Week 10 Flash Fiction Competition: Dead Stop

Photo by K.S. Brooks

It took nearly a quarter mile to bring the Nightingale Express to a full stop before the body on the tracks. If they hadn’t been on such a long straight stretch and in broad daylight to boot, they’d have gone right over that corpse and maybe never even have known. The brakeman and the engineer get down to investigate and are surprised to discover they both knew the dead man. Who was it? Why is he there?

In 250 words or less, tell me a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until 5:00 PM Mountain Standard Time on Tuesday, March 6th, 2012.

On Wednesday morning, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

Entries only in the comment section. Other comments will be deleted.

*      *      *      *      *

Photograph by K.S. Brooks, used here with the photographer’s permission. Copying or reproduction of any kind without express consent is prohibited. All rights reserved.

For a more detailed explanation of the contest & its workings, please see the post called “Writing Exercises Return with a Twist” from 12/24/11.

By participating in this exercise the contestants agree to the rules of the contest and waive any and all further considerations or permissions otherwise required for any winning entries to be published by Indies Unlimited as an e-book, showcasing all the photos and with the winning expositions credited appropriately and accordingly.

Author: Administrators

All Indies Unlimited staff members, including the admins, are volunteers who work for free. If you enjoy what you read here - all for free - please share with your friends, like us on Facebook and Twitter, and if you don't know how to thank us for all this great, free content - feel free to make a donation! Thanks for being here.

15 thoughts on “Week 10 Flash Fiction Competition: Dead Stop”

  1. The noise inside the old locomotive was almost deafening, but brakeman Reggie and his pal and engineer, Ozzie, had long since become adjusted to the din.

    “What ya ‘spect Hank is up to?” Reggie pondered. “Didn’t show up for his shift this mornin’!”

    “Jez up to ‘is womanizin’ ways, I ‘spose.” Old Ozzie grinned. “Man’s gonna get ‘isself murdered by some mad-as-‘ell ‘usband one o’ these days. You mark me words, Regg!”

    Just as their laughter died down, Reggie grabbed for the brake. Ozzie went crashing as the old engine strained trying her best to come to what could only be called a screeching halt.

    “What the ‘ell was that fer?” Ozzie hollered, picking himself up from the filthy, sooty floor of the old engine.

    “Look yonder, Oz! What’s that there on the rails?” Ozzie was right behind him as Reggie ran to the doorway and climbed down from the huge locomotive.

    They were a sorry looking pair in their sooty dungarees and caps, but not any sorrier than the poor chap laying just feet away from the locomotive’s catcher. It had been a very close call.

    “Hell o’ a place to take a nap, old man!” Reggie shouted.

    No response came. They stepped closer and Ozzie whispered, “’oly saints above, Regg. Ain’t it ole ‘ank? ‘e’s dead!”

    “Yup. Sure is. What ya ‘spose happened to ‘m, Oz?”

    “Well, Regg.” Ozzie scratched his head. “I reckon since ‘is engine’s missin’ its smoke stack…one o’ them ‘usbands finally caught ’m!”

  2. I stare wistfully from the window as the world rushes by. My traveling companion, Fred, sits across from me on the Nightingale Express, is snoring softly and leaning against the person next too him who tries to nudge him awake from time to time. I hold the picture. I don't know the target, never heard of him, but the person who hired us must want him dead, to the tune of ten thousand dollars. I am to make it look like an accident or at least a natural death. I have a syringe full of potassium, one of the most deadliest and untraceable poisons known to man resting in my breast pocket. We will meet the contact who will point out the target to us at the train station in LA about 5 minutes ahead. Fred only needs to distract the target by seeming to run into him while I come up from behind with the lethal syringe. The target will slump to the ground and froth will issue from his lips, I will yell out, "heart attack". Simple. Elegant. Suddenly the train comes to a halt. I look through the window and witness the engineer and the brakeman jump down. There is a body on the tracks. It must have taken a half mile to stop the train or they would have run over him. They seem to recognize the man. I recognize the man as well when they turn the body over. It is my target. What? How?

