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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

The schedule is printed in neat black letters on a faded sign under the overhang:

Wayfare: every half hour
Serendipity: twice weekly
Fortitude: twice daily
The Old Place: every other hour
Missing Station 5: as needed

The old man stirs and sits upright, releasing a practiced yawn. The rain falls harder, clattering against every available surface.

The train whistle blows, a bell chimes twice, and the train doors begin to close.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

As you board the train, the old man calls out to you, but his words are lost in a shrill whistle as the train lurches forward and begins to depart. A clap of thunder follows along after, and the train leaves the station behind.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You move down the aisle, but none of the other passengers seem to pay you any attention. An old man stares out of his window. A young child reads a book by the light of a lamp. A cat snoozes on a seat all by itself. The countryside whirs by outside the windows.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You sit down across from the cat. Its dark fur rises and falls with each breath. "Hello," you say. The cat opens one eye to look at you. "Hello," it says, head tilting slightly as it observes you. "I trust you have something interesting to say, since you decided to wake me."

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

"We?" the cat smirks. "Got on the train without a destination in mind, hmm? Well, that's all right, I'm sure you'll find a stop that suits you."

The cat sits up and moves over to the window.

"Everyone gets off the train eventually."

It curls back up on the other side of the seat and closes its eyes, wishing for a sunbeam against that rain-dappled pane of glass.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You try to speak to the cat again, but it's already fast asleep. You move over to a seat next to the child. In their hands sits an old tome, propped open on their knees. On the seat is a desk lamp, illuminated. Occasionally, the lamp jostles along with the train, and the child reaches out a hand to steady it. They do not look up from the book, but there is a pause in their demeanor that you acknowledge as a greeting.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

The child tilts the book forward slowly. The pages are covered with meandering symbols that flicker under the lamplight and wander across the pages in shifting formations.

"It takes a while to get used to the pacing, but the story's pretty good," the child says.

The thunderstorm outside is quieting down. A few beams of silver sunlight begin to slip between the clouds.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

The child raises an eyebrow, then hands the book to you. You turn it around in your hands, but there is no noticeable difference in the symbols when you adjust the book's orientation.

The pages flutter, opening to a new place, revealing new symbols. The lamp dims and flickers, the child smiles, and you find yourself, for a moment

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

The grass ripples around you, a moment unable to keep still, unable to compress into a picture. The light of the moon reveals the shadows of mountains in the distance, the reflection of a small pond, and the dozens of tiny lights raining down from the sky. Each one whistles and chimes and calls out to the others.

You're back on the train as the child takes back the book and continues reading. The glass orb in your pocket chimes softly.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You pull the glass orb from your pocket. Inside, a small and sparkling light floats like a dandelion seed. The child looks at it with interest, and the pages of the book begin to curl slightly.

The small light clinks delicately against the inside of the glass.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You hand the orb to the child, who takes it with immense care and holds it close to their face. The little light sparkles within.

"Thank you," they say, eyes locked on the orb. The rest of their words are whispers, intended for the light alone.

The door at the end of the aisle behind you slides open, and a small woman in a uniform steps into the car.

"Present your tickets, if you please," she says softly.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

The woman stands next to the old man, who holds up a large paper ticket to her. She takes it dutifully, observes it carefully, and then hands it back to him. You approach her, and she looks at you with surprise.

"Your ticket, please."

You show her

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

She leans in with small spectacles and blinks twice. The bottle hums a few notes in response. She writes a few words in a little notebook, and smiles, satisfied. "Thank you, dear passenger, now excuse me, if you please." She slips past you to inspect the remaining tickets. You make your way to the next car.

The lights are off, but quiet morning sunlight drips in through frosted windows. Most of the passengers in this car are asleep, save two.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

The fern rise from a ceramic vase, its fronds unfurled across the seat, resting. There is an aroma of earth, of old forest, that permeates the air.

"Hello, friend," it says in a careful voice.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

"If you want to," it says. The smell of fresh rain arrives inside the car through a nearby open window.

"I'm visiting my family in the mountains," it says after a long pause. "Where are you headed, friend?"

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

"You have the look of someone who's forgotten a number of things," the fern says. "But that's okay. You'll get to where you're headed."

You both sit quietly for a while, each staring out the window as the scenery rolls by.

"Do you remember why you carry that ring on a chain?

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

The fern furls and unfurls a bit, and answers the question with a new question:

"Do you remember who I am?"

There is a long silence between the two of you.

"It's okay," says the fern. "I don't either. I remember everything about you, but nothing about myself. Funny how that works, isn't it?"

