Empty Pockets and Desperation – an original short story

This is a short story submitted to the 2015 One Throne Magazine contest. The first and last sentence (italicized) were provided by the magazine. You were given 24 hours to write a story of up to 1000 words.


Empty Pockets and Desperation

by T. K. Jones

They laid the train tracks back to front and this caused a great deal of confusion – you’d think you were on the train to New York and arrived in Kinshasa, or to Shanghai and found yourself lost in Istanbul. You couldn’t even tell your family or friends you’d be back in a few days. Would you? How could you know? Or that’s what I heard anyway. But I thought it was some new and ridiculous urban legend. The news wasn’t talking about people that hopped on the train and went missing. If this was the case, why weren’t people avoiding the trains? Many still rode them and didn’t appear the least bit apprehensive. I soon forgot the stories. Lost in my own work of fiction.

A year later, after I heard the rumors about space bending trains and oddly placed tracks, I hopped on a train in Boston to get to New York for an important meeting with Tom, my new literary agent. All those people are in fancy pants New York City with their angular haircuts and shiny skyscrapers. I had a manuscript to sell and a desperate need for money. Meaning I couldn’t afford a plane ticket plus cab fare, let alone round trip, in case the deal fell through. And I couldn’t drive there because my car was in such bad shape that it wouldn’t last the five hour drive to New York.

This was my first time on the trains heading out-of-state. I had a whole seating area to myself. There were only three others in my train car. As the train sped forward on the tracks, I saw the cityscape of Boston turn into a glittering rainbow blur. I couldn’t make a thing out. We must have been travelling very fast. And in just a short time, the train slowed down in a snowy landscape. It wasn’t New York.

The dreary train station had signs in Cyrillic. It might as well have been Chinese. I couldn’t read any of it. I ended up in Vladivostok according to the Russian-accented voice over the intercom. Impossible! But apparently true. I saw the weary, snow-slapped Eurasian faces all around me. Staring at me in my insufficient suit. I ran for a phone and managed after many failed attempts to call Tom in Manhattan.

“Tom, I’m in Siberia! I don’t know how I got here,” I practically whimpered into the phone. I really didn’t have a way to get back home. I had no significant amount of money on me. Not even a credit card. I left home with it but it must have been stolen by a pickpocket, somewhere en route.

“How could you not know?” Tom was upset. I could hear the editor curtly excuse herself from his office. She had other engagements and didn’t appreciate having her time wasted.

“Please, explain this to her!” I begged him.

“Explain what? Were you gonna fly here or drive or what?” Tom asked.

“No,” I closed my eyes to picture what happened. “I went on the train to New York. But somehow I ended up in Siberia!”

“Did you get off the train and end up on an airplane?” Tom sounded skeptical.

“No! I’m on the platform. The train’s still sitting right here.”

Tom sighed and shook his head. “Okay, well that deal fell through but there are other publishers out there. So tell me again what your stories about.” Tom represented many clients and hadn’t the vaguest memory of my story.

On the phone I described to him the premise of the story. It was about a man who hopped a train to get to another city, only he ended up in a completely different country!

Just then, I wondered why I couldn’t simply call Tom the way I was doing right now, only from home. He said the publishers and editors wanted to see and interact with the writer to see if they could sell them to the public. I told him I didn’t think that was a very fair way to do business, prejudicial in fact. He told me to save it. He wasn’t in the mood. And that’s just the way publishing is.

After a brief pause, Tom let out a strange sound that jarred me. I nearly dropped the receiver. “Do you realize what powers you have?”

“Powers? No, I’m feeling pretty powerless actually.” A crushing wave of fatigue momentarily drowned out the fear and anxiety I was suffering.

“Your story came true. Do you know what that means?”

I’d never heard Tom sound so excited. It perked me up right away. “Tell me!”

“You can write yourself back here!” Tom laughed hysterically. He was laughing at the absurdity of it all. His cackling made it sound as if he’d lost his mind. After catching his breath he added, “Write another story where you get your crazy butt over here.” Tom burst out into an uncontrollable laughter again.

I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not but it seemed to make sense. Why not? I had nothing else I could do. On the back of my manuscript pages I wrote a new story in pencil. Scribbling frantically. Only I didn’t write the character into New York. I wrote him back to Boston. Back where he began. There was no way I could sit still in Tom’s office and sell my story after a day like this.

I marked the last sentence with a bold period. And with that I found myself stepping off the train, not remembering that I had stepped back onto it in the first place. The sky was a charcoal gray and the air sagged with rain. A loud clap of thunder made me jump. I turned to face the train. The strange, impossible train. Or maybe it was the tracks that were strange. I looked down. Rain dripping from the rusty gutters made a curtain between the platform and the tracks.

Copyright © 2015 T. K. Jones. All Rights Reserved.

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