"The Last Stop"
Harry stood up in the break room at Atlantic Terminal as he recollected his belongings. He glanced at the small steam engine keepsake that he kept on his key chain. It was one of many that he and his father had carved out of wood when he was a boy. Together they drilled a small hole through the end so that he could fit a key ring through it. He ran his thumb and index finger along the smooth wheels before returning it to his pocket.
He looked at himself in the mirror while readjusting his tie under his collar. His 5 o’clock shadow had crept back onto his face. Grabbing his conductor’s cap, Harry exited the break room.
The conductor from the previous ride that departed from Babylon exited the train. He waved goodbye to Harry as he boarded for his shift. Harry glanced down at his wristwatch and saw that he had about eight minutes until the train left. Passengers flooded the train like waves crashing on a beach, snatching up all the empty seats. Suits, ties, and briefcases smothered the teal cushions during the maddening rush. Harry smiled.
“How’s it going, Dumbo?” said the engineer who would be driving the train for this upcoming trip.
“Same shit, different day,” replied Harry.
“Do you mind doing the usual?” asked the engineer.
“Not at all,” he replied. Harry was always happy to oblige by taking the train into the yard after Babylon, since that was the engineer’s stop.
Harry walked through the train cars. There were two teenage boys with football jerseys hanging from their broad shoulders. Both of them were harassing another boy who was much smaller. They took turns pushing the smaller one around and knocking him to the floor. He was wearing a Metallica t-shirt and had longish hair that stopped below his ears. One of the jocks pushed him back down as he started to pull himself to his feet. The other snickered with laughter. Harry’s thudding heartbeat echoed in his chest. His left eye twitched, followed by a quick snap of his neck.
“Is there a reason why you keep staring at me, punk?” said one jock to the smaller boy as he knocked him down again. Before he could answer, the jock’s friend gave him another shove. He sat there, shaking with fear, fumbling words coming out of his mouth as if he was learning how to speak.
Harry stepped over and put his hand on the shoulders of both jocks, turning them to face him. “L-l-leave him alone. G-g-g-o find a seat on this train away from him or I’m kicking both of you off,” he said.
“Whatever, train bitch,” said the jock as he started to walk away. His friend followed behind. The smaller boy stood up and thanked Harry, but he didn’t say anything in return.
“So, first he pinned the poster to the classroom door today. He said, ‘look at Harry Dumbo, the main act of the circus,’ and then he pinned a picture of my face on Dumbo the Elephant’s body. Then he pulled my pants down in front of a girl in class, shouting ‘Harry’s got an acorn! Harry’s got an acorn!’ So many kids were chanting with him, Mom, so many kids!” said Harry, fighting back tears.
“Oh Harry, I’m so sorry, Harry,” his mother said, holding him in her arms. He accepted her touch at first but then pushed her away, stomping back to his feet.
“Why is it always me he picks on?!” he shouted. “What is so wrong with me?! Why can’t I be different?!”
He slammed the door behind him after running off into his bedroom and wiping the tears away from his face. They were tears of frustration, never ending, one after another, cascading to the floor.
Harry walked over to his Lionel train set that resided on his wooden desk. He flicked the on switch and moved the lever so that it ran at a steady pace along the metal tracks. A Superman poster hung on his wall with him soaring in the air, his fist pointed towards the sky. The train traveled around the Lego scene he placed in the middle of the table. The crying transformed into a blank stare, mesmerized by his train set.
He thought back to the day when his father took him to the NY Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn. After that day, Santa would leave him a new Lionel train car to add to his set each Christmas. The trains ran underneath the tree and across the fake snow scene that he and his mother arranged each year. The chugging sounds entertained Harry for hours. He would fantasize as if he were in charge, taking each passenger to a new faraway place. His father passed away right before his ninth Christmas, leaving only one last car for him to add to his set.
Harry continued to stare at the trains, but his mind went elsewhere. He thought back to the beating he had received earlier that week. There were hundreds of evil acts inflicted upon him by this bully, but none compared to this one.
