GREEN   122    4272   24.08 KB

Midnight Train Going Nowhere /pj250/

By LmonE6
Created: 15th March 2021 05:46:14 AM

  1. >Dilapidated and stained ceramic tiles seemed to coat every inch of the railway platform, crawling all the way up the walls to the perpetually-fogged skylights.
  2. >Flickering bulbs of a wattage far too low for such a large space dotted the ceiling intermittently, drawing sickly-yellow circles on the floor every few feet.
  3. >Under one of these circles sat the station attendant, lounging in a folding chair and lazily leafing through the day’s copy of The Canterlot Post.
  4. >A mildewy stench seemed to radiate from every surface, in spite of the freezing draft blowing in through the open-air track entrances.
  5. >All in all, about the best infrastructure that could be expected of a “budget express line”.
  6. >Anxiously tapping a forehoof against the floor - and feeling a tile clatter around in its divot in response – the lone unicorn on the platform looked to the sad little analog clock mounted to the wall.
  7. >11:24 PM
  8. >She blew a strand of mane out of her face and shifted her saddlebags around.
  9. >Their contents may have been simple parchment and cloth, but they weighed distressingly heavily on her back regardless.
  10. >A shaky sigh escaped her lungs, and she tried to imagine some of the tension in her body leaving with the ensuing mist.
  11. >Sassy Saddles did not consider herself a high-strung mare.
  12. >Compared to her boss, anyway.
  13. >So, naturally, she resented that the mounting stress was starting to affect her so.
  14. >But resent it as she might, it was undeniable that recent events had her practically falling apart at the seams.
  15. >’Falling apart at the seams’.
  16. >What an appropriate idiom.
  17. >It’d been about a month since that darned Coco Pommel of the Manehattan branch had appeared on Sassy’s front step, prototype designs for her upcoming winter collection in hoof.
  18. >”These dresses are just about ready for the runway, I think, but they’re missing a certain… classiness.” She’d confided with a sheepish grin. “I was hoping that a Canterlot mare’s eye might be helpful in rectifying that.”
  19. >And so Sassy had cheerfully accepted the additional task of modifying Coco’s designs under a hail of polite apologies and requests that she take her time with it.
  20. ”Of course I’ll lend a hoof!”
  21. >She’d been enthusiastic at the time, somewhat enchanted that such a talented designer was relying on her input.
  22. “We’re in this together as sister branches, after all! I couldn’t possibly hang you out to dry!”
  23. >In spite of her coworker’s protests, the unicorn had promised that she would be in Manehattan within the month, revised designs in hand.
  24. >Nevermind that her own winter lineup was far from finished, or that her talent lay more in the managerial and administrative side of things than design work itself.
  25. >After all, how hard could a few touch-ups possibly be?
  26. >Recalling that particular sentiment, a tired scowl worked its way across her face in the moment.
  27. >29 days and nights, a forest’s worth of scrap paper, and veritable gallons of coffee later, and Sassy could say with absolute certainty that the answer was “very hard”.
  28. >Compounding on her exhaustion were two factors, the first being her difficulty in securing a train to Manehattan in the first place.
  29. >It was the start of winter, and all of the good railways out of Canterlot had been pre-booked by the flocks of snowbirds rushing off the mountainside to warmer climates.
  30. >Of course, she could have just entrusted the delivery of the prototypes and design specs to the mail service
  31. >But Coco had come all the way out to the capital to make her request, and Sassy felt that it would’ve been rude to not return the courtesy.
  32. >Bound by such expectation, the designer had hunted up and down the entire city for a single open seat to Manhattan, a hunt which had eventually led her to the dump where she now found herself at an unholy hour.
  33. >Again, hardly glamorous, but not much more than she could expect on short notice in a peak seasonal exodus.
  34. >It was kind of her fault, too; she should’ve booked a ride as soon as the deadline was in place.
  35. >The second factor, though, was significantly less-
  36. “Achoo!”
  37. >Avoidable.
