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Perdition (WIP, Nano first draft, very chaotic!)

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Lucie Laflamme receives a mysterious note telling her to take the next train to Montréal, and she acquiesces because she craves adventure, conscious that it's an idiotic, even incomprehensible move. Meanwhile, her online friend Sunset (Félix-Antoine Vanier) is an immigrant of Pakistani origin (who chooses largely to forsake his origins, even down to his name) who's part of a special francization class in Laval and just as depressed as she is. Both of them find an outlet in their strange, otherworldly, dreamlike adventures... but who's that strange pink-clad warrior, and what does she want? Note: This is a NaNoWriMo work-in-progress novel and extremely chaotic - I'm trying to impose some structure upon it, and will focus on that during the second draft, but for the moment I need it to be written!

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Chapter 1

As Lucie stepped past the glass doors of the train, the announcement of the departure echoed one last time across the station and beyond. Her ears already too occupied with deciphering the whispers beneath the howling snowstorm and the burning steam engines of another era, she did not realize she had almost been late until she heard the faceless voice of the announcer abort into static silence.

The warmth of the train was almost disagreeable after the glacial frost outside. The layout of the station was rather particular, and the train itself was out in the open, left foolishly to the mercy of the clouds. Perhaps fifty snow-laden metres separated the hall from the train, occupied in more clement weather by hordes of people awaiting their loved ones, or wanderers like Lucie stepping out to wait for the next train.

She glanced behind her and saw the revolving doors of the station farther than she had imagined, opening and closing to admit another handful of people sprinting towards the train, towards her. Indoors, the hall was refined enough, stainless and sparkling clean. Rows and columns of seats spanned the centre, the majority of them occupied by men and women quietly waiting an eternity, their eyes closed to the world - or at least to whatever world might lay outside their screens, which Lucie judged worse.

She was conscious of her hypocrisy even as she sat in the waiting room, her eyes seeing no world but her phone. Her fingers tapped away relentlessly in an unconscious rhythm, directed by her mind registering the resulting text like it would the spoken words of an interlocutor. Vaguely she was conscious of the clock ticking away on the grey wall opposite her; of the constant announcements that echoed across the world, occasionally disturbing her fingers and therefore her thoughts; and of the baby crying and laughing by turns three seats away from her. His mother rocked him (they called him Dave) on her lap while his father laughed along with him and fed him something Lucie did not bother to look at.

T’es encore réveillé? she typed and sent it. It was already midnight and the person she was chatting with - some amateur writer from another city going by the unidentifiable username of Sunset - was supposed to be asleep at ten. She realized before pressing send that it was an idiotic question - of course he was awake to be talking to her.

Tu t’en penses quoi? came the reply within the minute - she estimated sixteen seconds. Then, toi aussi, tu aurais dû être endormie. She smiled at that; he’d only been learning French for five months, he’d told her, and they still sometimes talked in English. How long had it been since she’d first met him? She closed her eyes and let her memories play out before her, vague and eaten away by the onslaught of time. Less than a year, she calculated. He had been the one to text her first, and she did not care to scroll up months’ worth of furtive texts just to recall his initial motives. They were friends, that was all; and she had nothing to lose by considering him a friend, so long as she preserved her absolute anonymity.

Hey, ça va? came another message, already a minute old but missed because she had disabled sound notifications on her phone. It had been seven minutes since his last text. She had not known him to be so impatient, but tonight he had been displaying an unusual predilection for bleakness, at one point outright declaring that he did not trust himself not to commit suicide. That was thirty-six minutes of eternity away now, and hopefully never to return. She’d managed to reassure him. Somehow. She would not think of the half-truths and insincere banalities she’d had to say just because she was scared of saying anything that might hurt him, even were it the truth.

Ça va bien. Je pensais à quelque chose. She had not told him of her insane escapade; it would have been too embarrassing. And what if he took it as a chance to meet her in real life? She’d be in the same city as him within seven hours. No, she would not trust him that far.