  3. “Oh my God it’s Davy Jones!” the engineer screamed.

    “Who?” The young brakeman was perplexed and horrified by the sight of the dead man lying across the tracks.

    “Davy Jones from the Monkees!!” the engineer cried as he threw his hands up in the air in despair.

    “Who the hell is Davy Jones!”

    “You know, that old TV show about the wannabe Beatles band. Remember the song? ‘Hey hey we’re the Monkees, and people say we monkey around…’’’.

    “Oh yea,” the brakeman’s facial features softened as he looked up into the sky trying hard to recall a time past. “That show was a little before my time but I think I’ve seen it once or twice. Wasn’t it really stupid? What was the point of it anyways?”

    “My sweetheart was crazy about Davy Jones, that used to really piss me off,” remembered the engineer.

    They both looked down at the corpse in bewilderment as the wind blew threw the trees causing the big old steel grey bell on the front of the engine to softly chime along with the rustling in the trees. There was a long quiet.

    “I think he’s smiling,” the brakeman finally broke the silence.

    “Oh you know those old stars have so much plastic surgery. It does look like he’s smiling. Creepy! How do you think he got here?” Just then something caught the attention of both men. It was a single bed with medal bed post on wheels lodged in a tree.

  4. The body lay face-down on the tracks just inches from where the Nightingale Express 4003 steamed and popped, settling from the quarter-mile stretch of braking that had brought us here.

    “March 15, 4003,” said Dee, the brakeman, poking at his computer. “If we hadn’t seen him way back at the first of March, we’d have run him over.”

    “The Ides of March,” I said, shuddering. Dee called it superstition, but in my time running the 4003 time train, shuttling fifty-first century tourists to their destinations, I’ve seen strange things, and always on those strange days.

    “Let’s get out there,” said Dee, reading my thoughts, as usual. He handed me a timestream suit and we prepared to leave the safety of the engine. In the background, I heard the attendant reassuring the passengers that we would be on our way shortly.

    “Looks like a guardian,” said Dee matter-of-factly, but I knew he was tasting the same dread I was. We fought the intense gravity of the track that kept us from slipping out into some random 4003-dweller’s office or bathroom as we shuffled towards the body. If it was a guardian, we were screwed.

    After what seemed like an hour (but who could tell on the tracks?) Dee turned the man over. “Damn,” he said. “It’s Ortus. He must’ve hit a paradox and got thrown out of spacetime.”

    We shuffled back to the train to inform the passengers that the universe would be tearing itself apart momentarily.

  5. Engine 4003 felt miserable. She had been retired.

    “Why have they retired me,” she kept asking herself. “Is it because I have a bell to warn people of my approach? My bell has always been a good warning, why the change?”

    She sat on the siding, watching the new engines roar past her, blowing their siren triumphantly. She felt dejected .

    “What is wrong with you?” a little mouse asked.

    “I am no longer wanted,” she replied, “they think that I am too old, ready for the scrap heap.”

    “Mmmm,” the mouse replied, “let me see what I can do.”

    The next four weeks were truly miserable for Engine 4003.

    “Dear Great Engine,” she prayed, “please let me go slowly. Don’t let me rust away.”

    Two days later, she noticed two men walking up and down, inspecting her.

    “Yup, she looks good,” a man with a white beard said, “She will do.”

    The next morning, to her surprise, she as filled with coal and water. She was fired up, and driven along tracks she had never visited before, into a shed, where she was washed, and polished. Sparkling, and feeling as though she had been reborn, coaches were attached to her. She was guided to a platform where laughing children were loaded into her coaches. With a broad smile on her face, her bell ringing happily she chugged away.

    “Where is this place?” she asked, “Where am I?”

    “You are in Disneyland,” the mouse replied. “Enjoy your new life.”

