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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Short story : Have I lost him?

Story below is an entry for the 'Picture Worth Your Words Contest' picture prompt #1

Johan bid goodbye to his team and sat in the taxi. He was to catch the eight thirty train to Frankfurt. An hour still remained before the departure and the train station was twelve miles from the camp. He was in time. All his stomach tasted after the victory over Heerenveen was alcohol. The normal club hopping grew into an after party as uninvited guests stormed through the wee hours with disparate liquids to share. His head was so heavy when he tried to wake up that he slept the whole of the next day. It was time to leave, to meet his parents for the New Year. Johan had broken two promises before and was not prepared to hear Martha's lecture once again.

The taxi started and Johan looked at the passing city. Amsterdam was beautiful in the morning and the Sun started to warm his nape from left. The rear windshield was without any light control film and that helped him warm up for the long travel ahead. He took out the chicken salad sandwich from the backpack and had just started eating while the car came to a screeching halt. Johan almost threw the sandwich on the driver's head.

"Sorry sir, I did not watch the changing lights" said the man in the white.

"Its ok. Were you too back from a great party?" Johan asked with an expression that wondered what in the world was the driver doing.

"Yes sir I just turned 50 and my buddies took me to the Pink table last night. I am sure it will not happen again"

"What will not happen? You partying or missing the lights and scaring the bejesus out of me?" Johan was laughing.

"Missing the light I mean. I am a single guy, no family, so freedom to party is a part of my life. With the variety of girls you get to be with in Holland, I can't imaging not doing it", said the cabbie. He was smiling too but the change in the bulge in his cheeks is all Johan could see.

"Aight buddy, please get me to Zuid with my soul intact, that's all I ask of you"

"You are not from here are you? American?" asked the driver turning to Johan.

"Yes I live in America but sir you need to look to the front, the light is already green"  Johan said pointing at the signal.

"You got me. Haha" laughed the driver.

"You are not from here either, are you?"

"No I am from Denver. Name's Kristen but changed to Klaas to fit in" and we went forward.

"Ok I'm Johan and from Dallas"

"Nice to meet you Johan. So you came all the way to play in Eredivisie?"

"Yes, who won't if you are given thousands of dollars a week." saying that he bit his lips. He remembered what happened when he dwelved his salary last time, even his socks were robbed.

"Don't worry son. I don't have a gun". He had apparantly seen Johan's expression from the rear view mirror. They both laughed.

After talking about how the new administration in the States was changing the world and how America needs a leader who could do stuff instead of just talk about it, Johan reached Zuid. He thanked Kristen for helping with the baggage by tipping ten Euros for which the older bachelor wished him the year's Eredivisie title. 'If only we could get that ' Johan thought and went inside.

After the passport and security checks during which he was so happy to not be touched in the wrong places, Johan reached the third platform even before the train had left the hangar. The magazine shop was his savior.

"Do you have the latest issue of Top Gear magazine?" Johan asked to the beautiful young girl who was having a tough time handling the overwhelming customers. He did not get a reply.

"First day is it?" He asked with a louder tone.

"Yeah? Sorry, what do you want?" she asked.

"Top Gear, the yearly special edition please". She went to the back door, yelled something in German and came back with the book.

"Here it is, 7 Euros 99 cents please". Handing her a ten Euro bill he said "Johan, may I know your name?". She stopped serving the next customer, stared at him and continued her work pretending to have not heard him. The little girl next to her got his money and handed him the change.

"Johan it is, if you did not get it earlier" he clarified and started to walk.

"Michelle". He turned back.  "Sorry, I don't give my name to strangers, but, Michelle it is". She smiled at last.

"Thanks Michelle, you work here full time?"

"Until I complete my degree in the Technische" Michelle replied. 

"Oh ok, meet you in, two weeks time" Johan left waving his right hand with the magazine slowly enough to not spill the coffee he held in his left. 

He gazed at the cover of the magazine without losing the grin on his face. 

