I first wrote this post for The Great Noveling Adventure blog, and it was originally published on December 18, 2013.
This was my entry for our Christmas flash fiction contest, and my first attempt at writing flash fiction. Using one of five given pictures, we had to create a Christmas-themed story in 1000 words or less.
I’ve always struggled with writing prompt exercises, so I wasn’t sure how well this would go. Although this was definitely challenging, I ended up having a lot of fun writing this story, despite the morose tone. I found my mind dwelling on the heartache of this season and how we can feel our losses most intensely during this time of year. Bombarded with images of happy people and family-togetherness could be unbearable for some. That’s where this story came from, deep within the macabre recesses of my mind.
I hope you enjoy it!
THE CHRISTMAS TRAIN
The happiest day of my life was with Flynn.
“Meet me in the square by the holiday village,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s a surprise,” he said. “Wait and see.” I heard him chuckle before he hung up, unable to restrain his excitement.
I was terrible at waiting, so I rushed through the streets filled with Christmas. I spotted him among the twinkling lights, smiling with his whole face. I raced across the space separating us. He caught me in a crushing hug, the smell of cinnamon clung to his clothes. I wondered for a moment where he’d been.
“Have you been baking?” I rubbed my cold nose against his. He laughed and then set me down gently, keeping a hold of my hand.
“I’ll never tell.” He held his other hand behind him. “Ready to take a ride?”
“Where? Is that the surprise? Show me, show me!” I reached behind his back. He laughed some more and I could feel it rumbling through his body. He fought to keep me from grabbing his hand. Finally he gave in and offered up the prize. Two tickets for the Christmas train. I squealed and hugged him even tighter.
“I thought we could visit St. Nick, maybe tell him what we want most,” he said. Flynn knew I hadn’t had much of a traditional family upbringing, no special Christmas traditions, no big family gatherings. Mostly because my parents were too tired from working a million jobs just to keep that leaky roof over our heads. Flynn wanted to give me something I’d missed out on, a piece of childhood magic.
We strolled through the different holiday scenes, with me gripping our tickets to keep them safe. I felt so happy and light. The smiling children, all bundled up with their bright cheeks glowing. The smell of hot cider.
Was there snow?
I don’t remember. I wish I’d paid more attention to the details. I do remember riding the Christmas train, swaying back and forth as it trundled down the track, Flynn holding me close as we stared out the windows. I never wanted the train to stop. I remember kissing Flynn after we arrived at the North Pole station. Soft, welcoming lips. Cold breath puffing out between us in little clouds. Flynn’s ice blue eyes exploring my face. He was searching for something.
Did he not find it?
Is that why he’s gone?
I received a letter the day after he left us. Nothing about why or about how he’d miss me, just a heart-breaking poem about trees. Solitary and untouched in a wood never traveled. An ache in my side dug a sharp pang of loss deep into my soul and crept over to my heart, plunging it into an ice bath of separateness. Aloneness.
He left me alone.
I tried to recapture the sense of magic he shared with me that day. I put up a tree; it only reminded me of him. His uncontainable spirit couldn’t handle this world. How was I supposed to go on without him? I stripped off the glass balls, breaking branches and smearing my hands with resin. I smashed every single one on the pristine ceramic tile.
Pop. Pop. Pop!
Like melodic tinkling explosions; the sound that killed Christmas. He was everywhere I turned, and nowhere at the same time.
This year, Christmas has lost all its color, it’s meaning. The lights don’t illuminate me. The food has lost its taste. I never walk down that road anymore. Afraid his ghost will brush the wind against my lips, an ephemeral kiss empty of substance, and bring on an aching I can’t overcome.
The holiday smells of pine and cider and cinnamon enrage me.
“Merry Christmas,” they say in passing.
I restrain myself from punching them in the face. From screaming at them, “How can you be happy when Flynn is gone?”
I blame them for not knowing him and for making him disappear.
He was my joy.
He is gone.
A couple oblivious to my despair, races towards each other in unbridled ecstasy. The handsome young man catches his lover in strong, hopeful arms and raises her up into a familiar crushing hug. It’s too much. How can they flaunt their happiness in front of me? Can’t they feel my pain rolling off me like angry tidal waves?
I cannot endure another day.
I write my own letter, a poem about the ocean and it’s vast emptiness. I make a final trek back to the scene of our happiest time and tuck the poem deep inside the boughs of the enormous spruce tree, all covered in lights. Maybe someone will find it. Maybe someone will understand.
I step out in front of the Christmas train.
Bright lights, pain, blood, and snow.
This time there is definitely snow.
2 thoughts on “The Christmas Train – Flash Fiction for the Holidays”
A sad story but very well told. You capture the narrator’s feelings of loss and emptiness very well. Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone; I think I’ve heard that there are more suicides at this time of year. It’s easy to see why for some it is all too much, the pressure to be enjoying yourself can be quite overwhelming!
thank you, rebecca! i appreciate your comments. that was exactly what i was trying to capture.
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