Am I here?
The ecstasy rises in my chest and I bask in the unrealness of actually making it. I twirl around again to get a view of the place. Not at all what I expected.
I obey, looking around. Looming, gigantic cacti stand peppered along the desert sand and interrupt the big, wide sky. Rocks of so many different shapes, sizes and colors litter the ground everywhere. It’s exactly like and unlike any desert I have ever seen (not that I have actually ever been). Walking, I stumble on something solid and level. A board of wood. I look ahead and register that there are many boards of wood, covered by the sand. Train tracks!
I walk along the tracks and come upon a telephone pole. I look ahead to see if there are any more and there but it’s alone. There are still wires attached and I wonder where the rest of them went. A train horn sounds in the distance over the flatness and I did not see a train coming five minutes ago, but there is one not a quarter mile away from me now. I get the cue to wave the train down. It blares its horn again and brakes grind for me. It stops much faster than should be possible for a train of its very, very impressive length, and the door to the car right in front of me snaps open and a metal robot head that is attached to a track on the train ceiling yells at me, all aboard! in typical electronic melody. I board and as the robot backs up on its tracks, it introduces itself to me as FRIT, your Friendly Robot In Transit. Do you have a ticket? No. No one ever does. Where are you going today? Surprise me. It seems almost pleased, red eyes lighting, weird orange mesh streaming from the rims. To great places, then! The train has taken off moving by now and FRIT disappears over the front of the car.
There is an open door behind you.
I stop dead in my tracks and there is an empty booth to my right, and to my left, what I think an angel should look like. My insides spike in sharp excitements and I want to do everything I can to sit in the right booth and escape the attack of nerves but they tell me I must, indeed, sit by the girl.
I tentatively clear my throat and ask if I can sit here. She shoots me a surprised, bright smile and says, why, of course. She sounds how an angel should sound. The buzz of bees mingled with tinkling silver. She’s surrounded by bags of various sizes and lumpy shapes, and a single Samsonite suitcase. She reaches across to my seat and moves a tangle of thread and fabric off it, and I sit down.
She apologizes for the clutter and I look around the rest of the cabin. It’s empty. She asks me where I’m going. I pause for a second, thinking they will come up with an answer, because I certainly don’t know. After they keep silent, I realize I am expected to hold my own conversations with strangers.
Uh, the next town.
I ask where she is headed, and she smiles rays and says the next town. She asks me where I got my hoodie and I tell her it was my dad’s.
She nods politely, and blurts: do you always get picked up in the middle of the desert?
I have no idea how to make excuses for myself; I say I went exploring and I don’t really know how I ended up there but I’m glad there was a train to pick me up right when I needed it.
She cuts right to the heart of it in a conspiratorial tone: You’re not from here, are you?
I pause and say no. It’s pretty obvious there’s a depth to my answer.
I can feel excitement bubble in her in rainbow hues. Where do you come from?
Greeley, I say. Colorado.
Registration on her face, a light bulb that betrays all the excitement at the words, and then she masks it just as fast. She leans in close and in a hushed, still excited voice says, how did you get here?
Her tinkling voice and contagious excitement makes me want to tell her everything. My mission. My strange senses. Who brought me here. I also want her to tell me everything: Where am I really; is this the dream world? Why are you here, what do you do, why is this whole place desert and why is there a train here?
Instead I say, I ran away and found a church that is falling apart and I was led to a door that’s not a door that led to a tunnel that led to another tunnel that led to a courtyard where I passed through a gateway and then it was gone and I was left in the desert and now I am here. And I don’t know where here is.
Her excitement ramps up as much as mine has and she lights up the booth. You are from the Solid!
The term in its context is weird enough that it slips by me; and instead ask where this is, then, waving my hand around to indicate the whole generality.
Dustland. She smiles her shiny smile.
The bells go off. I resist the urge to ask, you mean, Heaven? I want to preserve my semblance of sanity towards the pretty stranger who challenges my composure every time she looks in my direction.
Dustland? She catches my eyes with irises so intense I am caught in an opaline grip. My mood rises three levels and she gives no answer.
What’s your name? I ask. She beams at me and says, I’m Sunshine.
Finn Wharton, I offer in in the way I’ve rehearsed it countless times. Sunshine. Her name sounds made up, but I’m the last person to judge.
I ask her about the fabric and if she sews, and she animatedly tells me about all the things she makes, clothing for the urchins and beds and playthings and shelters and houses and even an entire town!
I raise my eyebrows starting at the shelters part and they go higher from there. Sewing?
She gasps, oh right, you’re not from here! Her giddiness revs quicker than the train got to me and she expresses that she will just have to show me.
It seems the longer I am with this Sunshine girl, the less I know and the less I care because I am more satisfied to be along for the ride than I have ever been in my life.