[Writing Prompt] Journeys

steam train
photo by K. J. Duffy

I’m reading an autobiography written in the 1830s — when steam travel was the new big thing. The author (a mother of small children) just gave a vivid and opinionated account of a trip she took from Philadelphia to Baltimore. With very few words she conjoured the layout of the carriages and the hot, smoky atmosphere inside — heated as it was by a coal-fired, iron stove in the middle of the carriage (no health and safety, clean air regulations in the 1830s!). She told an amusing story of an encounter with a fellow passenger, while she was at it. I feel like I was ON the train with her.

The Prompt

Tell The Story Of A Journey

Use any transportation technology you can dream up, but include details to allow us to see, feel and perhaps even choke on the atmosphere.

Don’t forget to make something happen, and then resolve it (or leave it unresolved).

Give us a character we can root for (or against).

4 thoughts on “[Writing Prompt] Journeys”

    1. Nicely drawn characters and situation, Shannon.

      I felt like you were hinting that there was something extra-special about Tod. I think it would really punch up the story if you wove some suspense about him through the story and perhaps a ‘reveal’ at the end. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Twilight Zone recently, but maybe he could do something supernatural on the last leg of their flight to prove himself? Or maybe something less ‘out there’…Either way, well done!

  1. This is the longer version of a short story I wrote. I thought it needed more.

    The Stranger on the Train

    Margaret thought it might be fun to take the train to Boston. Driving with Brian was a nightmare because they always had to stop at every rest area along the way, and flying was just impossible. They had to get to the airport two hours before the flight these days, go through security, then sit through the flight. It was short enough, but always crowded, and Brian would inevitably squirm and kick at the seat in front of him. He wanted his juice; he wanted food. He wanted distractions. By the end of each flight, she wanted to lock him in the bathroom and run. The train, she thought might be easier, but now it seemed like an ordeal. Brian bounced in his window seat though there was little enough to see in the dark. He made faces at himself and stuck out his tongue. He made clacking noises that matched the sounds of the train rushing over the rails. She wished she had given him some Benedryl, but she never knew whether it would knock him out or rev him up. After New York, it would be easier. Less crowded. The air would be less thick with the smell of other bodies.
    “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mo–”
    “What is it, Brian?”
    “Look! There’s a man with a purple tie!” He pointed across the aisle to the slim, blond man in the gray suit who indeed wore a bright purple tie. He didn’t glance up when Brian pointed him out, though he must have heard his voice. He was youngish. Thirties, Margaret thought.
    “Yes, Brian. There’s a man with a purple tie. Keep your voice down.” Sometimes Margaret wished she could wear earphones when she was with Brian. He can’t help it, she told herself.
    “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom–”
    “Yes, Brian?”
    “The man with the purple tie has an iPad.”
    “I can see that, dear.”
    Brian shifted and squirmed. Thank goodness the train wasn’t completely packed. Two seats up, a woman in a black suit pulled out a pair of headphones, slipped them into her ears and plugged them into her computer. She shot Margaret a look–something between pity and impatience. An older man in a raincoat scowled and turned the page of his book with an impatient flip. The train whistle sounded, and Brain put his hands over his ears.
    “OOOOOOOOOOOO,” he howled.
    Several people turned to look.
    Margaret searched through her bag for her phone. Brian could play a computer game or two on it. She didn’t want to drag out the computer, but if he kept it up, she would.
    “Newark.” The word crackled over the intercom.
    “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom! Is this our stop?”
    “No, dear. We’re going on to Boston.”
    She handed him her phone and dug out a pair of headphones. He played in relative quiet through the Newark stop, but once the train started up, he grew bored.
    “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, M–”
    “What, Brian?” A headache began to form between her eyes. They had at least six hours to go, depending on the layover in New York. Thank God, she could give him his medication in an hour.
    “The man with the purple tie looks like the guy from TV.”
    Margaret watched the man glance over at them then look back at his iPad. Her cheeks grew hot. This might be some celebrity, and here was Brian making a fuss. “Brian, please stop talking about that man. He might get offended. He might think you’re a rude little boy.”
    “He’s the one who cuts throats.” Brian’s voice was loud and clear.
    “Brian! That’s a terrible thing to say.”
    “It’s true. I saw it on–”
    “Brian, I don’t want to hear any more,” Margaret said. “You’re behaving very badly. I may have to tell Grandmom and Granddad.”
    Brian gave her a mutinous look, but he looked down at the phone and started to play a zombie game. He muttered something Margaret couldn’t understand. Chilled, she rubbed her hands together. She needed this week in Boston badly. If she could just find a better job and be closer to her parents, life would be so much easier. Ken’s child support barely covered her expenses, and he didn’t want to deal with Brian now that he had a new life.
    “New York.” The intercom wheezed.
    She watched the man in the purple tie stand and place his iPad in a sleeve. He slipped on a black trench coat and started to exit before turning back to them. When he leaned over and smiled, Margaret thought his teeth were very white, and his eyes were such a light blue, they seemed almost silver. A sweep of his blond hair fell over his forehead. Definitely a model, Margaret thought, or an actor.
    Brian said, “I know you from T.V.”
    “Do you?” he said in a voice just above a whisper. “Are you sure? Listen to your mother, Brian. You never know who people are. Sometimes they’re nice, just people riding on a train, but sometimes they like to stick sharp objects into soft little necks.”
    He straightened and walked to the door, his step jaunty. Margaret’s heart thundered in her chest; when she looked at Brian his mouth hung open. She wanted to call the conductor, but the man had melted into the crowd at Penn Station before she could make a sound come out.
    Brian was quiet all the way to Boston.

    1. OO, deliciously creepy. I think you’re right: this feels just the right length now.

      I love that you left it open at the end. Was he an actor? Was he crazy? Was he a nice man trying to help Margaret out?

      And oh, I really sympathized with Margaret. As a mother of two small boys may I just add that you made that part of the story horrifically real 🙂

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