Writing Prompt 2 (2011-09-03)

Looking out the lightly frosted window, the compartment’s occupants could just barely see the beautiful, dark autumn landscape blur past them as the train hurtled along towards its destination. On one side of the compartment, a young woman watched over a child playing with a model of the train they were in. Across from them sat a man who was too much tall for the room. While sitting, his knees practically rested against his chest. Balanced on both those knees was a, comparatively, small, well worn laptop. In the darkness, the screen provided an eerie combination of illumination and shadow across the man’s craggy face.

For the last two hours, the compartment had been quiet except for the clack-clack of the train and the constant clicking of the man’s keyboard. The young woman cleared her throat. While the child stopped playing with the toy and looked over at the young woman, the man continued typing, unabated.

The young woman cleared her throat again.

This time, the typing stopped as the man looked up over the top of his laptop screen looking like a ghoul peaking from behind a tombstone. The young woman was staring at the man and the man met her gaze, unblinkingly.

In a huff, she spat, ‘May I ask what you are doing at this time of night?’

‘Morning.’ he replied flatly.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I can’t be doing anything at this time of night, because its not night. Its morning.’

‘It most certainly is—the sun isn’t up yet.’

‘No, morning starts at dawn and dawn starts well before the sunrise; especially this far north.’

The young woman huffed again and shook her head. ‘Day, night, whatever—you missed the point of my question: may I ask what you are doing that is so important as to disturb both my and my child’s sleep?’

‘You may certainly ask.’ stated the man before returning to typing.

After a few moments, the woman scowled and asked, ‘Well?’

‘Well what?’ the man replied, never looking up from this laptop.

‘Are you going to answer my question?’

‘I thought I just did?’

For a third time, the young woman huffed and, in a well enunciated, and slightly loud voice, queried, ‘Why. Are. You. Disturbing. My. And. My. Child’s. Sleep.’

The man looked briefly at the child, who had restarted playing with the toy train, before returning his gaze to his computer screen. ‘I don’t seem to be disturbing your child’s sleep.’

As the man’s words left his lips, the young woman’s eyes narrowed and her lips tighten and curved downward. ‘You, sir, will either address my concerns in a strait forward manner, or I shall contact the conductor and have him confiscate you computer for the remainder of the trip.’

Upon seeing the man’s reaction to her words, the corner of the young woman’s lips slowly started to turn up. The man ceased to type and sighed. ‘Young lady, I am desperately seeking a cure for a malady that frequently afflicts those of my profession. I could not sleep even if I wished it.’

Just as quickly as the smile appeared on her lips, it did fade; as did the color drain from her cheeks, ‘I-I’m so sorry sir. I-I didn’t know that you-that you were suffering from illness. Is it…’ she leaned over towards the man and whispered, ‘…serious?’

The man’s face remained stoic as he flatly stated, ‘Quite. Potentially lethal.’

‘Lethal…’

‘Indeed. Especially if my editor’s claims are to be believed.’

As the young woman started to open her mouth, the entire train jerked suddenly and slowly grind to a halt. While both the young woman and her child were flung violently out of their seats, the too-big man managed to quickly brace his feet against the opposing seat. The man’s white knuckle grip kept his laptop from flying out of his hands, though one of his knee managed to add another dent in its metal case.

Once the train came to a stop, the man removed his feet from the opposing seat and the young lady helped her child back onto the bench. Within a few minutes, a conductor pushed open the doors to the compartment. Before the conductor could even say a word, the young woman barraged him with questions: ‘What has happened? Are we in any trouble? Is everything ok? Has anyone been hurt? Will we still make it to the station on time?’

The conductor smiled, nodded, and weather the young lady’s assault. ‘Everything will be fine. No one is in any trouble. No one on the train has come to harm. We should be ready to continue within the half hour and any delay in our arrival time should be minimal.’

The young lady let out a sigh and leaned back in her seat. When the conductor exited the compartment, the man followed. Once in the hall, the man leaned over to the conductor and asked, ‘What happened?’

The conductor looked back into the compartment at the young woman and child and closed the compartment door before answering, ‘Suicide. A young, local college student had laid on the tracks. The conductor didn’t seem him on the tracks until it was too late. In the dark you see. Such a tragedy.’

‘Yes, I see.’ the man replied flatly. ‘How do you know it was a suicide though?’

‘The sheriff said he had a piece of crumpled paper in his pocket. A suicide note. A real tragedy. According to the note, I’ve heard, the boy, apparently, was an english major at the local community college. He said he was having some sort of problem communicating the thoughts and ideas in his head to other people. A real shame. A real tragedy. I mean, we’re communicating right now. And he thought that no matter what he would do, he wouldn’t be able to create anything of any real meaning. He certainly won’t now. A real same. A real tragedy. It apparently bothered him so much he couldn’t stand to live and… well. Its a fucking tragedy.’

The man didn’t say anything as he reentered the compartment, though he bore a smile that looked like it would threaten to split his head wide open. The young woman looked at him curiously and asked, hesitatingly, ‘A-Are you feeling better?’ to which he replied, ‘My dear lady, I do believe my malaise has abated.’

The bright light of a laptop screen and the loud clacking of keyboard keys filled the compartment.

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