“Would you like me to wrap them for you?” the sales assistant asked.
“I’ll keep them on thanks,” replied Julie, dropping her old pair into the bag with the rest of her shopping. She should have noticed a look of concern on the face of the assistant, but was so excited with her latest purchase, she chose to ignore it. The assistant however felt a duty to pursue the matter, and made one final attempt. “Are you quite certain they’re the correct size? You did say you were an eight, and these are seven.”
What did size matter when shoes looked this good? “No, they fit like a glove, and I love them!”
“Will that be cash or credit?”
Julie offered her card; to discuss money matters at a time like this would have appeared vulgar.
She floated from the shop in an enhanced state of ecstasy. The train station was less than five minutes’ walk away, and for the first of these minutes, she was buoyed on a fluffy white cloud, convinced that all eyes were upon her shiny new shoes. Rapidly though, her cloud darkened, transforming into an angry black storm surge, firing bolts of jagged lightning into her tender feet. Her happy smile melted, to be replaced by a furrowed brow and increasingly alarmed eyes.
She reached the station, but the platform was one level above the street, and facing her was a flight of stairs resembling a wide-open mouth bearing a set of snarling teeth. She began the perilous ascent. One, two, three . . . “Why am I counting,” she thought. “How does that help? If the train appears now, there’s no way I can run for it!”
This day however luck was her companion, and her conquest of the mountain coincided with the arrival of the train. Thoroughly drained, she flopped onto a vacant seat beside the window. Her feet were killing her. This new pair of shoes that had looked so appealing in the shop, now conspired to squeeze the last drop of blood from her throbbing toes. The doors closed automatically and the train pulled slowly out of the station. “This is your guard speaking,” came a hollow voice from the speaker above her head. “Will passengers please report any unaccompanied packages or anything else suspicious to me. I can be found . . . “
“Yea-yea, heard it all before.”
Julie dropped her bag onto the floor, pushing it partway under the seat in front. Now to get these shoes off! She leaned back, digging the toe of one shoe into the heel of the other. The pain was excruciating, but it yielded. One down, one to go. With similar painful action, the second was also removed. This operation had taken place out of sight under the seat in front. That was a blessing, as it helped dissociate the horrors of the netherworld from reality above ground. In the meantime, both her shoes and shopping bag had been pushed even further forward.
Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. ”Trains don’t make that noise anymore, thought Julie, “Such a pity; it’s a comforting sound.”
Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. The rhythm played in her brain as she screwed up, then unfurled her toes in an attempt to encourage life back into them. As the feeling returned, the toes of her left foot began to explore a soft object on the floor beside them. Idly, she caressed it, then prodded it, but either way received no positive feedback as to what it was. She peeped through the gap between the two seats in front of her. Both were empty. She shut her eyes, “Clickety-clack, mind the gap” . . . that didn’t quite rhyme, but did display a simple elegance. Clickety-clack . . . her toes continued their unconscious examination of the unidentified object.
It wasn’t exactly an alarm bell, but alarming enough to cause her eyes to snap back open. “What was that he said, ‘unaccompanied’, ‘unidentified’? Surely not this!” She glanced desperately around for reassurance from fellow passengers. No help here. Her pleading eyes were met by the expressionless stares from a heard of gormless zombies enraptured by little flat things held in their hands.
As thoughts of ‘unaccompanied’ and ‘suspicious’ swirled through her head, the train rounded a corner and the carriage lurched sideways. The object shifted slightly, coming to rest against her foot. She froze. “I’m trapped,” she thought. She sat dead still, hardly daring to breathe. Seconds passed, but nothing happened. Even the vibration of the train had no effect. “If there was something dangerous in that packet it would have gone off by now.” Cautiously, she withdrew her foot and took a deep breath.
The immediate crisis had passed, and her paralyzed brain kicked back into action. “I’ll go find the guard. Where’d he say he was? Middle of the train. Which way is that?” She made as if to stand up, then stopped, “This is stupid, I’m a big girl now. He’ll think I’m demented!” She remained seated, trying unsuccessfully to relax.
An alarming new thought suddenly struck her, “Suppose it has a timer, set to go off at any moment! . . . But when? In the movies, you can always see the clock and numbers counting slowly backwards towards zero, at least then you know how long you have. This package is hiding under the seat, messing with my brain. Worse still, it’s playing footsie with my tootsies! Where does a girl find a handsome fireman when she needs one?”
Willpower alone was now the only thing preventing the package from exploding. Julie was panic-stricken. This nightmare had become a race against time. She cried silently for help, certain she could hear ticking. Rivulets of fear trickled down her face, whilst beneath her armpits, clammy fingers of perspiration played a wild concerto. She finally understood the difference between ‘deodorant’ and ‘anti-perspirant’, but this was hardly the time to contemplate such a revelation.
“You’ve got to get me out of here!” yelled a voice from inside her head.
Someone screamed! . . . No, not someone, something. It was the train’s brakes. A noise had never sounded so sweet. The train stopped and as the carriage doors slid open Julie reached under the seat, made a grab for her shoes and shopping bag, and jumped barefoot from the train!