Ticket to Nowhere
by Katy Wimhurst
"Destination?" asked the woman in the railway ticket office.
"Nowhere," I said.
"Single or return, love?"
"That'll be £65."
"£65? For a one-way ticket to Nowhere? That's a complete rip-off."
"Take it or leave it, love," the woman said. "Nowhere's the cheapest destinations on offer. I can do you Elsewhere for £87 or Somewhere for £110. We even have a special offer to Everywhere for £145, which includes free vouchers for a Nirvana milk-shake and an Armageddon hamburger."
"I need a ticket to Nowhere," I said, and grudgingly handed over the money. "When does the train leave?"
"In five minutes from Platform One."
I picked up my suitcase and followed the signs to Platform One, pacing resolutely across the tiled flooring. It was 9pm and dark outside, apart from the dim lamps that lit the platform at intervals. I glanced upwards, to above the platform roof, where a half-moon was hovering, lonely, apologetic.
A train came sliding out of a tunnel, then steadied to a halt. I got on, sat down, and the train chugged off without enthusiasm into the night. I peered out of the windows but could see nothing, only darkness ahead and darkness behind. I felt anxious to be heading to Nowhere, but I had to go there.
After fifteen minutes the train stopped at another station. A woman got on who must have been in her 40s and wore an elegant red overcoat. She sat opposite me, smiled courteously, took out a paperback and began to read.
Some time later she looked up at me. "You're heading to Nowhere?"
She regarded me with confident eyes."You don't look the sort."
"The sort who goes to Nowhere."
"Don't most people go to Nowhere at sometime?"
"Perhaps, but right now you look to me like the kind who'd be headed, say, Somewhere."
"How do you know? Sorry, but you don't know me."
"How can I put this? You know those clocks which, at night, give off a faint glow. Well, some people, such as yourself, are a bit like that. And, in my experience, the people from Nowhere aren't glowers; they absorb light rather than give it off."
"Hmm," I said. I wasn't sure about the allusion to glowing; it made me sound radioactive.
"The people from Nowhere seem so grey," she added.
"And I happen to be wearing a lime-green top."
"No, I mean the people of Nowhere look like they've been defeated by life. By a significant score, like Life-8, People-0."
I contemplated her for a few moments. "Well, you're right I don't live in Nowhere. I'm just trying to find someone there."
"I thought as much."
"What about you?" I asked.
"My poor mother's lived in Nowhere for some time. I visit her occasionally, although I dread it . . . Who are you looking for if you don't mind me asking?"
I hesitated, but there was something I liked about this woman. "An ex-boyfriend, Marcus. We were together for five years, but we split up eighteen months ago on my 25th birthday. He'd got into things that weren't good for him and I wasn't happy about it. After the split, he got more heavily into the things that weren't good for him, lost his job, got into debt, and ended up Nowhere, poor soul."
"So you're here to try and rescue him?"
"Yes . . . No . . . Maybe . . . I was phoned last week by an old friend who'd heard that Marcus was in a bad way and was asking for me. The friend didn't have details, but thought it could be serious. I'm worried and I feel a bit responsible for what happened to Marcus: we still loved each other when we split. After the phone-call I made a booking for the Despond Hotel and bought a one-way ticket to Nowhere--I've no idea how long this will take."
"Sorry to say this, but you might be onto a losing battle. Once a person is stuck in Nowhere, it's hard for them to get out."
"I know, but maybe I can offer a helping hand."
"You need a crane not a hand to lift someone out of Nowhere."
She smiled weakly. "Good luck anyway."
"But word of warning: don't spend too long in Nowhere. The place's like sinking sand, it sucks you under."
"Cheers," I said, unnerved.
The woman returned to her paperback and we sat in silence. My mood became darker, like it was being infiltrated by shadows. I turned to stare at the window, but saw only my own, indistinct reflection: at night, train windows become like ghostly mirrors. Finally, we arrived at Nowhere Station and I got off, saying goodbye to the woman.
