SHOULD HAVE FOUND THE QUIET CAR • by D.J. Kozlowski

“I destroy things.”

“Like buildings? Demolition?” he asks.

“No; people. I destroy people. Their lives.”

“What? Sure. Pretty morbid, man.”

“You asked.” I close my eyes and rest my head into the cracked cushions on the Acela train out of Wilmington heading toward Manhattan.

“Okay, I’ll bite. How do you do it? Are you an assassin or something?” He cracks a smile. He doesn’t believe me. I should have found the quiet car.

“No. I just… talk.”

“Sure, okay, do me.”

“No.” He’s annoying, but doesn’t deserve it.

“You’re so full of shit, man!” He laughs with his whole torso, convulsing and spitting, drawing attention to us. I lift my head.

“Please just stop,” I beg, barely audible over his guffawing. I feel it coming. It happens when I don’t want it. I never want it anymore. But it usually starts like this; curiosity, followed by macho bullshit.

“You’re coming from visiting your mom, aren’t you?”

“What?” He stops laughing. He’s confused. Randomness always confuses them. He’s forgotten he told me he was in Wilmington to visit his mother.

“Your dad; he died.” He’s visiting his mother, not parents. He was distraught when he said it. Not a divorce; a death. And however long ago it was, it’s all too recent for him.

“Stop.” He’s getting upset; getting angry. They turn so fast. He doesn’t know it cognitively, but he’s thinking, “How dare you invade my personal thoughts.” His breathing becomes panting.

“You killed him.”

“What? No! He was…” More confusion; his brain is screaming, “It was cancer!” but he can’t wrap his mind around my comment.

“It was the way you treated her.” Doesn’t matter who “she” is, but probably the mother. “It killed him. You killed him.”

He’s muttering. Nailed it. Too many emotions are breaking him.

“You didn’t tell him. You never told him. Now you never will.” I don’t know what. Doesn’t matter.

Moist, hollow eyes look into mine. “No. He said…” Slow pulses of soft sobs are pumping their way past his lips, clipping the last of his thoughts.

“Get up and leave. Go to the bathroom. Now.” He doesn’t. They never listen. That’s the last I can do. The rest pours out; I’m not myself. I gaze past him to the world rushing by. I know how this ends.

Calmly, “You… are pathetic. You are worthless. Fucking worthless. You are not loved, and will not be missed.” I pause just long enough to confirm he’s well past any “rage stage,” then bury my head into the cushion and fall asleep to his soft whimpering.

I’m awakened by the commotion.

“I can’t believe I saw that!” and, “Terrible!” and, “What is it, daddy? What?” and, “Shit, never make it home now.”

Everyone’s looking out the east side windows, toward the ocean.

The voices are indistinct against the loud, whooshing wind. My neighbor is gone. Based on the bits I can hear, he jimmied the door and jumped. Bounced around for a bit. Dead. Train is stopping. I feel remorse.

I always do.


D.J. Kozlowski writes speculative fiction—gothic horror, dark fantasy, and magical realism—drawing inspiration from the likes of Gaiman, Poe, and Lovecraft. His most recent short story, “The Beach at the Sea Foam Apartments”, is available on Amazon. When he’s not writing, D.J. lives in Connecticut with his wife, 3 little kids, and fish, the latter of which is constantly being replaced for the sake of the children. He tries not to take life too seriously.


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 average 5 stars • 4 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    What a disturbing piece of writing – disturbing in a good way.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks so much, Paul. That’s certainly what I was going for!

  • Paul A. Freeman

    What a disturbing piece of writing – disturbing in a good way.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks so much, Paul. That’s certainly what I was going for!

  • Carl Steiger

    Disturbing, yes, but very entertaining.. Thanks for the ride!

    And now I’m kind of wondering about your fish. Do they need replacing just because they die and the bodies creep out the children, or is that the fish become possessed by malign spirits?

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      The fish’s predecessors have died twice. I haven’t wanted to get to the “death” conversation with the little ones yet. I think third time’s the charm though, so when this one bites it, we’ll conduct a toilet bowl funera.

  • Carl Steiger

    Disturbing, yes, but very entertaining.. Thanks for the ride!

    And now I’m kind of wondering about your fish. Do they need replacing just because they die and the bodies creep out the children, or is that the fish become possessed by malign spirits?

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      The fish’s predecessors have died twice. I haven’t wanted to get to the “death” conversation with the little ones yet. I think third time’s the charm though, so when this one bites it, we’ll conduct a toilet bowl funeral.

  • Lauren

    Great story for October.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks so much!