She would have typed more, but she saw the hour - 12:27 AM, until then an insignificant detail of the ambience - and her mind, desperately seeking an escape from a conversation that had lasted long enough, found the closest one available - the train would part in three minutes.

She barely retained a scream, before pocketing her phone and leaving almost in a run. She stopped only for a moment near the doors, glancing back at little Dave and his parents. He was still laughing, clapping his hands in sync to a rhyme the mother and the father sang in chorus, but which Lucie was too far away to hear. There was something in those far-off eyes that unsettled her by its sheer strangeness. A sparkle here, a tear there that she could only read as one of irrepressible joy.

She waved adieu to these strangers - conscious of her own choice of word, strangers - these strangers who would neither notice the gesture nor care about it. They were only three amidst the crowd that occupied the hall and the uniformly blue seats. Was there still time? She could go talk to them, and let the train pass by.

A strange noise filled the air and she felt herself irrevocably torn away from them. Pulling her gaze with ruthless force towards the train, she opened the door and braved the wild winds of this whitened world. Gusts and snow slammed her in the face, and she had to proceed with one arm held out before her fragile eyes, her hand curled as if to clutch a torch in the darkest cavern. The train, marvel of engineering, awaited her alone at the rails. For a wild moment she imagined the chauffeur standing by the doors, his top hat lowered in curtsy to her. The fancy vanished as soon as it appeared, leaving in her memory a mere trace of its existence.

She became suddenly conscious of a commotion around her. There were more people than there should have been in this weather. There were the last, fading wisps of fear and terror in the air, and already the crowds were returning to their own preoccupations. Then she saw the blood on the rails and around the landing. Slowing down a moment, buffeted by the winds and indifferent to the assault, she remembered another instance where the shocking violence of collision had been a mad, hopeless lover’s preferred method of suicide. Anna Karenina had interpreted a similar death - albeit accidental in her case - as an omen, and Lucie was not unaware of her ultimate fate.

She addressed a man in staff uniform hurrying away from the scene. “What happened here?”

The man turned to her and muttered something she did not catch, so rapid and hasty were his words. Before she could repeat her question, though, he blinked and looked at her as though he only now noticed her presence. “Sorry,” he mumbled, still barely decipherable, “It’s just… there were some kids fooling around the rails, seeing whether they could lay still while the train passed, and… well, the train couldn’t stop in time and, well…” his eyes roved left and right, up and down; he rapidly crossed himself, then again because he had mixed it up the first time, “you can see the gory details. Already cleaned by the snow…”

She handed him a ten-dollar note and he took it with confusion, thanking her profusely before losing himself in the crowd. Shrugging off the incident with some malaise, she approached the train and stepped in, only then recognizing the source of a strange noise that had been bothering her for the last two minutes - the announcement of the departure.

The first thing she registered inside the train - aside from the uncomfortable warmth and the final glimpse of the station doors - was the window opposite her, spanning the length of the train and its many cars. It lay an infinity away, and for moments she could see herself reflected in the glass, her figure superimposed against the white roads, white trees, white buildings and starry white skies that lay beyond.

Then it was the layout that caught her attention. The seats were grouped into cabins of four, and each cabin was as large as her bedroom back home. Red curtains hung everywhere, retracted more often than not because in any case they did not block voices and thus were useless for privacy. The cabin immediately in front of her was empty and the curtain tied up against the roof, allowing a view of the world beyond. Without further thought, and with her legs suddenly weak and trembling, she sat down next to the window and extended her seat until it resembled her bed back home.

She glanced left and was not surprised to see a table between her seat and the next one; as well as immediately in front of her, but that had retracted into the walls. Lucie had never been in a train before, not in a long time at least, but she did not think this was the natural layout of a train that, considering the distances, was little more than a fancy autobus. One day, she thought, one day this journey would take less than two hours even via land.

