This is my first attempt at a fictional short story in a very long time. See what you think. . . .
No!!! . . . Wait! Wait please! Scrambling to grab clothes and gifts he had just unpacked in the passenger lounge, he sensed there was no time. The train was disgorging commuters onto the platform and already the more assertive travellers were pushing to claim their place on board. Two minutes only. That’s how long he had. It wasn’t enough. No way he could get down there with his stuff in time. Why hadn’t he kept his bag packed ready to go? Where were the others? Already getting ready to board. Nowhere to be seen anyway. He couldn’t just leave his stuff but he would miss the train! Grabbing feverishly yet ineffectually, he tried stuffing objects into the bag and failing in that tried to hold them in his arms like a pile of washing. He almost sobbed with anxiety as he realised that not only would he not reach the platform in time; for some reason he couldn’t find the door out of the room. The walls began to close in on him. Words were shaped but couldn’t escape from lungs constricted by panic. He lifted his feet but his legs wouldn’t work. It felt as if he was stepping through clingy mud. A sense of fatalism told him he wouldn’t catch the train, and that it was pointless to continue struggling with his stuff.
A whistle from the platform guard prompted a pitiless sequence where onlookers stepped back involuntarily, carriage doors shut seemlessly, and the Frankfurt ICE accelerated graciously without emotion down the rails and into the night. The others were surely on the train. They hadn’t waited for him! Rising dread confirmed he was alone. His ability to breathe had left him and his vision began to fade.
He immediately became aware of another existence. Pillows, sheets and quilt enfolded him and he moved his eyelids tentatively. Darkness. Was this night? Which bed? Which house? Which life? Slowly, slowly he mixed and sorted the memory fragments and separated dream from reality; ether from substance; irrational from rational. It had visited him again. Only when he slept did it creep up unannounced. Different contexts, same fears. Different dreams, same dream. Always choreographed meticulously. Always the panic striken ending; causing him to reflect on the tenuous grip he must have had on reality.
Pillows and sheets gave way to the sway of the corridor of a train carriage. So you made it then? We were worried about you!
Not so worried that you stopped to help. He suppressed the words and kept the resentment safely hidden. Smiling, he took his seat beside them and arranged himself against the upholstery. Lit windows and advertising signs accelerated past and the warmth of the carriage encouraged him to close his eyes. What on Earth happened back there? He couldn’t ask the others. The dream again. The one where obstacles popped up as he faced a stressful deadline. Different contexts, same fears. He had always woken up, but the memory of the panic always lingered as ‘normality’ reformed. Was this real, or was it something else?
On impulse he snapped his eyes open and swivelled his head to search for his luggage and discovered it wasn’t beside him. Had he left it behind? Had the bed been real? Had he woken from a dream or had he escaped into a different dream of a warm comfortable bed? Had even one of them been real? If so which was the dream? If the first, why was he now here on the train? Shouldn’t he be in bed? If the latter, why did the train station sequence seem so dream-like now?
Train noise ceased; carriage lights extinguished. Struggling with competing reality claims he rolled over and edged further under the covers. It was cold outside. He jolted into instant alertness with the alarm and looked around. Which bed, which house? Which life?
Stumbling through pre dawn darkness toward the shower he didn’t notice the railway ticket on his bedside table, or the jumble of clothes spilling from his overnight bag on the floor.