Thursday, 15 April 2010

THE UNDERGROUND by Michael S. Collins

The Underground

The Clockwork Orange is one of the greatest metro systems in the world. It seriously is. I use it frequently to get from my house to the West End of Glasgow, to the City Centre, to Ibrox Stadium, to my mums, to anywhere. It really is fantastically useful.

Ticket prices go up. Ticket prices always go up. It's an unfortunate element of going by train. Just when you get used to what the ticket prices used to be, suddenly they go up, and you are out of pocket yet again. It's a terrible fact of life, but unfortunately, it's one we have to cope with.

So there was a lot of people in the queue moaning about the prices. I took my ticket. I needed to go. It was important. I had to go and see my family in town.

It was early morning. It was a rainy day. An unpleasant day, but then again, this is Glasgow. I took my ticket, I went through the barrier, and I went down to the platform.

“Passengers keep all your belongings at your side at all times.”

A friendly warning. The screen tells me that the train will be coming in seven minutes. Just sitting, watching the screen, looking at the people around me. Oh, there's the mothers, kids, they're late for school you know. There's... shouldn't he have a job to go to? Doesn't look like he's got one. Typical. There's some students. I can tell they're students. They look studenty, scruffy, drunk, hungover even.

Everyone is waiting for the train. When is the train coming? Five minutes. It always takes forever. That's the longest time in the world, watching that screen count down to the next train. Waiting for the train to come in the underground.

The trains on the other platform are running faster. This always happens. One just passed and there will be another one in three minutes. I don't like it when this happens. Why does the train always have to come faster at that end? It's blooming ridiculous. Nothing less than ridiculous. And if I was going that way, it would happen at this side.

It's like the universal fates are conspiring against me. I... it's a nuisance, its nothing less than a nuisance. Another trains gone past that way, can you believe it? It was full as well. Full! How many people are going that way into town? How can it be full? What is going on with the world today?

The platform is milling with folk. A load of people from the nearby Stadium. A load of people from the nearby job centre. A load of people from the nearby hostel. A load of people from the nearby school. All kinds of folk, waiting for the train to come.

That was a long minute. Waiting. For the train. When will it come?

Keeping away from the edge. Away from the edge. Further. You can never be too careful. You might fall. I've heard of people falling onto the tracks. The tracks might be electric and even if you survive that the train might get you. Best stay away from the edge. Best stay up against the wall. Best place for you.

Still two minutes to go. I'm sure another minutes passed since my last look. What's going on? What's happening here? What's going on? I want my train. This platform is very crowded. There's another train going the other way. What's going on?

I don't know. What's going on? I don't know. What? What? Whhhhaaaat? I'm confused. I'm confused. I'm lost. I have no sense of direction at all. I'm underground, I'm undersea, I'm claustrophobic, dead. I need to breathe. I need to breathe. I need to breathe.

I am breathing. It's OK! It's fine! Everything is fine, everything is OK, everything is secure. One minute to go. Another minute to go. Just a minute to go. I can hear it. I can hear the train in the tunnel. I can hear it coming. I can hear it. I can hear it roaring. I can hear it thundering like a tune in the night. Thundering, thundering, through the tunnels. Coming.

Closer. Coming closer. Closer. Coming. I can hear it. Approaching, approaching. I can see it on the screen. Train Approaching! It's coming! It's coming for me, it's coming at last. Oh thank god!


“This next train will not be stopping for passengers at this stop. We apologise for this delay.”

What? No, no, no. Not for me? Got to stop. Stop. This is my train. My train. This isn't right. What's up? Come.

Come back, come back for me. No, this isn't right! No!

The train slowly slunk into the station. The red light was up. It had to stop. The driver looked shadowy and secret as he sunk into the dark of his cabin. The lights were off in the front and final carriages. Only the middle carriage was lit.

That carriage was a sea of desolation. Seats ripped up. Muddy foot prints on the ground. Broken bottles. A gas mask lying, discarded, ripped. Murky green glowing light, gaseous. A red dripping from the walls. The far platform was seen through a luminescent sticky red substance bathed across the entire of the far windows of the carriage.

The train started to move. Into the tunnel. As the last carriage went by, two pairs of red piercing eyes stared back at me. From the darkened carriage. The last car. It moved into the tunnel.

I turned to the nearest person next to me. A business type. Worried. The usual type. We stared at each other for a second. Sharing a moment.

I took the bus that day. And many days afterwards.

Michael S Collins is a member of GSFWC (the Glasgow Strange-Fiction Writers Circle). and has been published in several countries (including Literature E-zine websites, ad writing for Bob Furnell). Michael writes book reviews for magazines such as The Fortean Times and his short fiction has appeared in magazines such as Aesthetica, Clockwise Cat, The Short Humour Site, MicroHorror, TBD, and was included in the DemonMinds anthology in 2008.


  1. Welcome back, Michael.

    Wasn't sure where you were going with this (which is good). But found myself gripped by this guy's panicky rant. The predictable ending would have been either he jumped or pushed someone into the train's path, but you nailed it with the unexpected twist.
    Good stuff.


  2. Thanks, Col.

    The story is (very) loosely based on an actual event from a year or two ago when me and my girlfriend Mandy were waiting for the train. The train arrived in such a mess that my mind immediately thought: "Looks like some creature got loose!"

    So when I came to write it down, it did get loose!

    It's a trick that Ray Bradbury uses a fair bit - take something from real life, and then add on to it. (See The Pedestrian and Banshee as examples)

    But, yes, thanks for the kind words. I always appreciate people taking the time to read my work! (And if they enjoy it, it's a nice bonus too!)

    Best wishes,

  3. Good one, Michael. Horrific, claustrophobic stuff that made the horror realistic. Reading that brought back all the trepidation I feel in subway tunnels. Must be a phobia or something but I always feel there's something otherworldly about the subway/underground and am always haapiest when I'm back in the light of day.

    Good tip regarding Ray Bradbury, too. I'm sure some of our readers/authors will grab at that.

  4. I thought that was a gripping-pull-you-along-at-breakneck-speed account of almost claustrophobic hysteria!

    I was out of breath reading it (living it...?) - and a surprise ending.

    Like Col, I half-expected him to be under the train at some point.

    Wow! That's got the adrenalin pumpin'!

    And thanks for the Bradbury tip, too.

  5. Nice story. I wasn't really sure what was going on so the ending came as a nice twist.

  6. Nice one, fast paced with some good observations. Don't think I'll be travelling on the metro for a while...

  7. That is a brilliant piece of writing. Very, very good.