[Short Story] Headless Pride Click to expand
The train rushed to a halt beside her, the 8:41 to somewhere exciting no doubt, but for her the daily chore of getting to work. She scrambled aboard like the hoards of faceless others around her. Always busy, always full. She never even noticed when the train pulled out, mired as she was in her own misery.
The train rocked, the train rolled, the intercity rattled and screached as it hurtled down the tracks.
She sat in second class where the seats were packed in tight and her knees sweated, wrapped as they were around the knees of the big sweaty guy sitting accross from her. Horrid. But what choice? First class passengers would be reclining in their seats and being served champaign and canapes right about now, but in this world of crisis only a very select few could afford the luxury. Clickity clack, clickity clack, the scenary rushed by; a blur of colour, a riot of flickering shapes, a smouldering ruin here and there.
To pass the time she chatted to her current squeeze on the Berry, a ball and chain that shackled her to her corporate life more securely than any fence or wall ever could. No matter where she went, no matter who she saw or what she was doing she was on call 24 hours 7 days a week. And for what? A measly living allowance barely more than the state handouts given to those too lazy to work for a living. Daily now she wondered if maybe they had the right of it… but her pride was strong and she was too stubborn to just give up and abandon her dreams.
So here she was hurtling towards another metropolis of the corporate machine. Her goal today was to convince some sharply dressed, arogant, full of it sales guy that the product he was so successfully selling didn’t exist, had never existed, and frankly never would exist. It fucked with her head that in this twisted world if the sales drone sold the cure for aging it was the techs who couldn’t produce it in time that would loose their jobs. The bloody sales guy would undoubtadly get a few mill in bonuses and move on to another similar job in another company where he knew equally little about their products and would care even less.
Inside she was furious and shaking, but on the outside she was calm and alert, projecting competence and carisma. It was this self mastery of expression that allowed her to succeed at a job she hated, to get on in a world stacked heavily against her. But it didn’t bring her happiness, didn’t get her that rich husband she dreamed of, or even enough dough to buy a damn car.
The train was slowing now, breaking hard, really damn hard. She slid forward on the seat, pressing almost intimately into big sweaty dude. What the hell? This never happened. She scrunched into the guy as the train breaked even harder, the breaks screaming, a high pitched screach that had half the passengers screaming.
Bump, bump, bump the carriage kilted to the right and shuddered to a halt. Stationary and in silence. All the passengers looked at each other, looked around the carriage, peered out the window. What the hell? The train was not stopped in the usual spot and there were people running all over the platform like headless chickens. It was only a matter of moments before the rumours started. What had happened? The train had come off the rails. The train had hit someone. The train had broken down. It was a bomb. A terrorist. A collision. No one really knew but with every passing moment the stories got wilder, the terror building among the passengers.
The Berry in her hand went dead. For the first time in living memory she was trapped in a box with no information sources, no access to the net, nothing to do but sit and wonder what had happened.
Being who she was she declined to speculate, allowing the swirling rumours to pass right by her and instead concentrate on observing. Watching both her fellow passengers and the people rushing about on the station.
That this was no ordinary occurence was quickly clear… the majority of people on the platforms were running away from the train, some of them were crying, some screaming, most just looked numb. All of them seemed to be content to be herded like sheep down into the lower level passages. The station personnel, and yes, she even saw a few police officers here and there, all of them looked bewildered and out of control.
Nonetheles a sort of order was slowly forming, with police moving towards the train and pretty much everyone else moving in the other direction. Not looking good. The guys in orange appeared to be errecting some sort of baricade between the train and any possible vantage point from outside the station. Something bad was going to happen, she was almost sure of it. Some of the other passengers had noticed too… she could feel the tension rising, any moment now it was going to erupt into panic.
Just as she thought it was about to go bang the doors hissed open and a uniformed officer stuck his head in.
In clipped millitary tones he announced “Everyone needs to leave the train in an orderly fashion. Look only forward. Do not look around. Do not look back. Once off the train move as quickly as possible to the exits.”. He didn’t exactly shout but his words filled the train, they brooked no argument and carried a weight of authority she could only dream of being able to achieve.
Almost as if they were swimming in treacle everyone looked around. Bewildered they began to gather their stuff. One by one they made their way from their seats, down the central isle, and out past the officer. As every person passed him he repeated the instruction. Like sheep they did exactly what they were told.
Most people were off now and she was begining to look suspicious by not moving so she picked up her shoulder bag and clutch purse and headed to the door. Again the officer repeated the instruction. But she was not cowed by authority and determined to understand what was going on looked around her as she stepped off the train.
It was gruesomely clear what had happened, bodies and body parts lay twisted and smeared between the train and the platform. More bodies were under the train. Steel girders and glass was littered about half way along. She was stunned. So many dead, so much blood. She glanced down to see her carriage was sitting on top of a large lump of concrete and one solitary headless man. He lay there twisted and still. So still. Unlike the scene further up he didn’t appear to be bleeding but somehow that only made it more chilling.
There was no time to see more, herded as she was by the furious guide. He nudged her, pushed her, shoved her even to the stairs. Giving a final heave he forced her off the platform and into the thronging crowd all confused and lost. Travelers in the middle of the journey, travelers unable to start the journey, gawkers, and beggers, all thrown together in the tight underpass. Coralled and marshaled but directionless and without information.
Somehow she found her way to the outside world. But what now? She was miles from her destination and hours from home with limited funds and a ‘net blackout.
Dazed she stumbled onto a footpath and wandered in approximately the direction of her original destination. Her mind was working like mud. Every thought was followed by a flash of that man. Headless. Still. Dead.
It could have been her. How could she live with that? Why go on? What was the point if everything could be snuffed out in an instant. Had he left loved ones? Had he died alone. Was he a happy man or miserable? Did he deserve what was coming to him or was it a cruel mistake?