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 stayed on the train. But Roger stepped off, just as if he knew exactly what he was doing. “Wait 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?”