short stories · Writing Samples

Platform 5- The Train to Nowhere?

In the deep front left pocket of his coat Pete carried a short yellow pencil, forgotten for the most part and only occasionally stumbled upon. Every time he remembered it was there he wondered whether or not he should keep it, and every time he decided that he would. It could come in handy after all. It was blunt, but, he reasoned, he could always use his knife to sharpen it. The Swiss Army Knife had been his grandfather’s. It hadn’t really been given to him; he had stolen it after the funeral while everyone else was squabbling over what they deemed to be rightfully theirs. It was made of cheap metal and had a blade, scissors, a corkscrew, something with prongs that he couldn’t remember the name of (but his grandfather had once told him was for getting the stones out of horse’s hooves), and a few other things that he had never had an explanation for. As a child, he had wondered what sort of age you had to be to know what all the components of a Swiss Army Knife were for. His grandfather had been very old, so at the time he had supposed that it was alright he didn’t know yet. Now he was at the wrong end of thirty and still none the wiser.

Pete had initially felt a little bit guilty for stealing that Knife, but this had soon subsided. Being of little value, it was not missed, nobody saw him take it and Pete quickly became glad that he had. His grandfather had emigrated to Scotland from Italy when he was in his 20s and saved hard to open his own restaurant, which had been a huge success. As it grew in popularity he had split the responsibilities with his son, Pete’s father, who had helped turn the family business into a multi-million pound corporation. Now some of this had been passed down to Pete. Recently they had branched in to ready-meals, which he couldn’t help but feel his grandfather would have hated. He was a man who had survived both World Wars and had a strong aversion to most modern technology. He had preferred to spend any free time outside, sometimes going camping with nothing but a small green tent, Pete and his Swiss Army Knife.

The Knife stayed at the bottom of Pete’s briefcase now, hidden by the jumble of papers and documents that lived there too. He sat down and, after glancing at the dirty floor of the train station, decided to balance his clean brief case on his knee. He pulled a bright orange ticket from his pocket and checked it against the electronic timetable in front of him. Glasgow, 2.30, Platform 3. All was as it should be. A quick glance at his watch told him that it was almost exactly 2 o’clock. He liked to be at least half an hour early for a train, a habit instilled in him by his father from a very young age. He put the Glasgow ticket back in his pocket and pulled out another one. It was almost identical to the first in shape and size and bore the same printed font. But the second ticket was completely white and the destination was blank, as if the machine had suffered a slight malfunction when printing it. Pete didn’t know if this was true because he had not collected the second ticket himself, it had been posted to him. He didn’t know who by, or why they had sent it, but it had arrived a week ago and been in his pocket ever since. Perhaps it was a prank someone in the office was playing on him.

He had phoned various train companies to see if it had been sent out to him by mistake, but nobody had a record of doing so. When he described the unusual look of the ticket they had taken him less seriously. One operator had even hung up on him.  He knew the sensible thing to do would be to throw the damn ticket away, but curiosity stopped him every time. The destination was blank, but the time and Platform were not- 2.30, Platform 5. Pete didn’t think that there was a platform 5 in a station this small; he certainly could not remember ever using it himself. He looked around just as the 2.08 to Dundee began to rattle away from Platform 2. Opposite Platform 2 was Platform 1 and Platforms 3&4 were on his left.  A teenager ran past him and swore when he saw that Platform 2 was already empty. Having never missed a train in his life, Pete had little sympathy. He knew that the next train to pull in to Platform 3 would be the dusty old Scotrail one to Glasgow. He would get on it, go to his meeting with a supermarket interested in buying shares of their new frozen range, come home, finish off last night’s casserole and go to bed. That was his plan. But just looking for a Platform 5 couldn’t hurt. Even just to see where this mystery train was heading to. He looked back up at the Departures Board and was immediately drawn to a line where the destination was blank. A small thrill ran through him as he scanned along to the Platform number- 5.

He stood up and did his best to avoid the other people milling around the station. He spotted a sign for Platform 5 just underneath the one directing people to the nearest toilets. No wonder he’d never noticed it before, it was pointing to a small corridor tucked away behind a slightly crooked vending machine. Anyone could walk past that. The small thrill fluttered from his stomach to his feet and propelled them forwards until he was almost skipping towards the corridor to Platform 5. It was longer than he expected, lined with the same cracked tiles as the rest of the station and lit by whatever feeble rays of sun could make their way through the grime on the windows that ran along it. Emerging onto Platform 5, Pete was struck by how still everything was, how silent.

The train was already there. No wonder he hadn’t been able to track down where his ticket was from or where the train was heading to. It was unlike any train he’d seen before. It gleamed white and was so clean that it seemed impossible that it had travelled anywhere before. There were no words or logos painted on it that could distinguish it as belonging to any particular company. The windows were tinted so that they reflected his surroundings more clearly than Pete felt he could see them himself. If he stared too long it felt as if he was the dull reflection, not the window. The Pete looking back at him seemed a lot more solid than he felt. He couldn’t see any doors, but the train was so sleek that it was difficult to tell. It was also silent- no rattling, no creaking, no hum of an engine. And where was everyone? Pete looked around at an empty Platform. There was nobody else waiting on this train. It didn’t look like there was anyone even working on this Platform. His watch beeped. It was 2.20. He had ten minutes to get back to Platform 3 for his train to Glasgow.

Or…?

He didn’t move. This train was leaving in ten minutes too.

No. He couldn’t. He had phone calls and meetings and paperwork and… He looked down at his briefcase. He didn’t care very much, but his father would be angry if he let this deal slip through their fingers. It was up to them to keep expanding. Keep growing. Keep breaking in to new markets. Go Global. Pete sighed. His grandfather would have hated that. But did that matter? He wasn’t here now. Pete set his briefcase down on the Platform and took out the Knife for the first time in years. There were so many parts he didn’t know what to do with, so many things he hadn’t explored. He looked back at the train. He should leave. He had things to do. He didn’t even know where this train was going.

Had his grandfather also had things to do before he’d got on that boat to Scotland? Had he known where he was going? Pete’s watch beeped again. Five minutes. He put the Army Knife in his pocket.

Pete turned away from the train and walked back towards the corridor. He stopped by a bin, pulled his ticket to Glasgow out of his pocket and threw it in without a second thought. Leaving his briefcase still lying open on the Platform, Pete ran back towards the sleek, white train to… Somewhere Else. As he neared it one of the reflective panels he had taken for a window slid open automatically and Pete stepped inside with nothing in his pocket but a blunt pencil, a ticket out of here and his grandfather’s Swiss Army Knife.

 

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