Turning Points, Changing Routes

We are so thrilled to post a brand new story written by Mariam Q ! This short story was submitted as part of her entry to the Abu Dhabi Book Fair and The National Short Story Competition and she wanted to share it with everyone in Untitled Chapters.

It was always a dreary day, whether it was Monday or Thursday. I walked the same path everyday. I would take the right route to the subway station and get to the first stop. After that, I would walk one mile to the bus stop that took me to college. It was such a dull routine that by the millionth time I was doing it automatically in The Walking Dead style. My mother would complain daily because I did not do anything different but what was the use of slipping out of my comfort zone and risk a change? I did not believe in anything out of order, out of a straight coordinated line. If I had to wake up at 6.00 in the morning for a whole term, I would. I abided by the rules because who wanted to rebel and cause trouble? I sure did not want that.

 

Until one night, for the first time, I sat with myself and mused about the way I was living my life. I was like a robot given a set of instructions to carry out for the rest of its existence without getting out of the loop. It was as if I was programed to do everything, without much life in it. I lied down on my bed in frustration with the dullness I was experiencing. What could I do to change all that? Instead of taking the right route, take the left one! A sly thought slipped into my mind. I jumped out of my comfortable position and my heart was hammering in my chest. Take the left route? And risk getting lost and maybe killed or mugged? I heard bad rumors about the left route and it terrified me. My heart was still jabbing at my rib cage while my mind tried to convince itself that taking the left route wont kill me. So I decided, well after a long debate with the voices in my head and lots of reluctance, to take the left route next morning.

 

***

 

I was giddy with anxiety; I felt so light-headed that I didn’t notice I was standing on the road looking at the sign of the routes. Two arrows pointing in the opposite direction, one said LEFT ROUTE and the other, RIGHT ROUTE. I dug my toes further into my shoes and my nails into my palms. I was beyond nervous and scared. I will venture into the unknown and it was the unknown I feared, the unfamiliarity of the route. I took a few deep breaths before turning on my heels and walking briskly on the left route. I knew nothing of the left route and I decided to leave it all to fate (or to my brain if it was clever enough to help me through this). I already called my friend to notify her that today I might not be able to come on time or come to college at all. She was utterly bewildered and I had to explain the I-Am-Trying-Something-New situation to her. I told her not to worry and just get on with the day normally (and not to tell anyone about this crazy decision of mine!).

 

It was a brisk path, filled with cobblestones and rimmed with unkempt bushes. I felt out of place and alien, it was not orderly like the modern right route and clean. I liked taking the right route because it was renovated one year ago to match the city’s modern structure. The left route was abandoned. I stepped into a muddy puddle and when I looked down, my reflection was disoriented from the ripples. I realized my hair wasn’t in its usual tight bun; it was open and loose. I didn’t have that sour and bitter expression on my face for I looked calmer and poised. I even felt a smile tug at my lips.

 

Out of the blue, I heard the roar of a train. I picked up pace and jogged towards the source of sound. I ended up in a shabby train station that had gloom hovering over it. The wood was decaying and old, the floor musty and unclean, some ticket booths’ windows were broken and some benches were munched at the sides. I could hear the hollowness of the place in the eerie silence and there was not a soul to be seen.

 

‘Well, ‘ello there ma’am!’ A man popped up in one of the ticket booths. ‘Where are ya headin’?’

 

I stood there marveling the bizarreness of the man. He was tall and as shabby as the train station. He was lanky with messy greenish blonde hair and horse-like face. His teeth were not marvelous at all (I am not getting into details here) and his smile was kind of creepy.

 

‘Heading to college,’ I said.

 

‘Ah, yar train leaves in a minute!’ he smiled. ‘That would be three coins!’

 

‘But, I thought it was a 5 paper,’ I said. ‘As in cash and not coin.’

 

‘No ma’am,’ his eyes started shining in queer interest. ‘All we need is coins. We only take coins, coins please more than paper does!’

