• Liza Stirlinglass

Diversion - A Christmas Story Part Five

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

Elaine couldn't help herself, it wasn’t everyday that life turned into a television drama. “Murder” she pronounced loudly. The word resounded through the carriage

“There’s been a murder? On the train?” gasped a woman two seats behind Elaine. The collective murmuring of the other passengers grew louder, like the droning of a swarm of bees. “Who? Was this why the train had stopped? It was that man in the next carriage, he looked like a spy.”

Elaine stood up and pointed to her phone, “No, sorry everyone, nothing to do with the train.” The other passengers looked at her expectantly, waiting for an explanation. She felt herself flushing, and ran a hand over her mop of dark curly hair.

She hated being the centre of attention, especially now. The break up with Gary had damaged her self esteem and serious comfort eating had piled on several unwanted pounds. Every time she saw a picture of the nubile blonde model Gary had replaced her with Elaine’s response was to reach for something sweet. It wouldn't be so bad if she could stop at one or two, but by December 4th, she had already devoured all the chocolates from two advent calendars and a box of Lindt on sale at Sainsbury’s. Her skin was a mess and she felt at odds with her new voluptuousness.

“Sorry everyone, I’m just talking to a friend.” She plumped back down into her seat, wishing she could disappear.

“What’s going on?” Mark asked.

“Oh the train I’m on, it stopped suddenly, but we don’t know why. And then I yelled murder. Well you heard right?”

“Yeah. I guess what I said gave you a fright.”

Elaine considered his words. Fright? No that hadn’t been it. But she couldn’t identify the feeling that had made her respond so dramatically.

“So where did the train stop?”

“Umm, I’m not sure, Ashcroft, just outside Tewkesbury possibly. It’s open countryside so it's hard to tell exactly where we are. Not that I can see anything now because of the snow.”

“We have snow here too. In some ways I’m hoping it’s like the dump of 1996. I was six when that happened. My dad and I built an igloo in the garden, it was such fun.”

“Where do you live?”

“Vancouver Island. In BC.”

“I’ve never been there, but I know it's supposed to be beautiful, I remember watching the Olympics from Vancouver.”

“Yeah, it really is.” His voice trailed off, he sounded sad.

“And your mum, what are you going to do?”

“I think I am going to have to call the police, it seems a bit dramatic, but if Lee’s there pretending he doesn't know her, then where the devil is she? And how come he’s out of jail. Don’t you guys give life for murder?”

“Sentences vary, life isn’t actually life, how long they stay in depends I think. I didn't tell you before, but my sister said she found him creepy.”

“Yeah, she’s right, there’s something off about him. Even when he was a kid, my mum told me he did horrible things. Hurt animals and set fire to the shed. He was always nicking things too. He babysat me once, when we came over, he’s about ten years older, he scared the life out of me. But the last time I saw him, before my aunt died, it was like, well it was like meeting, I dunno, just the way he spoke, acted. I was ten all over again.”

Elaine shivered. She was imagining the face Elaine had described, why had she sent Barbara there?

And as if mirroring her thoughts he said, “look, thanks Elaine, I’m sorry I asked you to help, but I had no idea that finding my mum’s number would involve Lee. I’ll get onto the police, see if they can find out what’s happened to mum.”

“Doesn't your mum have your number, maybe she’ll call you, or send an email or something?”

“No, that’s the other problem, my phone broke and for one reason or another I decided to change my number. My mum's old school, she doesn’t like computers, it took me forever to convince her to give up her landline and have the cell so we could stay in touch more easily. What a mess.”

“I hope the police can help. Let me know how it all goes.”

“Sure, thanks Elaine, you've been great.”

Elaine stared out of the window at her own reflection as he ended the call. She liked how easily they had fallen into conversation, despite the circumstances and was surprised, from their few short exchanges how much she had learned about him. Although he still knew little about her except that she had a sister and was stuck on a train, final destination, Newcastle.

Passenger speculation about what had happened seemed to have died away, the collective frustration of the passengers had muted them. Sighs and beeps from texts punctuated the silence of the carriage until the guard made a second announcement.

“A passenger has been taken ill in first class and the passcom has been activated. The passenger does not require medical attention. However due to the weather conditions this service will be unable to proceed without assistance. Help is on the way. Passengers are asked to remain in their seats and to observe social distancing measures.”

The young couple opposite Elaine looked concerned. The woman said something to him in her native tongue, she sounded frightened. Elaine wondered if they had understood any of the announcement. The young man leaned over towards her. His eyes darted from side to side as he spoke with a sense of foreboding urgency.

“Police are coming?”

“No,” Elaine shook her head, trying to reassure him with her tone. “Not the police I think. Someone, a passenger, is ill, the snow, it’s a problem.” He nodded, appearing to understand and turned to the girl, translating what Elaine had said.

The woman who had misunderstood Elaine’s conversation with Mark earlier spoke up. “Well if we're stuck here for a while, and anyone’s hungry, I have some mince pies. I made enough to feed an army. My grandkids just love them.”

“Sausage rolls here, not home made I’m afraid” came a voice from the other end of the carriage. And suddenly everyone started talking at once, opening packets of crisps and offering whatever they had, to share with each other.

“Socially distanced strangers on a train” laughed an older man, “Let’s just hope we aren’t in a Hitchcock remake.”

“Nah mate” replied one of the younger passengers. “It’s an out of space abduction by aliens, where’s Doctor Who when you need him.”

But it wasn’t Doctor Who they needed Elaine realised as the young couple stood up, suddenly. As the woman tried to scrabble out of her seat, a gush of water seeped through her dress. She looked mortified.

Join in on Zoom Friday 11th December for Part 6 and have your say in shaping the story:

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Meeting ID: 896 1968 6034

Passcode: Diversion

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