Short Stories

Update –

To the few of you who do check back in regularly for new stories, I am writing now not to entertain, but to apologize. I have not been writing many short stories lately, and instead of editing and finalizing either of the two finished books I now have, I have foolhardily dived head first into a third, as it seems I cannot focus on anything else but my latest idea. I am hoping to get it down on paper, and then I can return to writing and posting more short stories, and perhaps get one of my multiple novels out on the market. Stay patient, and until I get my sh*t together, keep reading my friends!

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The Colour Red –

Red

“If you could, for a moment, suspend all thought, and just picture, as vividly and brightly as you can, the colour red. Don’t think of any items specifically; I don’t want you to conjure up mental images of strawberries or Ferraris or bouquets of chrysanthemums fully in bloom; I just want you to think solely of the colour itself. After you have managed to accomplish this simple mental feat, next I want you to take the piece of paper in front of you and describe the colour red as best you can without actually using the word red.It should be so that someone who picks up your description and reads it knows what you are trying to describe.

“Many of you will resort to using words like bright, hot, passion; some will be tempted to use objects like I stated before; cherries, roses, lady bugs. What I think most of you will find is that there is no actual way to describe the colour itself. We can associate it to things that we have grown to know to be red, or even emotions like anger, or perhaps some of you will think of love. Of course, if I ask you to think of the blood currently running throughout your body, you will associate the blood as a red liquid, and if I cut you with a knife, it will indeed prove thusly. Since the collective inceptions of everyone in this room, we have all grown throughout our lives to believe matter-of-factly that we indeed do know what the colour red is.

“But let me ask you this; how do you actually know what red is? If you cannot describe it absolutely, does that make it non-existent? A mathematician or a physicist will be no better equipped than any layman to describe the true essence of a colour. Yes, perhaps a scientifically minded individual will describe it as a certain wavelength of light that hits the retina of your eye which causes your brain to interpret that as the colour in question. And yes, perhaps we can admit to some degree of certitude that it is reasonable to say that if the same wavelength of light hits a retina that is similar in structure amongst all human beings, then it is logical to deduce that we all see red the same way. However, this is no surety.

“If a language as complex as English leaves us grasping to describe such a simple element of life, how can we be certain that the human experience is any different? Perhaps when I see a red Ferrari drive past me on the street, I am interpreting red to be how the fellow next to me see’s blue. If he has learned that what he sees as my blue is red, then to him blue is red, even though to me it is blue and we will both call the Ferrari red. He has been raised to believe that strawberries and cherries and blood are all described as red things, and no matter how he sees it compared to me, for his particular human experience, blue is red, end of story. Or perhaps my counterpart interprets red as something completely different than I cannot conceive; his range of colours so different from mine, that to me, if I was able to glimpse his perspective, it would seem otherworldly, alien.

“Admittedly this can liberally be expanded to all manner of human experience. Our lives are the sum of 6 simple matters of interpretation; sight, smell, taste, sound, touch, and emotion. While we feel that there are commonalities between how we all understand these reactions, and science does give a good basis for suggesting that there are global commonalities tying the realities of these experiences together, there is no way to be certain that we all are living in the same world, or more conservatively, perceiving it in the same way. Perhaps we receive comfort from the ideology that we share human experiences, feelings, thoughts. The assumption that this is true makes us feel united to our fellow humans, part of a whole that is society.

“Much like our inability to describe a simple colour, you will find the difficulty extends when I ask you to describe the taste of barbeque sauce. You will use words like tangy or sweet or spicy, but there is no way to truly describe the actual essence of a taste. What you may interpret as spicy may in fact be how I taste sweet, but again if we have all been conditioned to call barbeque sauce tangy, despite the completely different experiences you and I have when eating it, we will both use the same words to describe it.

“What it all boils down to is the simple ideology that no two people are experiencing life in the same way, even when it comes down to the fundamental principles of the things we take for granted as simple and unchanging. And the ultimately troubling aspect of it is that there is no way to be certain one way or the other. Boldly, however, perhaps this viewpoint can be used to explain individuality. Two people raised in the same exact set of circumstances can turn out to be completely alternate individuals, and this is one aspect of existence that science is hard-pressed to explain. The nature versus nurture argument is a longwinded and inconclusive one, but perhaps it is more of a universe versus universe explanation, a red versus blue. Wittgenstein famously said, “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world”, but this ideology applies to much more than simply the combination of the alphabet. Even if we could perhaps truly describe the color red in specific and accurate terminology, it does not change the supposition that you see it much differently than I do. In that sense, is it really the language that is limiting, or is it human perception.

“To some, it is comforting to think that we are all in the same boat, smelling the same salty ocean air, feeling the same fresh splash of water on our faces as the breeze flows freely through our hair. I prefer to rock the boat, splash around a bit, and venture to have a bit more of an escapade than a smooth glide across tame waters, because at the end of the day, I don’t even know if I am really in a boat to begin with.”

He left the lecture hall several minutes later with his head swimming. As much as it sounded like the rantings of a teenage stoner who had been staring at his red soda can for a bit too long, admittedly it was a bit troubling to think about things in such a way. Absentmindedly, he took a swig of the lukewarm coffee clutched rather tightly in his left hand, and suddenly it tasted much more bitter than it had when it was fresh from the pot. Was it his mind altering his enjoyment after a rather intriguing class, or was it the simple fact that the coffee was now an hour and a half old and well past its prime drinkability? What makes iced coffee a desirable drink, but room temperature coffee rather appalling? Was it because society suggested iced coffee as acceptable which made it taste good, or is room-temperature coffee just gross? Regardless of the answer to iced versus room temp, he knew the rest of his day would be filled with similar ideocratic redundancies.

“Charles!”

A voice from behind him calling his name caused him to awaken from his reflective trance and turn towards the hailer. Immediately, he saw his friend Mohammad running down the tile-clad hallway towards him.

“Hey buddy,” his friend said, slightly wheezing after his quick spurt down the corridor. “That was quite the mind-bender, huh?”

“Yeah,” Charles said, managing a grin.