He had spent weeks working on a project in his wood shop class. The goal was to design anything he wanted as long as he used the tools he had learned to operate during the semester. Harry chose to make a wooden train in honor of the memories he shared with his father. He carefully measured the length, width, and height of each piece. He sanded the edges so smooth that your finger could slide off like a knife slicing through butter. It was finished with a slick walnut stain. Once completed, it looked and shined almost exactly like the real Lionel set that ran in his bedroom.
Harry received an A for his work and was thrilled at the opportunity to finally bring it home. He held it in both of his hands and smiled, feeling happy for the first time in years. With his head down, he didn’t see the bully hiding behind the tree, waiting for him around the corner from his block. He was punched in the mouth, forcing him to fall and drop his wooden train to the sidewalk. Punches flew again and again to his face while he on his back, causing blood to spill out of his mouth and down his chin.
The bully took the train and smashed it repeatedly into the brick side of the house on the corner. Each piece exploded in every direction as if it had crashed through a wall. The final insult came when the bully spit in his face and called him a fatherless loser. He left Harry alone on the ground, crying into his hands.
Harry grit his teeth while thinking about the beating. His breathing accelerated, and so did the Lionel train set. He pushed the speed lever all the way down without noticing. The train set derailed off the tracks, caroming off the edge of the table.
He closed his eyes but could still see the laughing face of his bully, his monster. The bully with a large brown beauty mark under his right eye, named Billy Jenkins.
A piece of candy went flying past Harry’s nose. He blinked several times and realized he hadn’t been paying attention. The smaller boy was gone now, and the jocks were sitting down just a few rows over. They were looking at him and chuckling in their seats.
Harry turned and walked towards them, his arms hanging firm and straight. He leaned in and grabbed the jock who insulted him by the collar of his shirt. He twisted it into a ball in his hands and pulled him in real close. He could feel the jock’s quick breaths coming from his nostrils.
“Get the fuck off of my train,” said Harry. He shoved the jock back against the seat. Harry stood before them, his chest heaving with each breath and his eyes staring through them.
Both jocks stood up and moved past Harry and exited the train car, mumbling about how badly they could kick Harry’s ass.
But Harry didn’t care. He smiled as they left. Looking around, he noticed that a few other passengers saw him lose his cool. He fixed his shirt and resumed his post by the doors.
The train departed exactly on time, its first stop being Nostrand Avenue. Harry walked from car to car punching tickets. The pressure from stabbing the hole-puncher felt therapeutic for him. He stabbed ticket after ticket until he overheard a man talking to someone at the front of the car.
“Hey, aren’t you afraid of falling asleep and missing your stop?” said one passenger to the man who sat across from him. He forced him to open his eyes and remove his headphones by tapping him on the knee. The soon-to-be sleeping passenger rolled his eyes at the gentleman.
“Nope,” he replied, putting his headphones back in. “I set a timer on my iPhone here,” he added, pointing at the touch screen dial. “My ride should be fifty-four minutes long, so I set the timer for fifty minutes. I'll wake up right on time if these jackass conductors actually keep their schedule. It also helps if other jackass passengers don’t bother me.”
The other man readjusted himself in his seat. His red face turned away to look out the window.
Harry turned to observe the man wearing the headphones. He had thin blonde hair combed down to the right on his forehead, and a large brown beauty mark under his right eye.
The passenger’s eyes were now shut. Harry could hear the soft, melodic music playing in his ears as he stood beside him. He looked down at his LIRR monthly pass that hung from a lanyard around his neck. It read “Atlantic Terminal – Massapequa” with the name “Billy Jenkins” underneath.
Harry stopped breathing and turned the other way. He wiped off the sweat from underneath his cap and opened the rear door of the car with a trembling hand. He placed both hands on his knees as he stopped in the walkway between the two train cars. He inhaled deeply before releasing a long, shaky, nervous breath.
Moments later Harry gathered himself and entered the opposite train car where Billy Jenkins was sitting.