  6. The clanging of the bell on the front of the train continued for a few seconds after it came to a full stop. As they climbed down to investigate, it became clear what appeared to be debris on the tracks was actually a human body. Jake, the engineer, gasped as he saw the face. This was the man he had seen at O’Hare’s the other night. How did he get here and what got him into this condition? Jake turned to look at the brakeman. He could tell from the look on Henry’s pale face that he was thinking the same thing. The bar at 4003 S. Henderson was a popular hangout with the railroad guys. The dead man, who was very much alive two nights ago, was not one of the usual crowd. He was an obvious trouble maker. When he tried to pick a fight with normally mild mannered Henry, the brakeman showed a side of his personality Jake had never seen. He was so angry that he threatened to kill the stranger if he ever came back. Since the incident at the bar, Jake had noticed Henry seemed nervous and pre-occupied. It wasn’t his style to interfere in another man’s business so Jake had said nothing. Now, though, he had some questions about why Henry reacted the way he did that night and why he’s been so different since. Could Henry have been involved in this man’s death? It didn’t seem possible but stranger things have happened.

  7. Mumbling at first, nearly inaudible to one another over the clanging of the bell—a feature of Engine 4003 that attracted almost everyone–as the train moved forward with some speed at this point, their conversation soon became more focused, the two deep voices saying, in different tones and paces, “What the hell?”

    John Briggs, the Brakeman was more astute in recognizing forms of all kinds (but particularly the human form) than was Henry Jones, the Engineer. Why? Because John was a sculptor in his off hours, concentrating on figurative art. “Henry,” he said, with a sureness that could not be disregarded by Jones, “that’s a body lying ‘cross the tracks up ahead. Got to stop—and better start brakin’ right now!” Jones nodded in agreement.

    For at least thirty seconds, they heard that hollow screeching sound of metal on metal, the emergency pitch of it piercing the warm summer air, just three miles shy of Smithtown. Stopped now, they climbed down to the form, a body, which was face-up and unharmed. “Johnny Deeming,” they said simultaneously, shaking their heads. He was a familiar face at the local bar; the three men drank together.

    “That damned gambling!” exclaimed Henry Jones. When they turned him over, they saw a knife placed almost neatly in the center of his back, deep and with the sort of precision one would attribute to a surgeon or butcher. Together, they lifted him into the train and began their final sad stretch home.

  8. “Reckon I do recognize him,” says the brakeman, staring down at the corpse that had induced him to bring the train to a screeching halt.

    “Same.” The engineer pushes back the brim of his hat and wipes the perspiration from his forehead with a red bandana.

    They study the body.

    “Strange, those wings,” the brakeman says, crouching down to study the singed, broken feathers splattered across the 4003 sign, blood reddening the once bright, white numbers.

    “Think I saw him last night,” the engineer decides. “When we were …”

    “At the saloon?” the brakeman prompts. He rubs the stubble on his chin. “Now you mention it, I think I did too. Wasn’t drinkin’. Just… watchin’.”

    “Might be.” The engineer clears his throat and looks at the horizon, “Might be he spoke to me. Told me to stay away from the women. Recommended it for the sake of my soul.”

    “Think he said somethin’ similar to me when I was headin’ upstairs.”

    “Those were some angry husbands came after us. Didn’t like killin’ ‘em, didn’t have much choice.”

    “D’ya think he was trying to save us?” the brakeman asks. “From the adulteratin’ and murderin’? Guess the Good Lord wasn’t too pleased with the job he done.”

    “D’ya think it’s our fault?” asks the engineer. “Our fault he’s dead too?”

    “We’re just men,” the brakeman says and for a moment, the engineer swears the other man’s eyes are glowing red in the beams from the train’s headlight. “Souls is his responsibility.”

  9. The wind was blowing softly, like it did every ‘spring day’ of March. Norah stood silently. The nerve wracking wait and its unsure intent slowly eased their way into her jittery mind. The Nightingale Express should have arrived an hour ago, yet any indication of arrival remained a mystery. Every Saturday, without fail, George would leap out of the train as it pulled into the station and gather Norah into his brawny arms. His navy blue jumpsuit reeking of motor oil and the stink of the garage he worked at.

