Late Train

By Michael Pritchard, with commentary from Jess Phillips 

It happened to my niece, Sarah. She said she’d had to catch the late train because the boss kept them for a deep clean for Christmas. Well, when I was young there never was such a train – you didn’t stay out that late. And the state those girls get themselves into nowadays, no wonder there’s unsavory sorts prowling about.

They’d been going for about ten minutes when Sarah saw her. She didn’t see her get on – too busy fiddling with her phone, no doubt. She said she looked up and there she was, staring right back at her, and sat between two men. Her hair was slick, like oil, Sarah said. And eyes as black as buttons, no colour, no life.

Our Sarah’s always playing with her phone. That’s probably what she was doing when they took her from the street. Alone. Drunk. She was probably tottering away from some nightclub, head down, texting. In my day, it was hand written notes pushed into hands while mother wasn’t looking. Now it’s 24/7 texting, and photos, and, what is it? Sexting.

They’ve killed girls.

I wish she’d seen her board the train because then we’d know if they’d carried her. Those two men. Burly, Sarah said. Said they had shaved heads and one had a tattoo of a bird on his neck. A swallow, I said: jailbird. I daren’t think what they did with her before they got her on that train. What doorways they shoved her into. Where they put their hands. God knows, I can’t even think about it. And where were they taking her?

She said they sat squashed up either side of her and every time the train stopped the one with the tattoo would put his hand on her chest. (It was to stop her falling forwards but she didn’t know that at the time). Sarah said she couldn’t stop staring, that something seemed wrong. What do you mean, I said, and she said her skin was bluish – that the further they went, the bluer it got.

I told her she should’ve moved right away. But Sarah’s not got an eye for trouble. Why should she, she said? You should always think the unthinkable, I said, expect the worst, and if it keeps you from going out then so be it. Look at me, I’ve been doing fine these past ten years and I only ever get down the shop once a week. If you want to be sociable then be prepared to pay.

Anyway, the train stops and Sarah feels a hand on her shoulder – god bless him. She said she looked up and there was this man with a briefcase. She said his eyes were bulging. He was hissing, she said, from behind his teeth: off off off. She said he was clawing her shoulder like a crab, and just to get rid of the pain, she did what he told her. She got up and followed him off – she was still two stops from home.

She said they stood on the platform while he dialed a number. She looked up at him and his skin had gone grey, like he’d swallowed poison, she said. She said he opened his mouth and looked down at her. And then he spoke. He said: that woman on the train – and even I felt cold after this – he said: that woman sat between those two men, well I’m a doctor, and that woman was dead.

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