The Train Wreck

Prompt: Writing Prompts App by
Place: a cafeteria (cafe)
Character: a train engineer
Object: a tin watering can
Mood: wary
Draft: final
Proofread by: R.L. Campbell

The engineer entered the cafe unaware of the mornings news. It was one of those old time cafes in the heart of any-town, USA. He expected to see the one waitress and a short-order cook. Even the game trophies hanging on the wall. A small television, the old style CRT, not seen often these days, sat on the far end of bar counter.

As he made his way to a booth by the front window, the waitress stood up and crushed out her cigarette in the tray next to the tube. The only other person, sitting next to her, also stood, but made no move to the kitchen door. He wore the white but dirtied apron identifying him as the short-order cook. He just stood there watching the news unfold, and breathed strongly from his cigarette, brow furrowed.

The engineer slid into the booth, and glanced out the window. Across the street, the business door beneath the flattened tin watering cup opened. A woman exited the flower shop. She greeted another woman on the way in. The two talked for a moment then embraced. Even from across the street, the engineer could see at least one of the women was shaking, as if laughing, or sobbing.

“Tragic, isn’t it?” The waitress said as she placed an empty coffee cup on the table before the engineer.

“Sorry?” he asked, taking his eyes away from the two women hugging in the doorway of the flower shop, and focused on the waitress’s face. She was pretty, in her middle years, if he had to guess. Seeing her attention was being held by the water cup she now filled, he stole a look at her ring-less hand. It was instinct, or habit, and meant no malice. He had to be way too old for her.

“The train crash this morning,” she answered catching his eye, and slipping the menu from under her arm, sliding it along the table top to him.

‘Train crash,’ he thought, ‘what does she know?’ He quickly looked away as flashes of a gruesome scene flashed in front of him. ‘No,’ he screamed in his mind. ‘God no’. Out of the train window he could see the station wagon stopped on the tracks. He reached up and pulled the air release tether. The deafening sound of the engines horn blared out. He activated the brakes, even though he knew it would not help at this distance.

“Coffee?” He heard the waitress ask from outside his thoughts.

The engineer gave a shutter and opened his eyes. His verbal response was involuntary. “Decaff,” he said.

“Okay sweety,” she said. He could tell by her hesitation she wanted to say more, but with her sigh, he felt more than saw, her turn and walk away.

‘Calm down,’ he told himself. ‘She cannot possibly know. She cannot.’ He focused his mind enough to look out the window. He concentrated on breathing steady, and hid his shaky hands in his lap.

Out the window he saw that the two women were not standing in the doorway to the flower shop anymore. One of them, perhaps the woman who had come out of the shop, stood holding on to the drivers door of a modern SUV. Her shoulders shaking, and he knew she was sobbing openly now.

‘I did this,’ he knew in his mind as he watched the silent proceedings in the street out the cafe window. ‘They know it was me, but how?’

As he watched the woman sobbing at her car door, a running man in an apron appeared from his side of the street. The man in the apron ran from some business out of site and crossed the street to the sobbing woman. He held her, and she seemed to collapse into his arms. From inside the cafe, the engineer could faintly hear her wails of grief.

“That poor woman,” A gentle voice declared beside him. “Is that… Oh no, that can’t be Mrs. Jones. The news hasn’t listed names, just the numbers.” She paused. “Oh dear, if she’s crying like that… Oh no, oh no God please not them.” The waitress dropped a bundle of utensils wrapped in a napkin next to the now filled coffee cup, put a hand to her mouth and jogged back to the cook who was still standing by the television set.

‘What have I done?’ The engineer thought as he watched the waitress talk quietly with the cook. He glanced at the news footage broadcasting through the television screen. Aerial footage portrayed a devastating scene. ‘I know this, I cannot escape it. It torments me for months!’

His thoughts take him back to the brakes. He knew they could not do anything. He looked toward to the station wagon he was barreling toward. The crash was imminent. This time, the driver door was open and a woman was waving her arms frantically, not at him though. He watched her run to the drivers-side passenger door and open it. He gripped the air-release tether and pulled, not to warn, not to save the woman and her passengers. He grabbed it out of protocol yes, but also to embrace the inevitable, and brace for the impact he knew he wouldn’t feel.