    Barry and Noel shook their heads, staring at each other and then staring at the body. "Poor fella, I knew somethin’ was wrong. I thought he missed the train." Barry removed his cap, exposing his bald scalp to the overhead sun. "He ain’t even wearin’ his uniform t’day." Noel chipped in his two cents worth of wisdom. The two men looked around, as if waiting for the dilemma to resolve itself. "Well, he ain’t gonna move on his own, is he?" Barry let out a groan as they lifted the body and placed it in the driver’s compartment. The authorities would deal with the matter.

    Norah twisted the handkerchief into painful contortions, the distant clanging of the bell restoring her lost faith. The train came to a standstill. Passengers spilled out, her frantic eyes searching their haphazard flow. She let out a loud gasp as he snuck up behind her, sweeping her off her feet.

    Capt. Glenn awaited disembarkation.

  10. Metal grated against metal as Engine 4003 shrieked to a halt. The bell tolled creating an almost dissonant harmony. Thick, black smoke filled the air as the engine coughed its annoyance at being stopped prematurely. Two dirty faces peered out the open doorway at the track laid out in front of them. The men disembarked the train and cautiously approached the body.

    The bloated corpse was lying facedown between the tracks. Both men pulled their bandanas over their noses to try to block out the stench. A swarm of flies rose into the air like a black tornado as Ben, the engineer, toed the body with his boot, rolling it over.

    The pair blanched as they recognized cattle baron Ted Trillert.

    “Wonder how he got clear out here.”

    Dennis shrugged. “Dunno. We can’t just leave ‘im here.”

    Ben gagged. “I ain’t touching him. We can tell the Marshall where he is when we get back ta town.”

    “Help me put him on the train.”

    “Where’s he gonna ride? No one wants that stink in the same car as them. Just roll him outta the way and lets get a move on.”

    Dennis blanched as he grabbed the dead man’s shirt and rolled him from the tracks. He bolted upright and turned to run back to the train as a bullet ricocheted past his head. He skidded to a halt realizing they were surrounded by mounted men.

    “Thanks for stopping this here train. We’ll be taking the payroll from here.”

  11. Ingrid held onto the bell for dear life. She came from a long line of Train Bell Aids and the 4003 was her first outing. For as long as she could remember Ingrid had heard stories of her ancestors rising above their lot and doing great things.

    “Not just any ole mosquito can do what we do,” the old ones would say.

    “Stick your belly out with pride. Hold your antennae high. You’re a Train Bell Aid, a TBA and that’s some kind of special.”

    Ingrid could barely sleep that day and hurriedly got her a little bite before getting in gear. She knew timing was everything.

    She perked up her antennae to make sure she was pumped to land on that 4003 bell rod right before it hit that final turn. Somehow in her little heart she knew she could guide that locomotive into the station safely.

    The tracks vibrated. The scent was right and Ingrid soared upward and circled twice just like she practiced. She smooth landed on the rod and tapped that bell with her antennae. The bell rod was scorching hot and Ingrid’s body bristled, but nothing could stop her from riding the 4003 in. It was her destiny.

    Ingrid held onto the bell for dear life. She braced herself as the bell began to ring furiously, slinging her from side to side, then flipping her onto that hot rod as the 4003 skidded to a clean stop.

    Battered but beaming with pride, Ingrid shivered hungrily.

  12. "How could the boss just fire him like that Hank? Eddie has been Chief Engineer of this here Nightingale Express for over 20 years. When I was a little boy, I could hear that beautiful bell ringing for miles. Two puffs of dark smoke congested the sky. Right then and there, I knew I wanted to be the breakman for the incredible 4003."

    "Yeah, I know Tim. Eddie could run this baby with his eyes closed. Whistling to the sound of the wheels going down the tracks."

    "Hank, did you know that they were going to promote you to Chief Engineer?"

    "Well, Tim, I….Wait a minute, there's something on the tracks."

    "There is something on the tracks?"

    "Hit the brakes Tim!"

    "It'll take a quarter mile to bring the Nightingale to a stop. I don't know if I can stop it Hank."

