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Reflections

It's different when you're always on the train. You learn the sounds of every station. The rattling at the optional country stop, where the train runs over cracked rails. The rhythmic clunks as the train crosses the points at the junction station.

You wake up at every stop. None of them are yours.



* * *

A young man leaves at a busy town station. He started this route when the train had slam doors. Newcomers didn't know how to open them. They'd hit the shiny surface on the inside, expecting a miracle. These were trains who'd skipped their tracks and shouldered out the upstarts with button-operated doors.

He'd reach out of the window and turn the handle. The practised ease of someone commuting every day from the council estate to university. Each journey took him a little closer to escaping.

The trains have buttons now and he wears a supermarket uniform.



* * *

You wake up at the junction station. Every train comes here someday, to stare down the tracks with flickering headlights. Their past and future spread out before them.

An announcement tells you of an electric train who skips its track to see Victorian England. It broke some years ago, but even at its slowest, it zooms past the steam trains. It wins the race one last time. The rails creak in protest, because such a train doesn't exist yet. They hold, because such a train has always existed.

You crane your neck to see what your train is seeing. You've sat in your seat for so long, you may as well be part of the train. Sometimes other passengers place their luggage on you, unaware that the blue fur and branded logo weren't part of your original skin. But all you can see are tracks, leading to nowhere in particular.



* * *

A seed floats in at the end of the line. Its cousins wave yellow blossoms from their bed of grease and rubble between the tracks. Some think the flowers are stubborn, but this is paradise compared to volcanic ash. The fires run to a timetable.

It settles on top of a seat. The ticket inspector ignores it. The price of a ticket for one seed has yet to be determined.

Four stations later, it spreads its feathery wings and departs for a new paradise.



* * *

You sleep awhile.



* * *

A blue moon hovers by the optional country stop. Someone waits. She's old now, with her jeans in tatters and her coat worn to holes at the elbows. This wasn't her stop, but she left anyway, wanting to know what was here other than sheep and sea and more sheep. The meadows swallowed her up. Years became decades as she learnt sheep stories and sea songs.

The trains are nothing more than the sound of the waves. The sheep go on grazing, because they've heard this since their ears formed. She learns this from the sheep, but one day she looks up and sees the faces. She waves to them. A child in first class waves back.

She had a life before the optional country stop. She remembers and waits for the train. The mersheep watch her go. Their songs fall on an empty platform. The land sheep keep grazing.



* * *

You've never been to first class, but it visits you sometimes. It's a separate cabin, with sliding doors, and residents in top hats. It's an area of seating much like yours, where the only difference is 'first class' printed on the head cushion. But all its designs stalk you. It waits until you look at the sea to sneak closer. It feigns indifference when you glare.

Sometimes the first class passengers wave. Eyes wide, mouths drawn into screams.



* * *

She stowed away in a sheep carriage. It's easy to do when you're small for your age and the sheep are fussing. They don't like being herded into the station and down the ramp. They're frightened of the smelly box and the fire-breathing monsters.

They should be more frightened of the auction at the other end, where some go for meat, and some for wool. The same might happen to the child. Neither child nor sheep think that far ahead.

But sheep carriages are from the past and the train leaves them at the optional country stop. The sheep join the flock and the girl walks into the ocean. The moon luring her isn't blue.



* * *

You're awake when the ghost train passes. Its engine is a sound that hasn't been invented yet. Its coat a record of trees and flowers, painted by someone who has never seen them.

The passengers see sheep for the first time. Their train wants to show them everything. The world as it was. The world as it will be. A train is nothing without its passengers and it cares for them in life and death.

A dog sits on your lap and you like to imagine you have passengers too. One day, you'll take them to see the world.



* * *

A mirror person stands on the platform, checking the timetable for the last time. Each of their facets reflects a series of times the trains can never keep.

Their train pulls in. Headlights collide with their mirrors, cascading over the platform in a dazzling swarm. They're too nervous to notice. They look above the headlights, reading the route number or the destination, but neither means anything to them. This is their first time on the train. This is their last.



* * *

You leave at the junction and whistle farewell to your train. Once it goes, you jump down on the track, taking its place. All you can see are yellow flowers, shaking their heads at the spectacle.

Your tears fall to the stones, coating them in more layers of grease. Maybe all trains see an endless track. Maybe you're not a train. You run anyway. Three clunks as you cross over the points. Two whistles as a tunnel looms.

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