Crimson Mash: Nightmare on the Rails

Atomised! Blown to individuating smithereens! That’s so-called British society for you. Don’t tell me that kids still say thank you to bus drivers out of some baffling sense of obligation or that you’ve seen a man give up his train seat for a pregnant woman or that you once witnessed a couple of hulk-like builders ferry a pram up a flight of stairs on behalf of some stricken waif; Britain is broken, just like David Cameron said in that moral panic instigating, dog whistle, empty headed speech of his, and I can prove it.

In just two and a half hours on Friday evening, the rice paper thin veneer of community that our fantasies of cohesion and mutual interest rest upon was torn away. Who suffers when society crumbles, you ask? Well I’ll tell you: yours truly. It’s no exaggeration to say that I might have suffered more than any human alive that night and whereas the litany of error and selfishness that follows can be safely attributed to the actions of a few degenerates, I lay the blame squarely and directly at the door of you and your peers; the self-interested fools who’ve turned our once handsome order into a ugly parody of itself. You are them and they are you.

The accidental corpse

Hither Green is an unremarkable bolthole in South East London. It’s breathtakingly conventional. What estate agents call suburban character, we know as blandly reassuring. Lines of Victorian terraced housing converge at the incline leading to the railway station. The surrounding waiting area is a spread of local businesses; a kebab hole so average that it’s actually called “Typical Kebabs”, a barber, a pharmacy, a gambling den; the residents that move into the housing development adjacent to the railway won’t have a moment’s rest; this is Britain’s Vegas.

The centre of this panoramic eye-gasm is The Station, an old fashioned pub that sucks up drinkers from the surrounding houses and passing trains. Last Friday, a little after 6pm, two such soaks emerged from its biliary brown interiors and were vomited onto the street outside. This was a couple; a man in his late thirties and a not man with a few additional years caked onto her face, whose constitutions had been ruined with foul tasting, brain shrinking toilet water from the brewer’s teat. An argument now raged. The man screamed at the woman, the woman yelled at the man. He made an incomprehensible, hateful remark, she countered with an equally unimaginative, witless attack. Witnesses, who neither knew nor cared what had riled them so, now watched as the barely cognisant, walking arguments for bachelorhood, pushed and pulled each other up the short approach to the station proper and its suite of platforms. It was 6.25.

Twenty minutes earlier, at Charing Cross, I’d arrived on the concourse, having fought my way through the tube, emerging from the underground to discover that my train was 30 seconds from departure. With an audible “fuck”, I slashed at the crowd like a Columbian adventurer cutting down long grass with his machete. “Move, you bastards, move!” I cried, as these gormless growths stood fast, swaying only momentarily as I adapted blitzkrieg for modern means. Seconds later I was at the ticket gate, Travelcard in mitt, but it was all for nought. My train was pulling out. Defeated, I allowed myself a flurry of additional fucks, before checking the boards. There would be another train in just ten minutes. This would get me to Hither Green a little after half past six. That was an acceptable delay. Later, I’d rue my near miss. My intended chug chug would have got me to my station a few minutes before 6.30. Those lost minutes would be crucial.

On the platform at Hither Green, a little before half past, the drunken couple had upgraded their argument from heated to irreconcilable. Now they flirted with the neighbouring track with whorish glee. So lost were they in the fog of anger that any pretence that this was a conversation about something had been abandoned. Their minds no longer functioned. The juice from that rotten barrel had turned their soft minds to porridge. Grunts, yelps and half-formed expletives were all that remained now. Suddenly, without warning, this awful coupling, oblivious to the effect their argument was having on the local citizenry, did the inexplicable; they clambered down onto the track.

