Over it all presided the great clock, ticking and tocking in its own deep voice.
“Come on!” cried Roger.
He went running down the marble steps and Mavis went running after him.
“Look!” he skidded to a stop before a schedule. “New York, Chicago, Albuquerque, Orlando, Hoonah. Where is Hoonah? Is that even a city?”
“Look at that one,” said Mavis.
“Otherworld,” read Roger. “That definitely doesn’t sound like a city.”
“Look at it’s number, though,” said Mavis. “It’s the 627.”
She held up her ticket. On the corner was the number 627.
“Let’s go,” breathed Roger.
“We only have one ticket,” said Mavis, suddenly nervous. “And we have no idea where that is. We don’t have passports or baggage or…”
“You said this was a dream,” said Roger, putting his hands on his hips. “We went into our grandparent’s shed and found Grand Central station. We have a ticket to a cool sounding place. And you want to go back to bed?”
“We’re in our pajamas.”
“That’s a ridiculous excuse! Being in her pajamas didn’t stop Lucy, now, did it?”
“And it was a very good thing, wasn’t it?” Roger was winning and he knew it. “Come on. Let’s at least see the train. Cool things always happen when trains are involved.”
“Not always,” said Mavis, wrapping her bathrobe around her and tightening the sash.
“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: a train takes the Pevensies to the Professor’s House.” Roger started following her across the busy floor. “Prince Caspian: they’re at a train station when Susan’s horn summons them back to Narnia.”
“The Railway Children. It’s in the title. Murder on the Orient Express. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that one, but we aren’t kidnappers so no is going to murder us.”
“You can stop now.”
“But I haven’t even mentioned Platform 9 and ¾.”
“You just did,” said Mavis. “So now you can stop it and help me look for number 627.”
“There it is,” said Roger.
True enough, there was a Charleston green sign with scrolling gold numbers. 627 North and an arrow to the left, and 627 South with an arrow to the right.
“North or south?” asked Mavis looking at the ticket. “It doesn’t say.”
“Then we get to choose. And I don’t know about you, but any train south from us is going to Cuba. Sooo…”
“South from Grandpa’s,” Mavis countered. “But Grand Central station is in New York. There’s lots of cool stuff south from New York that doesn’t involve going over water.”
“But are we in New York?” asked Roger. “Something tells me that we’re not.”
He was looking at a group of men walking by in suits and fedoras, carrying lances over their shoulders and letting the streamers trail after them.
“What?” said Mavis. She was looking at a lady in a pinstripe skirt suit who was leading a goat on a leash. The goat had a giant pink bow around its neck. “I’ve heard that people wear all kinds of strange things in New York,” Mavis reassured him. “Anything and everything.”
“Like powder blue leisure suits?” asked Roger, eyeing a gentleman who had stopped beside them to consult a map.
“That’s nothing. Remember the guy we saw in the Nashville airport?”
“That’s true,” said Roger, shuddering. “There’s nothing here that rivals scooby-doo leggings on a middle aged man.”
“Exactly,” said Mavis.
“We are in New York. And we are going South.”
They turned to the right and walked down a short hallway to join a small group of people huddled under another sign. Nobody was speaking to each other, but they weren’t on their phones. One was reading a paperback, another was knitting a sweater. A little old man was carving an even littler old man out of a slip of wood, the shavings falling onto the tile floor. They were the only litter to be seen.
“This subway is awful clean,” said Roger.
“Maybe they had a public initiative.”
Roger raised an eyebrow at her.
In the distance a brassy horn sounded. All of the sudden there was a great wind in the tunnel and the rest of the people on the platform grabbed their hats and their luggage. Mavis’ navy bathrobe flew out like a cape, and Roger suddenly wished he had put on a sweater.
The train came to a halt with a squeal. It wasn’t an unpleasant sound like a car’s brakes when it is barely under control, but more like a merry whistle.
“Oh,” both children gasped.
