The sad, sad life of
John Jeffson

Ciaran Grimes

School Closure Stories

Unschool Club

















‘Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.’ Went the announcer as the train departed from the station, slow at first but building up speed frighteningly quickly. John Jeffson always felt slightly alarmed when the trains did that. He could never shake the little niggling fear that the train would start going too fast and miss a turn or go flying off the rails. He, of course, knew that such a thing would never happen and even if it did, the train was underground for Pete’s sake! If the train fell off the track, there wouldn’t be enough room for it to go sprawling. The train would probably just scrape against the wall for a few uncomfortable minutes before the driver stopped it and everyone got out safe and sound. Now, John wasn’t sure that that was the scientific answer, but John rarely heeded those friendless, boring fops anyway. When was the last time a scientist was on a train in the underground that crashed? They were just as in the dark as he was. Naturally, John had never told anyone about his little fear. Such things were ridiculous, and if John could be summed up in one adjective, that adjective wouldn’t be ridiculous. John Jeffson was a rich, successful, upstanding and rich man in his prime! He wouldn’t let such silly things as train speeds spook him! What would his children think? John suddenly realized that he had been staring at the person across from him on the train, eyes glazed over, for far too long for it to be normal. He quickly looked away. People were surely glaring at this staring stranger in confusion. John hesitantly looked up to meet the gaze of the no-doubt baffled masses. To his immense surprise however, everyone appeared to be minding their own business and not giving John a moment’s notice, including the person across from him. John breathed an internal sigh of relief. If John was a less fortunate man, his reputation as a fine upper-class gentleman could have been shattered in an instant. Deep down, he almost felt offended that these people weren’t paying more attention to him. But John just counted his blessings and settled back into his seat.

This wasn’t John’s usual route home. Normally he’d take the Piccadilly line, but the train wasn’t running today. John wondered whether the train had crashed. No, better to not go down this train of thought again. So today, Jon took the Victoria line and it wasn’t an easy time. John could never get the hang of strange and unfamiliar areas. He was always paranoid of thieves coming for his hard-earned dosh. He might feel more at ease if he took a look at the sort of people around him. If he could get a feel for who might be trustworthy and who might not be, then maybe John could finally relax and enjoy the ride home. He started with the people sitting next to him, the biggest threats. On his left, a man in his sixties. On his right, a woman in her twenties. The man was humming a little tune to himself. It sounded like a song John might recognize if he was at home or, god forbid, a party, where he could safely ask someone what the song’s name was but right now, John didn’t feel safe enough to even speak. Might draw attention to himself that way. The man didn’t look like a threat, but, then again, the ones who look the most innocent were always the ones who backstabbed you in the end. John pledged to keep an eye on the mysterious gentleman. Meanwhile, over on John’s right, the woman was sitting quietly and reading a book. John snuck a few fleeting glimpses at the book, to try and get a grasp on what type of person he was dealing with but he couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it. It appeared to be about some creatures called ‘hobbits’ with silly names that John couldn’t remember, nor cared to try. Clearly, this was a person was one to watch out for. If the story she was reading was such nonsense, then who knows what the reader might pull. After a moment’s thought,  John realized that his plan to calm himself down had just made him more nervous. He had no idea what the two people he sat next to were planning but clearly it was nothing good. John came up with a new plan there on the spot. He’d have to keep looking around the train for somebody more trustworthy to scream for help to when he was inevitably attacked.

