The next morning I got up with the sun, and instead of fixing myself breakfast and heading to work like I usually do, I stuffed a spare skirt and blouse in my purse, along with my nightgown, comb, and the package of food Mother prepared for me. And, of course, as much money as we could spare. At around nine o’clock I kissed Mother and Marca goodbye and walked over to the train station.
The sky was light blue, with not a cloud in sight, and the city was already busy. A woman walked down the street towards the market, a basket in hand. A cart rattled by with the driver yelling out, “Fresh grapes! Fresh grapes here!”
Though at first glance nothing seemed wrong, there were very few pedestrians walking the street due to the plague. The thought brought a sickening rush of sadness, and I buried my face in my hands as the tears and racking sobs arrived. After about a minute I forced myself to stifle my tears. Darren would prefer for me work on helping him than to grieve. He never liked it when I cried.
I almost laughed thinking of one time when we had been walking home from the river and I tripped, flinging the meager coins we’d earned all over the street, and started crying. He ran around gathering all the coins he could find, and even taking them back from the lucky people around us, until he recovered them all. We never told Mother, but I was surprised that Darren understood how important those coins were when he was so young. Later he told me that he didn’t know why I was so upset, but that he didn’t like it when I cried, so he tried to get me to stop. Either way, he did Mother and me a great service.
I awoke from the memory by the blow of a train’s horn. Hurrying along I weaved through crowds of people until I reached Platform 4. Train 92 was already speeding down the tracks towards us, and I pushed my way to the front of the crowd, moving with the crowd to the nearest door as it slowed to a stop. I ducked under the arm of a tall gentleman holding up his bag, and nearly got wacked in the face by a young woman, waving goodbye to someone else in the crowd.
When I finally got inside the train, I took the first seat I could find and pressed myself against the window. The soft velvet seats reminded me of when I came to the city the first time. Then, I was also alone, with my small package of my belongings, frightened and hopeful.
That trip turned out well. I thought. With any luck this one would too.
“May I sit here?” The young woman I saw before was standing in front of the seat beside me. I nodded and she smiled gratefully and sat down. I noticed she was wearing skirts, like me, which meant that she wasn’t very rich. I was surprised; she acted very posh and sophisticated. I suppose, I thought wryly. If I’d lived in the city my whole life trying to become more I might be that way as well.
“My name’s Emily!” The woman said, placing her purse on the table and reaching out her hand. I introduced myself and responded in kind. “Where are you going?” She asked, still smiling.
“Brutehaven,” I replied. “And you?”
“Artona,” to her credit she didn’t seem aghast when I told her of my destination. “If you don’t mind my asking, how are you getting to Brutehaven?” She asked, seeming genuinely curious. “I didn’t think the train went that far.”
“Oh it doesn’t!” I said quickly. “I’m taking the Cartrain the rest of the way.”
“Oh!” She looked a little flustered. “I didn’t realize they still- I mean, I didn’t think that they moved people.”
She had started to say something else, and my curious nature overtook my manners. “You began to say ‘I didn’t realize they still-‘.” I informed her. “Did something happen that would make them stop moving people?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t mean anything by it.” She smiled at me but it seemed strained. “The Cartrain’s an excellent choice!”
I smiled back. “All right.” It didn’t seem like she didn’t mean anything by it, but I knew better than to press again.
“Excuse me.” Emily said as she stood up, clutching her purse tightly in her hand. I sighed. I hadn’t meant to offend her, but there was obviously something strange about her. Or rather, not her, but what she had said. They woman herself seemed lovely and polite, even when she was distressed.
I dozed off for a while, and when I awoke Emily was still gone. I wondered for a second whether she had switched seats, but her jacket was still on the seat next to me. I yawned and stood, stretching out my arms and legs as I did so. Feeling a tad peckish, I walked down the hall towards the dining car, carrying my bag on my shoulder and leaving my hat to keep my seat.