There was a faintness, a blur to the entire train and everything within. A malleability to it, she thought. If she wanted to merge the two seats into a sofa and recline half-dead against the velvet, she probably could within the domain of this journey. She might step outside and discover a castle with its arches reaching into the third sky; or merely a seedy roadside inn five hundred miles from civilisation as defined by her parents.

She picked up her phone by reflex - the one anchor into objective reality that she had - and saw three more messages. Tu peux me le dire, tu sais. - Si tu veux, c’est-à-dire. Je comprends si tu ne veux pas. - Je suppose que t’es allée dormir. Bonne nuit!

Sunset was certainly still awake, probably insomniac and distracting himself reading the news - probably about more of Johnson’s pathetic, shameless shenanigans. He’d probably be wondering whether this new scandal would finally topple him. Sunset hoped so - they’d talked about it recently, and more than once - but he had trouble imagining what might follow, whether or not Truss or Sunak could do any better (probably not, he acknowledged, but could one do worse than Johnson?) He would eventually give up, though - it was not his country after all, nor hers.

Lucie typed three more messages. - Désolée. J’étais… ailleurs. - C’est vrai, je ne peux pas te dire tout. Tu me comprendras. - Bonne nuit. She knew it was better to sleep now, but she merely closed the chat and started scrolling down, skipping one post after another. There were some interesting things there, but what matter? Two minutes later she had closed the app and was staring blankly at the lit screen, wondering what to do of it, craving to do something other than lay quietly and sleep. The dreams would take possession of her, and perhaps worse. A strange unreality loomed in the train, and this night she did not trust the laws of nature.

The train set off with a jerk and a violent rumble that, in another era, she would have associated with steam engines and coal furnaces. Soon the last vestiges of the noise lost themselves in the fading snowfall and the uniformly colourless streets of the city. Already Toronto was disappearing before her, lost in the blur of sheer single-minded speed. The myriad skyscrapers were bathed yellow in the sterile glow of electricity, almost obscuring the wintry white covering the brutal, constant grey of the construct. Her best friend - if she could call her that - lived in one of the highest chambers there, holed up in an apartment of four children and a father.

For three fleeting moments, the full moon stood just above the tilted peak of that skyscraper, smiling silver at her, left all alone amidst the clouds that had darkened a once-starlit world. Then the train passed by and the skyscraper lost its momentary crown, but the moon watched ever on, deprived of its host. She was not the only one watching that radiance, all alone in the night. There, on the balcony of a house just past the tracks, a man stood watching with a smile that did not accord with his hands reaching for the eyes. What have you lost, young man? she nearly asked out loud; even so, she heard her own voice, rough from thirst she had been ignoring for long. Do you think the stars can hear you?

She would never be able to account for the speed of the train, which should have blurred the scene beyond recognition. Just as the house and the little neighbourhood vanished from her sight and therefore her memory, she caught a glimpse of a woman standing on the balcony opposite, rings of smoke obscuring the wistful, cigarette-bearing smile. She pulled it out and threw it away, and it had not the time to hit the ground before she vanished behind the walls of her own house, and the man some milliseconds later. The last gesture she saw was of the man holding his hand out in an unmoving wave.

Would Sunset be watching the moon like that? Wishing there were a girl watching from the window opposite him (he had no balcony and lamented it once, accompanied with ample laughter emojis mocking his own sentimental foolishness)? In any case he would be awake if she needed to talk more. He always needed to talk; he would be happy to help her. Should she reveal her secret? She tore her gaze from the landscape and back to her still-lit screen still displaying her interminable feeds. A cat video; some worthless motivational messages. In Spanish, for some reason. Another motivational message. Someone ranting about the astronomical prices of oranges.

Lucie was merely scrolling; her thoughts were already elsewhere. She could still talk to him, and she kept hovering her finger over the chats tab before pulling it away. One time she typed almost an entire message before cutting it clean and pasting it in the notes app along with a reminder to delete it within 24 hours. She could have deleted it from existence right there and then, but she was rather proud of how she’d managed to phrase it, the tone candid and not desperate. And no spelling errors, either. She spoke French well enough - it was her mother tongue after all - but writing cleanly was another matter, and she often missed the difference between, say, aimer, aimé and aimée.

