Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Train

train at night under aurora borealis flash fiction writing prompt photo
Photo copyright K.S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

Use the photograph above as the inspiration for your flash fiction story. Write whatever comes to mind (no sexual, political, or religious stories, jokes, or commentary, please) and after you PROOFREAD it, submit it as your entry in the comments section below.

Welcome to the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge. In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture at left. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time. No political or religious entries, please. Need help getting started? Read this article on how to write flash fiction.

On Wednesday, we will open voting to the public with an online poll so they may choose the winner. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday. On Saturday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature.

Once a month, the admins will announce the Editors’ Choice winners. Those stories will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

Entries only in the comment section. Other comments will be deleted. See HERE for additional information and terms. Please note the rule changes for 2018.

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14 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Train”

  1. “Why me?”

    James crossed the old railroad junction every night after eating at the bar. The Tijuana Golden Express was decommissioned over sixty years ago, when James was twelve, yet every Monday, James waited for the forty cars to pass. When the rhythmic clickety-clack of the wheels were just a whisper, he started his engine and continued home.

    Once, he put a penny on the track. It survived intact. A car drove around his dad’s old pick-up and crossed the tracks. James waited for the sound of crunching metal. The Clickety-clack was uninterrupted. He considered driving into the moving train. He even started his engine and drove to within an inch of the speeding cars, but couldn’t do it. So he waited.

    He stopped mentioning the train years ago. Perhaps they were right and the alcohol had eroded his brain, but he didn’t drink, anymore. Each sip of the apple juice in his whisky glass was a salute to his victorious battle with booze.

    Tonight was different. James waited for the approaching train. He was losing the battle with cancer. He had nothing to leave to his children and nothing else to live for.

    Tonight, James stopped his car on the tracks, the locomotive approached quickly. He closed his eyes. Instead of impact, James was transported to a boxcar. Was that his father and his truck? He listened, “I can’t wait to tell James. I sewed the gold in the seat cushion. I don’t want border patrol finding it.”

  2. Slow Train to Trieste

    We boarded the train to Trieste at dawn. It was a miserably wet Rijeka morning, and we hadn’t slept well.

    I’d stayed awake all night in case Otto Minsk was able to make his way to us.

    I had sacrificed my sleep for nothing.

    Minsk was a no-show. That could mean any number of things but mostly we expected it meant that he had been unable to evacuate Sarajevo.

    We had slipped out a side door of the venerable but worn-out Continental Hotel. Sonja was hungry but the urgency of escape forced us to skip the complimentary breakfast.

    I shared my three-day-old apple with her as we scurried along a couple of side streets on our way to the train station.

    There was little room left once we boarded but we found two seats at the back of the third car.

    “I hate to leave him,” Sonya said softly.

    “Best not talk about it,” I said. “Not here, anyways.”

    We went silent for a time as the train rumbled out of the Croatian seaport and began to wend its way into the mountains.

    “He knew we had to be on THIS train, right?” Sonja broke our silence.

    “He knew. Maybe the backup plan will kick in?”

    “What, ride that ancient Tomos motorcycle of his from Sarajevo? It would take six, seven hours. Has he had the vaccine? Border guards will check.”

    “He was on the list. Don’t worry, he’ll make Pivka. Let’s get some shuteye.”

  3. One-Ear and I rise early, squeezing through the burrow’s turns. The soil is alive tonight, the scents of countless generations before us, each filled with vitality and community, warm bodies going back to before our knowing began.

    We are many and we are one. We are all of us the same.

    We are hungry again.

    The sky is on fire tonight. The trees reach up, touching the cold of its flames. The air is still and dry, predators and insects few at this hour. We sit together where the upper world begins, keen eyes and agile ears searching for hints of a dread future, mindful of danger above. We are many but we are also fewer than we were, individuals taken in the light. We are careful but we are also hungry, numbers driving us out further each night, cropping the ground closer when we forage, seeking out the new and the green.

    We are many and we are hungry, and we roam more widely every night.

    Tonight, we follow the stars, seeing further due to the fires in the sky. We follow the energies in the soil below, letting it lead us where it turns, strange forces meandering. We roam further and we rise, chill air and a cold line at our feet. A false light comes from the east, daybreak coming too soon.

    I sit alone, the vibrations fading. The sun has fallen again.

    We are many and we are one. We are fewer than we were.