  38. >Being cooped up in the boutique 24/7 had brought the hammer of a brutal head cold down on the mare’s head about midway through the ordeal, and it simply refused to go away.
  39. >It was, upon reflection, an absolute miracle that she had not only edited the given designs to a satisfactory degree within her timeframe, but also made decent headway on her own lineup.
  40. >Sniffling, she dared allow a small swell of satisfaction to take hold even as she shivered in the cold.
  41. >Regardless of the pain and exhaustion she was feeling, she’d done it.
  42. >As long as the train arrived on time and cleared the route without incident, she was home free.
  43. >Free to sleep for three days straight once her little trip was over.
  44. >The thought alone was like pure ambrosia to her cold medication-addled m-
  45. >”Excuse me miss, would you happen to know when the next train to Manehattan is due to arrive?”
  46. >The query was issued in a polite and subdued tone right beside the unicorn
  47.  >Though it startled her a bit for the general quiet of the station to be broken so abruptly, she maintained her composure as she turned to answer.
  48. “Sure, it’s due to pull in at 12 o’clo-“
  49. >She froze as she laid eyes on the speaker, a shiver running up her spine.
  50. >A beige, gray-maned earth pony stallion sporting a small brown fedora stood at the center of her vision, appearing exceedingly pale and haggard for his age range.
  51. >Not noteworthy in the slightest by himself, but what shocked the mare into silence was his condition.
  52. >He was absolutely sopping wet, so much so that the audible drips of water from his soaked coat formed a puddle at his hooves.
  53. >Hooves which, oddly, appeared to be covered in a light dusting of concrete.
  54. >He didn’t seem bothered by his physical state, simply wearing a mildly puzzled expression.
  55. >”12 o’clock, you said? Well that can’t be right, ma’am, it’s already well past 12.”
  56. >Sassy shook her head to clear the fog of surprise surrounding it, and responded snappily.
  57. “Whatever do you mean ‘it’s already well past 12’? It shouldn’t even be 11:30 ye-“
  58. >Her eyes traced their way back to the clock, and she gasped.
  59. >12:11?!
  60. >Panicking, she swung her head back and forth along the track, as if a steam locomotive would magically appear before her.
  61. >But how?
  62. >How had so much time passed, and how had she somehow missed her train despite having stood in place for almost an hour?
  63. >It just didn’t make any SENSE! She couldn’t have-
  64. >Another long sigh left her mouth like a pressure release valve before her panic could get too far out of control.
  65. >’Get ahold of yourself, Saddles.’
  66. >After all she’d been through, early onset travel hypnosis and a train running behind schedule weren’t about to make her crack.
  67.  >Seemingly unfazed by the mare’s momentary distress, the mysterious stallion shrugged and turned to face the tracks.
  68. >”I suppose it’s pretty easy to get lost in one’s thoughts waiting for a train, eh?”
  69. >Re-gathering herself and choosing to be sociable for the time being, Sassy nodded curtly in the affirmative.
  70. “I suppose it is, isn’t it?”
  71. >She cleared her throat and twisted her neck towards him.
  72. “Could I trouble you for your name, stranger?”
  73. >He side-eyed her for a moment, before clearing his throat and facing her with a hoof outstretched.
  74. >”Bugs “Castle” Lawno. It’s no trouble at all, miss…?”
  75. >Smiling slightly, the unicorn took the offered hoof in a polite shake.
  76. “Sassy Saddles. Charmed, Mr. Lawno.”
  77. >His hoof was predictably cold and clammy, but the mare thought better than to bring up his peculiar state.
  78. >He didn’t seem too bothered by it, anyway.
  79. >As if to rudely punctuate the moment, Sassy broke the shake abruptly and covered her nose, sneezing daintily into her foreleg.
  80. >She rushed to apologize, but Lawno cut her off with a concerned click of his tongue.
  81. >”If you don’t mind me pointing out, ma’am, you look pretty pale. Did some kind of respiratory illness get to you? Pneumonia, maybe?”