“Not really what I expected, but I guess it is philosophy class. My dad would flip if he heard that lecture; not much of the philosophical types my parents.”

Mo had always been a talker, almost to a fault, and Charles had felt that the last thing the guy needed was more topics of conversation to fill the air with. The two had never been overly close in high school, but when Mo had spotted Charles entering the lecture hall on their first day of University, he had clung to his side amongst the sea of anonymity.

The two continued down the hall towards the doors at the far end, the exit sign hanging above the doorway, its letters glowing red.

“What did you think of it all?” Mo asked after a few minutes of nonsensical rambling about red space aliens; the bridge from the lecture material to that point had been lost on Charles somewhere along the way.

“Umm, it was interesting, that’s for sure. Coupled with Professor Litwick’s lecture about the multiverse theory in physics class the other day, I don’t really know what to think.”

“I’m not taking physics,” Mo replied bluntly. “What’s the multiverse theory?”

Reluctantly, Charles began a simple explanation about the astrophysical creed which indicated that the universe is comprised of infinite realities, in which each and every possible outcome of every action is taking place concurrently, with each existence layered on top of the next. Admittedly, he was not nearly as adept at explaining it as Professor Litwick had been, but he felt as though he had gotten the point across. Once he had finished, there were several moments of silence during which he could tell Mo was processing the newly acquired information.

“Oh ok, I’ve seen TV shows that explain that,” Mo said finally. “I never knew it was an actual theory though. A bit like Doctor Who isn’t it? Or those episodes of Family Guy where Brian and Stewie get in the time machine.”

“Kinda’ hurts the brain too,” Charles muttered absentmindedly in response.

Rather quickly, however, Mo veered off on a new topic of conversation about his weekend plans and the amount of homework he had to accomplish, and Charles found himself wishing that he could change focus as easily as his friend. While Mo carried on about the paper he was writing for his psychology class, Charles found himself thinking about a universe where he was the talkative one, and Mo the quiet counterpart.

Eventually the two parted ways, and Charles sauntered lazily towards his one-bedroom apartment, his subconscious taking care of the one foot in front of the other business while his conscious self continued to ponder.

He arrived home twenty minutes later, stumbling haphazardly through the front door before grabbing a beer from the fridge and plopping himself down on the couch and staring out the glass balcony doors. It was a grey and cloudy afternoon, with little droplets of rain now beginning to splatter against the window. Was there a universe where it wasn’t cloud at this specific moment? How would that change anything?

As the night progressed, his mental ramblings did not cease. Rather, they seemed to continue to grow more and more profound; admittedly this was at the deduction of his own deliberations. He had graduated from how his individual choices of the night quite possibly all created a new path of existence, to pondering whether or not the universe even existed at all. As he sat on his couch, eating a frozen pizza for dinner partnered with a second beer, all he could say he knew to be real were the things that he could see with his own eyes. He had no way of proving that his philosophy professor, Mike Beringer, was actually alive and well somewhere out in the world, or that Professor Litwick was sitting behind his desk marking papers. As far as he could surmise, the second after he had walked out of the lecture hall and began talking to Mo, Professor Beringer and everyone and everything that he had left behind in the class room may have ceased to exist the second he was no longer there to perceive them.

It was indeed a rather ludicrous thought, and yes, he could pick up the phone and call his Professors, which would suggest that they did in fact exist and were out in the world living an existence individual from his. Alternatively though, the action of him picking up the phone and choosing to call a person perhaps brought them back into his realm of existence, and prior to the phone call they were nothingness.

After several hours of watching TV without a single bit of plot managing to engrain itself in his brain, he shut it off and climbed into bed, knowing that it would be a sleepless night. He had never been a person who suffered from depression, anxiety, or any type of mental illness, but his thoughts had led down a strangely darker path that he had intended, and he found that he was now in a place where he was questioning life in the first place. If there was an infinite amount of Charles’s in an infinite number of universes, why did this specific one matter at all? If you remove one grain of sand from a beach, it’s still a beach, and it is more or less unchanged.

The last time he managed a glance at his clock, it read 3:57am. What felt like mere minutes later, his alarm was buzzing loudly in his ear, signaling that he needed to get up for another school day. Feeling incredibly exhausted, he crawled out of bed, performing only the minimal essentials of his morning routine. It was Friday, and long ago he had decided to make the four-hour drive back to his hometown for the weekend; he just had to make it through the day.

It all went by incredibly slowly, and much like the night previous, he found much of the information lackadaisically delivered to him through an onslaught of unstimulating lecture did not registered in his mind whatsoever. Lunch came, and after an hour of sitting with Mo, who managed to do all the talking himself, Charles headed off to his next class. After an afternoon that much mirrored the unproductive morning, he finally looked up and saw the clock strike 3:45, symbolising the end of his school day. Instead of heading out the usual exit right next to his anthropology classroom, he turned the opposite direction, bound for Professor Beringer’s usual lecture hall.

He arrived to find a plethora of students filing out of the doors and waited for the last few stragglers to disappear before he peaked his head through the open doorway to find the teacher packing up his briefcase. Somewhat timidly, Charles entered the room, and made his way down to the large desk in the center of the large area. As he continued packing his bag, Professor Beringer glanced up at him and smiled.

“Excuse me Professor, I was hoping I could have a quick word,” he asked quietly. Luckily the room was very silent, save for the crinkling of the many papers the man was stuffing into his bag rather vehemently.

“You can’t be asking for an extension on the paper already, I’ve only just assigned it ten minutes ago,” Beringer chortled.

“No sir, I was in your philosophy 101 class yesterday afternoon. My name is Charles Wozniak.”

“Ah ok, how can I help Charles?” Beringer said with a smile.

“Well, I had some issues with the lesson yesterday. Not that I didn’t understand it mind you, but I really got me thinking and I just was hoping you could offer some…” he trailed off.

“Insight?” Beringer said after a moment.

