Tag Archives: isolation

Self-Extinction – Emerson Cassidy

EXT. DESERT – ASTRONOMICAL DAWN 1

An open, dry desert plain. Small, dry shrubs that cling to the ground make up the only life in sight. It is dawn and the sky is just beginning to lighten. Stars disappear from the horizon as the faint, glistening light of the sun slowly creeps into the sky. Apart from a soft whistle of wind as it races across the plains, not a sound can be heard. We see an abandoned gas station. Rusted old cars and fuel tanks decorate the scene.

BRIAN, mid-twenties, male, lean physic. He is dressed in a cloak with black goggles and gloves as he looks at the desert.

BRIAN (V.O.)

Immortality is a joke… When you’re alone in a ruined world.

We see broken bottles, food cans, keys and a smashed iPhone. An old newspaper titled “Our end has come!” flicks open in the breeze.

BRIAN (V.O.)

Hunted by what remains.

CRUNCH. A boot appears, crushing the iPhone.

UNKNOWN POV

The surrounding landscape whips past as the unknown POV leaps over rocks and vaults over the gas pump outside the station. Heavy huffing can be heard. The unknown POV leaps several meters into the air. The surrounding landscape whips past.

SPFX: Brian turns to face the pursuer and sees a beast!

Standing on four feet. It is armoured, with crimson eyes that shine. A growl cuts through the silence and we see Brian sail through the air, towards a rocky canyon.

Brian lands hard on the floor of the rocky canyon.

Effortlessly, Brian stands, feet firmly planted at shoulders width apart. The beast lands in front of Brian and charges. Brian punches towards the oncoming beast.

FLASH. A brilliant blue light erupts from Brian, whiting everything out with light. The beast shrieks in pain and white noise blankets everything.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT – ROCK LABYRINTH – NAUTICAL DAWN 2

Brian stands in the middle of the rocky labyrinth. Open ground, with tall rocky walls either side surround unsettled dust. The sky can just be seen past the limestone walls. Brian is alone, bent over one knee and facing the labyrinth’s exit – a tall, blue-sky passageway squished between rocky walls. Growls come from the distance. Brian looks up, eyes still glowing.

SPFX/ SFX: Dozens of shadows appear above the canyon. Some have longer arms or stand on four legs. They lower their heads as much larger one steps into view and roars loudly.

They move towards Brian. Brian closes his eyes and reaches down into his pant pocket, pulling out a small vial. He grips it tightly in his left hand, spreads his arms and gazes into the sky. Light from the sun breaks through the dust cloud as the sun rises.

SPFX/ SFX: The shadows suddenly halt, and then retreat, squealing like pigs.

Brian keeps his eyes closed as his body goes limp and he falls sideways into the dirt. Quietly, he starts laughing… and sobbing. He pushes himself up from the ground, howling in despair. The rising sun can only just be seen past the shelves of rock that blocks this view.

Brian’s howl travels through the air.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT, CANYON – MORNING 3

Moving out of the labyrinth, we see abandoned buildings, houses and broken brick roads. ANNA, an 18-year-old girl in tattered and raggedy clothes, wide-eyed turns towards the sound as the howl fades. Her skin is sunburnt.

Brian kneels in the dirt of the canyon. Sitting between curved rocked formations and smooth limestone walls, the sky can only just be seen past the shelves of rock that block this view.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT, CANYON – NOON 4

Anna walks slowly towards the rocky labyrinth, gripping tightly onto a long piece of wood. She gazes at the dust cloud before heading straight into it. Passing through the labyrinth’s entrance, Anna tightens her grip on her wooden staff. She squints and constantly checks her surroundings.

A silhouette appears. Anna tightens her grip on her wooden staff and steps slowly forwards. As she gets closer, she raises her staff, ready to swing. The silhouette comes into plain view. It is nothing but and oddly shaped rock.

