The rumbling of the train seemed to have more bass as the speed of the carriage dropped. Outside the windows, lights flickered in the distance. The far distance. Beyond the fields, beyond the valleys, beyond the persistent river. Digital watches shimmied to 10:45pm and the passengers sighed; yearning for beds and loved ones and sitting on a different chair staring vaguely at their phone screens. Not far now.
The grass of the field shifted. Stirred. Like it was blown by a wind, except that it had too many directions to be natural. Like wind pushed through a colander by a haphazard chef.
The faint sound of amplified air filled the carriage as the train tannoy buzzed into life. “The next station stop will be Greater Wair. If you wish to alight, please ensure you are travelling in the first three carriages of the train as this station has a short platform.”
The light definitely changed, although there was no one there to witness it. Even if there had been, it wouldn’t have been as definite for them as it definitely was. It would have prompted questions like “did the light just change?” to which vague replies like “yeah… maybe” would be the common response.
The carriage filled with audible grumpy mutterings from the hostaged travellers. “Where?” Was passed repeatedly down the carriage as the brakes scraped a tame scream into the night.
Greater Wair existed. Not in the passive sense in that all things we know of exist. It began to exist. It appeared, except that it wasn’t just an appearance. It became, except that it had been before. It developed, except that it was instantaneous. It began to exist again despite its continued existence. It flew out of the blurry grass and became itself, as it had always been, except that it had stopped for a while.
Cobbled streets jumped out of the earth and lay themselves down looking nonchalant. “Oh me?” they said, “I’ve always been here, don’t be silly.” A post office complete with rubber stamps and drawers of important forms settled itself busily on the main high street between a well stocked general store and the home of someone who had ignored all calls to sell up for a big commercial fee.
A dozen phones pulled up booking apps, rail enquiry apps, email confirmations. Eyes re-checked the stopping schedule.
“Have they added a stop?”
But no, there in black and white on the screen for what felt like the first time, was Greater Wair. Phones disappeared back into pockets or flicked back over to simple pixelated distractions as the passengers waited to move on. A resigned listlessness filled the filtered air of the carriage.
Faces peered out of glass window panes, gazing at the streak of fluorescent light coming closer.
The train halted. The doors beeped. No one stirred.
They more than stirred in Greater Wair. Even the somewhat insecure short platform rippled imperceptibly with joy at the thought of a foot caressing the hard tarmac of its back.
Breath was held and hearts raced as the inhabitants of Greater Wair stared out at the carriage; willing. The bunting was primed, the cafe was polished, anecdotes were sharp and punchy. Everything was ready.
A man in a crumpled suit snorted himself awake and looked, alarmed out of the window. The train had stopped. He grabbed his briefcase from the seat beside him and slapped his large feet hard against the floor in an effort to reach the door before the train moved away. He jumped off the train, still blinking sleep out of his eyes and puffing stale station beer past his beard.
As his feet hit the platform several things happened. The train doors beeped and closed. He realised this was not his stop.
The platform grinned.
Painfully slowly the train pulled away. The man in the crumpled suit could only turn to face it and feel the pulse of each carriage as it passed him. The woman who had been sat opposite the man in the crumpled suit put her feet up into the space he had been in and he was entirely forgotten.
The man in the crumpled suit looked around him. Where was this?
“Hello!” Said a friendly voice. The man in the crumpled suit whipped his head around and saw… he saw a watercolour painting of the cast of a musical standing before him. A musical whose costume budget was tight and so had dressed their actors in costumes from whatever era they could get their hands on. Victorian dresses swept the floor next to full shell suits. There were at least a dozen crumpled suits, just like his.
“Welcome to Greater Wair.” Another voice spoke up, “Let us walk you home.”
“I… I don’t live here?” The man stuttered, beginning to wonder if he was still asleep.
“You do now.”
The chimneys began to blur. As if heat haze were developing all around them. They wobbled and melted into nothing. Roofs followed, then walls, windows, faces and gardens. The fields rolled up back over the village, zipping it back into partial existence somewhere out of sight. The platform was the last thing to melt away, still buzzing from the excitement of new feet. It let itself slip back into the between time dreaming of more new soles tomorrow.