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The Ticketby Shannon Wolff
It just wasn't possible. How could a train ticket with my name on it have mysteriously appeared in my desk drawer? It would be one thing if I'd just taken the desk at face value when I bought it yesterday. But I hadn't. I'd opened every drawer, peeked in every little hiding place, and flat out inspected it before purchase. There wasn't anything in the drawers then and I doubted someone at the thrift store slipped the ticket in the drawer while I was paying for the desk. I have even less reason to think someone broke into my house last night just to slip a train ticket in the drawer. Therefore, the ticket couldn't be there.
That phrase became a mantra I repeated to myself as I slowly closed the desk drawer and took a few deep breaths. I was just seeing things. All the stress I'd been under lately was finally getting to me. It would get to anyone. Moving is supposed to the most stressful endeavor a person is likely to undertake. Combined with my sister calling me every five minutes in near hysteria over her soap opera of a life, my mother reminding me that I'm not getting any younger, my father constantly asking when I'm going to break down and get a 'real' job, and finally my editor moving up my latest deadline by two weeks for no apparent reason, it was no wonder I wanted to get away. Yeah, that had to be it. I was suffering from anxiety brought on by the stress in my life and it was manifesting itself as a desire to escape. That was all. There was no question in my mind that the moment I opened the drawer again it would be as empty as the day I opened it in that second hand store.
The impossible ticket was still there.
My heart leapt into my throat as I picked up the ticket and turned it over in my hand. I didn't often travel by train, but this ticket didn't seem like any I'd ever used before. Instead of standard paper, this one appeared to be made of heavy silver foil with ridiculously large black lettering.
LUCY ANNE CLAYTON
THE PREVELAGE OF RIDING ON
THE EVENING OF MAY 1ST 2008
TRAIN TO DEPART PRMPTLY AT 6:00 pm
FROM THE CENTERVILLE TRAIN STATION
I'd also never had a ticket worded like that before. And what as this about catching a train at the Centerville train station? Sure the town had a train station once upon a time, when the trains actually stopped in Centerville, but it had closed down nearly fifty years ago. I pasted the crumbling remains of the old train station every day on my way to work. No train would stop there. And if the ivy crawling on the tracks were any indication, I'd guess that no train had even been through there in at least five years, probably a lot longer. I would have noticed if the place were being restored, or if there'd been talk of a new train station being built. Breaking in just to plant a ticket seemed like an awful lot of trouble to go through for a practical joke.
But could it be real?
I glanced at the clock: five fifteen. If I hurried I could throw together a little travel bag and make it to the train station by six. But the ticket didn't say where the train was going, only that it was leaving the station at six in the evening. How would I know what to pack? I supposed I could just take a few basics and wing it from there. A few pairs of jeans, some shirts, a jacket, and of course clean underwear -- wait a minute. What was I thinking? There was no way this thing was real. Sure I could work myself up into a whirlwind throwing my clothes in my backpack and racing to the old abandoned train station, but there wasn't the slightest chance of there being a train for me to board. More likely than not the only thing I'd find was the lunatic who put the ticket in my desk and who knew what would happen to me once the nut case got me alone. I should just crumple the ticket up, throw it away, and never think about it again.
But then I'd never know if the ticket was real.
'Looks like I'm going to feel like an idiot at six oh one,' I sighed. I dug my backpack out from the back of my closet.
I knew it was crazy, pure madness really, but I also knew myself well enough to know that I'd never throw that ticket away. If I didn't go and at least see what this was all about the ticket would find itself pinned up on my bulletin board and stay there for the next ten years or so. And I would look at the blasted thing every day for the next ten years and wonder what would have happened if I'd just had the guts to show up. Every time my well-meaning, though completely unhelpful, family started to grill me on why I wasn't married or didn't have a better job I'd look over at that ticket and wish I'd taken the chance. Now that would drive me nuts.
Before I knew it, or could regain my sense of better judgment, I found myself standing at the long abandoned Centerville Train Station, catching my breath from the run. I swallowed to help my breathing to return to normal as I glanced at my watch. Five fifty-eight exactly. According to the ticket I had two minutes before the train would leave.
Only there was no train.