"You play for Ajax don't you?". Michelle was loud. He turned and nodded sipping his coffee. 

"All the best for the season, come back soon. You need to beat Utretcht next." she said. One of the customer started to curse her for not serving them. She did not care but stayed looking at Johan. 

"Thanks my lady, your wish will be fulfilled" saying that Johan took a bow. She fell in laughter. Johan's eyes met her golden blonde long hair that brushed her blouse. Michelle could not say anything but show her thumb in appreciation. Johan had a thing for girls who followed Soccer, he waved and walked to his platform. But this was different. Johan got a crush on Michelle. 

He could not wait patiently in the car 6 room and constantly walked over to the main aisle to get a peek of Michelle. It had been nearly six months Rita had broken up, he needed female companionship, and of course the warmth of skin at night. Johan never spent for sex and was happy to not give in to Alexis's request to bring in strippers for the party. 'You don't have balls, or if you do they don't work' he had yelled. Alexis was drunk. 
Michelle noticed what Johan was doing and with a little smile she continued serving her customers. After a while the train left. She felt sad. 

Johan sat at the window and experienced the beauty of Holland, he loved Europe. The beautiful women, the churches, the history, it was special. Green fields changed into huge car factories as they reached Utrecht. Johan prayed he should not get another three hundred pound monster this time as his neighbor. It would take six hours to reach Frankfurt and he was not prepared to smell a sweaty fat man again, his last travel in the reverse direction had been the worst he could remember. He became happy when a middle aged lady wearing a beautiful violet coat sat. After the initial wishes, Johan again lost himself at the beauty of the highlands enveloping the train route to Germany, he continued thinking of Michelle. 

Half an hour later while he was dancing with Michelle who was covered in a beautiful white dress under a yellow grand chandelier, Johan was woken up by repeated loud noises. The train began to slow down rapidly and the car started to wobble to the right.  Before he could comprehend what was happening he was thrown to his left. The whole car turned and fell on its side and Johan flew falling over a pile of travelers. He could hear explosions and feel the heat of fire. Before Johan could stand up, the whole slew of baggage from the side where he was sitting hit him. He fell into darkness.


 It was an hour past midnight when George was about to end his day. The rerun episode of Doctor Who in BBC America came to an end. He needed to get up early to renew his driving licence when the flash news appeared. 

ICE train derails in the outskirts of Utrecht. Hundreds injured. Twenty two confirmed deaths. Two cars totally burned to ashes. It was traveling to Frankfurt. 

The news kept looping and George did not know why it concerned him but he kept reading it. It then it him. Utrecht. He walked up the stairs holding his right knee as he failed to collect his cane. 

"Martha! Wake up. Wake up Martha" his hands were trembling when he tried to shake her to life. She woke with a jerk and lifted her upper body to fetch the glasses. 

"Didn't you say Johan was traveling to Frankfurt before taking the American Airlines?" he asked sitting on the bed.

"Yes he is. What in the world is happening? Why did you wake me up?" she asked with a trembling voice, not knowing what would come next.

"Was he travelling in the snow train?" 

"Snow train?". She could not understand what Georgie was blabbering. 

"Snow, aah God! Ice , ice train?" he shook her with his right hand hoping it would bring a quicker answer. 

"Yes, I.C.E - Inter city express. What is happening George?" she put her hand over his. 

"It, it met with an accident. Hundreds injured, many died. Some cars were entirely burned down." he put his head over her left arm and started to cry. 

"Stop it George, nothing would happen to Jo. He will be alright. Just wait for a few hours, he will call your mobile himself, if you have enough charge on that damn thing" saying Martha pulled George off of her. 

He sat staring at her not sayign a word for more than ten minutes even after she requested repeatedly. Martha got up, picked up her glasses and walked down to the living room. BBC America was still on, and a female reporter was talking. 

