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Softly Stutters the Train in the Evenings MAG
In the country of Argentina lay the Piclomayo River, and beside it was a town named Tontos Zorros Brujas, and in the town there was a boy on the roof of his house, staring at the stars and thinking malicious thoughts. Everyone around him was asleep, but the boy, who hated everything but mostly work and therefore hated the sun, preferred to stare into the dark shroud of night, preferred to count every diamond-colored sewing pin stuck in that cloth, preferred to let his eyelids droop with each number until they covered his chocolate-drop eyes like blankets – but that wasn’t happening today. Instead, hatred and discontent surged through his blood, and the heat of the summer was making the bottoms of his feet itch, and the sky was covered in a mass of unmoving gray clouds; so the boy, Lucas Moreno, did the only thing he could. Sluggishly sitting up, Lucas rolled up the pink blanket underneath him and hopped down from the roof. He ran among the rows of pastel houses, the ones the government built before he was born, until he stopped at one that looked purple in the darkness but was lavender in the light of day.
Lucas slipped to a window and knocked softly. A young boy’s tired face pressed up against the glass. A barely audible sigh was heard as the boy opened the window.
“Basil, we’re running away,” said Lucas, his tired expression never faltering. Basil looked behind him, then outside at the clouds, and blinked slowly.
“Is there any possible way we can run away in the morning?” he inquired.
Lucas frowned. “No, we have to run away now.”
Basil shuffled around in his darkened room, then climbed out the window, his school satchel slung across his back, and landed thumpishly before his friend.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
Lucas laughed, imitating the tinkling of bells on a sparrow’s wing.
“Away,” he said. “But there’s one more coming with us.”
While Basil’s mind went to wonderment and guessing, Lucas Moreno’s mind went to the girl with ashes for eyes, the girl who spent her days at school dreaming she was singing on TV, the girl who did all her homework but not willingly. The girl was Veronica Valera, and she was beautiful, even at 3 o’clock in the morning when she appeared at the door of the yellow house her family had lived in before they were eaten by caimans.
“Veronica, we’re running away,” Lucas said, his eyes focused on hers.
“That’s nice. Please be careful, I think, is that how it goes?” Veronica whispered groggily, wiping her eyes to prevent herself from falling back into a slumber on the spot.
“No, you’re coming with us,” answered Lucas.
“That’s … can’t we do this in the morning? I like the idea of mornings.”
“I also like the idea of mornings,” said Basil, his confidence fading as Lucas turned to stare his friend into sheepishness.
“No, we’re going right now,” Lucas said with an edge in his voice. “Pack your things, if you want to come.”
“Okay,” Veronica said, and went inside, collapsing on her bed and immediately falling into a deep sleep. After waiting for ten minutes, Basil and Lucas went inside with a bucket of water and poured it on her. She woke up steaming.
Twenty minutes later Lucas had beat up Veronica, who had in turn beat up Basil, who had cried so much that both Veronica and Lucas felt sorry enough to stop their squabbling and get back to running away. Lucas drew a map in the earth while explaining that in his nights alone he had sometimes heard a train go by, whistling itself hoarse. He assumed it was past the swamp to the south, away from the fields of sugarcane that grew further than the eye could see. If they could get onto the train, they could make it out of Tontos Zorros Brujas, out of the vicinity of the Piclomayo River, and out of Argentina.
The other children agreed. They began marching toward the edge of town, Lucas first, with a large stick, Veronica next, with an umbrella due to her concerns about the clouds, Basil last, satchel on his back, bucket on his head.
They marched and marched under the light of the moon, through swamps filled with the dreaded caimans, through stretches of land that contained nothing but sand, between bloodstone hills and stretching trees, until it began to rain and thunder violently and all the children huddled under Veronica’s umbrella. They walked like this until the rain ceased and Lucas’s foot hit cold metal, causing him to yell in pain.
Careful inspection found train tracks, and behind the train tracks a building, presumably a station cloaked by the darkness. Lucas stepped up to it and knocked, entering after he heard no response. The flicking of a light switch revealed a dusty lobby. The walls were covered with posters showing train routes, but they were in a language that the children could not read. On the far right there sat a glass coffee table with several empty mugs on it, brown circles of residue remaining inside as a sort of grave. Around the table were several white leather couches, dusty, and a white fur carpet, also dusty.
