29 November 2012

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SCENE 12 – Vista

"Mein Gott!" The Conductorhas stumbled along the coal, and storms into the cockpit –interrupting the goodly moment the two kids are sharing. "There is absolutely no kissing in the cockpit, not while the train is still running!"

Utena and Shinji break their kiss, with a bit of saliva left on her lips. Her heart is still thumping like a drum, and she's embarrassed about having been seen in a moment of intimacy.

"Utena Fraulein!" the Conductor goes, danubing towards her. "Are you trying to distract the boy? I will assure you that there will be consequences if the train gets derailed off schedule! That will be no goodly."

"I was looking for Shinji," Utena says. "When you took him away because he had no ticket, I think that's 'no goodly' too."

"Passengers without their tickets, whether it is due to mishaps or the what-not – they still deserve the journey, and so I bring them up here so they can help make the train run smoothly. It is like having customers serve as busboy and dishwasher when they don't have the money on them, ja? To be throwing people off is not in the Christmas Spirit making."

"I'm just glad he's still here safe and sound," Utena says.

The Conductor glances at the cockpit gauges, making sure well is in order. Then he says, "I see you have been growing attached to him. I know the feeling. It is love in motion. It always is a beautiful thing, love, when it blossoms, especially in a cold season."

"Have you ever loved?" Utena says, feeling her kiss with Shinji and the warmth chuckling within her once more.

"I have loved, and I am still loving," the Conductor says. "The woman I love.. she is on the verge of dying."

"Right now?" Shinji goes.

"Yes, right now. She is terminally sick – she had fallen down the stairs and bumped her head, and when I took her to the emergency room, the doctors pointed out that she was just about to fall victim to a new, strange sickness that lay silent inside her. If she woke up, it would take her in a week. So, with all the money I had, I asked them to put her into cryostasis."

Utena holds her breath for a second, and then asks, "Cryostasis..?"

"Yes," the Conductor goes. "Utena Fraulein, you are from December 1996?"

A beat.

"And Ikari Shinji, you are from Tokyo-3, December 2015?"

Shinji nods. Is Utena from the past? "What are you trying to tell us?"

"You mengs have never heard about the cryogenics? The maschine which freezes the body into hibernation, in order to borrow time to save its life? It must sound like something from the Science Fiction readings to you, ja?" the Conductor goes. "Utena, Shinji, I am someone who comes from December of 2034. A different time from yours. A time when you are able to better save the people you love from Death, with the cryogenics maschines. From disease, old age, and bodily grievances. And I serve as the conductor on the Boreal Express, with the promise that Saint Nicholas will provide a miracle to my woman – a chance to save her from the sickness. Perhaps many others too who will fall to it."

"If Santa could save your lover," Utena says, her loss erupting up from her, "why wouldn'the save my Mom and Dad?"

"Utena.." the Conductor goes, "I am truly sorry. I only know that when St Nicholas had personally come to me, I was kneeling where meine Liebe was in one of the maschines, resting my head on the glass, still seeing her angelic face looking at me, and I felt my face resting in someone's lap all of a sudden. I saw, it was St Nicholas himself, in his red outfit, and all Time itself was frozen, except for me and him.

"He felt for my plight and said that while he cannot save people after they die, he can yet spare a miracle for me and my love, that we will be able to love each other again. I only need to complete my duties for the Boreal Express without problem."

The Conductor holds his head down in solemn thought. "I wonder if he will keep true to his word. I have already given much of myself for my love – I cannot bear to tear my heart away from her. He said that it would do me, himself and the Christmas Spirit good – with this train, it will be the first time St Nicholas is able to bring a large amount of people to his realm, Lux. I suppose he chose you two and the rest of the passengers for a reason. You must be on his goodly list tonight."

"He can't save people after they've died.." Utena goes.

"If this is a time-travelling train," Shinji goes – but the Conductor interrupts him.

"Its abilities are limited to the night of Christmas Eve," the Conductor says. "You were supposing I could travel to any day and bring back Utena's parents before they've died? No, that is impossible; tonight's train route is designed to accomodate only those on the list, each in a given time and place."

Utena sighs. It feels like her hopes have been dashed to little pieces, and she'll never get to see her parents, not now, not ever.

"Do not despair, Utena Fraulein," the Conductor says, beginning to smile. "Love can often work itself in mysterious ways – your parents must have really loved you, and they will continue to love you even after they're gone. You'll remember it, even if you might forget."

"As long as you breathe, it will never die. Even if you might forget it, or lose grasp of it, it will never die."

Then Utena notices her feet are shuddering, before she feels something vibrating in her gut – a lump of coal is doing the jiggly dance on the floor; the train itself seeming to rumble.

"Nein.." The Conductor peers his head out the window. "Nein! Alarm!" He rushes over to press the big red button on the cockpit, which sounds an alarm throughout the train, making two engineers pop up from under the tender.

"What's the matter?" the first engineer says.

"It is a proxy!" the Conductor tells. "It's coming from the left side, get yourselves into armaments, bitte!"

"Right-o!" they go, and they clamber up over the tender car and disappear.

"What's going on?" Utena asks, as her sense of anxiety grows.

"A proxy! It is Jack Frost! Belsnickel! They are badly, vengeful spirits who linger about, forever cursed and tied to Winter season! They make it colder than it needs to be, spreading the coldly, bitter air from place to place as they feel like it! St Nicholas has told me about them – they may ruin the journey faster than you'll know!"

The Conductor heads over to the intercom panel, and makes an announcement to the passengers. "Attention everyone! We will be encountering turbulence. I advise you to quickly return to your seats, fasten your seatbelts, and above all else remain calm. I will tell you when it is over." He brushes his forehead from sweat, before he pushes forward a red lever marked Throttle – you'd feel a forward tug like when the elevator dips downward, as the Boreal Express accelerates.

"Once we get to Lux, we'll be safe from them," the Conductor explains. "And the faster we can get there, the better. Hang on little ones, it will turn out to be a roughly ride."

The train's shuddering grows more and more intense. Shinji clings onto Utena's arm, while out the window you can see amidst the moonlit clouds a whirling dervish of unholy whiteness – the whiteness of frosted, caked-over hard snow; the kind of snow that feels more prickly and cold than fluffy. It's gliding towards the train in a glide so hauntingly graceful, a dancer using the wind currents to propel her very movement.

Eventually you can see her clearly. Her flowing white hair that seems to merge with her drooping, snow-radiant cloak. The blossoming cloud where her feet should be. And most of all, her face; the melancholy mask she always wears, where red tears seem to almost flow from her eyes.

"Mein Gott..!" the Conductor exclaims.

She stares at you fiercely, chillingly, with a coldness that penetrates into you.

That is, before a loud burst erupts from one of the cars, and the proxy jolts from being hit – tumbling like a kite that's been torn mid-air, before continuing towards the train as before.

"Shoot her, shoot her!" the Conductor goes.

Utena and Shinji are peering through the window, frightfully awed at the beautiful sight of the proxy, being hit, enduring every blow as if it were nothing compared. Then the proxy wails – the Siren emitting a pitch that would tempt you into a fascinated paralysis. A beautiful, unearthly song that infects you with its sadness.

The eruptions stop.

The axles of the train chug the the train wheels forward in tandem, not noticing that the people in the cockpit have become frozen and inanimate. All they hear is the song that drowns them, uniting them into her sorrow, their blood coagulating into frost.

take me
someplace far away from here
to a true elsewhere

take me there

(The angel weeps.)

It is only after a few moments of pause from the song, that they regain their composure, and see that the proxy is floating just right beside the train's cars, from the back forward, inspecting the petite souls within – all the children must be frightened.

"It's.." Utena says, the tears outpouring from her uncontrollably. It's indescribable, what she's just heard – as though if she could talk with the proxy about her own sadness, she would be speaking to kindred, a lost soul like herself – she'd be preaching to the choir about what is heartwrenching. And perhaps.. perhaps, in one way or another, just to be able to make that connection would satisfy.

"I have to get to the proxy," she says.

"What? Did its singing make you bonkers?!" the Conductor goes. "It will kill you!"

"The proxy isn't a monster; she's hurting like I am," Utena says, a determination gnawing inside her. "I gotta try and help her, I have to try."

Shinji is also feeling that this is so. "Utena!" he goes, as she's about to climb the tender. "I'll go with you."

"Okay."

So Shinji takes Utena's hand, and she leads him over the pile of coal.

"You are out of your minds!" the Conductor shouts, amidst the noisy winds. "Scheisse, that is not courage, that is asking for your funerals!"

On top of the train cars, Utena teeter-totters with Shinji. The railtracks behind seem to extend away dizzyingly in mid-air, where if you glance down at the clouds below, it seems like you can fall forever into the all-encompassing sky. (You'd better watch out.)

Utena wonders if she should shout at the proxy from this distance, if it can hear her, or if she should come closer to it before drawing attention to herself. The proxy is lingering by one of the cars at the back, peering through the windows.

Then the engineers pop up onto the top, just in front of Utena and Shinji. They're holding what looks like sawed-off shotguns, wearing bandoliers around their waists.

"Hey, you two!" the first engineer goes. "You should get inside quickly!"

"I.. don't shoot at it," Utena says.

"What are you talking about?" the second engineer goes. "That proxy's going to derail us if we don't off her quick."

The proxy hovers from one car to the next, gazing from window to window and allowing her fingers to brush over the surfaces, leaving a streak of beautiful, well-formed ice in her wake, as though she is just waiting for something to blossom from the frozen waters.

"It's not attacking the train," Utena goes.

"Not yet it isn't," the first engineer goes. "It looks like it's finding a sweet spot to hit, and I'm sure as hell ain't about to let it do that."

At a loss on convincing those engineers, Utena decides to brush by their figures, zipping Shinji along at hand – almost knocking away their weapons. ("Hey!" one of them shouts.)

She runs and runs, until she can see the proxy's weeping face upclose. It's stopping by a certain window, its attention caught by something.

"Hey!" Utena yells at the proxy, but the proxy doesn't seem to notice. It punches through the window and its arm stretches beyond proportion as it reaches inside – rummaging for what, Utena doesn't know until she sees its arm pull out.

The key it holds seems to glow under the moonlight.

"Hey!" Utena calls.

The proxy regards Utena and Shinji. "My love has left it behind." You still hear traces of that beauty in its whispering voice. "Now I can rest at last." It smiles.

Then a crack erupts – the key in hand breaks into two, and something pierces through the proxy's breast and icy blood pours out like a drinking fountain that is bleeding. Such a grotesque thing to see.

"Gotcha!" the second engineer glees. "Right in the heart!"

Then the most horrific, pained wailing you would ever hear – that once soulful song wavers into discord and screaming, and everyone must cover their ears lest it make black holes of their hearts and send them into despair.

The proxy consumed by its injury dawdles behind the train's pace and falls down into the abyssal sky, disappearing away as a vapour into non-existence. Its melancholy lingers even after its presence has gone, and the only consolation to Utena who has gone all this way is that the proxy has reconciled itself with its lost love, in its last final moments.

What about Utena herself? Such a fate seems to be more preferable than to endure the entirety of Living with an irreconcilable loss, to never know that love as she's first felt it, to grow up and become an adult in that material world filled mostly with vapidity and emptiness, a world that would never truly fulfil. One moment goes after another and you see people come and go in the familiar grey places, reminding you all too much about the most beautiful things that cannot exist anymore, but you hope for them anyway around the next corner, and that hope grows fainter and fainter as you grow old, until you all but forget what it is that you've been hoping for. But you still feel the impulse to hope.

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SCENE 11 - A Parable

"A young man journeys down an endless road in the company of many others. The road leads across rocky plains where nothing grows and the sun's fire burns from morning to evening. Nowhere is there shade or coolness to be found. And huge dust clouds are stirred all around by a harrowing wind. The youth is driven forward by an incomprehensible frenzy and tormented by a scorching thirst. Sometimes he asks himself or one of his companions about the goal of their journey. But the answer is uncertain and tentative. He himself has forgotten why he ever set out on his journey. He's also forgotten his native land and the journey's final destination.

"Suddenly one evening, he finds himself standing in a deep blue forest. Dusk sets in and all is quiet. Only the evening wind sighs through the tall trees. He stands amazed but also anxious and suspicious. He's all alone, and he realises his hearing is weak – his ears having been inflamed from the merciless light of day. His mouth and throat are parched from the long pilgrimage. His lips are cracked, pressed together around curses and harsh words. So he doesn't hear the ripple of flowing water and doesn't notice its reflection in the dusk. He stands deaf and blind at the edge of the spring, unaware of its existence. Like a sleepwalker he wanders unaware between the sparkling pools. His blind skill is remarkable and soon he's back on the road again in the burning, shadowless light.

"One night, by the campfire, he's seated by an old man who is telling some children about the forest and the springs. The youth recalls what he's been through, but faintly and indistinctly as from a dream.

"He turns to the old man and asks, 'Where does all the water come from?'

"'It comes from a mountain whose peak is covered by a mighty cloud.'

"'What kind of cloud?' the youth asks.

"The old man answers, 'Every individual carries inside hopes and longings. Everyone shouts out their despair or bears it in mind. Some pray to a particular God. Others address their cries to the void. This despair, this hope, this dream of deliverance, all these cries, all these tears are gathered over thousands and thousands of years and condense into an unmeasurable cloud around a high mountain. Out of the cloud, rain flows down the mountain forming the streams and rivers that flow through the great forests. That's how the springs are formed where you can quench your thirst, wash your badly burnt face, cool your blistered feet. Everyone has at sometime heard of the mountain, the cloud, and the springs, yet most people anxiously remain on the dusty road in the blazing light.

"'Why do they stay there?' asks the youth in great astonishment.

"'I certainly don't know,' replies the old man. 'Perhaps they've convinced themselves and each other that they'll reach their unknown destination someday, if not the next.'