  • Lauren

    Great story for October.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks so much!

  • MPmcgurty

    Enjoyed this very much and, while I’m not suggesting it, I can see this as a short story or even the seed of a novel. My only issue is the randomness of his divining the questions and answers. I like stories about people using intuition for evil purposes, and I like stories about people using supernatural mindreading for evil purposes, but one is not as scary as the other. If it were evil mindreading, I can see the victim becoming so quickly distraught that he’d kill himself. But with intuition, I think it needed a more subtle, gradual buildup. Yeah, the things he “guessed” about might have been bad, but so bad that the guy would rush to a door and jump off a moving train? I think he would have hit the denial “rage stage” first.

    Still, this is excellently written and, as my fellow readers commented, a good kind of disturbing.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks–this was tricky. I wanted readers to wonder whether it was some sort of power or just a perverse kind of cleverness. It’s intentionally ambiguous (there is an answer, of course, but it’s only in my head). Thanks for the comment!

      • Mickey Hunt

        I think the “perverse cleverness” is a power. It’s something we see all the time in real life.

      • MPmcgurty

        It’s pretty well done, D.J., but I didn’t find it ambiguous. My thought afterward wasn’t, “Wow, I wonder if he was preternaturally intuitive or if he has a supernatural power.” It was, “This guy seems to be intuitive and uncontrollably destructive, but how does that make someone jump from a train?” Knowing your intention makes me feel even more strongly that one or two things smacking of supernatural were needed.

  • MPmcgurty

    Enjoyed this very much and, while I’m not suggesting it, I can see this as a short story or even the seed of a novel. My only issue is the randomness of his divining the questions and answers. I like stories about people using intuition for evil purposes, and I like stories about people using supernatural mindreading for evil purposes, but one is not as scary as the other. If it were evil mindreading, I can see the victim becoming so quickly distraught that he’d kill himself. But with intuition, I think it needed a more subtle, gradual buildup. Yeah, the things he “guessed” about might have been bad, but so bad that the guy would rush to a door and jump off a moving train? I think he would have hit the denial “rage stage” first.

    Still, this is excellently written and, as my fellow readers commented, a good kind of disturbing.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks–this was tricky. I wanted readers to wonder whether it was some sort of power or just a perverse kind of cleverness. It’s intentionally ambiguous (there is an answer, of course, but it’s only in my head). Thanks for the comment!

      • Mickey Hunt

        I think the “perverse cleverness” is a power. It’s something we see all the time in real life.

      • MPmcgurty

        It’s pretty well done, D.J., but I didn’t find it ambiguous. My thought afterward wasn’t, “Wow, I wonder if he was preternaturally intuitive or if he has a supernatural power.” It was, “This guy seems to be intuitive and uncontrollably destructive, but how does that make someone jump from a train?” Knowing your intention makes me feel even more strongly that one or two things smacking of supernatural were needed. Or…perhaps soften/remove some of the explanations we’re given as to how the MC intuited those things. They didn’t help the ambiguity you were striving for.

  • Missy Shirley

    This is so good. I think you could make it a while book. *hoping*…

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Oh Missy, thanks so much for reading this! Maybe we can figure something out with this.

      • Missy Shirley

        We definitely could. I could absolutely see this in various songs. How his readings affect others

  • Missy Shirley

    This is so good. I think you could make it a while book. *hoping*…

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Oh Missy, thanks so much for reading this! Maybe we can figure something out with this.

      • Missy Shirley

        We definitely could. I could absolutely see this in various songs. How his readings affect others

  • D.J. Kozlowski

    Thanks for the kind comments and feedback! It’s all appreciated! If you’d like to keep up with more of my writing, follow the Facebook page (linked to above) and you’ll get first word of everything I publish! I’ve got two more works coming out this month, so I hope you’ll check them out!

    • MPmcgurty

      Thank you. I will definitely keep up with it.

  • D.J. Kozlowski

    Thanks for the kind comments and feedback! It’s all appreciated! If you’d like to keep up with more of my writing, follow the Facebook page (linked to above) and you’ll get first word of everything I publish! I’ve got two more works coming out this month, so I hope you’ll check them out!

    • MPmcgurty

      Thank you. I will definitely keep up with it.