  4. The Man Who Wasn’t There

    A train whistle sounded in the night air.

    Then the phone rang.

    “Yes?” he whispered. He paused to listen and lit a cigarette. “I see. Usual procedures? I understand.”

    He hung up the phone. He had his assignment.

    “What is it, tesoro?” asked a soft voice from beneath the sheets.

    “I have to leave,” he replied. “Go back to sleep.”

    He walked over to the window. The neon sign across the street flickered lazily, casting a hazy, coloured light on his face. He took a casual puff on his cigarette and felt its intoxicating warmth fill his lungs.

    His suitcase was packed. The documents and cash he needed were secure in a secret, inner pocket of his coat. All the details were complete. Alle Details waren vollständig.

    His assignment?

    There were rumours. Il y avait des rumeurs. They floated through secret channels, hinting that he was bound for Madrid. International events were moving quickly. His special talents were needed. Lives hung in the balance…

    He put out his cigarette and draped an overcoat around his shoulders.

    Before he left, he took one last look at the room. “Farewell, my sweet,” he whispered, letting out a sigh. Always… a different place… always… a different face.

    He picked up his suitcase, donned his black fedora, and slipped quietly out the door.

    He had a train to catch.

  5. Ghost Train

    “So, do we have an understanding? No more false reports of train horns blasting in the middle of the night,” Kelley admonished the two young men.

    “But officer, it wasn’t a false report,” Paul yelled.

    “Let it go Paul. We’re not going to convince him,” Mark said, pulling him away from the officer.

    “Can I have a cup of coffee and I’ll share a story?” Not waiting for any response, he headed to the kitchen table pulling out a chair.

    Mark started a pot of coffee despite it being the middle of the night.

    Officer Kelley removed his cap and placed it on the chair next to him. “Well, the town built up around the tracks. You boys better take a seat.” He watched both, still in their skivvies, pull out chairs.

    “The ‘405’ used to roar across town, shaking the walls of all the buildings and blasting its horn. One morning, Elmer Witmer’s wagon got stuck on the tracks and they found pieces of him for miles. The Santa Fe agreed to reroute around town. Like most everything, things change and this spur wasn’t necessary.”

    “We heard the train,” Paul pronounced.

    “YES, you did. I’ll get fired if you say I told you this. There have been similar reports as yours. Some people call it Elmer’s ghost train. What time did you hear it?”

    “3:57,” they both reported.

    “Yes, that’s the train…it was always eight minutes early. Can we agree there’s no need to report this again?”


    Excited to board this train with my big sister, our mother had packed us brown bags filled with sandwiches, fruit and chips. It would be several hours before we would reach our grandmother and great grandmother. It would be the last time we would see either one of these matriarch’s.

    It was dusk when we arrived, after a short cab ride I remember so many brick buildings in the distance , which was theirs ? I do not remember much else except grandma was sick and not herself, her aging mother was caring for her. The train ride is most visible in my mind. Looking out the window , I was captivated by the scenery, the farms the never ending countryside. When I would look directly to my immediate left, it was a blur speeding by.

    Looking back , my sister was my other mother. Our adventures would prove to be my best memories from childhood. To this day, “the train “was a one time experience .

  7. The seat lurches. My head collides with something—something hard.
    I open my eyes and try to focus. Was I asleep?
    The rhythmic motion and soft clickety-clack—soothing and mesmerising—conspire to draw me back to sleep but I force myself awake.
    Why am I on a train?
    I look quickly around. Where are the children? Where’s John?
    My pulse races as I look around the empty carriage. Why am I alone and on a train?
    I lean forward and attempt to rise. My legs don’t seem to work properly and a metal frame bars my way. Is this a Zimmer frame?

    Attempting to rise again, I’m once more confounded by this stupid frame and push it away angrily. I stand briefly before the train lurches, sending me backwards onto the padded bench behind me.

    “John. John. Where are you?”
    The carriage door opens and an old man enters. “It’s okay, Love,” he says. (Love?—the cheek of him!) “I just stepped out to stretch my legs. I’m never far away, you know that.”
    I stare at this stranger for several seconds before speaking. “Is that you, John?” The voice gives him away… but he looks so… old.
    “One and the same.” The smile is familiar.
    He offers a takeaway cup. “I’ve brought you a cuppa. We’ll be there shortly. Did you have a nice nap?”
    I nod and sip my tea silently. It’ll be nice to see the kids again, I think to myself.

