The deep airy whistle echoes in my ears, haunting and heartbreaking. Keening like a banshee, its loud wailing rouses me from my slumber. The supporting soft chug and sigh with the clack of striking iron keep rhythmic time with the sways of the car that rock my body back and forth.
How many days has it been now? Five? Twenty? I can’t remember. It’s long enough that I stopped asking how I got here.
The other passengers are still asleep, hypnotized by the cadence and breath of the machine murmuring its mantra. If you listen closely it sounds like chanting, so regular and distinct are these noises.
I listen absently to its rhythm while I sit here in the dim light of the cabin. It feels good to be alone for a moment to collect my thoughts.
Sliding over on the padded bench seat I look out the window, mostly from habit; hoping this time to make out some kind of view or a bearing on where we are. Light is coming, that much I can tell, but to say it’s the sun is beyond what the window can show me. A blur is all that’s visible. The myriad of colors and shades pass so quickly that they almost blend into one. I feel disappointed and hopeless.
My disappointment isn’t unexpected but is felt just as deeply as if it was new--sharp, and cutting. Its kin despair grows inside me, I can feel it. I don’t wonder why these things are happening to me anymore, or even what I did to trap myself here in the belly of this forever-moving beast. I just want off.
I can hear the others stir. It’s time to put on my finest smiling face and do my best to keep their spirits up.
“Gooood Mooooorning!” I call out brightly, turning to face the others, shaking my hands wide next to my face to make my smile seem bigger and more vibrant. I hope to distract them, like babies, from the palpable helplessness that fills the room.
Sally stares at me with her vacant blue eyes, her yellow curls bouncing and swinging with the shifting of the car. Her friend Betty sits next to her sharing the same glassy look in her brown eyes but wearing short bobbed brown hair. Behind them in the next seat is Teddy, who’s busy stretching and yawning.
On the other side of the aisle, Giraffe and Baby Elephant each have a seat to themselves. Both of them are still fast asleep, a small snort and snore escaping now and then. They’re the young ones who need a little more care than the others. Let them be, I think. Let them escape this place a little while longer.
“Let’s play a game!” I whisper with false glee, keeping my voice low to avoid disturbing the young ones.
“Let’s play Where’s My Ticket!”
Sally and Betty giggle through their perpetually puckered lips, while Teddy just scratches his head.
It’s a game we play frequently. None of us have a ticket--we never did. All of us awoke together in this car with no memory, no tickets, and no one else but us.
I wave my arms and hands wildly around the heads of my audience, my polka-dot ruffle cuffs caressing their hair and fur in passing, finally producing a peppermint drop wrapper from behind Sally’s ear.
As I pretend to read it like a real ticket, I announce the destination in a hushed voice. “The other side of the mountain. Anyone else going to the other side of the mountain, raise your hands!”
Betty and Teddy giggle softly while raising their hands.
Holding the wrapper up for them to see I stamp it with my thumb like a ticket marker and give it to Sally.
“Aaaalllll aboard,” I call out softly.
“Let’s play another game, we want another game!” Sally says emphatically, her curls bouncing in time with her clapping gloved hands.
“What should we play? A new game?” I ask them. Do you want to play too Baby Elephant and Giraffe?”
The two newly awake passengers sleepily nod their heads. Giraffe shakes himself like a wet dog, casting off the last remnants of sleepiness, while Baby Elephant sits quietly still half asleep.
“O.K. then. Listen to the sounds and tell me what words you hear," I say opening my eyes overly wide while making a point to slowly stare at each one of them. “What does it say, what does it say, what does it say?” I chant in its cadence.
“Yes, yes, let’s play,” says everyone in unison.
“O.K. everyone, close your eyes and listen.”
All of them sit still for a moment, some smiling like they’re working to uncover a great riddle. Others strain to listen, cocking their heads to the side to hear, as if doing so could unlock the secret code.
“I know! I know!” Teddy says gruffly, raising his waving paw. “It’s saying: I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.” Looking pleased with himself he smiles his biggest smile, stretching his stitching from ear to ear.
“No, it doesn’t. That’s not what it’s saying at all!” Betty cries out in a panic. “It’s saying: I want to eat, I want to eat, I want to eat!”
The eerie moan of the whistle suddenly blows. A cry of “Fooooood,” floats on its harmonica-like tones. The lights go out.
The echo of the whistle hangs in my ears, eerily haunting, rousing me from my slumber. My body sways with the car, moving back and forth in rhythm with the huffs and puffs of the machinery.
The other passengers are still sleeping. I’m alone for a moment.
How long have I been here? Five days? Twenty days? I can’t remember. Why can't I ever remember? A feeling of deep aching despair wells within me, crushing my soul with its weight. It’s not unexpected. It feels familiar, like a debt collector. A sigh of hopelessness escapes me as I rub my forehead and gather myself.
I watch as the other passengers start to wake. Sally’s first, shaking her golden curls and rubbing her shiny blue eyes. Behind her sits Teddy, who’s busily stretching his furry arms and legs. Across the aisle are Giraffe and Baby Elephant, still snoring their soft baby snores.
Is there someone missing I wonder briefly? A tickle in the back of my mind says there should be one more, but that’s impossible. There’s no way off this thing, I’ve checked. I think. I can’t remember. Why can I never remember?
So innocent, I think, looking at the others. Like babes.
It’s time to put on my smiling face and keep them entertained.