The engineer watched as, like magic only a mother could perform, in one motion the flailing arms of the driver opened the passenger door and scooped out the tiniest baby the engineer had ever seen, and the woman ran. For just an instance, he knew he was witnessing the only woman NFL quarterback in history to make a sixty yard touchdown in mere moments. Her image was as crystal, yet she blurred in agonizing slow motion. The woman was fast and the engineer hoped it was fast enough. As the train bore down on the wagon, the engineer’s view nearly looking straight down, a door opened. The passenger side, rear-passenger door flew open, and an Indian dashed out! No, not an Indian, a child, a baby in nothing but a diaper! The child ran hard. Yes, it ran away from the vehicle, yes, it ran away from the train… but, it ran along the rails!

‘This is past!’ his inner voice yelled. ‘It is done!’

Like blasts from the defibrillator, the mind-voices screamed to be heard. He was not an engineer any more. That career was over decades ago.

The hugging in the street had increased. ‘Look at this, it’s different!’ He looked. Everybody in town needed or wanted a hug. Everybody on the other side of the cafe window were hugging; taking one from another, and taking another to another. Those images were different from the television pictures, which showed death, destruction, and terror. In real life, the engineer saw comfort and love in the embraces on the other side of the window.

And understanding combined with hope.

The engineer turned back to the tearful waitress and short-order cook comforting each-other. He could see their emotions. They comforted in one another.

He left the booth and joined the two around the television set.

The television was airing an interview with a bystander. It was live. In the background and to the side like all ‘news’ programs. But the engineer’s thoughts were on another interview. There are things you see in life you can never forget, it is as if the images of what you saw get written in memory with permanent ink. Those memories are like scars for the mind, and sometimes haunt. They haunt like the memory of a child in diapers running gleefully away from danger, yet gleefully into death.

The engineer closed his eyes. In the train there were no tears, it was all part of the job. In the aftermath, there were no tears, he knew he could do nothing. In the moment that it happened, his eyes teared and he closed them. His last image was of the tiny Indian running before the train warding off possible deaths.

In the cafe, he looked upon the recent local damage. This was not his fault. The waitress and the cook beside him knew nothing of the crash he drove into.

“That poor engineer,” he said. Unnoticed and away from his mind, both the waitress and the cook nodded solemnly. He did not notice. Instead, he remembered a news interview from twenty years ago…

“Goodnight, and welcome as we welcome an amazing story of the miracle of a mothers love for her children…
“That sounds so scary. Your car dead on the tracks, a train hurdling toward you. You’re stalled out, what did you do?”

“Well, I didn’t think about it much. I knew without the motor running, [the automobile] was stuck. I just went back to Issy, ah Isabelle. She was the closest in the back seat. While I unbuckled her I simply told Jacob, ‘remember how I told you to never run in parking lots? He nodded to me, smiling. I told him ‘forget it! Open that door and run!” She teared up but tried to smile for the cameras. “By that time I had Issy unbuckled, so I turned and ran.” The woman burst into tears. “I’m such a bad mother!”

“No, no. It’s why you are here today. The warning bar failed. You had no idea there was a train coming. And then your engine stopped. You did the only thing anyone could do given the time it all took. Your story is a miracle. Now tell us, when did you first know about Jacob?”

“Thank you.” The woman in the interview smiled. “I only took what was maybe three or four steps..”

“Don’t kid us Maybell, we’ve seen the destruction zone,” the interviewer says. “You were cleared by forty feet or more, when it was all done.”

“I know, when I watch that footage, it baffles me… with, you know the car between the rails and the canal. . .” The woman continues. “But, it’s true, that’s what I remember, I took a couple steps and looked back. Jake was just standing there on the bank of the canal. I waved for him to come over, and he did. I cannot explain it, but here we are…”

The Binder Clip Retrospect

Proofread by R.L. Campbell

The scene would have portrayed itself as humorous, had there been anybody to see it. Her head popping up from behind the gray cubicle wall. She could picture it. It would look like a video game. A comic video game once she pictured how large the room is.

She pulled her head back down. She had seen nobody. She hadn’t expected to, it had just been a cautionary reflex. At one o’clock in the morning, there wasn’t going to be anybody else.

Sitting back down, she began gathering up the report. She tapped the thick pile of papers on the desk to align them and reached for a paper clip. Her paperclip bowl was empty.

