Timothy Smallwell was standing in a small, muddy field next to the East Coast
Main Line when someone else immediately and unexpectedly appeared beside him.
The field was located between York and Peterborough, and although he had seen
it many times from the train this was the first time Timothy had actually stood
For almost thirty years he had worked as a train driver on the east coast
main line, and almost every journey he had noticed the field out of the train
window. It wasn't every field that Timothy noticed. Most of the hundreds of
miles of track he travelled still passed by as an interchangeable green blur.
It was just the occasional thing that, for some unknown reason, Timothy
recognised. Most likely he had noticed the field one time while thinking about
something important, and the next time he had passed the field the previous
thought had returned to his head - and once a spot like that has been
recognised twice it is almost imposssible not to regonise it again - his brain
would uncontrollable think "That's that field".
There was some kind of odd aesthetic quality to the field. It had a good
layout. In the bottom corner near the tracks was a brown slimy pond - well,
more of a puddle - and in the opposite corner were three tall trees. These
trees hung over the field in a perfect mushroom shape. In the summer they
spread an even shade over the field, and in the winter they cast
vein-like fractal shadows over the ground. The field wasn't totally without
life either. Occasionally a grey horse could be seen in the adjacent field,
leaning his head over the fence to eat the tufts of grass.
During that part of the journey the landscape was almost completely void of
buildings. It was just fields connected by wooden fences and farm
tracks. Each time Timothy passed it he always compared it to the hot rattling
train he was sitting in. How quiet it looked outside in the fresh air. He had
often imagined himself standing in the field - feeding the grey horse, or
perhaps sheltering from summer sunshine under the trees in the corner, or maybe
just standing in the center of the field and thinking about things.
Timothy was planning to retire, and as he travelled back and forth along the
line, an odd idea started to form in his head which wouldn't be dislodged. The
idea was to talk to one of the other train drivers, and on the last day of the
job, see if they might drop him off at the field. He wasn't sure what he would
do once he was there, but he thought he could maybe walk to the nearest town
and stay at a B&B or something.
He shared this idea with one of his younger colleagues over some drinks and it
quickly spread around the whole staff. They loved it. It was just the sort of
thing they thought would be good for a guy like Timothy. There was no way he
was going to get out of it now. They'd probably throw him out of the moving
train if they had to. So Timothy had to plan his trip. He found the
exact location of the field on a map and looked for a walking route to the
nearest town. A few days before Christmas he packed his rucksack, and got into
the cabin of a train heading to London.
By the time the train had left York Timothy was feeling extremely aprehensive.
He had never felt so worried, and that made him feel very old. Eventually the
train started to slow, and then it stopped, and Timothy had to quickly jump out
the cabin. The driver waved to him and the train accelerated again, until it
had passed well out of sight. The field was just a few hundred meters away.
Slowly Timothy walked towards the field. He climbed over the fence and walked
purposefully into the center of the field, looking around at his surroudings.
It was just as he had imagined - a brisk, cold winter's day, the clouds moved
quickly through the blue skies, ice glazed muddy puddles, and frost tracing the
outlines of brown leaves on the ground. And it was quiet - so beautifully
But as Timothy looked around something started to unsettle him. In the quiet he
thought he could hear a sniffing sound, or a kind of swallowing, disturbing the
silence. Timothy couldn't shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong.
He took a step forward and a high pitched wail burst from behind the trees. A
young boy ran toward Timothy in an awkwardly crouched position, his arms raised
as if he'd been caught in a shoot out.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Shouted the boy, his red face wet with tears. He
looked around ten or eleven years old.
Some paternal instinct kicked in and Timothy went up to the boy and wrapped him
in his raincoat.
"I know it was stupid," whispered the boy.
"I just want to go home now. Please! I don't want to be in trouble."
Timothy kept hold of the boy, stroking his head until he felt the boy's
breathing steady and the boy's hands slow their clenching and unclenching
around his back. He released the boy, who stepped back and faced him.
The boy's shoes and trousers were covered in mud all the way up to the knees.
"I'm lost," said the boy. "I didn't know how to cross the train tracks. You're
the police aren't you. I saw you getting off the train."
Timothy wasn't sure how to reply. He wasn't the police - but what was he? He
wasn't a train driver any more. And if he said he was - that wouldn't explain
why he had gotten off at the field.
"I'm just walking into town," Timothy said. "Where do you live?"
"I'm running away from home - so I'm not going home," said the boy,
The boy seemed calm now so Timothy took a better look. He had a closely cut
head of hair, skinny arms, and bold white teeth that pushed out his gums.
"I'll take you into town - you can decide what to do after that", Timothy
The boy looked down, and didn't reply. Timothy started walking anyway,
looking back to ensure the boy was following. Once he was following Timothy
turned back, looking over the field ahead. From behind he heard the boy
"My parents killed my dog. He was ill. I only want to be with my dog -
I don't want to be with anyone else - any of the rest of them."