It was the most beautiful train they had ever seen, all mahogany and brass scrowlwork.
“It looks like something out of a picture book,” said Roger.
“One of those elaborately illustrated fairy tales,” Mavis agreed.
Everyone else was getting on, silently rolling their carry on suitcases or setting their briefcases on the floor beside them. There didn’t seem to be anyone to take their ticket, so they just stepped on and let the door close behind them. There was another brassy toot on the horn and the train was off, going so smoothly that it didn’t seem like they were even moving. They pasted their faces to the windows and watched as dark tunnel gave way to green fields.
“Does that look like New York?” asked Roger. “Or Delaware or whatever state it is after New York?”
“I have no idea,” said Mavis. “It’s so...green.”
“I thought there were more cities,” agreed Roger. “We should take more American Geography classes.”
They were in a forest then, the light blinking in strips through the trees. Every once in awhile, there would be a bright dot of yellow light when they passed a house with a lamp in the window. And then they were back in a tunnel, but this time the dark was not black and sterile. There were pools of deep navy shadow and and patches of milky moonlight filtered through stone crevices.
The horn sounded and the train coasted into a stop. “You have reached Otherworld, Gullumgall'ad Station,” said a pleasant voice over the PA. “Please take all of your belongings and exit to your left. Thank you for choosing Central City Alternative Transportation.”
Only two or three of the other passengers got out, and Mavis almost staid on the train. But Roger stepped off, just as if he knew exactly what he was doing. “What for me,” she hissed, catching his arm.
They both looked around, wondering where they could possibly be. Mavis had always had an idea that New England was rather uptight, maybe with a few cute white picket fences. But certainly nothing like this. Nothing like a train station in a small cave, with patterned carpets on the floor and a crystal chandelier.
The adults had formed a short line in front of a small desk. Behind it sat a little old lady, her reading glasses perched sideways on her head.
“Ticket,” she said. “Ticket.”
Mavis and Roger got in line.
“Ticket?” asked the lady.
Sheepishly, Mavis handed her the single ticket. Without a second glance the lady stamped it and handed it back. They stood there, staring at the ticket in Mavis’ hand.
“Move along,” said the lady, looking at them disapprovingly.
They got to the edge of the room and found themselves facing three doors.
“What now?” whispered Roger.
“How should I know?”
“It’s your dream. If it is a dream. Are you sure this is a dream?”
“Of course it is," said Mavis. "What else could it be?”
“Then which door?”
Mavis thought for a moment. “Why not straight down the middle?”
“What did you do today, sweetie?” Grandma asked Roger.
“I read The Hobbit again, and weeded the border. And then some guys were playing basketball next door and they asked me to play.”
“That was sweet of them. Was it Brent and his friends?”
Grandma smiled. “Brent is such a nice young man. We should have him over sometime. He’s your age, Linda, you know.”
“I have a boyfriend,” snapped Linda.
“Whatever do you mean, sweetie?” gasped Grandma.
“Don’t worry about her,” said Roger. “That’s just the standard response that they learn in White Girl Preparatory School. It’s hard to get any studying done between all of the Starbucks and ‘can’t even-ing,’ but they manage it somehow.”
Linda gave him a look that would have curdled milk.
“White Girl...whatever are you talking about?”
“I was just being silly,” said Roger, crestfallen.
Mavis gave him as much of a smile as she could muster.
As soon as they were in the hallway after supper, Linda slammed Roger into the wall. “Look, punk, I’m getting tired of your smart mouth.”
Roger should have been looking up at her, terrified, but instead he was looking past her. “Mavis?”
Linda turned in time to see Mavis half fall on the stairs.
They both cleared the few steps in a single bound and each got an arm around her.
“What is it?” asked Roger. “Mavis?”
“So dizzy,” murmured Mavis. “So dizzy.”
“What do we do?” asked Linda, wide-eyed.
“Get her up,” said Roger. “Help me get her to bed.”