“I suppose.” With that, Charles, almost uncontrollably, launched into the full breakdown of his thought process from the night previous, and how it had led him down a rather troublesome road. Much like it had been with Mo, he was not nearly as well-spoken and articulate as he would have liked to have been, but alas, he was already passed the point of no return. Despite the unease that was growing in his mind the more he rambled, the Professor simply sat there smiling, taking it all in with a calm expression of satisfaction on his face. Finally, Charles finished his synopsis of analysis, and a quiet air filled the lecture hall as the tutor seemed to be choosing his retort.

“Well Charles, I will start by saying that I am happy you grasped so much of my lecture, and that it seems to have stirred quite the myriad of ideas within you. A lot of students do nothing more than take notes and gawk at me with bored eyes, like I am teaching mathematics or something.”

They both chuckled in turn.

“Ultimately though, the conundrum you are currently facing is the fundamentalism that encompasses the study of philosophy. My class should cause you to question things, to study your surroundings, to want to know more about the universe, or should I say universes, in which we all live. The problem however, is that you most likely will never get answers to the questions you have. And I don’t know where you stand spiritually, but perhaps they are answers we are not meant to have.

“Quite bluntly, no, I won’t reveal more comforting lines of thought to settle the idea’s imposed in my opening lecture. Frankly, from here on out you will probably have more questions than you will get answers from my class, with a small amount of philosophical history thrown in there, which will require some actual answers come exam time. All I can say Charles, is that it’s up to you to decide what you think is real, what is not, and what even merits the attention that you are willing to give. One thing I have learned throughout my years, is that despite the complexity of it all, simplicity is the best approach. Surround yourself with happiness and a few good people, and the rest of it truly doesn’t matter.”

The look on Charles face must have given away that he felt no better than he had before. Beringer patted him on the back, picked up his briefcase and started heading for the door.

“Take the weekend and relax a bit Charles. You have a whole semester, hell, a whole life of contemplation left. For now, enjoy your time off while you can, before I assign your research paper next week.”

With that, the Professor walked out the door and left Charles standing on his own. Eventually he gathered himself and headed home as had been suggested. Without paying much attention, he packed his bag, threw it in the backseat of his car, and hit the freeway homeward bound.

The four-hour drive seemed to pass in no time at all, his mind still racing as he pulled into the driveway at his parent’s house. Neither his mom nor his dad were home upon his arrival, so he quickly dropped his bag in his room, splashed some water on his face, and climbed back into his car.

Ten minutes later, he parked in front of a different house, and made his way to the front door where he knocked instead of walking right in. A few moments passed before the door opened, and a beautiful girl with flowing red hair stood in its wake. Instantly a smile flashed across her face at the sight of him, and quickly she gave him a kiss on the lips and a tight hug.

“I’ve missed you so much! How’s school going babe?”

Despite the fact that over the last several hours Professors Beringer’s words had had next to no impact on Charles’s contemplations, suddenly it all seemed to make utter sense. A simple kiss, a warm embrace, and a person who makes you happy; that’s it. In that moment, it didn’t matter that she could have answered the door thirty seconds later, thereby creating a whole different timeline and sequence of events. It didn’t matter if the red color of her hair could be described using human or non-human language. It didn’t matter if the universe didn’t exist at all, and was simply a figment of imagination in some greater being’s dream. All that mattered, right then and seemingly for the rest of time, was her.

*Copyright © 2019 by CAPA Literature.

* Photo borrowed from https://www.lifewire.com/red-colors-in-design-1077455

The Final Stop –

* Make sure to start at the very beginning if you haven’t been following along. Start at the short story ‘Passengers’ to make sure you’re up to date! *

He had been in the country less than a week, having emigrated from Serbia in hopes of a better life. Currently he was living in a small bachelor apartment downtown, and he had just left a meeting at the Immigration office a few blocks from his residence. Although it was only a 1 stop ride, he decided to take the train, partially because it was bitter cold, and partially because everything was so new and exciting.

The station had been extremely busy, but he did not mind. It made him feel like he was part of the society, and it fit right in with the stereotypical idealisms he had formed about western life. He followed the lead of the crowd, and upon boarding he spotted an empty seat next to a young lady who had her head buried in a book. His English was not overly fluent, and when he motioned to ensure that the seat was not taken, she just looked at him plainly and said nothing. He wasn’t sure what to do, so he smiled at her warmly before sitting down, and she just turned back to her book without saying a word. It was fine; he only had 1 stop to go. He pulled out his wallet and looked over his newly minted citizenship card. It was perhaps his most sacred possession, and he looked at it regularly, so excited for the potential of his new life.

As soon as he arrived back home, he was going to call his parents in Serbia and tell them all about his first week in his new homeland. He knew they were already proud of them, and he wished he could bring them over as well, but they were simply too old and had little interest in leaving their home of 80 years. He missed his family so, but was sure that he would make new friends fairly quickly. As he peered out the window passed the entranced bookworm, he saw a little pizza joint tucked in between two office doors, and he decided he would stop at a similar place around the corner from his apartment and try the dish everyone in town raved about so adoringly. He had never had pizza before, and it would be a good way to celebrate his acceptance into the country.

1 stop to go, and he would be sitting at the phone talking to his parents with a good slice of pepperoni pizza in his hand. What a riveting evening it would be. Glancing out the window and day dreaming about fresh Italian pie, he saw a man walking out in the falling snow all bundled up in winter gear. He couldn’t make out many features of the person, but wondered why the fellow didn’t hop on the train like everyone else? It was gruesomely cold out, and one of the better things about western life was that when the temperature dropped below freezing and the wind had a sharp bite, unlike in Serbia, a person didn’t have to walk several miles in the elements just to get home. What a wonderful country this was. 1 stop and he would tell his family all about it.

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

***

Admittedly the cold was brutal, but half the reason he had taken the job at the downtown office was because it was a mere block away from his central condo. Besides, his winter gear kept him warm enough for the brief walk, and if not, the hug waiting for him at the other end would help get the blood flowing. Everything was great nowadays, and apart from the cold, snowy weather there was nothing to complain about. Genevieve was 6 months pregnant with their first baby, he had just gotten promoted, and the overall prospects of life were positive.

