Sandy watched the sun set far into the distance behind the rooftops of the city. She was able to watch from the roof of the office building where she worked, escaping the notice of her boss for the third time that week. The roof was usually empty except for hopping crows searching through the litter and forgotten boxes. Sandy would spend hours here reading her favorite books in silence as the confusion of everyone else’s busy lives remained blissfully distant. The warm orange light caught her attention just as she was putting her books back into her bag. If she was gone too long, she’d be missed. But the sunset was so beautiful that it gave her pause and she forgot the time. She was so quiet and still that her auburn hair was lifting in the wind like a lone colored flag in celebration of the day’s ending. Sandy felt in her heart a sense of joy at looking at such beautiful color, marred only by the bitterness that her time here would inevitably end. Sandy felt trapped here in her small piece of downtown and as she looked out on the horizon, she felt loneliness overcome her as the sun started to descend past the roof’s chain link barrier.
The strange sound of metal groaning with a great weight captured her attention and made her look over the side into 7th avenue, over thirty meters down, where a bright stripe of color cut across the bleak beige train station below. A beautiful uninterrupted roof of polished strawberry red train cars captured her attention immediately. It stretched backwards towards a tunnel and out of sight. The engine was so clean that she could faintly make out the glint of brass tubing that lined the front of the engine. She wondered what it was doing there, parking alongside the much more modern light rail cars. Sandy felt it was beautiful in how out of place it looked.
Sandy felt a shock go down her back as the light around her suddenly dimmed. The sunset had vanished over the horizon and her little roof was wreathed in shadow. She bolted toward the rooftop door, accidentally kicking a box of discarded styrofoam and paper before slamming the heavy door behind her. A tiny, red piece of paper flit through the air in the wake of the door slamming, unseen.
Manager (Disappointed) – Sandy! There you are…
Sandy (Hurried / Stressed) – Sorry… I’m so sorry. I’ll get to the tables right away.
Manager (Disappointed) – No. C’mere for a moment.
Manager (Disappointed) – We already talked about this. You can’t just vanish… There’s a schedule and if you’re not here, the other waiters work longer shifts.
Sandy (Sad) – I’ll apologize to them too. I don’t want to be any trouble.
Manager (Concerned) – Were you on the roof again?
Sandy (Sad) – … Yes.
Manager (Concerned) – Sandy. You know hiding from something never makes it better. You’ve been good to me but I can see the enthusiasm is gone.
Sandy (Sad) – Sir, I can’t lose this job.
Manager (Concerned) – And you don’t want it either. That much is easy to see.
Manager (Smile) – Take the day off and use it to think. See if there’s any way to help yourself out of this mess.
Sandy (Happy) – Oh wow… You’re giving me a free day even though I bailed on you? Thank you!
Manager (Concerned) – Give it some thought. Because when you come back tomorrow, I want you either a promise you’ll be 100%…
Manager (Disappointed) – …or your resignation letter. Neither of us can go on like this.
Sandy (Sad) – Yes, sir…
Sandy didn’t want to go back to her apartment right away. She walked a small circuit around downtown and watching each street corner carefully. She didn’t want to risk bumping into someone alone at night. Time to think… what was there to think about? She felt the bitterness forming in her belly like a tight ball. She didn’t want for life to be this way yet it had to be. How could she come to terms with that in an evening?
There was a small bookstore she wanted to see again. It might be for the last time if she didn’t have a reason to come downtown anymore. She had to vanish down a staircase connected to the sidewalk to find its clear plastic entrance absolutely covered with old pamphlets and advertisements. There were only a few people left here, standing between the tall rows of books reading the manga. The store owner was reading herself, looking up only for a moment to see Sandy enter.
There was a strong temptation for Sandy to ask for work right there. Maybe she could find the same escape these people did, reading day in and day out. But she decided against it. She’d want to at least take a shower and not look so tired and scared before asking for work. Sandy perused the new releases and found nothing new. She had seen them all already the week before. She opened a cheesy looking self-help book named ‘The Potent Power of Positivity’ and flipped the pages idly, getting lost in her own worried mind when she grew bored of the platitudes. She imagined telling her boss about wanting the job with a great big smile on her face. She didn’t want to lie to him again. How could she live with herself?
She lived in the city, as far out from downtown as she could, so she could afford the rent. Commute by train was 45 minutes away to where she lived, the thought about being occupied for so long just to make her job affordable was crushing. She looked past the pages like they weren’t even there, frozen in place by the growing feeling of bitterness until it blossomed into hopeless apathy. What choice did she really have between a tedious boring life and losing what little she had scraped together? Sandy stopped reading all together when a red card, probably someone else’s bookmark, interrupted the flow of her skimming. She didn’t want to continue… and slapped the book closed before sliding the it right back into place.
“You take the train, right Sandy?” The store owner said with a fresh cigarette glowing between her lips. Sandy stood upright in terror and began to run, yelling back her thanks as she hit the stairs. From the moment she left the bookstore, Sandy could feel the vast impenetrability of the city start weighing down on her. Hundreds of thousands of people were going about their lives here and yet Sandy felt so alone and hopeless. How could she tell her manager she wanted to quit when she had nowhere to go? The thoughts consumed her as she rounded each corner, running as fast as she could. She couldn’t afford school. She had no savings. Jobs like the diner were made for Sandy and she was made for them. In time, maybe she’d be working a better job in the same building, able to afford a real life while consumed by regret in what could have been.
