The train hissed in answer to Hannah’s command. Sandy looked on with her hands tight against her chest, seized with fright at the idea of losing Fable’s train. It was like Hannah said to her, the idea of Fable being a paradise only held because Sandy always knew she could go back. But to watch the train inch toward the magical gate it had made, about to sail into the dark and never return, forced Sandy to hold her breath in anticipation of the horrible truth. Hannah held the watch out proudly in front of her as the train careened toward the barrier…
The wheels suddenly locked! Harsh yellow sparks fell from the train’s undercarriage in sheets as a deafening metal-on-metal wail from the tracks overpowered everything else. Sandy covered her ears at the sudden screech but Hannah did not. She was thrown forward into a stumble as the massive red engine behind her locked up all on its own and ground to a halt.
The train barely stopped short of the gate. It had enough momentum that the cars behind the engine bumped into one another and threatened to lift. The train had to settle with several loud bangs as wheels returned to ground. Hannah stood in a panic as she realized that she was just a foot away from the inky blackness that was her promised freedom. In her moment of awe at the train stopping, the gate winked closed with a small ‘fwip’ sound. Hannah stared into the place where it had been with no life in her expression, nor her arms and legs. She was limp with disbelief. The train started to pull back from the mountain tunnel just as slowly as when it was about to leave. But this time, it stayed slow enough that Sandy could walk alongside. Sandy was momentarily bewildered by the train stopping. But her attention settled on Hannah, who stood at the edge of the engine, unseeing and completely stupefied.
Sandy looked on with a deep pit growing in her stomach. Hannah couldn’t keep herself together and began to cry as she tried to command the train again and again, even going as far as to wave the watch around like an old garage door remote. Sandy walked alongside Hannah and didn’t see someone disappointed they’d failed a heist. Hannah was devastated. She didn’t know what to say at first, simply because so much had been said already. But Sandy could feel the great pain and wanted to be near.
As the train backed all the way up into the empty station again, the cars settled with their great weight again and the lights went out one by one. The doors snapped open to let would-be passengers out as the smokestack let out one last big gasp of smoke, and the fires went out. Hannah fell into a sitting position on the engine because of her shivering legs. But she couldn’t even keep that up. She slid off to the station stone, landing delicately with her gaze turned upon the watch. Sandy walked right up beside her and knelt to be close. It was like nothing had happened between them and Sandy had found a lost child in the street. When Hannah finally noticed Sandy was there, she closed her eyes and looked away. Tears were allowed to flow from her eyes after her defiant turn.
Sandy could see Hannah clench as Sandy said it. The little tanuki had a way of holding herself with dignity. To see it missing for even a moment was jarring. Hannah looked down at the watch in rising anger. She didn’t answer Sandy’s question.
Hannah choked out those words as she looked at the watch, tears falling onto the glass. Sandy reached for Hannah to support her. Even the act of smoothing her hand back and forth seemed to do some good, because Hannah kept talking.
Sandy was shocked at how Hannah seemed to realize she was talking. She caught herself at the last moment and her expression hardened so fast that it looked like she was possessed. She pushed up from Sandy and slapped her arm away. The two were a foot apart with Hannah giving her a very fierce stare. Sandy could see much of the original Hannah in that face and knew she only had seconds to say what she wanted.
Hannah wasn’t able to take that. She turned and leapt for the top of the train, then off of that to the station’s roof. Sandy looked up in the direction Hannah had fled, and only caught a small glimpse of Hannah looking back before her final jump into the trees. Sandy stood up and held the watch in both hands securely to her middle. She looked off into the evening sky and let out a long sigh as she only could make out Hannah’s path via the distant rustle of branches.