No one will ever know what prompted that decision. Some argue it was a gambit; an attention grabbing gesture. By imperilling himself, the pickled prick may have hoped that his girl-fiend, for she was a fiend, would be shocked into silence; her ire supplanted with concern. There’s evidence that this strategy bore fruit. The shit-soaked feminoid, to the shock of onlookers, now followed her fellow idiot onto the electrified death lines. Cynical witnesses speculated she too had opted for a damsel in distress strategy, but as any fule no, there’s no room for a second damsel in a life threatening scenario. It was 6.29. Passengers on the platform, horrified, for they read the danger to their onward journey well enough, now pleaded with the pair to return to the safety of the platform. The woman, noting that her partner was now adrift and haplessly meandering down the line like a wayward zombie, heard life’s call and scrambled up to safety. Now attention turned to the mandroid. Staff ran the length of the platform, hollering at the staggering dunce.

“Mate, come up onto the platform! Get off the track!” That, I suppose, is what they would have told him, but father time, who’d been monitoring the whole sorry spectacle, decided he’d had enough and withdrew his sponsorship. The woman now let out an audible groan as the Cannon Street to Broadstairs service thundered through the station. There were gasps all round. The train was on time. This alone would have been worthy of note but now, with the front carriage closing the gap between it and the drunkard, all eyes were on this cavalier cockend. Seconds later: disaster. The Broadstairs wagon collided with the man, pulping him on impact.

Joseph Hesterkefilis, author of the Rabid Rabbit series of horror novels, later told police that “there was an eruption of blood, shattered bone and rear fat, as though the front of that demonic locomotive had violently sneezed. The platform and those closest to the moment of destruction were suddenly awash with sinew, grey matter and genital fragments; the stringy, shredded remnants having the curious odour of steak in marinade.”

Another witness said he heard a thud.

The nightmare begins

It would be a simple thing to exaggerate the details of my outbound train journey for comic effect, but reader, let me assure you that no such embellishment is necessary. That train was the closest thing hell has to an embassy on Earth, and that was before I became ensnared by circumstance.

At 6.30pm the train left Lewisham, no inch of space unclaimed. We were three minutes from Hither Green. Our next destination was important because this was the stop that traditionally emptied the train of its excess passengers. Commuter trains on that part of the network were inherited from the dying days of British Rail.  Originally called “networkers”, as they’d service the area once known as “Network Southeast”, these late 20th century wagons replaced 50’s rolling stock; carriages with doors evenly distributed along the length of each car and compartments that stretched across their entire width, allowing for the equal distribution of souls. The new trains were designed by an idiot. They had but two places in each carriage where you could board, with seats arranged in the airline style boasting fractionally less leg room than is necessary for those of average height.

In London, particularly in rush hour, the design of these carriages is a disaster. Passengers are forced into two bottlenecks once the meagre allocation of seats is accounted for. Not wanting to have to fight their way to the entrance when their escape beckons, they dare not move into the carriage, and in any event, there’s no support for them if they did; just an area that, in keeping with the designer’s sadistic bent, is only suitable for anorexics.

These trains fill quickly and stay full, with no room to move nor  breathe, until they reach the sprawl and the cramp ridden, chest crushed victims of poor forward planning and an apparently unanticipated rise in London’s population, crawl from their Hillsborough-hell and receive emergency resuscitation on the station platform. I had a seat on my bastard wagon, but we were still two minutes from freedom and the level of CO2 in the car had reached Apollo 13 levels.

I’m not sure how much time had passed before I realised we were no longer moving. Five minutes? Ten? It may have been the realisation that the man in his bathroom, whose rear window faced onto the railway, had finished shaving and I’d had time to view the entire spectacle. Not for me a strangulation or humping event; food for the voyeur; no, just this boring bit of domesticity. Why weren’t we in motion? WHY? Irritation now flooded my system. When you’re close to your stop, when the end’s in sight, cabin fever becomes acute. You’ve had all you can take of the Dad opposite who’s humouring his three kids with a word association game; a game it’s apparently impossible to play without bellowing out each answer; you’re keen to escape from the coughing woman and the foul smelling inebriate, and the gang of young bucks, who’ve turned one of the carriage’s bottlenecks into a private fiefdom, must go; there’s a limit to how much overlapping, obnoxious, sweary, football and tits chat you can bear.

