Chapter One: the Train

The train comes out of the long tunnel into the snow country.

As the train shushes across the tracks, Phil walks back through the softly swaying cars. The pace of the train is slow, and matched with Phil's own, causing the horizon to freeze in place. An ice-laden tree flickers outside across from him, hidden for sparse moments by the passing window frames. It creates a paradox of movement: Phil walks, but does not move.

Instead, the train moves past his arguably stationary self, empty seats cascading past him in a river of stiff upholstery. Dusty tables break the current now and again, but they, too, travel past in metronomic monotony. The sun, only just beginning to crest the snow and cloud-capped mountains, sends rays of warm light into the train cars.

Eventually he comes to the end of the train, a plain door marked with a sign declaring the car behind it off limits to mere passengers.

But Phil, as the sole inhabitant of the train, challenges the authority of the simple sign and pulls the door open. As expected, it opens into the final car of the train, dark as pitch and stacked with unmarked boxes. The sole light comes through a squat window at the opposite end, set into a door similar to the one Phil had entered through.

Phil takes the handle in hand but, finding the metal cold to the touch, hesitates turning it. He looks down at his striped sweater, wondering if the cold outside will be too much to take.

But it'll only be a few moments, he reasons. Just a peek at the world outside, just a single lung-full of crisp mountain air.

He turns the handle with gusto and opens the door. A cold gust of air greets him, flushing his cheeks rose and drawing a swift shiver. He continues, though, making his way to the railing at the back of the caboose. Rust traces a delicate pattern across the wrought iron railing, and frozen spider webs glisten in the spaces between the posts. Leaning on it, feeling the gentle sway of the train, Phil heaves a sigh.

"That's no way to introduce yourself," a female voice chimes from behind and above.

Phil turns, startled, to see a young woman, surely no more than fresh from her teens (just as he was), sitting atop the roof of the caboose, fur-booted feet dangling. She swings them slowly, one and then the other, rhythmically. He dark hair falls in wispy curls across her shoulders, flung by the slight wind and the train’s movement.

"And before you ask," she continues, unfazed by his surprise, "My name is Clarity."

Phil's jaw moves to make words, but none come out. He had been alone for days, until now. Had he simply missed her presence in his linear wanderings?

"And," she adds, "might I be the first to welcome you to this place."

A few words finally spill from Phil's gaping maw. "And this place is...?"

"Why," the girl named Clarity says, smiling, "it's the place where things happen."

The End

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