John’s gaze darted around the cart, desperately seeking someone, anyone who looked in the least bit kind and caring. To his immense distress however, everyone looked like they’d do him in if he so much as laughed too loudly. One man seemed to have a wooden leg. A genuine disability, or an homage to his pirate idols? John couldn’t be sure. One woman was listening to something in her earphones. That could be anything from classic Mozart to dreadful death metal. Not a chance John was willing to take. Another woman was talking to a man next to her. John couldn’t make out a word she was saying over the din of the train and he never learned how to lip read. Who knows what they could have been talking about? Maybe even him, or how to effectively part him from his beloved cash. John started to internally panic. Enemies. Enemies all around him with nowhere to run if they turned on him. Suddenly, a dark thought entered John’s mind. What if they were all out to get him? Now that he had thought it, John couldn’t get the idea out of his head. He nervously checked his watch. He’d been on the train for two whole minutes. Not nearly enough time to consider himself safe yet. He checked the train map. He was three stops away from his destination. Plenty of time to be axed by any would-be attackers. John quickly went over his life in his head to think of anyone who would want him this dead. There was his former co-worker, Robert, who had been passed for a promotion in favour of John, something John had never felt guilty about but Robert had held against him from that point on. It wasn’t John’s fault that he had the money and parental influence to make it far in his work life but Robert didn’t know any of that. He might have delusionally seen the whole thing as unfair and plotted this very moment. There was the young fellow named Timmy that John used to tease back in secondary school. John always claimed that it was in good fun but Timmy used to cry and call John a bully. He was delusional as well. Who knows where Timmy ended up? Maybe he ended up in a powerful place and put a hit on John’s head for unfounded revenge.

John was just pondering the best plan of escape when he finally took a good look at the person sitting across from him and the sight of him was enough to stop John dead in his mental tracks. All thoughts of plots and murder ceased as John stared at the sight of the boy in front of him. The boy was dressed in the darkest shades money could buy, from his hat-and-hood combo to his jet-black running shoes. He had a cigarette dangling from his mouth, thankfully unlit but a threatening sight nonetheless. The boy had a two tattoos, one on his hand, depicting an open mouth and another on his neck, depicting playing cards. John had no idea what the tattoos were meant to represent but they were terrifying regardless. The boy had black hair and an incredibly pale complexion, to the point that he looked almost vampiric. Staring at this boy in front of him, John realised that his life was in incredible danger if he stayed on this train any longer than he had to. Who knows what the boy had hiding in his pockets? John started watching the boy closely, trying to find any hint of malice. The first and most glaring threat was the phone in the boy’s hands. John couldn’t see what he was doing on that phone, but judging from the movement of the boy’s fingers, he was clearly typing something, and considering the fact that he was consistently typing, John came to the safe conclusion that the boy was texting messages back and forth. But with whom? Judging by the state of the boy’s attire and his general attitude, John could only assume that he was in a gang. That certainly seemed to be the easy conclusion and John was never one for thinking hard during such an obvious crisis. So the boy was texting his gang. Maybe he was texting the leader. Maybe he was the leader. Whatever, the case, John had found a starting point to figuring out how much danger he was in. But how was the boy texting underground? Maybe they weren’t as deep underground as John had assumed. He’d check by pulling out his own phone but that might have been taken as a sign of aggression and he didn’t want to anger his potential killers. Judging from the cigarette in his mouth, the boy was clearly an avid drug user. Maybe the gang dealt in that kind of business? John couldn’t be sure but he felt he was onto something. All those years of reading Sherlock Holmes novels were finally paying off in a big way. The proud sensation John felt was suddenly replaced with a cold feeling of dread. The boy was a potential drug user. Now, John had never dealt in that kind of business-except for that one time-but he knew from reading the news how dangerous those kinds of people are, especially if they were in a gang, as this boy almost definitely was. That would give him an arrogance to attempt whatever he liked and no-one would be able to stop him.

Right, a plan of escape. That was what John needed most, not an evaluation of threat. Currently, the train was starting to exit the underground and starting riding in the open air. That meant that he was almost at his stop, which meant that John needed to figure out how to get out of the carriage without drawing attention to himself. The current plan was to get up out of his seat ahead of time and go stand by the door and run the second the train stopped, reputation be damned. He admitted to himself that it was hardly the most effective or noble plan but John hardly cared at this point. All he had to do was get out of his seat and-the boy. The boy was staring directly at John. For how long, John couldn’t have known but he suddenly became aware that he hadn’t been able to yank his gaze away from the boy that had made such a terrible impression with him. Either way, the boy was staring back at John now, with a terrifying leer on his face. John made an audible yelp and-thank goodness-the train pulled into the station at that exact moment. John was first out of his seat as he flew to the door. The train door opened slowly-too slowly-and John Jeffson ran as fast as his legs could carry him all the way down the steps, through the gate and all the way home, never once looking back.

