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The Tick Tock Train

by dogs


Jeremy opened his tired eyes to disorienting white light. They immediately burned from the sudden light and he squeezed them shut. After a few moments, he slowly opened his eyelids to dancing red dots as the shimmering light dimmed and revealed a small train station. The white walls stretched on endlessly as Jeremy set his cold feet on the marble floor, the overhanging lights bouncing jauntily off the blank ground. Looking up from his feet, their lie a small dip and a pair of railroad tracks winding into forever in each direction. Standing up from the plastic bench that Jeremy was sitting on, he looked around to note that he was completely alone in this temple of light. His hand went to his coat pocket to find his phone, but only to realize that he was wearing a spotless snowy robe instead of his usual trench coat and undershirt.

I certainly didn’t put this one before bed… he thought to himself as he continued exploring his new clothes. His inner monologue was interrupted by the clanking footsteps from a pair of large boots, Jeremy turned to face the new comer but only to forget that the plastic bench behind him. Tumbling forward and struggling to keep his robe on, Jeremy landed chin first at the boots of a tall man. He wore large leather black boots that stretched up to his knees, his dress pants stuffed lazily into his boots and held up by a thin fraying belt. Just above his waist he wore a cleanly tucked in white dress shirt, hiding under his black suit and tie. The man smiled graciously as he lent a hand and heaved Jeremy to his feet.

“Sir I’m… I’m terribly sorry, but I’m not sure where I am” Jeremy asked, smiling tentatively. The man beamed a large smile, revealing a set or pristine teeth.

“Yes, few people do. But you must ask yourself, it a question of where you are? Or where you are going?” he stared at Jeremy with his large brown eyes. “Ticket please.” He stuck his open hand out towards Jeremy.

“Is this a dream?”

“Dreams are really a matter of perspective of whether it’s fantasy or reality. Perhaps this ‘dream’ is more real than you think. It certainly isn’t any less real than your supposed reality.” A moment of silence passed. “Ticket please, the train will be boarding momentarily.”

“But there isn’t any train here.”

“There will be soon, in just about…” The man rolled up his suit sleeve to reveal seven or eight watches attached to his wrist and stretching up to his arm. “About a freckle past forever. Now for the last time, may I please have your ticket sir.”

Jeremy looked down at his milky robe, “I don’t have one.” The man laughed heartily, his silky voice jouncing across the endless light.

“Of course you do, it’s in your right breast pocket.” Jeremy reached across his robe to the pocket, and sure enough, he found a small silvery paper that read: “Boarding ticket. One way trip to get to the other side…” Jeremy didn’t finish reading because the man snatched it out of his hands and started reading fervently.

“Hmmm, interesting turn of events. Usually I get older folk… But lets see.” The man started reading the ticket aloud. “Jeremy Bloom. 5’ 9”, 37 years of age. Brown hair, blue eyes. Married to a Delilah Bloom for three years” The man’s fingers drummed across the back of the card before turning to Jeremy. “Certainly an unfortunate choice in women you have.”

“I beg your pardon!”

“Oh… did I say that aloud? My condolences. Tick tock.”

“Now I know this is a dream.”

“Just as much as a dream as the other fantasy you were living. Who are you to define what is real and what isn’t. Tell me, do you remember what was happening before you got here?”

Jeremy opened his mouth, but slowly closed it as he furrowed his brow in thought. “It’s all a little fuzzy… but I do know I was getting to bed early because it was a Monday night, Delilah was out late at work. I… I think I was sleeping, and then I remember a door. Yes yes, the door opened and someone walked in… and than that’s it. I woke up here.” The man pursed his lips, and checked his watches.

“Tick tick tock, and you don’t remember anything? No pain, no screams, no nothing?” Jeremy shook his head. “That’s always nice, pleasantly peaceful I like to call it.”

Jeremy ignored his comment, “So then… what is this place?”

“Why, it’s the lingering. Your first stop of where to go next, sometimes I feel like people are so caught up in what’s happening to them in the moment, that they’re ignorant to the ticking of what’ll happen next. What can people do when they live in such a world of fools as where you came from?” The man looked up at Jeremy, letting another moment slip through the time and sail like dust flittering in the air. “You do realize you’ve been shot, don’t you?”

“I’m sorry?” Jeremy panicked for a moment patting his chest for any gaping holes, leaking precious blood.

“Right on your forehead in fact. Just above your left eye.” Jeremy’s hand felt feverishly over his forehand and stopped when it reached the small gaping hole. His crusty skin flaking away around the hole, no blood or pain. Just blank gap, filled with the silver shards of a bullet. Jeremy licked his lips, his hand trembling, “wh-... what happened?”

