Eesa stared in silence.
The little brightly colored birds
gazed up at her in joyful appreciation
for the bits of bread she absently broke off
to distribute among them.
Looking down from the step where
she slouched, she watched them
give knowing looks to each other
from time to time, as if she wasn't
really there, as if possessed by some
arcane knowledge known only to them.
All she’d ever known were peaceful
sleepy little towns spread distantly apart,
each with its guilds and services,
each with trim park-like acreages,
sprawling gingerbread homesteads
and colorful gardens, small barns and
outbuildings inhabited by pigs, dairy
cow herds, sheep and chickens.
Occasionally, you’d see sleepy dogs or
cats on the wrap-around porches, snoozing
beneath the unchanging hazy sun.
Each night, at sunset, clouds would begin to lower,
shrouding everything with a soaking mist that watered
the gardens and filled the watering troughs, painting
the landscape a brilliant green.
The cereal and grazing fields surrounded
each community, which were in turn
surrounded by great walls inset with
great tall strong steel doors, that only
opened and closed for the trains
that brought the mail, migrating guilders or
visiting relatives of same, ferrying craft items,
plain goods, produce and hand-built furniture
the distant towns were unable to make for themselves.
In all memory, the trains never carried the simply curious…
There was no need really, no matter how far you would
travel, the towns would always be much the same,
as similar as the people that populated them.
Besides, trains traveled only by night through the
in between through the starless darkness of mist fall.
To look out the window, was to see
only your own reflection, for in the space
between the settlements was only darkness.
To walk out those great doors, only took the
pressing of a secret panel hidden in the frame,
the location, a secret known to every engineer
and engineer’s son, but no one else
would even consider asking of it, or had
ever done so in recorded memory.
Everyone knew the stories
on the ancient CD's from the library,
how the former world had faded
in the ashes of destruction-how
their founders had survived in dark
caverns for the years of scant warm
seasons, more often buried by moaning
blinding blizzards of snow and ash
under the endless darkness of
roiling storm clouds and cold.
When the clouds finally dissipated for good,
things settled into the familiar pattern of sunny days
and every evening’s misting times that filled the dark,
the accepted norms of here and now.
The survivors, climbing out of their warrens, found
a world uniformly and strangely alien, endlessly and
cloyingly covered by thickets and forests of green.
They struggled then, to build this world,
that Eesa, the engineer’s girl, inhabited,
investing a century and half of toil-not just to
build settlements and track-not merely to select
and bring to life selected machines
and animals, but to repel the strange,
frightening things that now lived in the spaces
between-alive, but unseen, but sometimes heard
in the cars and cabs of the trains as they hurtled
through the dark beyond the great doors,
as the trains rolled from light to distant light.
Trackmen and engineers sometimes whispered
of those unsettling sounds in the great trees
towering beside the rail beds when maintenance
was scheduled, but no one lingered long, even in
the day or went out the great doors out of curiosity
in misting time to the in between, when the safety
of home and hearth awaited ahead or behind.
But one late evening, Eesa,
who was to be an engineer someday,
as her father and brother before her,
having nursed her curiosity for too long,
came to the great doors, and pushing
the hidden panel swinging them outward,
stepped into the realm between, into
the dark walking down the tracks.
Her father found her as he slowed his train
for the great doors, his engine’s light
revealing her, glaze-eyed and shaking,
beside the great doors, scared to the skin,
as dawn swept upward the wispy remnants
of this night's misting time.
Sitting here today, she ached all over.
There were bruises shaped like circles
of various sizes across her upper arms and back.
She had a furtive vacant look about her,
lost in a hazy daydream about glowing goats
a drifting talking star, about dust
that would stir and whirl, assuming
suggestive and disturbing shapes imbued
with a sense of hostility, so profound,
she knew she could never explain it,
nor could she ever again board a train
for that ride through the darkness between
after the dusk and the falling of misting time.
As she eyed the looks of cool
intelligence on the brightly
colored birds feeding at her feet.
She shook her head and
shuddered in the knowledge
of where they went at dark.
Looking at the distant wall,
sighed, and looked down again,
assessing the reality she was a prisoner,
and would be forever trapped
between the lights in misting time.