Maxine

Kemono Cafe 006

Sandy felt out of time in the beautiful little village. Even though her destination was immediately in view, she felt lost in the plaza because curiosity pulled her in every direction. Despite living in a big city, she wasn’t used to being so close to the daily lives of others. One skyscraper could hold all the people here, and yet you still would feel alone inside it. The plaza was open enough that people used it as a break from shopping, just like the little hallways of a mall. There was a stone statue in the center of it all that Sandy visited first thanks to all the people being so close to it.

The statue was a beautiful light gray, nearly white in the sun. It was of two people holding hands, one was a larger rabbit of about Kona’s height and the other was a child behind him, pulled along as if both walking to school. Sandy felt that’s what it had to be since the older rabbit had a kindly backwards look and the child was looking upwards, a book clutched to her side in remarkable detail. Sandy felt a small rush after instinctively leaning in to read the book’s title and actually found one.

Sandy
“Fable.” How nice. I wonder who these people are.
Sandy
The statue’s not done, though. The face is almost blank.

Sandy gave a look back to Kona to see if she was still there at the station and barely caught her before she vanished. She was just walking back around her train again, which looked so wonderfully in place in its little red station. It didn’t draw curiosity there like it did from the roof of 7th street. It felt like it belonged. Sandy pushed her hands up through her hair and took a refreshing deep breath of clean air. A small laugh escaped her as two kids ran by a little too close and she found herself quickly touring the town, starting at the complete opposite side from Maxine’s shop by no coincidence. The town had a flow to it where shoppers would move like a carousel around the open faces of the buildings and Sandy found herself joining right in.

The first she found was a bakery, whose smells delighted her as much as the colorful array of treats. She regretted she couldn’t buy any. There were prices listed under each one and her pockets were woefully empty. Her attention wandered to the similarly diverse people around her and one of the customers caught her staring. She apologized and stepped backwards with a small embarrassed flutter of her hands, running onto the next shop in line. Many of the people here were like Kona, yet not all rabbits and very few of them were like Sandy. How many of them came off the train like she did, she wondered. Sandy daydreamed about how many times the train must have come to 7th street and she just never noticed it while she was waiting tables.

The next building was a sad sight. It was a burned and ruined husk, sitting neglected between the bakery and the street. It had a corner to itself with a small lawn of beautiful grass with lavender flowers, yet patches of it were ruined from an old fire. It looked like it had burned down a while ago and the debris had a chance to collect in the corners from the wind. A small wall of fencing had been put up to keep people walking beside it. Sandy thought it must have been some kind of hotel thanks to how large it was. But she didn’t have the chance to look at it any closer. There were no signs. She walked on from the ruin wondering how a place so picturesque could have something forlorn and forgotten.

A small wave of fear bubbled up inside her as she walked next to a clothing shop. The dresses and suits featured most prominently in the windows were of all kinds of sizes, some even almost twice Sandy’s height. This was a foreign land and she was in danger here. Time was precious if she had no money to be a part of life here. It was just like back at Low Point. Life was a kind of watch always ticking away. You constantly had to wind it back up to buy yourself just a little bit more time. Sandy sighed heavily as the novelty of this place was taken from her amid her worries. She decided that she’d better visit Maxine soon.

How did someone get a ticket anyway? Where did they come from? And how could any train keep running if its tickets didn’t cost anything? Sandy had these questions to ponder as she walked directly up to the shop Kona had pointed out earlier, covered in a beautiful leaf pattern carved into every wooden trim and sewn onto big bright blankets of white and green. Maxine’s shop was only a little busy. A few people were in here watching the shelves and browsing. The children from earlier were tugging on their mother and trying to point out some caramel apples placed on a tray next to a larger barrel of bright red ones. Their mother was strained by the mixed attention between what had to be Maxine and the tugging hands at her vibrant violet dress. Sandy was desperately scanning the room for a small sign that would say ‘Tickets Here’ or similar. Just something to grab onto that would show her what to do or make the whole business of the train normal, something people do here.

The shop was like an antique shop and a grocery store had collided. There was fresh fruit to buy at the counter and jars of all kinds behind Maxine, each with a bright white label with a tiny green leaf in the middle. But everywhere else had little rhyme or reason. Sandy was used to the specialization of modern life where there could be an entire store dedicated to gardening or even one type of candy and it would survive thanks to the number of people nearby. This shop was for everything, where one could get lost in the curiosities and check every price tag. One entire wall was dedicated to teas in jars with handwritten titles. Another had shelves where each row was different. Maxine had tools all neatly sorted in baskets, needles and thread, watering cans, coils of rope, and exactly three lanterns next to a diverse array of mugs and glasses. Sandy found herself staring at a corner dedicated to a large clock, the kind with a pendulum that Sandy had only seen in paintings. It was large enough that everything else large could be stacked against it, like musical instruments and a tall rack of clothes.

Maxine let out a small tired sigh of relief as she leaned down onto her elbows and rested her face in her large hands. Sandy hadn’t noticed the others had left while she was looking at everything. She was a short and soft corgi dog with light wispy hair the color of dry maple leaves. She wore a bright green apron and had a matching hat, both with her leaf logo on it. Sandy couldn’t help but be put at ease by her relaxed, content smile. Her expression looked like Sandy was the latest good thing to happen on an already good day.

Sandy
Are you Maxine?
You have me at a disadvantage, dear. I’ve never seen you before and you already know my name?
Maxine
Sandy
My name’s Sandy. It’s good to meet you.
Surely it is. And it’s good to meet you as well. You must have just gotten off the train.
Maxine
Welcome to my shop, Sandy. What can I do for you?
Maxine
Sandy
I was told there’d be tickets here. I need to get back to Low Point.
Maxine
By Kona, I assume.
Maxine
Sandy
Yes. I used a ticket to get here, and… I know this sounds strange.
Sandy
She said they wouldn’t cost anything.
Kona earns partial credit as always.
Maxine
That insufferable vagabond has no sense of responsibility.
Maxine
Sandy
What do you mean? You do have tickets, right?
I do not. The train tickets don’t cost anything because they aren’t for sale.
Maxine
Sandy
Kona likely sent you to someone she felt would be your next step.
Maxine
Sandy
I don’t know what to say. Do you know where I could get a ticket?
You should see the mayor. She would be the best to explain. However, I hate to say that she won’t be back until next week.
Maxine
Sandy
Next week?! I… I can’t… It has to be today!
Sandy
How does anyone else get a ticket? I’m afraid I don’t have any money.
We’re a sedentary bunch and I don’t keep a stock of them. The train isn’t exactly popular when no one wants to leave.
Maxine
If that weren’t the case, you’d better believe I’d be selling it.
Maxine
I am Fable’s premier tradeswoman, after all!
Maxine
Come to think of it, I’m having trouble remembering the last time someone actually used the train. It’s been gone so long.
Maxine
For more important matters, I’m assuming this development leaves you stranded.
Maxine
Sandy
Yes…
Luckily for you, I’m far more responsible than our transient conductor.
Maxine
Which only twists the knife, unfortunately, as she likely expected I would be.
Maxine
I have an extra bed for guests. I’ll make sure you have a meal and a place to sleep…
Maxine
Until we can come to a more… mutually beneficial relationship.
Maxine
Sandy
Ulp!