“Escape”, said big, gold letters on the window.
Don had never seen the place. The turnover in this town… Yes, he needed an escape. The heat was over a hundred. How far over a hundred? Did it matter? It felt like his shoes on melted onto his feet. Sweat dropped from his face and dizziness spun his head. He needed immediate escape from this heat, He could get some by browsing through this place.
Blissful cool air gushed over him as soon as he stepped inside. The business was laundry room small and almost empty. One round, white table was to the left. On it was a display of brochures.
He wandered to them. “Hi, Don,” a woman said.
Don nearly jumped out of his skin. Finding her sitting in the corner across the room, he shook his head. “Were you there when I came in?”
“Okay. I didn’t see you. Sorry.”
“And…how did you know my name?”
She smiled. “That’s not important.”
“It is to me.”
“What’s important is that you realized that you need to escape and came in here.”
“Yeah.” Don flicked his gaze from the left to the right. “Right. Actually, I came in here because I needed to escape the heat.”
“Would you like water?” Unfolding from her chair, she gestured to her right where a round white table was home to a crystal pitcher of water and several glasses. Cucumber slices floated among ice cubes.
“I would, thank you.” While saying that, Don took the two steps to reach the table. She was there first.
A glass was being offered as he arrived. “Thanks. You’re quick. You never answered my question.” Drinking, Don watched her reaction. A dark green satin-looking top hung to mid-thigh, giving him the impression of a praying mantis. Young with skin like smoky honey, long black hair and a narrow face, she was an inch taller than him. She probably weighed ninety pounds. After a second glance, he changed that to eighty pounds. He could probably enclose her waist with his two hands.
“You didn’t ask, but I’ll answer. We’re an escape from anything and anywhere.”
Don lowered his glass. “I’m not certain what that means.”
“Yes, you do. Accept it. You know.”
Enough, Don decided. “Well, I’ve taken up enough of your time.” He put the glass down on the table. “Thanks for the water. I’ll be on my way.”
She nodded. “This way.” She slipped past him toward an archway that he hadn’t noticed. Strands of green beads hung over the doorway. She parted the beads with a long hand with glossy white fingernails. “Your train awaits.”
“My train. You’re saying that there’s a train in there?” Don stepped forward to see as she answered, “Yes.”
Don poked his head through the beaded divide. There was a train. It wasn’t a toy, but a full-sized train. “Holy smokes. There is a train in here.” Entranced, he approached the train. Modern looking, it was silver with blue and red stripes. “I love trains. I’ve never been on one, though. I mean, a real one, like this.”
He stepped closer to it. He was on a platform. The train went for hundreds of yards in either distance. Beyond it, a pristine countryside greeted his tired vision.
“So, what’s going on?” He looked back for the woman. Didn’t see her, nor the green beads.
A uniformed conductor approached. “Hi, Don. I’m Geoffrey.” He put a hand out. “You okay? You look confused.”
Don shook Geoffrey’s hand. “I guess I am. I don’t know how I got here. I mean, I know what I did, but what I did doesn’t fit the context of what I see.”
“I see.” Geoffrey laughed. “Sorry. That was unintentional.”
Don tilted his head to one side. “So. Let me be straightforward. Have I died?”
“No. You wanted an escape. We’re offering it to you.”
“This is real.”
“What’ll happen if I get on that train?”
“You’ll escape, which is what you want. You’ll escape this life and this world.”
“Where will I go?”
“That’s completely up to you.”
Don smiled. “That’s not really an answer. Yes, those are words, but they’re not an answer to what I’m asking.”
“It is. You know it is. Let yourself think about it.”
Don shook his head. “I don’t like airy-fairy new age stuff. I fight wildfires. I like solid information.”
Geoffrey shrugged. “You need to get onboard now, if you’re going.”
“What if I don’t? Can I just go back?”
“Is this a one-way ticket? Can I ever come back if I get on that train?”
“Of course. That’s completely up to you.”
Don had more questions but decided, take the train ride. See where it goes and what happens. He’d never been on a train. He giggled. “Okay, what the hell. Sold.”
Following Geoffrey’s gesture, he approached an open door and climbed aboard the train. Empty, comfy looking tan leather seats awaited him. A whistle blew as he settled into a seat. Looking down, he realized that he was a young man again.
“Well, what the hell.” The train pulled forward. Body sighing as he settled back, he watched the passing countryside through the window and wondered where he’d go, and what would happen to the people and places that he’d left behind.
Then he closed his eyes and let the train lull him to sleep.