The Train into Summer

By Brenda Anderson

The train lurched and slid through the night. Ben opened his eyes. Long silver tubes fitted with earplugs dropped from the ceiling and dangled, one above each passenger. He straightened up. An old man in the seat beside him shifted position and drifted back to sleep. Others remained slumped in their seats. The carriage door swung open and a long thin proboscis appeared in the doorway. 

Ben sat bolt upright.

A tall, thin Conductor slid into the carriage, all insect head, floor length silver jacket, white gloves and cane. Faceted eyes fixed on Ben. 'Put the earplugs on.' 

Ben gripped his arm rest. 'No, I’m fine.'

The Conductor’s antennae brushed Ben’s face. 

Ben leaned back. 'Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?'

'We did. You.' The Conductor gave a long whistle. 'Watch.' He attached the earplugs to the other passengers, who stirred but didn’t wake. 

'What is this?' Ben’s hands started sweating. 

The Conductor clicked his jaws and twirled the long, thin cane. The train carriage filled with strange shapes, animal bodies, fantastic heads, paws, claws, tentacles, all carrying even more fantastic instruments which they began to tune. Ben drew in his breath. Ethereal music, odd percussive counterpoint, jungle drums, a slow waltz that got stuck on the same three notes and refused to budge. 

'Listen, young human. This summer will curl up in your psyche and lie dormant for a long, long time. Not the beach, the sea, the long lazy afternoons or the blue skies. I’m talking about the silence, the whispers of wind, salt spray, the cries of seagulls. The immensity. You’ll take the world by storm because of this summer, but it starts here.'

Ben blinked.

'Listen.'

A drummer began a quick, nervous crescendo and touched a silvery chime. The Conductor tapped his cane on the nearest seat, once, twice. Slow, sibilant notes wove themselves into a simple tune. The Conductor tapped his cane hard, and the world caught fire. Agony and ecstasy did four rounds, passion ruled it a draw on points. Ben slumped in his seat, exhausted, as the music faded away. 

The Conductor leaned over Ben. “You won’t forget this, young composer. Now, go play in the sand.'

The train shuddered to a halt, with a long-drawn-out screech of brakes. 

'End of the line,' called the Conductor. Ben blinked. The entire orchestra vanished. Slowly the Conductor himself began to fade from sight and, with a wave of his glove, vanished. Ben looked around. His fellow passengers were waking up and reaching for suitcases. He looked up. Nothing hung from the ceiling. 

An official entered the carriage. 'Tickets!' 

Ben reached for his backpack. Above the screech of brakes a silvery chime sounded, insistent, unforgettable. Something fierce and exultant within him cried a response. A tune unwound in his head as he handed over his ticket and stepped off the train. 

©Ling McGregor

©Ling McGregor