HORACE, an older gentleman, is sitting on a train. He pulls out a pocket watch, puts it away upon seeing PETULA, a young, childlike woman. She gets on, takes a seat immediately next to him, though there are others available.
HORACE: Welcome aboard.
P: Thank you.
H: First time on the train?
H: Of course not.
P: The train isn’t even going anywhere.
H: Yes it is. We’re going to the Hoover Dam.
P: I mean it isn’t moving yet.
H: Really? It’s hard for me to tell these days.
P: My name is Petula.
H: My name is Horace.
P: Your name is funny.
H: So is yours. Are you alone, Petula?
H: You’re not afraid to travel without your mother?
P: No, I’m with you!
H: You trust me?
H: That’s a dangerous mistake.
(They lurch forward)
P: Oh! We’re moving now!
P: Still very slow though.
H: That’s how it goes.
(Enter NEWSBOY into their compartment.)
NEWSBOY: Breaking news! Andrew is having a birthday party and Mary lost a tooth!
(PETULA is deeply interested, HORACE unaffected. NEWSBOY exits.)
P: Isn’t it incredible that humans lose their teeth?
P: We’re picking up speed.
P: How long will it take us to get there?
H: That depends.
P: On what?
H: On how often you look out the window.
P: What do you mean?
H: The more you look out the window, the longer the ride will seem.
P: Mother says we’ll pass Las Vegas on the way.
H: Your mother is right.
P: When will we see it?
H: In time.
P: I can’t wait. I’m not going to take my eyes off the window for a second.
NEWSBOY: Breaking news! Ally’s too sick to go to Matt’s Halloween party!
(Same reactions and quick exit as before.)
P: How sad!
P: What do you think of the newsboy?
H: I think his headlines are boring.
P: But what do you think of him?
H: He’s punctual, I guess.
P: I think he’s wonderful. (Suddenly turning to face HORACE) I think he’s very cute, and I’m going to tell him.
H: No, you won’t.
P: I will! I like him!
H: You like him now.
P: I always will.
H: All right.
P: When will I see Las Vegas?
H: You missed it.
H: It already went by the window while you were blabbering about the stupid newsboy.
P: Well how could I not have missed it? We’re going so fast.
H: Already? That’s strange.
(HORACE takes out his watch and puts it back. PETULA stands up to stretch.)
P: There’s not much to look at. When we first started there were so many interesting things to see out the window, and now there’s nothing.
H: I don’t remember you thinking it interesting.
P: It was. I’m sure of it.
H: Are you though?
P: It was so colorful.
H: What is it like now?
P: Drab. Blank. The interesting shops and towns are gone. Now it’s just trees, whizzing by.
H: I don’t think it was ever that interesting to begin with. I think you’re wrong.
(They lurch forward again, gaining speed. PETULA tries to regain her balance, then sits again but leaves one seat between them.)
P: Does this train make any other stops?
P: The conductor must get very tired.
H: You believe in a conductor?
P: Yes, I think so. You don’t?
H: Trains are all run by electricity these days.
P: But someone’s in charge of making sure they all operate, right?
H: Maybe there used to be someone to do that. But now the trains run fine on their own.
P: Well, I still think there’s somebody making sure we’ll get to the dam.
H: Oh we’ll get there all right. Everybody does.
P: What do you mean?
H: Not single person I’ve ridden with hasn’t eventually gotten where they’re going.
P: Well, that’s a relief.
NEWSBOY: Breaking news!
H: Oh, for Pete’s sake.
NEWSBOY: Argentina has declared war on Mexico!
P: How can you not be interested in his headlines? They’ve all been so intriguing.
H: Perhaps to you.
P: I think they’re important.
H: I think they’re silly.
P: I think you’re wrong. You’re really starting to get on my nerves, you know.
H: I’m sorry to hear it.
P: Why do we keep going faster and faster?
H: Don’t you want to get to the dam on time?
P: Of course.
H: Then embrace it.
P: Something’s not right.
H: What’s wrong?
P: The train. It’s shaking.
P: We’re going too fast.
H: You’ve been saying that the whole time.
P: No, it’s serious. I think something is wrong.
H: Look out the window.
P: I can’t, it’s black. I think we entered a tunnel.
H: When did that happen?
P: I have no idea.
H: What do you hear?
P: The screeching of the wheels – you can’t hear it? I think the conductor’s trying to stop the train.
H: Why would he do that?
P: I don’t know! I’m not ready for the train to stop! We haven’t gotten to the Hoover Dam yet!
H: That is odd.
P: Wait, it’s getting brighter now.
H: Is it?
P: Yes. Oh, good. We must be leaving the tunnel. I really hate being in tunnels. I wonder when we’ll go by –
(An awful sound. The train comes to a violent, crashing halt. PETULA is thrown from her seat. Blackout. After a long pause, the lights come back up. PETULA is face-down on the floor, unmoving. HORACE is unaffected. Looking at her, he once again pulls out his stopwatch and clicks it audibly.)
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the January 2016 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.