The Safe

Nigel ran quickly as the low, disembodied voice announced the departure times over the speaker system. The train station had been unusually crowded, and Nigel bumped into a few people during his rush. He ignored their annoyed glances, and came to a rushed stop right in front of the ticket counter.

"One ticket please!" Nigel blurted out to a small man behind the glass.

The man gave him an odd look then asked, "Where to?"

"Daysville," Nigel answered hurriedly, "the two o'clock train, now."

"That's leaving in five minutes!" said the small man, "Are you sure you don't want a ticket for the two-thirty train?"

Nigel became more agitated at this question and loudly said, "No! The two o'clock, please." In his condition, even a half hour was precious. He did not have much time, and did not want to waste what he had.

The small man stood up straight, and unconsciously tugged at the bottom of his uniform shirt to tidy it. He then proceeded to get the two o'clock ticket.

"That will be three dollars sir," he said.

Nigel handed the man his money and snatched the ticket from his hand. He quickly lifted his suitcase and continued to run toward the train.

"All aboard!" a tall, stern-looking conductor called out before he turned around and stepped up on to the train.

"Wait!" Nigel yelled as he tried to catch his breath.

The conductor turned his head and gave him a disapproving look before stepping back down.

"Do you have your ticket?" the conductor asked.

"Yes, right here," Nigel wheezed as he shifted his suitcase to the other hand to give the conductor his ticket. The conductor looked at it, and gave Nigel a quick nod before motioning him to step inside.

Nigel felt the train shift and start to move below him. He quickly glanced around the car looking for an empty seat. He saw one in the back, and swiftly walked over to it. He was relieved as he sat down and looked out the window to watch the busy station, and all its colors and noises, pass by. It was not until a few moments had passed that Nigel turned his gaze from the outside to look at his fellow passengers. He noticed that the car he was riding in was not too crowded. Near the front was an older woman wearing what looked like a black, old-fashion coat over a dark blue dress. She had silver hair that was tied up in a loose in bun. She seemed quite focused on the view outside. Near her was a much younger woman with short red hair reading a magazine. There was a man next to her in a dark brown suit who seemed overly anxious as he kept peering down at his watch and lightly tapping his right foot.

Nigel lifted his hat and ran his fingers through his hair then straightened his tie. He was about to try to get some sleep when he felt as if there were a pair of eyes on him. He turned to see a small boy with thick dark hair and piercing blue eyes looking at him. The boy was wearing a pair of black pants and a black vest over a white dress shirt. He continued to stare at Nigel then gave him a friendly smile. Nigel gave a curt smile back then continued to look around hoping the boy would do the same. He did not feel like keeping a child entertained right now. He wanted to be left alone. Besides, he did not like the way the boy was looking at him. It seemed as if those eyes could see right through him. Strange for a child, Nigel thought.

"Where are you going mister?" The boy asked.

Nigel pretended he did not hear him.

The boy reached over and lightly tugged at his sleeve. Nigel turned and glared at this disturbing child. The boy still stared at him with that unwavering friendly smile.

"I said, where are you going mister?" the boy asked again.

"That is none of your concern young man," Nigel answered.

Ignoring Nigel's answer the boy continued, "You're going home aren't you?"

"How do you know where I am going?" Nigel asked with a slight tone of annoyance in his voice.

"Because, everyone is this car is going home," the boy answered, "Everyone except me that is."

"Oh? And did you find this out by bothering them as well?" Nigel asked hoping the boy would take the hint that he did not want to be bothered.

"No," the boy answered, not taking the hint, "I just know."

"Well, if you already knew where I am going then why did you ask?" Nigel said.

"I was just trying to make some small talk," the boy answered.

"And where exactly are you going?" Nigel asked now trying to talk to the boy a little bit in hopes that this will satisfy the child's curiosity enough to make him be quiet. Nigel then noted the black pants and vest and asked, "Are you going to a funeral?"

The boy laughed. This was not the reaction Nigel was expecting. He gave the boy a curious look.

"That was funny mister! You're a joker aren't you?" the boy said with that same cheerful smile on his face.

"It wasn't meant to be a joke," Nigel stated flatly, "You have a strange sense of humor," Nigel said as he leaned his head back against the seat and pulled his hat over his eyes, "What's your name?" he asked.

"Oh, people call me by many different names," the boy said with a shrug, "You trying to go to sleep?"

"Yeah," Nigel answered. Maybe now he gets it, Nigel thought.

"What do you dream about?" the boy asked.

Nope, he still doesn't get it. "I don't dream," Nigel answered not bothering to remove the hat from his eyes as he spoke.

"Nonsense, everyone dreams," the boy stated.

"I've given up on dreams," Nigel said, "I use to have them, many to be exact, but not anymore. There's no point anymore."

"Why do you say that?" the boy asked.

"Because I won't live to see them come true," Nigel answered, "I have a terminal illness. You know what that is?"

"I have an idea, yeah," the boy answered with what seemed like a hint of familiarity.

"The doctor isn't sure how long I've got. So I just live day by day," Nigel answered casually.

"You don't seem too upset about it," the boy said.

