We bring you this bit of fiction because it’s Friday, and no one should have to read about proposal-writing on a Friday. It’s much more fun to read about hookers in the Wild West. Or something like that. This installment is continued from here.
I never knew that such looming, sharp-faced monsters could exist in the waking world. They began, hours and hours ago, as a black-purple smudge on the edge of the flatness. I thought at first there was a storm coming. Weather looks like that across Lake Ontario sometimes, as if someone — God, I suppose — has reached down and traced the horizon in charcoal.
Here, the clouds didn’t slowly build, or approach, or roil above us. Instead, the smudge of purple grew into a row of hills and then suddenly — so suddenly it seemed impossible — these peaks were lording over us. They are each slightly different, but every one grey and angular and cold.
“They look like a troop of soliders, who got turned to stone by some witch,” I say, pressing my nose against the glass and craning up to see the peaks. We’re under their shadows now, and we may as well be inside a canyon for all the sunlight we’re getting.
“Well, I wouldn’t be so fanciful. They’re big, though, I’ll give you that. Now come back here and let me finish.”
Mattie’s putting my hair up. She says I might at least pass for eighteen this way.
“Seems like a lot of pulling and tugging for a first impression,” I tell her. “I’m never going to do this myself. He may as well see what he’s really getting, right from the start.”
“That just goes to show what you know. First impressions mean a lot, to a man. And a little beauty is a dangerous thing.”
“Knowledge,” I say, but only under my breath. Despite my complaining, I’m actually glad of Mattie yanking my hair. As we wind through these mountains, and they begin to change from rock soldiers to forested kings, my stomach thinks it’s going to war. It keeps trying to climb right up through my chest and out my throat. I have to concentrate on breathing just to keep everything in its rightful place.
When at last the long whistle sounds and we’re rolling into the station, the conductor calling, “Frank! Town of Frank!” down the corridor, Mattie hands me my satchel. “Off with you,” she says.
“What about you? Aren’t you coming?”
“I’ll get off down the train a bit. I already told you, first impressions are the thing. You don’t want to be seen getting off the train with me.”
I’m so nervous that I can feel my eyes stretching round like Mrs. McLean’s teacups. I do want to get off with Mattie.
She takes me by the shoulders, turns me around, and pushes me toward the door. “If you get off with me and he’s the right kind of man, he’ll think he’s married himself a whore. If he’s the wrong kind of man, he’ll want to marry me, instead.” Her laugh is sharp and raucous and it follows me as I head toward the stairs, and the station platform, and… him.