Anna lets out a sigh of relief. She lowers her staff, her shoulders relax. A soft CRUNCH sounds behind Anna. Anna spins around, bringing her staff up again.

Brian ducks.

Anna’s staff just misses crashing into his head. Anna stands in a combat stance, staff out in front, ready to fight.

Brian raises his hands and his eyebrows.

BRIAN

Hey. OK, just wait. I’m not trying to hurt you.

Anna holds her ground, answering him with a glare.

Brian takes slow, steady steps towards her.

Still holding his hands out. Anna swings again. Brian steps back.

BRIAN

Hey! I said I’m not going to hurt you.

ANNA

You’re not gonna take me. I’m not dying by someone like you or those monsters.

Anna rushes at Brian with a series of swings.

Brian easily dodges each swing. He leaps back, putting more distance between him and Anna.

Anna raises her staff above her head, and charges at Brian with a war cry.

Brian catches the staff with his right hand, unflinching from the impact, he rips the staff out of her hands.

Anna stumbles, but she quickly regains her footing. She holds her ground, keeping her eyes fixed in a cold glare towards him.

Brian watches her, glancing at her clenched fists.

BRIAN

(sternly)

Now listen.

(slowly)

My name is Brian. I’m not trying to hurt you.

ANNA

Oh really.

(raising her tone of voice)

Then care to explain what that light was? There is no one else around here, and I can’t see what’s underneath that cloak.

Anna straightens her posture and takes a small step towards Brian.

ANNA

Are you another kind of monster?

Brian lowers his head. He clenches his left hand into a fist. He looks up and tosses the staff at Anna’s feet. He turns and walks away.

ANNA

ANSWER ME!

SPFX: Brian stops. He takes a deep breath. His eyes shine briefly.

Anna notices the shine, and slowly reaches down to pick up her staff.

Brian turns around.

Anna freezes.

Brian starts removing sections of his outfit; gloves, goggles and reveals his face and arms. SPFX: Blue marks cover every visible part of his body – like vines that have grown onto his body – and they are glowing.

BRIAN

I’m not like them.

Anna has a look of astonishment and confusion clear on her face.

BRIAN

But we were born in the same fashion.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON – LATE AFTERNOON 5

Anna and Brian sit opposite each other in the empty bottom of the canyon. The day’s light has begun to fade. A small fire rages between the two. Anna watches Brian with caution. She clenches her staff tightly in both hands. Brian drinks from a military water bottle. Brian offers the bottle to Anna. Anna glances at the bottle for a second, before her eyes dart back to Brian.

BRIAN

Like I said

(speaking slowly)

I’m not trying to hurt you.

Brian shakes the bottle. The water sloshes inside.

Anna snatches it from his hands.

She gulps down what liquid remains.

Her eyes never leave Brian. She throws the bottle back to him.

Brian catches the bottle and sets it down on the ground.

ANNA

You said you’re similar to them.

Anna leans closer to Brian

ANNA

What does that mean?

Brian takes a deep breath, and sits up straighter.

BRIAN

We were both created as a long time ago. In an effort to create immortality… By your kind.

Anna looks at Brian, confused.

Brian holds out his right hand. He nods at the glowing blue marks.

ANNA

Alright. By why are you different?

BRIAN

I was a success… mostly.

SPFX: Brian removes his cloak completely. The markings are thicker and more prominent the closer they are to his torso. This is because his torso is covered with black marks that form a vest of scars, covering his chest.

BRIAN

Most of humanity was experimented on. I don’t even know if there are others like me.

Anna moves in. She gently touches his chest.

Brian breathes in through his nose as though it hurts where her fingers touch. Brian pulls away.

Anna looks sad.

ANNA

They were people. Those creatures?

BRIAN

They were my friends. Now they’re beasts.

(His voice turns guttural)

When I fight them, all I can hear, see and feel is their agony.

Brian buries his head into his hands.