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

"You did."

A mountain range approaches, mist and mystery and blues and grays running up against the greens and golds.

"And I knew you."

Small lamps along the walls illuminate, and the train enters a tunnel.

"My stop is the next one, but it was nice to see you again."

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

A smile crept into the fern's voice: "I don't think this is your stop."

The train whistle blows, the gentle rumbling stops for just a moment, and the fern is gone.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You make your way to the next door between the compartments. The old man pauses his consideration of the outside and looks up at you.

"Beautiful day for a train ride, isn't it?"

His voice crackles like gravel beneath a dusty boot.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

His eyes smile just ahead of the rest of him, and he looks back out the window.

"That's a good start, a good start."

You make your way to the door and head into the next carriage. As you click the door shut, you remember the old man. He was in the first train car. He was asleep on the platform as the train pulled away.

You turn back and pull the door open again, but the old man's seat is empty.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You move as quickly as you can, back through each carriage. The old man is nowhere to be found. Puzzling this predicament in your mind, you make your way back to car in which you had your realization.

It is filled with plants. They are in the luggage racks, on the seats, the floor, curling around the windows. There are no other passengers here.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

"Hello?" you inquire into the carriage. You move slowly down the aisle.
The leaves sway with the clattering of the wheels on the tracks.

"They can't hear you," a soft voice says. A young woman appears from behind a seat, holding a small watering can. She looks at you curiously.

"They're busy at the moment."

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

The woman thinks for a moment, her face scrunched up in concentration. "I don't know," she finally says, "I just know that they're busy."

She continues moving from plant to plant, delivering water and humming a careful tune.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You hum along, notes in a delicate pairing with hers. She smiles and continues watering.

When the song ends, she sits down in one of the few empty spaces in the carriage and sets the watering can down in the aisle.

"You know that one too!" she says, smiling. "Where did you learn it?"

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You explain that you wrote it with a friend, a long time back, but you haven't heard it in some time.

She smiles and nods after you finish your story. "Well, I enjoy singing it every so often, so thank you!"

Outside, the train whistle blows. The woman looks out the window, peering past gently swaying leaves.

"This is my stop."

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You offer the bottle to her, but she shakes her head.

"That's your ticket, I couldn't possibly take it." She holds up the watering can. "I already have my own."

You ask her where she first heard the melody.

"The friend you wrote it with, they taught it to me." She exits the train, leaving a few notes of the song behind her.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You pick up the scattered notes, cradling them in your hands. They chime against each other and glitter in the sunlight coming through the windows. You press them into your pocket carefully. The train begins to curve gently as the tracks descend into a valley filled with fog.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You offer a new tune to the plants, and the leaves waver. You're not sure if it's because of the motion of the train or because they like the song. The view outside blurs as the fog rises, and the carriage door in front of you opens. The ticket inspector enters, closing the door behind her.

"Oh, hello again!" she says, smiling. You see her tuck an old key into her pocket as she makes her way towards you, greeting a few of the plants along the way.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

"Hello," you say, and the leaves rustle again. She makes her way slowly down the aisle.

"How has the journey been, so far?" She spends a moment looking out the window before turning back to you.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

"That's wonderful to hear," she says. "The journey is sometimes troublesome, but I'm glad that you've been having a nice time."

She looks back out the window.

"Have you decided at which stop you'll disembark?"

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

"That's all right. There are still a few left along the way." She sits down next to a small, potted evergreen tree and continues looking out the window.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

She smiles and gestures to the seat across from her. You sit. For a moment, a glint of sunlight slips through the fog and illuminates her eyes, and the ocean that lies behind them.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

Through the fog, you begin to discern tall, angular shapes. Buildings, of a sort. Lights glow dimly from various points, not affixed, merely floating. There are figures moving slowly among the shadows.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

The figures all mill about, each one carrying something from somewhere to somewhere else. All of the somethings are singing intertwined melodies.

"We don't usually stop here," says the ticket inspector. "Only when we know someone is intending to disembark."

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

"Yes, we are," she says, looking down at her rusted pocket-watch. "Not much longer now."

The notes in your pocket begin to tremble along with a song you do not recognize. The train begins to slow down, the fog outside clinging more fervently to the windows.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

As soon as you pull the notes from your pocket, they dance out from your hands and press fervently against the window. The glass shudders under their vibrations.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You remember the song, but you don't recognize it. A memory from somewhere else, from a moonlit field~

You're back at the edge of the pond, under a familiar and ink-black sky. The lights chime and glitter as they land in the tall grass, in the water, along the edge of the mountains.

