"Are you CRAZY?! Have you completely lost the plot, mate?! Do you want to get us all killed?!"
"Oh moan," bleated Sneaveweedle as he fell down again.
Sneaveweedle enjoyed trains but struggled to stay upright when walking in a moving carriage. He found the areas between carriages, with their funhouse moving floors, to be the most challenging, so he remained sprawled on the ground. He looked up at the snack trolley attendant and tried to figure out where things had gone wrong.
It had taken him several minutes to reach the trolley, which was parked in the roaring midpoint of the first and second carriages. Sneaveweedle had fallen six times before adopting a slow, stooped, time-consuming waddle that involved gripping every seat as if he were ascending Mount Kilimanjaro. Once he had finally reached the snack trolley, he had been greeted by a dishevelled and obese man in a dirty Arriva Trains shirt who blocked Sneaveweedle from seeing what snacks were available. Sneaveweedle had asked whether the trolley would be moving to other carriages any time soon, and that's when the man had yelled at him and Sneaveweedle had fallen down.
"You must be daft," the snack attendant continued. "You expect me to leave this strategic position? Or perhaps that's what you want me to do, is it?"
"What? I'm sorry?" Sneaveweedle stammered, completely flustered. "Strategic position?"
"Listen, mate," the man said. "Where I am now allows me the best vantage point from which to defend these snacks. If I go all tra-la-la through the carriages, it leaves the door wide open, doesn't it? I can't be everywhere at once, you know. "
"Hmm, I'm afraid I still don't follow you. When you say you need to defend the snacks, who are you defending them from?"
The man looked at Sneaveweedle for a moment and reached down to help him off the floor. As Sneaveweedle steadied himself against the wall, the man combed his bird's nest hairdo with his fingers, then he looked around to make sure no one else was listening.
"From... you know. Them."
"Yes, them. Mate, my number one job is to look after the wellbeing of the people on this train. Now, mostly I do that by providing them with tea, coffee and Cadbury's chocolate fingers. But I also do it by making sure that none of these snack items fall into the hands of Muslim extremists."
"Oh dear," Sneaveweedle yelped. "Do jihadists normally travel on the train to Fishguard?"
"Officially, no, they don't." the fat man said. "According to my supervisors, in terms of terrorist targets, the Cardiff-to-Fishguard line ranks just below an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Crown Point, Indiana. But that's just what the Muslims want us to believe, ain't it?"
"The Muslim extremists, you mean?"
"Yeah. Same thing. They want to lull us into complacency. They want to use the element of surprise."
"Hmm, I suppose it would be very sneaky."
"Yeah it would," the man said proudly. "So, you see, there's no way I'm moving this trolley all about. I'm staying right here. If people would like a lukewarm John Smith's or packet of Hula-Hoops, they'll have to come to me. And, of course, if one of those people is one of them, there'll be real trouble, mate. They'll have a highly trained British soldier to deal with."
"Oh! I always enjoy speaking with soldiers. Did you fight in Iraq?"
"Well, no," the man said, mumbling something that was lost in the noise of the train. "I was in the Army for only two days. I was let go after I failed to pass a fitness test in basic training. But I picked up a lot in those two days, I tell ya. Wanna know what I'd do to one of these Muslim blokes if I got my hands on him?"
"Hmm, I don't know..."
"I'd strap the bloke to a chair. But not just any chair -- one with only three legs. That way, if he falls asleep or even tries to relax, the whole thing topples over and, BAM, he hits his head on the floor. Brilliant, eh?"
"I suppose. Although, that would be torture, wouldn't it?"
"No, it would not," the man protested. "And even if it was, it's the only thing these people understand. But I'm not finished. I would also make that bastard listen to tapes of the entire musical back catalogue of MC Kermit La Freak over and over and over again until he confesses."
"Uhm, confesses what?"
"That he's a witch."
"I think you've confused your targets of indiscriminate harassment."
"Ah, so I have. Sorry, mate."
"Oh, that's alright," Sneaveweedle sighed. "I hope you won't mind my asking, but I'm still a bit confused though as to why the snacks need protecting in the first place."
"They're crafty these blokes, aren't they? They can turn almost anything into a bomb. Who knows, mate, this snack trolley could comprise enough explosive to sink the whole of Britain."
"Ehrm, Britain wouldn't sink. It's not, you know, floating."
"It's surrounded by water, mate. What else is it doing? Being held up by string?"
"I suppose it is, in a sense, floating on magma," Sneaveweedle moaned. "But irregardless of that, how would a terrorist manage to turn anything on your snack trolley into a bomb?"
"How should I know, mate? I'm not one of them, am I? My mind's not corrupt like theirs, so I don't know what they're thinking. But better safe than sorry, I say. I'm not going to be known as the man who let a cup of tea fall into the wrong hands only so it could be used to murder thousands of innocent civilians."
"Oh moan. But it's tea. It's just hot water with caffeine, tannins and negligible quantities of calories, protein, sodium and fat. Short of removing particles of hydrogen from the tea and smashing them together, it is virtually impossible to turn it into an explosive. Indeed, vast quantities of tea could be used to put out a fire."
"Listen, mate, there's no use in arguing with me," the man blustered. "This is an issue of national security, and I've probably already told you more than I should. Did you want something?"
"Yes, two teas, please."
"Two teas?" the man said. "But there's only one of you. Why do you need two teas?"
"I'm getting one for someone else."
"Well, have him come get it, then."
Sneaveweedle cringed. He thoroughly disliked being confrontational, but he liked even less the idea of his shillelagh-wielding employer's response to being told he would have to get tea for himself. Sneaveweedle took a deep breath.
"No, I should like two teas, please. If you do not give them to me, I may be forced to write a strongly-worded letter to The Grivelsby Yodler."
The snack trolley attendant raised an eyebrow and loomed over Sneaveweedle.
"You're not a jihadist?" he asked.
"No, I am not."
"And if I give you two teas, you won't use them to blow up the train?"
"No, I won't."
"Fine. Two teas. Milk and sugar with those, sir?"
The above is a piece for Flickr Fiction, based on this photo by user DarkTranquility.
Also playing along this week are: Eilis, Sarah, and TadMack
This is the sixth episode of the Penhill and Sneaveweedle adventure. You can read previous episodes here.
I would love any comments -- good or bad -- you might have about the story, and I would love to know where you think it should go. Since the story is being written week to week, your input helps determine what happens.