BRIAN

(softly, out of earshot)

It’s always there, always clawing into my head. It never stops. It doesn’t get quiet. It won’t ever stop.

Anna steps, slowly, towards Brian.

Brian suddenly jumps up. He quickly pulls his cloak back on. Brian turns and walks away from Anna.

Anna raises her hand to his shoulder. Brian shrugs off her hand.

ANNA

Anna.

BRIAN

What?

ANNA

That’s my name.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON – LATE AFTERNOON 6

Brian and Anna walk through the canyon. The brown stone lightly streaked with shades of red and burnt orange. As the afternoon sun becomes darker, the light shifts to purple.

Anna keeps pace behind Brian.

BRIAN

So… Do I get to hear your story?

ANNA

I was in hiding. Until your little light show caught my attention.

Brian slows his pace.

BRIAN

And before that?

ANNA

Not much to tell. I’ve been alone out here for a long as I can remember.

Brian turns to look at Anna, continuing to walk.

BRIAN

No parents?

ANNA

I’ve learned to take care of myself.

Anna swings her staff over her shoulder. While a small grin appears on her face.

CUT TO:

EXT. CANYON/ABANDONED GAS STATION – LATE AFTERNOON 7

Brian enters through the abandoned gas station doors and begins rooting around the shelves. He tosses aside magazines, boxes, and checks an empty cigarette carton before also tossing that to the floor too. Anna moves behind the desk and finds a hooded jacket. She puts it on.

ANNA

Where are you going? There’s not much around here.

Brian continues rummaging through the junk. He does not answer Anna.

ANNA

Hey! what are you looking for?

Where are you planning on going?!

BRIAN

To the mountains. It’s got to be better than this place.

Brian grasps at the pocket that holds his vial and sighs.

Anna looks at him. She opens her mouth to speak; her lips quiver as she hesitates.

ANNA

How do you know?

BRIAN

(spits)

I don’t! But anything is better than this.

Anna frowns.

Brian stands up, holding onto a road flare. He turns to walk back out the door. Anna eyes him suspiciously. He moves his arm to cover the markings on his right wrist. Brian stops just outside the gas station entry. Anna, still inside, watches Brian leave.

BRIAN

(loudly)

Let me show you something.

Anna doesn’t answer, but follows Brian outside.

Brian moves over to a small patch of earth and kneels down. He puts his hands together.

BRIAN

These powers had an original purpose, Instead of killing those beasts.

Anna watches him closely.

SPFX/CGI: Brian closes his eyes and holds his palms together. A small orb of light appears. His blue-vein markings glow. Brian lowers his palms to the ground. As soon as the light touches the ground, it dissipates. Light travels through the ground like a pulse. Anna’s eyes follow the points at which the light vanished. Small blades of grass begin to grow from the ground. Anna looks at her feet, eyes wide and mouth open. She glances up at the gas station roof. Rusted edges of the gas station now have vines growing up the edges.

ANNA

Impossible!

SPFX: Brian moves out of Anna’s eyesight. He looks at his fingertips, which are now turning a sickly black colour. His hands have begun to age. They are wrinkled, grey-skinned and frail. Brian clenches his fists. His markings flash and his hands look normal again.

Anna watches Brian from the corners of her eye. She turns her head away as he stands.

EXT. CANYON – DUSK 8

Brian and Anna walk through the canyon. The canyon walls are darker now.

SFX: The sounds of their footsteps can be clearly heard.

Brian kicks a small rock. The sounds echoes.

Anna walks closer to Brian then before. She glances behind them warily.

ANNA

So what are you? Some kind of god.

BRIAN

Pfft…

I’m no god.

(Looking at Anna)

I don’t know. Interpret it however you want.

ANNA

You’ve killed those beasts?

BRIAN

It affects them differently.

ANNA

What about your chest? What happened there?

BRIAN

Not entirely sure…

Brian stops and looks at her, his brow furrowed with irritation.

Anna raises her eyebrows.