  82. >Sassy waved off the concern with her hoof, rolling her eyes internally.
  83. >’Who are YOU calling pale?’
  84. “Oh nonono, nothing so serious. Just a seasonal head cold, that’s all.”
  85. >Strangely, he raised both eyebrows in surprise and whistled.
  86. >”In this day and age? Wow, that’s pretty unlucky for you."
  87. >’Unlucky’?
  88. >She was under the impression that a bit of cold was a pretty common ailment this time of year, even in Canterlot.
  89. >Faced with such a weird assertion, she could only muster a simple agreement.
  90. “I-I guess so.”
  91. >The pair sat in silence for a moment, and Sassy wondered where in Tartarus that stupid train was.
  92. >She eventually broke said silence with a question.
  93. “So, uh, what brings you here? Where are you headed? If you don’t mind me asking, of course.”
  94. >Lawno startled her with a bark of laughter, which built into a full-on fit that lasted far longer than it had any justification to.
  95. >What was so funny?
  96. >He eventually calmed down, and responded after wiping a tear from his eye.
  97. >“No, no, I don’t mind at all. See, I got into a bit of trouble with some… unsavory characters, let’s say. Trouble that necessitated the prompt repayment of a hefty debt on my part.”
  98. >A wry smile colored his expression, but the mare thought for a moment that a hint of sadness flashed behind his eyes.
  99. >”You can probably tell from my appearance that that didn’t work out very well, so here I am. Heh.”
  100. >His words were pregnant with some sort of implication, but Sassy couldn’t for the life of her understand WHAT that implication was.
  101. >She still irritably wondered where her train had gotten off to, but that thought had taken a backseat with that last statement.
  102. >For now, this odd stallion had piqued her curiosity, enough to prompt her into inquiring further about his travel plans.
  103. “So you’re not headed somewhere so much as you’re fleeing Canterlot?”
  104. >Lawno squinted at her, scanning her up and down, before his eyes widened and he sucked in a surprised breath.
  105. >”Oh, you’re not-“
  106. >He snapped his mouth shut before finishing the revelatory statement, teasing the mare with what he had been about to say.
  107. >Frustrated, Sassy doggedly pursued.
  108. “I’m not what?”
  109. >His reply was immediate, snappy, and evasive
  110. >”Nothing, don’t worry about it. Just, uh, thinking aloud about what you asked, is all.”
  111. >That definitely wasn’t true, but the mare detected that they would be at an impasse if she persisted, so she let the topic drop for the time being.
  112. >In regards to her question, the stallion took a good, long time to respond, his sullen pensiveness in the moment contrasting sharply against his previously merry attitude.
  113. >The persistent drip of water droplets falling from his chin echoed eerily through the otherwise quiet station.
  114. >He sighed heavily, signaling the end of his contemplation, and began his answer.
  115. >"I don't think 'fleeing' is really a fair term to describe what I'm doing, since it kind of implies I have a choice."
  116. >He side-eyed the unicorn with a sunken, misty orb.
  117. >"I'm not just leaving this city, either. I'm leaving the life I've built, the connections I've made, and the ponies I've loved, everything."
  118. >Sassy hung on his every word.
  119. >This stallion wasn't just another eccentric traveler, he was a very recently-created drifter!
  120. >Intrigue building, she prompted him to continue.
  121. "Why?"
  122. >"Because, Ms. Saddles, I presented a significant danger to my loved ones in sticking around. Some awful, merciless ponies were after my head."
  123. >He pivoted to face her front on, a resolve of sorts behind his gaze.
  124. >"It was only a matter of time before somepony got hurt by simple association, so I... took it upon myself to disappear."
  125. >The mare's burning curiosity was brought to an abrupt halt.
  126. >As fascinating as Lawno's story was certain to be, that last statement was cause for caution.
  127. >She hadn't considered that those 'unsavory characters' he mentioned might still be a problem, and didn't want to endanger herself by prying any further.