“Well, to state the evident you were shot. Your wife developed a recent addiction to gambling along with an obsession of embarking upon sexual intercourse with a certain Sam Lebony, hence why she’s been so late from supposed working. Getting into debt, she needed the money from your will and you out of the way to pursue her Sam. Came home with a gun, tick and tock, a shot and you’re here. Thus why you’re choice in women is quite vacuous.” The man let out a broad smile and checked his wrist with no watches. “Good heavens we’re running short on time, a freckle past a hair already!”

Jeremy melodically rubbed his hollow cranny. His voice quivering faintly “So… So than… am I dead?”

“He can be taught. Now we have a firm grip of the obvious.”

“So, what do I do now?” Jeremy said, looking at the man helplessly.

“You decide where to go from here, your ticket will take you to the other side.” The man took out a single hole puncher, perforating a clock face into the right corner with a single “Click.” He offered the ticket back to Jeremy. “I suppose you could wallow in self pity like some people instead of looking ahead, but I do suggest taking the train.”

“Where will the train take me?”

“Onward, forward, progression, through the light. You could call it the city of the dead. If you don’t want to take the train you could try to hitch hike back to the land of the living. But in my opinion, that always ends poorly. Nearly impossible to do, and your loved ones seeing your walking corpse doesn’t exactly put you in the most positive light. Haha, Tick tock.”

“And if I stay here?” Jeremy asked. The man clicked his tongue and grinned, shaking his head he pointed to a sign plastered to the ivory wall. It read: “No Loitering”

“Rules are rules, terribly sorry.” The man said as Jeremy sat down at the plastic bench, distressed.

Jeremy paused for a moment, his hands gripping to his ticket like it was a lifeline. “What’s it like?”

“Pardon?”

“What’s it like? The city of the dead?” Jeremy looked up at the man.

“Well, you know I’m not entirely sure. I’ve never been myself. Someone has to stamp the tickets you know,” he gave his hole puncher a couple clicks. “Really quite tranquil being me. Ticking and tocking, Staying in one place, never having to worry about what to do, or where to go next.”

“Well, how do you deal with it? Being... well being dead. You are dead right?” Jeremy asked, his hands shaking slightly.

“Me? Well, I suppose legally speaking I am dead, according to paper and documents that is. Technically… well perhaps we could save that conversation for another day” the man let loose an ebullient smile, taking out a pocket watch from his breast pocket. “Tickidy Tock, goodness gracious, you best make up your mind soon Mr. Bloom, it’s already a quarter past never. The train will be arriving momentarily.”

Jeremy laced his fingers anxiously, “but how do you deal with it..? There has to be something you can tell me. Something coherent and fruitful!”

“Well no need to get snippy sir, I suppose the best advice I can give is that death is really an issue of mind over matter.” The man stepped into the dip and stood on top of the railroad tracks. “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” The man’s arms stretched forward as he placed them on Jeremy’s shoulders, heaving him up to his feet once again. The entire station began to roar as a large, milky, plastic train came rumbling down the tracks.

The man let go of Jeremy’s shoulders, who looked down with trepidation at the man. The man giggled gaily before saying “tick tock” as he liberated one last jovial smile before the train crashed into him. His body immediately disintegrating into white smoke that were engulfed by the vapors seeping from the train as it screeched to a slow stop. The doors opened and Jeremy drummed his fingers mellifluously against his robe for a moment. He looked down at his ticket and took a deep breath as he slowly stepped into the colorless locomotive. Closing his eyes and listening to the “whoosh” of the doors closing behind him, the train groaned forward.

P.S: Ok so this is pretty much the first half way decent short story I have ever written, but I need help on it. What am I missing and what can I correct? Short stories are certainly not my forte and there are something that I really want to get better at. I except all comments and criticisms :). Thank you for reading everyone! (also sorry for the weird tab spacing, I'm not sure how to fix that...).


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Tue Feb 12, 2013 4:20 am
Trident wrote a review...



Hi dogs! Here returning the favor for all the lovely time you have spent on my stuff. Here we go:

Jeremy opened his tired eyes to disorienting white light. They immediately burned from the sudden light and he squeezed them shut. After a few moments, he slowly opened his eyelids to dancing red dots as the shimmering light dimmed and revealed a small train station.


