Strangers on a Train

I would really, really, really appreciate any of your feedback on this short story I’m sending with my application to a writing workshop for this summer. Any comments to help improve it would mean a lot, thank you!

The sunrise swallowed the inky darkness hiding in the shadows of the rolling plains. Bridgette’s eyelids fluttered open to meet these first streaks of mid-July daylight pouring in through the window her head had been leaning against all night.
She had fallen asleep to the rumbling of the train passing through the misty lights of Chicago, 950 miles from home. The looming mountain range of skyscrapers had dissolved into the night sky and daylight revealed rolling hills in place of the concrete. The sunlight was spilling over deep purple moors and was seeping through the wispy flower-specked plains beyond the stonewall separating the fields from the tracks. The scenery continued despite the blur of the fast moving train. Miles of track couldn’t escape the vast countryside.

Bridgette grabbed her canvas backpack from the seat next to her and pulled out a worn leather notebook. Flipping through the pages of scribbles, she found her hand-drawn map of the United States. She traced the line that ran across state borders from Boston to San Francisco until the creased itinerary in her pocket matched with where her finger landed on the map.

She got out of her booth seat and made her way down the aisle to get breakfast and freshen up. When she returned, she slid open the door to her oak-paneled compartment to find two strangers sitting in the booth parallel to her seat.
Inching into the room, she sat down and clutched her notebook on her lap. She glanced around the room only to meet the older man’s steady gaze.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt.” He assured warmly with a smile. “It’s just that some of the compartments are kinda crowded so they’ve been moving people around.” His faded hazel eyes twinkled earnestly reminding her of a grandfather when he spoke.

The younger man in his freshly pressed suit, who Bridgette assumed must have come from another crowded room, had his head cupped in his hands and continued to look down as she smiled at the old man.

“Oh, I don’t mind. Actually, I’ve been traveling alone for about…” She opened her notebook to the map and looked down considering for a moment, “for about two thousand miles or so.”

He observed with eyebrows raised, “You seem to be quite the traveler for someone so young, where are you from? And more importantly, where do you plan to go?”

“Well, I’m from a small town about fifty miles outside of Boston and I’m heading toward San Francisco to visit my aunt.” She answered while trying to suppress a smile because she’d wanted to make this trip a reality for years. “But I wouldn’t really say I’m a traveler,” she added, “seeing as this is my first time away from home.”

“First time away from home,” he smiled as though he was watching his own memories playback in an old film. “That must be very exciting for you then. And by train,” he exclaimed, “that’s even better. It’s a shame how little people travel by railroad these days. Imagine all they’re missing out on.” He gestured towards the expansive window framing the cascading Colorado Mountains.

The young man in the suit finally raised his eyes with a very subtle look of disapproval and then glanced back down at his smartphone.

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Bridgette’s voice rose in excitement, choosing not to acknowledge the man in the suit. “If you’re going to travel across the country, wouldn’t you want to actually see the country?”

“That’s the real problem,” his voice grew more serious and he leaned in, “everyone wants to go, go, go. Secure the fastest flight, no stops on the way there, pop a few pills to pass out on the plane. That’s what I don’t under-”

The man in the suit finally spoke up and cut him off mid-rant. “Don’t understand?” He exclaimed with his eyes narrowing in frustration. “Maybe you need to wake up and realize this is the 21st century. People have places to go and they don’t have time for this!”
He looked down embarrassed at his reaction then took a deep breath and made eye contact with the two. In a more reasonable voice he explained, “Look, I’m sorry about that, okay? I guess it’s been a rough day.” He paused for a moment then joked sarcastically trying to break the tension he caused a few moments earlier, “It’s just that this isn’t exactly my favorite way to travel. I’d actually say it’s pretty far down on the list right above horse and buggy.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it. We’ve all had those days,” reassured the kind old man.

“Just about another half hour to Denver where I can catch a plane and finally get out of here,” he mumbled reassuring himself.

The old man and the young girl exchanged glances and watched him as he raised his cell phone in midair in attempt to find some Wi-Fi.