With a sigh, she set the report back down and stood up. Again, she peaked over the cubicle wall. It was an involuntary action, a remnant of the years she had spent in this office. Since her first day in a cubicle, she scanned the massive room every time she stood for any friendly faces outside their own cubicles. Again, she saw nobody, but this time she didn’t even register the thought.

She walked out the door-less space and began her zig-zag journey to her assigned supplies station. With a room this big, it comprised the entire floor. The office partitions were segregated by two wider hallways perpendicular to themselves into four main sections. The longer hallway was disrupted by the floors two supply stations, one on either end, but in the center of their two respective groups of cubicles.

Tonight, she was dressed to impress. On any normal work day, she would be considered over dressed in the red L’Wren knock-off. From behind, she could have left the distinct impression of a real-life Jessica Rabbit without the over exaggerated female features. She did have a pleasant but realistic hourglass shape, and she was proud of it, a result of hard discipline and daily use of the company’s physical fitness center. “Baby-making hips” and all.

On any other given night, she may have danced her way to the supply station the way the dress should have made her feel. She had felt that feeling earlier, before the date, and before that comment. As it was, she wore a stern expression instead of the laughing smile she had intended. It was just as well there was nobody there to see it. Forget Jessica Rabbit, she was Maleficent.

Dark thoughts consumed her as she marched closer to the supply station. She had not felt so dismal just a few moments ago when she was buried in her work. The events of the evening had been suppressed with the vigor she had thrown herself into the report. That was why she had gone to the office, to distract herself from that horrid date.

The distraction was supposed to help her forget. That was all she wanted when she arrived. She needed the whole thing to go away as though it had never happened. She hadn’t been angry then, just disappointed and shocked. What had changed? The report had done the job, just as she wished. The evening had never happened. Why did she have so much anger in her heart.

She reached the supply station. Was she angry for letting herself dress up like a “Hollywood princess”? Was she angry for how beautiful she knew she looked? She was angry because her paper clip bowl was empty and so was the cabinet where the paper clips were supposed to be.

“Why me!?” She yelled in frustration and anger. In the back of her mind, she was aware she sounded like a pirate. She lowered her voice even more, “UGH, WHY ME?

She was a confident business woman. Why would anything like this happen to her? She strived for success. She planned and achieved goals. How could it have happened to her, of all people?

She took a deep breath and tried to relax her fists. She turned and strode toward the second supply station. Her eyes creased and lips tight, breathing strong through her nostrils. It was a straight path, and she stretched her pace as long as the tight dress and pointed high heels would allow. There would be paperclips there. There had to be.

The fear of God would have burned into any office worker crossing her path with those high heels and her red lipstick if there had been anybody to burn. She was still alone at one in the morning, though office instinct was long gone now. The panes of the glass that encompassed the supply stations could have been sweating in fear of her catching a glimpse of those reflected “baby-making hips” sway to her heeled stride.

She used her tight closed lips as a breathing exercise. She breathed as deep and slow as her pace would allow. What had happened was in the past now, and she could vow to never let it happen again. She would dissect her errors, and eliminate any possibility of a repeat. She promised herself, she would never allow herself to be hurt like this again.

The second supply station’s paper clip cabinet was empty. The breathing exercises were working, and she had a plan now. Her heart would never be broken again. The anger was gone. As she stared into the empty cabinet, a deepness settled upon her countenance. At that moment, she knew she would be alone forever.

With a sigh, she stood and straightened. She adjusted the dress, pushing it downward with a slow gentle motion, hands over those hips. They were her mother’s hips, and she was proud of them.

Her first step faltered in those heels. She recovered and took another wavering step. Her confidence shattered, the pace she took back to her end of the office floor was slow and deliberate. She was alone. Not because it was one o’clock in the morning, but because that was the way it must be. It could never be the way it had been. There could no longer be hope. From this night forward, she would stop separating a personal life and the business life. It was all one now. All business. There was no more room for anything besides work.

She did not return to her cubicle. Instead she walked to another nondescript people-box and retrieved a key. From there, she walked across the room short-wise to the side not lined by windows, but which contained a line of glass conference rooms, break rooms, water stations, restrooms, stair and elevator access, and storerooms.