As we walked, he glanced at the train platform across the street and saw how busy it was. Most people looked cold and anxious to get home, and another thing he was happy about was that he no longer had to be trapped on the subway for an hour before and after work. None the less, he was in such a good mood he hoped that everyone on the platform would have a night equally as cozy as he had planned for himself and Genevieve.

The train screeched into the station, sparks shooting out from its metal wheels, and the people all filed inside as per routine. He could make out many faces staring out the window into the cold, none of them he knew at all. There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station. It roared down the track picking up speed as it went, signalling its entry into the intersection with a toot of its horn. The snow was falling rather heavily, and he averted his gaze from the train, now a bit further down the track, to look up at the grey clouds and darkening sky overhead.

Suddenly there was a loud bang, and he looked back down to see the train careening off the track and colliding with a nearby building in a cloud of dust and rubble. At the same time a large semi-truck rolled off in the other direction, the front hood of the vehicle crushed and warped extremely, and it came to a stop against an opposing concrete wall with a crunch. There were sparks flying everywhere from downed powerlines,  a cloud of smoke starting to emanate from somewhere in the wreckage, and the sound of grinding metal as the train continued further into the building with which it crashed, its momentum slowing gradually. Then, just as quickly as it had happened, the world around him returned to silence; nothing but the falling snowflakes and the angry wind.

Still in shock from what he had just witnessed, he instinctively pulled out his cellphone and immediately dialled 911. As he spoke with the dispatcher and ran towards the debris, he knew he would be giving Genevieve and extra-long hug tonight. Later on, as he listened to the news broadcast on which he was interviewed, he heard the collision inspector say that the semi-truck had been travelling at least double the speed limit on the downtown streets, and alcohol was suspected to be a factor. For him it solidified the fleeting delicacy of life in the most unsuspecting circumstance; even during something as simple as being a passenger on a train.

 

*Copyright © 2019 by CAPA Literature.

Stops 3 & 2 –

*Make sure to read previous posts first, starting with ‘Passengers’*

He had been taking the train home from school since he was barely old enough to brave it alone, but at least he had gotten a cellphone out of the deal. His parents had felt guilty enough when he played the potential kidnapping victim card, so after they stopped to get him an annual transit pass, they also swung by the phone store and let him pick out whichever one he wanted on their dime. So, when he walked onto the platform and saw the mass of people huddled in the cold, it made little difference to him, he was used to it.

When the subway pulled into the station, he moved gracefully along with the crowd, and after all the years he had managed to get the boarding and un-boarding process down to a science. He took up a spot standing in the middle of the isle, a concept which many people didn’t seem to comprehend, possibly because they felt uncomfortable standing with their groin at the same level as the seated peoples face. Most passengers always huddled by the doors, or fought for a seat, but very few every stood in the aisles. Today he did not care, for from the second he exited the big schoolhouse doors, his eyes had been glued to the screen of his IPhone.

Jessica Durrel had been texting him all day, and she was perhaps the prettiest girl in school, or at least he thought so. A couple weeks ago at the annual school ball he had mustered up the courage to ask her for a dance, admittedly on a dare from his buddy Justin, and now a young romance had seemingly sparked. Afterwards the two had shied away from each other for a few days, almost embarrassed by the constant harassment from their friends on both ends. But despite this, he was also slightly proud. Once the joviality and joking simmered down, the two began talking again at lunch, and shortly thereafter she had given him her phone number! It had been the best day of his life.

Obviously, he hadn’t told his parents about it yet, as they would have some awkward conversation about being too young or something like that, not to mention that he barely saw them anymore. They were both so busy working, he often spent his nights home alone eating frozen pizzas and Dorito’s for dinner. As a teenage boy he didn’t overly mind as it left him plenty of time for his Xbox and perusing the internet, but part of him yearned for a family connection on at least some level. It would be nice to go out and play catch with Dad and tell him all about his potential new girlfriend.

‘How’s the train ride handsome? :p,’ the text message read, and he couldn’t help but grin at his phone.

‘Would be better with you here :),’ he replied. It was corny, but what is young love if not clichéd. Her reply was almost instant.

‘When you get home lets Facetime k?’

3 more stops and then he could see her gorgeous face again and talk to her without the constant over watch from their friend groups.

He peaked up from his phone, not overly caring about anything else at the moment, but instantly his eyes caught sight of a woman sitting at the back end of the train. Her hair was long and blonde, the pant suit and blouse she wore tightly clung to her small frame. Her head was buried deep in a thick paperback, so he was safe to stare for a while. She was probably in her mid to late twenties, far older than he, but she was perhaps the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. As she turned the page in her book, she used her hand to lightly brush away the hair hanging in her face. He was mesmerized by her.

Suddenly his mind was filled with adolescent inappropriateness, which drifted into wondering what kind of lucky guy got to date a girl that looked like her. He imagined that she was probably going home to a financially independent, business owning millionaire who was rippled in muscle and afforded her only the nicest luxuries. Who else would be able to woo such a heart stopper?

The phone buzzing in his hand snapped him out of his daydream, and he looked down to see it was Jessica texting him back. Suddenly he felt slightly guilty, after all he somewhat was a tied down now. What would Jessica think if she caught him staring at some blonde twice his age? His slid his finger along the screen to unlock the phone, typed out his reply and soon his head was again filled with thoughts about his prospective sweetheart and how exciting it was that she actually seemed to like him back. Only 3 more blocks until they could chat face to face in private.

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

***

The train ride was honestly one of her favorite times of day. It was a period, no matter how brief, when she could keep to herself and get lost in the pages of her book. Reading was perhaps her favorite escape.

Admittedly she loved her job; working with literature was one of her dreams as far back as she could recall, and being an editor at Baumely Publishing House, one of the biggest publishers this side of the country, was an opportunity of a lifetime. However, there were some drawbacks as of late.