Then the lights went off.

Sitting there in the dark, I was now depressed, as well as impatient. The entire carriage got very excited. The kids asked their father why we were motionless and blacked out. He didn’t know. How could he? What a stupid fucking question. Why don’t more parents teach their kids to think before they speak? The coughing woman coughed harder; anxiety perhaps. The drunk drank. The boyz, hitherto fixated on the question of whether those really were Christina Hendricks’ bare breasts on the internet, started to speculate that we were marooned. This was a source of bottomless mirth. They were fools to welcome it. If it came to the crunch they’d be eaten first, I’d see to that.

Finally, the train driver, loud as a whisper, added his thin voice to the in-car cacophony. He had breaking news. We were held at a red signal and the power had been cut to the line. He had no idea why. This was the revelation we were waiting for. Exasperated, I texted Hayley, my comfort in times of metaphorical and literal darkness; she always knew what to say. Her reply was swift. “I’ve been stuck for two hours – that’s TWO WHOLE HOURS before…sorry, I’m not making you feel any better am I?”

Two whole hours

James Franco spent 127 hours in a cave, hacking off his redundant arm, but at least he had solitude; beautiful, peaceful solitude. In contrast I had use of both arms but now shared a tomb with the last of London; caged animals that bleated, barked and mewed, apparently high on their own fear.

As I sat there, watching my neighbour stare deep into her smartphone, hoping against hope that it was smart enough to teleport her home, the scene at Hither Green, a mere half mile away, was grim. Transport police were tossing the lower half of a human head into a wheelbarrow. A mute and shaking witness to the tragedy had a penis peeled from his back. The newly single fem, still screaming, was being slapped with a bit of pipe. Not one of them thought about me.

Now half an hour into my ordeal and with no end in sight, Hayley’s words troubled my mind. I was stuck. There was no telling for how long. I looked around me. It was possible, even likely, that half the people in this carriage would have to die to sustain the other half. As a natural leader, I’d have to rouse the squeamish and lead the charge, beating the most vulnerable to death with my bare hands; tearing the flesh from the bones, dividing what remained into food and pleasure receptacle.

Those that refused to help would effectively select themselves for destruction. It’d be survival of the most depraved. Every liberal instinct I’d ever valued would have to be abandoned as the most attractive women would be syphoned off for gratification and reproduction, while the rest would be quartered for the good of the group. Any male threat to my primacy would have to be publically humbled; savagely ended with a grot made from their garish ties. Civilisation was already in free fall. We had, at most, an hour left before the purge would commence. “I hope we’re underway soon, I’m starving” said my neighbour. “Shouldn’t be long now” I replied. She was twitchy. I’d probably have to make an example of her to establish my absolute authority over the herd.

With an hour and a half lapsed, and many passengers unconscious, starved of oxygen, while the rest grew psychotic on the thin atmosphere, I wondered what would become of the “lads” whose endless stream of half-consciousness continued to pollute our environs. They never tired of their pet preoccupations. I now knew everything there was to know about premium porn sites, Harry Redknapp’s team selection and Greece’s sovereign debt crisis. Was my chat so empty at that age? I caught my neighbour watching them, studying their every yap. Her face was flush with hate. Their future was now clear enough; this woman would soon disrobe and beat them to death with her bare breasts. It would take a miracle to stop it now.

Now two hours had passed since our imprisonment began. Hayley’s memory, turned prophesy, had come true. The driver had been on a few times. Sadly there’d been a fatally on the line, he said – the power had to be cut so it could be dealt with safely; under no circumstances should anyone panic and try to leave the train by pulling the emergency door release. “It’s awful that someone’s dead but I wish they’d been a little less selfish in the way they did it” said my neighbour, eying the troupe of loudmouths and unbuttoning her blouse. “Well,” I said, “that’s the problem. No one thinks about the effect their actions have on others. That’s why I hate you, every person on this train and everyone beyond.”

