The Train on the Right

This morning I was given a writing prompt by a fellow Twitter insomniac: Thriller, a train, and a notebook. Here’s what I came up with 🙂

A chill breeze blows through the open platform, and I’m glad I wore a coat. I come here often to people-watch, but today there are few travelers.

The sound of trains running by is drowned out by the music blaring in my headphones. I may want to watch the people, but I prefer not to interact with them. Observe and report, that’s my motto. Some of my best stories have come from being a fly on the platform, my hundred little eyes catching every little detail.

The breeze picks up, and I feel something brushing against my foot. I look down, and there’s a beat-up old spiral notebook under the bench, blown open by the fall winds. I don’t remember seeing a notebook there when I sat down, and no one had really walked by since to have dropped it. Curiosity wins over, and I pick it up.

It’s open to a page with two words scrawled in red: “Stand up.”

I grin and decide to play along. Someone has planned a romantic surprise for their significant other, perhaps, and left this notebook for them to find. Well, I think to myself, the SO is a no-show, so I’ll play the part for now. I stand and turn the page.

“Face north.”

Okay. North it is.

A train sits to either side of me, doors open for the passengers that come and go. No one’s really coming or going, and I find it odd that the doors have been open this long.

The next page has a ticket paper-clipped to it. Underneath the ticket are the words “Take the train on the right.”

Yes, sir. Or ma’am. The handwriting’s slanted, jagged, hurried. I decide the person orchestrating this is a male, based on nothing more than writerly instinct and what little I’ve learned about handwriting from bad investigative documentaries. Into the train on the right I go, ticket in hand.

The train is empty, save for a vagrant in the far corner, slumped against the wall, asleep. He’d be an interesting subject for a story, so I keep half an eye on him as I turn the page. “Sit in the last row, left-hand side, aisle seat.”

As soon as I’m seated the doors hiss shut, and the train jerks into motion. The vagrant’s sleep remains undisturbed despite the bumpy ride. I watch his head bob with the train’s movements over the tracks for a few moments, then I return to the notebook.

“Wait three stops.”

Boring, but I’m committed to the game by now, so I settle in and watch the vagrant. The train’s overhead speakers blare out the name of the next stop, but he snoozes right through. I’m impressed by his ability to sleep through the sounds and bumps and starts and stops. Never once does he jerk or twitch. So entranced am I that I almost miss my page turn.

“Stay seated. Wait for the doors to close again.”

This Romeo isn’t a very creative fellow. Where’s the purple prose, the poetry, the promises of wining and dining and true love? No wonder she didn’t show up.

The doors shut, and I flip the page. “Reach under your seat.”

What will it be? Flowers? Candy? A diamond ring? I’m intrigued, so I do as told.

I’m not prepared for my fingers to wrap around the handle of a knife taped under the seat.

The tape breaks as soon as I apply pressure on the handle, and I clench my hand to avoid dropping the knife and waking the vagrant. He’s a sound sleeper, but I don’t want him to wake up to a stranger brandishing a knife.

With a shaking hand, I turn the page. “Do not let go. Wait for the next stop.”

A thin sheen of sweat breaks out on my forehead, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. I am no longer under the impression that this is some romantic game to win the favor of an unrequited love, and with a knife in my hand and nowhere to go but another train car, I don’t quite know what to do. I’m afraid to pull the knife all the way out, afraid to look at it.

A sharp turn catches me by surprise, and I grip the seat to keep from losing my balance. The vagrant isn’t so lucky, and he falls to the floor with a sick thud.

He doesn’t wake up.

I get up and creep down the aisle, knife in hand temporarily forgotten. Why didn’t that fall wake him up?

I have to grab onto a rail as the train’s momentum slows, and the vagrant’s body slides a bit forward. I notice a bright red streak underneath him.

A couple more steps and I’m there. I squat down and reach for him, and the knife comes into view.

The knife is covered in blood.

Before I can think, the train’s doors slide open and a cadre of transit officers swarms the car, guns drawn and pointed at me.

I’m trying to stay calm, but I can’t stop shaking. I raise my arms over my head, bloody knife still in hand, and slowly gesture towards the back of the car. “It was the notebook,” I say. “I was just following the directions in the notebook.”

One officer in the back takes a few steps backward down the aisle, gun still trained on me. He takes his eyes off of me for a moment to search under the seats, then straightens and glares. “There’s no notebook here, pal. What kind of game are you playing with us?”

I look away from the barrels of the guns to peer down the aisle.

The floor of the train car is empty of trash, debris…and notebooks.