I had finished my shift in a call centre, which was located in the city, and after dealing with innumerable complaints from angry bank customers, I was relieved to get a seat in the overcrowded train. As I settled down into my seat, I slowly began to relax as the train slipped by familiar suburban stations.
After falling asleep, I suddenly jolted awake, fearing that I had missed my stop. The sun was still shining brightly at 6 pm, due to daylight saving, and as I looked out of the window, I was surprised at the unfamiliar scene before me. On the left side of the train, there was a large expanse of water, a receding headland, and expensive looking houses that were scattered along the beach-front. It looked like the harbour that I knew so well, but when I looked out of the window on my right, there was nothing but barren scrub-land that sloped up and away from the station's rickety old platform. And scattered among the scrub-land were narrow huts, numbering about six, which were situated about five hundred metres apart. As I stared at these queer looking huts, there was a solitary human figure standing motionless in some of them. It was all very strange, but as I was still feeling groggy, I assumed it was only a dream. But just then the train lurched to an abrupt halt, and a gruff voice announced over the intercom.
“Attention all passengers, due to a track blockage further up the line, you are required to disembark temporarily, in the interests of your safety”.
The other passengers begin to leave the train quickly, so I reluctantly joined them on the platform. A cheery looking uniformed station employee walked along the platform telling us that we would have to move onto the island, as it was going to take some time to fix the train. He disappeared very soon after this grim pronouncement, so I was left with no other recourse, but to follow the others along a narrow bridge that led away from the platform. An unsettling feeling began to grow in the pit of my stomach. I must have gotten onto the wrong train. My normal commute home rarely varied as I caught the same train every day. But like most days, I was in such a hurry to get home that I had barely glanced up at the indicator board and had just rushed onto the train.
The path that we were following meandered through the scrub-land and then led away from the water further back into the island. The path came to an abrupt end in a large clearing. The clearing was full of white marquees, and there were small groups of people who were either sitting around picnic tables or standing around chatting.
I had begun to tire of this bizarre charade so I pulled out my mobile phone to ring my mother to tell her I would be delayed, but the screen showed that there was no service available. I tried to ask some of the people that had left the train if I could use one of their phones, but they just ignored me and seemed to walk off in a daze. I walked up to a picnic table where a man and a woman were sitting.
“Hi! I seem to be having problems with my phone. There’s no reception. Can I use your phone?” I asked.
They looked at me uneasily and then quickly moved away.
Annoyed at their rudeness, I tried asking other people why there was no phone reception, and if I could use their phone, but they too moved quickly away. In frustration, I headed back to the station to see if I could find the station assistant. But the platform was empty and the train had disappeared.
After wandering around the platform for a few minutes, the station assistant suddenly appeared again.
“I'm sorry, but you’ll have to go back to the community. You can't wait here,” he said.
I was feeling very unnerved, “Why can't I wait here? What's going on anyway, and where's the train? And why can't I use my mobile?” I demanded. “I'm seriously going to complain to State Rail about this.”
He smiled tightly and said, “Look, you have to be patient. The train has been taken away to be fixed. The best thing to do is just go and wait with the others.”
The uneasiness that I had felt earlier was now bordering on panic. In an effort to calm my nerves, I tried to talk to him again.
“I just want to go home, OK!” I pleaded. “Can I use your phone to ring my mum and let her know what's happening?”
The smile that seemed to be permanently fixed on his face quickly disappeared.
“I don't have a phone,” he snapped. “Go and wait with the others. It won't be long now.”
I wasn't going to get anywhere with him, so I trudged back up the hill. Again I tried to talk to people, but they just turned away from me. There were a few women that I approached, who seemed to want to talk with me, but as soon as I started asking questions, they walked away. After a few more unsuccessful attempts to communicate with others, the almost omnipresent station assistant appeared once again with that eerie smile plastered over his face. He roughly grabbed my arm and propelled me towards a large white tent that stood at the top of hill and overlooked the whole community. The tent's entrance was flanked by two burly men who looked like security guards, and inside there was a man dressed in dark casual clothes, sitting behind a large table and reading through some papers. The man introduced himself as the Overseer, and then asked me to sit down.
“Young lady, I hear that you've been upsetting this community with your persistent questions. You will have to accept this situation like the others have come to accept it,” he said sternly.
