The Long Train
A loud horn awoke Matilda. The skin around her eyes was red and swollen and she winced as she rubbed them. The room trembled and she heard only the soft sounds of breathing from the beds near her own.
She sat up and her bed squeaked and groaned. Its cries continued as she pulled away her blanket and set a small foot on the cold floor. She tiptoed over to a window but could only see branches and leaves lit by an early dawn sky.
There was a yawn behind her. “What’s wrong?” asked a voice. Matilda stretched her feet and stood on her toes, turning her head to try to find a view through the branches.
“What’s that noise?” Matilda asked. “The room’s shaking all over.”
“Oh, you hearda horn?” There were the sounds of squeaking and Matilda saw a girl come up beside her at the window.
“What was it?” Matilda asked. She looked at the girl. She was much smaller than Matilda, only around seven years old, and had long brown hair mussed from sleep.
“It’s tha train. The long train. Everyone hear it the first morning.” The girl’s eyes only came to the bottom of the window. She yawned again.
“What’s your name?” asked Matilda.
“Sally,” the small girl replied. Matilda sighed.
“Sally? I don’t remember anyone called Sally. Were you there yesterday?”
“I was but James don’t know our real names. I think he make up one every time he see us. He’s kinda dumb.” She smiled and breathed loudly out her nose a few times.
“You’ll geta real name soon.”
“Yuh-huh, Bones give out the real names heah.”
“Ohâ€¦” Matilda looked back out the window. “Does the train come every morning?”
“No, tha train only come the first mowning.”
“The first morning?”
“The firs’ mowning everyone heah the train, and it don’t stop.”
“What? It doesn’t stop?”
“It’s why we all heah so long. River behin’us and train in front so we hafta stay.”
Matilda looked down at Sally and at the other beds. She sighed again and shook her head, then looked to the branches outside. She heard squeaking behind her and turned around to see Sally crawling back into a bed. She rested her elbows on the windowsill and stood listening to the sounds of the train, watching the branches lighten until the sky was a bright blue.