Disappointment swelled like a balloon in my chest as I surveyed the ivy-covered tracks. At that moment I realized just how much I wanted there to be a train, how much I'd wanted the ticket I clutched in my hand to be real. Of course, I'd told myself it was a joke or something. Even as I had franticly packed my bag and ran to the dilapidated train station, I'd told myself there wouldn't be a train waiting for me there. I'd told myself there couldn't be a train. And I'd defiantly called myself a liar every step of the way. Somehow, 'I told you so' just wasn't as satisfying when I was on both sides of the equation.
I looked at the ticket and felt like a fool. How could I have pinned so much on one little piece of paper? What had I really been expecting? Some magical train to appear and whisk me away from it all? If I hadn't felt like crying I would have probably been laughing at the absurdity of my actions over the last hour or so. The only thing for me to do now was to pick up my backpack and go home, my only consolation being the fact no one knew what a fool I'd just made of myself. The fact I could now burn the troublesome ticket did less than one would think to cheer me up.
Taking a deep breath I made myself stand as tall as possible for the trudge home and found that while I'd been indulging in a little self-pity a thick fog had blanketed the area. As I stood weighing the fact that I would now be soaking wet when I returned home against the fact no one would see me in this fog I heard the clock at town hall chime the hour. I sighed as the clock chimed first one, then two and three, I shook my head as the fourth, fifth, and sixth chimes sounded, and jumped in my skin as I heard a seventh chime. I stood dumbstruck as yet another chime rang through the air and I realized that those last two chimes weren't from the clock at all, nor were they chimes. They were from a train whistle.
I stared into the ever thickening fog as the train whistle pierced the night. Before long I could hear the engine puffing as it made its way towards me and the wheels sounded on the iron tracks unhindered by any vines. A ball of light loomed like a giant firefly as the sounds proceeded towards me. Within moments the train pulled to a stop before me in a haze of steam and fog. I could barely even see it save for enough to tell it was an old steam engine.
My voice had deserted me. It failed to return when a tall young man in a conductor's uniform strolled towards me with a bright smile on his face.
"Sorry we're late. Mrs. Clayton I assume?" He grinned and tipped his hat.
"Yes..." I let my newly found voice trail off as my mind fumbled for logic. No way this was happening. "Mind telling me what's going on? Where does this train go?"
"The train goes to Anywhere But Here, just like you booked two weeks ago. Would you like some help with your bag?"
"Your bag, would you like some help with it?"
"No, where is this train going?"
"Anywhere But Here. You made the reservation over the phone two weeks ago yesterday. Our records show you finally received your ticket today."
Two weeks ago? Yeah, I thought I remembered the day he was talking about. I'd just discovered that the movers I'd hired had completely demolished my desk in the move, hence the need for a replacement. My mother had asked if my new apartment would have room for a nursery, my sister was blubbering about her on-again-off-again boyfriend who had broken her heart yet again, and my father had commented for the twelfth time how I'd be able to afford a nicer apartment if I only had a decent-paying job. In this mist of all this the phone rang and the voice on the other end calmly asked if there was someplace else I'd rather be. At the time 'Anywhere But Here' had been an honest enough answer, but was this conductor for real?
"I don't mean to rush you, Mrs. Clayton, but we're already behind schedule and need to get going. Will you be joining us this evening?" He held out his hand for my ticket as he took a hole punch out of his pocket with the other as he spoke.
My heart leapt into my throat as my stomach did flip-flops and my mind screamed for me to run home as fast as I could and bolt the door behind me. But every other part of me stayed rooted to the spot looking from the ticket in my hand to the conductor and back again. Could I really do this? Did I want to?
"When will I be back?" I asked over the lump in my throat.
"It's an open ticket. You can come back whenever you want; I promise you life here won't miss a beat." Silence hung heavy in the air as my breath caught in my throat. "Are you coming?" He asked again, his voice tinged with at hint of impatience.
I opened my mouth to decline only to be cut off by my ringing cell phone. I put my refusal on hold long enough to glance down and check the caller ID and see that my mother was the one calling. I'd forgotten that she wanted to talk to me about going on a blind date with her hairdresser's second cousin. The one who collected potato chips that resembled faces of historical figures. He apparently has twenty-two chips that look like Abe Lincoln.
"I believe I will be joining you this evening." I cleared my throat and handed my ticket to the conductor as I turned off my phone.
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