She never saw herself as overly attractive, she simply made an effort to stay fit and exercise, but apparently her male coworkers found her quite enthralling. This in itself was not an issue; being considered attractive is often a compliment, but it had affected her work from nearly the onset of her employment. Soon after submitting her first manuscript for consideration, she discovered that most of the men simply did not take her seriously. Jokes were often made at her expense that she should just marry some rich, well-to-do author and live off of his money. At first, she didn’t pay it much mind, but time and time again she would bring up a proposition and time and time again it would get passed over or rejected along with some sexist comment from the predominantly male board. It was infuriating.

On one certain occasion she had brought forward a particularly explicit romance novel that was admittedly very well written and she thought would be fairly successful after the whole ‘50 Shades of Grey’ movement. One of the executives made an incredibly suggestive remark about how someone who looks as good as she does obviously knows what a good sex book should be like, causing her to barge out of the room nearly in tears. The matter had been brought up to HR, but as the man had worked as a publisher for the company for over 25 years, nothing much was done about it aside from a formal, and albeit sloppily written apology letter.

This had pushed her to apply for several other jobs, but due to most of her projects getting rejected, she did not have much of a portfolio to present to any other publishing companies. Depression soon followed, and now she was simply filling her days reading and writing in her office since there seemed to be little point to producing any actual work.

Her nights were spent doing much the same, where at least in the cozy confines of her apartment she felt safe and unjudged. 2 blocks and she would be home, able to whip up a batch of hot chocolate to melt away the cold bitterness of the day, and curl up in bed with the book currently in her hand. Once upon a time her happy place was in her big city office at the high end literary publishing job of her dreams, but now it was the comfort of her home absorbed in a literary universe that withdrew her from the sexism and discrimination of the real.

She quickly looked up at the man who had taken up the seat next to her. He was good looking, dressed comfortably in casual clothes and his hair tucked under a warm hat. He smiled at her as he sat, and she immediately typecast him as a macho patriarch much like the assholes with whom she worked. It was an assumption, but the smile seemed to say ‘I could have you if I wanted because I am a man and you are a woman.’ Without reciprocation, she returned to her book and continued reading. 2 more blocks.

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

* Copyright © 2019 by CAPA Literature.

5 Stops & 4 Stops –

*Make sure to read previous posts first, starting with ‘Passengers’*

He hated being in the bag. If she would keep it empty and he could have the whole thing to himself it would not be such an issue, but she always threw all sorts of crap in there alongside him which made it very uncomfortable and hard to stand. The walk to the station however had been very cold, and admittedly it was nice to be able to duck down into the bag and stay slightly warmer.

The large shiny beast came barging out of nowhere, and he had been quite frightened for it was much larger than he and very loud. Suddenly he had to pee, but he knew that he could not do it in the bag or else she would be very upset with him; he had learned that the hard way. As per routine however she brought him inside the silver monster, and at least he knew this meant they were probably going home. Many other humans also climbed aboard, and over the years he came to feel that if this many humans all willingly entered the beast, it must be safe enough.

The doors soon closed behind them, and he knew that they would need to open and close 5 more times before it would be their turn to dismount, and then they would be home. All he wanted was to crawl under his blanket on his bed after eating a heaping bowl of food, and fall fast asleep. The kennel was fun, as he got to play alongside many other dogs, and some of them he had come to regard as friends. Otis and Jack were his favorite, but Fido, Steve the French Bulldog, and all the rest were a fun bunch as well. If only he weren’t so small he would be able to play more vehemently with them, but there was not much he could do about that. All the rambunctiousness did make him awfully tired though.

He held his head higher outside the bag’s opening, and scanned his surroundings to see if there were any other dogs around. Making new friends was such fun! In the air he could smell the lingering musk of bacon, although it was unclear where it was coming from. Immediately he noticed a strange little human across from him staring weirdly in his direction. She looked nice, but she was no dog. Suddenly his nose itched horrendously, and he used his tongue as a tool to relieve it. Man, did he have to pee! Hopefully in 5 stops she would take him out of the bag so that he could raise his leg on a tree, although it was probably still going to be awful cold out.

Bacon! He caught a whiff of it again, and realized that the scent was emanating from the human directly beside them, although he didn’t appear to be eating anything. Perhaps he had eaten bacon earlier in the day and the smell had simply stuck to him. Darn, that meant no bacon right now.

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

***

He hated taking the train home, but unfortunately the butcher shop which he owned seemed to be hemorrhaging money and he had to sell his car to stay afloat. Apparently less and less people were interested in buying fresh meat from a local butcher, and more and more were turning to the large grocery store deli’s out in the suburbs.

The store had been in his family for generations, and he had fond memories of his dad teaching him how to properly cut roasts, steaks, shanks, and all the rest of the tricks of the trade. He was proud of what his family had built, and felt honored when his father had left him the business upon his death, but nowadays it was more of a stressor than a gift. Gina and he had talked about selling the store and finding some other type of employ, but he could not bring himself to do it. He wanted to keep the shop in the family so that one day he too could pass it on to his son, Joey.

It had been another quite day with only the 4 regular customers coming in for small amounts of meat for their dinners. Weekends in the summer were busier albeit, but in the cold midst of the winter season very often the business did not break even, and admittedly he was depressed. He felt lost and didn’t know what to do. Years ago, before the recession had hit, the shop had been doing so well that he had considered opening a second location in the north end of the city. He would give anything to be back in those days.

He was not much in the mood to deal with people, and upon boarding the train he grabbed a seat immediately, hoping to brew alone in his own misery. But with all the passengers clambering aboard that was too much to ask, and an elder Asian woman with a large handbag plopped down beside him. A small dog’s head popped out of her bag, and for reasons unbeknownst to even himself he was immediately annoyed. Who puts a dog in a bag?!

The feeling of his phone buzzing in his pocket startled him, and he pulled it out seeing that there was a new text message displayed on the screen. It was from his wife, asking what time he was going to be home. With the financial strain from the failing business, he had been forced to lay off all the staff, meaning that he now worked long days and saw his family less and less frequently. As a result, he had begun closing the shop earlier, not that it made much difference. After 6:00pm, it seemed they never had a single customer walk through the door, so there was no point in him sticking around hoping ignorantly.

