(This story is dedicated to the users of the London Underground)
(Enjoy your journey........)
"The Rush Hour" © Copyright David Barry. 1969
Macrae looked up from his book as the train pulled into Lancaster Gate station. Tubes were noisy, hot, dirty, and generally uncomfortable, he decided. There was a slight jerk as the train stopped, and the doors rolled ponderously back. His carriage was, as usual, quite full. Every day he travelled to and from Bank Station, and every day he saw the same people boarding and leaving the train at their respective stops. The doors hissed slightly and rolled together with a thud. Four empty seats.
Macrae buried his head in his book again. 'It will therefore be understood,' he read, 'that due to the technological advance of the computer industry as a whole, it is of paramount importance that all levels of personnel are acquainted with the basic rules governing the development of nth capacity memory banks.'
Macrae ran his finger round the inside of his collar. Thank goodness they would soon be out of the tunnel, he thought. Only two more stations. His anticipation waned slightly as the train slowed in the tunnel and halted at a signal. He looked round at the other occupants of the coach. How could they sit there and ignore the stifling heat that seemed to close in on them like a blanket. He thought of opening a window. That should earn him a few dirty looks.
To hell with it, he thought. He reached up and pulled the hook on the window beside him. Nobody took the slightest notice. Macrae was understandably surprised, for it was his experience that people did not like windows open in trains. They would rather sit and suffocate than risk a little air. The train moved off again, slowly, with a great graunching sound from the wheels beneath him as it trundled over a set of points.. He put his hand up to feel the draught and cursed to himself when he felt the warm air. Holland Park. There was only one seat left now; the one next to him.
Funny how people like to face the way they're travelling, he thought. He always did. It was a sort of phobia with him. Must try sitting with his back to the driver tomorrow, he decided. He opened his book again, and tried to forget the stuffiness of the coach. He managed to keep his thoughts centred on the book, and didn't notice the stop at Shepherds Bush. He only glanced up with a frown when the wheels ground horribly on the track again as they pulled into White City.
He looked at the hoardings on the wall through the doorway. Usual adverts. Nothing of much interest except one plug for a film in the City. Now that, thought Macrae, should be worth seeing. He made a mental note to keep an evening free. All the other posters were unchanged, as they had been for some days. His eyes wandered up the wall to the tunnel roof.
And suddenly the heat was gone and a myriad tiny cockroaches played up and down his spine, making him shiver.
He thought carefully, slowly: White City is above ground. His eyes remained glued for an instant, taking in the finish of the tiling, six feet up the wall, and then the dirty cream paint as the roof curved away over the top of the train. He looked quickly at the board on the wall. White City. The doors rolled shut and Macrae jumped as they banged to. He looked again, craning his neck at the window as the train rolled out of the station. The reflection from the fluorescent tubes in the ceiling mocked him. The boards flashed by. White City - White City - White City- they screamed at him.
And then the lights were gone, and they were in the tunnel again Macrae fought not to panic. You've made a mistake, he told himself. That couldn't have been White City. He thought of the boards flashing past. Alright, if that was White City, then they couldn't possibly be in a tunnel now. Slowly he turned to look out of the window again.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
Five black, dirty, dusty rows of pipes, securely bolted to the wall of the tunnel. Macrae wanted to scream. He opened his mouth, but the sound stuck somewhere in his throat. But wait! The other people! They weren't the slightest bit perturbed. He looked round the carriage, and reason and relief came flooding back. No-one else looked hot, or uncomfortable. Nobody else looked worried about being in a tunnel. Macrae sank back into his seat and closed his eyes. God! How stupid! he thought. Obviously he was overtired. That station must have been Shepherds Bush. He jumped as the book slid from his lap and landed on his feet. He looked at his fellow passengers again.
They were all acting perfectly normally. Macrae chuckled to himself. I must have dozed off, he thought. What a nightmare! That'll teach me to go to bed earlier, he thought ruefully.
It was getting hot again, though, he noticed. It must be because they were running through the tunnel. Too damn hot! Perhaps I'm beginning to suffer from claustrophobia, he thought. He loosened his tie and undid his shirt collar. The perspiration began to stand out on his forehead and run down his face. And all the other people were perfectly normal.
Panic welled up again.