  8. Even though I haven’t seen the train in decades, I still remember the green glow of the sky and the intense humming of its engines whenever it would appear. Its headlight’s beam used to pierce through the clouds, followed by the deepest black locomotive that dwarfed me. No tracks, no crossing: just a train that materialized out of the night with a violent rumble.

    It came after I killed Mrs. Merguson. It scared the bejeezus out of me that first time, and I promised never to kill again. But then there was the prostitute in Tijuana. And the homeless man in LA., the trucker in Utah, and the hunter in Idaho. I couldn’t help myself. I figured if I kept moving, the train wouldn’t find me. But it always did, although – nothing ever came of it. Its door would creak open, as if beckoning me. That was all.

    I grew to love the train. Eventually, I became addicted to it, and I’d kill again and again just so I could breathe in the stench of creosote and burning coal which usurped me in the cool, moist night. I reveled in the thundering vibrations which invigorated the voices in my head.

    Today, as the executioner’s needle penetrates my skin, I hear the whistle. My cot rumbles, but the air is not the same. It is hot and suffocating. The train appears, surrounded by flames, and I know that this time, leaving without me is not an option.

  9. The passenger train barreled down the tracks. Junior Baskins, railroad security, moved towards the dining car, pausing only a moment to note in his handy steno the iridescent green clouds following them.

    On entering the dining car, the detective immediately swept his eyes over the twelve shell-shocked people sitting in the booths, all staring at the blood-spattered body of the deceased gentleman on the floor.

    “You took your time,” said the acerbic conductor. “These poor people have had nothing to do but stare at Mr. Percival’s body.”

    Baskins ignored the criticism and, instead, moved to each diner one at a time, not asking questions but staring at them full on. Most could not hold his stare. Only a few had the fortitude to match Baskins and his concentration.

    When he finished, he stood before the group, a smile crossing his handsome face.

    “Mrs. Percival,” he intoned. “Why did you murder your husband?”

    The young dark-haired beauty flushed in either anger or embarrassment. “How did you know,” she snapped archly. “My plan was perfect.”

    “Apparently not,” said the ace detective. “You know the old railroad rhyme: Cloud cover so green, points to murderer’s eyes so emerald. Your green eyes gave you away.”

    “Oh, what a bunch of malarky,” barked the young man holding Mrs. Percival’s hand. “That doesn’t even rhyme.”

    “I may not be a poet,” said Junior Baskins as he snapped the handcuffs on the young wife, “but she just admitted her guilt. Guilt does as guilt says. Case closed.”



    A dream come true to ride on an authentic steam train! The opulent carriage was in rich varnished wood and red velvet. Blocking out the grumbling because cell phones were not working, I concentrated on watching the scenery dash past while I luxuriated in the plush chair. This combined with the steady memento of the train enticed sleep.

    When I woke up I was flying high above the train. An out-of-body experience. I was like a superhero character in astral projection, because I could see through the metal and witness me sleeping in the train.

    I enjoyed the speed and freedom of flying, but then catastrophe. Thugs heavily weaponized, demanded wallets, jewellery and other valuables. At the next station, I warned the guard as he leaned daydreaming on his broom. He continued to daydream about the state of the economy, his dinner or whatever, because I was invisible to him. From the lost property box I donned a deerstalker, trench coat and long trousers. Looking like some mutant Sherlock Holmes, I found the guard still woolgathering. I pulled him into reality with a jolt, and he rang the police.

    Before entering my body I jerked the emergency cord. The train screamed to a halt. Robbers were thrown to the floor and set upon by irate passengers. Lucky, the police boarded the train to prevent the passengers pummelling the ruffians for the loss of cell phone use! And that is how I, a covert superhero, prevented a train robbery!

  11. The lime green fog creeping through the marshes unnerved Pedro when it first appeared, but so long as it contented itself with the fringes of the rail yard, he tried not to worry. As a signal maintainer, his job was on the tracks, far removed from the water. Anyway, the managers called it a harmless quirk of nature: ozone, inversion layers, other double-talk nobody understood.

    After three months of denials, the mist spread, rose, infiltrated the rail yard and facilities and even the clouds. A persistent green glow hung overhead until, under cover of assurances, the operation shipped out. Top managers fled. A swarm of workers disassembled and packed equipment. Growling freight trains hauled off everything but the buildings.

