Asleep at the wheel

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I’m sitting on the suburban train into the city, scanning the headlines on the free-sheet when the guy sitting opposite morphs into a chicken. That’s odd, I think to myself, I would have seen him more as a lizard, or perhaps a snake. Something about his skin, and those eyes…

I look to my left to see if the student with the noisy headphones has noticed. She turns to look at me and quacks a couple of times, before preening her feathers, now shimmering in the early morning sun filtering through the graffiti-covered window. Very odd indeed.

The thought crosses my mind that perhaps my local 7-11 store, in an effort to maintain a competitive edge, have taken to adding magic-mushroom croissants or LSD-laced lattes to their breakfast options. Although I don’t recall seeing or ordering either.

The train seems normal enough and my newspaper, day-pack and the passing countryside all appear as they should. I don’t see any groovy patterns or other weird hippy shit. Just the banal, everyday train interior and the usual station signs along the way.

There is a commotion as a very large cat in the seats behind hisses at a bad tempered chihuahua. He yelps noisily. They cause quite a stir, until a passing ticket inspector intervenes with his trunk and lifts the cat up onto the luggage rack above our heads. The big puss continues to glower at the dog below, but at least their awful racket subsides.

I show my travel pass to the elephant-man. He glances at the details and moves on in silence, barely able to fit the aisle. I hope he doesn’t tread on anyone’s foot, I find myself thinking. That would not be funny. Well, not for them.

A dream – the only possible explanation. Am I dreaming? ‘Is this a dream?’ I enquire of the Emu to my right. This surprises me, as I am normally quite reserved and don’t tend to converse with random passengers like this. But, given the circumstances.

‘No’ says the Emu with mild annoyance. ‘You are wide awake.’ He returns to his mobile, with its irritatingly tinny game sounds. His head makes rapid little movements that seem comical to me. I feel mildly embarrassed for having asked.

We pass the zoo, and although it is hard to make out from my vantage point, there appear to be long queues of animals outside the gate. I strain to catch a glimpse inside the fences, but it’s too far to clearly make out the inhabitants. Damn it! I was kind of hoping to see monkeys feeding peanuts to humans in cages.

We soon arrive at the terminus. All the animals leave the train rapidly and disperse on foot, by air or, in the case of a walrus with a leather briefcase, on a luggage trolley. I hope he tips the porter well, I think.

It’s a brisk, ten-minute walk to my office building and Henry is at the front desk as usual. Although as a German Shepherd. It rather suits him. Still a little dazed, I take the lift up to the seventh floor and head for my cubicle. Row after row of them in the big open-plan space. And in each one a rat is just getting into its wheel, or already spinning at a steady pace. Young rats, or those longer in the tooth. Brown rats, black rats, rats of every shape and size. Rats.

Doug in the next cubicle nods. ‘Morning Geoff, good weekend?’ I smile and mutter something banal about barbecues and In-laws, and he nods with a knowing look. ‘You?’

‘Oh can’t complain’, he says without much enthusiasm. ‘Got in a few holes on Sunday.’

I smile and nod politely and climb into my wheel. It’s already 8.30am and I have a lot of ground to cover before lunch.

And then a blankness descends, and nothing more can be heard in the cavernous space but the squeak of hundreds of wheels turning.

Later, outside, I think I can hear far-off explosions, gunfire, sirens. Or maybe it’s just my imagination. So I keep my head down and think about lunch. I hope it’s not that awful cheese-burger again. Soggy chips and a limp salad. I bloody hate that.

Somewhere a radio is playing. The song sounds familiar, and I know it will bug me all morning until I can remember the title.

Barely an hour passes and poor old Laurence is being carried out on a trolley. He looks serene. A fresh-faced newbie soon takes his place and his wheel begins to pick up pace once more.

Pete Burns? I think that was it! But the song title eludes me. Poor old Laurence. Just a couple of years from retirement too.

Oh god, don’t let it be the cheese-burger.

 

© Copyright Jason Lennick 2017. All rights reserved.

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Asleep at the wheel

    • It seems the protagonist in this story is the only one aware of the strange transformation that everyone undergoes as they commute into the city for work. But in the end, he is resigned to his fate, just like the others. Maybe one day he’ll escape the rat-trap.

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  1. I dropped by the blog at a good time, Jason. I enjoyed reading the tail (sorry, tale), perhaps because I have a fair bit of experience of the rat race myself. I was a little disappointed by the lack of hippopotamuses, though.

    Liked by 1 person

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