the destination

She went by train. She waited until the last stop and then stayed on. She let the train take her where it was always going. 

After a few minutes of underground darkness, the train emerged into light; a soft, stable light that didn’t hurt her eyes. From the window she saw low mountains, covered in rough shrubbery. She turned to look out the other side, and there was a settlement—the tops of roofs, lying in a shallow valley.

A metal shelter came into view. An outdoor platform. The train slowed to a halt.

She got up feeling pretty confident. The light was stable but would fade soon. She slung her bag over her shoulder and exited onto the platform.

The elevation of the platform gave her a panorama view of the settlement. It was a replica of an old western town, but not trying to be the real thing. The red and brown paint was unchipped, as if a layer of gloss finish had been added to every beam and plank. Like a set. A colorful set for the amusement of children.

She descended a flight of metal stairs onto a flat, unpaved dirt street. There were no others. Not yet, at least. All she could do was wait. 

She decided to take a walk.

No one would be fooled by the replica. Big gauche signage identified each structure: SALOON, INN, BANK. No one would be fooled because there was no one to fool. No one she could see, at least.

She opened the glossy door to the building labeled INN. There was a sort of front desk, a scattering of chairs, placed with not much intention. She saw a folded note standing upright on the desk:


The light was fading in measurable stability. She would have to wait until then.


The SALOON would be a good place to bide the time. She pushed through classic batwing doors and into the hall, where there were a few tall round tables and an empty bar. There was no smell of food. No visible dishware. Just furniture and silence. 

Where would she eat? She would have to ask the actors. She’d hardly noticed this understanding she’d come to: when people did arrive here, they would certainly be actors. Perhaps they would speak in put-on cowboy accents, tip cheap ten-gallon hats in her direction, wink and straighten their plastic bolo ties. Yes ma’am, I reckon we can find a vacancy. They’d play out scenes: a stranger, a shoot-out; they’d haul the renegade to the JAIL. She’d clap and clap. Later she’d go find the bad guy, that actor, and speak to them through the bars of their cell. She’d say how great the show was. The actor would shake their head and caution her not to break the spell—even this conversation was a crime. With a toss of her head she’d trivialize the rules. The actor wouldn’t be able to help a smile. 

Yes, she’d trivialize the rules. So soon. She could almost hear the echo of future voices in this future-joyful room. The strap of her bag had fallen off her shoulder, into the crease of her elbow. She adjusted it, adjusted her own weight between both feet. That was enough for now. Back out into the dirt.  


Standing in the center of the gleaming town, she was the midpoint in a circle. She looked to her left, toward the mountains. The sky behind the mountains was a flat kind of blue. Fading into a darker blue, then a darker blue, in stages. Measurable. It would be so pretty in full dark. She would be able to see the stars, much more easily than she had at home. And all she had to do was wait. 


Wait: she could see it now. The shrubbery, there was something wrong with the shrubbery. The shadows of the vegetation weren’t changing with the light. The shrubs were disappearing. They had never been shrubs. They were textures; just patterns made with paint.

She glanced at the train station. The one she’d arrived in—now a charming tomato-red passenger car with a steam engine—sat quietly in the increasing dark.

It was all counterfeit. But she kind of wanted to wait there anyway.
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