They say time doesn’t pass quite the same in this place.
You’ll walk for a minute or two, and return to your anxious family who haven’t seen you in days.
You’ll lose yourself between the trees for hours, then stumble out beside the water, but the hands of the clock will show the minutes haven’t changed.
Don’t trust anything you see or hear.
Nothing is truly real, but it’s more honest than anything you’ll ever encounter.
Her first thought was this:
The train conductor has a kind smile.
“Your ticket, miss,” he reminded her politely. She patted her pockets for a moment, finally pulling out a crumpled ticket stub.
“Everything seems to be in order,” he glanced at the stub, before ruffling her hair. His eyes crinkled up with fond affection, as if they had been friends for a very long time. “Take care.”
The girl looked up, suddenly anxious. “But where am I?”
The train conductor paused for a moment, as if recalling one of the dozens of names this place was called. “I believe we are at Mortier Station, miss.”
“Thank you,” she chewed her lip. The train rumbled, impatient. But her feet stayed rooted. Sensing her restlessness, the train conductor stepped off the train, gesturing her to follow. The train hissed, steam billowing. She jumped, edging away from the great machine. The train conductor chuckled.
“Don’t be alarmed, miss,” he patted the train soothingly. “Trains like to stick to schedules, you see.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she wrung her hands. “I don’t mean to make you late. You’ll get into trouble.”
“Not at all, young miss,” the train conductor smiled, quite unhurried. “The schedule is going exactly as planned.”
She didn’t quite know what he meant by that. Instead, the girl followed him to the side of the station. Grey stone echoed under her soft, tapping footsteps, and the wind danced between the tree leaves and fluttered through her hair.
The station was quiet, save for the sound of their movement. She couldn’t seem to make out anything beyond the thicket of trees that enveloped them like a hushed secret. The trees curved around them in a long tunnel shape, from which the train would run from one end to the other. On one side, there was the train: a heavy-set vehicle with an engine as steady as a heartbeat. On the other, was a simple black railing running along the side of the platform. Everything was half covered in bracken, from which a flurry of silver-brown moths fluttered into the air as they walked by. Flowers, too, wild ones that grew crooked and leaning against one another, straining towards the sunlight. The train conductor paused, gaze intent. The girl wanted to ask what he was doing, but it seemed clear that he seemed to be making a serious decision that she cold not interrupt. Finally, he bent, plucking a flower between his thumb and forefinger and holding it out.
“A wild daisy,” he explained. The bright yellow centre was framed by a halo of white petals, and the stem curved up and over towards her; a graceful bow. “Please accept it.”
The girl trembled a little as her fingers brushed his, but if the train conductor noticed, he graciously showed no sign of it.
“Thank you,” she said. The daisy fluttered in the breeze, a clean white against the palette of green that surrounded them.
The train conductor gently placed the tips of his fingers against her elbow, leading her back to the station platform. “You are ready to leave now, aren’t you?”
She could not deny it.
“Please remember to look after your daisy,” he stepped onto the train with the graceful hop. “It’s more fragile than it looks.”
She clutched the bloom to her chest, earnest. The train quivered, engines rumbling in agitation.
“Of course! I won’t forget!”
The train conductor smiled once more. There was no anticipation nor hopefulness in his expression, only kindness.
“Yes you will,” he told her briskly. “They always do.”
The daisy was wilted.
The train heaved, a spurt of steam billowing up, and it quivered, as if trying very hard not to shake. The train conductor frowned.
“Don’t be so rude,” he scolded, and the train settled once more, although a few windows opened and shut in retaliation.
“I’m sorry,” the girl whispered, disheartened at the flower in her hand. “I really thought I would look after it.”
“Not to worry, miss,” the train conductor placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “These things happen.”
“I don’t understand how!” She cried, despairing at the drooping petals. “How could I have forgotten!”
The train conductor took the daisy from her with gentle hands, inspecting it this way and that. “It’s still living. It isn’t too late.”
Oh, her poor daisy!
“Perhaps if you give me another one, I’ll do better this time!”
The train conductor snapped his gaze towards her, lips pressed into a moue. “You are only given one, miss,” he continued, quite politely. For the first time, the girl felt he was rather angry with her. “One is enough. As I mentioned, your daisy is still alive, but you would throw it away?”
He handed the flower back to her.
“I only meant a fresh start,” the girl tried to explain, but the words left her shamefully.