    "Keep trying Tim. Don't let go of the brakes." The Nightingale came to a horrific scretching halt. The two looked at each other with fear in their eyes.

    "Tim, there's someone on the tracks. We've got to see who it is." Hesitantly, both men stepped off the train and walked slowly along the tracks. Hanked pulled back the coat that covered the mans face.

    "Oh no. It can't be."

    "Hank, please tell me it's not him." There on the tracks laid Eddie's body. "He's dead Hank. What happened to him?"

    "He died the worst way that a man can die. He died of a broken heart."

  13. The Nightingale Express steamed down the tracks, its bright light shined even in the day as smoke bellowed from its black stack. Butch the engineer and Cliff the brakeman were deep in their conversation about the new railroad company, Railway 4003, and their takeover of the Express. They despised the former owner, Roy Heller, who sold out the company and its employees.

    “You give your whole life to a company and when you get ready to retire, this is what they do to ya!” Butch said. They both worked there for 40 years and now their pay and pension were being cut in half.

    “Yeah, put me in a room with that Heller and I’ll burn his eyes out!” Cliff said. Their anger built.

    “Look! Somethin’s on the track!” Cliff pulled the brake and rang the bell. Alarmed passengers and attendants three cars back held on at the sudden braking. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to stop!” Cliff pulled the lever more. The locomotive came to a stop a quarter-mile later, just before hitting the body. They exited.

    Looking down, and to their shock, they recognized the body as Roy Heller. Blood eased from the bullet hole in his chest. They kneeled down to check him. “He’s dead Butch. Can you believe it?” They stood, leaving Heller there.

    Climbing back in the locomotive and without a word; they looked at each other and smiled.

    “Full speed ahead Cliff! Full speed ahead!”

  14. “Damn, Bill,” said the engineer, as he stared at the man lying face up across the tracts only inches from the grill of the train. “Half a second slower on those brakes and this guy would have been flattened.”

    The brakeman studied the dusty landscape near the train, trying not to look at the body. “I’m just glad you spotted him in time. How the heck did he get here? There aren’t any tire tracks or footprints.”

    “No idea. He looks like he just fell asleep. There isn’t a mark on him. I swear, he looks just like that guy you were flirting with at Starbucks this morning, but that was four-hundred miles back.”

    “Kurt.” Bill said, finally looking at the body. “It is him, Carlos. There can’t be two men with the same hansom face and green ring. But what happened?”

    When Carlos didn’t answer, Bill glanced up and saw him staring slack- jawed. The engineer could only point down the tracks. Chills ran down Bill’s back when he saw the destroyed bridge less than an eighth of a mile away, down a slight incline. They would never have seen it in time to stop the train. The two men stared at the broken bridge, then at the track in front of the train. Kurt’s body was gone. Bill swallowed past a hard dry lump.

    “Bill,” said the engineer, after a full two minutes of silence. “I won’t say anything about the body if you don’t.”

  15. The two men stared down at the body, then looked at each other.

    “Is he?” Todd asked.

    Henry nodded.

    “And you know…”

    Henry nodded again.

    “What are we going to do?”

    Henry shrugged his shoulders. “We could push him down the embankment. Pretend we didn’t see him. No-one on board. No witnesses.”

    “But we didn’t do anything. He was already…”

    “I know,” Henry interrupted. He was used to seeing strays on the line. Usually animal carcasses rather than human ones but he was strangely unmoved.

    Todd, however, was starting to shake.

    The older man returned to the train’s cab and brought back a blanket, wrapping it round his colleague’s shoulders.

    Todd smiled weakly. “What about his family? They’ll be missing him, won’t they?”


    “Oh. I didn’t know that.”

    “Around this time last year. Here, actually. He was injured and the doctors didn’t think…”


    Todd followed Henry’s gaze to the man’s body and screamed as he saw it disappearing as if enveloped by a winter fog.

    It was then that Henry noticed the woman and her child, holding hands on the other side of the track, a brief smile then they were gone.

Comments are closed.