He wanted to ride in peace and didn’t feel like texting back and forth with Gina for the entire voyage, so he left the text message alone and returned his phone to the interior pocket of his jacket. Inside he also felt the package of bacon he was bringing home for dinner. Since the meat was not selling, he often brought home soon-to-be expired cuts for dinner so that at least it wouldn’t go to waste.

Gazing out the window, he tried to think of something else. If he could at least spend the 4 stops on the train not focussed on financial durability, it would be like a mini mental vacation which he very much needed. But as he looked outside and saw the snow beginning to fall, he couldn’t help but think that tomorrow would be even less fruitful than today as the snow usually meant even less customers. He couldn’t even enjoy the short 4 stop ride because even the weather stressed him out.

Turning his attention away from the elements, he saw a young teenage boy standing in the centre isle of the train. He had on a black backpack that looked to be overflowing, and was bundled up tightly in an orange winter jacket and black snow pants. His head was buried in the screen of his phone, and he seemed to be paying no mind to anything that was going on around him. He was probably absorbed in some video game or YouTube video after spending a whole day being force-fed ideologies about corporate responsibility and how big business was good for the economy at school. His clothes looked expensive, and the phone he was staring into was the newest model IPhone which didn’t come cheaply either. The boy looked like he belonged to a family who definitely did not shop at their local butcher or support local business.

He found his blood boiling over a story he had made up in his head about this boy, and suddenly he felt guilt amongst his frustration. Never had he been an angry or negative man, but this is what it had come to. Now, he just wanted to be home so that he could embrace his wife and own boy, and attempt to be happy about that at the very least. Inevitably Gina would ask him how the day was and he would be brought back to the fiscal negativity of his situation, but maybe there would be one single moment of bliss in there somewhere. 4 more stops, that’s all the time he had to change his mood so he could at least act copacetic for his family.

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

* Copyright © 2019 by CAPA Literature.

6 Stops –

*Make sure you check out the previous few posts, starting with ‘Passengers’, before reading this.*

It had been an interesting day. Mom had taken her downtown to see the doctor, which she hated. The doctor usually meant needles, gross tasting medicine, and he always asked her lots of questions which she didn’t like. But at least she got to ride the train!

It was very busy at the station, and at first, all the people made her nervous. She looked up at her mother as she grabbed onto her leg tightly, and Mom smiled down at her.

“It’s okay sweetie, just stay with me.”

All the people were so tall that when the train came roaring up to the platform she couldn’t even see it, which made her sad. But when the doors opened and she climbed aboard, the sorrow passed, and immediately her imagination took flight as they nabbed a seat by the window. Mom had promised her ice cream on the way home, which was also rousing, but she hoped the 6 stops didn’t go by too fast. It was not often she got to ride the train and she wanted the adventure to last a long time.

As she peered around, she wondered what all these people were doing on the train. Maybe they were all wizards and witches, and the train was actually going to carry them all to Hogwarts, just like in Harry Potter! Or perhaps they were all singers and dancers and were soon to break out in song and dance just like in a Disney Movie! Surely it must be something like that, there was simply too many of them on this train for it not to be possible. Most of them looked pretty boring however, in their grown-up clothes, all staring at their phones or computers just like Dad. As the doors closed, she began to think maybe it wouldn’t happen, but then she came up with some new exhilarating ideology.

She noticed a funny looking man with a big beard staring at her, but she didn’t really care. Maybe he was an actual wizard even if all these other people weren’t. Wizards always have beards after all. Then she noticed an older lady, who looked like she was maybe 20 to 30 years old, sitting across from her. At first there was nothing magical about her, but then suddenly out of nowhere, a head popped out of the large purse she had sat upon her lap. The head was furry, with a cute little tongue sticking out of its mouth as it glanced around curiously. Mom had told her the name for these types of dogs before; they were always small and shook a lot, Chihuahuas or something like that.

Her imagination took off again, and she began to wonder if the dog was truly just seated in a bag, or if the moment he ducked his head out of sight, he really entered into a whole other magical world contained within the purse. Quite badly she wanted to go to this fantasy world and play alongside the cute little canine.

As she stared at the tiny pup, his tongue began licking away at nothing, and it reminded her that soon she would be feasting on a huge ice cream cone as per her mother’s assurance. Only 6 more stops and she could pick out whatever flavor she wanted!

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

* Copyright © 2019 by CAPA Literature.

7 Stops –

*Make sure you check out the previous few posts, starting with ‘Passengers’, before reading this.*

He could smell himself, and that mere fact made him ashamed. The platform was full of everyday people dressed in their nice work apparel heading to their nice warm homes from their well-paying jobs. And here he was, the only homeless guy in the crowd, smelling up the place and making everyone uncomfortable.

Once upon a time he had been like the rest of them, having a job, a house, and a beautiful family. Now all his worldly possessions were contained in the small shopping cart that he pulled behind him everywhere. When his wife and children were killed on the July long weekend all those years ago, his life had been turned upside down, and nothing seemed worthwhile anymore. Eventually his depression got so bad that he had lost everything, and turned to the warm embrace of Jack Daniels to comfort himself. He both despised and pitied himself for it, and knew the decision had been his alone, and not once did he blame anyone else for his current position. The only question that ragged on his subconscious all these years was why he had chosen to work over that weekend instead of heading out of town with his beautiful family. At least then they would be together now.

Several years he had spent living on the streets, doing any means of work to survive. He had been on the list through Social Services for 3 years now, awaiting assistance with a job and housing. He had become very disciplined and strict with himself, and a small point of pride he now held was that he had not had a drink in those 3 years.

Then, yesterday while on the phone with his Social Advocate, he had learned that his chance at redemption had arrived. There was an opening at a group home that would help him land a simple job, which could be the first step at recovering some of the distant remnants of his old life. All he had to do was meet with the board members today at 6:00pm and convince them that he was worth a shot. He had not been this nervous in years, and there was nothing he had wanted more in distant or recent memory. Not to say that he was over the death of his family by any means, but at least nowadays he felt at peace with it and stood a better chance of reintegrating with society.