Somehow, it was the idea of writing that reminded her she was still carrying the note in her pocket along with her overflowing wallet. She removed it in furious, almost ashamed haste, nearly tearing it apart; and she did not even need to read it again to remember what it said down to the period. Hello Lucie. This message will strike you as strange, even unsettling, but it cannot be helped - there is no other way. I cannot explain myself as I would have wished, not by letter - it is too easy to intercept it. Enclosed within is a considerable sum of money, plus a ticket to Montréal. You are to take the train at 12:30 AM on Thursday, February 24 - you have one week to prepare. Once you reach Montréal, you are to take the bus or the metro to Laval, towards the Boulevard Saint-Martin Ouest. You will receive the precise directions soon. And be sure to come alone - in any case, I know you will not want to trust your parents in this matter. Once again, I apologize for being so cryptic, but there is no other way. Au revoir.

She read it through another time before returning it to her pocket, barely resisting the urge to shred it. She had received it a week ago, this letter without sender nor recipient; a hooded, masked man had turned up out of nowhere in the street, blocking her path just long enough to hand her the envelope and assure her in worthless words that there was nothing illegal nor dangerous in what he was doing. At home, hidden in her bedroom, she opened the note with anxiety and read it with disbelief increasing with every word. Then she read it another thirty times, her mind sinking deeper into insanity every time she returned her gaze to the greeting. It could not possibly be true. No - that was out of the question, it was a fraud without doubt.

She should not have had to ask herself that question in the first place, but she repeated reason after reason for why it could not possibly be legitimate. Too depressingly aware that, in answering a question that did not deserve attention, she was giving it legitimacy. She told herself that such things only happened in stories, that life was too complex and messy to allow for simple stories like this, that it would be too implausible for her to have a secret aunt or even an estranged parent (what were the chances of her being adopted?) - not to mention said aunt or parent had absolutely no reason to be so secretive. Or, indeed, to invite her to live with them in the first place.

But why would it be a fraud? Why her of all people, and why so specific? Toronto was too big a city and she too ordinary to catch anyone’s attention. Perhaps the world was greater, more magical than she knew. No, that would run counter to the laws of nature known and observed for thousands of years, if not necessarily established with mathematical rigor.

Those questions and others had haunted her all week, even as she made preparations for the departure - the elopement, she called it. Even as she asked herself why, and damned herself for being an idiot, and laughed at the absurd madness of someone who would actually fall for such a laughable scam, not least someone educated and smart like her - she even joked that perhaps she could be diagnosed for schizophrenia, before realizing that it would be in bad taste - even as she mocked the invitation and everything related, she followed it to the letter as though convinced beyond doubt that every word was the absolute, objective truth.

Lucie looked around herself, at the fading moon and the dimming lights inside the train, and realized she was committed to the reality of the invitation. There was no turning back now. So be it. Whatever might come, she would face it. She was gone at least, leaving not the faintest trace behind her - except those the law obliged her to disclose, which would be enough to trace her. So be it. She was stepping on the edge of the abyss, facing the roiling storm beneath, ready to plunge because it would do nothing worse than burn her. What was the worst that could happen? She could not imagine it. She would be lost in the new world, born anew like her friend Sunset; that was all that mattered.

She could still talk to him, confide his secret to him. Even were he to disclose it, nobody knew her in Montréal. And the embarrassment meant nothing at all; it was merely a tool of the tyranny of patriarchal cowardice that ruled her mind, shaming her into compliance and inertia like itself. Sunset could do nothing of it, and they would remain friends as ever.

She counted down to twenty and, finding that she still lacked the courage to press send, she put away the phone reluctantly and closed her eyes, daring sleep to approach her; but she only heard the faintest echoes of far-off revelry and laughter, distorted as though coming from another epoch…

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