========================= # Volume 1 – – Episode 1 =========================

I peeked over my seat again before quickly sitting back down. I was sure of it now. Two long, grey jackets. Two red lanyards. One carriage behind. Shit. I checked my watch. We were already in the last carriage, even if we moved to the far end, they would still catch us before we reached Stratford. But it was worth a try. “Akano!” I whispered, shoving my cookies into my bag. “We need to cut!” Unhooking his eyes from the book in his lap, Akano glanced out of the window and kissed his teeth. “Allow it man,” he said, “we’re like two minutes away, we ain't gotta rush br-” “No!” I exclaimed, barely keeping my voice down. “Two TIs bro, check!” With a finger wedged in his novel, he whipped his head over the seats, swearing a moment later as he ducked. “This is why I hate the late trains, man, no youngers to warn you properly.” “Truss.” Usually, there were hundreds of students on the train. When ticket inspectors were spotted, the Year 7s would run to each carriage, letting everyone know. Those with tickets would buy time while those without ran and hid. It was a beautiful system, but everyone took the first train home. Akano and I were on the fourth, we were on our own. Heart sunk, I raised my head once more when suddenly, just before the doors to our carriage, they stopped. I squinted my eyes. One was crouched over, speaking to a passenger, while the other rummaged through his bag. “Bro, I think... Bro, they’re fining someone else!” Patterned. Akano scrambled up to see while a grin spread across my face. With a chuckle, he slung his duffel over his shoulder and turned to me. “Aight bro, let’s go.” I snapped up my bag and, remembering the cookies, shouldered it carefully before casually strolling down the aisle. The other passengers knew what was going on, though, especially those who had heard us. Some scowled. I scowled back. One reached out to Akano, who paused and promptly laughed before continuing on. The same man winked at me as I passed and, confused, I tapped Akano’s shoulder. “Yo what was that?” He turned slightly and grinned. “I’ll tell you later bro.” “Tell me now you wasteman.” He laughed and, as we reached the final set of doors, returned to his novel without a word. Bastard. “You’re so jarring sometimes,” I told him, “I’m gonna find out how that book ends and spoil it.” He smirked. “I already know how it ends, with your-” I snatched the book from him before he could finish and slapped his head with it a few times. “Alright, cool! Cool!” Akano exclaimed from under raised arms, still smiling like a twit. The train rumbled and gently jolted us as it changed tracks. We must be close now, I thought, just as the driver delivered another lifeless announcement. “Thank you, very much, for travelling aboard this service to, London Liverpool Street. We will shortly be arriving at, Stratford. Please rem-” I stopped listening. Despite whatever my Mum may argue, I was 17 – I did not need reminding to take all my belongings. Akano looked up. “The TIs here yet?” I turned to check but, following the announcement, my view was now filled with heads. Not too far from us, I noticed a buggy had become stuck across the aisle, the mum drawing impatient looks from behind her as she tried to work it free. I felt my own frustration rise as I watched – idiots. If only one of them helped her, they could all be on their way. Then I relented, anything that may hold up the inspectors was welcome. I tried to continue my search, looking further beyond her, but it was just no use. “Bro I can’t see sh-” Wait. A gap cleared. I watched the doors to our carriage slide open, the space in between instantly filled by a huge torso and neck. He had to crouch on his way in, allowing the surrounding lights to glare brilliantly against his headtop. Straightening up, he revealed the thick eyebrows, deep-set eyes and permanent scowl that had become a symbol of fear on the train. I swore under my breath. There were rumours, based only on his broken nose, that he used to be a heavyweight boxer before realising he could earn more by collecting commissions as a ticket inspector. He scanned the carriage and immediately began checking tickets, two, three at a time. I swung back to Akano. “Bro, it’s Albert!” “Who?” “The one that caught me a couple months ago!” “Ohh, my man,” he recalled, putting up a finger, “I swear you gave him plastics?” “Yeah.” “Remind me, what name was on it again? I forgot.” Akano's lips wobbled. Oh my days. I rounded on him. “Are you joking? He is. Right. There bro. You can laugh