Outerworld Train

So I suppose you want to ask me why I left town. I could tell you it was because I caught my girlfriend cheating on me and she used it as a reason to kick me out of our apartment. I could also tell you it was because I had recently been made redundant and had been out of a job for three months with no prospects. But the truth was, it was completely unplanned. One minute I was riding the Brisbane City train, the next minute I wasn’t.

***

There was a tap on the shoulder from a large shadow that pulled me out of my sobbing. Without even looking up, I pulled out my train card and handed it over as I heard a gruff, “Excuse me.”

I looked up to make eye contact, but I yelped instead. Hunched over me stood a giant one-eyed ogre in a blue and white uniform, complete with a little hat. I squealed and tried to escape inside the gap between the seat and the train car. It was as futile an effort as it sounds.

“Miss?” his (her?) eye blinked at me.

I opened my mouth to say something. Where am I? What is this? Am I dead? But nothing came out.

I glanced down the train car. So many eyes were on me. Among them, a few trolls, a trio of chatty minotaurs, a drunken unicorn, a gang of fairies, and two werewolves eating what appeared to be Magnum ice cream minis.

“wha- wha,” my brain might have broke. Maybe I fell asleep?

“You’ve caught the outerworld train. I’m I guess what you call a tour guide,” she said. I decided the ogre was female, not that gender probably mattered to ogres. I blinked at her. 

She took a heavy sigh, like she said this more than she cared to, “This train only allows sponsored mortals that have nothing keeping them in their world. For whatever reason, one of the beings here has funded your travel to the outerworld.”

The ogre sat in front of me and continued. “The basic gist of it is this. Once you leave this train, you will no longer be human. With humanity comes all those nasty emotions and morals and whatnot. A sponsor, well, they can feel when your bond with humanity is drifting and use the opportunity to grow their ranks. Generally.”

I peered out at the nameless faces. Voices rose and fell, enticing me to join them.

The ogre sensed my growing acceptance and continued, “Your sponsor is different. Their kind does not seek to increase their ranks. Only to give a mortal the option to move into the outerworld. So they have decided to remain anonymous.”

My eyes fell on a sad, green dryad at the other end of the cab. She sensed my gaze and met it. 

“As your guide, I can arm you with all the information you need to make an informed decision,” the she-ogre kept talking, but I could no longer hear her words. Instead, a song rose through me, strong and lustful. Its salacious melody pulled me toward the dryad. We stood simultaneously from both ends of the train car and swayed in tandem. Our bond was nothing like I’d ever felt before. Intense but eternal, magical but everyday. 

We ran into each other’s arms, passionately dancing and kissing and causing a scene. Our connection deepened, and our minds melded together. She showed me her past, her loneliness, and how the dryads mated for life. She showed me how she had found me, fell in love, sponsored my travel but didn’t want me to feel obligated to her. She just wanted me to be happy. Our dance quickened with the beat of the music as I whispered, “I love you.”

Our passions consumed us. With every touch – kiss – pirouette, I allowed myself to become more like her. Vines covered my legs and arms, tan skin turned emerald. I tore away my clothes, eager to strip away the remaining vestiges of my humanity, revealing foliage in its place. In mere minutes, the transformation was complete.

The train came to a stop and the she-ogre announced, “Final stop for the dryads.”

Gleefully, I joined my mate, hand-in-hand, into the forests of the outerworld. We danced and sang and made love under the trees forever and always.

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Five years, 7 months

I slid one final spiral notebook into my backpack and stared with a blank expression at the contents within. It was odd that after five years, seven months, six roles, and two IDs, the sum of my time at this company could fit into such a small container.

I threw the strap over my shoulder, made my way to the glass electronic doors and stopped. “One last sweep”, I told myself.

I walked to where my old team used to sit together. A year before, there had been 15 of us in various roles. Then 8, then 4, and now only 3 remained once I crossed the threshold. The empty seats had been an open wound this past year. A stark reminder that redundancy was somewhere around the corner.

I circled the whole floor, looking for anyone to say goodbye to me, to make these last few years mean something to anyone not me. But the faces were unfamiliar. When a hundred people or more work on the same floor together, they don’t tend to learn each other’s names unless they must.

Finally, I caught the eye of a familiar face and smiled. We hugged, though neither of us were the hugging type. And as I talked about the interviews I had lined up and how much I’d miss seeing them, another joined us. Soon there was a tiny group of people giving me goodbye hugs and a version of the same three words, “We’ll miss you,” and for a moment, I believed every single one of them. Truth was, the constant flow of redundancies had left everyone desensitized to this goodbye routine. It was simply another day at the office.

When the group had dispersed, I wiped the non-existent tears from my eyes and walked through the double elevator doors. The weight in my backpack lightened as I realized I was free from a life of constant uncertainty.

I stepped out into the city and let myself hope again.

Birthday Lessons

You see Christy from across the movie theatre lounge as you enter the girls’ toilets; your family is waiting for you single file at the exit. She’s with another girl from your school. They’re laughing and carrying on, oblivious to your presence.

Christy’s the girl you wish you were. She’s not popular but not at the bottom end of the popularity scale either, somewhere in the middle of the junior high classism. She’s smart, but not too smart. And her parents have money. (You don’t want to believe you’re poor, but the frayed edges of your oversized jeans says otherwise.) Their house is in the neighborhood where you always go during Christmas light season. The rich people areas. You know this, because you went to her birthday party two weeks ago.

***

You remember the surprise you felt getting your first birthday party invitation. The cream envelope had the correct spelling of your name, written in adult hands. You think back to all the days in band hall that Christy and you sat next to each other. Maybe there was a bond you didn’t realize was there.

Birthday parties are only for friends, right?

But then, you remember what a fool you made of yourself at the party. You might have told everyone you weren’t “allowed” to play Truth or Dare, even though your parents weren’t there to see you playing. You sat by yourself watching the others have fun and even laughed a few times. Then you thought of the most epic dare. You joined them. You dared a boy you didn’t like to pull a booger out of his nose and eat it. Only thing was you forgot to ask “Truth or dare?” first. You definitely didn’t blush when you realized your mistake.

***

So you are in the bathroom now. The corner stall. You hear giggles and Christy entering the bathroom. For a second, you wonder if she might be talking about your family. Something about them being freaks, but it’s probably just your imagination.

“Did I tell you? She was at my birthday party. Wouldn’t even play Truth or Dare,” Christy says.

“Why do that to yourself?” the other girl asks.

“Mom made me. As punishment for driving my brother’s car. She sent invitations out to all the kids I complained about during the last semester of school.”

“No way! Talk about worst party ever.”

“No kidding. What’s worse is for two weeks, she assumed I was her friend.”

“Gross.”

“You’re telling me.”

You stifle back a cry and push your feet towards the porcelain bowl so they don’t realize you’re there.

You wait until they both entered their stalls before tiptoeing out of the bathroom, leaving a piece of your 13-year-old heart in the toilet. “Friends are overrated,” you try to convince yourself as you and your family climb into the car. “Who needs them anyway?”