Sandy gripped her coat tightly to fight off the oppressive cold while running down to the station. People were getting off the sidewalks too, vanishing into the buildings around her as she ran full blast against the sound of the train station’s decorative clock ringing the last call while she was still on the overpass.
Sandy (Distressed) – I’m late… Too late.
Sandy (Sigh) – Not like I’m used to walking around downtown at night…
Sandy (Distressed) – Oh… oh no… it just left. How am I going to get home?
Sandy (Curious) – All the trains are gone. But that bright red one is still here… I’d love to check it out if I had the time.
Sandy (Determined) – There’s someone. I’ll ask if anyone else has been stuck like this.
Sandy (Curious) – Excuse me, sir? Do you know a way to get to Low Point at this hour?
Clerk (Tired) – Last train’s out for the night. We can’t help you. Maybe a cab?
Sandy (Distressed) – I can’t afford a cab all the way out of the city… Do they even go that far?
Clerk (Tired) – I’m sorry. We only have so many trains and the last one’s gone.
Sandy (Eyes Closed) – Well… what about that train? I know it’s probably not going where I need, but maybe it’s close.
Clerk (Tired) – … What train?
Sandy (Confused) – What… The bright red one. Right there.
The man looked at Sandy like she was crazy. For a moment, Sandy doubted her own senses and checked for the train again nervously. She’d been to this station every single weekday for months and she’d never seen anything so bright and beautiful here. The frustration in the man’s eyes became clear.
“Another crazy…” He growled, rubbing his eyes. As Sandy tried to get his attention again, he just waved his hand and kept going. “Call a cab outside.” He said dismissively and went through a service door out of sight.
Sandy couldn’t believe the exchange she had. It was so insulting to not answer her questions like that. If he was that tired, he should have just said so. Sandy turned to the escalator and way consigned to the fact she would have to pay a boatload to get home. Almost as much as a hotel. A small crinkle at her feet got her attention.
She lifted her high heel, finding that she put a hole through a tiny, very red, piece of paper. She shook her foot to discard it. As it flipped over, it had bright gold lettering on one of its sides that drew Sandy’s eyes. She felt she had seen it before… Sandy felt obligated to pick it up and read the elegant cursive writing on the back first.
If you ever find your destination
to be the limits of imagination,
buy a train ticket and go.
Big blocky letters dominated the rest of the card on the other side, spelling “FABLE” in between two golden borders. She ran her fingers over the lettering and felt each letter pass underneath. It was a small, beautiful thing. She regretted having stepped on it and leaving deep crinkles near the F. She couldn’t help but look over to the train after picking up the little card. They had the same red hue. She took the time to really look at the engine. It was an old style, so old that Sandy assumed it was part of some historic reconstruction. She remembered seeing it from the roof… It was something out of time, colorful, elegant, and fantastical. She couldn’t help but smile looking at it. Someone took the time to make it that beautiful. She wished she could meet them.
“Escapade.” Sandy whispered quietly. The name was emblazoned across the side of the engine, along the curve of rounded part of the cab. Sandy looked down past the engine, seeing only darkness down the tunnel it was destined for. Movement drew her eye. Someone in a red uniform was walking toward the train with purpose, hopping down to the tracks where no one was supposed to go.
Sandy wondered if she should talk to her. She looked very busy. Curiosity overwhelmed her judgement.
Sandy (Excited) – Excuse me! Do you work here?
Kona (Shocked) – !
Sandy (Excited) – It’s a beautiful train. Do you know where it goes?
Kona (Happy) – … That I do!
Kona (Sigh) – And what a relief… you finally showed up. I’ve been waiting for hours.
Sandy (Sweatdrop) – What…? But you don’t know who I am.
Kona (Happy) – That’s technically true. But I the fact we’re talking at all is a pretty strong hint.
Sandy (Sweatdrop) – Ok? So… where does it go?
Kona (Confident) – The Escapade goes as far as people can go. Sometimes a little further, if you let it.
Sandy (Excited) – Oh good! So it connects to Low Point?
Kona (Puzzled) – Low Point… heh, well, I suppose it could.
Sandy (Happy) – How much for a ticket?
Kona (Confident) – You look like you already have one. Just give it to me and we’ll be off.
Sandy (Curious) – … That’s so strange. I just found this lying around. And you said you were waiting for me.
Kona (Happy) – My confidence soars! You’re definitely the one I’m supposed to pick up. Get in. We’ll get you where you need to be.
The woman was a stout brown rabbit with even darker brown wiry hair wreathed around her head. Her top rim of her jacket looked like it was awash with clouds, like a collection of the engine’s steam had settled on top of her shoulders and settled as curly cream fur. She took the ticket and tucked it into one of her large coat pockets, tipping her hat to Sandy as she walked on board. The woman obvious knew what she was doing, escorting Sandy to a seat and hefting her bag up to the overhead bins. She pulled a watch from her other pocket so large and with a such a thick golden rim that it looked like a kind of bejeweled ashtray with bright red numbers on a white facing around the rim.