 

I was startled and scared out of my mind. I handed him the coins carefully and took the ticket. I scurried to the platform as fast as possible to get rid of the weird ticket man. The train was empty except for two people and the dwindling old staff. I entered an empty compartment at the far end of the train and settled down. It was quiet for some time until I heard a rapid knock on the door. I slid it open and there stood a guy that resembled a fish and by that I mean that he had two bulging and watery eyes that blinked frequently, his hair was greasy and flatted out on his head, his lips were smacked in an O shape and he was fidgeting with the edge of his redshirt. He kept nodding his head and talking indistinctively that by the time that I understood what he wanted, he pushed his way into the compartment and sat himself across from me. We sat quietly for a few minutes and then I heard another knock, this time it was louder and more demanding.

 

‘Will you please open up?’ I heard a high-pitched voice interject.

 

I slid open the door again and I saw a small, old lady. She was so short she looked almost comical. She was chubby, with a tuft of blonde hair on her ironically large fat head. She had small piercing beady eyes, thin lips and she was literally snarling at me for blocking her way.

 

‘Out of the way, young lady!’ She jabbed my waist with her small purse and sat beside Fish Dude.

 

It was becoming weirder by the minute. Fish Dude busied himself with blinking at his own reflection on the window and the Short Old Lady took out her sewing kit and began making what it looked like an ugly scarf. I took out The Great Gatsby, my reading assignment and lost myself in the book. It was taking a long time to get to a stop and I was wondering if we would ever stop.

 

‘Excuse me,’ I said to the Short Old Lady. ‘When are we going to stop?’

 

‘Oh my dear,’ she said. ‘I did not ask nor do I know. Leave it to the driver to stop.’

 

‘Isn’t there another train station?’ I asked.

 

‘How would I know? Do I look like a map to you?’ She snapped.

 

I stopped asking her questions because she completely ignored me. We didn’t get food until one hour has passed and my stomach was rumbling. But there was no edible food at all and I ended up getting water only. It was getting long and boring and we haven’t stopped. One hour went by, two, three and we were still going on.

 

Suddenly, we bumped into something. A really loud exploding sound and everything turned hot white. The light was so blinding it hurt my eyes. I felt the whole train heave and turn and we were smacked into the ceiling of the compartment. I could hear metal crunch, wood break and glass shatter. Fish Dude was weeping loudly and the Short Old Lady was screaming at the top of her lungs. Yet, I was too quiet and I was still processing what was happening. Was I going to die? With that thought, the white light blinked into an empty and silent darkness.

 

I opened my eyes slowly expecting pain to dive in and torture my body. I might have a broken skull, maybe some broken ribs and I lost one of my legs. Maybe I was dead because I can’t feel anything. My vision was blurry and I could feel something shift beside me. I rubbed my eyes a few times and I found myself having a stare contest with the sun. I put my hand on the ground and I felt sand. The Something that was moving beside me was Fish Dude whimpering and sobbing. He had an utterly ugly crying face. The Short Old Lady was already up, dusting herself off and collecting her stuff that fell from her purse.

 

‘Are we dead?’ I asked her.

 

‘Do I look dead to you?’ she snapped.

 

You certainly are on your way, I thought.

 

‘W-we are lost,’ Fish Dude miraculously spoke proper English.

 

‘But where exactly?’ I glanced around.

 

The place was certainly nothing like I have ever seen. It was a replica of where we lived except it was different. I looked down and screamed in horror. We were all upside down. The sky was down and the ground was up. It was terrifying how the houses were anchored on the land and nothing seemed to be falling down. We all got up and gravity was working well.

 

‘Let’s go find a sign or something,’ I said and they followed obediently.

 

We followed a dirt path till we found a big sign. It was so queer, the birds flying upside down, people looked like they’re hanging down from the sky but it was actually the ground and trains were flying. It was disorienting and unbelievable. It was wonderful, how the place defied the laws of science and order. It was chaotic in a beautiful way and it was new to our eyes. A few droplets of rain rose from the sky (which was down) to reach the ground and us.

 

‘Where are we?’ Fish Dude spoke again.

 

We all looked at the sign.

 

Turning Points, where everything defies the laws of physics.

 

 

 

THE END

 

Author: Mariam Q

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