Brian turns. He is not going to continue. He walks on in silence.

Anna looks at the back of Brian’s head, eyes narrowed…

SPFX: Brian stops and doubles over, retching. His eye glow, darker than before. His body tenses up. He moans quietly. His eyes stop glowing as he stands up straight. Anna looks at him with unease, gripping her staff tightly. She jumps, eyes leaving Brian as growls can be heard in the distance.

Brian and Anna both look into the sky, then at each other, expressions worried/fearful.

BRIAN

We have to find cover. Fast.

ANNA

Where? We’ve wandered too far out to head back

BRIAN

Come here. Trust Me.

SFX: Anna opens her mouth to protest but is interrupted by a loud snarl from the b.g.

BRIAN

COME ON!

Anna immediately steps to Brian’s side. He grabs her arm and without warning, throws her over his shoulders.

ANNA

Hey! What are you going to-

-Brian takes off, running with the speed of a car.

EXT. CANYON – NIGHTFALL 9

Brian bolts through the canyon with inhuman speed. Anna holds tightly onto his back. The night leaves the canyon a dark, midnight blue.

SFX/CGI: Shadows are everywhere. CRASH. Rocks break apart either side of Brian and Anna. Loud growls travel through the canyon. Anna lifts her head to look behind them.

CGI: Shadowy beasts erupt from the darkness behind them.

They burst up through the earth and smash through the rock wall. There are dozens of them. They bite and snarl at each other in an attempt to get ahead. More growling shadows can be heard from above Anna and Brian.

Brian jumps onto a rock, still holding Anna.

SFX: The rock breaks apart as he launches off, into air.

Brian and Anna fly through the air, past beasts that leap at them. One of the beastly shadows tears into Anna’s back.

Anna screams in agony despite keeping her grip on Brian.

Brian lands on the top of the canyons edge, out of reach of the beasts.

SFX: Shadows amass below.

Anna’s moans of pain drown out their sounds.

BRIAN

Damn it.

Brian lays Anna facedown onto the ground to check her wounds.

ANNA

I’m fine.

She tries to push herself up from the ground, but the pain proves too much. Her arms give way to her body weight and she falls down.

BRIAN

You’re hurt.

A loud roar is heard.

Brian moves over to the ledge.

SPFX: The alpha beast is moving past the now-placid crowd.

It looks up at Brian and shows it’s horrid and mangled teeth in a sadistic grin.

Brian swallows loudly.

SPFX: The beasts’ start to claw and scale up the rocky wall.

Brian picks up the now unconscious Anna like a princess, her head resting on his chest. He shakes his head at her condition and starts running across the top of the canyon, towards the ruins of a once sprawling city. His confident footsteps pound the ground.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT/CITY – NIGHT 10

Brian passes by a wrecked plane, a convenience store and piles of abandoned, rusted cars. He enters the city, following a path of cracked pavement that separates crumbled buildings. Brian stops in the middle of an overpass.

Brian looks quickly left and right. He gently places Anna on the ground. Brian grabs the vial from his pocket. It has a silvery liquid inside.

SPFX: A faint mist escapes from the vial as the cork is popped. Brian directs a silvery drop into one of Anna’s wounds. He quickly places his right hand on her back.

Brian’s blue markings glow. Anna starts to convulse and groan. She almost yells out, but Brian puts his hands over her mouth. His hands have aged again. His face now shows similar degrading features, becoming skeletal. Anna’s wounds heal. Her entire body regenerates itself; her sunburnt skin returns to its original, pale complexion, her red hair increases in saturation and her body becomes shapelier, curvier.

SFX: Roars echo from the distance.

Brian removes his hand from Anna’s mouth and he picks her up once again and starts running. Brian heads towards the closest building. He kicks the cracked glass of a window.

SFX: SMASH.

Brian ducks under the fallen, wooden pylons and steps carefully around piles of rubble.