“We’re running a little late! But that’s just fine by me.” She said with a new voice reserved for anyone who could hear. “ALL ABOARD FOR FABLE!” She bellowed out a powerful call through the empty station. No one else was coming, Sandy gave her a curious look.
“Were you expecting other people?” She asked innocently.
“No. But I’ll be hosed if I don’t say one of my favorite lines. What kind of conductor would I be?” Sandy sat in the closest seat to the entrance so she could look out the window. There was no one in any of the seats… No sound from anywhere except for the engine itself humming to life somewhere in front. Sandy caught the glow of the trains headlamp coming on from her seat when the tunnel’s entrance suddenly shone in detail.
“This is so surreal…” Sandy was feeling anxious. So much of this was strange. “Are we going north, at least?” She had to ask to calm herself. Was she doing the right thing? The woman ignored her at first, looking at her watch and reaching up to pull a white cable. She yanked powerfully on it and the sound of a bell rang somewhere nearby.
“NEXT STOP! FABLE!” She yelled out. The sound metal grinding punctuated the lurch of the train. It started very quickly. Sandy felt a spike of fear as the engine rolled forward and gathered speed, with no one on it but her and this conductor. She leaned in and squeaked.
“Thing’s got a kick- Hey… hey wait, should we be going this fast?” She got up and looked out the window at her side. It started to feel like a plane was taking off! The speed was so great that she had to brace herself as the cabin shook and the tunnel swallowed up her view.
“Yeah! You have to kick it into high gear if we’re gonna make it out of this dump! Gotta make up for lost time!” The woman was laughing heartily as the train vanished into the darkness of the tunnel, only a few rocking lamps were letting Sandy see anything at all and everything that was free to shake was bouncing all over in the cabin! This was a mistake! It was too dangerous!
She looked out the window in fear. There were boards and debris tightly packed against the walls racing by like they were already at high speed. She didn’t even know where this tunnel went! A mighty crash made Sandy sit back from the window as trash bags flew by, the train was smashing through things!
“AaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAH!” Sandy screamed in absolute terror! What had she gotten herself into!?
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaannnd…” The rabbit fake turned and screamed back at her, raising both of her large hands in front of Sandy’s face. “WE’RE OFF!” One of her hands moved over to the window and she snapped her thick fingers at the glass. Color exploded past the window at that very instant, first as a bloom of light and then it melted away to streaks of paint.
Sandy watched, stunned, as the world tore away exactly like paper would, ripping along the edges and falling away like a shredded bill fluttering into the trash. Her eyes were locked wide and her heart was beating so fast she couldn’t breathe. It had to be a dream.
This had to be a dream.
Kona (Happy) – I just love that part. Never gets old.
Sandy (Panic) – What… WHAT?! What the what…
Kona (Confident) – If you have a who or a why in there, I can help you out. We have a bit of time before we arrive.
Sandy (Eyes Closed) – Ok… Ok, fine. Who are you?
Kona (Joking) – Hey, I’m flattered! Usually people ask about the space out the window. You know, with the color and the paper and…
Sandy (Sweatdrop) – Trust me. That’s next.
Kona (Confident) – Name’s Kona. I’m a train conductor.
Sandy (Sweatdrop) – … Yes, I can see that.
Kona (Joking) – You were expecting a bit more, huh?
Sandy (Laughing) – Yes! Yes I was!
Kona (Happy) – Just giving you a little bit of time to soak it all in. I wish the tickets explained a bit more to my guests about the journey. Some of them just pass out in shock.
Sandy (Worried) – We’re not going to Low Point, are we?
Kona (Serious) – We’re going to Fable, like the ticket says. But from there you can go anywhere, even back home. I figured it would work out for you.
Sandy (Worried) – And I think it’s it’s time to ask about that stuff outside… Why am I here?
Kona (Confident) – The train has a mind of its own. It knows who wants to go to Fable and who needs to leave, and it just tries to help with that. There’s no engineer. It just all runs on its own like magic.
Sandy (Sweatdrop) – And where exactly is this Fable people want to go to? I’ve never even heard of this before now.
Kona (Confident) – Fable isn’t on any map or connected to any railway. It’s a special place that only this train can find. It looks pretty dramatic when we take off, but I assure you the landing is much more practical.
Sandy (Sweatdrop) – We’re flying…?
Kona (Happy) – Sure! If that helps you picture it.
Sandy (Laughing) – Are we or are we not flying?!
Kona (Confident) – Whatever works for you! Can I ask you a question now? What’s your name?
Sandy (Smiling) – Sandy. But you can call me overwhelmed.
Kona (Confident) – I have some duties to take care of. Try to enjoy the view for the rest of our trip, Overwhelmed.
Kona (Serious) – But seriously…
Kona (Happy) – We’ll get you home safe, ok? Just a little detour.
Sandy (Eyes closed) – Thank you, Kona.