You hold a folded letter in your left hand and a silver necklace in your right.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You let the necklace hang around your wrist as you unfold the letter in your hands. By the light of the moon, you can make out words in your own handwriting:

"Hello,

If you are reading this, you are me. And we have failed. Gather your song, your promise, and your star, and return here. Then, and only then, we~"

The train jostles on the tracks, and the ticket inspector looks at you curiously.

"Everything okay?" she asks.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You scoop the notes up off the sill of the window and put them back safely in your pocket, despite their protestations. You have your song.

The ticket inspector seems perplexed, and concerned.

"Are you all right?" she asks, looking down again at the rusted watch.

The lights in the mist waver, patterns of color changing as the whistle blows and the train begins to slow down.

choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You touch the brass ring, holding it up to the light of the lamps. A dull glimmer peeks through, reflecting cloud-covered mountains wrapped in snow. The chain it hangs from chimes quietly. You have your promise.

The inspector stands up slowly.
"May I ask...what you're doing?"

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You stand up as you rummage through your pockets, murmuring to the ticket inspector about the letter, the pond, the sky filled with stars --

Your star. Your mind races back to the small glass orb, the light within, the child whispering to it in wonder.

The ticket inspector is standing now too, looking at her pocket-watch with nervous apprehension. "I'm afraid, I'm...I'll need you to follow me, please."

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You follow her into the compartment ahead. It's filled with bird cages, and the bird cages are littered with small piles of shining stones.

"My star...I....the child back in the other car, I..."

She looks at her watch again. "I'm afraid the next stop is approaching." She looks up at you apologetically.

The stones in the cages all echo her words, and murmur in response to yours.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You turn, towards the way you came, towards the door, towards the other passenger cars behind you.

"It isn't your stop, no, but it is mine."

You turn back towards her. Her eyes are soft and sad and brimming.

"This is as far as I will go, this time," she says, "but don't worry, there aren't that many more stops ahead." She sets the pocket watch down on a table and heads for the door ahead. "I hope you find what you're looking for."

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

The watch feels heavy in your hand. Its gears stopped recently, or perhaps a long time ago, or perhaps they've never moved. Three links of the missing chain dangle from the loop. The sound of crickets can be heard from within.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

The glass is cracked and glittering. Reflected in the shattered shapes is glimmering water ~

You're kneeling at the edge of the pond. A figure stands in the middle, water below the shoulders, reaching for a light that floats just above the surface.

Your heartbeat clanks in your ears, tick, tick, tick, ~

The watch wakes you from your reverie.

The ticket inspector is gone. The windows are open. The train has stopped.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You dash back through the compartments; they're nearly all empty. Fog begins to slip in through every open window, and with it, the song from the outside.

There are so many more cars between you and where you started, more than you walked through, certainly.

When you finally arrive in car where the child was, they are not there. The lamp sits quietly in their seat, light dimmed.
The book rests on the cushion, bookmarked with a large orange leaf.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You heft the book into your arms. It seems heavier, now. The cold air from the windows is held back by the warmth of the cooling lamp.

The old man snores gently in the corner.

A chime sounds from somewhere back the way you came.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader, partially submerged in water 

The book creaks like a old ship in a storm, the pages fluttering in the wind --

You are standing in the middle of the pond, water just below your shoulders. A light hovers above your outstretched hand. A star. Your star. It's so close, you could just reach a little further and --

The book snaps shut in your hands, water dripping quietly from its bindings.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

You tap the old man on the shoulder. He wakes, and smiles.

"I was wondering if I'd get see you again."

He pulls out a small journal and thumbs to a worn page.

"I'm afraid you're at the wrong end of the train, friend," he says apologetically, "They've gone up to speak to the conductor."

The train lurches slightly, then stills. The whistle blows, and the fog clawing at the windows is driven back.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

"Oh this? A friend gave it to me a long time ago, asked me for a favor," he trails off, looking out one of the darkened windows. The steady drip of water from the book in your own hands plays gentle percussion on the carpeted floor of the train.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader, suspense/mild horror 

The old man shrugs and hands it to you. You set the old book on the seat beside the old man, and peel the journal open. The pages are blank, no, they are empty, scrubbed clean of all ink; there are smudges where it used to be. The old man shrugs again, "Doesn't seem to work that way, I'm afraid."

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader, suspense/mild horror 

There is a small popping sound as the lamp goes out. The old book begins to burble dark water onto the seat cushion. You begin to leave, heading towards the engine, towards the child, towards the last thing you need.

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choose your own adventure #1, directed at reader 

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Queer Garden

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