As the train arrived in the station, he boarded the car along with everyone else, the wide berth left around him obviously apparent. The feeling of outcast and disgust overwhelmed him, but he only had to go 7 stops. 7 stops and his life could change for the better, and he would no longer be the pariah on the train. Shuffling through the sliding door, he took up a spot standing at the very end of the car. There were seats available as he entered, but he knew it would make people uncomfortable if he sat by them so he left them vacant for the people in suits and business attire; the people who wouldn’t even draw a curios glance from others.

Scanning his surroundings, he noted the great variety of people on the train. There was the usual business crowd who all looked the same to him nowadays; garbed in their suits with shiny shoes and expensive bags. There was an older lady further down the car who was smiling away, tightly grasping the handrail, and he felt bad as not a single person offered her a seat. Had he been seated, he would have offered it to her instantly.

Then, several rows down on his left, some people caught his attention. It was a young mother travelling with her daughter, who could be no more than 4 or 5 years old. The mom was nothing extraordinary and melded in with the rest of the populace on the train. But the little girl, with her bright red hair done up in two ponytails, her overly puffy blue winter jacket, and look of wonderment and excitement on her face as she peered around the train, reminded him strongly of his Isabelle. She had red hair much the same as this girl, and always bore a similar expression of curiosity and awe when she would experience something new. It made him sad, nostalgic of the days long passed, but also gave him a sense of purpose and motivation, and aroused his excitement for the upcoming meeting. For several years he was incredibly depressed at the thought of how Isabelle would feel if she could only see her father and how low he had sunken, but now he finally had a chance to make her proud again. 7 more stops and he could change everything.

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

8 Stops –

*Make sure to check out the last post, ‘Passengers’, before reading this continuation!*

As she descended to stairs onto the platform, she saw the myriad of people awaiting the train and immediately she was overwhelmed. There was so many of them that it was hard to comprehend that they would even all fit onto the train. Unfortunately, she didn’t have much choice.

She took up a spot at the back of the crowd, and waited patiently as the cars pulled into the station. Soon she was being carried along by the wave of people, and although she would have readily waited for a less busy train, the mass of people pouring through the doors around and behind her didn’t leave her much option short of being trampled. As she entered the car, immediately she saw there were no seats left. Her knees and back hurt from the walk to the station, but not being the type brave enough to ask for a seat, she stood timidly by the door and grasped tightly to the metal handle. Her son, Dereck, had been killed on a train just like this some 28 years ago; stabbed to death in a mugging gone awry. Ever since then she had a terrible fear of riding the train alone, even during the busy rush hour in broad daylight.

Nervously, she smiled at the people around her, not wanting to make anyone mad or upset about the fact that she was blocking the door. For 28 years she had managed to avoid taking the train, but now that her husband of 60 years, Fred, was in the hospital, she had no choice. She was not comfortable driving nowadays, and he had been her chauffeur whenever she needed something from the store or wanted to meet her friends for coffee. She couldn’t bear going a day without visiting him, but with the hospital being so far away she had no choice but to take the train.

8 stops, that’s all she had to go. Walking that far was not an option, and although standing while the train lurched along the track would not be easy, it would be worth it to see her Freddy at the other end. Despite this, she was still uncomfortable simply being there. In front of her there was a younger gentleman in a suit, but he appeared lost in thought. Although it would have been good manners for him to offer up his seat, she did not overly mind. In a way, the look on his face somewhat reminded her of Derrick.

She scanned further down the length of the train car and saw a man that caused her great stress. He appeared to be a homeless man, his clothes tattered, dirty and torn, and he had behind him a small cart full of miscellaneous garbage and belongings. His hair was frazzled, the beard hanging from his chin long and unkempt. There was no doubt in her mind that he probably abused drugs and alcohol, much like the man who had stabbed Dereck over his wallet all those years ago.

The homeless male was across the car from her and there was a great deal of other passengers between them, yet still he bothered her, causing her grip on the pole to tighten even more. If only Fred were there to protect her and make her feel alright. Life had not been easy since losing Dereck; he was their only son and his death put a great strain on Fred and her. The mere thought of losing Fred now gave her heart palpitations. At least in 8 stops she would be able to see his smile, hear his voice, and hold his hand. Tonight, she would stay as long as she could with him at the hospital, both because she missed Fred terribly and because she dreaded the train ride back to an empty house.

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

9 Stops –

*Make sure to check out the last post, ‘Passengers’, before reading this continuation!*

When the train had loudly come to a halt, the doors ended up right in front of her. She was the third person who managed to push herself through the door, and quickly she took up a spot on the opposite side of the car from the entry. The music in her headphones blasted away in an attempt to distract her, but honestly, she was so out of it she wasn’t even paying attention to the song that was playing. It was almost a subconscious form of habit to put the headphones on as she proceeded up the steps to the train station, and today was no exception to that; a product of muscle memory.

She knew ultimately that she had no reason to complain, as many people were far worse off than her. At the end of the day there was a roof over her head, food on her table, and she was gainfully employed. That being said, she didn’t know how much longer she could carry on like this.

The monotony and mundanity of being a clerical data clerk brought with it a plague of depression that struck her hard in the face every time she walked into the office. When she had been young and free spirited, the dream had always been to be in a band, or work as a producer, or even be the secretary at a label company; as long as it had to do with music she would have been happy. But as the disease of adulthood onset, and the harsh realities of financial and literal responsibilities became apparent, music became less of an option and soon she was sitting behind a desk under florescent lighting punching in numbers on a spreadsheet.

As time passed she did her best to keep up the youthful energy she once had, and thankfully her boss had no issues with the plug earrings or the tattoo on her neck. Short of dawning a turtle neck sweater or an obscene amount of makeup, there was really no way to cover it up, but it was a decision she did not regret at all. At times she would stand fully naked in front of the mirror at home and gaze at the tattoo of the ferocious tiger that crept along her body, the tip of its mangled tail ending along her neckline. It was a symbol of a time when she had been happy, when she had been naive and blissful to the ways of the world, when she still had dreams.