‘Please mind the gap between the train and the platform.’ Went the announcer as the train departed from the station, slow at first but building up speed as it went along. Oliver Smith used to love trains when he was little. He always marvelled at the speed they went at and he always knew in the back of his head that he wanted to be a train conductor when he was big. Of course, that all changed when his father was killed in a train crash when Oliver was around ten. That was seven years ago and Oliver still wasn’t fully over it. Who would be, really? His dad’s life was really starting to pick up too. He was set for a promotion at work and he was starting to make some serious scientific breakthroughs in his downtime. And then, all that was snatched away from him. Just like that, Oliver felt alone. Ever since then, Oliver had loathed trains, despised them. Even if he could get over his dad’s death, which was a entirely different can of worms to open, Oliver wasn’t sure he would quite shake the fear that the train would crash. All it would take was one mistake and Oliver would be going the same way as dear old dad. With all that in mind, Oliver’s dream of becoming a train conductor was being pushed to the wayside. Oliver wasn’t sure he was built to handle the pressure of being responsible for so many people’s lives. Still, even he knew that taking the underground home was far safer than cycling through the streets of London so Oliver would just have to grin and bear it for now.

Oliver scratched at his neck. His tattoo was itching again. He’d only just gotten it a few months ago and he already hated the bloody thing. Oliver had two tattoos. He’d gotten one when he was sixteen and he’d gotten the other just after he’d turned seventeen. He’d gotten the idea for them from some movie he watched a few years ago but he couldn’t recall the name of it for the life of him. A couple of years ago, when Oliver was still mourning his dad, he’d made some new friends, friends he wasn’t quite proud of making nowadays. Then again, friends was an optimistic word to use, gang would probably be the more correct one. Now, when Oliver said gang, he didn’t mean that he did street crimes and the like. Most of the time, they’d just sit in the street corners, talk about life and occasionally smoke. They never really took to Oliver and never truly saw him as one of them, a fact that Oliver looked back in with relief, but at the time Oliver was desperate to fit in and seem cool. He smoked the occasional cigarette with them, bought so much black clothing that he stuffed his wardrobe with them, leaving no room for the lighter shades and even got his first tattoo. Now, Oliver realised that getting a tattoo at that age wasn’t exactly… legal but no harm was done in the long run. He’d gotten the other tattoo a few months later, after his seventeenth birthday and almost immediately came to his senses afterwards. After the tattoo itched one too many times, Oliver took a long look at himself in the mirror and realised that he had to stop. He stopped hanging out with these people, not that they cared either way and he decided to try opening up to his family again. It had gone pretty well all things considered and Oliver was starting to lighten up a little for the first time in years. He still had to wait for his eighteenth before he could get the tattoos removed without any awkward questions, but overall Oliver was proud of himself for getting his life back on track. He was doing well in school, he was talking to his mom and he was only getting a few strange looks in public every day instead of many. Suddenly, Oliver felt his phone vibrate. A text from his mom probably. He grabbed his phone and started texting back. They had a nice conversation about their respective days, Oliver reaffirmed that he was doing well at school and they said that they’d see each other later. With that nice chat behind him, Oliver checked his social media accounts for a bit, chatted with his friends-proper friends this time-and generally felt relaxed, despite being on a train. While he was chatting however, Oliver suddenly felt like he was being watched. He put his phone away only to see a very nervous looking man staring directly at him, wide-eyed and fearful. Oliver stared at the man, confused and then annoyed when he seemed to get no response but creepy staring. Suddenly, as if the man’s switch was flipped, he seemed to notice Oliver staring at him. Just then, the train came to a halt at a station. The man immediately flew off his seat and ran to the door yelling, ‘Let me off, let me off! Please, God, let me off this train!’. The door’s opened and the man bolted from sight, never to be seen by Oliver again. What the hell did I just witness? Oliver Smith pondered to himself as the doors closed once more and the train’s journey continued.


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