  128. >That in mind, she settled for a simple curt acknowledgement of his circumstances.
  129. "I-I see."
  130. >Verbal silence once again fell over the platform, broken intermittently by the sad little analog clock.
  131. >Sassy didn't bother to check it this time, but she did count the ticks.
  132. >She got to about 57 before the stallion abruptly decided to continue the conversation.
  133. >"So, my depressing motive aside, what brings a fine mare like you to a crappy little station like this, anyway?"
  134. >Startled a bit, the unicorn's response was somewhat ill-composed and stream-of-consciousness in nature.
  135. "O-oh you know, just delivering some revised dress designs to a coworker."
  136. >She gestured emphatically to her saddlebags.
  137. "Of course, she delivered them in person in the first place, so I just HAD to return the favor, but by the time I was finished pretty much ALL the trains out of the city were totally booked, so I had to do some serious digging, which eventually brought me-"
  138. >Lawno rested on his haunches and raised both forehooves in a mockingly defensive posture.
  139. >"Whoa there, whoa there, I think I get the idea. You stuck your neck out for a coworker and she stuck you with some ridiculous deadline on top of your own work, right?"
  140. >'Ridiculous deadline'...
  141. >The mare paused mid-sentence and pursed her lips.
  142. >As this pause drew out, the stallion cocked his head in confusion.
  143. >"... That IS what went down, right?"
  144. >Sassy grimaced and rubbed the back of her neck.
  145. "Um, actually, now that I think about it, I kind of set the deadline myself."
  146. >A look of concern flashed across the earth pony's face.
  147. >More serious concern than she honestly thought that admittance warranted.
  148. >"Why would you impose such a strict requirement on yourself?"
  149. >Sassy chuckled sheepishly.
  150. "I'll be honest, I was kind of caught up in the moment. She's a much more talented designer than me, so I was more than a little ecstatic that she valued my input enough to trust me with the final details of her dresses."
  151. >She shrugged.
  152. "Besides, I managed just fine in the end. No big deal."
  153. >That sentiment in particular elicited an apprehensive grunt from the stallion.
  154. >"Sure doesn't look like 'No big deal' from here, if you ask me."
  155. >The mare balked in offense, hoof to her chest, and Lawno shook his head incredulously.
  156. >"Look, pardon my saying so and all, but you're not exactly the picture of health, ma'am."
  157. >She attempted to vocalize a defense, but was cut off by a violent sneeze before the words could form.
  158. >The earth pony barked a laugh.
  159. >"Case in point. You worked yourself ragged to meet that self-imposed deadline, didn't you? I bet your coworker even insisted you take your time."
  160. >Blushing, the mare shot back in kind.
  161. "And so what if I did? All that matters is that the task gets done in my line of work, full stop! There's always time for a break when the work's finished!"
  162. >She indignantly turned away, nose raised.
  163. "Honestly, I don't get why you're so miffed about it in the first place."
  164. >Silence, save for an exasperated scrape of hoof against tile.
  165. >Feeling she'd adequately made her point, Sassy twisted her neck around to see how exactly the stallion was reacting.
  166. >He was peering intently at a single tile, brow screwed up in concentration, and very deliberately tracing a circle around it.
  167. >Clear as day, he was deliberating on whether to voice his deeper-seated issue or to simply keep his peace.
  168. >And she couldn't decide whether she wanted the former or the latter option more.
  169. >When WAS that blasted train due in?
  170. >She was about to properly check the clock for the first time in what felt like an eternity, but found her eyes resting on the male instead, for he cleared his throat in preparation before she had seen the hands.
  171. >With a shuffle of his forehooves, he laid out a proposal.
  172. >"Since I'd like to shed some light on my view in regards to this matter, and your train seems to be held up for whatever reason, could I trouble you with a shred of my life story?"
  173. >An anxious frown crossed the mare's face, and Lawno scrambled to add onto it.
  174. >"Now I know what you're thinking, and don't worry about it. I won't use any names or anything that might bring harm to you. Nopony will even know you and I ever met, let alone talked."