It is very sad news. An eighteen wheeler got stuck in the crossing and could not start before the train came. The gatekeeper had tried to pass the news to Utrecht Ost but the line was jammed. His mobile phone did not work too. What we are seeing are the live shots from the scene of the accident. Hundreds are injured and with twenty six confirmed deaths, we fear there might be more. As you see the local farmers are helping clear out the rubble and locate people stuck below the mess. 

The pictures were gory and awful. Martha started to tear unconsiously. Men were lifted off in streachers, by local people holding their hands and legs, in small cars and trucks. It was blood everywhere. As they were telecasting the camera shook. Yellow flames engulfed the background of the scene. A fresh explosion in the fuel car. Martha cried 'God!' and held both hands at her mouth.   

Mark dropped his son off in school and was driving to the grain reservoir. It was the last day of the quarter and he had to ship nearly half a ton of rice today if he needed to dodge the failure. Buyten shipping has missed the quarterly targets and it had always been because of rice. It was either the truckers missing deadlines or the worms infecting the whole containment. He was determined to reach the target this time. Mark had been working sixteen hours straight the whole week only to return home this morning as Lydia was traveling. Mario needs to go to school, it was his exams.

Mark tuned the radio to 102.1 FM that played the Smithsonian folk music. He was tapping the wheel and singing the songs aloud, he knew each one of them. Road narrowed and lush green fields started to envelop the path. He saw an eighteen wheeler car hauler a few hundred yards in front. It seemed to be stopped. Mark knows well that it should've been an axle failure, had had worked with cars half of his life. It took him another ten seconds to see it stood stationary right in the middle of the train tracks. There were few guys running around the driver area and the gate controller room. It took him another ten seconds to understand the gravity of the situation. Mark heard the long horn of a train approaching from the left and turned to see it was a high speed one.

It was as though he was watching Die Hard movie right in front of his eyes. The train collided head on with the mid section of the car hauler. Three of the cars on the upper level were thrown off wild and they flew some hundred yards and rolled over the fields. The cars in the lower level weren't so lucky, they were crushed by the weight of the overrunning engine and the passenger cars. He turned left to take a look at the train. One after the other every car began to topple to the right like row of leaning cards toppling in succession. But this was in a larger scale. Mark stopped his truck along the side and jumped out. His eyes were stuck on the magnanimity of the situation that he did not recognize other cars stopping behind him. It was another minute before a wild explosion blew the entire gate keeper's room away. He thought that should've been triggered by the fuel burning in the engine. Mark still couldn't believe what he was seeing. The older couple behind him started to cry and a man was trying to classify his wife. Mark ran to his seat, starting his truck he drove toward the crossing.

The engine was split at the center with electrical charges vibrating the metals under it. Mark knew too well to not reach anywhere near it. He ran to the first passenger car. All he heard was cries for help, moans and people desperately trying to open the door that appeared stuck. Mark ran over the door and kicked the handle hard down. It swung downward open. Before he could peek inside people started climbing out. An Asian with a round glasses came out first. His right hand bled but apart from that he looked fine. He and Mark started pulling up one passenger after another. Those who had come out were injured lightly. They ran toward the other passenger cars to help. After some five passengers were lifted he started to feel the gore of the accident. Small girl with turned back hands, a middle aged man with amputated leg, a teenage boy with an object stuck into his right eye. Mark almost puked seeing that but he knew he should not waste any second. Closing his mouth with his left hand, Mark continued lifting up passengers. After two others came to help in action Mark ran and jumped off the car and puked. He the wiped his mouth and looked to his left. An army of injured men, that was the best way he could put it. Tens of them not able to walk. People from the cars further back were trying to run away into the fields.

Seconds turned to minutes and minutes to an hour. Mark was sweating. He helped stop a girl from bleeding, carried a middle aged man on his hands and placed him on the field. The work was far from complete. T.V crews arrived on copters when Mark was helping the final passenger car. He stood by the door in the front and was pulling an adult female when he heard a cry.