All right, we have a scene that starts with eyes opening, which is acceptable, but it is done a lot so there needs to be something exciting and new about it. Unfortunately there is not here. I find it best when adjectives aren't always used right before the nouns they modify; there needs to be a mixture to keep the flow. Also, to keep things interesting, we need characterization right away or it get boring! Example, taking the above:

When Jeremy opened his eyes, tired and worn, he was disoriented from a white beam of light shining in his face. His eyes burned and he squeezed them shut. He counted back from ten, a habit he had formed when he was surrounded by darkness and needed his pupils to adjust. Only this time it was the light he would need to adjust to.

He slowly opened his eyes and blinked. Dancing red dots shimmered in the light and dimmed, revealing a small train station.


What we have here is a mixture of adjectives that have been spaced out properly so that the flow is not as stunted. And I have added something, a small piece of his personality to get us through the description. All suggestions of course.

The white walls stretched on endlessly as Jeremy set his cold feet on the marble floor, the overhanging lights bouncing jauntily off the blank ground. Looking up from his feet, their lie a small dip and a pair of railroad tracks winding into forever in each direction. Standing up from the plastic bench that Jeremy was sitting on, he looked around to note that he was completely alone in this temple of light.


Okay again this is extremely adjective heavy. If you try to slip it in there so that we don't notice it, that makes it all the more noticeable.

In the first sentence, we don't know of any white walls, so "the" is not appropriate in your description. And that sentence is an odd combination of events. They don't go together.

White walls stretched on endlessly around him as he lay on a short plastic bench. A series of lights overhanging the tracks (?) bounced jauntily off the ground. His feet were cold, but he stepped onto the marble floor gently. Looking ahead, he saw a small dip and a pair of railroad tracks winding into the distance, on infinitely as far as he knew. Jeremy was alone in this temple of light.


Okay so what we have done here is introduce the bench right away (vital), otherwise we were just floating there until you later referred to it. If lights are overhanging, they need to be overhanging something. I didn't know, so I guessed. So that was very unclear.

I'm really not going to rewrite all of this, I just wanted to show you how you can space out your adjectives a little better to achieve the maximum flow. Plus always try to interject his personality if he is a part of the scene. I did that literally just by using the word "but" in the third sentence. It makes him seem like a determined person just by using that three letter word.

His inner monologue was interrupted by the clanking footsteps from a pair of large boots, Jeremy turned to face the new comer but only to forget that the plastic bench behind him. Tumbling forward and struggling to keep his robe on, Jeremy landed chin first at the boots of a tall man.


Oh, goodness this is all self-referential. You don't want to break that third wall by mentioning an "inner monologue". The piece shouldn't refer to itself unless you intentionally (and most always ironically) want it to. Also, we don't need to be told that he forgot about the bench behind him; we automatically suspect that as soon as he trips over it.

boots of a tall man. He wore large leather black boots that stretched up to his knees, his dress pants stuffed lazily into his boots


Boots, boots, boots. I think you know what needs to be fixed here.

Just above his waist he wore a cleanly tucked in white dress shirt, hiding under his black suit and tie. The man smiled graciously as he lent a hand and heaved Jeremy to his feet.


Again this is all so crammed in there and it really disrupts the flow. And I think we understand that a shirt is going to be above the waist.

The man beamed a large smile, revealing a set or pristine teeth.


Unnecessary.

Dreams are really a matter of perspective of whether it’s fantasy or reality.


This doesn't quite compute for me. I know what you are saying, but the words themselves don't make sense.

The man rolled up his suit sleeve to reveal seven or a set of eight fine watches attached to his wrist and stretching up to his arm. “About a freckle past forever. Now for the last time, may I please have your ticket sir.”


Haha, I loved this! No need to be ambiguous as the narrator is stating the facts. If this description were coming from Jeremy it would be fine, but it wasn't.

“Boarding ticket. One way trip to get to the other side--"

The man snatched it out of his hands and started reading fervently.


There we go.

“Just as much as a dream as the other fantasy you were living. Who are you to define what is real and what isn’t. Tell me, do you remember what was happening before you got here?”


No need to keep reinforcing that. It HANGS over the man's treatment of Jeremy.

Jeremy opened his mouth, but slowly closed it as he furrowed his brow in thought. “It’s all a little fuzzy… but I do know I was getting to bed early because it was a Monday night, Delilah was out late at work. I… I think I was sleeping, and then I remember a door. Yes yes, the door opened and someone walked in… and than that’s it. I woke up here. The man pursed his lips, and checked his watches.


I get that the man needs to be bored by Jeremy's story, but he could show it after one or two sentences of this snoozefest instead of making us read the whole series of boring events. It might even characterize the man as even more goofily impatient if he stops Jeremy after one or two small details.