The pair left the field via a farm track, which ran in a long steady
slope up to a T-junction. Little streams of water ran down the muddy gullies
either side of the path. On the hedges the remaining leaves shook in the
breeze. The boy was following but he was looking down at his feet, weaving
across the road and bashing at the hedges with a stick he'd picked up.
"Where is your partner?" The boy asked.
"Partner?", thought Timothy. "What a bizzare question to ask. Does he mean my
"I don't have a partner any more", said Timothy. "Oh", said the boy. There was
a short silence.
"I used to have one, but she passed away many years ago. Bowel cancer."
"Oh", said the boy again, looking down and dragging his stick along the ground.
"I'd just started working for the railway when she passed ... That was my only
Timothy could hear each of their footsteps squelching in the mud along the farm
"My dog is my partner," said the boy.
A small farm building was now visible over the hedgerows - it was metal barn,
attached to some kind of industrial tank, from which a thin plume of white
smoke was rising. The structures appeared to be in the process of collapsing,
holding each other up, the sun partially reflected in their rusty hulls.
Timothy looked back. The boy had found a new game. He was dragging his stick
along the little divets and grooves created by water flows across the road,
watching the stick swerve this way and that. He started running, pulling the
stick faster and watching it bounce over the mud, settling into one path then
jumping out and finding another. He ran past Timothy and out into the road
ahead. When he was about 50 meters away he stopped and threw his stick high up
in the air, looking upwards and trying to catch it as it fell.
The stick landed in the hedgerow, and a single, startled grouse clumbsily
flapped it's way out of the undergrowth and into the air. The grouse had
beautifully patterned features. It looked soft, smooth, almost fluffy.
Timothy imagined it on the inside - each of those feathers mounted on a long
quill embeded in tender flesh. It looked painful for those birds to simply
be in contact with anything - looked painful just to move. They were like a
pin-cushion, he thought - cotton wound around needles.
The boy reached the junction at the end of the farm track and turned around.
Timothy indicated to the boy to turn to the left. The boy spun 270 degrees
balancing on his stick and started steadily marching down the road.
At the junction the wind died down and the air became almost completely still.
Timothy felt like the air had settled around him and the boy in some kind of
thick gel. It seemed like every movement for miles around was observable to
them via the echoing vibrations of the gel. He had hoped on this trip to think
about things - think about his retirement, politics or philosophy - but it was
hard to force those kind of thoughts when it seemed the whole world was
Instead he imagined what it might be like to view himself from above, to fly
over the fields in a fighter jet. He thought how incredible it must feel to be
soaring through the sky, the sun reflecting off the wings, and the shadows of
the clouds visible on the landscape below. If there really was a fighter jet
above the two of them, there would be nowhere to hide. There were no buildings
to shelter in and they would be easily spotted amoung the static scenery. If
there was a war, thought Timothy, he would probably be killed first.
From behind Timothy could hear the gentle shaking of the air that signaled a
car was approaching. The sound grew until eventually Timothy was passed
by a black Peugeot with one of the windows rolled down. The car was slowing
down and out of the window a bald head appeared and started shouting.
The boy up ahead froze on the spot. The car pulled up beside the boy and a man
quickly jumped out the car and grabbed the boy by the arm.
"Don't you ever do that again James," the man said and he bundled the boy into
the car, accelerating quickly, rolling the window down again. The sound of
the exaust echoed around, getting quieter until it could no longer be heard.
The boy had been taken away so quickly Timothy hadn't had time to react
properly. In an overly dramatic gesure he raised his hand out and it hung limp
in the air.
Timothy wasn't sure what to do so he continued on. He thought he should be glad
that the boy had been picked up again by his parents, and how now he would be
able to complete his walk as orginally planned.
Unconciously Timothy picked up his pace. All he could really think about now
was getting into town. He forced himself to think about something else - the
last election. He thought about setting up some kind of political blog. In his
head he began drafting some of the articles he might write - recounting the
words to himself aloud. There was several more days of walking planned after
this - he'd probably be able to think up a number of good articles in that
Timothy repeated these posts to himself until he had made it back into town
and had reached the pub he was staying at that evening. He looked into the
windows. Inside it was dark. A red carpet covered the floor, and spread over it
were several wooden tables. Two old guys were sitting several stools apart at
the bar. A middle aged woman with black hair was behind the bar, playing on her
phone with one hand, while simultainiously washing glasses with the other.
After a minute or so of looking into the pub window Timothy turned around.
He walked to the edge of the town where he called a Taxi to take him to
Doncaster train station. At the station there was an hour to wait for the next
train back. In the toilets Timothy quietly cried. When it was time, he went
out onto the platform and boarded the train that would take him back home.