It couldn’t be him, he thought to himself. But how many people are named Billy Jenkins and have that same exact mark?
The overhead announcement rang in to get the passengers’ attention. “This station is Jamaica. This is an express train to Babylon. The next stop will be Merrick.”
Harry knew that he needed to check the tickets from the new passengers that boarded but couldn't. All he thought about was the motionless, sleeping body of the man who had ruined much of his teenage years. Punching tickets was no longer satisfying. His thoughts wandered like a rabid animal trying to gain control.
What should I do? Should I do anything? I feel like I have to do SOMETHING!
Harry thought of how his life might have been different if it weren’t for those middle school years.
“This station is Merrick. This is an express train to Babylon. The next station is Bellmore.”
Things hadn’t been fair, and it wasn’t fair, except for right now. His bully was alone and vulnerable, and this was the chance he had always wanted.
“This station is Bellmore. This is an express train to Babylon. The next station is Wantagh.”
His heart ran rampant while he continued to punch each ticket that he could find. Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap. But it wasn’t enough pressure.
Here is a poor excuse for a man in his classy suit, sitting on a train that costs him over $300 per month, he thought to himself. This prick is sleeping peacefully on MY train. A train I have made sure is comfortable for everyone else’s convenience, including his.
Something had to be done.
“This station is Wantagh. This is an express train to Babylon. The next station is
Harry knew that the next stop after Seaford would be Massapequa. He had about two minutes before Billy Jenkins' timer would wake him. He hustled back towards his train car.
Sweat beaded along both temples of his head, dripping down onto the collar of his shirt. He now stood over a still sleeping Billy Jenkins. Harry surveyed the rest of the car and noticed that no one was sitting near them for several rows. They were alone.
He looked down at Billy Jenkins’ iPhone with the timer dwindling down. It sat on his lap in the grasp of his left hand. There were only twenty-four seconds left before the timer would go off in his headphones.
Just like the bastard said, Harry thought.
The cancel button on his iPhone was barely visible underneath his left thumb. It was enough for Harry to feel comfortable with taking the risk of pressing it.
Eighteen seconds remaining.
Harry held his breath and rolled up his sleeves. Billy Jenkins let out a deep yawn that almost caused Harry to panic and back away, but he quickly thought better. His right arm flew in with ninja-like stealth and clipped just enough of the cancel button for the timer to stop.
“This station is Seaford. This is an express train to Babylon. The next station is Massapequa.”
All seemed well, but Harry didn’t expect a drop of nervous sweat to stream down his arm and fly onto Billy Jenkins. The sweat landed dead center on the hand holding the iPhone, giving him a jolt that caused him to open his eyes. He gave what almost appeared to be a drunken gaze around the car, his eyelids only open halfway in a sleepy trance. His lips smacked together and released a stale scent before closing his eyes and going back to sleep.
The soft melodic music continued to play on.
Harry let out a deep sigh of relief. A victorious half-smile formed in the corner of his mouth. He leaned back and opened the car door once more, fearing that Billy Jenkins could still wake up, but he didn’t.
“This station is Massapequa. This is an express train to Babylon. The next station is Babylon.”
Harry walked from car to car to meet the engineer. He remained calm as they shook hands and said goodnight. When they arrived, the engineer left the train and Harry ran to the controls as soon as the doors shut. He took the train into the yard a few miles from the station since it was no longer in service. Billy Jenkins remained asleep all the way through.
Harry thought back to the day his wooden train exploded at the hands of his childhood monster. All the pain that had flowed through his veins then was now pumping from his heart. The train stopped with a forceful slam on the brakes. His foe’s head leaned forward and crashed back into the headrest of his seat.
Billy Jenkins woke up startled, quickly realizing that no one else was with him. The empty car provided an unsettling silence and he could see other inactive trains in the yard. The sun had begun to set and all the lights were off. Wind gusts were heard smacking the chrome sides of the train, causing a subtle eerie screech. With his briefcase in hand, he rushed to the sliding train doors that he would’ve used to exit, but they didn’t open. He tried to pry them apart with his fingers, groaning as he wedged them between the rubber guards. With the train inactive, the sensors weren’t working.