The dining car was empty aside from myself, an old man sipping coffee and reading the newspaper at a corner table, and Emily, sitting at the counter engaged in debate with another man. I didn’t recognize him, and because she arrived alone I deduced that Emily must have met this man, Saying as I didn’t know either well, I decided not to interrupt their conversation, and moved farther down the counter before alerting the bartender.
Despite my best attempts to ignore them, I caught a bit of what they where saying as I waited to order.
“She’s taking the Cartrain!” Emily hissed. “Why is it still functioning? Have you spoken to Bert?”
“Not since… since it happened.” Her companion replied.
Are they talking about me? I wondered, feeling somewhat suspicious. I didn’t like eavesdropping, especially on such a well-mannered woman, but again my curiosity overtook me, and I was soon leaning down the counter.
“Do you have any way to get in contact with him?” Emily asked, fidgeting nervously.
“I told you. I didn’t know of any of this, and I don’t want to get back in the thick of things.” He whispered back. “Smuggling is dangerous business, and knowledge is the worst of all.”
“We both knew that from the beginning.”
“We knew nothing at the beginning.” His voice had risen. “Emily, I had no idea of what would happen, and I pray to the council you didn’t either.”
Emily flinched. “Of course I didn’t! I-“
“Would you like something?” I looked away guiltily at the sound of the waiter, who had caught me entirely by surprise.
“Umm, yes!” I stammered, trying to remember what I wanted. “A bowl of the soup of the day, please!”
“One minute. Feel free to seat yourself at any table.”
I thanked him, and sat down at the nearest table, hoping to hear some of Emily’s conversation. I wished desperately that I could have stayed where I was, but the last thing I wanted was for others, especially Emily and her companion, to notice me. Something that I was sure would happen if I purposely ignored the waiter’s request. After resigning myself to not knowing what Emily was talking about, the train ride went by fast. Emily returned to her seat next to me about an hour later, but we didn’t speak. She had her nose buried in her book, and I simply gazed out the window or struggled through the book she lent me.
Upon arriving in Artona, I didn’t waste any time before looking for the Cartrain. I inquired at the train station, and, thankfully, the man at the information desk directed me to a small downtown building. It took me a while to navigate the unfamiliar city, and I had to stop and ask for questions multiple times, but eventually I made it.
To say the building was small was an understatement; it was about the size of my house. A small sign was the only indication that it was a business. I knocked on the door sharply at the door, and was quickly ushered in by a middle-aged man. The inside of the office was drafty, but in the summer heat it felt quite cozy. A desk adorned the wall opposite the door, and a few doors leading off where cracked ajar, revealing many other workers inside.
After quickly explaining that I wished to get to Brutehaven by Cartrain, I was ushered into a small room on the right. A woman with bleach blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun was sitting at a counter. I described my scenario again, and after pulling out a folder and flipping through, she named a price of 87 clinks. I shifted my foot and heard the coins clink together in my shoe. I had brought over 100 clinks at the advice of the customer information person back in the city, and was relieved that I would have quite a few to spare.
“You’re in luck!” The woman told me after consulting with the man at the door. “The next Cartrain heading to Brutehaven will be this evening. It takes off from this address. Be there with your payment at 7:30 sharp, it won’t wait for you.” She handed me a small piece of paper that I tucked into my pocket after a quick glance.
Thanking the woman for the information, I left the office and headed back to the train station, taking my time on the way back. Artona was a beautiful city, with trees between all the roads, and gardens surrounding most buildings. The sky was overcast, but the sun still shone through, sparkling on the pools of water that collected in the potholes. It smelt like it had rained recently, and raindrops occasionally dripped off the leaves of trees and plants and landed on my head.
By the time I made it back to the train station (I took the scenic route) the sky was beginning to darken, and my stomach complained of hunger. I bought a fresh roll at a bakery stall, and sat on the bench below the big clock, waiting for the clock to strike 7:00. I had earlier found out where the Cartrain address was, and went over the route in my head multiple times. By the time 7:25 came around, I was at the little shelter next to the road, waiting for the Cartrain. It arrived exactly on time, and after paying what he asked, a man named Edward Tinn ushered me into an almost empty cart. All the carts were covered in tarps, and each had a small doorway cut into the wood so that you could pass through them.