On the far left there was a mahogany desk covered in papers and a typewriter. Separating these two was a wide flight of stairs leading up to a mysteriously shadowed second floor. Basil dove onto the couch, sending dust into the air. Lucas strutted over to the desk and sat down in the spinning chair, while Veronica began to climb the stairs.
“I’m going to find a bathroom,” she said, and Lucas raised one hand in acknowledgment. At the top she found a long dark hall with a window in the distance. Her feet took her to the window, allowing her to see a bolt of lightning shoot down and pulverize a tree beyond the railroad tracks. Silently she counted the seconds until thunder would boom, quitting at a hundred and deciding silently that thunder doesn’t always work that way.
Veronica opened the closest door and found herself in a luxurious white room containing a bed, a nightstand, and what was probably a lamp. The next five doors she opened all led to identical rooms. The sixth was a gray room with much complicated machinery and more railroad maps posted to the walls. There was a tiny gray bed that heaved, and when she inspected it, she realized it contained an old man who was clutching something red that glowed through his hands. Not once did it occur to her that this could be the stationmaster. She stared at his hands for a while before leaving the room. The seventh door was to the bathroom, which did not contain a mirror. She returned to the lobby to find Basil and Lucas discussing the mystery of why they made children go to school.
“Hullo,” she said. “I’m back.” Veronica sat on the couch close to Lucas and fiddled with the folds of her umbrella.
“Did you find anything interesting?” he inquired. The papers from the desk were now scattered around him.
“Not really. The bathroom didn’t have any mirror in it.”
“Well,” Lucas said, sounding a bit like a caiman. “I think we should go exploring.”
“There’s not much exploring to do, Lucas, there are two floors. And one of them’s just a lobby,” she said. Basil nodded and pulled some apples out of his bag, along with a few sandwiches.
“So, do we just sit here until the train comes?” Lucas asked. Basil held out two sandwiches, and they took them from him forcefully.
“Yes. That’s what we’re going to do,” Veronica said and bit into her sandwich, discovering it to contain nothing but butter and cheese. And so the three children sat in an almost empty phantom station, munching on homemade sandwiches, admiring the chandelier above their heads, unswinging, unmoving.
In the depths of hell the Devil sat on his throne, his head hung forlornly, his golden locks drooping in front of his eyes. Open books with singed edges were thrown across the floor of his throne room, two, maybe three hundred from varying generations. “I’m afraid of life,” the Devil whispered to no one; however, every demon and every human and everything in hell felt the whisper bouncing around in their heads, getting stuck in the murkiest parts, slipping through the wettest parts, ricocheting off the edges of the mind that didn’t contain any feelings at all.
Back at the station, the children had fallen asleep and the stationmaster had woken up. The old man wasn’t that surprised to find three children in his lobby, as he could smell the runaway on them. The stench of uncertainty and regret was even greater, so the man, only eager for the souls of confident men, decided he would skip his meal tonight.
He went behind the stairs and unlocked a cupboard. In it there were buckets upon buckets of various things: enchanted rings, enchanted weapons, enchanted hats. He pulled out a bucket containing a mass of moonstones that glowed pink like sunsets. The stationmaster chose three, blowing off the dust. As he placed the stones on the hearts of the slumbering children, they disappeared, leaving behind only an umbrella, a satchel, a large stick, and three almost-eaten sandwiches. In the distance, the stationmaster could hear the train whistling itself hoarse, like always.
The large, cacophonous charcoal machine came to a halt. Only two people got off – a man who looked like a badger, and a man who looked like a deer. They seemed to be arguing about the number of caimans in a nearby swamp. Entering the station, they met the old man, who talked to them for a while before slitting their throats and eating their souls. The train began to strut forward once more, and behind the wall of the building the stationmaster waved good-bye.
That morning, two children awoke in their beds and one awoke on the roof of his pastel-colored house. All three were clutching moonstones close to their hearts, moonstones that turned black as soon as they were touched by the sun. Lucas, Basil, and Veronica met after school that day, but none of them could come up with any probable ideas how they ended up in their beds without walking home, or what the stones were.
Veronica did not remember most of that night since she was horribly groggy, and suggested that maybe they had simply all had the same dream. Basil, who was distressed that his school satchel was missing, assumed their belongings had been turned into stones because they had tried to run away. Lucas didn’t care about these theories, as he was still quite angry that they had ended up back home after all that journeying.
The sun was setting on a new night, casting the light of flamingo feathers over the three children. They buried their stones at the base of a lemon tree, which would die within a year.