She pick a locked door and inserted the key. It didn’t turn. In truth, she had not expected it to turn. She had no more expectations. They were no longer allowed.

She tried the next door. The key turned and she poked her head inside. It was a dark empty looking room, like her soul felt. She considered giving up, and going home, but flipped up the light switch instead and looked closer. She stepped inside.

The shelves were empty, for the most part. The boxes that were there, were unrecognizable. The cabinets in the supply stations always held colorful individual boxes, but these were plain dismal cardboard boxes. Instead of looking for familiar pictures of paper-clips, she had to readjust her thinking, and read the dot-matrix style printing on the box.

She found one that read “B N D R C L P S” followed by arbitrary numbers and a large bar-code. She was looking for the large black paper clips with the hinges with flip-up handles, and that group of letters was the closest description.

“Things can be alright,” she whispered to herself.

The box was still taped, but she hadn’t seen anything in the tiny room to cut the tape with. She slid the rectangular box around so one of the ends faced her, and gave it a good punch near the top. The tape ripped apart, providing her with enough loose tape to grab onto and peal back the length of the top seam.

She opened the flaps to reveal several smaller boxes. These were a familiar site, and just what she was looking for. Her night had started to show improvement. She pulled out one of the colorful paperclip boxes and confirmed that it contained the black hinge style paper clip she was searching for. “Binder clips” the smaller boxes read.

She left the storeroom, careful to flip the light switch down and lock the door. She walked back to her assigned supply station and opened the binder clip box. Inside were even smaller boxes that she dumped into the the appropriate bin. She nodded in satisfaction, and took a box of clips.

A small grin had crept onto her face. Her step was swifter now, lighter. The confidence was returning. She knew how foolish she had been to let one bad date ruin her mood.

She stopped a moment at that other cubicle to return the key and proceeded to her own little person-cage. Forgoing any use of the letter opener sitting on the desk, she used her glossy red finger nail to cut the seal on the binder clip package and poured the binder clips into the dish.

She sat back in her chair and gave the report another look. She gathered the stack of papers and tapped them on the desktop. Without looking, she slipped her hand into the paperclip bowl and removed one of the binder clips.

The report was ready. She was ready. That confident business woman with a passionate personal life could conquer anything. To hell with any man who called her a “Hollywood princess wanna-be” who should put those “baby-making hips” to “good work”.

“What’s next world?” She said out loud as she stood and peeked over the cubicle wall. She gathered her purse and started walking out of her cubicle. “Bring it on.”

A Life In a Day

Writing Challenge: First Sentence
Sentence: He remained hidden in the abandoned house…
Edited: No, sorry, it’s a little crude in that respect, I am dyslexic and lazy 😉
Proofread: R.L. Campbell

He remained hidden in the abandoned house for over six months. At first, that sounds quite fantastic. The house was located right downtown among busy neighbors. But, when you really think about it, it’s not that astonishing. It’s not like he was a murderer smuggling kidnapped victims in and dead bodies out. Now that would be an incredible feat. Well, infamous-credible… infa-incredible… in-incredible… Never mind.

The point is, it’s not really that big of deal. It all came down to people just not paying any attention to others. It’s like everybody he passed had their heads in their phones, or whatever device was trending at the time. He could, and did many times, just walk right past one neighbor or another without the least bit of care.

So, what was he up to? Well, that’s what all the talk and specula–no, tweets and shares are all about. What was he doing in that abandoned house? He was living of course. Living rent free. Living electricity free. Living device free. And writing… It’s what writers do, and eccentric writers do the best… Well, that is to say the best writers are the eccentric writers. Something like that. Never mind.

Moving on, every day he would wake up and feed the cat and scribble his thoughts and stories in one or another notebook. His stomach would growl at him at some point and only then would he think to eat himself. Not like, take a bite out of himself or any thing like that, he wasn’t that eccentric. He would eat. Or, he wouldn’t, and in that situation, he would put his clothes on and go to the grocery store.

He always exited the abandoned house through the back door. Even though he knew the neighbors would not bother to notice him, he was careful. Or paranoid… No, he was never paranoid while leaving the abandoned house, just eccentric, or … clever? No, that’s not quite right either. He’ll think on that and get back to us.