I immediately realized why it was called a Cart-train. The string of carts stretched out as far as I could see, and I had no hope of trying to reach the front, near did I want to. The cart I was in was practically bare, with only a few crates and boxes. There was a bottle of water in one corner, but no food. I didn’t expect it to; I had been told that we would stop in the morning and evening for one hour each.
I started to lie down, before hearing a bang, and someone muttering a curse. Looking around for a weapon, I grabbed my letter opener and advanced slowly and cautiously.
“Hello?” I called, moving step by step towards the sound. “Who’s there?”
Much to my surprise, a young girls about my age popped out from behind a large box, hands raised. I lowered my letter opener and stopped walking, regarding the dirty girl curiously.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Mel,” The girl replied. “And you?”
I introduced myself, and she stepped forward. I quickly took a step back, and raised my “weapon” in defense.
“Whoa! It’s okay!” Mel said, smiling gently. She closed the gap between us and grasped my hand, shaking it firmly. “Where are you headed?” She asked, clearly not intending to hurt me.
I saw no reason to lie. “Brutehaven.”
“Same!” She sat down on a crate across from me and ran her hands through her curly black hair. “You seem young, how did you afford to take the Cartrain?” She asked, at ease.
I still didn’t fully trust this girl, so I decided mentioning that I was a Cutter might not be a very good idea. “I-ah-inherited some money recently,” I replied. “What about you? You can’t be much older than me!” I sat down on another crate.
She looked down. “I’m nobody.” I decided not to push, and we sat in silence for a minute, before Mel jumped back up. “You want to grab some souvenirs?” She asked eagerly.
“Souvenirs?” I repeated, confused.
She grabbed my hand and pulled me into an adjoining cart. It was a storage room, filled with boxes and crates of all shapes and sizes. Mel spread her hands as if it were hers. “Take your pick!”
“We can’t take this, it belongs to people!” I exclaimed.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about the Cartrain-“ Mel began, before the cart rocked and I slipped sideways, crashing into a box. A few strange coloured glass vials fell out, and as I opened the box to replace them, I caught a glimpse of a set of knives. Closing the box and standing, I took a quick step back, then turned to Mel.
“There were knives in there!”
She grinned wickedly. “There’s a lot more than transporting people’s stuff to the Cartrain.” She said. “They also smuggle, and this is some of that.”
“This is all being smuggled!” I gasped. “What about the Orderers?”
She nodded. “They don’t know. But this is why I don’t feel bad taking some of it.” She lifted a little clockwork flower out of a box. “Go ahead.” The flower began a beautiful melody that sounded like a dream and made me sleepy.
I shook my head fervently, but as she pulled strange and interesting items out of the boxes and put them back, my curiosity got the better of me. I skipped the knife box, and settled on a small square crate. It had nothing of interest; a few more vials, some spices and silk, another knife (much to my chagrin), some unidentifiable objects, and a few leather bound notebooks that were blank or had a few scribbles in them.
I moved on to another box, inexplicitly drawn to these smuggled objects. Not all of them were dangerous, like the knives and the hypnotizing jewelry boxes, and poisons. One round box around the size of a hatbox had a long dress curled up in it. It was made out of a light, dark blue fabric, with straps and a loose flowing skirt.
One box had a small little device that created a small flame when pressed. I put it aside, as I’d seen Mel do. “Hey Mel!” I called, not turning around. “Have a look at this!” She didn’t answer, and I called again, this time twisting around.
She was draped over a crate, snoring quietly, a small pile of smuggled items next to her. I shook my head, chuckling quietly, and stifled a yawn, realizing just how tired I was. Going through the boxes had distracted me for a while, but it must have been late at night by then. After I finished sifting through the box I was on, I pushed my tiny pile of the flame maker, a tiny paint kit, and a silk scarf out of the way. Yawning once more, I too curled up, and soon fell asleep.