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When they came to, it was not in the comfortable window seat, or even on the floor, in a spill of limbs and mass confusion. But a scene that felt more akin to something in a dream: a field of flowers and a setting sun.
Meike sat up with a yawn, more curious than anything. Nothing felt out of the ordinary with their body, but assuming the train crashed, there was no sign on it. No broken machinery, scorched tracks, or even the bodies of their fellow passengers. ‘So it has to be a dream,’ they thought, and stood to take stock of their surroundings.
The field they’d found themselves in consisted almost entirely of ranunculus flowers of all shades, but arranged in such a pleasing matter that it had to be deliberate. Someone’s private garden, in other words. And yet there was no sign of civilization anywhere, no houses, roads, or other structures. ‘It’s a dream,’ they told themselves.
But Meike had no love for buttercups, or the yellows and oranges that dotted the reds and blues. They didn’t care much for flowers at all, outside of studying their properties and breeding potentials. Any garden of theirs, fictional or otherwise, would be strictly carnivorous: sundews, flytraps, pitcher plants, rafflesia, and waterwheels.
They pinched themselves and had sudden doubts about their original assertion. But there was nothing else to do but explore and familiarize themselves with the area. They secretly hoped it was a dream, as the only alternative was, well…
Meike forced themselves to trudge through the flowers, their target the lone tree in the area, a Sycamore. If they could climb it and get a good view, it might shed some light on this mystery. ‘Or you’ll fall down, hit your head, and wake up.’
But they never got that far; they were in the middle of swinging themselves up onto one of the sturdier branches, when their foot caught on something solid. Not solid the way the tree trunk was, but more of the flesh and bone variety. They tentatively nudged the object beneath the leaves, and something white and slender rolled out — a human arm.
They glanced around, half-expecting someone to rise above the flowers and aim a finger at them, before emitting a dull scream like a pod person. But no such scene followed. The only sound was the wind, bird song, and the soft groans beneath their foot.
Meike crouched down and brushed the mass of dead leaves and flowers away from the arm, and froze when it grabbed for them. At least now they knew it was attached to someone, and not simply tossed out like day old bread. They frantically shook the hand off and resumed digging.
A jacket and another arm came into view, and with nails black with soil, Meike grasped the flailing hands and dug their feet into the ground. They weren’t particularly strong; years of gaming, reading, and gardening only amounted to muscle memory and toned fingers, but determination guided them through.
Out popped a gasping figure, blonde hair almost indistinguishable from the dirt she was born from. The woman came kicking and sobbing, and dropped to her hands and knees in a patch of purple buttercups.
Meike stood back and watched as she hacked up a series of debris, most notably soil, so thick and generous they almost mistook it for vomit at first. Next came chunks of leaves, and tiny, pink chunks they recognized as earthworms. She lowered her head into a clean section of the flowers once her gut was empty, and divulged into tears, great wracking sobs and disjointed concerns about her location and what became of the train and everyone else.
“I don’t know,” was all they could offer. They were just as lost, and horrified at the idea that this was, in fact, reality, and not a cozy dream.
“We’re going to miss you, Capsule!”
“Have fun, Capsule!”
‘They don’t even know your name,’ Meike thought, with a touch of bitterness. And not for a lack of interest; it just never came up. They considered the people in the group chat to be allies and acquaintances, but the word “friend” never came into consideration.
So to “PineCone” and “prostate_milk” they were simply “Capsule”.
They sent a half-hearted assurance that they wouldn’t be entirely off the grid. In a pinch, they could connect via hotspot, though it wasn’t optimal for anything other than crafting and gathering. And all their social interaction came from raids…
Meike sighed and closed out of the app, their appetite for idle conversation lost. Just them and the train, and the other passengers deeply engrossed in their smartphones and laptops. An odd person or two held a tablet or e-reader in their hands.
It was comforting, in a way, to be surrounded by people who didn’t know your name or condition. Meike tried telling someone they once saw as the closest thing to a friend, and her response was lukewarm at best. The conversation quickly changed to the best place to farm mugwort, or some other middling herb. It was a better response than the one they feared, but left them feeling just as hollow.
‘You’re overthinking it, is all,’ they tried to tell themselves. That was the default stance for when things got to be too much, a brief stop on the road to a full shut down.
It was a bit late for regrets, but sometimes they wondered if this gig was even a good idea. Staying with a family they didn’t know, for essentially free labor – “We’ll pay you in experience!” but experience was good. Volunteering especially would look good on their resume, something to prove they weren’t just sitting around clicking a mouse and staring at a screen all day. Experience would lead them to a job they could tolerate, maybe even love, someday. And only then could they keep a beehive of their own.
Meike curled up on their window seat and used their jacket as a sort of shield to keep the person closest to them from reading their expression. Planes were much faster, yes, and their stations weren’t in sketchy areas that only opened to the public in the dead of night, but how else could they have a front row seat to the marvelous view in front of them? It’s why they loved road trips as a kid; seeing rows of green, horses, livestock, and the occasional body of water made the pain of confinement bearable. More so when they had a good book or music to occupy themselves.
If they closed their eyes and tried to focus on the soft thunks of train on track, they could almost feel themselves slipping away into a light sleep. One that would inevitably be disrupted by a stray thought or hacking cough from another passenger.
The inevitable jolt came from the person a few seats away, a woman with long, white blonde hair. She’d let out an ear piercing laugh and drawn the ire from other passengers. Meike was mildly curious but happy to stay in their own lane. Aside from staff, they were the only black person on board and didn’t want to risk drawing attention to themselves.
Things quieted down shortly after, and they diverted their attention back to the view outside. An endless stream of trees passed them by, but they spied hints that they were in the Carolinas: Dionaea muscipula, or Venus flytraps. Difficult to care for but a delight to observe. It was a shame they couldn’t climb out to inspect and maybe collect a few as a souvenir for their host family.
But they managed to collect them on something just as good: camera. Meike winced at the soft click of confirmation, and glanced to the side, but no one took interest. They silenced their phone and resumed collecting pictures, both of the plants and local wild life. Folks in the group chat might enjoy it, or at least pretend to.
They were angling for another shot when the train hit a rough patch, but had no time to recover. Someone screamed and during the lull of confusion, Meike was rocked off their seat and plunged into a world of darkness.
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