  • Mickey Hunt

    The intuition part is clever, as is the idea of the compulsive destroyer, but the nihilistic fatalism part isn’t for me. After my father’s suicide in 2013 I wrote “Savage, the Biography of a Gun.” In it I describe living in my parents’ apartment alone while I tried to take care of my seriously ill mother in an assisted living center, and then after she died a month and a half later, closing out some of their earthly affairs, the disposition of their property. I felt the whole time that a demon lived in my father’s bedroom, the one where he killed himself. This, the demon that whispered into his mind the destructive words like what the narrator in this story said. The bedroom smelled of fresh paint and disinfectant, and I had to put an exhaust fan in the window to keep the smell from fouling the rest of the apartment. I felt I had to spiritual arm myself, or hold my breath when I went into the room… So, there is the horror story that’s rounded, that tells the whole story. “The Walking Dead,” for example, shows you everything and so you experience a kind of fulfillment. Another example of rounded horror would be the twin vampire movies, “Let Me In” and “Let the Right One In.” “Quiet Car” only seems to show half the story and thus for me, it’s only unpleasant. I mean, horror is horror, but then there’s how we deal with it. I’d want to understand more about the compulsion to destroy and then why the narrator feels remorse, or see and believe in the remorse rather than him just telling us about it at the end. And what about the survivors of the man who kills himself? Just some thoughts in examining my reaction.

    • Mickey Hunt

      My story “Homesick” will be up here at EDF tomorrow, and I hope you will enjoy it and then discuss, if you wish.

  • Mickey Hunt

    The intuition part is clever, as is the idea of the compulsive destroyer, but the nihilistic fatalism part isn’t for me. After my father’s suicide in 2013, I wrote “Savage, the Biography of a Gun.” In it I describe staying in my parents’ apartment alone after his death while I tried to take care of my seriously ill mother who was in an assisted living center, and then after she died a month and a half later, closing out some of their earthly affairs, the disposition of their property. I felt the whole time that a demon lived in my father’s bedroom, the one where he killed himself. This, the demon that whispered into his mind the destructive words like what the narrator in this story said. The bedroom smelled of fresh paint and disinfectant, and I had to put an exhaust fan in the window to keep the smell from fouling the rest of the apartment. I felt I had to spiritual arm myself, or hold my breath when I went into the room… So, there is the horror story that’s rounded, that tells the whole story. “The Walking Dead,” for example, shows you everything and so you experience a kind of fulfillment. Another example of rounded horror would be the twin vampire films, “Let Me In” and “Let the Right One In.” “Quiet Car” only seems to show half the story and thus for me, it’s only unpleasant. I mean, horror is horror, but then there’s how we deal with it. I’d want to understand more about the compulsion to destroy and then why the narrator feels remorse, or see and believe in the remorse rather than him just telling us about it at the end. (And what about the survivors of the man who kills himself?) Just some thoughts in examining my personal reaction.

    • Mickey Hunt

      My story “Homesick” will be up here at EDF tomorrow, and I hope you will enjoy it and then discuss, if you wish.

  • For me, this is what flash is all about. A little ambiguity wrapped inside an entertaining and compelling story. Very well-written and creative. Just enough information to achieve the reactions you perhaps wanted. I can’t find anything wrong with this story at all. Well done! Thanks for sharing.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks so much, Scott; thanks for reading it!

      • It was my pleasure D.J. Thanks for writing it. 🙂

  • For me, this is what flash is all about. A little ambiguity wrapped inside an entertaining and compelling story. Very well-written and creative. Just enough information to achieve the reactions you perhaps wanted. I can’t find anything wrong with this story at all. Well done! Thanks for sharing.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks so much, Scott; thanks for reading it!

      • It was my pleasure D.J. Thanks for writing it. 🙂

  • Paul Friesen

    Just enough ambiguity for me. For a while I wondered if the MC was voice inside the other passengers head, but gave up that thought when he wakes up at end and other person is gone.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks Paul–I like that idea; wish I had thought of it! 🙂

    • Trollopian

      Interestingly, Paul, both you and MPmucgurty (earlier) regard the first-person narrator as male. Perhaps based on a few snippets of dialogue: “Pretty morbid, man,” and “You’re so full of shit, man!” To me, that was just a verbal tic, the way guys in “Guyland” talk. I thought the narrator was female, based tenuously on the statement that “it usually starts like this; curiosity, followed by macho bullshit.” The ambiguity is tantalizing.

      Compact and disturbing. Five stars.

      • MPmcgurty

        You’re right. I don’t usually assign gender that confidently, but I sure did here. Just read it again and I still visualize a man. Hmm.

      • D.J. Kozlowski

        Thank you! I’ll leave it ambiguous… 😉

        • Mickey Hunt

          Oh, if it were a woman, the story would fall into place so much more. Or, a father figure… that would make it truly horrible.