SFX: Growls and snarls can be heard from outside. Brian continues to move through the building. CRACK. Brian stops in his tracks. He looks down. The floorboards creak loudly underneath his weight. A CRASH is heard from outside.

The shadowy beasts ram the outside of the weakened building with their combined weight. Some try to claw through the walls.

Anna wakes up. She yells incoherently at Brian, and starts to fight free from his grasp.

BRIAN

Don’t move. The floor–

SFX: CRUNCH. The floor breaks apart from underneath them and both are sent tumbling down into the darkness.

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER – NIGHT 11

SPFX: Suddenly, a flash of red erupts from the darkness, illuminating the screen.

Brian struggles to his feet, holding the flare from earlier. Anna moves into the light.

ANNA

What happened to you?

BRIAN

(menacingly)

I saved your damn life. Now the voices are louder than ever…and they’re COMING!

Brian scurries about the room. Anna looks confused.

ANNA

WHAT HAPPENED!

Brian turns to her.

BRIAN

I gave you the gift. Now you’ll hear the voices. Only you won’t live until they consume your mind.

ANNA

What?

BRIAN

I’m going to kill them… and us.

CUT TO:

EXT. CITY/BUILDING 12

SPFX: Their building is being attacked. Dirt and debris fall from the rafters at the impact made by the beasts.

CGI: The beasts leave scratch marks against the stone, as they try to dig into the building. The large shadow leaps onto the building and digs its claws into the stone.

SMASH. It breaks through a window and starts pulling out various objects; rubble, desks and a table. It then moves inside, pulling itself over piles of rubble. It smashes the floor with both arms. The floor caves in. The shadowy beast proceeds to start smashing its way through the next floor, moving closer to Brian and Anna.

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER – NIGHT 13

An old lantern, somehow still alight, illuminates the darkness of the bunker in which Brian and Anna now hide

SFX: Sounds are heard above a set of stairs, behind a door.

SPFX: The door bursts open, flinging Anna into the room. A faint red light illuminates from the direction she was tossed from. Brian walks in, his body is glowing a ruby red instead of bright blue.

Anna rises to her feet.

ANNA

(fearful)

You’re mad!

BRIAN

(yelling)

You don’t know what it’s like.

I’ve had to suffer this power for nearly two centuries. TWO CENTURIES of constant pain, endless voices, and having my sanity slip… day… by… day.

Brian falls to his knees. He pulls out the vial and stares at it crazily.

ANNA

Then why did you save me?

BRIAN

No one wants to die alone…

Anna rises to her feet, backing away from the crazed Brian.

SPFX: Anna’s hands glows, but she talks no notice.

Brian eyes her hands, a small grin spreading across his face.

ANNA

(desperately)

I’ve been alone for my whole life. I’m used to it!

BRIAN

Perhaps… But now we will stay and ignite these ruins with the powers I was punished with.

SPFX: Brian looks at the vial again. His markings glow faintly. He turns around and stretches his arms out – and grunts loudly. Brian looks down and sees a STEEL BEAM plunged through his chest. Anna twists the beam.

Brian falls to his knees, but doesn’t seem in pain.

Anna snatches the vial from his hand.

SFX: A roar shakes the darkness of the room.

SPFX: The red light still illuminating the doorway shows the shadow of the Alpha.

Anna looks at Brian with pity. Before she turns on her heel and escapes through the bunkers open air vent and into the darkness. Brian gazes after her.

BRIAN

One day you’ll see things my way.

Especially now that you possess it.

SPFX: The alpha approaches Brian. Its teeth gleam in the low light. The alpha’s crimson red eyes look into Brian’s.

Brian lets out a small smile before his eyes flash, and he screams at the top of his lungs.

CUT TO:

INT. BASEMENT BUNKER/BEAST TUNNELS – NIGHT 14

Anna runs blindly through a dark hallway. She trips over a wooden beam and falls into a hole, tumbling forward into a tunnel dug by the beasts. The tunnel is rough and the floor uneven. Bits of broken pipes and debris can just be seen poking out the tunnel walls. Anna rises, and keeps running.