“Jesus Christ, how the hell did I end up here?” Billy Jenkins asked himself. He pulled out his iPhone to check to see if the timer had ever gone off. His face filled with frustration when he realized it was not even running.
“God DAMMIT!” he shouted. He placed both hands on his hips and took a deep breath, closing his eyes and craning his neck back.
Billy Jenkins scrolled through the contacts in his phone to make a call. The train yard provided a very weak cell signal. None of his calls were going through.
“SHIT!” he shouted before chucking his phone back into his pocket.
The train car started to feel warm. He dried a few drops of sweat that lined his forehead with his sleeve while mumbling obscenities to himself.
Suddenly, he noticed that the lights two cars down had flickered on and were shining in the distance. He squinted, feeling as if he saw someone, or a shadow, but all he could see was light.
Billy Jenkins walked through the cars between his and the light. He looked at every vacant seat while passing through each car. His heart thundered with each snapping creak from his dress shoes pressing into the old wooden floorboards.
He arrived at the car with the lights on to see that no one was there. He peered through the windows of the sliding exit doors. The tracks veered off in the distance behind barren looking warehouses and junkyards.
There was a stray dog staring at the train, curious to the sounds that Billy Jenkins was making as he pounded on the door for help. The dog was panting, looking at him with his tongue hanging from his mouth. He let out a bark and then slowly trotted off into the final descent of the evening sun.
No one was coming.
“I NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE! HELP ME! PLEASE, SOMEBODY!” he shouted. His fists slammed down like gavels in a courtroom, but the only judge on this train was Harry Dumbo.
A loud static echoed through the train car. Billy Jenkins paused his fists from slamming into the door.
“Billy Jenkins,” said Harry’s monotone voice over the train speakers. It echoed like a deep roar.
“What?” he stammered, slightly crouching down away from the speakers in confusion.
“Stop slamming your fists on my train,” said Harry.
“Who are you? Are you the conductor? Look, I don’t know who you are but I fell asleep and just woke up here. Let me out! Please!”
“Not yet,” said Harry.
“What? What the hell do you mean, ‘not yet’?” Let me out of here, dammit!”
Harry shut off the lights. Billy Jenkins ran to the conductor’s cabin at the rear of the car. Harry stood behind the black tinted window and watched him desperately try to kick it open. All Billy Jenkins saw was darkness.
“Sit down,” said Harry.
Billy Jenkins looked up at the speakers and shouted, “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?! WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?!”
The train began to slowly move further into the yard.
“There’s about a mile and a half of space between us and a tall, concrete wall that is past the tracks at the end of the yard. There aren’t any trains parked ahead of us, Billy. We’re going to talk, and depending on how things go, you might get out of here in one piece. Or you might be in pieces. All depends on how much speed we pick up before we run out of track and crash.”
Billy Jenkins mumbled and began to shake. “Okay, okay, let’s talk. I don’t know who you are but I have money, lots of it, I can give you money!”
The thought of compensation fueled Harry’s anger. The train started to pick up speed.
“Okay, I’m sorry!” Billy shouted, now on his knees. “What do you want to talk about?” he asked, holding his arms out at his sides in despair.
“You went to Lorendale Middle School, didn’t you?”
“Yes, how do you know where I—”
“If you could change anything about those three years, what would it be?”
He stood up and slammed his fist on the train door. “What the hell are we talking about? I don’t know! It was middle school!”
He hurried to the sliding exit doors and grabbed the poles that stood closest to them. He hurled his legs up and kicked the doors with all his body weight and force. Harry sped the train up a little faster, causing Billy Jenkins to lose his balance and fall on his back.
“You’re not going to have much more time,” said Harry. “Middle School, what would you change about those years?”
Billy Jenkins’ mind tried to keep up with the pace of the train as it moved faster, but he was struggling. He thought hard about those years, but nothing he could think of seemed sensible.