“Shouldn’t we get Grandma?”
“No, she can’t do anything we can’t. She’ll just worry.”
Between the two of them they half carried and half dragged Mavis up to her room. It was Roger, looking very serious, who tucked her in. “Get better, Maves,” he whispered in her ear.
She looked like she was asleep. But she wasn’t.
She laid there, crying silently, because what was inside finally hurt more than what was outside. “I wish I would get better. I wish I could do something.”
The tears were drying at the corners of her eyes when there was a soft movement in the air. “Look at the poor dear,” said First Voice. “She’s cried herself to sleep.”
“I think it looks like a monster,” said Second Voice. “A horrible, snotty-nosed, Fae eating monster.”
“Nonsense,” said First Voice. “She’s just a child.”
“Child monsters are the worst.”
“Why are you such a marshwallower?” sighed First Voice. “I think that we ought to help her.”
“Help her? Why would we want to help her?”
“You heard her wish.”
“We don’t grant wishes,” said Second Voice. “We mind our own business and get on with our job. See? No muss, no fuss, no cracked coconuts.”
“Don’t be that way,” said First Voice. “Give me your ticket.”
“What! Absolutely not!”
“Do it, Bollygoggle!”
Second Voice humphed and grumped and kicked at the edge of the blanket.
“Please, Bollygoggle?” wheedled First Voice.
“Use your ticket, if you’re so keen on a foolhardy idea.”
“My ticket has the seal on it. We have to use yours. Come, Bollygoggle. Do it.”
A slip of parchment suddenly appeared on the edge of Mavis’ pillow.
“Not yet,” said First Voice. “Lend me a quill?”
Mavis sighed. When she opened her eyes, it took her a moment to realize what was different. There was no pain.
Obviously, she was dreaming. A full moon was peeking around the curtains in her window and it came dancing up the blanket to her. And that’s when she noticed something on her pillow.
It looked like some sort of ticket, with a destination and departure time written on it in gold ink. But all of the words and even the numbers looked strange. Where had it come from? She picked it up, and it felt heavier than paper ought to, and very smooth. She flipped it over. There were words written in pencil, little letters that looked like someone very small was trying to write large.
“Sorry I cannot grant wishes, this is the best I can do. Go into the shed before midnight. Don’t be missing the train.
Mavis sat up. This was a very interesting dream! She looked out over the yard and saw the small shed, sitting quietly just where it always did. Should she go? Then she laughed at herself. It was a dream, after all. Of course she should go. In half of a minute she had on her slippers and bathrobe and was down the hall. But then she stopped. Roger’s door was half open.
Roger opened a sleepy eyeball. “Wha?”
“Get up! I’m having an awesome dream and I want you to be in it!”
Roger sat up. “Are you sure you’re having a dream?”
“Of course I’m sure, I don’t have a migraine and I’m not dizzy.”
“Come on, we have to get to the shed before midnight!”
“Why?” asked Roger.
Mavis handed him the ticket and they went pelting down the stairs.
“Don’t you want to bring Linda?!” called Roger.
“Don’t make me throw up,” Mavis called back as she ran, her hair streaming out behind her.
The shed wasn’t locked. They pulled the door open and…
“Are we mowing the yard or something?” asked Roger, staring at the old reel mower that Grandpa insisted on keeping.
“‘Go into the shed before midnight,’” read Mavis, puzzled. “What are we supposed to do? What train?”
Roger poked into the darkness. “This is a weird dream, Maves.”
“It’s a lame dream.”
“Hey,” said Roger. “Does this shed have a second room?”
“No. it’s just a tiny prefabricated box.”
“Then what is that?”
Roger was pointing to a slim stream of light peeking out from under what appeared to be a door.
“Feel for a knob,” hissed Mavis.
“Got it,” said Roger.
The door swung open and Mavis and Roger stood blinking in the lamplight.
“Is it just me, or does that look like Grand Central station?” asked Mavis.