  175. >She released a baited breath at that qualifier, and gave a 'proceed' gesture.
  176. "If you really think it'll convince me that your concern is warranted, I don't see why not."
  177. >Her flippancy was a mask, of course.
  178. >In truth, he had her hooked on the line like an eager trout.
  179. >Now knowing that there was no risk in learning about his situation, the unicorn was positively ecstatic.
  180. >The story behind this mysterious, soaking wet, concrete-dusted earth pony was about to come to light, and she was sure that she would be one of the few souls alive privy to it.
  181. >The anticipation was enough to make her momentarily muse on the fleeting nature of pony life.
  182. >Considering, after all, that she would likely be the last to hear of the pony known as Bugs "Castle" Lawno before he assumed a new life and new identity.
  183. >She made sure not to show this contemplation outwardly, though, and simply sat back on her haunches, ears rotated forward and receiving intently.
  184. >Lawno wrung out his hat, cleared his throat, and began.
  185. >"You don't need to know about my real early life or anything. It's kind of irrelevant to begin with, even more so when I'm trying to make a point, so I'll just start from about the midpoint."
  186. >'Aw, disappointing' Sassy thought, keeping it to herself.
  187. >"Basically, things were going pretty well for me. I owned a nice little well-to-do bakery down in Lower Canterlot, had a beautiful wife and two foals - both fillies - and was just generally well-liked by all."
  188. >He chuckled.
  189. >"If you ask me, that is."
  190. >The unicorn stifled a sneeze so as not to interrupt him, and he continued.
  191. >"Anyway, my life was just swell, my place in the world was undoubtedly an enviable one. There was just one major issue - I didn't see it that way at the time."
  192. >His listener raised an eyebrow and cocked her head to the side, wishing to ask her burning questions but refraining from doing so.
  193. >And she was right to stay quiet, for he answered himself.
  194. >"No, I fell into the trap so many Lower Canterlot ponies do, and started comparing myself to others. Instead of seeing my life as the enviable one it was, I saw the lives of the upper crust nobles I passed every day on the way to work and decided that it just wasn't enough."
  195. >Sassy Saddles was many things, but she wasn't outright stupid or airheaded.
  196. >She saw exactly where the story was going, but wasn't sure how the message connected to her present situation.
  197. >She hadn't been greedy or cloying!
  198. >As a matter of fact, she'd been downright generous!
  199. >"So, thinking me and my kin deserved more than what we had, I set my nose to the grindstone. Hour after extra hour at the bakery just to earn that extra little bit of income, hoping to improve our standard of living by just one little extra bit by extra bit."
  200. >"And for a time, it worked; I could eventually afford to move us into a nicer flat, send the kids to a nicer school, buy my wife nicer clothes. I can't lie to you and say that I don't wish I could experience those days again."
  201. >He looked up and made eye contact with his sole audience member, acute pain and longing painted all over his features.
  202. >'Oh, Sassy' she thought to herself.
  203. >'You shouldn't have encouraged this'.
  204. >The storyteller lightly stamped a hoof.
  205. >"Obviously, that lifestyle couldn't last. Lavishness can't expand forever."
  206. >He chuckled again, a much more solemn inflection behind it this time.
  207. >"Heck, even if it could, Canterlot has that whole 'birth ceiling' thing. I couldn't carry us past a certain point even if I tried."
  208. >"That didn't stop me, though. The desire to ascend beyond my means had well and truly sunken its teeth in, and no matter how hard I shook it just clamped down harder. That desire-"
  209. >His head bowed so that the mare couldn't see his eyes, but she could tell what was happening by the increased cadence of drops falling from his chin.
  210. >The stallion was crying.
  211. >Through a choked sob, he still soldiered on.
  212. >"That desire led me to make the worst decision of my life, one that I could never, every recover from. In a progressive moment of weakness, I borrowed hefty sum after hefty sum of bits from the mob, desperately attempting to buy my way up the social ladder."