"No, I am," Nigel said, "but not all the time. I don't want to waste the time I've got being upset. Whatever is meant to be will be."

"What kind of dreams did you use to have?" the boy asked.

Nigel sighed in annoyance and tried to pull his hat down further. He wished he had something to pull over his ears, or over the boy's mouth.

"You sure are inquisitive for a child," Nigel answered, "What do you care for dying man's old dreams?"

"Just curious," the boy answered, "I often do not know the difference between reality and dreams."

"It must be nice," Nigel answered, "but that is because you're a child. When you grow up you'll know the difference."

"Oh, I certainly hope not!" the boy said sitting up straight, "I know plenty of adults who live their dreams."

"Well, I guess they had the time to make them come true," Nigel said with a slight note of cynicism in his voice.

"If you weren't ill would you dream again?" the boy asked.

Nigel thought about this question for a moment then answered, "Yes. I believe I would."

The boy did not ask anymore questions much to Nigel's relief. The car was now silent except for the rumbling sound of the wheels on the tracks. The slow swaying of the train eventually put Nigel to sleep.

"Wake up, sir. This is your stop."

Nigel felt a gentle nudge on his arm and lifted his hat from his eyes. He saw the stern face of the conductor leaning over him.

"Your stop sir, we're here," the conductor said.

Nigel nodded and the conductor turned and left. He looked around and saw that the overly curious boy was nowhere to be seen. Good. He did not want that child to follow him and ask him more uncomfortable questions. Nigel stood up and grabbed his suitcase from the carrying shelf above his seat. The car was completely empty except for himself, and very quiet. He stepped off the train onto a platform that was considerably less hectic than the one he had come from. In fact, it seemed deserted.

Must be a slow day, he thought.

As the train pulled away, Nigel walked toward the station that looked quite different than the one Daysville used to have. This station was made of grey stone, and two tall towers rose at each side displaying little arched windows and topped with cone-shaped roofs. The station had a blue tile roof, and vines with tiny white flowers grew half way up it.

It must have been revamped, Nigel thought as he walked through the door into the station.

As soon as the door shut behind him he knew something was wrong. The station was completely empty! No one was waiting on benches reading papers or watching children. No one was standing in line for tickets, and no one was behind the glass selling tickets or announcing the departure times. Nigel quickly ran back outside and looked for the train. It was by now out of sight. He looked down the tracks hoping to see another train coming. Obviously, he was in the wrong place! This most definitely was not his stop!

"Damn it! I don't have time for this!" he shouted to the emptiness.

With a long sigh Nigel made his way back inside the station. He would just have to wait for the next train to come by. He sat down on a bench and looked up at the large station clock, which he noticed was not working.

Must be broken, he thought.

It was then when Nigel felt like someone was watching him. He quickly turned around, and to his surprise, he saw the boy who had been bothering him on the train. The boy was standing quietly on the other side of the station with his hands behind his back, and wore that same friendly smile on his face.

"Hey! Kid!" Nigel yelled. He picked up his suitcase and quickly walked over to the boy.

"Hurry up Nigel. They're going to open the safe," the boy said as he turned around and ran out the front door of the station.

"Hey! Wait!" Nigel shouted after the boy. He picked up his suitcase and followed the boy through the door then abruptly stopped. Outside was a forest. Tall, green trees loomed above, and brightly colored and sweet-singing birds could be heard and seen flying among the tree tops.

"How did you know my name?" Nigel asked.

"It doesn't matter. Now, come on, lets go, they're going to open the safe," the boy said with urgency as he ran into the wood. He then quickly turned around and added, "Leave your suitcase. You won't be needing it."

Reluctantly, Nigel paused half way down reaching for his suitcase of belongings.

Perhaps I'm dreaming, he thought as he stood up and started to walk into the wood.

There was a small path through dense trees. Most of the sun was blocked, but there were small rays of light that slipped past the thick leaves and landed on the pathway before him. He took large steps trying to catch up with the boy while breathing in the fresh air. Up ahead he saw the back of the black-clad boy running into a clearing. Nigel followed and found himself in the clearing as well. He took in a deep breath at the sight before him. There was small town full of the oddest houses he had ever seen. They were all made of grey stone just like the station. But these houses were much more whimsical in design. Crooked windows adorned lop-sided doors, and turrets would stick out in odd directions and twist up toward the sky. They all had the same blue tile roofs and the vines with the pretty white flowers growing on them. But what struck Nigel most was that these houses also had clocks on them. All sorts of clocks--big ones, tiny ones, ones with fancy arabesque designs, and others that were so plain they even lacked the numbers. But what was most strange is that none of them were working. They all sat still and silent, the hands forever frozen at different times of the day.

Nigel took in the sight of the strange place as he slowly made his way down the cobblestone street toward the center of town. There he noticed a crowd of people gathered around a small platform. Standing on the platform was a plump man in a pinstriped tailcoat and top hat. He was balancing on a black cane and had a pleasant, and strangely comfortable smile. One look at him and Nigel felt suddenly at ease despite his odd situation. Next to him stood a tall, slender pedestal, and perched atop it was a safe. It was not that impressive of a safe. It was small and black and had a silver turn-dial lock. Nigel could hear murmurs traveling through the crowd and he looked around. He saw, to his surprise, the people he had been riding with on the train. There was the silver-haired lady with the old-fashion coat, the pretty red-haired young woman, and the anxious man, though he was no longer anxious looking. In fact, he seemed quite calm and at peace now. They all did, except for the general excitement about the opening of the safe.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the man on the platform announced.