“What is Grand Central station doing in our grandparent's garden shed?” asked Roger.
“I told you that there was. I said, there is a human child. A nasty, eggsy eating human child. I told you that we should not come. I told you that this was a horrible idea.”
“It is not a bad idea,” said First Voice.
“It is a horrible, rotten, nasty idea,” said Second Voice. “And now what are we supposed to do? Walk out there in the open and just say hello?”
“She is asleep. There’s no need to be a Grumgobber about things.”
Mavis was wondering if she actually was asleep. Maybe she was. It was an awfully weird dream though. And what if she was awake after all? What if there was someone in the room with her?
One of her eyes popped open. Instantly she was aware of how bright it was in the room, or how bright it seemed, after she had had her eyes shut for so long.
There was no one there. No one standing beside the bed, no one in the dim recess over by the toy cabinet. The door to the hall was closed, just like it had been all morning.
After a while her eye hurt from being open and she closed it. Maybe there was someone in the hallway. Maybe she had been dreaming.
The world went back to its previous miserable stillness.
“This is beyond a horrible, rotten, nasty idea. This is an idea worthy of the Strumblug.”
“That is very unkind,” said First Voice.
“It is the truth,” said Second Voice, getting higher and whinier. “We are going to die and it is going to be your fault.”
“We are not going to die. We are going to walk over there. Under the bed, see? She’ll never know we are there.”
“But what about the…”
“Do not say it,” said First Voice. “Do not say it.”
There was a tinkling sound, as something fell to the floor. It jolted Mavis more widely awake than she had been in a long time.
She sat up.
Instantly, she regretted it. The room dipped to the left and then went even deeper to the right, as if she had just been over the largest of ocean swells. There was too much pain for her to see anything, anyway.
But she did hear a squeak. A tiny, close by squeak as if someone had started to scream and someone else had stopped them.
“Oh, great! You’re up!” cried Roger, bursting in the door.
“I’m not up. I’m listening.”
Rodger slowly opened and closed his mouth. “Wow. It’s happened. I’ll pick up your certificate from the Loony Bin.”
“Knock it off, Rodger. I’m serious. Is there someone visiting?”
“Nope, it’s just us. Grandma is in town and Grandpa is having his siesta.”
“What about Linda?”
“All she’s doing is watching youtube and texting people.”
“I don’t think it was her…”
“She’s on the porch,” said Rodger. “There’s no way that you could hear her.”
Mavis sat quietly, letting her head spin slowly like a globe whose base was sitting on a tilted desk.
“Will you do something with me?” asked Roger. “Please? I’m soooo bored.”
“I can’t, Rodge. You know I can’t.”
“You could try. Couldn’t you at least try?”
“Why don’t you read something?” asked Mavis, in desperation.
“I’ve read everything on the kids shelf.”
Mavis gave him a look. “Since when have you stuck to the kids shelf?”
“Since Grandma took my book and told me that the Odyssey wasn’t appropriate for a ten year old.”
“I read it when I was ten.”
“Tell Grandma that. I think she thinks that Mom would be mad.”
“Mom won’t care,” said Mavis. “She’d say that you were expanding your mental horizons.”
“You should tell that to Grandma, too.”
Mavis rested her head on her hand. “Rodge.”
“Of course I’m not ok.” Her voice was very low. “Would you please find something to do, Rodge, so I can sleep?”
Roger nodded. “Sorry Maves. I’ll be good. I promise.”
Mavis curled up in a little ball and listened to Roger’s retreating footsteps. There were tears behind her eyes, but she wouldn’t let them out because it would hurt to cry. “I wish that there were voices,” she whispered. “I wish they would help me do something. I wish I could go on an adventure.”
What is your favorite thing about fall?
Do you live in a place where the seasons change? What about a tradition to welcome fall? Tell us all about it in the comments below!
What does your home state smell like? Or am I the only one who notices these things?