Coming out of the station, I had my first glimpse of Nowhere: shops protected by anxious metal grates, boarded-up houses glazed with graffiti, gutters swollen with kebab wrappers, tatty billboards promising imbecilic illusions of happiness. I walked nervously down Station Road, past Hades' Hambugers, Kali's Kebabs, Cheap Skates, Woolworths, Desolate Designs, and The Oblivion Inn. In an odd way, Nowhere could be anywhere, I thought.
After ten minutes I was relieved to find the Despond Hotel, where I checked in and went straight to bed. But the dream-realms brought no solace; they were filled with Marcus being sucked down gutters, his naked body covered in graffiti.
I didn't have an address for Marcus so for the next two days I searched desperately for him. I spent time in Pluto Park, wandering across its emaciated turf. I went to the notorious Bleeding Keel Pub, where I was almost punched for no reason. Twice.
In Doldrums Drive I saw an elderly man seated in a burnt-out car, twiddling the dials on a defunct radio and humming along to its non-existent tunes. Not far away, a teenager sat in a boat in a pond devoid of water, staring out at something I couldn't see. In Inertia Road a boy was curled asleep in a wheelbarrow, covered in a blanket of newspaper. Further along, a six-foot pile of used lorry tyres had 'Monument to Fuck-All' painted on it.
As my search continued, so my spirits became flatter, as if being steamrollered by some gloomy tank. Finally, late on the second day, I sat down on one side of an abandoned, wheel-less milk-float. I felt like the whole stinking heart of Nowhere was seeping slowly into my soul.
A grey-haired man, also sitting on the milk-float and reading a newspaper, turned to me. "Death is the invincible enemy of man," he said.
"I said, 'Death is the invincible enemy of man'."
"I know what you said, but that's not polite. I don't know you."
"Sorry, but it's a phrase used in my newspaper. Bit of a pompous phrase perhaps, but it's written on the obituaries page whenever another youngster is found dead."
"Well, I'm sorry someone has died."
"Don't be. Dying's fashionable around here. All the young blokes are doing it, whether through drug abuse, disease, poverty, violence."
"What . . . what was the name of the guy who died?"
He looked back at his newspaper. "Marcus Kingsfleet."
"Let me see," I said shakily. He handed me the obituaries page and I saw tiny photo of Marcus. I slumped forward and began to sob.
"I'm guessing this isn't your normal response to obituaries," he said.
I looked up and glared at him through my tears.
"Sorry if that came across as a bit flippant. It's just death is a way of life here. I assume you knew the poor bloke then."
"Yes, I knew him." Oh god, I thought. Marcus. Dead! I felt so low and exhausted, like I wanted to lie down and give up, like life had done a runner on a train, leaving me stranded at the station. Maybe that's what Nowhere did to you, I thought. Maybe that's the way Marcus had felt too.
The man cleared his throat."It's none of my business, but you don't look like you're from around here. You look like a nice girl, maybe from Somewhere. A bit of advice from an old-timer: I don't know why you're here, but this place drags you in, feeds off you from your bones outwards. Get the hell out of Nowhere. Before Nowhere gets the hell into you."
The man's eyes seemed hollow as wells, yet his words were full of wisdom. I knew I couldn't help Marcus now, but I needed to help myself. "Thanks," I murmured, knowing what I had to do. I got up and made myself walk towards the station, even though I felt so weary. I clutched my handbag to me; I'd get my luggage sent on from the hotel later.
Arriving at Nowhere Station, I made straight for the ticket office.
"Destination?" asked a woman.
"Anywhere Else," I whispered.
"Single or return, love?"
Story Copyright © 2007 by Katy Wimhurst. All rights reserved.
Previous: The Fiery Dragon by Edith Nesbit
About the author
Katy Wimhurst, who lives in Essex, UK, originally trained as a social anthropologist, but somehow ended up doing a PhD on Mexican Surrealism. She has a soft spot for magic, myth and mud. In a past life, she might have been Salvador Dali's moustache, and she'd like to be reincarnated as one of Russell Hoban's dreams. She writes fiction and non-ficion and has had stuff published in various magazines and online publications, including Guardian (Unlimited).