  213. >The unicorn remained impassive, but being a Canterlot resident herself, she knew how serious loans from the local organized crime syndicates were.
  214. >Ponies that sank too low into debt - or couldn't pay it off - often ended up disappearing without a trace.
  215. >She gulped involuntarily.
  216. >"It was about when I started going into the red consistently that I came face to face with reality. No matter how much money I sank into my social standing, no matter how nice my kids' schooling or how beautiful my wife's dresses, I would never be one of those bluebloods at the top."
  217. >"By the time I finally - for the first time in YEARS, mind you - came to my senses, my debt was absolutely irrevocable. I couldn't pay it back in a million years of hard labor, and the ponies who had lent to me weren't gonna wait that long anyway."
  218. >He rubbed the back of his neck anxiously.
  219. >"So, to make a somewhat long story short, I traded my life for my family's, so to speak. Set them up in a nice quarter of the city under a new name with plenty of bits to stay on their feet for a while."
  220. >His tear-filled eyes locked with the mare's, and she felt a shiver run down her spine at the sheer despair behind them.
  221. "Their official story is that they've never known or heard of anypony by the name of Bugs "Castle" Lawno."
  222. >He wiped at his nose and looked forlornly down the outbound entrance to the station, as if expecting somepony to stroll through it.
  223. >Sassy was, for her part, stunned.
  224. >She... wasn't expecting that kind of emotional trip in a time and place like this.
  225. >This poor, poor stallion...
  226. >Assuming he was telling the truth, he had once had everything a pony could possibly want.
  227. >She couldn't imagine the pain associated with losing all of that so quickly.
  228. >However
  229. >There was a nagging question at the back of her mind.
  230. >Compelling as it was, how did that story have anything to do with-
  231. >"Do you know what the worst part about that story is on reflection, Ms. Saddles?"
  232. >The inquiry snapped her out of the thought.
  233. "What's that?"
  234. >"It's that I can remember everypony close to me - my family, my friends, even the ponies lending me money for Celestia's sake - insisting and even sometimes begging me to stop."
  235. >Oh.
  236. >He faced her with a sad smile.
  237. >"Every step of the way, everypony tried to curb my asinine and unrealistic goalsetting, tried to reign me in. My wife threatened to leave me quite a few times, even, but I never listened for very long. I always thought they were just being nice, and that everypony deep down really desired and hungered beyond their means as I did."
  238. >A mild but growing rumble began to rise in the station; light fixtures swayed, loose tiles clattered around, and a whistle sounded.
  239. >"What I'm getting at is, listen to others when they say not to trouble yourself. You could have saved yourself a lot of pain by focusing on your work first and your coworker's second, as she had likely intended you to."
  240. >"And above all, don't make a habit out of unrealistic self-expectations..."
  241. >A light shone in from the outbound track entrance.
  242. >"...Lest you end up like me."
  243. >Bugs "Castle" Lawno tipped his sopping-wet hat at Sassy, and gestured towards the light.
  244. >"It appears your train has finally seen fit to arrive, Ms. Saddles."
  245. >As if snapping out of a hypnotic trance, the slender unicorn swung around, and was sure enough met with a run-down iron locomotive pulling lazily into the station.
  246. >"It's been a pleasure relating my story to you, ma'am. While I hope we meet again someday, I hope that day is a long way off. For your sake, that is."
  247. >She turned back to return the goodbye in kind, but found the platform empty of ponies save the attendant.
  248. >All that remained of Mr. Lawno's presence was a small puddle with specks of dried concrete floating in it.
  249. >Flabbergasted, Sassy Saddles checked the analog clock hanging cockeyed on the wall.
  250. >12:01 AM
/pj250/ SAFE Sassy Saddles Slice of Life

Midnight Train Going Nowhere /pj250/

by LmonE6

Hallmark Dream-a (One-Shot)

by LmonE6

Assistant to the Night Court

by LmonE6