SFX: Anna flinches at the sound of Brian’s inhuman scream.

SPFX: The light from an explosion appears behind her. Anna is swept up in the blast. Anna crosses her arm to shield herself from the explosion. A blue light glows. She moves her arms down. They are covered in glowing, blue markings. The yellow/white light from the blast fills the screen.

CUT TO:

EXT. DESERT – ASTRONOMICAL DAWN 15

A pale white mist covers the ruins of the collapsed city.

SFX: A soft thump is heard from a pile of rubble.

SPFX: Anna bursts up from underneath the rubble. Her body is covered with the same markings that Brian had possessed.

She squints her eyes as they adjust to the light of day.

Anna stares at her arms with horror, before looking up and appraising her new surroundings. She turns, looking all around her, realizing that she is alone.

CGI: Anna looks down to the ground, where small green shoots are emerging from the rubble. Anna’s head slowly lifts up. The same growth is now reaching over the entirety of the destroyed city.

FADE TO BLACK

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Isolation Stations, Benjamin Breadon

Who in sweet hell thought a mixture of steel and grey paint would make a good start to every workday? I’d always thought graffiti was supposed to be a sort of colourful revolt against dull concrete and metal, however the daily rotation on the clock tower across the road is certainly no Michelangelo. Unreadable black spray-paint is only so inspiring.
The positioning of Woy Woy’s 128-year-old train station will always count for something; a picturesque entry and exit point for the south Central Coast’s Peninsula, just 10 metres from the bay that shares the town’s name. But the structure itself has become as contradicting as the people that use it.
I walk down the ramp to where a crowd has gathered, on the Newcastle-to-Central platform. It’s a sunny yet cold Wednesday morning, and the majority have crammed under the shelter to avoid the sun’s glare – mostly men in suits and women in pencil skirts, gazes fixed upon the dark asphalt, or the darker headlines on their phone screens. Some pore over thick books with eyes that look like they will fall onto the page. A recent study from Lifeline Australia says over 80% of Aussies believe that society has become a lonelier place than it was in the past , and here it’s not hard to see why. How can so many people be so close together, yet still be so isolated? You would have better odds of a first-ever Central Coast snowstorm than seeing someone smile in this crowd.
But I suppose that’s painting the scene with a broad brush. Further down the platform, a group of elderly couples are sitting with hiking packs, chatting away. Crowds of kids in green uniforms shout and grab each other’s backpacks as they wait for the 50-minute trip to their school in Asquith. Nearby, a mum and dad try to keep a hold on four luggage bags, as well as the hands of their young children. Those interacting with somebody else seem so much happier than those standing alone.
Having skipped brekkie, I feed $5 into the Up & Go machine next to the hiking couples. It graciously returns me just a 50c coin. Awesome. But I can’t help smiling, remembering how train station vending machines have never been cooperative with me. When I was around fifteen, my mate Lewy and I used to take our bikes to visit another friend who had moved to Warnervale. We had just discovered the miracle of coffee, and decided on our way home that I would have enough time on a stopover to jump off and grab us two from the machine at Gosford Station. The vending machine didn’t appreciate our urgency and I ended up catching the next train home, arriving at Woy Woy twenty minutes later with a cold coffee in each hand, only to find Lewy holding a bike in each of his.