Instantly the whispers and murmurs died down and all attention was focused on the platform. Nigel stood in the back of the crowd and watched as well.

"Here it is," a voice said. Nigel looked down and saw standing next to him the young boy from the train that he followed here. He was looking at Nigel with those piercing blue eyes again, as if he were looking at his soul. This would have unnerved Nigel if it were not for the sincere smile the boy also had. Because of this smile, Nigel felt like he could trust this child.

"We are about to open the safe," the man said as cheers rang from the crowd, "Quiet down now, quiet down," he politely said as his white-gloved hand started turning the dial lock.

The crowd held its breath in complete silence. Even the birds could not be heard, nor the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. It was as if everything was frozen. Nigel watched as the man turned once to the right, and stopped on a number that was date. He then turned the dial two times to the left, and stopped on a number that was the month, and at last he turned once more to the right, and ended on a number that was the year. Then a small "click" was heard. Nigel could feel the excitement of the crowd and suddenly it did not matter that he was in this strange place surrounded by strange people. All he wanted now was to desperately see what was in that safe! Nigel could feel his rapid pulse and the butterflies in his stomach as the door on the safe slowly opened to reveal...Nothing!

Nothing! Nigel thought, No, wait, there is something, something small.

Nigel squint his eyes trying to make out what it was but he was too far away. Then suddenly, he heard it. It was not hard to hear since it was the only sound, but it was a sound Nigel had not heard once in this place. It was the ticking of a clock.

A look of puzzlement fell across the face of the man on the platform who now looked inside the safe. He then turned and looked directly at Nigel. The crowd followed his gaze and they all turned to look directly at Nigel too. Then, still curiously watching him, they parted to make a path up to the platform for him.

"Come up here young man," the man on the platform said.

Hesitantly, Nigel made his way to the platform, the eyes in the crowd all watching him as he walked by.

As he stepped up onto the platform the man in the top hat said, "Now look inside that safe and tell me what you see."

Nigel did as he was told and saw that inside the safe was a tiny grandfather clock, maybe only three inches tall. It was a dark, midnight blue and had tiny little stars on it. It looked as if the clock was made from the night sky itself. Now and then, Nigel saw a shooting star streak across the little surface of the clock. A tiny pendulum swung back and forth in time with the ticking noise. The clock was working.

"You still have time," a voice said.

Nigel turned around and saw the young boy again. It seemed as if the boy just appeared beside him.

"What do you mean?" Nigel asked.

"You're not out of time. You still have time," the boy answered. Then he turned around and announced enthusiastically to the crowd, "He still has time!"

The boy started laughing, and soon the crowd was laughing as well. Nigel stood silently while looking at the crowd and the boy with confusion on his face. As the laughter became louder Nigel became more upset.

"I still don't understand what you mean!" Nigel shouted at the boy.

The boy faced Nigel with a huge grin and said, "I should have known when you didn't recognize me on the train car. The other passengers did. I thought there was something odd about you!"

"What are you talking about?!" Nigel said, anger rising in his voice.

"Oh Nigel, don't get upset," the boy said, "We've never had this happen before, and we find it to be quite funny! It was our mistake," he started laughing again then calmed himself long enough to add, "I think you should find a new doctor!"

It was then that Nigel understood. I have time, he thought.

"I have time!" Nigel shouted and the people cheered back among their bursts of laughter.

"I have time! I have time!" Nigel continued to shout as he too started laughing.

"Yes, it appears you do," said the man with the top hat. He then shut the safe's door and twist the dial to lock it, "that will be opened on another day, but not now." He then picked up the safe and carried it into one of the houses.

Nigel continued to laugh with the crowd. He did not know why he was laughing, he was just so happy, joyous, thrilled!

Slowly the laughter got fainter and fainter.

"Wake up sir, this is your stop."

Nigel lifted the hat off of his head and looked at the conductor with a huge smile.

"Did you have a good dream sir?" the conductor asked.

A dream! Was it all just a dream? Nigel thought. He looked at the conductor again. He was a short, older man with thick white hair.

"The other conductor, the tall, mean looking fellow, is he here?" Nigel asked.

"What other conductor?" the short man asked, "I'm afraid I am the only conductor on this train sir."

Nigel looked around. He was alone in the train car.

"Has there been any other passengers here? A red-haired girl, and a man, and an old woman, and a...boy...yes! A boy in black with sharp blue eyes!" Nigel asked.

"Nope, you've been the only passenger in here the whole time sir," the conductor answered, "are you sure you're all right?"

Nigel looked out the window and saw the Daysville station.

"I still have time," he whispered.

"Time for what?" the conductor asked.

Nigel turned around and smiled broadly and said, "For anything I can dream of!"