about that once we get off the train.” “Oh relax man, we’re basically here, he’s not catching us. And I swear down I forgot the name,” he protested, “I just remember it was jokes.” Still annoyed, I learned forward and peered through the windows. He was right, I could see the Westfield bridge and all the platforms beneath it. But in the reflection, I could also see his lips clamped firmly together, desperately holding back a laugh. “Nah man, I’m not telling you again.” “Arrr come on bro, why you being like that?” “Like what bro? You’re taking the piss!” He continued his pestering and I turned away, kissing my teeth, to check on Albert. I picked out his frame easily enough, struggling to pass a dense knot of passengers. With the breadth of his shoulders, it was a near-impossible task and he soon gave up, almost with a sad look on his face. I watched his eyes run sorely over all the passengers that he wouldn’t reach. Until they latched onto mine. I froze, watching his eyebrows bunch together before shooting up as he remembered me. For the third time in as many seconds, his features transformed again. They twisted now with rage, lips curling as they let out a roar. “OI!” Everyone jumped. “DONALD!” He began pushing through the crowd, eyes locked onto mine. A deep howl erupted from behind me and I turned to see Akano sag against the doors, pointing a shaking finger at me. “Donald!” He managed to exclaim between gasps. I couldn’t believe it. A brick wall called Albert was about to 1-2-brup-bang us and here was Akano holding his belly. “Pattern up!” I screamed at him. Just then, an unnatural squeal tore through the carriage and I whirled around. Albert had been forced to stop before the lady’s buggy and had terrified the little boy inside. Everything for a reason, I thought, but my relief lasted only a moment. Albert was on a mission. He smiled at the baby, scaring him even further, before vaulting expertly over the adjacent six-seater. My jaw dropped. Landing in a crouch, he rose to his feet glaring and bellowed again. “You stay right there!” “Who?!” Akano shouted. “Donald!” Akano renewed his laughter but there was no time to pay him any attention. Passengers were crying out as they met Albert's biceps. I stole a glance out of the window and just as quickly had to double take – we were at Stratford! With everything going on, I hadn’t noticed the train slow to a crawl alongside the platform. No wonder Albert was so eager. Beside me, Akano had returned to his feet, still grinning but now ready, looking intently from the platform, to the aisle and back. Finally, I felt that tiny, little jolt as the train stopped and braced myself, waiting for the lock to drop. “Donald!” Clank. The open button lit up, ringing and I hammered it, watching the doors hiss and creep open. A cool lick of air spilled through and I risked one final, backwards glance. Huh? Where did he go? For a second I lost him, but then he was right there! Looming above the final few passengers between us! I spun around and grabbed the doors, pulling them apart and- “Shit!” They jammed. “Oh my days, you wallad!” All humour melted from Akano’s face. “Pull harder!” With all my strength, I wrenched them apart and they gave another few inches. Just enough for me to push Akano tumbling out and fling my bag after him. Fuck the cookies. “Come here!” Albert lunged as I leapt sideways onto the platform, his hand shooting through the gap and clamping around my shoulder. I thought I would die. Inch by inch I lost ground, loose gravel crunching under my feet, until Akano lashed his arms around my torso and heaved. I watched Albert's cheek squirm against the window as he reached as far through the gap as possible, passengers recoiling away from him in terror. We were at a standstill. Shit, shit, shit! The doors could open at any moment. “Pull to the side!” I shouted to Akano, “No! The other side!” He stepped around and yanked at a sharp angle. Albert's eyes widened as he realised our intention. He tried to twist his arm towards us but it was too late. After three feral tugs, just as I was sure his elbow would snap, he screamed and let go. “DONALD!” I stumbled away, bending low to scoop up my bag. “Come on!” Akano shouted, hauling me upright. “The other one is coming!” Damn, he must have come through the other doors. I flicked my head in the opposite direction. “Yellow way!” Akano nodded. It was our only chance, the nearest stairs were already congested. Weaving through the crowd, we instead bolted for the far end of the platform, where two small staircases with sickly, yellow walls could be found.