Train in the Clouds
On that August 15, the sun enveloped the small village of Kiso-Fukushima, in the prefecture of Nagano, with its white light. At 7 in the morning the wooden shops began to open and some groups of children flocked to the cobblestone streets with balls and other toys. Around lunchtime, plays of light and shadows covered the town, making it almost a delightful place that can be admired in illustrated books. At least that's what the locals thought, but I wasn't of the same opinion. I had never been the kind of person who observed such little things, even though I knew a lot of people wanted to be in my place.
Being August, it was a very hot day and I had no desire to leave my room, my refuge where I concentrated on my most ardent passions: videogames.
"Heiji!" My mother called me from outside my room door. "When are you going to get out of this room !?"
I didn't answer so as not to shout something rude and continued to press buttons on my controller, carefully reading the dialogues of the new video game I had purchased. It had been a challenge to find the new chapter of that specific game and all I wanted to do was enjoy the experience. Despite this, my mother kept screaming from the other side of the door. Then silence fell in the house and the only thing I heard was her footsteps going downstairs.
"Damn it!" I threw the controller on the bed and slid my back, resignedly, when I realized that I kept losing. I decided to look around casually: the floor of my room was full of empty paper, cans and packets of chips and various video games of all kinds were placed in disorder on the shelves. My laziness had won over my body in recent times, but, long ago, I had really worked hard.
All those video games, for example, I had earned through hard hours of work at my grandfather's old antique shop, who has been dead for some years.
Now the shop belonged to my father, but I had volunteered to work as an assistant. So, after hours of boring cleaning and local old ladies who praised me, I ran, money tightly in my hand, towards a shop not far away, in whose back room there were piles of objects grouped by the owner. He had them sent by his brother, who had moved to Kyoto.
I was always complaining about how I wasn't able to go to some big city.
I fantasized about the sidewalks teeming with people, about department stores, shelves full of consoles and comics, pretty girls, school uniforms and much more. I felt like I didn't belong in that remote village in the mountains.
The only reason my mind resisted was Kyoko Fujiwari, a girl from Tokyo. She had soft black hair that floated gracefully in the wind, a snow-white skin. I loved when the tips of her long fingers brushed her blue skirt when she talked to other students and when her face lit up during English lessons. I was trying my best to get noticed by her.
After a little cleaning of my room, I went downstairs with a bag.
"Heiji, the shopping list." My mother said and she handed me a crumpled note as she told me to be careful and get back quickly. Once I reached the door, I put on my shoes and turned to tell her bye when I saw the faded ticket my grandfather had given me years ago.
I don't know what happened inside my mind at that moment but I grabbed it quickly. Then I went out.
Without realizing it, I slowly began to think back to when my grandfather told me about a certain Train in the Clouds and I believed everything he said.
"Of course they were just fairy tales to whet the imagination of a 5-year-old." I thought.
I stopped suddenly and looked at the note: I had never really paid attention to the writing before, to tell the truth. The date was 08/15/1969 at 1:43 PM, exactly 50 years earlier. In large it was written DAICHI YAMAMURA, STATION 02045 and other words in an unknown language. 'Who knows how grandfather had fun inventing symbols to make them pass as a language of a people who live above the clouds.' I thought.
Suddenly, however, something happened.
I knew that my ears never betrayed me, and when I heard a strange sound coming from far away, I knew that something was out of the ordinary. I turned in the direction I thought I heard the noise. It sounded like the shrill sound of hundreds of bells moving in the wind.
Then I turned my gaze back to the piece of paper and was stuck.
The figures had changed. Now I was reading:
HEIJI YAMAMURA, STATION 02389
08/15/2019 1:55 PM
"What the hell ?! How is that possible ...? I think I'm hallucinating."
I gave myself a very hard slap on both cheeks, but nothing changed. What my eyes were seeing was all real. Then I thought for a moment. I remembered that a train station had recently opened and that some kids had jokingly tied a number of silver bells to one of the poles. My feet seemed to move almost autonomously as I quickly ran towards the station.
When I reached the place, I checked the time on my phone: it was only three minutes to one and fifty-five minutes. I tried to recover, as I had been running so fast that I felt my lungs on fire. I coughed hard and waited for something to happen.
"What I'm doing is absurd, maybe nothing will happen." I said aloud. Images of my grandfather in my childhood, the bizarre amphora or 'cloud catcher' and daydreams about that train appeared in my head at the same time.
"Space, space! Get out of my way, plebeians! The train is coming!" A high-pitched voice screamed behind me.
An unusual-looking girl rushed next to me, but I didn't even have time to look at her properly when a spectacular event left me speechless. (Talking about it now still makes my heart beat fast.)
A gap was created in the middle of the sky. The clouds seemed to have a consciousness of their own as they moved. Then, magically, a train appeared and began to fly over our heads. I covered my head and felt my legs shake, then, frightened, I closed my eyes. A few seconds later, I reopened them.
In front of me and the stranger, a very old-fashioned locomotive appeared, triumphantly. I thought it certainly couldn't be Japanese. It looked like one of those old European trains I had seen in the books in the school library. It had something fabulous and mighty about it. The wheels were decorated with small symbols of pure gold while fully embroidered gold-colored curtains prevented seeing inside.
"My dress is also ruined, I shouldn't have visited the human world !!" the girl cried. At that moment, I found the courage to take a good look at her: she had fair hair, almost silver, adorned with decorous bows. Her eyes were an ambiguous color, a small nose, rosy cheeks, and soft, plump lips.
'Is she an angel?' I thought.
A man, very elegantly dressed, got off the locomotive once it had touched the tracks. His eyes were black and deep as an abyss.
"Tickets, please." he said, holding out his hand.
"Ticket ?! Don't you know who I am, stupid butler?" The stranger slammed her feet to the ground and entered quickly, but in doing so she tripped over a step and lifted her pompous skirt.
I was very embarrassed at the sight of her and blushed violently, but the girl noticed my gaze on her and ran away.
"Ticket, sir." the man repeated.
I gave him the ticket and he made a strangely pleased face, then invited me in.
"Are you perhaps actors or some circus company?" I asked, confused.
"Circus? Actors? Oh, certainly not, Master Heiji. We'll explain later."
I began to think about my mother and father, my school, my world and I could not contain myself. "But my parents? The shop? Where am I going?"
"Oh no problem. It will be as if nothing ever happened. And, as for the destination, it's up to you alone, sir."
This left me somewhat perplexed but I didn't dare argue. The servant stretched out his gloved hand and led me inside.
Then the door closed behind us.