On platform two with heels

FLASH FICTION

Ghost train

FOUR COACHES OF THE APOLOGISTS

Yesterday I felt like I’d turned on my favourite group of animals. My guts told me I’d swallowed a snake, and now it was writhing around, trying to eat me from inside.

I was on my way for a health assessment, not for my knotted stomach but the root of that anxiety in my head. My presence was demanded by the fascist regime’s social cleansing machine, and if my head didn’t win the battle, the contents of my guts threatened to make me late.

They’d never get what was going on with my head. It’s all in the mind, they say. Which of course, it is. But that’s where it stops with the machine. An incentive to make the appointment was to get that far with the contents of my stomach intact, ready to unload on any assessor who asked me how I was feeling.

You’re damned if you do or don’t with the machine. Clause 22 states that if you’re well enough to attend an assessment you’re fit for work. But if you fail to turn up (because you were struck by a panic attack, for example), you’re not engaging with the system, which is all the machine needs to cut you off financially, effectively ending your life.

I had a few minutes before my train was due, so I smoked a cigarette. A young girl asked me for a light and we struck up a brief conversation. She was going to London to visit her mum in hospital.

Back on the platform, the train was delayed by twenty minutes. I thought about phoning ahead to let the machine know I might be late. The smoking girl sat beside me, gazing at her phone. As the screen reflected her face, she could be sorry for being alive. I went out for another cigarette but we didn’t continue our conversation from earlier.

On the platform again, a mechanical centipede snaked around a corner in the distance, one minute away, according to the indicator. The train was formed of four coaches, so it might be a bit busy. Certainly I wouldn’t get a seat without neighbouring passengers.

The train pulled in at the other end of the platform (it only had four coaches), so I had to walk as others climbed into the mechanical animal. The driver smiled as I passed his cab. He was probably a man with a family, like all those in the body of the beast behind him. I watched the smoking girl board and decided to wait for the next train. I wouldn’t want to hold her up from seeing her mum, kept alive by machines.

I wondered if there was anyone else I should call. The next train was already going to make me late for sure. According to my phone history, there were only four numbers who’d called me lately anyway, and one of those was the machine.

The machine announces arrivals and departures, on the indicator board above the platform.

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