The business man looked up from his notebook, clearly surprised. He looked from Roger to Mavis and then back to Roger. “You are in the right place, young sir. But where are your parents?”
“They’re in Atlanta,” said Roger, before he thought about it.
“Yes, sir, at a conference.”
“Do they know that you are traveling the rails by yourself?”
Roger was beginning to wish that he had let well enough alone. What if this man insisted on them going home? What if he came with them? What if he told Grandma?! “No, sir,” he whispered.
“We got a ticket,” broke in Mavis. “So we…” They what? Suddenly it seemed very immature and foolish to say that they had come because they got a ticket. It certainly didn’t seem like a good enough reason to be out of bed in a strange place in the middle of the night in one's pajamas. She wanted to kick herself for not being more responsible. What if this had been a trap? What if…
The man smiled, each of his perfect white teeth glittering in the lamplight. “Oh, I see. You got a ticket. Well, just get on this train when it comes, and stay on it. Pass one station, get off at the next. Understand?”
Roger and Mavis nodded.
“You might want to let your parents know where you are going,” he added. “What if you were to miss your train out of Otherworld and they didn’t know where to collect you? Lost and Found can be jolly fun, but it gets tiresome after too long.”
“We’ll be careful,” Mavis assured him. She and Roger breathed a sigh of relief when they turned away. They were beginning to really like how things were done in this place.
The train’s horn sounded merrily, and then the train itself arrived, as glossy and magnificent as before. They squished in with the others, wiggling to the back so they could look out the window. They had seen it all before, but that didn’t matter. When things are pretty enough, they are worth looking at again.
When the train stopped at the Gullumgall'ad station almost everyone got off. Infact, there was only one other lady in the car with them. Seeing as they were still passing through a cave and she was facing the other way, Mavis couldn’t help staring at her. “She looked like Audrey Hepburn,” Mavis would say later. “All slim and elegant.” She was wearing all black--black blouse, black pencil skirt, black pumps--but on her it did not seem cliche. It seemed as natural and elegant as they way she swayed with the movement of the train. There was a row of jet buttons down the back of her blouse, and Mavis suddenly felt wildly desirous to touch each and every one of them.
The train tooted into the next station and the doors slid open with a whoosh. Once the lady stepped out, Mavis and Roger stood frozen, looking at the station with delight. Was it really a station? It looked more like the main lobby of a great hotel, with a sea of marble flooring, islands of plush white couches, and phalaenopsis orchids fluttering like sails. The lady turned her head towards them slightly. “Are you coming?”
Mavis and Roger shut their mouths and stepped off of the train, their rubber boots making thudding sounds on the floor. Mavis suddenly wished that she had stuck with her slippers. She probably looked very silly in her bathrobe and rain boots, especially because the few other people in the lobby were immaculately dressed.
“They look like they are going to the opera with Pops,” whispered Roger.
“They look like they own the opera,” Mavis whispered back.
The lady was walking briskly, and for some reason they were following her, trotting to keep up. She walked right up to the elevator and smiled at the operator. “Home, thank you, Horace.”
He saluted with a smile and pushed a button, and the doors opened with a polite ding. “Mind the step,” said Horace to Roger.
“Where are we going?” Roger asked as soon as the doors were closed.
“Up,” said Horace, which was spectacularly unhelpful.
“Up to where?”
The lady smiled. “We are going to my apartment. I am very glad you decided to come tonight.”
“I’m Roger,” said Roger. “And this is my sister Mavis.”
“I know,” said the lady. “I was hoping I would get to meet you. You are staying with your grandparents for the summer.”
“Not the whole summer,” Roger corrected quickly. “Our parents promised we could go with them on their trip to London next month.”
Mavis and Roger looked at her, not sure how to ask the questions they both wanted answered. “How--how do you know us?” asked Mavis.
“I am friends with the Chronicler,” she said, as if that explained everything. “And Harnswiggle told me that she had given you a ticket to my stop.”
Mavis raised her eyebrows at Roger. Harnswiggle again!
The Lady smiled. “I suppose that you are wondering who I am. I am Agatha, and this--” the door dinged open-- “is my apartment. Make yourselves at home.”
“Mind the step,” said Horace to Roger.
The apartment was almost as big as the lobby, with huge windows and curtains everywhere. Somehow the broad open spaces made Mavis feel very small.
Roger was looking at the objects. The low glass tables, the books, the busts, even the paintings. “Why is everything black and white?” he asked, turning to Agatha. He realized then that she was black and white, just like everything else.
“It’s just the light,” explained Agatha. “How we see things here, reflecting back the light of the sun.”
“Are we on the moon?” asked Roger.
Agatha laughed. “Is there a the moon? Anyway, you are here, and that’s what matters. We don’t want to miss the parade.”
“Parade?” they echoed as they followed her into another room.
“For the festival,” continued Agatha. “I’m going to slip into something more comfortable. Perhaps you would like to borrow some clothes?” She opened a closet full of black and white and grey garments.
“I don’t think…” began Roger.
“Oh, these are not my clothes,” said Agatha. “They are for guests. Something in there should fit. I will be back in a moment.”
“Let’s change,” said Mavis, as soon as the door was shut behind their host. “I feel like we look stupid.”
Roger was looking down at himself, holding one arm out and then the other. “I bet we look garish. Do you think that we are the only colored people here?”
Mavis laughed. “And to think that back on earth we are the white people!”
The clothes in the closet looked all the same at first, but after they had dug through them for a few minutes they began to see the subtleties to them. Different shades of grey, different sheens on the fabric. Some of them had elaborate embroidery on the sleeves and some had beautiful ribbon borders. When they finally picked what they wanted, Roger shut himself up in the closet so they could change. “I like Agatha,” he said through the door. “She seems really nice.”
“This is definitely more fun then talking to the Gullumgall'ad,” agreed Mavis. “Though I suppose that we should thank him for granting your wish.”
Roger opened the door and they laughed at each other. “I don’t think you have that on right,” they said at the same time.
When Agatha came back in they both gasped.