“I cheated on a lot of tests. I should have been a better student! I didn’t try hard,” he clamored.
The train sped up faster. The chugging sounds became ferocious. Harry felt right at home.
“Okay! Wrong answer!” he panted. “I was mean to my first girlfriend in eighth grade. I told everyone that she was prude for not kissing me at the school dance.”
Harry roared the train horn loud and clear.
That’s okay, Harry thought, he’s never going to forget me now.
Billy Jenkins sobbed as his eyes scanned the floor, hopelessly looking for an answer. This is so cruel, he thought to himself, which is why he shouted, “CRUEL! I WAS CRUEL! There was a boy! His name started with an H…Harry! I kicked the crap out of this kid so many times. He was a weak, puny kid who was easy to pick on! His last name was Dumbo, like the flying elephant!”
“What would you say to him if you saw him again?” Harry asked.
Billy Jenkins ran to the nearest window and saw that they were closing in on the wall. He felt the train pick up a huge boost of speed.
“I WOULD TELL HIM THAT I WAS SORRY!” he shouted while sobbing in a seat and holding his knees to his chest. “I’M SO, SO SORRY!”
Billy Jenkins looked out the window again and didn’t see how the train wouldn't hit the wall and explode in every direction. He prepared to duck his head into his lap until he noticed the latch for the emergency box embedded in the wall in front of him. A small hook hung from it. A simple tug was all it needed to open.
There has to be an emergency brake or something in there I can use to break through the window, he thought, his fear growing.
He stood up as the train was now flying. Harry hadn’t said a word.
He extended his arm as soon as he got to his feet. His fingertips neared the hook on the door as the train came to a complete stop and sent him face first into the wall.
“Excuse me, sir, are you alright?” asked Harry, nudging Billy Jenkins awake. “You seem to have fallen from your seat.”
Billy Jenkins’ eyes felt heavy as he opened them. He raised his hand to his forehead. It stung with pain. He noticed he was the only passenger in this train car and was sitting on the floor beside the seat he first sat in. Frightened, he sat stiff and upright, running his hands up and down his chest and legs.
“What happened?!” he shouted in a panic. “Who the hell are you?! What’s going on?!”
Harry stood back in an alarmed stance. “This is Massapequa, sir. I noticed back in Seaford that this is your stop. It says so on your monthly pass. I found you on the ground here. I think you fell out of your seat and hit your head while you were sleeping. I was just trying to help you up. Are you feeling okay? Can I get you anything?”
Billy Jenkins looked out the window and noticed that it was now dark out. He pulled out his cell phone. The timer was off, and the clock read five after seven, a good forty minutes later than when he should have arrived at his stop.
He looked back at Harry and noticed a mild grin on his face.
“I’m fine, thanks,” he said, collecting his briefcase before bolting for the door.
Harry followed him to the doorway as he watched him walk down the stairs. He couldn’t see him anymore from the platform. All he could hear were his dress shoes rapidly beating against the parking lot pavement.
Oh Billy, Billy, he thought, I hope you enjoyed that ride, old friend.
Harry walked back to the controls and prepared to take the train into the yard. He pressed the train onward and could now see Billy Jenkins standing before his car. It was one of only a few left in the lot after a long day’s work.
Billy Jenkins put his hands across the roof and exhaled once he reached the driver side door. He rubbed the bump on his forehead once more. It throbbed at his touch. He reached into his pocket to pull out his car keys when he noticed that his keychain felt different.
There was something new on it.
He yanked them out and pulled them up close to his eyes. Attached to the key chain was a keepsake, but he couldn’t make out what it was. He ran his fingers over it and pulled it directly into the shimmer of the parking lot lights.
It was a small wooden train.
He rolled it over in his hands, looking at it more closely, feeling the smooth rounded wheels.
Billy Jenkins swallowed hard. He opened the door to his car with a quivering hand. He started the ignition and slowly drove home.
Owen Smith is a writer who currently lives in New York City.