"'What unknown destination?' the young man begs.

"The old man shrugs his shoulders. 'In all probability, the destination doesn't exist. It is an illusion, made by deception or imagination. I myself am on my way to the forests and springs. Once I was there when I was young, and now I'm trying to find my way back.'

"The next morning, the youth sets out with the old man to seek the mountain, the cloud, the forests and the rippling springs."

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SCENE 10 – Awakening

The hiss and hiss of steam, and the whir of gauges. The blaze of a furnace, smelling like an empty barbeque. Utena feels someone pull her by the arm, one tug, and another – as she feels the coal rocks beneath her roll with the motions. Her cheeks feel the metal flooring.

"Wake up!" That is Shinji's insistent tugs feels like the alarm clock announcing a new day. "Utena, please, wake up!"

So opening her eyes, there is Shinji, leaning over her – his face verging on being intimately close with hers. He lets out a sigh of relief, and she can just taste his breath, and it stirs something in her.

The rocks are whooshing by on the sides in this claustrophobic tunnel, and behind Shinji are the levers and illuminated gauges of the train engine.

"You're alright," Utena says.

"The conductor figured that the train could use another assistant," Shinji goes, pulling Utena up. "I'm checking the gauges – making sure the steam pressure doesn't fall too low, while the assistants are having a break. If it does, I add some more coal into the furnace. Utena, how did you wind up in the tender?"

"I was looking for you. I thought he'd thrown you off the train, and I saw footsteps leading to the front." She wonders if she should mention the mysterious girl.

"I thought.. I wouldn't matter to you or anyone," Shinji goes. "I've already exhausted your kindest generosity as it is. I just want to tell you.. thanks for rescuing me."

Utena blushes. She is just happy to have found him, and her heart is fluttering now that it seems that they're alone wonders if he is noticing this – if she's embarrassing herself, or if he might be feeling the same way too, more or less.

Shinji offers her a handkerchief, notioning at her face. "You're covered all over." He's right; the silk robe Utena's wearing has been blemished with charcoal soot (Nanami's going to throw a fit!), and some of the soot is on her hands. Utena generously wipes her hands and face, before handing it back to him.

"Thanks," Utena says, smiling brightly.

The train whooshes out of the tunnel into a very opaque, electric mist – a mist that is hanging outside awareness. Suddenly the train passes through that, and it is seemingly flying in mid-air in a space of pink clouds scattered all over like bubbles, as far as the eye can see – you would look around for the light and you'd seea moon much bigger than usual; it is a kind of moon which you'd usually find in storybooks, a moon which radiates especially with the fervour of the sun.

An alarm goes off. Shinji rushes to the gauges and sees that it is the steam pressure gauge which is rapidly falling. "Oh no! Utena! Help me shovel the coal!"

But another voice chirps in, "It's not the coal, it's the air pressure that's different – you've got to pull the dampening rod!"

That is one of the engineers, popping out from underneath the tender car, and he is clambering up to the cockpit where Shinji is at a loss figuring out where the dampening rod is.

"Here, you pull this," the engineer goes, pulling what looks like a red rod beside the furnace, and suddenly the hissing of the steam seems to drown away. "There. That keeps the fires burning, since we're now in airspace. And since the air inside isn't equalised with the outside anymore, if it needs more fuel, you'll have to pull the rod back to be able to open the furnace door – and wait for a bit as the air equalises again."

He notices Utena. "What's she doing here?"

"Oh.. that's one of my friends," Shinji goes. "She um.. the conductor brought her here."

"I see. Funny, we weren't told about having another visitor." The engineer inspects Utena, up and down. "You weren't playing around with the coal, were you?"

"I got a little lost," Utena says.

"You'd best watch yourself. Everything here is a delicate instrument, and one accidental press of a button at this point could send the Boreal Express whizz-bang. Got it?"

"Gotcha," Utena says. "How are we flying in the sky all of a sudden?"

"We aren't – the railways are built just like that to bring us there without having to resort giving wings to the train engine."

The engineer checks the rest of the gauges. "Alright, everything seems tipsy-turvy, so I'mma finish getting my shut-eye. Peace out." He disappears under the tender.

The wind whirls and danubes all over.

"Is this.. where Santa lives?" Utena asks.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Shinji says. "Once we arrive, if we get to meet Santa, what do you suppose you want to ask him for Christmas?"

A prayer, an unanswered prayer. "Why he never brought my Mom and Dad back to me when they died."

/

This was to be her tomb. Her new cradle. The darkness was a welcoming parent, who held the most kindest compassion for her,and she embraced it fully as she lay inside the casket, resting her head on the soft silky pillow. She would be like a dying animal, who after giving up all hopes for living, would find a quiet, lonely placeand bury itself under the leaves, and eventually die. Yes. And the soul would drain out of the body, to meet with those faces long lost in time and memory, once more in a place where love could still endure. Are you stroking my cheek? Are you whispering in my ear? Are you with me now? May we never leave each other.

She wondered how long it would take for her to die. If she died, who would really miss her? Her grandparents, who would soon die? Her friends, who would forget her as they grew up? Spike.. who would never know about her fate? In the end, Time erodes all things, and that is the bittersweet truth underlying reality. Eternity is just wishful thinking, and Eternity is what she'll embrace.

She deserved to die.

(And will there be love for her afterwards?)

"Say goodbye, Utena," her Papa said, before he took her home.

"Goodbye.." Utena whispered.

Then she heard the door open from the distance, and some faint footsteps. She didn't stir. It must be those caretakers looking for her after she'd run off from the funeral rites. Their voices were young though. She could hardly hear what they were saying – their footsteps approached closer.

"Are you sure she's here?" a boy said. "She isn't in that coffin, Touga, please, let's look someplace else! We're not allowed in this room!"

"We have to look everywhere.." another boy said.

"Touga, what are you doing! Don't open it!"

Utena saw the first ray of light enter the coffin, and it grew more brighter as the coffin lid was opened. She saw the boy with red hair haul the lid away, with a loud and heart-shuddering thud when it landed.

"Leave me alone," Utena said, turning her face away into the pillow which absorbed her tears. "I just want to sleep."

"She's been hiding in a place like this?" the first boy said. "Who would've thought..?"

"Miss, everyone's been looking for you all over," the red-haired boy said.

"Are you going to tell them I'm here?" said Utena. She wished he'd put the lid back on; she was shrivelling under the light.

"Do you want me to?" the red-haired boy said.

"No. Because I belong here. I.. deserve to die."

"I.. see." the red-haired boy said.

"You don't deserve to die!" the first boy yelled. "Nobody deserves to die- because you always, always will have good things that come to you in the future! Believe me!"

"I'll never leave this coffin," Utena said. "I don't want to live anymore when everything I'll ever love will die. It's sickening. I'll never see anyone anymore, or come out into the sun anymore. It's alright now. You don't have to worry anymore, I'll be happy.."

When her parents' coffins had been lowered into their graves, Utena stood and watched, and all she could ever think about was when they'd given her the new skates, and she held them in her arms. And that memory of seeing her Mama, long ago, and she was held in her arms, and she could see her face in the night, as the moonlight shone through the windows. And everything was alright, she was content, and it was wonderful.

She would never see her Mama or Papa again, and that lock was turned in her heart when she'd bury away those memories, so they won't torment her anymore with that loss. Even so, they still come to her in her dreams and sometimes when she was awake, she could just hear them tell her, now and then, in her heart, "I'll always love you."

/

"I miss them so much," Utena cries, clutching onto Shinji with dear life. "When it's Christmas, I get so.. sad.. I feel I'm about to suffocate, and the only relief is to scream from out the very depths of my heart. But I can't. Because no one would want to hear me scream. So I cry alone into the pillow, holding onto it as if it would hold me too, granting me respite from the pain. And sometimes it isn't enough. It still hurts."

"I know.. how you feel," Shinji says, looking at her with the same look he had, when he stood outside, about to let the train pass him by – her eyes bearing sadness as his does also. "I'm sorry. I've lost my mother too, when I was little, and my dad.. my dad wouldn't give me anything for Christmas. I'm not good enough for him, I never was. I wish I could help bring your parents back somehow – if Santa will listen to me. I wish I could help take away all that pain and sadness.. I wish I could.. just.."

He loses his grasp of words; he's always wondered what it's like to kiss someone, maybe Asuka, and already it's so much more than he'd expected. He'd thought a kiss is reserved for romance, but a kiss too could heal the deepest wounds and bridge the loneliness between two souls.

The moment is just overwhelming, almost unbearable.

Utena can just taste his breath again, this close, and a mad fire is gnawing at her, setting her alight. "Shinji, I don't want to be alone anymore.. will you hold me?"

He is already willing; the look on her face is wonderfully sweet, the look of someone who has finally found another after so long, and she inches her lips towards his, wrapping her arms around him – they kiss, breathing each others' air, at first timid and hesitant and clumsy, and then resolute and poignant.

The haunting taste of love, and they hold each other in a long, passionate embrace, wanting it to never end. Utena just feels like her heart is also being kissed, and it starts pouring out of her, those emotions, and she holds him tighter, feeling his tongue in her mouth.

Their eyes are wide shut, blind to the world, aware of only each other. All Utena hears is his breathing and moaning, and all she feels is the warmth of his skin. When they long for breath and pull away, Utena sees him again, and she begins to cry, happily for a first time since a while, and her tears drip down her face and onto her chin.

(so vivid)

And Shinji, still retaining her taste, presses her towards him once more, in a hug that he should have had in his lonesome little life but didn't, a hug where he rests his face on her neck, her neck damp with hot sweat and thumping pulse, and feels an intense blush come across himself as he feels her living heartbeat alongside his.

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SCENE 9 – Reminiscences III

In that cold and chill evening, the river ice was damp and hazy as the sky grew faint, and Utena was skating in her new pearl shoes, with the graceful glide in the skates as they skirted the surface. She wondered about what it must have looked like for Spike, that field of his dreams. Oh, she could only imagine with the sunset – the sunset she was living in seemed all too dreary and hazy under the winter clouds. If it were summer otherwise, the sun would be vivid in the blue sky.

She recalled one summer in this field where she went on a hot air balloon, and it felt like the basket was lifted by a giant, invisible hand, and when her papa carried her up, she saw the panorama of everything below – the people who were tiny, the flowing river, and the other distant places all over.

Is that what it was like, that sort of magic Utena felt in Spike's words?

Then a thought hit her; oh no..! Why didn't Utena think of it earlier – she'd forgot to ask Spike what town he was moving to! She wanted to slap herself for that. Now she might never get to see him again..

"Utena, I will remember you always."

Her skates skirted the edge of the river, and came to a stop.

It was Faye, sitting down by the riverside, idly observing the people skating on the bank, her breath spilling out visibly – she looked quite plain compared with when she was skating with Spike, but still her unpolished face showed a hint of that beauty. She glanced at Utena. "Hmm? Is there anything?"

Utena gulped; for a moment she forgot what to say as her throat choked up. Then, "Do you know where Spike's going?"

Faye perked her head. "Who..? Wait a minute.. are you Utena?"

"How do you know?"

"He mentioned you a few couple times. A girl, with flowery pink hair, and beautiful eyes. That's you, I suppose. You're really cute."

Utena blushed at her remark.

"Did he tell you he was leaving for.. what'cha call it, painting?"

"Which city is he going to?"

"I think he said it was Victoria."

"Where's Victoria?"

"It's by the west side of Canada," Faye said.

That ripped at Utena, and made her wither inside. Spike was her first love, and Utena knew somehow that love wasn't just anything that could be found around the next corner, and now he would be gone forever from her life, and it was just too utterly, heartwrenchingly unbearable. So Utena began to cry, for herself,for her pain. It was dark now, and the winds were picking up, the drifting snowflakes catching on her cheeks.

And then she felt a tender hand on her cheek.

"You love him, don't you?" Faye asked.

Utena didn't say anything; she just gave the slightest of nods. So Faye gave her wristwatch a peer. "It's 6:25," she went. "Spike will be boarding the train to the airport at around 7:00. Are your parents around?"

Utena didn't seem to understand – then it dawned on her what Faye was wanting to do. Her tears abated, replaced by a spark of anticipation in her eyes.

"They're at home. They're expecting me back by nighttime," she said.

"Well, okay." Faye brushed aside her snow-sprinkled hair. "I was hoping I could talk with them about it beforehand.. I just don't want to keep your parents waiting for you."

Utena paused. Suddenly there was a great anxiety blossoming – Faye was right, Utena didn't want to make her parents worry. She felt pinned to a great crossroads. It was her once-in-a-lifetime chance, her only chance – just to see Spike one more time. And if she missed it..

"We'll barely make it in time as it is," Faye said. "Weather report says there'll be a huge snowstorm tonight. The traffic's going to be slow."

If Utena missed her chance, she'd never be able to forgive herself. It would torture her forever.

"I want to see Spike," Utena said at last.

Faye nodded. "Alright. Come with me, I'll drive you."

Thus, Utena dawdled after Faye's hurried steps to the parking lot nearby, every footstep feeling woozy to her – where Faye found her grey car covered with a layer of snow. "Damnit.." She unlocked the doors for Utena to get inside, got into the driver's seat, and started the car's engine – so the heaters could warm the inside.

"I gotta wipe the windows, it'll only be a second," Faye said. "Just hang tight for me, okay?"

"Sure." Utena found the seatbelt a little tight for comfort, and the inside smelling like beef noodles and cigarettes, but nothing compared with Faye swiping away the snow with a brush – nothing compared with the anxiety of going to the train station, with this stranger, with telling Spike goodbye once they've arrived. Faye almost seemed like another, a haphazard, more way cooler mother to her; the thought of it was sorta tingly.

Once Faye had the windows cleaned (you could just see how the snow was falling in spades) – she got back into the car, and drove it out onto the streets.

