The Ticket

Sandy left work with a heavy heart that day. She’d packaged some of the returned food from customers for her dinner and held it close while staring down at the sidewalk. She needed time to think. But, really, what was there to think about? She didn’t want her job and her books were her escape. Her manager was fair in that she was late returning and that couldn’t continue. But was it really fair for Sandy to ignore herself?

She arrived at her favorite bookstore in the city while her mind was spinning around deeper questions. Was it immature to reject this kind of a life or was something much deeper wrong? She felt so very small as she descended a thin staircase connected to the sidewalk and vanished through a heavy glass door covered with old stickers and comic advertisements. There were only a few people here at this hour, standing between the tall rows of books and reading manga. The store owner was reading as well at the counter, 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. They likely spent their entire lives here and slept in the back rooms. But maybe that’s what she needed if her current situation was so hopeless. Where was the adventure in life? What kept these people going? There had to be a change. The clerk eyed Sammy’s food so intensely that Sandy left it on her counter, pretending it was a gift. She wasn’t hungry anyway.

The clerk moved a stack of books in front of Sandy in thanks. Sandy had a long list in the store’s trade-in program and she always saved a nice stack for Sandy to trade back in. Sandy decided to not give one of her books back and slid some money across the table with a shaky hand. Should she be doing this? Even that small amount could be a meal or two.

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. She couldn’t afford school. She had no savings. Jobs like the one at 7th Avenue diner were made for Sandy and she was made for them. But if everyone was living like this, it had to be fair.

Sandy started to run quickly as a deep chill gripped the city. Her uniform wasn’t warm enough to be out a night. She quickly turned a corner and held a rail while running down the stairs as fast as she could. Some of the crowd parted for her, others didn’t. She felt like she was swimming through dozens of the same brown coat to push to the front of the station where the trains were.

But it was too late. The doors to her train closed as she was pushing forward. She said a few things she regretted as she slowed down. The door lurched to the right and moved on. The last train to Low Point had left without her. Consumed by frustration and unable to think, she turned and sat on a bench, feeling a headache grow as her dissatisfaction with the commute ballooned. Now instead of an hour, it would be an entire evening to get back home, just so she could shower, redress and come right back to this. The dense crowds all filed onto their own trains and departed in the coming minutes. Sandy was left alone on the platform.

She began to cry.

Are you alright, miss? No… Now what do I do? Do you know a way to get to Low Point at this hour? Last train’s out for the night. Maybe a cab? Do the cabs even go as far as Low Point? And if they did, it would be super expensive. Maybe I can sleep in one of the cafe booths… Sorry you missed your ride. But there’s a schedule to keep. Hmm… There is that one train. Excuse me, sir? Hmm? All the trains are gone. But that bright red one is still here… Do you know what it’s here for? … What train? What… The bright red one. Right there. I don’t have time for jokes. Good luck getting home. You’re kidding me.

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 when she insisted again and eventually, he left her alone on the platform.

Sandy found herself backing up in disbelief. Maybe it was for an event and he wasn’t allowed to give it away. But the train wasn’t exactly hidden, either. Sandy turned to look at it again like she needed more proof it was really there. It was impossible to miss. A small crinkle at her feet drew her attention. She lifted her shoe and pulled a crumpled red piece of paper from her heel. Turning it over in her hand, the bright gold lettering on its back made Sandy’s eyes widen. The penmanship was beautiful.

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 embossed letter pass underneath. 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 beautiful.

She wished she could meet them.