Our prompt for April 2019 has been:
Taking a night train, he accidentally got off at the wrong stop in the dark. The town surrounding the station turned out to be the strangest place he’d ever been.
Write the story of how it happened, featuring four (or more) of the following elements:
– A parrot
– A clothes-hanger
– A pie
– A storm
– A crossword puzzle
– A souvenir from an exotic country
The most interesting story will win.
And the winning entry is… the only story without a parrot: “Marble Quest” by Jana Gypsy Jo!
Jana’s imaginative story is full of palpable tension and gradual reveals that kept me on the edge of my seat all the way to the end.
Amazing work, Jana!
By Jana Gypsy Jo
Eli stumbled onto the train, dragging his duffle bag behind him while keeping his other arm protectively curled around the backpack that he was wearing backwards. When he found an empty seat, he quickly claimed the window and pulled his duffle on the seat beside him, hoping that would be enough to dissuade other passengers from trying to sit beside him. Luck was on his side, as the train wasn’t crowded, and as it began moving, he sat up and looked at the empty seats around him.
Feeling sufficiently unobserved, he untangled himself from his backpack and laid it flat on his lap. With one more quick look around- only a few passengers in seats at the front of this car- he unzipped the top pocket and looked inside. The glow from the walnut-sized marble seemed to light up inside of his pack, but Eli felt that was surely some trick of the moonlight coming in the window.
“When the conductor comes through for your ticket, show him the marble.”
The old man’s words came to Eli again, and he reached into his backpack and curled his fingers around the glass. It was cool to the touch, and he could almost imagine it was ice. Just holding it seemed to fill him with an unbearable eagerness.
Eli looked up to see a bored conductor with a clipboard. He drew his hand out of the backpack and held it up, uncurling his fingers so that the marble rested in the palm of his hand. The conductor absently reached out, but the jagged blue swirl within the marble seemed to move like a lightning bolt in the empty space, and the conductor jerked his hand back. He looked at Eli directly, and his eyes narrowed a bit. He mumbled “thank you” and continued to the front of the car.
Eli pulled his hand back and looked at the marble. It was an odd little souvenir from his visit to the Apache Nation. It hadn’t seemed very… Apache… to him, nor had the little man who had sold it to him, but the man had seemed so insistent that he take the marble that Eli had simply handed over a five dollar bill. He turned to leave and the old man reached out and grabbed his shirt sleeve.
“You’re going to Gallup? Taking the train, yes?”
Eli’s brow wrinkled over his eyes. “Yes, I am.”
The old man nodded. “When the conductor comes through for your ticket, show him the marble.”
“Just do it,” said the old man. “And take this. Your luck is about to change.” The man handed Eli a paper, folded open to a crossword puzzle. It was already partially filled out.
Eli took the paper. “I guess I’d better go; I just needed something to take home to my girlfriend.”
The man nodded sagely. “She’ll get over it. Better hurry.”
Eli raised an eyebrow. What a strange old man. He glanced at his watch, though, and sure enough, he needed to get going. Without another word, Eli had headed for the station and boarded the train.
Eli’s reverie was broken by an electric tingle in his hand. He shook his head, then placed the marble back in his backpack. With some time to kill, he took out the paper that had gotten stuffed into his pack and decided to finish the crossword. His red ink stood out from the pencil that had been used previously, and as he looked at the finished puzzle, he noticed that the words he’d written formed a message.
“Excuse me. Sir?”
Eli looked up. “Yes?”
“You need to get off now.”
“We’re in Gallup?” Eli didn’t see anyone else moving, and the train, though it had slowed, had not come to a stop.
“You need to get off the train now.” The conductor looked at Eli’s backpack, then back to Eli. When he made a move to grab Eli’s arm, Eli stood up.
“Ok, ok. I’m going.” Eli clutched his backpack to his chest and grabbed his duffle bag.
The conductor blocked the aisle to the front of the car, and Eli was forced to walk toward the back. When he stepped out the door, he was surprised to find himself on a platform. He looked back, and before the conductor closed the door, he was sure that he could see the landscape moving by in the windows. He turned around, and the platform was now a street. A weird feeling came over Eli, and he stumbled as he took a step but he caught himself before he fell. As he turned to look back at the train he was struck dumb. There was no train. For as far as he could see, there were bare tracks.
Eli would probably have stayed there, staring incredulously into the distance, had a few large raindrops fallen onto his head. Out of nowhere, a storm had rolled in, and the intensity and frequency of the raindrops were enough to drive Eli into a nearby diner.
Bells rang as he entered, and a waitress looked out from the back. “Be right witch’cha,” she sang out as Eli found a table. Within moments, the waitress, “Rita,” according to her nametag, was bringing out a piece of pie. She sat it down in front of him, along with a green marble that was similar to the one in his pack.
“I don’t need any pie. I just got off the train and wanted to come in from the storm.”
The waitress looked at the bustling, sunny street, then back to Eli. “Honey, I think you do.” Eli looked out the window, seeing the same sunny scene as the waitress. No storm, no train station. What was going on? He pulled the paper from his backpack and looked at the crossword again. The letters in red now seemed to make more sense.
“NEW QUEST BIG ADVENTURE COLLECT GLOBES”
Eli ate his pie, and forgot all about his girlfriend.