The orange lamplights came and went, lighting the seats in bursts with shifting shadows. Snow and fog polluted the outside like layers and layers of curtains overlaid one another. Each second passed - the windshield wipers swishing left and right - and the air felt more and more like an invisible cage, shrinking around Utena, choking her beating heart. Utena's parents would take her to the train to see family friends on the other side of the city – she'd been to the station before, but in this weather she could hardly recognize any landmarks that gauged for her how far away that station was.

The car clock read 6:37 PM.

"How do you know Spike?" Utena asked, breaking the silence.

"Besides being skating partners? Hardly. We've met with the same coach, but otherwise, I work as a seamstress usually. I make dresses. Cool, eh? Did you get to see me dance in the events?"

"I was very jealous of you," Utena admitted. "You were so pretty on TV, and you got to skate all those moves with him."

"I'll take that as a complement. Also, did you see my butterfly wings? They were my idea. I made both our outfits. It was great."

Suddenly, the car skidded to a stop. There were a line of cars congested on the road ahead. You could hear the announcement echoing, "Due to heavy snow and car collisions, all transport is currently being delayed. We are terribly sorry for the inconvenience and we ask you to bear with us while waiting." It didn't seem like they'd be moving anytime soon, this way.

"Damn," Faye said. "You better hang on Utena, because I'm about to make a detour." And before Utena wondered what a detour meant, Faye swerved her car all the way to the right, going off the road and suddenly careening down a hill, the car rumbling as it half-skids, and its tail end swerving sideways, until the car wound up at the bottom of the hill, where it happened to be the edge of a neighbourhood.

It felt like a much more intense sled ride. ("This is Captain Faye speaking, I hoped you enjoyed the brief turbulence.")

Then Faye drove the car onto proper road, a cul-de-sac, and drove her way out onto the main streets again.

It was 6:56 PM when the station came into view. Faye didn't want to lose more time looking for space in the station parking lot, so she left her car by the curb instead and hope no one would notice.

After getting out, Utena could hear the departure bell ringing from the station. Faye led Utena by the hand and they both ran as fast as their legs could carry them, into the station entrance. They passed by the passengers ordering their tickets by the booths, running through the hallway and up a flight of stairs to the platform where the Eastbound train was.

The wind was very strong there, and the train's passengers couldn't wait any longer to get on board. By then, Utena and Faye were out of breath, having to stop themselves for a rest. Utena looked up from her knees, and she managed to catch glimpse of Spike amongst the passengers, before he mingled inside.

The departure bell rang one more time.

Utena summed up the last of her energy, and hurried after that train car which held Spike. "Wait..!" she panted, brushing by someone. "Wait.. wait!"

And briefly, when she managed to advance ahead of the train – she saw his face, staring out the window wistfully at the place beyond places.

Then all too briefly, his eyes connected with hers – Utena wanted to stretch Time itself to make it last.

Then, Utena slipped. A patch of ice on the platform, and she'd slipped – falling onto her tummy. It hurt. Moreso because it felt like she'd been torn away from that moment.

When she looked up, her breath huffing out, she saw the train fade away into the darkness, amidst the electrical poles standing bare, and the tracks that led to a place so inaccessible, out of her life's reach.

Goodbye.. Spike.

A bittersweet smile hung on Utena's lips.

/

"Utena, I'm sorry I didn't bring you to him any sooner," Faye said, as she was driving Utena home. "I should have driven faster, what with this freak snowstorm and everything. I'm sorry.."

"Don't be sorry," Utena said. "I managed to say goodbye to him. Spike saw me through the window, because after all, you helped me get to the station. Thank you."

"Really?" Faye was awestruck. "I thought you'd wanted a better goodbye, one where you'd get to talk with him."

"Just seeing him one more time was enough. I'm happy, Faye."

"Always glad to know that. Ahh.. being part of someone's happy ending pleases me."

Utena had told her she lived just near that field they'd left earlier ago. Faye drove her car down into the neighbourhood streets, where Utena uttered which direction to go. All the Christmas lights were up on display through people's windows – shining like bright, colourful beacons in the night.

It was 7:40 PM, and the feeling of coming home made Utena realise just how hungry she felt – her tummy was grumbly. She hoped that there would still be some dinner leftovers, and that she wouldn't get into too much trouble, just from wanting to see Spike before he left. She hoped she would be able to explain to her parents what had happened.

Faye's car was coming across Utena's modest home, the lights shining upon the facade. The Christmas tree in her window made Utena feel warm; it had quelled her envy of not having one like the others, and it had the lights and decorations too – a shining star atop the tree such that Santa Claus could see from up there.

Upon parking her car near the driveway, Faye asked, "Do you want me to come in with you?"

"Please do," Utena said, and they both went over to the front door, where Utena rung the doorbell. "My mama and papa really enjoyed watching you – I'm sure they'll be delighted you're here!"

Nobody seemed to come though. Utena tried ringing again, and once more, and once more.

"Huh," Faye said, her face looking uncomfortable.

"There's a secret key under the doormat," Utena said, and used the secret doormat key to enter inside.

It was very strangely, eerily dark inside her house – the only light being from the lit Christmas tree.

"Hello?" Faye said, protectively grabbing Utena's hand.

"Mommy? Daddy?" Utena shouted.

It was also very quiet too, and yet you could just smell the steamy scent of pork dumplings – Utena's tummy made her wander to the kitchen, where she turned on the lights and saw that on the dinner table, there were dumplings in the bowls – halfway eaten, and lukewarm when Utena tried taking one for herself.

"Utena?" Faye said, coming into the kitchen. "Utena.." The woman went over to her, taking her by the shoulder.

A paralysing shiver began to overtake Utena, as the realisation came into her that.. her Mom and Dad had went out to look for her in the field.. when she didn't come back home, and when they couldn't find her..

Utena began to stagger, as a weakness took over her limbs, stumbling into Faye's embrace and smelling the jasmine upclose from Faye's neck.

The phone rang. Usually either her Mom or Dad would pick it up, and talk about boring, dull things with people – but this phone call was different. The phone was high up on the counter; it was hard for Utena to reach for it, so Faye picked up the receiver.

"It's.. for you Utena," Faye mumbled, handing the phone to her. The phone felt heavy in Utena's hands, and she was half-expecting it to be her mama, her papa. "Hello?"

"Is this Utena Tenjou?" It was a strange, unfamiliar voice, having the kind of tone strangers have.

She'd wanted to pray to Santa Claus to restore her parents' lives, after they had died in a crash, chasing after her missing person. She didn't care anymore about getting presents, now or ever again. She only had one wish, to make Mama and Papa come back to life.

In the darkness, she prayed and addressed Santa in hope. She prayed until she felt weak from prolonged hunger and thirst, and she prayed until sleep yearned over her eyes.

She wished so badly that they would come back, come back and hold her and tell her it's alright – so badly it made her heart contort. She prayed forever in the night, her voice growing weaker and weaker. Until the Darkness and Coldness ultimately enveloped her.

Eventually, she never prayed at all.

qdesjardin: (Default)

SCENE 8 – Reminiscences II

The sled was tumbling down the hill with jets of snow bursting aside. Utena's mother held her close on her lap, as Utena gleed – feeling the rush in her gut, and then the sled slowing down as it reached the bottom.

It was very bright outside, with the sky almost a pure white and the snow everywhere on the field where everyone was playing, running about, throwing snowballs and making snowmen of the wildest variety; like a Winter Wonderland.

Her dad was working overtime today, so it was just Utena and her mother, the two of them. They got out of their sled, and hauled it out of the way so the next family could slide. "Weeeee!"

After the sled was put away in the car, Utena had her tongue stuck out, tasting the snowflakes which were falling. It tasted wet and sorta tingly. Then she gathered up some snow between her gloves, and threw the snow high into the air; and for a moment, the snow seemed to merge with the pale sky before descending like a mist.

Utena stuck out her tongue, and she caught a bunch of snowflakes on her tongue – and her face. Oof. She brushed the whiteness off from her cheeks and hair, before feeling the numbness in her mouth, like after drinking too much cold pop at once. Some of the snow got into her coat also. That was fun.

Another boy decided to try the same thing, throwing a bunch of snow in the air, and sticking his tongue out. Utena giggled as he fell backwards on his tushie, as if he was shy about catching snow over his face.

There was a river, where the stream flowed in Downtown's direction. Now it was covered by ice, and people skated all over on it, with lines trailing where they've danced and pranced before. Some of those lines could even be from those figure skaters on TV, and that very thought made Utena excited. She was sitting down with her mom on the sidelines, watching the people skate, their skates etching memories upon the ice.

Utena had never tried skating before, so she decided to try stepping onto the ice, even if she was only wearing her boots.

"Be careful, Utena!" her mother said.

It felt quite awkward to move along the slippery ice – Utena found herself taking steps more than gliding with ease like everyone else was. She had to steady herself by catching hold of the nearest guy around, and wandering over to the next.

There was a young couple, twirling in circles, whose faces almost seemed to melt into each others, like they were in their own insular snowglobe where you get to turn the handle and watch the figures move.

And there was a girl, going across slowly as she was just getting the hang of skating. Her knees were wobbling and eventually she fell over, and her mom and dad went over to pick her up as she was sobbing.

"It's okay," her mom said, holding her. "It's alright.."

Utena found herself trying to hold back tears from her own eyes. For some reason she wanted to cry along too. Things like that would happen; after all, skating is a sport that takes time to master the finesse needed for movement. The girl's parents took her away.

"The river is mine!" Utena heard behind her. "The river is mine!"

Someone squared her in the shoulder, making Utena trip flat onto her side. She saw that it was a guy, weaving his way forth with unimaginable speed, laughing madly. He knocked other people out of his way as he made rounds. "The river, it is mine! Mwahahaha!"

/

The pair of skates the gym offered looked old and worn. They were tan leather socks that happened to have blades attached underneath, like an afterthought. Utena saw that the other skaters seemed to have much more fancier skates than hers – sleek black skates, red skates with protruded blading..

Her mama had paid to allow Utena to borrow these skates; while Utena would skate in the arena, she would be sitting amongst the front row seats, looking out for when Utena would emerge from the gates.

"Those skates have no ankle support," someone remarked, as Utena was lacing her skates on the bench. "You should get a pair of your own." It made Utena blush, a little ashamed that she'd have to undergo an inferior experience, and anxious about how people might notice her ugly duckling slippers.

She tried not to think about it too much – she finished lacing her skates up, and wondered how she would make it over to the ice rink, having to stand on those thinly blades. She held onto the bench, tried standing up, and felt her feet buckle before she sat back down.

"If you want to walk, you have your feet shaped like an outward V," someone said – a woman who was standing with her skates out like a V. "Is this your first time?"

Utena nodded.

"Where's your Mom and Dad?" the woman asked.

"My mom's on the bleachers.." Utena said. "She doesn't really know how to skate. And my Dad's still at work."

"Gee." The woman knelt, putting a foot on the bench, and untied her skates. "I'll tell you what, here's a piece of advice. Don't look at your feet too much, and always keep your sense of balance with you. I'm sure you'll get the gist of things once you try skating."

When Utena waddled over to the rink's entrance, she could hear the music playing over the speakers, the pop music from the radio – not unlike the music she'd heard that the figure skaters were dancing to. She anxiously approached the gate.

The rink seemed to stretch all the way forth, an expanse of icy whiteness, with the people skating by in their own time. Utena peeked around the gate to find the comforting sight of Mom – where was Mom? There she was, waving behind the window, an encouraging smile on her face. Utena waved back; she felt very elated, the inner anxiety having dissipated away, and thus she made her first stride on the ice.

The glide upon her left skate slowly took Utena forward, and she continued with her right skate, and then her left again. Then her right.

Surely enough, she was going forward at walking pace, traversing the middle of the rink where she was careful about getting hit by one of the fast-moving skaters. It seemed like good progress, and Utena began grinning to herself. Easy does it there.

She glanced at the ceiling, where the announcing banner cube-thing hung and the overhead lights shone from a heavenly distance; these lights seemed like UFOs that might eventually come down and abduct everyone in the rink.

Then Utena ran into the wall and fell on her bum, ouch!

While she was laying down, she wondered if the champion figure skaters would also stare at the lights and bump into walls – maybe not. She waited, as the skaters passed her by, until one of them stopped to help Utena up.

"Upsy-daisy," the man went. "I used to bump into things like you before, until I watched where my skates are going."

"It's my first time," Utena explained.

"Oh? What's your name little lady?"

"Utena."

"You can call me.. Spike." He shook her hand. "A pleasure meeting you."

Spike helped Utena steady herself on her skates. It was like riding a bike – where it seemed at first you would wobble and fall off on two thinly wheels, until you got the hang of keeping a certain momentum, and the momentum would keep you steady while you put your focus elsewhere.

To stretch the bicycle metaphor further, you would lean in the direction you want to turn, and you would pivot your skates accordingly, thrusting your skates for additional momentum if necessary.

And to stop, you brushed your skates sideways, as if to sweep the ice with the blade.

"You get it?" Spike said.

Practising the movements delighted Utena so much, warming her heart, and she was just as delighted to show off to Mom what she'd learned, skating the perimeter of the rink, almost making a perfect figure-eight in her trails.

But it was growing late, and Mom was waving at Utena that they should head home. Utena didn't want to leave – she was only getting started, yearning to learn the fantastical moves that happened on TV.

"Your mother's right, Utena, I shouldn't be keeping you," Spike said. "Those moves take lots and lots of time and dedication to do, and you can fall and hurt yourself just as much as they impress. But with plenty of luck and determination.. I think you'll make it."

"Will I see you again?" Utena said, as Spike was leading her to the gates.

"You might."