“I hate to break it to you but I haven’t had any service all morning.” Bridgette held out her phone as evidence. “And I know that you said you don’t exactly want to be here, but it really isn’t so bad.”

He stuffed his phone inside his pocket and considered the statement.

“Have you ever been to Colorado?” the old man said interrupting his thoughts.

“Well, I guess you could say so. I’ve passed over it before. I have to travel a lot for work so I’m always back and forth.”

“So you’ve traveled over it then.” He repeated glancing out the window again. “Looking down at the clouds, it’s a nice view but…”

Everyone’s eyes now trailed back to the window he was gesturing toward. The green grass slopped down the landscape and met with the mouth of the lacquered deep indigo lake. The midmorning sun glittered off the still surface mirroring the curved mountain range resting against the clear sky.

The man in the suit narrowed his eyes. He looked as though he was trying to decipher a foreign language he had long ago forgotten. He was silent the rest of the train ride, his eyes never leaving the window.

The train pulled into the station with a screech. The old man was the first to stumble out the sliding door. As Bridgette tossed her canvas backpack over her shoulder, she noticed out of the corner of her eye a smile on the old man’s face.

Bridgette followed the mass of people exiting the train right to where the train ticket booth was. Sitting down on the bench to the side of it, she pulled out her notebook and found her itinerary where she circled in dark ink where she was heading next. Fifteen minutes until she was supposed to be at Gate E to catch the train for the last leg of her journey.

After she walked over, she stood at the opening of her gate and went to check off one last detail in her notebook. She dug through the side pocket of her backpack for her pen only to find it wasn’t there. She looked across the large station to where she had been sitting to find it resting upon the bench. She considered for a moment whether she should walk all the way across the crowded floor just to pick it up. Before she could make a decision, she saw the man in the freshly pressed suit again. Her eyes followed him as he quickly reached out and grabbed her pen off the bench. He stepped back over to the booth next to it and signed a piece of paper that he exchanged for a train ticket. She turned her head and started walking toward her gate. She decided to leave the pen.

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14 thoughts on “Strangers on a Train

  1. 4th paragraph, “stranger” should be plural, “strangers” … editor mode aside LOL I thought it was a very engaging, well-written story. The characters are developed to be believable and it is very easy to relate to them and to care about their interactions. One thing you might want to consider, if you use Word, run the document through Word’s grammar check. You may need to set up options to define what style of writing it is checking, fiction, for example, but it may find things like punctuation errors, grammar issues to correct before you submit it. Best of Luck to you!!

    • Thank you so much! Your advice was very helpful. I don’t have much experience with fictional writing and the grammar that goes along with dialog so your thoughts were definitely much appreciated 🙂

      • You may wish to begin exploring online sites also, particularly places like Writer’s Digest. Tons of helpful advice, articles, and resources for aspiring writers! Keep us posted on how this story does with the Workshop.

      • Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll have to look into that. And I’ll definitely do an update about the workshop, everyone on here has been so helpful!

  2. This is really quite good. I can recommend two small things that might make it even better (based on advice I’ve received in my own writing).

    1) See if you can make your verbs almost exclusively “active” instead of “passive”. I noticed particularly in the beginning your verbs are passive.
    2) Your dialogue reads a more like written English than spoken English (this is exactly the feedback I was given on a recent story of mine). As counter-intuitive as this sounds, try making your dialogue more “choppy”.

    Keep up the good writing.

  3. Hi Gina,

    I like it! Very nice writing. A few minor suggestions. In the first sentence, consider: “Sunrise swallowed the inky darkness hiding in the shadows of the rolling plains.” And in the 11th paragraph, “their” should be “they’re.”

    Good luck with your application!

    Best wishes,
    A fellow Gina 🙂

  4. Interesting to say the least, but if I may, the starting feels rushed and in an age where most of your readers know nothing of traveling by rail, the scene of the awakening needs building up, and although you have done an excellent job engaging your characters in a conversation with one another, the overall longevity of this story’s impression would benefit significantly had you given a broader homology of Bridget and the old man’s character.

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