This is my responst to the latest prompt at Black Ship Books. Do let me know what you think of it!
You know those stories that begin, 'Once up on a time...' and are all about cursed princesses trapped in towers or beautiful girls living in poverty, all of them just waiting to be rescued by a handsome prince? Or maybe the prince is the focus but he's pretending to be poor, or the hero is already poor and has only his wits and the advice of a magic animal to help him.
Well, this story isn't any of those.
Our heroine is Amy, amazingly average Amy. Her face is not stunningly beautiful nor is she particularly talented. She is not a princess but she is no pauper, either. Her dull enough job gives her a decent enough living, has regular hours and gives her plenty of free time. She pays her bills, takes a holiday in the sun once a year with her girl friends and visits her mother about four times a year.
Amy's mother lives about two hours drive away – with a following wind and no traffic. But Amy never drives to her mother's house; she always gets the train. There is something magical about the train, even now with single carriages rather than compartments. When she was a child, there were still some trains in service that had compartments and she was fascinated by them, from turning the little handle of the compartment door to rushing inside so that she could claim an Amy-sized portion of the seat with its scratchy fabric.
Now, the carriages stretch away, row upon row of seats filled with sweating business people in suits, crying babies refusing to be comforted by weary parents, students pinned down by enormous backpacks trying to keep out of everybody's way. There is humanity in all its variety, making every train journey a trip into the unknown.
Amy is not waiting, or even hoping, for something extraordinary to happen because her life is just about as perfect as she can imagine.
And so now our story can really begin. Amy is standing on one of the platforms of Lime Street Station, waiting for the train company's cleaning staff to finish clearing out the rubbish of the last group of passengers. She is clutching her ticket and taking a mental inventory of everything in her suitcase; a fresh set of clothes for every day plus her pink hoodie in case it's cold and a couple of dressier tops so that she can take her mother out to dinner at least once, nightwear and slippers, make up bag, hairdryer and straighteners...
Her thoughts are interrupted by the guard signalling that everyone can get on board. She joins the ragged line of passengers as it begins to move along the platform, some people getting inside as soon as they reach the first door, others, including Amy, staying outside. The inside of the train is its own little world but she does not want to invade it too soon, bumping and banging her way along the aisles with her suitcase. Her ticket has a seat number printed on it; she can wait until she arrives at the right carriage.
Damn. Her new sling-backs are sitting in their box on her bed instead of in her suitcase. Oh, well, too late now.
Carriage D lies before her, its door open. It could be a door to a magical cave filled with fabulous treasure or it could be the door to the lair of a terrible monster; there is really only one way to find out. She pushes down the extendible handle of her pull-along suitcase and grabs the smaller handle on the side, then clambers up the rather high step.
Just to her right is the door into the carriage, which is operated by pressing a large green button. She misses the doors with handles that you had to turn and then, if the train was moving, rush through before they slammed shut. But it is so much easier to press a button when you have a bulky suitcase, and these doors hold themselves open. Beyond the door is a luggage rack on either side of the aisle. She stows her suitcase, double-checking that the little padlock is in place. Not that it would deter a really determined thief, she reflects, but it makes her feel a bit safer.
Now, the final leg of her journey before the magical beast whisks them all away; finding her seat and dealing with any trolls who have ignored the 'reserved' sign and sat in it. She has to negotiate a person rummaging in a holdall that is sticking out into the aisle whilst talking on their mobile phone and totally ignoring everything else, a small child lying across the aisle and playing with a toy train, and a teenager sprawled over two seats with their dirty trainers hanging over the end.
Seat B11 is mercifully unoccupied as is B12 next to it. She slips into her seat, glad that she is next to the window, and prepares to take possession of this small patch of territory – at least until she has to change trains. Shuffling off one's coat in a confined space is a skill that she has never quite mastered and she is very glad that her neighbour has not yet arrived.
The guard announces that the train is about to depart and the seat next to her is still empty; better and better. As the train begins to move, she feels the old, familiar thrill of the traveller. At the end of this journey is her childhood home, the place of smiles and laughter, skinned knees and kisses better, memory and story. But the journey is at least as important as the destination and she does not want to miss a moment.
She leans her head against the window, watching the old stone walls of the tunnel begin to pick up speed, feeling the energy of the train building as it gets into its stride. Suddenly they are out into bright sunshine, hurrying along between gardens and then between fields, cows and sheep barely bothering to lift their heads as the familiar monster rattles by.
But something is wrong. The train begins to jerk and stutter as if trying to twist itself away from reality. There are screams from another part of the carriage; angry, frightened voices all around. A guard appears and tries to make an announcement but the passengers shout him down, demanding answers that he could not give, even if they would listen.
They plunge into a tunnel at the same moment that the lights go out, and real terror takes over. But Amy stays in her seat, calm and certain. Something is coming. It has always been coming and she has always been waiting for it, she just never realised it before.
Suddenly, the tunnel and the train are flooded with brilliant light as if they were travelling through the heart of the sun. Strange shapes spin and whirl around her but still she is not afraid. Nothing here could ever scare her.
And now the train is slowing down and pulling in at a platform and she is climbing out of the train and a voice is saying to her, “Welcome home, Amy.”