem thick and warm but now… I became very aware of the brightness of the carriage. Anything living out in the darkness would be able to look right in on us.

I shook my self but still sunk further into my chair, trying to hide. I returned to my book.

…across the scarred earth and used it to drag him self ever closer. After several more labored steps the quivering tundra…

The lights around me flicked, making the words dance. I stared determinedly at the page trying to ignore the tingling across my scalp and my seething gut.

…tundra gave way to jagged rocks and the base. He was here! Decades of searching had lead to this….<

My whole body contracted as the com crackled once more. My head was thrown forward as I jumped. Pain, hot and red blossomed across the crown of my skull. The pain drowned out the guard’s first few words.

“…fallen on the lines, giving us engine trouble. Expect delays of up to one hour. We at Sydney Trains apologize for any inconveniences.”

For a moment, my annoyance swallowed the pain in my head, before spitting it out again. Beside me the dark glass pushed cold into the room, I shivered. The engine trouble meant the heating had died.

A shadow fell across my lap. The throbbing in my head seemed to mount. A man, as tall as the carriage, towered beside me. My instinct was to avoid eye contact. I stared at my book. The pain in my head grew suddenly sharp. My gut tightened and my mouth dried. A second that seemed eternal passed and the man kept moving. The shadow retreated and warm light struck me. I sat very still for several seconds. The muscles in my back were tight and my shoulders were clenched, it took me several seconds to notice my jaw was too. My heart was racing violently, its slamming beats shaking me bodily. I tried to take calming breaths but each one was shaky and unsure. A spasm of anxiety jerked my hands as something slammed the window. A gnarled gum branch was thrown into the glass by the wind.

I clung to my book, fixating on the smooth feel of the jacket next to the soft, pliable pages. I ran my eyes across the cover, looking for creases and details in the art I’d never noticed before. If I shouted each detail to myself I could drown out the bush gum’s knocks and the rancid drone of my anxiety. The book grew to fill the world. It was warm and solid in my hands. When I had greedily drunk in every ounce of detail from the cover, my heart has slowed enough for me to open the book once more and continue reading. The black bush beating on the window could not get to me if I didn’t let it.