Traveling to a far-off city, I had for company only my papers and the books that led me to this train-car. Opposite me sat a woman, smiling at the passing landscape, but between my plans and her secret joy, we paid each other no heed and never qualified as traveling companions.
More nervous now, I pulled out my books, worn by love and use, and began to review my notes. This caught the woman’s attention. I felt her gaze before she spoke.
“I thought as much,” she said, half smiling, half snarling. “Think you’re so brave, so right, don’t you, boy?”
She nodded at my books, the ones I had discovered between classes at the university, the ones my father had raged over and my mother had tried to hide. But the city I sought had proved them—and me—right, so I could straighten up and answer coolly:
“Well, now the revolution has come, and I am soon to join it.”
“Ha—what do you know about revolution?”
It was as though a veil had been torn from my eyes. The heavy traveler’s coat vanished, replaced by a uniform with sleeves from one regime, epaulets from another, buttons from a third. They all run together, anyhow. She tugged at the red banner that fell around her shoulders like a shawl, propped her boots up on the empty seat next to mine, and turned her attention back to me.
“Well,” she said. “Surprised to meet me here? Devoted as you claim to be, you ought to have recognized me earlier.”
I could say nothing, only stare. Her eyes, brighter now and merciless, studied my face coldly. She nodded at the still-open book on my lap.
“One of your heroes?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I stammered.
She chuckled and looked back out the window.
“And you would compete with them?” she asked herself.
Glancing at me again, she continued.
“True, there is some resemblance in that they too started out as young dreamers.”
Musing done, her eyes narrowed. The temperature in the car plummeted.
“Child, are you able to let the military march of progress deafen you to ten million dying cries? Could you ever adore the sight of blood? Will you strip yourself of humanity for humanity’s sake, only to discover you have stripped them of all they had?”
Only now did I notice the dried blood under her nails, in the corner of her mouth. Her voice turned into the cold sound of a million boots marching for conquest. In this voice she gave me her only command:
“Go now, back to the good graces and funds of your family, and never presume to act in my name ever again, blithering invertebrate. If not, I guarantee you will die most painfully.”
The train stopped.
“But I think,” she said, “that we will meet again. On my terms.”
With that, she was gone. I fled the car, leaping onto the platform of the last station before the city that I now dreaded, which glistened faintly just above the horizons.
I returned home that evening, just after my parents had begun to worry. Muttering some pathetic excuse, I went up to my room and most solemnly discarded my books, my dreams sliding into the dustbin with them. Wisely so, for my lady had left me only to possess stronger souls and colder hearts.
As I aged, the nights of many prosperous years were spent marveling at the red glow spilling over the horizon: the suicide of a once-great city; the promise of reunion.
-Allison Shely, 2013/2018
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