/

That evening when the figure-skating programme was on, Utena watched and watched – she had her dinner bowl by her lap, filled with clovered herb noodles and meatballs. She wasn't concentrating on eating though (however tasty the dinner was); all the figure skaters for the night were spilling out onto the rink. The skaters were grouped into couples this time, each man having a woman's hand.

It turned out it was a couples skating event.

Utena ferociously ate through her dinner bowl, as she skimmed through each of the couples in their stylized dress (and occasional makeup), like they were wearing slimmer versions of the sorts of costumes she'd see on Saturday mornings.

She saw each of the couples dance, skirting the middle of the rink, twirling each other round and round, the woman holding the man up in the air as if he were as light as feathers. Utena so wanted to be able to do those things – the bravado of it must be like a prince making a rescue of his dearest princess.

And then she saw him. There he was, Spike, from the gym – he was a professional figure skater! Who knew? How Utena cherished her memories she had learning from him, especially now after the fact; and now he looked especially marvellous tonight in his gentlemanly, rugged shirt. A pale woman was beside him, a femme fatale dressed to seduce and allure in her exquisite outfit.

Utena began to feel weird, a strange sort of feeling (or more like a sensation) roused in her as she saw the woman deliver a kiss on Spike's cheek. And they waved to the audience, with the roars of cheering and clapping that echoed throughout the stadium.

When their skate music began playing, Utena saw them jazz, a swish and a swoosh. But with plenty of luck and determination.. I think you'll make it. Spike's words echoed in her thoughts as she witnessed his majestic manuevers with the woman, along with that strange feeling.. a lull that ran through her heart and in her gut.

Then there was the unfurling of the woman's outfit – revealing radiant butterfly wings on her back, that shined pink with reflected light, and the audience murmured and wooed as Spike held the woman above him, and threw her into the air.

It seemed like an eternity as the woman lingered over the ice, flipping over, as Spike skated over to catch her when she landed – and that was the end of their performance.

"Wonderful!" Utena's dad said, clapping to the thunderous applause of the TV. "Utena, now I know why you like skating so much! This is absolutely marvellous!"

"Isn't it?" Utena said – the feeling in her gut was still churning and churning, and she began to realise what it was.

"That was Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine," the announcer said, "Noel's Theme!"

She was jealous. Jealous of the woman who was with Spike, jealous that it wasn't her instead at his side. Why didn't Spike mention that he would be performing? Utena could have asked him a thousand times over to be with him when it came to it, and maybe Spike could had changed his mind and allowed her to dance with him..

/

Utena desperately pleaded for her parents to visit the gym again; the next time, Spike was nowhere to be found – she looked and looked for his face in the rink and the seats, but he didn't seem to be anywhere. She was tempted to try sneaking into the Men's dressing room, but she was too old to pretend she still needed her Dad to help dress.

She thought about the woman Faye, who had performed alongside him – and Faye also wasn't there.

All Utena could do was just practise her skating strokes for an hour or so, wondering if either of them were to show up sometime. It wouldn't feel the same otherwise if she were to ask anyone else nearby.

/

Since Utena seemed to like practising so much, her parents eventually took her out shopping for a pair of skates, looking from venue to venue for the best deal around. In one of the larger places, there was a huge gathering of girls around a sign: HOSHI TOSHI ICE SKATES MARK III, ENTER A TICKET TO WIN ONE FREE!

"Hoshi Toshi skates!" some girl said. "Cross-cut picks, edge enhancement technology, it's one of the best!"

"Mama! Papa! I want a ticket!" Utena piped, notioning at the sign, before tugging at her dad's arm. "Please please please, can we enter in one..?" She made the most cutest face she could muster, and her dad said, "Promise you'll eat your veggies if we win?"

"I'll eat 'em, but please let me get a ticket, pleease?!"

"Okies."

So her dad with all his strength lifted Utena up, up onto his back, and started wiggling his way into the crowd, shouting, "My darling girl wants in! Make way, make way for my princess!"

The girls were all coming in, some of them trying to find their way out of the crowd. Utena's dad soon managed to get to where he could see the poor salesman who was trying his best to stay out of everyone's way (and get breathing space).

"Hey," Dad said to the salesman, "does it count if I enter one in too, and also for my wife?"

The salesman nodded.

"Thanks!"

Utena's dad shuffled over to the table, where he grabbed three tickets and wrote down their names. He had to fight off the myriads of hands reaching for the ticket slot, but he made it, ta-da! And he weaved his way outta there.

"Who's the winner now, eh?" her dad said. "We are!"

"Yes!" Utena said, high-fiving her dad.

"We still gotta buy you a pair today," Mom went. "Don't you want to skate? We might even get two skates instead of one."

/

When they were done shopping, Utena didn't get any skates. That one pair which she'd wanted was on a heavy discount, and it also happened to be the last one of its kind available. But another family with a little girl managed to get it first however, and the bickering which ensured between Utena's parents and them lasted for quite a while.

Until Utena remembered, it was that girl who fell over on the ice,and her mom and dad held her as she was sobbing. "It's okay," her mom had said, holding her. "It's alright.."

It was a family just like hers, and Utena realized – this was finally a moment when she could offer the girl a bit of happiness. So she persuaded her own parents to give it to the girl, leaving herself empty-handed; Utena's parents still wanted to take the opportunity of that discount, so they thought the skates would be on stock later.

It turned out those skates – the pearl ones – happened to be desired by many others; it was one of the store's most popular sales, and even after coming back the next day, and the day after, Utena's family didn't get it.

Even so, Utena saw that girl in the field, gliding along the river, enjoying those new pearl skates, and that made Utena happy inside – like she had done a very good thing; a noble and exquisite thing.

/

Zzzzz.. Zzz..

"Utena.." she heard – it was her mother. "Psst!"

"Mmnmmph.." Utena didn't want to wake up and open her eyes; she was feeling contently rested, but her eyes were still in that droopy state.

"Utena.." her mama went.

She slowly opened her eyes.

On her other pillow were those pearl skates, resting soundly beside her. Utena really opened her eyes wide with joy, hardly believing that they were there, even when her little fingers felt the contours of the skates - the alabaster laces, the tip, and the chrome blade. The skates almost seemed like a delicate thing, that might shatter into pieces if she handled them too rough.

Her mama and papa were smiling, their eyes resting with Utena's. "They just await your little feet," Mom said.

"I.. I.." Utena went, her heart feeling like a balloon about to burst, overflowing with happiness.

"Your mama, she woke me up early in the morning," Dad said. "She had the thought of going to the store, just when the mall was opening, and we got one of those babies, right in time just before you know it. Merry Christmas."

Utena just hugged her parents so, crying into their shoulders, in a moment of love so tender, yet all too fragile and ephemeral.

"Thank you so much," she finally said. "Merry Christmas too."

/

1st CANTOR: Appropinquat agnis pastor et ovibus pascendis.
2nd CANTOR: Genua nunc flectantur omnia.
1st CANTOR: Jussit olim Jesus Petrum pascere gregem Domini.
2nd CANTOR: Ecce Petrus Pontifex Maximus.
1st CANTOR: Gaudeat igitur populus Christi, et gratias agat Domino.
2nd CANTOR: Nam docebimur a Spiritu sancto.

CHOIR: Ahleluia, ahleluia—

The ceremony at the church was brief, and its intensity would have became unendurable for Utena had it been a tad longer. A smell of sweet evergreen pervaded from the smoking lantern the grand priest held, and it made Utena's breath keep choking up in her throat.

Before the high altar, the Virgin Mary in tears was clutching three spikes in her hand, and beside her was a statue of Christ descended from the cross. The church attendees were standing in line to kiss Christ's wounds; some of them were sitting between the pews.

It was a very special Saturday, the day before Christmas day, this occasion meant to celebrate Christ's noble suffering for the purest of things, God's everlasting love, and the dignity that there was in it. Utena was being paid extra to serve a role as an assistant – ringing the silver bell during the ceremony and just being present for those people.

Then she spotted Spike. He wasn't in line to kiss Christ, he was heading over to the confessional booth, and knelt while waiting for someone to come by and listen.

Utena's heart leapt. She was so happy to see him again that she blushed; she wondered if nobody would mind her absence as a spiritual paperweight, and looked around before creeping over to the confessional.

In an instant, without anyone noticing, Utena popped inside the confessional, shutting the little door below and drawing open the violet curtain. On the other side of the grille, just a few inches away, that face which had lingered at the back of her mind, looking down in a bout of reflection.

"Forgive me Padre," Spike said, "for I have sinned—"

"I forgive you," Utena said.

Spike looked over at her - surprized that it was her, that girl he'd met in the gym, and then amused upon recognizing who she was. "Madre Utena— what an unexpected pleasure!"

"Hehe." Utena was blushing all the more. In the candlelight, Spike's eyes were beautiful and tender, moreso than she'd remembered. "I saw you skate on TV," she managed to say.

"How did you like my performance?" he asked, studying her. "Was it any good?"

"I loved it."

"Thank you. And did they grant you the priviledge of absolving sins?" he said.

"I dunno.. I can try."

"I haven't told you yet what I've sinned for," Spike said. "It may be a little much for you, but do you want to listen still?"

Utena nodded, and so Spike cleared his throat.

"Okay. Utena.. I am a phony."

"A phony?"

"Yeah. A phony, a fake. I've been pretending all along, and people didn't know it. I pretended to be a figure skater. I danced with Faye in the rink, making those moves, finding the ultimate joy in the doing – and because of that, I can never skate anymore.

"Little does anyone else know, I broke my hip while on a hiking trip, and the doctors told me it'll take about a year to fully recover. It really hurts, I can tell you that. But the skating event was coming far too soon for my needs, and I.. I wanted to show everyone, myself, my family, my coach and audience – just one more time, a beautiful dance in the ice palace. I never told anyone that my hip was still disjointed – I brushed it over as some nuisance that ought to have just gone away. When it came to it, I practised, as much as I needed, and as much as I could without putting too much strain on my hip.

"It seemed alright at first, but the pain grew too much – to the point where I had to take pain-killer pills, and take breaks from practising. You've seen Faye also, no? My skate partner. One day, she found out about my hip, and told me I should take it easy, because there would always be more skating events.

"Yet something in my heart hated the fact that I could be stopped by just a measly broken hip. A fireplace was burning inside me, and that broken hip, was just fuel added to the fire. I couldn't give up, not then, not ever. Meeting you, Utena, man, it reminds me of myself when I first started as a novice, and that just reinforced for me the need to go out there, that night, to show you what it could be like, to be able to climb to dizzying heights and make skating not just any sport, but an art. And to show myself that anything was still possible – to those people who frowned upon wonder, to those people who frowned that I couldn't do it. I was keeping all that inside myself, until the very end.

"That night, that night you saw on television – it was like in a good dream. A perfect moment, with Faye. And that moment's long gone now, and my hip has the better of me." Spike shrugged.

"You aren't phony.." Utena piped.

"I call myself phony because skaters are meant to go on, and I'm not. The only thing you'll see from me is tripping if I keep skating."

"I don't care if you can't skate anymore," Utena said, her eyes growing misty. "I think you're.. wonderful. And I forgive you – you tried and my mama says that trying is what's important."

"I.." Spike paused. "Yes.. it's the trying that does matter. I'm glad."

It seemed almost like eternity as they gazed at those shining specks in their eyes, a wistful longing between them that they hadn't met earlier – a sort of understanding all too rare in the motions of life.

Suddenly on the other side of the confessional, an old man comes by and knelt by the grille. "Forgive me Padre, for I have sinned—"

"You are forgiven!" Utena went, before shutting the panel flat in his face – damn those interruptions, just when it was perfect! Spike barely stifled a giggle.

"Utena," he said, "I'll be leaving the city tonight. I'm thinking of taking a shot at painting, now that my career's busted."

She blinked. "Why?"

"Cause – it's painting. I sometimes visit the art galleries, and.. it's beautiful. The colours, the strokes, just the feeling of painting. I used to get good marks back in art class, but that's not the point; I figured that if I didn't make it in skating somehow, I'd be painting.

"Where I'm going, my childhood home, there used to be this forest, the trees so close and dark together that you could easily lose your way, and on the other end – you'd find this grassy field, where the wind easily blows over. A field where you could sit down and watch the golden sunset.. fade away beneath the horizons, and that would shimmer on the pond's surface. I'd love to paint that. And I'd love to paint you too, your pink hair, and your innocent eyes. Utena, I will remember you always."

And Utena couldn't help crying – she was only so young, and yet it was.. so unbearable inside. She loved him, more than what her little heart could show.

That day in the church, Utena saw the tears in the inanimate Christ, who gazed back at her, and she kissed him before she went home.

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SCENE 7 – Over the Rainbow

Holding the girl's hand, Utena finds herself whisked off on a sprint –a rapid run over the roof of the train cars, a run which surprizingly feels as if you're running indoors instead of trudging through ankle-deep snow. Utena's footsteps are light as a feather, and as the girl vaults over the gaps between cars,so does Utena with unprecedented grace.

The nightly mist brushes aside, revealing the starry sky, with a faint halo that streaks over the yet-to-be-seen North Pole.

Utena is dazzled by the sight, but it isn't any time to be sightseeing – up ahead is a deep gorge between the mountains, where on the other side of the bridge is a tunnel into the depths, a tunnel that seems like a small speck to the eye, but grows rapidly larger as the train rushes closer.

The train toots its whistle, like a bird's dying screech that claws against the eardrums – Utena struggles to maintain her balance, as she especially feels the yank of the girl on her hand. The burst of steam from the engine sprays back, and the girl stops (making Utena almost bump into her), and opens up her parasol just in time to deflect the scalding mist.

Utena loses her footing though, and stumbles over, about to fall down into the depths. Her nightcap blows off her head.

It's alright if I die..

But she doesn't fall.