  • Paul Friesen

    Just enough ambiguity for me. For a while I wondered if the MC was voice inside the other passengers head, but gave up that thought when he wakes up at end and other person is gone.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks Paul–I like that idea; wish I had thought of it! 🙂

    • Trollopian

      Interestingly, Paul, both you and MPmucgurty (earlier) regard the first-person narrator as male. Perhaps based on a few snippets of dialogue: “Pretty morbid, man,” and “You’re so full of shit, man!” To me, that was just a verbal tic, the way guys in “Guyland” talk. I thought the narrator was female, based tenuously on the statement that “it usually starts like this; curiosity, followed by macho bullshit.” The ambiguity is tantalizing.

      Compact and disturbing. Five stars.

      • MPmcgurty

        You’re right. I don’t usually assign gender that confidently, but I sure did here. Just read it again and I still visualize a man. Hmm.

      • D.J. Kozlowski

        Thank you! I’ll leave it ambiguous… 😉

        • Mickey Hunt

          Oh, if it were a woman, the story would fall into place so much more. Or, a father figure… that would make it truly horrible.

  • John “Ace” Kaltschnee

    Really enjoyed it. Looking forward to seeing more of your work.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks Ace; much appreciated!

  • John “Ace” Kaltschnee

    Really enjoyed it. Looking forward to seeing more of your work.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks Ace; much appreciated!

  • S Conroy

    Pretty gripping read alright. An open question for me is the why. If he is someone who feels remorse, and not a psychopath, and knows how it’s going to end since it’s all happened before, why can’t he control his behaviour?

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      This comment thrills me–it’s exactly what I hoped some people would wonder! I’d like to think this tells a sufficiently complete story, but also acts as a teaser. This is almost certainly a character I will revisit in the future, regardless of whether I take this particular story to a lengthier format.

      • Marie

        I too had that question, but as soon as I wondered I knew I didn’t need to know in order for this story to be complete. Well done.

        • D.J. Kozlowski

          Thank you!

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Hmmm… Maybe he can’t. Maybe he literally cannot.

      • S Conroy

        Yes, that would fit, and the clues are actually there. After all at the beginning he does beg him to stop.

  • S Conroy

    Pretty gripping read alright. An open question for me is the why. If he is someone who feels remorse, and not a psychopath, and knows how it’s going to end since it’s all happened before, why can’t he control his behaviour?

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      This comment thrills me–it’s exactly what I hoped some people would wonder! I’d like to think this tells a sufficiently complete story, but also acts as a teaser. This is almost certainly a character I will revisit in the future, regardless of whether I take this particular story to a lengthier format.

      • Marie

        I too had that question, but as soon as I wondered I knew I didn’t need to know in order for this story to be complete. Well done.

        • D.J. Kozlowski

          Thank you!

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Hmmm… Maybe he can’t. Maybe he literally cannot.

      • S Conroy

        Yes, that would fit, and the clues are actually there. After all at the beginning he does beg him to stop.

  • Sally Nemenyi

    Loved it! Just got the book on my Kindle (The Beach …). Looking forward to reading it

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Oh Sally, thanks so much! I appreciate it!

  • Sally Nemenyi

    Loved it! Just got the book on my Kindle (The Beach …). Looking forward to reading it

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Oh Sally, thanks so much! I appreciate it!

  • Chinwillow

    Well, this is a cheery little tale that set the mood for my morning! LOL Loved it! Well done flash, DJ

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks, Chinwillow! Hopefully your morning doesn’t involve train rides!

  • Chinwillow

    Well, this is a cheery little tale that set the mood for my morning! LOL Loved it! Well done flash, DJ

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks, Chinwillow! Hopefully your morning doesn’t involve train rides!

  • I was really wanting some character description interspersed amidst the opening 18 lines of dialogue exchange. I liked the story line concept very much. But both characters came across with me neither liking or loathing them.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks for reading, Jeff. Yeah, I agree some character description would paint a better picture of the scene. I hoped to focus readers on the idea rather than the images, and maybe that wasn’t the best choice. In something longer, i’d have added descriptions, of course.

  • I was really wanting some character description interspersed amidst the opening 18 lines of dialogue exchange. I liked the story line concept very much. But both characters came across with me neither liking or loathing them.

    • D.J. Kozlowski

      Thanks for reading, Jeff. Yeah, I agree some character description would paint a better picture of the scene. I hoped to focus readers on the idea rather than the images, and maybe that wasn’t the best choice. In something longer, i’d have added descriptions, of course.