The Flight of Icarus – A Short Story

The suburban train came to a stop abruptly in the middle of nowhere jolting all the seated passengers into a moment of shock. Paul Gartner himself was jolted out of his bitter-sweet brooding about Daniela – a girl he had loved so dearly and believed she would stick to him through thick and thin! It came as a shock to him when she calmly announced the previous morning that she was ending their live in relationship!
“I am leaving you Paul,” she had said while tying her hair at the dressing table. ” I feel suffocated living with you, your pre-occupation with your research and students sicken me,” she added speaking through lips that were clasped on a couple of hair pins that she removed one by one to stick into her bun.
“But why, Daniela? I thought we were doing fine!” He replied gazing at her long, slender neck that was accentuated by the hair that had been gathered into a tight bun. He absentmindedly took a hair pin from her and inserted it into her hair securing it further.
Paul’s brooding came to an abrupt stop, his train of thought merging with the actual train in which he had been traveling along with the others. There was a pregnant moment of silence and then everyone started talking at once, “Why have we stopped, Mommy?” And then another voice broke into his consciousness, ” Is it an emergency?” Then yet another, grumbling voice, “The driver shouldn’t have been speeding up, now we will have to wait in the middle of nowhere for the earlier train to complete its journey – darling don’t grumble, it is just a matter of a few minute…I am going to sue the company!” They were all voices, white noise, a mix of decibels chaos, that threatened to drive him off the edge!
And then the public address system crackled to life, and there was silence in the coach, an ominous silence driven by a sense of foreboding – “Ladies and gentlemen,” the speakers hissed, ” I am your driver and I regret to inform you that this train will not go any further, in fact there is no destination left! This is the end of our journey. The power has been cut off and neither New Haven nor Hamden exist any more, the world has been destroyed by nukes released by a boy playing War Games on his PSP! That is all that I can say. It is each man to himself, you may walk off the train or remain, it is your choice.”
The hubbub resumed and a few of the passengers fainted while others sat still, turned to stone. Paul could see that a few of the passengers had managed to open the exit and entry doors of the coach and had stepped on to the tracks. They were no longer afraid of the electric current that once coursed through the middle track. “So the world had finally come to an end!” He thought with a great sense of relief. There would be no commitments, he wouldn’t have to plead with Daniela to come back to him, (she was in all probability already dead) and he would not have to explain to anyone why she had left him. It was with a sense of lightness and a final sense knowing what he wanted to do that Paul dumped his office bag on the seat, the tab, his mobile phone, his cards and all those things that he felt were useless to him, however he did choose to carry his sling bag that contained his breakfast and a bottle of water. Swinging the bag jauntily, he made his way to the exit and stepped into the open like some of the others.
The train had come to a stop on a plateau on a mountain top at an altitude of three thousand feet. They had been heading for Hamden which was in the plains at an altitude of less than two hundred feet above sea- level. The Blue Mist Mountains through which they had been traveling towered sheer above Hamden and there were quite a few spots where there was a sheer drop of a few hundreds of feet. Of course one could see the twinkling lights of the town on clear nights out in the distance – the track often veering close to the cliff edge because it was the best gradient that the engineers could identify.
He stepped on to the tracks and walked in the general direction of Hamden where he was supposed to reach every morning at nine to report at the Oxfordshire University where he taught English Literature and a few topics of Philosophy. The laptop that he had left behind in the train contained his lecture notes on Catastrophism in Literature, which he was to have delivered that day if it had not been for the turn of events that had taken place. Paul began musing on the lines of his lecture that was now lost in an abandoned laptop inside the coach of a derelict train. “What if,” he mused, “that boy had not had the time to play on his PSP?” He walked on the elevated track lost in his thoughts, “Stream of Consciousness ” as Joyce would have termed it. “What if, Daniela had not left me – what if I had stayed back at New Haven, would I be thinking about life?” He proceeded as if on auto pilot wondering if there was a purpose behind all this madness and the fact that they had been spared from the direct impact of the nukes going off.
Suddenly he realised that he had come close to the beginning of the curve in the path of the track about a couple of kilometres before the point where the track came closest to the edge of the cliff. The track was now almost level with the rest of the plateau since the engineers had not deemed it necessary to elevate it – the base was firm enough. Then he saw it, a red Benelli motorcycle, lying on its side a little ahead. Almost without thinking he left the track and walked towards where the bike was. He lifted the bike up with some effort, righted it and then checked for the key. Surprisingly the key was right there sitting snugly in its switch but in the ‘Off’ position.
Paul sat astride the bike and twisted the key to the “On” position, then he depressed the ignition switch and the engine kicked in, the rumble and vibration reassuring and comforting to him. Daniela had the same bike and she had let him ride it a few times and coincidentally it too had been red in colour! Ticking out the very thought that the bike might be hers, he revved the engine slid the gear into first and slipped the clutch. It was like being free and the sensation of the wind blowing into his face, blowing his hair out of shape created the sensation of flying – flying like a free spirit, without any care; he left behind the world to its own devices and leaned over the handlebars into the wind almost as if challenging it to bring its worst. There was no one left on the flat, it was just the wind, the bike and the wind all moving towards a specific destination, thump of the motor profound and purposeful, the man riding it, a maniac driving headlong towards the edge of the cliff whooping and calling out in glee! The cliff edge drew nearer and nearer, but he did not bother, (the rider of the motorcycle) perhaps he wanted to take things into his own hands cheat destiny or fate – be in control of his own life for once.
Then there was a pause, and everything seemed frozen in time – the bike and its rider leapt over the edge of cliff – seemed to rise a few feet in the air an impossible action, defying the laws of gravity! The man astride the bike whooped loudly driven headlong into the chasm. Paul looked down and there below he saw a huge expanse of greenery spread like a carpet. He was free flying at angle as if he could create a glide path to the town that awaited him far below. He knew that the flight would last a few seconds and then his life would be snuffed out, but then what did he care as long as he had a few seconds of ultimate adventure!
He hit the ground with a jolt and then woke up to see his wife, Daniela at the dressing table piling her hair into a bun!
“Hey, why did you not wake me up?” He asked her swinging over the bed towards her.
“Did not want to disturb you!” She answered through lips that were clasped over a few hairpins with which to fasten her hair.
He took one of the pins and slid it into her bun and wondered about the lecture he was to deliver on The Catastrophe Theory and Escapism. Well it was all there in the laptop. He made sure to add how parallel worlds could exist in an infinite possible ways just like the infinite images reflected in two mirrors facing each other!


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