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Short Story: Destination Death

Adele Cosgrove-Bray is a writer, poet and artist who lives on the Wirral Peninsula in England.

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About the Story

This short 500-word story was inspired by a train journey. Only some of the following tale is true...

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Destination Death

“I was in the SAS.” The thin man shot a conspiratorial wink then tugged open the collar of his fleece jacket to flash an enamel badge.

I paid it only fleeting attention, and replied with a non-committal, “Hmm”. I pretended to study the station posters, reasoning that top secret military personnel would be unlikely to reveal their involvement to a total stranger on a crowded train.

Total Stranger

“I'm an instructor with the RAF now.” He pointed to another badge, this one on his peaked cap. “So you're with an official. You're safe.”

“Good to know.” I looked along the carriage for another seat but even standing room was fast disappearing.

“I've bought some glue.”

I wondered if he was a sniffer.

His blue-veined hands struggled with the zip on the backpack clamped between his knees and he pulled out a small pot. “I had to travel all the way here to buy it. It's special.”

It was PVA. I replied with a disinterested smile and looked pointedly out of the grime-smeared window as the train shuddered into motion.

“It's for my station.” His rictus grin exposed dark gaps between his remaining teeth. Clearly his military salary didn't stretch to dentistry. “I put a cat inside it, a crouching cat holding a mouse by the fire. To see it, you have to look through the window. That's my unique touch, my signature. Sixteen point five gauge.”

Unique Touch

"Ah,” I said. “Model trains.”

As I gazed at the backs of passing houses, he described his miniature engine in great detail. I did nothing to encourage him. He was sitting directly opposite me but I ignored him to the point of rudeness as his conversation rolled on as steadily as the train. He asked me nothing, happy to talk non-stop about himself. Maybe he was lonely. I didn't give a damn.

Yes, that's harsh. You probably like me less now. That's okay.

I gazed across harvested fields now, loving the luminous edges of cumulus clouds crushed bumper to bumper along the scalped horizon. I wished he'd shut up, or at least direct his chatter to others sat nearby. Why pick me? I'm supposed to be invisible, just another middle-aged woman on the homeward bound commute. I had the uniform: the flat shoes, the sombre clothes, the dog-eared handbag.

You probably think I'm boring, you with such fancy things and shining hair. Is that how you snared him, with a loop of sparkling beads baited with red-greased smiles? My husband said you have cleaners in to keep your elegant home pristine. He said he and you and your expected baby will enjoy it together.

Snared with Smiles

“My stop's next,” said the thin man. He rose and dragged one strap of his backpack over a stooped shoulder. “Nice to meet you.”

I offered another bored, “Hmm.” I'm glad he's going.

I'll be at your house soon. It won't take long. I've been practising with the knife. My treacherous husband will find your pristine white carpets stained crimson.

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© 2022 Adele Cosgrove-Bray

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