 

*

 

I’m headed into the city to visit friends and I need to get some Uni readings done. In one of the ‘quiet carriages’ that make up the front, back, and two centre carriages of the train’s eight, I sit next to a tiny old Asian woman. She frowns like I’ve sat on her birthday cake. The air – the only part of the train’s insides that isn’t coloured a kidney-purple – is thick with a hostility that only the twice-a-day repetition of hour-plus train trips can bring.
Then the worst happens – a phone rings. The default iPhone tone echoes throughout the carriage. Everyone looks up to glare holes through the person responsible, this abuser of our right to remain silent. In their defence, this is probably the early-morning alarm tone of 90% of the people here. The culprit – a lady with greying brown hair and a bright pink cardigan – looks around nervously, waits for the ringing to stop without taking the call, and shrinks into her seat.
I sit and watch her for a while, with my web design readings open on my lap, thinking of what the call might’ve been about. Could’ve been anything really – a neighbour calling to let her know her dog, Spud, had pulled off a great escape by leaping a two-metre fence, or a friend wishing her a happy birthday. It could have been the hospital, ringing to say that a loved one had been in a car accident. Maybe it was a bank rep, calling to ask if she was aware her credit card had been charged $400 for the purchase of 800 low-grade Yo-Yos from a shady eBay seller based in Sweden. Who knows? Who would ask?
She puts her phone back into her not-purple handbag. I look out the window at the Hawkesbury River as though playing a part in a 90’s music video. Work? The aquarium? The casino? I wonder who the woman is, and how anyone even defines that. A man with a belly forced into a light-blue shirt and tie starts snoring across the aisle. Where does he work? Is he at the bottom or top of the corporate ladder? The woman on my left shifts in her seat as I start scribbling words onto my book margins with a highlighter: TRAIN TRIPS. SILENCE. HOSTILITY. PHONE. PINK CARDIGAN. My highlighter squeaks, and she exhales loudly. Why is everyone so cranky? sunder
The word sonder comes to mind; a term I’d come across for the umpteenth time through a Facebook meme the night before. The word doesn’t seem to belong to any dictionary andI tracked its origins to a webpage that was later published as a book, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig . Sonder means the realisation that every other person has their own histories, loves, hates and attitudes; their own friends, families and enemies. It means that even though in the overall scheme of things they may just be one random passenger sharing a train trip, but every stranger is just as complex as you – which also means there are thousands of reasons as to why someone might be in a bad mood.
I shove my book into my bag and stand up – it is way too quiet and it’s doing my head in.

 

*

 

The ‘quiet’ carriages mean well. They aim to make trips more bearable and ‘provide you with a quiet environment when travelling longer distances’ . And the stress that comes with commuting is by no means an imaginary thing – a direct link has been found between psychological stress and both rail and automobile commutes: longer trips tend to increase passengers’ stress levels, with crowding and noise said to be particular contributors .
But it is hard to judge whether staying quiet in a carriage crammed with people is truly helpful, or if it fosters an atmosphere that makes you worry about getting king-hit by a stranger for sneezing. If we’re all glued to our phones in silence, will that silence really be more beneficial than talking to each other? The CEO of Lifeline Australia, Pete Shmigel, summed up a recent Lifeline study on loneliness: ‘for a society that is more technologically connected than we have ever been, these [survey] results suggest we are overlooking good, old-fashioned care and compassion when it comes to our mental health and wellbeing.’i
Tiptoeing my way down the aisle, I realise that a prohibition of noise reads like something dystopian out of V for Vendetta. Especially when that silence now spans half of almost every train in NSW. We live in a time where a whole train carriage might antagonise you, simply because your phone went off. Is breeding a culture of isolation really the answer to the stresses of everyday commuting? More importantly, is this change dangerous on a wider scale? Nowadays it takes insane courage to strike up a conversation with a stranger in public, spending two days afterwards critically analysing every word you said. It’s just how it is, right? We were raised not to talk to strangers. Nobody told us to try again at an older age when we could judge our own safety. But loneliness has become rampant in modern culture: Australia’s suicide rates are at a 13-year high, with loneliness also being linked to higher instances of heart disease, stroke and generally shorter lifespans .
We are in mortal danger of falling out of touch with each other.
But how can we battle this culture of isolation? Just yesterday, as I drove 45-minutes along the M1 from work, although I was just listening to the radio on my own, I’d thought about how time seemed to pass so much quicker while listening to completely average people call in and tell stories on the Hamish and Andy show.
I’m not alone in finding pleasure in other peoples’ stories. It’s human nature. Clinical psychology theorist Miller Mair argues, ‘Stories are habitations. We live in and through stories. They conjure worlds. We do not know the world other than as story world. Stories inform life. They hold us together and keep us apart.’
Mair went on to argue something very similar to the recent term sonder: ‘We are, each of us, locations where the stories of our place and time become partially tellable.’
How can it feel lonely on a train packed with people, whilst being alone in the car listening to people sharing personal stories is inclusive and entertaining?
Paul J. Zak of the Harvard Business Review pins this on the release of our feel-good chemical: ‘Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing the sense of empathy, our ability to experience others’ emotions.’
Zak says that the tension of a good story creates empathy between the teller and their audience: ‘If that story is able to create that tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviours of those characters.’
What if the characters Zak mentions, are ourselves? If we are in the company of others each day, full of stories that make us feel good to tell and hear, then why not take advantage? Even if they are silly stories, like someone missing a train at Gosford Station ten years ago for a crappy vending machine coffee. And of course, not everyone sitting silently on the train is sad to be doing so. Mny people would prefer to just read a book or sit on their phone. But these, like us, are just containers of stories. Encouraging ourselves to at least be open to a chat might be helpful. You never know what one conversation could do for a person. Plus, if a culture of storytelling takes off, it’s only natural that we’d all get better at it.