We’d hit rock bottom. No one on that train had anything left to give. Then, just as it seemed as though we too would die on the tracks, the lights suddenly came up. I was cock-a-hoop. We were going to move! The driver announced that he’d risked exercise by changing ends and had been given permission to return the train to Lewisham. Nothing could stop us now. Hold tight, he told us, and under no circumstances should anyone, particularly at this critical juncture, pull the emergency cord and let themselves out onto the tracks. Not only would be the timing be absurd, (for we were about to move) but there was a danger to life and to our prospects of salvation, as power would once again have to be cut to guarantee no one was electrocuted. Yes sir, said the driver, our only hope now is to pull together, think about our collective goal of returning home and to not, for any reason, compromise that shared destiny by selfishly pulling the emergency door release and letting ourselves onto the tracks.

The train moved. A cheer went up. This must have been what the armistice felt like. We’d made it! We were going to live! The train stopped. The lights went out. The war was back on. “I’m sorry ladies and gentleman,” said the driver, his voice wretched, “it seems a couple of people have pulled the emergency door release and let themselves onto the track. We’re been held here until they’re found. In the meantime the power’s had to be cut on this part of the line to guarantee their safety.”

No force on Earth could guarantee their safety now.

Blood on the tracks

Idiocy and self-absorption had felled my evening. The first blow had been struck by two feckless, lashed up gonks, caked in vice, while the second and seemingly fatal blow, had been administered by two of their victims; a pair of Tories no doubt, who’d compounded their imbecilic worldview, waiting two and a bit hours, and for the precise moment we were about to be saved from this nightmare, to put the good of the group aside and feed their monstrous self-regard.

There was no comprehending this act. Why board a lifeboat at the moment the wounded ship was about to be towed to harbour? These escapees had to be killed. Not simply because they were fuckwits, though that’s a pretty good reason, but because their sheer contempt for common sense and their fellow passengers marked them out as just as the kind of obtuse, hollow skulled, mono-browed, flat footed, web-toed, rectal fingering wastrels that give life its Sisyphean character.

I was now ready to pursue these deserters. I knew what I had to do. I’d use my phone as a lamp and follow them down the track, sensitive to the scent of stupidity on the wind. Once I’d detected movement on the rails, two smudges on the charcoal landscape, I’d run at them, yelling, instilling fear in the moment prior to execution. I might even impersonate a train for maximum effect. Now, on them like a bloodhound, I’d teach them a damn good lesson. They’d raise their hands, desperate to block the hammer blows from above; an iPhone smash to the cranium, delivered overhead with the power of a bowler on the cricket ground, but they’d be no reasoning with me. They’d be crimson mash.

The moment had come. I began to rise from my seat and with that, somewhat unexpectedly, the lights came back on. Who knew they were height sensitive? Once again we were listening to the driver’s weedy voice on the boom box. “Ladies and Genitals, we’ve had permission to move and will now be returning to Lewisham.” We didn’t learn the fate of the escapees but could infer, tragically, that they were safe. Perhaps they’d been taken into hiding. The search for them would continue, spearheaded by me, for the remainder of their lives.

Ten minutes later the nightmare was over. I emerged from Lewisham, bladder at maximum, into honking, hollering chaos; cabs and cars backed up to a quarter-mile from the station entrance.

For two and a half hours society had buckled and broken. Four people had absented themselves from their responsibility to their fellow citizens and the resulting disruption had ruined evenings. Ordinary men, women and children had become prisoners, their human rights shredded. Common sense became passé. Why? For no better reason than two fools with limited social skills and a lack of maturity had over indulged on the devil’s urine, bringing down all around them. The moral is simple. If you’re suicidal, docile, argumentative and addicted to alcohol, or all four, stay at home and don’t associate with anyone under any circumstances. You’re the human waste. People like you cause people like me to miss a meal and Friday night EastEnders. Sure, I saw the repeat at 10pm, but it could so easily have been otherwise. Ponder that and with luck, and a little forethought, a similar tragedy can be avoided in future.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Wonderful, Edward. I have missed you greatly on Facebook.


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