Well, to state the evident you were shot. Your wife developed a recent addiction to gambling along with an obsession of embarking upon sexual intercourse with a certain Sam Lebony, hence why she’s been so late from supposed working. Getting into debt, she needed the money from your will and you out of the way to pursue her Sam.


This is boring exposition in dialog form. I think this is a good idea where subtlety and mystery can really keep everything suspenseful. Perhaps we can keep his wife out of it until the end? And then subtly hint she might be behind his murder.

Jeremy melodically rubbed his hollow cranny.


Oh my goodness, just a little bit too much. ;) "Cranny" doesn't fit here at all. The only way I could see this fitting is if the (odd) man says something like it: "And there you are melodically rubbing your hollow cranny!"

Onward, forward, progression, through the light.[/quote

Ooh I really liked this.

The man clicked his tongue and grinned, shaking his head he pointed to a sign plastered to the ivory wall. It read: “No Loitering”


Haha funny. Something is off about the first sentence though.

the man let loose an ebullient smile


Maybe a bit much?

“If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”


:D

His body immediately disintegrating into white smoke that were engulfed by the vapors seeping from the train as it screeched to a slow stop.


This is phrased weirdly and the adverb there is unnecessary.

Overall thoughts and impressions

Okay great! I liked the setting and the characters immensely. The plot perhaps needs a bit of work. I think we can surmise that Jeremy likely wouldn't want to go back to the world he was living because his wife betrayed him. So what is it exactly that is keeping him questioning the man about going back to the real world? What we need is a reason for him to want to go back.

My suggestion is to keep the detail of his wife's betrayal from Jeremy (and us), until the very last moment, and that is when he decides to get on the train. Loving his wife was like the last thing he had going for him and without that he is willing to board the train and go to the afterlife.

Otherwise, great work! Your dialog is tight in most places and is the star of the piece. Definitely message me if you have any questions about any of this or about anything I didn't mention!




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Mon Feb 11, 2013 8:36 am
ela00051u says...



love it if i were you id end it here.




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Mon Feb 11, 2013 6:17 am
joshuapaul wrote a review...



Hmm, not bad.

Lucky for you, Short stories are my Forte, that's not to say I'm any good at crafting them. But let's take a look at what you have here.

I am going to ask a few things of you.
What did you want to achieve with this?
Did you have a plan when you started writing this?
Have you seen this story or a variation of this story without any significant alternative themes or ideas?
What inspired this?

I don't want to be harsh because your word choice, your style -- in fact the writing itself is reasonably tight. My only major issue is with the cliche narrative. It's so worn and hackneyed that I became annoyed not with the puddle deep character but with the fact that you had not deviated away from the mold of the premise.

This notion of limbo and the train station after-life pastiche has been done so many times in this exact manner it was at times painful to see it played out like this. Think the final Harry Potter, think the five people you meet in heaven, think every bad eighties movie (namely Bill and Teds Bogus adventure) where someone dies and is resuscitated or is shipped off to heaven/hell and they must pass through this room.

What did you want to express? Short stories must provide some insight into people, into cause and effect, into personal relations if they are to generate any reaction from readers. The biggest problem with this piece is it only managed to annoy and evoked no other response from me and I don't believe you set out to achieve that.

If you want to run with the dark humor/satire thing, you still need to satisfy the one criteria asked of you as a short story writer, you need to touch upon a theme or provide a piece of insight you possess that others may react to.

The only way a Short story stands up with out incorporating an overarching theme is if it is hilarious. Quite frankly it's not, it has humorous moments but it wasn't funny enough to stand up as a comical piece.

If this was inspired by a dream or an anecdote and you didn't have any sort of plan when you began writing it, think about it some more. Think about what this piece says about society, rework the gambling, spousal rift, perhaps. Or make the protagonist more relatable by rewriting his reaction to death and his wifes affair as a genuine one. Make us care. Make him say something of significance. The gate keepers role in this story is well written and important but even as an omnipresent being, he still fails to strike a chord within me.

Perhaps its the nihilist in me, but personally I would make the man feel suicidal about his wife's deceit. Put a spot light on what desperation and depression really means, some men are overwhelmed in this world but are too proud/don't want to let down their kids etc to end their life and they feel trapped. I've pitched that one over the plate... he want's to end it all but he can't because he is dead and have the gate keeper explain that life and perhaps death are journeys to take alone, every encounter is fleeting in the scheme of things and you enter the world and depart it alone and so on.

If you want to know how to fix this... print it out, put it beside your computer and rewrite it removing the tacky junk, keep the humor and lace the highly readable and already popular premise with a deep and aching revelation about the human condition.





"It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves."
— William Shakespeare