Friday, 30 September 2011

Friday Flash Fiction - Train Station Nation

Someone must have flipped a track switch incorrectly by accident. A passenger train roared past at full speed, filled with commuters, half of them confused at the unfamiliar turn their morning route had taken, the other half gawking at the secret shanty town. Time to move on, and quickly. The denizens knew the drill, though many of them had not been part of a move-along before. They gathered grime-faced children, rolled up tents and sleeping mats, packed their camping stoves and other meagre belongings into duffel bags and backpacks. In twenty minutes they were mobile, ready to hike down the tunnels to find another station on a different abandoned train line.

Amil didn't want to let anyone know, but this had been the last abandoned station he'd known of. The last resort, and now it was suddenly exposed. It doesn't happen often, the exposure, but forgotten train stations happened even more rarely. Today the train schedule changes so that fewer services go to this or that station. A while later, services start bypassing the station entirely. The train drivers stop noticing the tracks going off to the left at that one point into a dark tunnel. The station is locked up, the lights turned off, and eventually the streetside entrances are paved over. Nobody even remembers there used to be a station there, except certain doddering archivists and intrepid urban spelunkers. Amil had grown up in the underground, and had scouted for abandoned stations in his youth. Now he had nowhere to lead his people.

They set off down a tunnel even Amil had not seen before. That was a good sign, at least. It angled down and around in a wide helix, and Amil lost track of how far they had come. The train tracks ended at a palatial underground station, older than any Amil had ever seen, art-deco styling, the roof twelve metres overhead, gilded columns and platform signs hand-written in looping calligraphy on carved wood. Chandelliers hanging down and ticket booths without glass or bars. No turnstyles anywhere. The whole floor caked with dust. The mayors of the displaced micronations began staking out territory. New Chinatown. New Little Italy. Nouvelle-France. New Home. The Train Station Nation, modern cave-dwellers with their own laws and their own borders, run out of their own city by racial violence in the war. We may be safe here for a month or a year, thought Amil to himself, but this life is not sustainable. Sooner or later, they'd run out of places to hide, and then could only hope that the world outside would be ready to accept them when they re-emerge into the daylight.

Amil stood back a bit and took a head count, then counted again to make sure. They were missing four. Asking around, Amil found that it was four Russian youths, and that nobody had seen them since the train passed. Amil wrapped his threadbare grey cloak around himself, explained his mission to the elders, and set off in search of the four boys, back up the dim tunnel, along some more familiar tracks, and cautiously to the surface streets.

What he saw there was shocking. From the tales of his father, he expected rubble, dust, violence and fire. Instead, the streets were clean, people were driving cars, eating in open-air restaurants, walking dogs down the street. There was no war, at least, not any more. There was no danger on the surface at all. Amil gaped at it all, unable to take it in. Passing people began to give strange looks to the soot-covered man in the grey coat, and Amil made himself scarce, retreating to the familiar darkness of the subway. When he caught his breath, Amil wondered what to do. What could he do? The youths would not be coming back, he was sure, but what could he tell the others? After a long while, Amil decided it was best the others not know. They had a life below the world, and a nice new station that would be safe for a long time. This was their place. Their home. This, Amil reassured himself, was where he and they belonged.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - I have a weird fondness for forgotten places.
PPS - And I like the idea that a whole city could forget about a whole train station.

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