His route took him along Main St, where all the worlds rooms opened into. Well, you know, shops and houses and public restrooms, and parks. Some days, whether he ate that day or was on his way to the grocery store, he would stop at the park. More-so, on the days the grocery store was closed, which happened from time to time…

To him, the grocery store is his personal kitchen. Well, sort of. He never went to the peanut butter isle and made himself a sandwich, or the bread isle, or the jelly isle, which, come to think of it, is all the same isle. That’s not to suggest that he took the ingredient to another isle just to make the sandwich. He didn’t do that, at least not that anybody else ever witnessed… No, he never did that!

What he did do, was go to the isle with the pre-made sandwiches, and soups, and shop to his little hearts content. The aforementioned peanut butter was by far his favorite, but sometimes it was the tuna fish. The cat liked those days the best, often smothering him with kisses. She was frisky with the tongue, and quite a delight all around.

He often took the roundabout route back to the abandoned house. That way passed right next to an outdoor theater. It was a small community thing that played the occasional favorite cartoon of yesterday. What a treat those days were. Or maybe he was there everyday? That seems more realistic. Ah, the life of the eccentric recluse… er, writer.

After that, it was back to the abandoned house for a few hours. Where was the cat? Well, sometimes she was here, sometimes she was not. Well, she was always there on tuna fish day, silly cat. Can you imagine what it would be like to write an entire novel in crayon? According to the tweets, he did it. What a feat!

Believe it or not, dinners did actually contain a well balanced meal, complete with vegetables, which he loved. Just sayin’. After a hard day of writing and wondering the town, and playing at the park, and watching cartoons. Well, even vegetable eating, eccentric, recluse, crayon using writers get very tuckered out.

Never mind the fact that once he fell asleep, the unobservant neighbor, sometimes called Mom, or Dad, or big brother, would scoop him up-big sister was too little for that-and take him out of the abandoned house, not haunted house, NOT blanket fort, past the park, not family room, past the theater, not T.V., along Main Street, not the hallway, past the grocery store, not the kitchen, to the place known only as dreamland. Where all the stories come from.


Unedited 30 minute writing challenge written by Mr. Campbell

Writing Prompts by
Place: inside a camping tent
Character: a bird watcher
Object: 12lb. hand weights
Time/Date: around noon

So still despite the stinging right eye. The sweat seemed to pour down that side. He was sweated everywhere, but for some reason, the right eye always got it. ‘Was it the dirt,’ he wondered. sweat was supposed to be salty, the same as tears, so why would it sting?

Anyway, he couldn’t move. not with all the action going on out there. He had a clear shot, through his left eye, of the scene about to be captured forever… As long as he didn’t move and spook the birds that also had a clear line of sight to him lying prone on his belly. His head peering out the pup tent opening, while is sweaty torso and legs stretched farther inside. His feet nearly reaching the other side.

In the camp, not far from the tent opening just next to the unused fire pit, four 24 lb. hand weights steadied the over-sized tripod. Atop that, the Cannon DSLR manually focused across the clearing to the unsuspecting Wilson’s Philippine blue-neck sparrow. It is the world’s most coveted bird among twitchers.

‘And, the sweat is about to ruin everything,’ he thought, almost out loud in frustration. He had been in the same location for days, setting up this shot. Each day, something new scared the clumsy fowl away. Just yesterday, it had almost strangled itself around the cord ties to one of the hand weights. Despite it’s name, this ‘sparrow’ isn’t small, nor graceful, but oh the beauty, when it’s in just the right position.

His vision in the left eye was about to loose the battle like the right eye before it. He could feel the river damning up on the eyebrow. This is the third and final day the Wilson’s Philippine blue-neck sparrow’s favorite blossom was in bloom. They eat the things, and only a few remained.

The bird was there, but faced away from the camera. Perhaps his movement wouldn’t spook her away today. Maybe, just maybe, it would only cause her to shift just enough to expose her most desired appetence.

He held his breath as the damm broke and flooded his left eye with sting.

‘What was that?’ His eyes couldn’t widen, but he tried hard. ‘Could it have been?’ He wondered. Had he just seen a male join her? It is all just a big blur now, but he was sure he was missing the most incredible sight ever. To date, nobody has a single image of the male of the species!

‘It’s now or never’, he decided. If he timed it just right, he could activate the shutter and wipe is eyes fast enough to see with his own eyes.

Three. Two. One. Go!