    Signals forgotten, Pedro became a grunt, delivering the company’s valuables from the infiltrating mists permeating every office and warehouse, loading them onto box cars where green moisture snapped at his heels.

    Now it was done. With a deafening blast of its horn, the engine rumbled into the dark, pulling the precious cargo, trailing lime wisps and watched by an army of laborers, hands shoved in pockets.

    Their faces reflected green.

    “Final paycheck, Pedro. Sign here.” A man clad in white and wearing a filter mask shoved papers at him.

    Pedro signed automatically before asking, “What’s this?”

    “Standard nondisclosure agreement. Good luck.” The man in white whipped off his copies and continued on his mission.

    Paycheck in hand, Pedro brushed a trail of green water from his coveralls and shivered.

  12. I wake with a jolt and realize I’ve slept through my alarm – again. I see that Michael is not home from his night shift yet. He always says my chronic oversleeping is a family trait. But today, of all days, I needed to be on time. My mom has not visited for over a year, and now she’s waiting at the train station for me to pick her up

    I throw on some clothes, and rush out the door. I call her cell, but get no answer, as usual. Either she forgot it, lost it, or doesn’t recognize her ringtone.

    When I walk into the crowded station, people with somber faces are milling everywhere. I hear the news and my head begins to throb. A freight train has collided with a passenger train. Many people are dead; many more are being rushed to hospitals.

    Frantically, I keep trying to call my mother. As groups of survivors unload from buses, I search for my mother’s face. I start dialing local hospitals but can get no information.

    Finally, exhausted and drained, I return home. Michael is asleep, but he has left a note. “Listen to our phone messages.”

    I push the button and place my hand over my heart when I hear my mother’s voice. “Honey, I’m so sorry. I overslept and missed my train. I’ll be coming in tomorrow. Love you.”

    I let out a sigh as I realize I’ve been holding my breath for a long time.

  13. A distant train whistle broke the evening quiet. Hadn’t there been a song, something something train in the distance?

    It sounded like something Johnny Cash would’ve recorded. He did a number of songs about trains, like the one about the Southerner wanting to know when they crossed the Mason-Dixon line. Or the cover version of “The City of New Orleans” he did for a show about railroads.

    He sure got how the railroad lost its mystique when steam engines gave way to diesels. Not much romance in three big GE locomotives pulling a unit train of CONEXes.

    But our language still remembers the fire-breathing glory of those old steam locomotives. Children still talk about the “choo-choo train,” never mind the sound they’re imitating belongs to an era long before their parents, even their grandparents were born. To this day a train in a children’s picture book is often pulled by a steam locomotive, particularly when the images are heavily stylized. Like so many other things, older technology has become iconic, persisting as a symbol long after the actuality has been superseded.

    Once again that whistle blew, a long and mournful note. Yet again language preserved the memory of old technology. A modern locomotive has an air horn like a big truck, only pitched to recall those old steam whistles because a generation used to steam trains needed the sound they recognized.

    I wiped the moisture from my eyes. Odd, how memory should make the air dusty.


    Alex and his wife, Jeanne, were settling in for a cozy evening, when the phone rang. Alex picked up immediately.

    “Yes,” he said quietly, ” No, it’s doable. I’ll leave right away.”

    “Jeanne, I’m sorry, but the office needs me.”

    He grabbed his bag, always packed, as Jeanne met him in the foyer.

    “A bag, it’s a long one?” She asked carefully:she knew when she married a CIA operative that they may be called anytime, for any length of time.

    “No, just a few days,” he said, kissing her.


    The train station was only 5 minutes from his house. He took the 7:05 to Grand Central, New York City.

    Three hours later, when he met his contact in Grand Central, they handed him a briefcase and travel documents.

    “You need to be in London, by noon tomorrow,” the man said and left.

    Nelson took a train to the airport, and took the 11:45 , red eye, to London. He was lucky to get a seat, it was a popular flight for business people.

    Two and a half days later, Nelson was taking the train back home. He reminisced about meeting his wife on a train 10 years before.


    At home, he came in quietly and found his wife dozing on the sofa. She was surrounded by travel brochures.

    “What is all this?” he asked.

    “I think we should take a trip, this year, for our vacation.”


    “Yes… I feel like I never go anywhere!”

    Nelson smiled.

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