Harriet was startled awake. She turned her sleepy eyes towards the scene outside. The train seemed to be gaining speed. The trees started crawling backwards faster and faster, bringing cold wind into the compartment. Far away, on the edge of the endless fields, clouds were gathering quickly.
Harriet turned to the TV on the wall. She had left it on before she dozed off. It was broadcasting news on the terrorist attack yesterday. On the screen, a tower swayed in slow motion. The iron bars endured the largest bending angle it had ever experienced since its completion. The bending finally became unbearable. It gave out a long low metallic grumble. Harriet grabbed the controller and pressed 'OFF'. Why did every channel have to repeat the same news again and again and again?
A thunder was heard, growling louder as it travelled through the vast cornfields. Harriet closed the window. It should be raining soon.
With the window closed and TV off, a horrible stillness started to grow in the room. Harriet had to make some noise, do something, anything. Absentmindedly, she picked up a complementary tea bag sitting on the plastic table. She sniffed - it smelled nice. She placed it in her thermos and took a sip. Then she searched through her backpack and dug out a packet of crackers. She was busy struggling with the packaging when the compartment door slid open. Somebody mumbled something.
'Hm,' Harriet kind of replied. Her attention was completely given to the unyielding plastic wrap, which seemed to be holding a personal grudge against her at that moment.
After a bit of tearing (and perhaps a bit of swearing too; Harriet was far too annoyed to care), she finally took out her pocketknife and claimed victory. With a satisfied grin, she took out a piece of her long-awaited prize.
'Ahem,' somebody coughed softly. Harriet turned around. Before her stood the ticket inspector.
'May I have your ticket please,' he asked, probably again. His tone was polite; his facial expression, however, revealed an entirely different emotion.
Harriet held out her ticket.
'Want a cracker?' she offered while the inspector was stamping a hole to the ticket.
The inspector raised an eyebrow at her. Harriet raised an eyebrow too and stared right back, together with a wide smile.
'No thank you, madam,' the ticket inspector broke eye contact first, wheeled around and left. The compartment door slid back to its position with a soft click.
Harriet smiled to herself and finished the cracker. The inspector must have thought she was a bit of a lunatic; but she didn't mind. She enjoyed having all of the crackers to herself.
After the snack, Harriet leaned back. A full stomach, strangely, helped her appreciate the silence better. Well, the room wasn't exactly noise-free – there was the constant low rumble produced by the train wheels, which was oddly comforting. Harriet rested her elbow on the windowsill and covered one ear with her hand. She let her mind drift. Her eyelids slowly became heavy. Then, in her half-asleep state, she noticed it; the constant noise, the train's heartbeats. They were low and deep, like the grumbling of an injured lion.
Like the sound of the collapsing tower.
Harriet straightened up with a jolt. She pressed her hand to her chest; her heart was beating hard, completely out of control. She closed her eyes and steadied herself. Then she opened her eyes, and decided to give the TV another try; maybe it could help clear her mind. She picked the controller up and pressed 'ON'. Channel One. [News about the tower.] She switched channels without even thinking. [Another report on the tower.] Switch. [The tower, in flames.] Switch. [People fleeing.] Switch. [The tower, grumbling.] She pressed the switch button again.
On the screen, the tower was bending at an awkward angle. Harriet stood up and pressed the unresponsive button wildly.
Still no response.
The broadcast continued. There was an explosion. Flames engulfed the tower. People beside the camera screamed. The camera started shaking violently, but it still aimed faithfully at the tower. The tower started crumbling down.
Desperate, Harriet threw the controller at the TV. The screen blacked out.
Panting and gasping for air, Harriet dropped back to her seat. The ticker inspector appeared at the compartment door.
'Need any help, madam?' he asked.
Harriet shook her head.
When the door slid shut, the TV powered on by itself.
Harriet's heart nearly jumped out. She watched in silence as a duck wobbled into the screen. It turned its head and glared straight at her, then quacked –
"got any crackers?"
Harriet stared back, bewildered. Drops of water started hitting the compartment window. Pitter patter. It had finally started to rain.