The air inside the train was no fresher than the stagnant and oppressive atmosphere of the station platform. I found an empty seat — they were all empty, but some were less dilapidated than others, and a few had upholstery that had rotted through, with flecks of bonded Naugahyde dotting the metal floor like faded confetti.
A thin film on the glass, and a spiderweb of cracks radiating from what looked like an old bullet hole, made the view more interesting as the train slowly heaved itself away from the platform and clattered down the tracks like an old hobo pushing a shopping cart with one stuck wheel.
My backpack was heavy. I pulled from it one of the many blank books I’d accumulated, over the years. Good God, but they were heavy. I’d packed, in my wheelie-bag, four pair of slacks, ten pair of underpants, four pair of wool socks, a dozen threadbare t-shirts proclaiming destinations I’d only imagined or pithy slogans I let speak for me, like, “LMTFA.”
But into the backpack, I had somehow shoved 982 blank books, some with a third of their pages ripped out, and 1,257 pens, only three of which I really liked to write with.
The thought of lightening my load caused me more pain than carrying it, and so I pulled out one of the books — not the loveliest, of course, but one of the ragged ones with missing pages — and my third favorite pen.
I scribbled some thoughts on the demise of the town of Middling, which I had just left.
It was a joyful experiment, but Middling was fast becoming a ghost town — full of the ghosts of hopes and dreams.
I have no thoughts deserving of such permanence… I wrote. I started to rip out the page, but caught myself just as the paper tore through the first binding thread. These books deserve better. A better writer. A worse writer, but one unplagued by perfectionism. An adventurer — not just an imaginative dreamer on a stuffy, filthy, ancient train to nowhere.
As the conductor waddled up the aisle to collect tickets, I looked down at mine and noticed that words had begun to appear below that tentative, hastily scrawled title of “Anywhere But Here”:
There once was a writer of Middling,
Talented, maybe, but fiddling.
Hardly lifting a pen
Oh, where to begin —
To stop this puerile piddling?
The conductor took the ticket and studied it for a moment. He looked at me, raised an eyebrow, and informed me that the next stop was mine.
“What’s the name of the station?” I asked.
The conductor smiled, shook his head with a chuckle, and vanished into the next compartment.
As the train slowed, I tucked my journal back into “The Abyss.” The backpack had been given to me by one of the characters in a story I dreamed up — it literally appeared on the bed, beside me, in the morning. I called it “The Abyss” because it had no bottom — no limit to what it could hold — and yet grew heavier with each item it contained. Like a black hole, it grew in density if not in size. I had not, yet, found a limit to what I could bear, but I might be coming close.
I told myself that it was good for building strength and character, as I tumbled off the train and onto the platform at a station called “Some Day.”