We were killing people with trains in Tom’s bedroom, the three of us: Tom, me, and his other best friend, Jamie, who was two years older than me or Tom.
Tom’s father was a toy-maker. He’d built Tom this amazing train-set. Tom and me were just trying to see how fast we could get the trains to go, but Jamie kept insisting we put the people on the tracks in front of them so they’d derail.
Jamie liked to see things crash, he liked being rough.
Tom didn’t like the idea of making the train crash because his father had made the train-set. I was ambivalent about crashing the trains, but I was a little curious about the physics behind how many people it would take to completely derail one. I didn’t say anything though, because Tom was my friend more than Jamie was, and it was important I remain consistent with my loyalties.
The track ran the length of the room, mostly on elevated platforms, but sometimes swooping to ground-level. It was a beautiful piece of work. Long variegated strips of patchwork fields, bushes chiselled from modelling foam, miniature houses, churches, factories pumping artificial smoke. And everywhere, tiny, automated people.
Two of these ‘people’ were currently lying side-by-side on the tracks, a man and a boy. The man wore a vivid blue suit and a black, short-brim hat. The boy was in shorts and a red t-shirt. The man was the size of my finger, the boy slightly shorter and both gleamed a little in the artificial light streaming from the window on the other side of the room. Jamie had placed the boy a little lower down than the man because he wanted them both to see what was coming. The train – a beautiful dark green Victorian steam-engine with half a dozen carriages full of replica coal – was nearing the final bend.
The man saw it and screamed, “Oh my god! It’s going to hit us!”
Jamie started to laugh. He had a cruel laugh. His freckles resembled some kind of illness. He had ginger hair, and was very ugly. I was never entirely sure why Tom enjoyed his company, but I imagined it had something to do with the fact their fathers worked for the same firm.
“Please, help us!” the man said. Jamie had disabled his motor-functions to the point where only his eyes could move. “At least spare the boy!”
The final carriage rounded the bend and the front end hit the two figures at close to full speed. The man’s screams cut short, but the train didn’t derail. I noticed that the boy didn’t cry out once, either. When the last carriage passed we saw that the two figures had been squashed flat. Their eyes were closed and bits and pieces of circuitry were poking from their misshapen forms. The hordes of other tiny people went about their business as though nothing had happened.
“Ah, crap!” Jamie said. “It didn’t break! We’ll have to try another.”
Tom seemed a little unsure. “Look, I don’t really want to break my trains, Jamie.”
“Don’t be a moron.” Jamie started picking more figures out of the toy-box. He picked four more. Two adults, two children. Flicking the crushed remains of the man and the boy from the tracks, he laid the new figures in their place.
“Wait,” Tom said, “don’t do that.” His eyes looked glassy, as though he was on the verge of tears. He put out his hand and Jamie slapped it away.
I touched Jamie on the shoulder and said, “Jamie, Tom doesn’t want you to do this. You should stop.”
Jamie’s freckles almost seemed to glow with anger. “Get your hand off.”
I left my hand where it was. “Tom says no.”
“It’s okay, Danny,” Tom whispered, “I just don’t want him to break my trains.”
“See?” Jamie said with a laugh, “he says it’s okay. Now get your hand off me, Danny, or I’ll break it.”