They shouldn't be normal! They should be breathing heavily, wiping their foreheads, opening windows, fanning themselves with their papers...... anything. But not just sitting unconcernedly. Didn't they realise how hot it was? His clothing stuck to him and his shirt was sopping wet. His book slid from his feet and continued to travel slowly across the floor until it hit the opposite seat. Macrae twisted sharply and looked down the length of the coach. The angle! It must be at least twenty five degrees! So they were still descending deeper, then. All the other people sat unconcerned.
He was ill! That was it! Some food he'd eaten must be playing tricks with him. He remembered reading something about rich food upsetting your balance. His head pounded. The train lurched and Macrae felt himself tipping forward. Panic-stricken, he stumbled to his feet. He ripped off his jacket and pulled feverishly to undo more of his shirt. The heat was intense. He stopped. People were watching him, now. Macrae didn't care. He had to get rid of the heat. He pulled off his shirt, flung it onto his seat.
A sound made him turn. A woman sitting further down the carriage was laughing. At him. A loud, raucous, braying laugh.
"Shut up!" he shouted. "Stop laughing at me! Do you hear? Shut up, I tell you!"
He lurched towards the woman, fighting against the steep angle of the train. His eyes rested for a moment on the emergency door at the end of the coach. It was very dark outside. He twisted wildly and looked at the front end of the carriage. It was very dark outside. He frowned, becoming rational in a cold, analytical way, half his mind trying not to accept what his eyes registered, the other half shouting at him that he must believe the evidence of his own senses.
His was the only carriage. He was quite sure about it. There was absolutely no doubt about the matter at all. His was the only coach. He stayed where he was, clinging to a stanchion, staring wildly down the carriage and through the window at the end.
Now other people were laughing at him. A part of his mind accepted the fact but did not, or could not, inform his conscious level. He fell, rather than walked, down the length of the coach and hit the end of it. His face pressed close to the glass in the emergency door to the next coach, he tried to see what was in front. The lights from the coach reflected dimly on the rails.
There was no coach in front.
He pulled at the window catches and gasped as they burnt his fingers. He swore viciously.
The window slid down with a bang and the blast of hot air knocked him back. He fell to the floor, and lay there, staring at the ceiling of the coach. Out of the corners of his eyes he could see the advertisement cards begin to curl. He tried to rise, and gripped at a stanchion to haul himself up. The sweat ran down his face and chest, his arms and legs; and the handrail burnt him.
People were standing up now, crowding round him, cutting off his air. His air. He must have air. Everybody needed air. He must have some air; - beautiful sweet lungsful of cool, refreshing, clean, hot, acrid, sweaty, smelling, choking air.
And the other passengers still laughed. His head was spinning with their laughter, their loud, insane, cackling laughter.
And the heat.
He groped for a straphanger to keep his balance, so steep was the floor. He looked at the end of the coach again, and far down the tunnel a faint orange glow sent shadows bouncing up the walls. His scalp prickled. The hot air blasted him and he felt his skin beginning to blister.
"God!" he shouted. "God, help me! Take it away! Help me! Please! God, listen to me! Help me!"
He fell back onto the floor again, clawing at the seats and people alike. Their heads moved over him. Their eyes danced, their fingers pointed, and they laughed.
"I shouldn't be here!" he shouted to them. . "Somebody take me away! Do something, for God's sake!"
The saliva dribbled from his mouth and mixed with the sweat on his burning skin.
"I shouldn't be here!" he screamed again. "Please help me! Oh God! Oh God!"
The tears welled up in his eyes and he sobbed out loud.
He rolled around on the floor and it burnt his flesh. The carriage was becoming blackened and everything he touched burnt him. As he struggled to his feet again he saw that the glow in the tunnel was nearer, and brighter, and hotter; and as the coach rolled down the incline it got nearer still, and still hotter, until Macrae began to shrivel.
The sweat dried even as it broke on his face, and his skin became taut across his bones. Now he couldn't breathe at all, except for great gasps of air that burnt his throat and lungs and made him cry out in agony. In a last despairing effort, he tried to reach the back end of the coach to get away from the scorching orange heat but the angle was too great.
He slipped and fell and as his head touched the floor, he saw the swishing forked tail between the two great cloven hooves planted firmly in the gangway.
© No part of this synopsis story or screenplay may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, by any means or in any form, including electronically, either wholly or in part, without written permission from the copyright holders. © Copyright David Barry. 1969.