She finds herself dangling by her legs - her hair flowing and tangling with the air, every detail of the glistening snowflakes so clear and vivid as they dance wildly while they fall, like leaves from a dying tree, doesn't it take your breath away?- and the girl is trying to pull her back up to safety.

She feels the girl's yanks, and she is inched up more and more, until she is lying face up on the train.

The tunnel is almost there..

Utena reaches for the girl, an arm outstretched – and the girl hauls Utena up, before tugging her along in a roller-coaster race towards the front.

They're just moments away from reaching what looks like the tender, where all the coal rocks used for fuelling the train are piled up.

And just when the top of the tunnel is about to cream both of them - in a last ditch exertion, Utena just dives into the coal without thinking if she'll just be hitting solid ground anyway - losing her grip on the girl, and she feels the rocks hit her all over, and then they give way before her own body, enveloping her.

(rooooommm!- as the tunnel envelops the train)

Utena flails her limbs out of claustrophobic reflex, maybe hoping to find the girl's hand again, but in vain, in utter blindness as the coal rocks slip over her shape. It's like drowning, except much quicker.

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SCENE 6 - Climb

Utena understands better why it was that Shinji made her feel that way - even if she doesn't know whether it's his brown eyes, or if it's his face reminding her of someone long past, or just his general demeanour. Somehow, she just knows that he might be able to help her with those feelings buried within her.

But that boy is gone now, taken away by the conductor. If she'd done something different, he'd still be here - if only, if only. And because of that, she curses to herself silently, sulking on her seat, gazing out the windows and seeing the mountains gradually approaching the train's vicinity.

She overhears some of the kids nearby – they're eagerly preparing what to ask Santa Claus, with the excitement of actually going to the North Pole.

"I want a new puppy!"

"I want straight-A's for the rest of my life!"

"I want my Solid Snake Spy Kit!" Stevie goes. "And I want to meet Solid Snake in person – I'll have Santa's reindeer take me to Konami, and use my new spy kit to sneak in the back! That'll be so cool!" He doodles on some loose-leaf paper with crayon, drawing Solid Snake hiding inside a Christmas present that Santa's hauling.

"What's that Chu-Chu?" Anthy goes. "Candy canes and gingerbread cats?"

"Chu!"

"Utena, you should join in," Anthy says. "It's better to keep your mind on happier things."

A beat. "I can't," Utena says, looking around at the happiness that has left her. She leans in towards Anthy's ear. "I don't know what might happen with me if the train arrives. I dread that moment. It won't be good.

"A while ago.. my heart was ripped into shreds, leaving a hole. I never told you this before Anthy, but every time Christmas comes by, it aches, like I want to go into a coma and die, until it's over. Santa can give out every gift in the world, but I know he can't mend a broken heart—" She gulps, holding back the tears. "..or give back lives," she whispers.

"..lives?" Anthy goes.

Utena nods. "I have to find that boy again. I think he can help me.. I just don't know where he is, if he's lying somewhere behind, or if the conductor took him someplace— I didn't see where they went."

"If he means so much to you," Anthy goes, laying a hand on Utena's— "I'll do anything I can to help."

Stevie butts his head into the conversation. "Did someone say help? Hey, weren't you chasing after Shinji so badly?"

Mhm.

"I think I must've mixed my sources up," Stevie goes. "Conductors don't throw passengers off trains— I was thinking of Indiana Jones then. So let's see, when the conductor took Shinji for not having a ticket, they were going to the back of the train, right? Did you see them?"

Utena remembers losing them along the passageway.

"That leaves us two possibilities," Stevie goes, "and you didn't see the side door ajar or anything?"

"I'm sure of it," Utena says.

"So that means.. he led Shinji to the back car, and then you didn't see them? They just disappeared?"

"Yeah.."

Anthy scratches her head over Stevie's brainstorming.

"Well," Stevie goes, "they can't have thrown themselves off the back, it wouldn't make much sense. I think I remember.. they have this service ladder on the right – if you lean around to the side a little bit.. you can climb up to the top."

Stevie suddenly finds himself hugged in a tightly embrace. He blushes, thanking himself for the perk of being a genius.

"I hope I won't slip and fall off the train," Utena goes. "Thank you, Steve."

"Aww.. shucks." Stevie grins.

"Utena," Anthy says, clinging onto Utena's shoulder. "It'll be freezing out – I don't want you to catch cold."

There is Nanami, about to try dialling Touga's number on the emergency phone. She tugs her comfy silk robe by her knees, not wanting any dweeb to trip on the fabric, when Utena and Anthy approach her.

"What do you want?" Nanami goes. "Can't you see I'm calling for my onii-sama?"

"Utena needs your silk robe," Anthy says. "She's about to head outside."

"Whaa?! You must be mad!" Nanami goes. "Why would you, there's nothing out there and the train's still moving. No way, jose."

"Nanami.." Utena steps forward, willing to cat-fight that blonde for the thing, but Anthy holds her back as Stevie comes forth.

"Hey, remember me?" Stevie goes. "You raised me up to the phone?"

Nanami gives the geek a death glare. "You want me to give you a wedgie this time?"

"No, but I think you wanted to call somebody?" He gives his most suavest, charming grin. "I can help you, if you'll agree to give Miss Mademoiselle your jacket. Pleease?" Chu-Chu jumps onto Stevie's shoulder and makes that silly grin too.

Darn, why do these geeks have to be so.. fricking cute? Nanami swipes off her robe, taking her bunny Bunn-kins by the ears out of its pockets; Bunn-kins is hers, ya got it? "Make sure you give it back to me in pristine condition, or you'll owe me your Christmas presents! Mm'kay?"

Utena, still keeping her own nightrobe, has to wiggler her arms in the sleeves – the silken robe kinda cuddles her figure tightly if awkwardly - since it stretches up to XXL size, after being originally custom-fit for Nanami's figure. That's just in case Nanami ever puts on weight.

"Now you help me!" Nanami demands Stevie, as she picks him up to her height.

Utena dawdles to the back of the car, heads down the passageway, and finds the end of the train once more, where the breezes seem to suck away at her. The silken robe makes her feel like she's wrapped around cozily by blankets.

She leans towards the right side— whoosh! The mountain cliff narrowly misses her, but Utena is sent tumbling back. There definitely is a ladder up there, from the brief glimpse she got.

Damn, why didn't she think of this sooner? If these cliffs weren't around, she could just clamber on top.

But she can't turn back now.

Utena, after taking a very deep breath, hurdles herself onto the side ladder – getting a grip of it, and blindly climbs the rungs up as fast as she can – just as another cliff brushes by. (Phew.)

Now she's made it atop the train, where the roof is covered with layers of snow. You can see the faint outlines of footprints making their way across to the front; the outlines growing fainter and less distinct as the oncoming wind brushes the snow over. That has to be the Conductor taking Shinji across.

Utena slowly trudges over, ever onward, holding onto her nightcap, pushed back by the winds. It's so hazy out, like you're wandering down the night streets and everything looks different, somehow. Her steps just feel heavy – having the implicit fear that she'll slip and tumble off the train.

All this snow reminds her of looking up at the stars, and imagining that she'll travel at warp speed into the great beyond.

("Vrooom!" Utena remembers pretending to be an astronaut, lifting off. "3, 2, 1, blast-off!")

Soon she realises it's exhausting to make it over, winds and snow and slippery surfaces in the way. She wonders if it wouldn't be so bad to just take it easy, maybe stop for a while..

Wait, what's that? There's something ahead, a dim light. It could be the Conductor – in which case, Utena feels she could still give him a good thrashing. Step by step she trudges on, and soon she realises it looks like someone, sitting down by that light.

"La, la, la.." Utena hears someone sing a song – it's a girl's voice.

Upon a closer look, it'ssomeone who is sitting on a plastic chair, her hair tumbling over her shoulders as the wind goes - her parasol open to shield from the wintery elements,while she cradles a large, ornately decorated, glowing egg in her hands.

Utena tries rubbing her eyes. Is she seeing things?

"La, la, la," the girl sings, seemingly unaware of Utena's presence.

"Hello?" Utena goes.

The girl opens her eyes and turns to Utena. "Hello there."

"I'm looking for.. a boy?" Utena says, gulping.

"Aren't we all?" The girl notions for Utena to come closer, so that she could hold onto the egg. "Hold this for me, would you kindly?"

Utena stares in bemusement at the girl's request, before realising the girl is practically thrusting the egg into her, and so,Utena takes it. And upon touching the egg, she immediately feels Warmth; a kind of strange, unique warmth – which spreads from her fingertips to her hands, to her arms and finally seeping over to her heart.

The girl smiles. "What is his name?"

Utena is caught up with the egg's gentle warmth. "..Shinji," she says.

"It's a wonderful name," the girl goes.

"Did you see where he went? The conductor, he was taking Shinji somewhere and—" Utena looks down and sees that there aren't any footprints anymore. She wonders now where the conductor must've taken Shinji, which car it is ahead.

"No," the girl says.

"Oh.."

"I know of the footprints you seek," the girl goes, "and they will lead you to the very front of the Boreal Express. First, I will need it back."

"What – the egg?" Utena feels reluctant to let go of its soothing warmth.

"Mhm."

Utena takes a moment to relish the sensations, then hands the egg back. The train engine wails ahead in the distance she cannot see.

"What's inside that egg?" Utena asks.

(love)

The girl pockets the egg.

"A stream of wonderful melody," the girl goes. "A mere snippet of the many melodies which populate this world. It is not the kind of melody you hear with your ears, but that you feel with an open heart, receiving it in experience as you would with music. And this one melody, is Love. It needs some nurturing, or it'll die.

"That melody, which you like.. it is always in your heart," the girl goes, standing up, laying a hand on her own breast. "It is a part of your spirit which wishes to say 'I am here, I am me' to the world."

The girl folds her plastic chair up. "And if you want to be warm again, you only need to call it into being. As long as you breathe, it will never die. Even if you might forget it, or lose grasp of it, it will never die. If Autumn turns into Winter, Spring will always follow, and the trees grow their leaves again. For nothing truly dies."

Utena blinks. Strangely, the girl's words do make sense to her, however vague she may sound. "Who are you?" she asks.

The girl only nods gracefully. "A tunnel is approaching this train. Soon it will envelop everything, and it will be too late. So we must not dawdle in getting there." She has her hand out, which Utena instinctively takes.

"Ollin.." the girl says, "hold onto me, as tightly as you can."

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SCENE 5 – Reminiscences I

"Utena.."

She was holding the silver bell, kneeling by the church altar, in her altar girl attire. She tried half-heartedly to keep her eyes open, having just gotten out of bed, but still feeling half-asleep – she let her eyelids droop.

"Utena! Psst! Pssst!"

That was the priest talking. Utena yawned, and opened her eyes to meet the priest's withering look. She got his message, and shook the silver bell once more.

The priest carried on - lifting the chalice by the figure of the Virgin Mary, and Utena rang her bell again.

And when the Sunday service was over, Utena was removing her tunic beside the priest.

"How can I make you understand!" the priest went. "I just can't go on without the bell. You're always half-asleep, Utena. What is it you do at night anyway? Dance and prance around instead of sleep?"

"Padre, at my house, I hardly get to dance and prance enough," Utena said, sheepishly blushing. "My parents get worried that I'll make too much of a ruckus and the floor will fall in."

"Sigh.. alright Utena, you better run along." The priest took the bell Utena held during the service, and gave her some well-earned money. "I've got sermons to deliver.."

(We celebrated every moment
Of our meetings as epiphanies,
Just we two in all the world.
Bolder, lighter than a bird's wing,
You hurtled like vertigo
Down the stairs, leading
Through moist lilac to your realm
Beyond the mirror.)

There wasn't a Christmas tree up at her home yet. Her dad had promised to fetch one by the time Christmas day rolled around. Utena had seen other people's trees, up on display in their windows, the colourful lights that almost seemed to glitter – and that was where Santa usually left his presents when he'd drop by.

Her home never had a Christmas tree up before. Utena's parents would say to her that they're working very hard to have one as soon as possible, saving money up in the piggy bank. But at least, Santa didn't mind delivering presents in the stockings with her name on them.

Utena Tenjou was alive with joy, with so much happiness and love brimming in her eyes – that was what her mother would tell her each and every day, that it would warm her mama's heart to see her girl, one of the most prettiest girls in the whole wide world. One day, she would grow up to be beautiful, like a princess.

But first, Utena better eat those green veggies and eggs for dinner.

"Blehh," Utena exclaimed, when she held that length of spinach in her chopsticks. "I really don't like it, it's mushy, it's gross, it's green! I heard animals die when they eat spinach."

"We're human," Dad said. "Spinach helps us grow. Here, you should try it with the wasabi sauce."

"Noo-! It only makes my nose feel tingly!"

"Utena," Mom said, "I'll try cooking it differently the next time – but promise that you'll eat them afterward, alright?"

"Mmm, I promise!"

(When night fell, grace was given me,
The sanctuary gates were opened,
Shining in the darkness,
Nakedness bowed slowly;

Waking up, I said:
'God bless you,' knowing it
To be darling: you slept,
The lilac leaned towards you from the table
To touch your eyelids with its universal blue,
Those eyelids brushed with blue
Were peaceful, and your hand was warm.)

Her home felt gloomy and cold during the winter season, when the fireplace wasn't set up, and when Utena got home after her last day of classes, she quickly tore off her clunky winter clothing – coat, scarf and boots – and quickly went over to her parents' room where there was this big bed, with sheets that made it look like a fluffy cloud brought down from the sky. That bed, and Utena would jump up and down on it to relieve her excitement. School was over, at last! (Or she would jump up and down on it anyway, just because it was fun to bounce around for a while.)