“What situation?” I asked.
He continued to smile at me, but the smile didn't reach his deep-set black eyes. His fixed smile reminded me of the station assistant.
“This community is to be your home for the time being. You see, for the moment, there is no other transport available.” His black eyes bore into mine.
The rising fear that clutched at my heart was turning into pure terror, but I took a deep breath to try to remain calm. I thought about the other people in this weird community. I wondered how they had felt when they first arrived. They were all acting like nothing was wrong. And what about their families who were no doubt worried sick about them? I thought about my own family - my mother and sister - especially my elderly mother. These thoughts raged through my mind and I began to feel dizzy. The Overseer seemed to read my mind.
“All I can offer you right now is a opportunity to see your mother, but you won't be able to speak to her. Close your eyes.” From his tone, it was not a request.
As there was no visible technology in the tent, and no mobile reception, I wondered how I would be able to see my mother. Before I could say anything, my mind and body suddenly relaxed and my eyes closed involuntarily. My vision went black, and then I saw my mother sitting with my sister, side by side on the couch in our lounge room. They were distressed and trying to comfort each other. My mother was looking up and speaking to someone I couldn't see. I assumed she was talking to the police. Tears filled my eyes when I saw the fear on her face.
“What has happened to my daughter?” she asked, trying to hold back tears. “I haven't heard from her since she left for work. She should've been home hours ago.”
The vision vanished.
When I came to my senses, I found myself outside the tent with the mysterious leader of the community. With no expression on his face, he said with a warning tone.
“If I hear that you are still asking inappropriate questions of the people in this community, I will have to put you into isolation.”
Before I could respond, He went back inside the tent and I was left alone.
Feeling exhausted, but knowing for the meantime there was nothing else I could do, I wandered through the community. The people seemed to be happy enough. As they smiled, laughed and joked with each other, I wondered again at their strange behaviour. I was expected to be act like them – and just comply with mute acceptance - and just laugh it all away. Maybe this was a survival technique they had adopted. The sounds of their voices washed over me, and I willed myself to wake up from this horrible nightmare. I was certain that when I awoke in the morning, this would all be forgotten.
As I walked aimlessly among the crowds of happy smiling people, some of them watched me curiously. I was surprised when a young woman stopped to talk. She told me that she had also arrived by train some time ago, but when I tried to ask further questions, she looked afraid and rushed off into the crowd.
A feel of revulsion gripped my stomach and I had to get away. So I left the crowd and headed back to the train station, which was still empty. In the distance, I could see those strange narrow huts that had greeted me as the train had arrived at the platform. I realised then, that each of those poor people who were standing in those huts were experiencing what the Overseer had meant by – 'isolation'. Like me, they had asked too many questions and were now receiving their punishment.
It was now clear to me that this community had begun due to the many trains that had been diverted to this abandoned train station. Each trainload of sleepy and worn out commuters had been told the same story and had found themselves added to 'The Community'. I was just one of many who had been stranded on this seemingly innocuous little island.
The sun was beginning to set and as the daylight darkened into evening, the lights of the houses over on the other side of the black expanse of water began to twinkle like beckoning life- buoy beacons. Did the people in those houses know what was happening here? Could I escape over there and if so, how? Despite these impossible questions that had no answers, it seemed that my only chance was to get in contact with the people who were imprisoned in the huts. Maybe we could work out an escape plan together. Right now, all I could do was mingle with the rest of the community, and then make my move later when everyone was asleep.
As I turned to head back, the two guards who had been outside the Overseer's tent appeared. They tied my hands behind my back and silently led me along the station's platform and past the strange huts, to an empty hut. I offered no resistance as they roughly pushed me back inside the cold damp darkness of the narrow space and secured my feet to the floor with chains.
And there I stood, frozen in place, like a statue, gazing blankly out at the twinkling lights across the harbour.
DJ Heath began her creative journey from a young age. At school, she was always getting into trouble for day-dreaming or writing stories during class. On the weekends, she was writing and directing skits with her friends. Her passion for writing stems from her love of reading and some of her favourite genres are: crime thrillers, historical romance, and fantasy. In addition to writing short stories, DJ Heath writes screenplays, poetry, and is currently working on a 'magic realism' novel, as well as posting weekly blogs about creative writing on her website, creativedestination.com.au.