The train conductor did not smile.
The flower seemed to droop even more.
“You should understand,” he said softly. “It is your responsibility to care for this bloom. It would be a great shame to simply give up on the flower due to your own neglect.”
The girl nodded, eyes wet. The train conductor seemed somewhat alarmed, and bent to take her chin in his hand. “My sincerest apologies, miss. It was not my intention to upset you.”
The train, as if it could endure no more, gave a great tremor. The steam billowed and gathered around them in a dreamy haze.
“My extended apologies,” the train conductor frowned at the train with a stern look. The vehicle heaved once more, then quietened down.
“It’s alright, I’m not upset,” she replied. “I’ll do my best.”
The train conductor beamed. “That’s wonderful news to hear.” He glanced around Mortier Station again. “Until we meet again.”
She could not remember if she bid him farewell.
The train conductor stepped off the train, eyebrows raised in amusement. “By your schedule perhaps,” he acknowledged graciously. “But I’m quite punctual by my own appointments.”
She looked at him. “So these are appointments now?”
He did not speak for a moment. She held the daisy in her hand, wilted and greying. The green seemed to have discoloured too, fading into a patchy yellow-brown in some spots. She made no effort to hide it.
“Begging your pardon miss, but you seem somewhat sullen,” he said.
“I cannot refute your observation,” she replied coolly. The seconds stretched between them, longer and longer like a piece of elastic pulling taunt until-
“Tell me,” the train conductor gestured towards the flower. He did not continue, but stood before her patiently.
She- no longer a girl- held up the flower, inspecting it.
“Turns out caring for this thing is much harder than it seems,” she said finally. “But on the other hand, it doesn’t seem easy to kill either.”
The train conductor gave her a long look. “Is that what you were trying to do?”
She met his gaze. “You didn’t expect me back so quickly, did you?”
He stepped towards her slowly, enquiringly. She did not dissuade him, so he sat down next to her.
“One of the things about me,” he explained to her sadly. “Is that I am always precisely on time.”
She dropped the daisy, letting it fall to the ground. For a moment, the train conductor wondered if she would crush it beneath her feet, but then he remembered that this was not why he was here. He glanced up; the train puffed out steam and kept the thrum of the engine steady and quiet. He was glad.
“I don’t want another flower, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
It was not, but he did not say this aloud.
“But I don’t want this one anymore, either.”
The train conductor did not let his sadness show. “Tell me what you want.”
Her gaze were fixed on the train. “I’d like to go with you. I want to leave this place. Mortier Station. I hate it.”
He wanted her to pick up the daisy, but that was not a decision for him to make. “You can do that, if you wish. I will not hinder you.”
“What’s the next stop? What’s after this?” she asked. He smiled sadly.
“I cannot tell you. But once we pass Mortier Station, you can never turn back.”
She turned, finally, to look at him. “But you can.”
He nodded. “Yes.”
Her gaze into his eyes was intensely focused. He did not break it.
“Perhaps I shall stay here for a moment longer,” she said quietly. “After that, we shall see if I follow you on not.”
“An excellent idea, miss,” he said.
“Will you stay with me?”
She was somewhat hesitant, but eventually, their fingers intertwined and she lay her head on his shoulder. He pressed his nose into the top of her head and breathed in the warm scent of her. The trees danced in the gentle breeze, and the moths settled back into their homes in the bracken.
They sat for a long time, and all the while, the train was still, and the clouds of steam that enveloped them was the only thing that moved.
It was a long time before they met again.
She smiled this time, and he smiled back.
The daisy was nothing more than a dried and wilted stem, but she handed it back to him with pride.
“I did my best,” she said. “As I said I would.”
“I know,” he told her. Her movements were slow, and she was utterly beautiful. The train shook, impatient once more. “Would you like to come with me?”
“You know, I think now would be a rather good time to travel beyond this stop, don’t you think?”
He bent down and kissed her; a tender promise that he had held onto for many years. “I think that would be a wonderful idea, miss.” He held out his hand. “Whenever you’re ready.”
She gazed around the station; listened to the hushed breeze exhaling through the leaves; watched as the silver-brown moths darted amongst the soft moss dappled with fading sunlight; the wildflowers tall in glorious dignity; and she took his hand and stepped away from it all.
If you have any questions about any part of this story or creation behind it, please leave me a comment and I will answer them in next week’s post.