And once she's softened their bed up, grrr!- she would crawl underneath all those sheets, and huddle up, so she could spare herself some warmth. It felt wonderful, almost as good as cuddling with Mom and Dad when she'd have those bad dreams (nightmares), and she'd wander into their room, so they could hold her and remind her that she's safe – those bad monsters won't get her here.

Wonderful..

How long she'd stay under, she wouldn't know exactly – but that her parents, when they came back home, they would certainly be shocked to see what a mess she'd made of their bed. An adorable mess at that, so it wasn't too bad.

Hehe. Utena was giggling now. It was funny in math class what had happened with Sei. Everyone in class was concentrating on the stage that was the blackboard. The teacher was asking Sei to do a two-figure multiplication problem – 255 x 15.

"Well then!? What is 5 times 5, Sei?"

And Sei was staring at the problem in utter terror, red in the face, just forgetting what to do. She was thinking for a moment, and then.. "Thirty?"

This made the teacher grab her by the ear and rubs her forehead against the numbers on the blackboard. The eraser fell on the floor, and everyone was roaring in laughter.

"Silence!" The teacher thumps her hand against the board. "Class, since Sei doesn't seem to know, let's give her a refresher. The five times table. One times five is.."

"Five!"

"Two times five is.."

"Ten!"

The class was repeating along with the teacher, and eventually finishing with the fateful question:

"What's five times five, Sei?"

"Fifty!" Sei said, some gusto in her answer. She got a slap in the cheek for that, along with more laughter and hubbub.

"Silence!"

Utena felt bad for the girl- she wasn't too good with the multiplication tables herself, so she looked beneath her desk to sneak a peek at the table: 5 x 5 is 25. Then she pulled out her storybook, and secretly pointed to Sei a page from her book – it had a picture of a Christmas tree on it.

"Sei! It's twenty-five!" Utena whispered. "Twenty-five!"

Sei smiled and gave a wink.

"For the last time, Sei.." the teacher went, having reached the end of her patience. "Five times five equals..?"

Sei turned to the teacher, proud and with smiling eyes, and blissfully answered, "Christmas!"

"You dunce!"

Utena thought Sei was secretly stolen from Canada; she had blonde hair and looked different from the other people.

(And in the crystal I saw pulsing rivers,
Smoke-wreathed hills, and glimmering seas;
Holding in your palm that crystal sphere,
You slumbered on the throne,
And – God be praised! - you belonged to me.

Awakening, you transformed
The humdrum vocabulary of humans
Till speech was full and running over
With resounding strength, and the word 'You'
Revealed its true meaning: it meant Beauty.

Everything in the world was different,
Even the simplest things – the jug, the basin -
When stratified and solid water
Stood between us, like a guard.)

On the television set, there was the figure skater who captivated Utena on first sight - who went forth upon the sleek ice, not a care for anything else besides the feeling of gliding upon the wind, twirling and curving like it was the very air, bounded by a youthful spirit, that guided his movements.

Intense amazement suddenly ran through Utena, astounding her, delighting her. How she wanted to join the skater side by side, being able to glide through the same currents as him.

If she were the little princess, she would want to have him as a prince, to marry him, and there would be white flowers and lilies that dance in the air, descending from a luscious tree as tall as the sky.

If there were such a thing as heaven, she would gladly dance with him up above the clouds, in the purest blue sky, and she'd close her eyes and fall into his chest.

Utena wondered if this was.. Love.

But his performance ended – as suddenly as the channel was changed – and Utena found herself bursting into tears.

"Change the channel back!" she half-screamed. "Change it back! I want to see him glide!"

"Ooof! Sorries.."

It was too late. When it was that channel again, the skater was gone, only to be replaced by commercial break – featuring that cartoon mascot advertising for sushi.

"Noooo! Noo-hohoo.. come back!" Utena was kicking and screaming on the floor. She just felt like something she'd loved had been taken away from her, never to return, and the floor just had to take a beating because of it.

(no)

"Utena! What's the matter?" Mom would say, clambering over to petite Utena, picking her up into the air. "Did you like the figure skater?"

There were a few moments of sobbing, and finally, Utena screamed, loud to her heart's delight, loud so everyone can hear - "Yes!"

Once the figure skating programme was back on, Utena immediately calmed down, and again felt like she wanted to just burst her heart open. It was a different skater this time, and he skated differently (in many ways that Utena couldn't put to words), but she fell in love again, all the same. It was a kind of torturous, yet pleasurable longing under her skin, making her fluttery, having goosebumps, and her heart leaping.

She hoped she wouldn't get cooties from those skaters, not that it actually mattered at that point.

(We were led to who knows where.
Before us opened up, in mirage,
Towns constructed out of wonder,
Mint leaves spread themselves beneath our feet,
Birds came on the journey with us,
Fish leapt in greeting from the river,
And the sky unfurled above..

While behind us all the time went fate,
A madman brandishing a razor.)

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SCENE 4 – The Trouble with Tickets

"Home, home on the range," Stevie sings, "where the people are young, and the day winds are strong, and the cows are a sailin' the moon..!" This little squirt is still relishing the effects of his stint with the emergency brake.

"That was a very brave thing you did, Steve," Anthy told him earlier.

Even better, he'd been happy to relinquish his own seat for Shinji's sake – the hot air blowing right overhead was bugging him. Steve is now sitting one seat behind; in a sense, he's volunteered to watch over the newcomer.

The kids who were rubbing Shinji's bare feet dry have left to finish off their arts n' crafts projects. Shinji is starting to feel alright, if still a little woozy. He wonders if he isn't about to wake up and see that ceiling again in the hospital. It almost feels like it.

He remembers there's something he's got to say to her, but it seems like he's left it behind in the snow, when he was running.

So he says instead, "Is there water around?"

"We've had hot chocolate," Utena goes, staring intently at him. "Um, earlier- are you feeling alright?"

"I'm fine, thanks," Shinji says. You'd see Utena's blue eyes and you would wonder about the feelings she has within. Like she's trying to hold onto you with her gaze. "At least I'm warm." He wiggles his toes, gleeing.

Suddenly, after having crawled up Shinji's seat and seeing those big pudgy toes for the taking – Chu-Chu can't resist. He jumps and clings onto five of those little piggies, making Shinji squirm and jolting the frightened marmoset back onto the safety of Anthy's shoulder.

"What is that?!" Shinji exclaims.

"That is Chu-Chu," Anthy goes, stroking his ears alright. "My dearest darling. I'm sorry that he gave you quite a scare, I'm sure he didn't mean it-"

"Oh, it's okay.."

"See, Chu-Chu? That's Shinji. You be nice to him tonight, okay?"

The petite meng blushes. "Chu!" He rushes over to the boy – no sudden movements now, and clambers over to his toes once more, where he pulls a nail filer and begins polishing Shinji's toenails to a smoothness. "Chuu.."

(Stevie glares with envy at the scene; now he really wants a nice neat pet of his own. He could train it to take care of his comfort needs: nit-picking, nail-polishing – while he worries more about the big stuff.)

Out the window you can see the scenery of passing evergreen trees, densely scattered amongst the mountains. There aren't any street lights giving illumination, it is just the vague light of the sky providing backdrop against the silhouettes. Well, it definitely isn't Kansas anymore.

"I bet it must have been agonizing to have to run all that way, just to get on," Utena says.

Shinji perks his head up. Standing by the railway station, to see his father depart away, leaving him behind. It's a biting freeze.Overwhelming-don't leave me.

"But even worse.. is the agonizing you've felt," Utena says, "because you stepped away from getting on. And it's so painful to realise you can't take back that choice, once you've made it. Or if you do, you have to go through so much hell.. just to make it up."

Chu-Chu is placing the finishing touches on the last little piggy, before putting his little nail filer away.

"..Why are you telling me this?" Shinji goes, even though he already knows why.

That pain he's always felt for most of his life – that same pain, it is there in her eyes.

/

"Our lovely Clara kneeled, utterly exhausted from her injuries," Nanami narrates to her ever-growing audience, reaching the climactic moment in her little story. "Her wounds seemed to have stolen all the hope from her spirit, and the Mouse King was standing triumphantly over her, pointing his sword at her neck. He was about to slice her throat.

"But all Clara could see was her Touga-" The Nutcracker didn't seem to have a name, so what a hell, Touga's a good name for a prince to fall in love with. "Poor Touga! His wooden arms were reaching out for Clara behind the straw cage. She could hear his hapless cries, and suddenly she found tears pouring out of her eyes.

"In that instant, they saw each other. Even if Clara didn't make it, it was just enough to know there was a prince – who loved and cherished her dearly. And she smiled the most purest, innocent smile ever in her life."

Nanami's listeners aren't saying anything. They're on the edge of their knees, their ears straining to hear every last word. Some boy is already bawling his eyes out; that's the power of Nanami's storytelling! Anyways.

"'Do you have any last requests?' asked the wicked Mouse King.

"Clara looked at the overgrown mouse. Her heart was churning from swelling love, and her eyes showing a new vigour in them. She finally said, 'It came true already.'

"And she grabbed the Mouse King's sword with her bare hands, and pulled the edge away from her throat. The Mouse King was shocked! This isn't happening! he thought. But Clara took the sword away from the mouse's paws, and then.. she nicked him, right in the bosom!

"'Nooo!' the mouse yelled, before he fell over and died.

"It wasn't quite over yet. Touga was still trapped in that straw cage, and so, Clara went over, and tore all the straw to pieces, thus freeing the Nutcracker prince.

"But Clara had lost half her blood already, and so, she tumbled over into Touga's arms, feeling just dead tired. Like after your math teacher had dished out three pop quizzes in a row, tired. And she was about to fall asleep, forever.

"'Clara- please, stay with me!' sobbed Touga.

"'..Touga,' Clara whispered. 'I'm sorry I didn't tell you I loved you earlier.' Clara wasn't struggling to stay awake anymore – her life was now fulfilled. The last thing she saw was Touga transforming back into a handsome human being, before she closed her eyes to the world and joined her fallen friends in heaven.

"All Touga could do was gaze at his beloved's face. She was gone, but she left him with fond memories of their brief travels together, of her. The last thing he did for her, was carrying her out of the dreary castle, into a beautiful morning, with the sun rising up into the clear sky.

"And when at last he claimed his rightful place as King of Candyland, he had a life-size candy statue of Clara in his chambers, with red licorice lips that he could kiss, so he could remember her in his dreams. Prince Touga indeed made a very good king – he was very, very kind and generous to his royal subjects, and he fostered a golden age filled with hope and love during his rule.

"Once Touga was no longer King – it was 70 years later, and he was old now, lying in his bed – he wished to himself he could meet Clara, once more at least. The Fates were happy to allow Touga to enter heaven, where he saw his beloved Clara awaiting him by the toadstools. The End."

Nanami brushes the sweat from her forehead; storytelling can be hard work sometimes. Her knees are aching after holding the actual storybook in-between for so long. "Phew."

The kids are silent for a moment, still absorbed, still teary-eyed under her bittersweet ending's spell. They aren't sure what to think. Then one of them begins to clap, and more and more until all of them are practically giving her a standing ovation.

"Hey," one kid chirps, "that's not how I remember it!"

"Yeah, me neither," another kid goes.

Nanami begins to blush. "Erm.." How is she going to pull herself outta this one? Too late – the girl who'd told the story snags the book away from Nanami's knees, and turns it over to the last page. "Clara and the Nutcracker didn't die," the girl goes. "And the prince isn't named Touga!"

"Hey, you gotta admit, my version's better!" Nanami says, before the girl boots her off the storytelling seat.

/

The Conductor comes in through the cabin door, amused by the children singing "Silent Knight, Holy Fight" by the choiring section. Upon carrying Shinji onto the train, it seems the Conductor has forgotten one thing-

"Hey!" Stevie goes, getting all jumpy in front of the Conductor. "Shinji would like a hot coffee too!"

"Is that so?" The Conductor pauses for a sec. "By all means, I shall be happy to be taking some to him, but first things first, I've a matter of the highest priority."

There is Shinji by the girls – he should be warmed up by now.

"Dearest Shinji," the Conductor says. "I believe I have neglected to punch your ticket."

The boy reaches for his pants pocket, and there's only dust bunnies in there.

"May I?" the Conductor says. "Try your other pocket."

Shinji tries his other pocket - his fingers stick out of a hole, touching his bare thigh. And then he begins to really sweat.

"But there's a- a hole in my pocket," Shinji goes. The S-DAT player had been clunky in his pants pockets, so he took it out and heard a hole rip. "I can't find it."

The Conductor frowns. "You mean.. you have.. lost your ticket?"

The entire car seems to hush into silence, as if someone had just said a bad word out loud. Shinji's heart is racing on, pounding and pounding beneath his chest as his nerves seem to thump in his neck.

"Young meng.. I believe you will just have to come along with me."

No.. no! Just when Utena's having a moment of understanding with Shinji, the Conductor has to come and take it away. "Wait!" Utena goes, her hand digging in her pocket for her stamped ticket. "Here, Shinji, you can take mine." She is almost thrusting the ticket into Shinji's hands, desperately.

The Conductor is just sighing at this point. He swipes at Utena's arm, and nearly crunches her ticket in his hand, before giving it back to her. "These tickets.. they are not trans-fer-able."

"But-" Stevie goes. "But.. the hot chocolate! Montezuma, he's the king of the Aztecs – didn't he declare that everyone should get to enjoy their cup of hot chocolate first, at least before leaving somewhere?"

"How do you know?" some girl retorts. "That's not true!"

"It is true, it's National Geographic, November 1955!"

The Conductor makes Shinji stand up anyway, and takes the boy in tow, hand-in-hand, over to the door leading to the back. It happens in a flash, the door shutting behind them.

No..!

"You know what's gonna happen now, don't ya?" Stevie goes. "He's gonna throw him off the train Right off the rear platform. Hey, it's standard procedure, that way Shinji won't get sucked under the wheels!- hey, where're you going now?! You're gonna get us all in trouble."