Now she was trapped in a metal tube with hundreds of other drones proceeding home from their equally commonplace jobs, and the thought crossed her mind that there was no point to carry on this way anymore. She was bound for her empty bachelor suite apartment, where she would inevitably succumb to a deeper depression as soon as she collapsed through the door, and would fall asleep watching Netflix as she did every night. Someone else would be there to crunch the numbers the next day at Longings Consulting Ltd., and it would make no difference if she didn’t show up. The only music she was involved in anymore was the racket blasting through her headphones, and she was too preoccupied to even listen to it.

Looking up, she noticed the man sitting across from her staring in her direction, and he averted his gaze as she turned to him. He looked rich, his clothes fancy and expensive in appearance, although the expression on his face was desolate. She assumed he was probably a man who had everything he wanted but was never happy enough with what he had, and that all he cared about was money and numbers. Immediately she found him uninteresting, and stared out the window at the other people still attempting to shove their way through the train doors. An elderly lady caught her attention, wearing a puffy purple and green jacket, knitted mitts, and a thin beige head wrap. By the time the old lady managed to board the train, there were no seats available and she was forced to stand by the doorway grasping a metal pole.

The young man in the blue suit did not budge, let alone offer his seat, but still the old lady standing beside him smiled away at nothing, not bothered at all. She had probably lived a good fulfilling life, and was now enjoying retirement, off to dinner in the suburbs with her grandchildren.

There was brief silence as the song on her headphones changed, and in that moment, she was jealous of the old lady. Life was assumedly simpler at that age, and suddenly she felt that if she just fought through it, perhaps one day she too could be a smiling grandmother content with nothingness. Then the realization came that in 9 stops, an apartment full of nothingness was all that awaited her. She hoped the 9 stops would pass slowly.

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

Passengers –

For this next one, I am choosing to release it a little differently. Instead of giving you guys the whole thing at once, I am going to put out one piece week by week until the full thing is done, so make sure you keep checking in. Enjoy!

Subway

“Next train arriving. Please stand clear of the yellow line!”

The automated female voice caught the attention of the crowd, causing most to look up from their many books, phone screens, and tablets down the track to confirm the validity of the recent announcement. Sure enough, a series of lights became visible as the vehicle rounded the bend, bound for the platform on which they were all eagerly awaiting its arrival. It was a bitter cold day, and it was obvious that many of the patrons were keen to get into the warmth.

The train came screeching into the station alongside the concrete platform, eventually coming to rest right in front of the many waiting potential passengers as the snow began to fall from the grey, cloud covered heavens above. There was an audible beeping sound as the doors all opened simultaneously, and the people, slowly but surely, made their way onto the 5 silver train cars. Once everyone was clear of the entryways, there was a repetition of the earlier beeping as the doors closed, and the robotic female voice updated the passengers as to the unchanging route they all travelled every day.

“Next stop, City Hall station.”

***

He had taken up the first available seat as soon as he had entered the freshly opened train doors, as after the day he had had, he couldn’t bear the thought of standing for the next 10 stops. The day had been long, and quite frankly he was doing everything he could to fight back the tears. Wouldn’t that be a sight? A grown man crying on the jam-packed subway train for all to see during the rush hour mayhem.

His suit was elegantly tailored, the fabric dark blue with black cross-stitching and complimenting brown Italian leather shoes and belt. His bag was Gucci, and it was stuffed full of all his personal belongings. Up until now, he had thought his job at ‘Wells, Jameson, and Hendrick: Attorneys at Law’ had been secure. He had been there over three years and everything seemed copacetic. Granted, somewhere in his subconscious he knew that his work ethic had slowed a tad since he was first employed fresh out of law school, but that was the norm as people get comfortable at work, wasn’t it? So he had thought.

With the job, he had acquired a bigger house, a nicer car, and many other luxuries afforded to lawyers who worked for the most reputable office in town. He had plans to propose to Dianne in the near future, and his overall life prospects had looked good. When Senior Partner John Wells called him into his large glass office which overlooked the river from the 67thfloor of Finance Place Plaza at precisely 15 minutes before the end of the day, everything changed.

As he sat there on the red plastic bench on the train, clutching his Gucci bag, he felt a fool as he glanced around at the other passengers. They probably all saw him in his expensive attire, the Tag Heuer watch clinging to his wrist, and assumed that he was important and authoritative and stable. But now, he was just an unemployed loser whose life was suddenly in shambles. The tears welled in his eyes as he stared down at his shoes, trying his hardest to not make eye contact with anyone. As soon as he would burst through the front door of his condo he would break down on the floor, this much he knew already. For now, he had to keep it together so that at least he had his dignity amongst the masses.

Bravely he looked up and noted the young lady sitting across from him. Her hair was up in a ponytail, presumably to show off the large pink spacer-earrings that she had in both lobes. The remnants of a tattoo could be seen creeping up the right side of her neck under her collared shirt. She had large Bose headphones sat atop her head, with the cord running down into her computer bag which she held in front of her. Her apparel was not in any way unprofessional, but it was definitely on the more casual end of the spectrum. Awkwardly he stared at her awhile, before she turned and he darted his head away to avoid being caught glaring.

She probably had a good job at some hipster, up-and-coming start-up company, where she could make her own hours, bring her dog to work, and ate out at a different food truck for every lunch. Her house would be a studio loft style apartment, decorated with all sorts of pop culture memorabilia and a large record player on the coffee table with a wooden shelf of various albums across from it. She would drink Pabst Blue Ribbon after work with her faux-lumberjack boyfriend, who probably also had some antiquated yet well-paying job at some other local company, and they would spend their weekends riding board-walk bikes along the river, eating odd flavours of handcrafted ice-cream, and sampling local craft beers. He found himself being jealous of her, and again he felt like crying.

‘10 more stops,’ he told himself internally. ‘That’s all you have to last.”

There was a lurch, and the train started to depart the station.

* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.

* Picture borrowed from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_Subway_rolling_stock