"EVERYBODY RUN AWAY. THE FUEL TANK IS GOING TO BLOW" cried a man and ran into the field. There was an adult man wearing a blue shirt shouting for help from inside. Everyone around him ran into the fields and in other directions, away from them. Mark almost started when he heard the man cry and looked inside. His head was covered with blood and his left fingers were all fractured. He could use just his right hand that made Mark lift him tougher.

"Hold on buddy, don't let go. It will be over within a minute. Come on keep holding my palm" Mark said to the man wearing blue.

"OK this is all I can do, please be faster. I don't want to die in explosion, I have just survived the accident" he said.

As Mark was about to pull him out, his left leg got stuck. He cried in pain when Mark tried to pull with a force. Mark apologized and asked the man to free his leg.

"I cant move my legs, I cant move my legs, I cant move my legs" the man continued in terror. His eyes showed what he felt. Mark was out of luck, he had only one way. Without another thought Mark let go of the man's hand and jumped into the car. The man fell down unable to use his leg.

"I am going to lift you on my shoulders, I need you to go further up as you can. Use your right hand to catch the bottom of the car and try to lift your body. I'll push you up from here." Mark yelled.

"How would you then climb " before he could finish Mark bent and caught his hips with his hands. The man was heavy, he would be atleast a hundred and ninety pounds. Mark lifted his shoulders with a cry of rage and a want to save this man's life. His life is in danger too, now that he is stuck inside the passenger car.

After the man replied affermative on getting a hold Mark pushed his hips high as he could. The man was going up and his legs were in front of Mark's face. After a minute he was able to get out completely.  Mark was still inside.

He tried to jump to get a hold of the guy's hand but it kept slipping. After eight tries Mark understood he needed a different plan. He looked around trying to see if he can climb onto something while he heard footsteps above. Another two hands joined the guy's and Mark caught them on the first try. He was raised above by a middle aged guy who looked like a truck driver. He smiled on exiting and atonce turned his attention toward the injured passenger. He lay on his chest. Mark caught both of his hands and his savior caught his legs.

"On count of three, one..two..three" and they both jumped off the car holding the guy. All three of them fell on soft paddy plants that gave them sufficient cushion. The two men stood up and started pulling the passenger away from the car as fast as they can. Before Mark could turn to see in front a huge shockwave carried him twenty feel and he fell rolling over the plants. The explosion sent rubble that hit his head. The passenger landed next to him and although he cried in more pain Mark was happy he was alive. He lifted his body up and saw the horror. The trucker who had helped him get out lay a few feet toward the train. His face was smashed to an extent that the features were all wiped off. It was pure gore as Mark could spot the eye chamber empty. The shock was unbearable. Next thing Mark could see was total darkness.


The coverage on the accident continued on television. George had joined Martha on the couch and they were looking at new video addition to every half an hour news report. It was almost dawn and the sky turned grey. Just then the t.v anchor appeared again.

We've heard stories of bravery, stories of courage to put the injured passengers ahead of them. Common men rising above the ranks to give another chance in life for the injured. Just like this gentleman. 
Turning toward the interviewee she continued the coverate.
May we know your name sir? 

I am Mark. 

Mark, we just heard from the members of this soccer team Ajax, that it was you who was responsible for their prolific striker and greatest friend to be still alive. What did you think when you were helping him knowing the fuel tank could explode any minute?

I can't stand there staring at a living guy who's unable to help himself and just run for my life, can I? I won't be able to live another day if I did. 

You are an individual extraordinaire Mr. Mark. The player owes his life to you. 

They turned towards a bunch of guys wearing football jerseys. The group yelled in joy when the camera focused in on them. Just then George's mobile rang. Martha immediately jumped out of the couch and took the call.

"Mum this is Johan. I am alive Mum. You don't know what happened and how I was saved". Johan started to cry. Martha controlled her emotions.

"We know son, you owe your life to Mr. Mark."

                                                                   ~~ The end ~~ 

Copyright 2012 Arun Srinivasan

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