 

*

 

Unfortunately, it seems the culture has spilled over. I’m moving down the train through carriages that aren’t officially “quiet” but you’d still hear a pin drop. I have to walk down a few before I find one that’s comfortable. And it isn’t just one or two people talking in here – it’s the majority of the carriage, and the tension from the beginning of the train is nowhere to be found. I flop into a spare seat and soak up the noise.
Across the aisle, an elderly man with slicked brown hair talks on the phone. He is trying to jam the handset inside his earhole without realising it’son loudspeaker. He has a thick accent that makes it tough to figure out what he’s saying, and by the responses he’s getting from the speaker it seems the other guy’s struggling too: ‘What?’ ‘Huh?’ ‘What?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Yep.’ ‘Righto.’
From the seat behind me, one elderly woman is trying to convince another to go to the Avoca Picture Theatre for the Melbourne Cup in a few months’ time.
‘It’s only $48 per person,’
The other woman gasps.
‘But you get to have champagne in the garden, have some fish and chips from the nice shop nearby, and you get to watch the race on the big screen. AND you get dessert! But I’m not sure whether that’s before or after the race. So it’s not cheap, but it’s not expensive if you look at what you get for it.’
The other woman doesn’t respond, likely just as confused as her friend’s last selling point.
The city’s skyline comes in view. The lady rambling about the picture theatre makes me think of the places we go. They too are just containers of stories: how many people have passed through the doors of the theatre over its’ lifetime, and what lead them to go there? All the questions in the world are answered with stories. The amount that must be held within the walls of every building here is mind-blowing. The sky-high apartment buildings, small shopfronts, the old brick factories that seem abandoned but have new Hilux’s in their parking spots.

 

*

When I exit the train at Central, the atmosphere again turns hostile. People crowd toward the exits or to other platforms to switch trains. You half expect to see a lion named Mufasa being trampled somewhere in the middle. It’s also kind of like how I’d imagine the inside of a beehive; everyone too busy to talk, and there’s a sort of buzzing hostility hardwired by efficiency.
The bees swarm past around a dozen or so people, huddled in sleeping bags on the station’s stone floor. How did they come to be here, in this position? I pause for a moment, but then keep walking. Even after reflecting on the value of being open to other people, it still seems too weird to ask and too out of place to strike up a conversation.
There’s more than just our daily commute that would benefit from hearing other people’s stories and understand deeper understanding of each other.

 

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