Utena is rushing towards the same door now. She hauls the door open, and runs down the swirling passageway (after seeing that the Conductor didn't open this escape hatch) to the other end, where she enters the last, empty car.

"Wait.." she pants between breaths. "Wait..!" Her legs are feeling heavy as her steps hit the floor hard in running.

(And there's nobody around.)

And she skirts to a stop by the very last door at the other end. She hauls the door open, and the wintery storm hits her hard when she steps outside, onto the platform. Only to see the train tracks recede into the dark distance.

the phoenix rises up out of ashes

Utena seethes, reeling on the stainless steel floor coated with snow. She smashes her fists into the icy air ahead (oh, you bad now) hitting nobody except her pain – it is just futile.

only for it to dissolve into nothingness again

Finally, as the cold winds threaten to wear away into Utena, she turns away and heads back inside.

qdesjardin: (Default)

SCENE 3 – The Final Passenger

In the night the Boreal Express plows forth on the snow-laden tracks, a lone interstellar traveller on its journey through space and time. Orange street lamps come and go in the sleeping streets. Once, a familiar sight or two comes into view, and all the kids would see yet another galleria mall they recognize from their own town, or boutique store, or—

"Herpolsheimers!" Stevie chirps, pointing out the windows, and everyone is gathering by to see the department store – it is still lit, and you can see the latest luxury toys on display beside Santa Claus. There's a 12'' scaled Tuxedo Mask from the show Sailor Moon, and he's able to throw his hat like a frisbee – it's all the latest rage! (Be sure not to aim point-blank range.)

Santa. There he sits on his comfy chair, ho ho ho-ing with that false gaping mouth people call bellowed laughter. Utena stares in disdain at that figure, that man, unable to escape that brief wince in her gut as she almost presses the tip of her nose on the frosted window. He's waving from behind the glass, and she notices the mechanical levers which animate his arm and head.

She sits back down, her eyes downcast at the red carpet.

"Utena," Anthy says, "you have a—"

Utena looks up. Anthy is notioning at her – right above her lips. Oh. She wipes away her fancy milk moustache, and this makes Anthy giggle and Chu-Chu pop up from Anthy's cup. The little marmoset sure has enjoyed himself to a cozy hot chocolate bath. "Chu!" His fur soaked in the frothy cocoa.

A light burp comes from behind them. It is Stevie, popping his head above their seats. "Hello ladies! Hope I'm not interrupting anything."

"It's okay," Utena says. In fact, the know-it-all's intrusion could be a welcome change of pace from her dark melancholy.

"So – you enjoyed your drinks?" he asks.

"Yes," Utena says.

"I'm about to give my lovely friend a nice drying over," Anthy goes, plucking Chu-Chu out the cup onto the tray. The little one begins to ruffle his fur.

"A mouse!" Stevie perks his head closer for a good look. Not that he hasn't seen a mouse before – one of his best buds has a pet hamster, but this one looks way different. "What's his name and where'd you get him from? Petland?"

"Chu-Chu," Anthy tells him. And Chu-Chu is staring back at those pair of coke-eyed magnifying glasses. That's Mister Chu-Chu to you, you brat. Stevie thinks whatever this mouse has, it's an attitude if you go by its vaguely daring facial expression, and the raspberry tongue sticking out, pfft. One thing's for sure, Stevie will be asking Santa for another Chu-Chu to love.

The P.A. system crackles with feedback. "Everyone please return to your seats," the Conductor announces. "I shall make a punching of your golden tickets, so have them handy please." Click.

Stevie frowns. "Darn. I'll talk to ya later then." His seat is a couple of rows behind them.

Utena finds her golden ticket tucked away in her navy-blue nightrobe's left pocket. It's thick and floppy. The Boreal Express, ROUND TRIP.

"You've turned away from Santa as long as you remember," the Conductor said. "You stand at a crossroads, Utena.."

Why is she here on this train to the North Pole? Why has she deserved this golden ticket? Will it be a reconciliation between her and Santa – to be able to talk face-to-face with him? The hate in her has its grasp around her beating heart, and she can scarcely imagine what she might say to Santa – or do.

Too much. She clasps her hands, and then closes her arms around her breast, the icy sensation starting to overcome the innate warmth in her fingers. I'm hurting too much. And she only notices how Chu-Chu tugs at one of her earlobes.

Anthy catches Utena's glance. "What's the matter? Ever since we got on.. ever since the Winter season has started, you've been acting very aloof." She supposes something must have happened to Utena before then, but she didn't feel like intruding on what must seem to be a sensitive, tender spot for her.

"I'm.. cold, Anthy," Utena goes.

Anthy gently lays a hand on Utena's – and rubs those cold hands warm again.

"I'm cold.. here," Utena says, her voice shewing the slightest shiver – notioning at her heart. And how might Anthy reach so deeply within Utena, to cradle her heart till it is well again? (She has to try however. There are not many things more sorrowful in the world than having a broken heart, and she knows that.)

The Conductor arrives through the doors, holding the ticket puncher. "Tickets.. tickets bitte?" Everyone's holding up their tickets in the air, and the Conductor is swift, going through each ticket like knife through butter with fluttering scraps where the holes have been punched.

When he gets to Utena and Anthy, the Conductor says to them, "Your tickets, mein Frauleins?"

Utena hands it to him, sees him reaming petite holes through her ticket ("Pffuf~!" Utena blows away some of the drifting scrap), and there on her ticket is a glyph outline, that looks as if it could have come out of scripture. A knight proudly riding his horse, carrying what looks like a trophy at hand.

And once he's done with Anthy's ticket - "Merci." The Conductor grins at a job well done, but then that grin turns into a scowl as he spots a little something that's up to no goodly. "Nein! What are you kids doing?" he shouts. "That announcement phone is no toy, put that down little ones!"

Stevie has been reaching for the phone with the help of being hoisted atop another kid's shoulders – he was curious about making a call back home to tell them how awesome his trip is getting. He lets off the effort though. (But Nanami approves; that phone is looking mighty appealing to call Touga with, hmm.)

Then he trods up to where Utena and Anthy are. "Boy that guy likes to show off his ticket puncher, look what that wise guy punched on my ticket!" Stevie goes, and eagerly shoves his ticket in their faces. "L-E, what the frak does that mean?"

The Conductor heads down the aisle to the phone. He announces, "Next stop, Misato Danchi, Saitama Prefecture, Tokyo-3."

"Tokyo!" Stevie blurts. "Oh boy, that's where Godzilla lives! That's funny, I thought you girls were the last ones."

Out the window, Utena sees those metal-and-glass buildings with neon lights burning through the blackness with an infinite number of pastel-like colours, their reflections capturing the faint nightly haze as a shattered mirror would - the buildings stretching as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by the calm sea by the edge. Such a strange and alien landscape.

"Cooool..!" Stevie goes, and his mouth begins to drool in geeky fascination.

"Oh my.." Anthy mumbles, and she invites Chu-Chu on her shoulder to come see. "This is—"

"Awesome! I know!"

"Chuu!"

It is beautiful.

And then you see the apartment complex come by into view – an unremarkable utilitarian building, except its shape slanting back near the upper floors. The Express glides to a graceful, noisy stop, just by its entrance. Its engine jets out a giant hiss of steam into the air, as a marathon runner sweatily pants after a run.

The Conductor heads out the door and steps into the soft snow. Crunch. Crunch. The snowfall gathers on his cap and uniform, just as the faintest of breezes permeates the cool air. Utena and Stevie have the window opened – they can smell the unique scent of a snowy night.

/

Shinji Ikari, the designated pilot of Eva-01, covered under his three bedsheets, tosses and turns in his plain bed. Intimations of that lovely Yumi Arai song still resonate in his dreaming mind – even as his S-DAT player has shut itself down from low battery. It's lovely to hear the music as you kiss her unpolished lips by the park bench, your nose taking in her perfume that accentuates her red hair. Her tongue entering your mouth and dancing with yours in a mixture of saliva. Taking in her moist breath into your lungs.

Asuka - one of the most beautiful creatures he's known, though she doesn't seem to realise it herself. If only he has the willpower to tell her that to her face. Until then, it is through the Sandman's sleeping dust that allows him to drift away with her in idealised pastures.

Just maybe though.. this dream will stay with him when he wakes up the next morning on Christmas day. For her, it may be his best Christmas present.

But his petite dream is not to last. A loud screech from the outside definitely cuts him back into his dark room – what's going on? What's that noise? The bursts of light shifting on the walls makes him clamber out of bed to his window. For a moment, he thinks his woozy eyes are playing tricks – it cannot be, that giant train awaiting down there. But he blinks, and there it is. Someone steps out from one of the cars, and what he's carrying (a lantern?) sheds bright light over the area.

"All aboard!" Shinji faintly hears. He is compelled to find out what it is all about. But first, the immediate thought, I wonder if Misato and Asuka heard this too. "All aboard!" This call sounds more urgent.. I guess there isn't time to check up on them, I better hurry.

The S-DAT player is clunky in his pants pockets; in the hasty midst of taking it out, he accidently tears a hole. He puts his socks on and wiggles his feet into his winter boots – it's cold outside. This isn't another one of those 'tests' by his father, is it?

Swiftly the elevators take him down to first floor, where he makes it out the lonesome lobby onto the snowy entrance – geez, the light's almost blinding. His eyes adjust though and he sees the Conductor wearing his trusty Conductor Hat.

"Ja, you are Shinji Ikari?" the Conductor goes, reading off his scribt tablet.

"Yes.. who are you?"

"You may call me Hans von Hozel, or Mr Conductor if you'd like. I am here to offer you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to take you to the North Pole where the Christmas magic awaits. This here.. is the BOREAL EXPRESS!" His words echo into the night. "Well, shall you be coming?"

While some of the kids look with interest at the potential newcomer, Utena.. she finds a strange, uncanny affinity with him at the back of her mind, in those shy brown eyes however distant they may be.

Shinji takes a step back. In that one step signifies a dismissal, and the Conductor tells him, "Suit yourself," and waves the galvanick lucipher lantern to signal a departure to the driver.

Selfish.. Almost immediately, Shinji regrets the decision in himself. How could he have done that, walked away? But it is too late now. The door is shut. The Boreal Express itself seems to jeer at him for his cowardice, those other children onboard still having eyes on him. All he can do is hang his head down in shame – to see the golden white snow lapping at his feet, while he hears the thunderous whistle of the train that is as distant to him as an unapproachable memory.

(shame on you then.)

Without knowing why, it makes Utena really want to cry inside.

"Oh dear," Anthy goes.

"Bah, it's just one pickup," Stevie says. "What's there to cry about anyways?"

no

"Guy out there!" bursts Utena out the window. As if she's speaking from a last reserve of strength. "If you walk away.. if you'll leave.. there won't be anything back there in the dark! You'll only regret it!"

For a moment, Shinji doesn't comprehend her.

"I won't forgive you!" she tells him.

The train begins to haul forth; a jolt reverberates throughout the cabin and almost sends Utena off her footing. So slowly does the train move, and yet all too fast for her liking. She is utterly helpless - she only can see his form trail away into the distance, into the black nothingness beyond.

I mustn't run away. I mustn't run away.. I musn't run AWAY!

And then he begins to run – towards the cabin. Towards the pink-haired girl who's so kind enough to care.. about him.

"Hey! Now he wants to get on!" Stevie goes.

Utena's eyes widen, and her heart leaps and skips a beat. "Come on!" she yells at him out the window, the wind sucking her voice into dissipation. "Hurry! Faster!"

He can hardly hear her, but it's just enough to give him more courage. "Wait.." Shinji mumbles in-between breaths. "Wait..!" he pleads. He has to get on the train now. It's just going faster and faster, and soon eventually beyond what he can run. "Wait..!" His misty breath pours out in spades.

"..he's not going to make it!" Utena's got to do something, fast! "I'm coming to get him," she tells them, and without waiting for answers she storms herself down the aisles to the exit passageway, narrowly missing crossfire of a spitball fight.

Nanami notices Anthy following after her, interrupting her own fantastic storytelling. "What's the ruckus?" she says. "Darn it, where was I? Oh yea, Clare is about to confront the wicked Mouse King.."

Now Utena is in the glowing passageway – she can't let herself be hypnotised by the dazzling walls now. There is the exit door. It looks like something out of an airplane's cabin - how can she unlatch its latch, and open it? It's this lever here, pull it 90 degrees counter-clockwise to OPEN.. it's fricken' stuck..

(Shinji remembers running the 100m dash alongside Kensuke. The sweat is spilling out on his entire body. "See ya by the starting line!" Kensuke had said. That was gym class wasn't it? I should've put on my running shoes instead— damn this snow, damn the wind resisting me!)

"Utena!" Anthy goes. She scrambles over to a spot beside Utena and adds her own two hands to the mix, "Uunngh!" At last does the exit door give way. It swings open to the left initially, but the incoming currents threaten to blow the door back closed.

"Anthy, hold onto me," Utena says.

"Mm."

As Anthy holds onto Utena's waist while holding the wavering door for support, Utena leans out and sees the boy, just coming within her reach. She thrusts a hand for him.

"Grab my hand!" Utena shouts. Her heart is pounding so hard against her rib cage, she can feel her pulse flushing behind her ears – her arm is wavering— "I know— I know you can do it! Please, come on!"

"Wait.." Shinji goes. He must.His lungs are hurting and numb from exerting against the freezing air, and the snow on the ground is getting deeper, almost up to his knees now. Shinji isn't running anymore, now he's waddling like a hapless toddler trying to walk his first steps, and his numbing arms just outstretched forth, waiting for another hand to receive them – that girl's hand.. his own mother's hand even. That hand which will never come. If only he weren't this.. so weak. I'm too weak.. come back.. please..

("No!" he faintly hears her say.)

And his legs cave in. Shinji tumbles onto the ground. I'm sorry. I can't.

And his father would tell him laconically, "Pathetic."

And some time long later perhaps, he would meet that pink-haired girl once more, to tell her at least: Thank you.

The song echoes tenderly in his thoughts.

/

Back in the cabin, Steve Nottelling doesn't call himself a Science Guy for nothing. Up there by the door is a handle just out of his reach, and you can read the label's block letters: BRAKE. Brake – when his Mama drove him to Lansdowne Elementary on an overcast day, she mentioned once, "The brake pedal is what you press down on to make the car stop. It's not break as in breaktime, it's brake. They're homonyms."

Funny though, this sort of brake isn't a pedal. And he might be getting himself into trouble again, reaching for things too high up for a little kid. But oh well. For Science! He looks about. There's a big blonde-haired girl reading to the other kids. "Hey you!" he asks.

Nanami is very peeved! It's the second time she has to be interrupted from her 'storytelling.' She manages to temper her temper though, and excuses herself for a sec. "What do you want, you little dweeb?"

"Can you help lift me up there?" Stevie points to the red lever.

Hm. "Sure." Why not?

Nanami is careful not to step on her little listeners, and she makes it to the aisle where she takes great pains to lift Stevie up.. well, up to where the dweeb can reach his sticky fingers to the brake. Stevie pulls the thingy.

The Boreal Express's wheels squeal to a thunderous, abrupt stop. Oh man you should've seen everyone inside. It ruled so hard and they were like, waah! I love myself.

You hear doors being open and slammed shut. Then the Conductor bursts in the cabin. "Mein Gott! What in the blazes has happened? Who's pulled the emergency break?"

"I did!" Stevie pips up.

"It was his idea!" Nanami adds. "I did the menial work carrying him up there."

"In case anyone didn't know," the Conductor goes, "that lever is for emergency purposes only! Now is there something you can call an emergency?"

/

Wandering down the darkness, her feet trudging in the snow, Utena looks for any sign of the boy's existence. It almost seems like forever until she sees him fallen on the snow, exhausted and freezing. She holds him in her arms and tries to carry him back to the train. To no avail. No strength left in Utena anymore.

Then there is Anthy and there is the Conductor with his bright lantern and skis.

/...

Splash, splash, it repeats. The wave repeats, splash, splash. Rolling in and out, rolling out and in. The time repeats, splash splash. The heart repeats, splash, splash.

"Shinji-kun.."

He is aware of a prickling sensation over his body. His arms and feet are being rubbed. Beyond the blackness of his eyelids he hears the locomotive trudge on, and so he groggily opens his eyes to see what he'd never thought he'd see. The cabin. Those kids rubbing his naked arms and feet under the red blanket covering him.

Her. The pink-haired girl. Right by his side, with her friend. He wants to say something to her. Anything.

But she says it first - "I'm Utena."

"Welcome!" a nerdy boy blurts, his face popping into Shinji's view.

"What's your name?" Utena asks.

And after a moment when he closes his eyes, he says, "My name is Shinji. Shinji Ikari."

qdesjardin: (Default)

SCENE 2 – The Warmth Inside / Hot Chocolate

Inside the darkened, glittering passageway between cars, Utena feels a bit of trepidation. It feels like the floor her feet stand on could dissolve beneath her into a mass of shifting quicksand. She's leaning by the walls for support – they are decorated with a holly that seemingly undulates with an uncertain jazzy glow. From the two doors aside, she could hear a faint chatter of young voices, joyful and lively – the rays of warm light through their holes beckoning.

She unlatches the right door, and what she finds makes her stand still. For a moment, her heart stops beating, but an instant later she sees what it is. These children, in their pajamas and nightgowns, romping around the aisle seats - some of them in a game of hide-and-seek tag, some who're huddled in a group of crafts and activities, who're reading from The Nutcracker storybook, or who otherwise sit idly in the seats waiting for the Boreal Express to take off.

Unexpectedly, Utena's heart is filled with a feeling of tenderness, and perhaps even of security. It is as if she has rediscovered that innocent joy tucked long ago into the cobwebs. She can't help but let a smile show-

Ooof, except being hit in the eye by a dinky paper airplane. Utena rubs her eyes; "Sorry!" chirps one of the girls from the crafts' n stuff – there's been an error in takeoff, Paper Industries Ltd. apologies for the inconvenience. Utena gives them a nonchalant nod, before walking down the bustling aisle for a seat to take, maybe where Anthy is if she's around here. Funnily enough, Utena seems to be one of the oldest on the train, besides Anthy and Nanami – the rest of the kids look aged from tots to tweens.

"Hahahahaha, you have pink hair!" A boy's nasal voice interrupts her. Utena looks about until she comes across a pair of coke-eyed glasses, almost too close to her face for comfort. Behind those glasses, this know-it-all's brown quizzical eyes eyeball her, top to bottom. He moves back, and she can see him more entirely. "Hi, I'm Steve Nottelling, but people call me Stevie." He grins. "What's your name?"

"Utena Tenjou," she tells him.

"Wow, is that like Japanese or something? Cool! Hey, did you know that this train we're riding on is a Pere Marquette 1225, a type 2-8-4 locomotive built by Lima Locomotive works in 1941? I know because I've read it from National Geographic, hey, where're you going?"

Utena has found Anthy sitting by one of the front seats, where it isn't as hectic – the calmer place lets Anthy tickle petite Chu-Chu on her shoulder with peace.

"Goojiegooo! Going to the North Pole is so nice!" Anthy goes. Her bunny slippers wiggle with agreement. "Utena, I'll ask Santa for more spices, and some Darjeeling tea. They're very hard to get nowadays. What are you going to ask him?"

Utena stares pensively down; what shall she tell Anthy?

Stevie pops his head in-between them, and blurts out, "I wanna get my Solid Snake Spy Kit 2000! Solid camouflage wear, secret radio, cardboard box, it let you sneak around like Solid Snake!" He nods at Anthy. "Hi, I'm Steve Nottelling, but you can call me Stevie. You're her friend, aren't you?"

"Mhm. You can call me Anthy."

"Cool! *hic*" Stevie leans in-between them more. "Boy you sure smell nice! Do girls always smell like fruit?"

"Not without some effort," Anthy says. The lotus shampoo still freshly permeates through her hair. It has a nice tang to it.

Then noisy feedback echoes from the train's P.A. "Attention everyone!" the Conductor goes. "Please hold onto your seats; we'll be revving up and chugging forward in a moment. For those of you feeling parched.. there shall be some hot hot beverages coming your way shortly. Ta-ta!" Click.

"I dunno.." Utena goes, "what I want to ask Santa Claus." She stares out the window, seeing Ohtori Academy as a few turned-on lights within that faintest silhouette amongst the night darkness. Darkness.. like if your eyes were shut behind the eyelids, waiting for whatever is out there. Mostly it is only ordinary when you blink, those many infinitesimal moments in a day. Or you open your eyes to your room after a good nap.

Utena remembers opening her eyes, when she was young.. where to her great amazement there were those pearl skates in front of her. Its alabaster colouring, and the blades which would glide along the ice. The skates resting upon the puffy pillow - awaiting her little feet, the little troubles she would have keeping steady in the movements, and all the moments with her Papa and Mama, holding her hand as they gave their love in teaching her how to be just as graceful as the champion figure-skaters on TV.

She couldn't shew just how much she was happy, but it was more than enough to see her smile then, as her hands reached for one of the skates – tenderly trying to hold it, like it was a delicate thing that might shatter if handled a tad too rough.

And she almost teared up when she told Mama and Papa.. how her little heart loved them so very much, then, now and ever. That perfect, everlasting, ephemeral moment in her life, and it would never come again.

The Boreal Express toots its low whistle into the open air, and then it suddenly jolts into a slow movement – its brakes have released their grip, and the train engine begins to haul the trailing cars, bearing all the responsibility of carrying the children and valuables to the North Pole. Wave goodbye to Ohtori Academy. See the campus fade behind with the traversed rails. This train is headed northward.

Nanami, inside the same car as Utena and Anthy, feels a playful mood coming about her as she looks for opportunities to get the most out of her night. Her eyes dart to and fro between the kids, as she twiddles her fingers in her hair. You really wonder what she's up to. She overhears someone reading aloud from the Nutcracker storybook, so she prances over to a row of seats, where a dapper girl has taken it upon herself to entertain the petite misses and gentlemen, looking to be read to.

"'It looked like summer for the bewildered Clare,'" the dapper girl goes, "'as she was greeted by the citizens of the Candy-Cane Land, smiling and waving at her approach. She was to be their rescuer, for they were oppressed by the tyranny of the Rat King, who overthrew the good King and used Candy-Cane Land's powers for his selfish purposes. Clare had to set onward to the kingdom's castle.. that was where the Rat King kept our beloved Nutcracker caged.'"

Nanami notices how the girl enthrals her audience. Why don't we have some fun here – this ol' bedtime story's good, but everyone must surely have heard it a thousand times over, so good Miss Nanami Kiryuu is here to spice up your day with a few surprizes. Mwaha.

"I think you must be a little tired," Nanami tells the dapper girl. "You've read this far into the story, your mouth must be aching from all that effort!"

The girl pauses – she could be right. "But I'm only halfway- I wanna read to the ending."

"You can use a break anyways – so scoot!" Nanami swipes the book from the girl, and now she's the centre of attention. (A little mean of her to do so, but erm.) "Let's see.." She skims through the rest of the pages for a refresher; it's been a while since.

One of her favourite moments of Christmas is when she has Touga snuggling up with her in bed, and he'd read for her from the storybook, while she's cuddled against his warm chest. His gravure voice is soothing, and she'd automagically go to sleep just before he's done. Nowadays she hardly gets this chance anymore – her big brother is often too busy handling Student Council matters over the phone.

Sometimes Touga would improvise whenever he thinks Nanami isn't actually seeing the pages. It was extra delightful when she got to hear how Jack dragonfisted the mean, spiteful Giant, and then moved in the cloud castle with his mother where he held martial arts training with the faeries and elves. Or that the Three Little Pigs asked a Shelley Duvall to halt the story because they had no clue what they were to do if they cooked the Big Bad Wolf – eating their enemies didn't settle well with their tummies, it gave them indigestion the last three times.

So what should Nanami do now? It's such a boring, obvious ending if Clare and Everyone lives happily ever after - no ifs, ands, buts, or moral quandaries. Hmmph.

One of the kids is poking her annoyingly on the leg - "What's the holdup?"

"Ermm, someone scribbled over the rest of the pages," Nanami answers with a mock frown, "but luckily, I happen to remember what's going to happen!"

Everyone shuffles in closer.

"Clare approaches the castle," Nanami goes, "finding several lackeys along her way who she bribes with promises of the kingdom's wealth, should they help her overthrow the evil mice and win her beloved's heart. What shall we call them.. Keiko, Aiko and Yuko! Nice villagers who'd been doing nothing but licking a sugar pole when she found them.

"So Clare and her band of rebels, driven by intense desire, cross the field of opium poppies, and sail through the misty waters where they defeated Jormungand! He's the sea serpent who asked our gang three trick questions in order to pass, but luckily Clare's smart, she stayed in school – when she was asked the speed of an unladen swallow, she tricked Jormungand into pushing their raft faster to the castle."

An inquisitive, brown-haired kid asks, "What does the Nordic Jormungand have to do with Candy-Cane Land or anything pertaining to the story? And is the swallow European or African?"

"Oi shut up!" Kids these days. "Now then. They finally arrive at the Castle-"

Suddenly, a Public Service Announcement! The bustling children hear the preceding feedback and they gradually stop what they're doing. "Attention- attention!" the Conductor chimes, with a pause to make sure he's heard. "If you will kindly make a sittings on the seats, we present to you for your night's pleasure.. Hot Chocolate!"

Nanami glances at her audience's eyes. "We'll be back after coffee break."

All the children settle in their seats – which they suddenly shift and slide into a diner cafe arrangement ("Oooh!"), and the tables pop out from underneath. Bursting through the door, the sharply dressed serveurs hop and somersault down the aisle, placing napkins over the table surfaces, sifting cups atop of them, and passing out pre-packaged mint cookies – especially made with nougat centres as white as snow.

[Serveur Lyrics, dance routine sold separately.]
You've made it through the wilderness somehow.
You've made it through!
You didn't know how lost you were
Until we found you

You were beat, incomplete
You've been had, you were sad and blue
But we can make you feel
Yes we can ma-aa-ake you feel-
Shiny and new..

Oh, like a Virgin!
Touched for the very first time!
Like a vir-ir-hir-hir-gin!
When we give you
Our cafe delisse.

In comes the Mighty Jug – the giant stainless steel container on a trolley, filled to the brim with frothing cocoa as thick and rich as Lindt(R) chocolate – and with one of the serveurs opening its tap, the cocoa spills out, and instead of staining the floor the river directs itself into many cup-sized streams, filling each and every empty cup. Now satisfied, the serveurs trod off to a different car. And that is that.

Utena doesn't see her reflection on the cocoa's froth. She's holding her cup handle, staring away at it. Around her is inconsequential babble – inner doubt, almost a kind of disbelief gnaws away at her heart. What is this coffee, sprung from who-knows-where in some chain of giving, ending at last from that jolly red man who shewed her apathy when she had needed his miracle the most. Or not that, maybe his lack of miracle is a gesture of mocking her.. maybe his miracles are only material gifts - in candies, toys and coal. Not life. That's why girls don't get their ponies. They get Barbies.

Chu-Chu imagines Utena's holding her cup still, so that it could be a hot frothing sauna pool for him to dive into. Kersploosh! The droplets of steaming cocoa wake Utena from her spell.

"You should drink that," Anthy suggests. Chu-Chu surfaces, bearing a Chaplin milk moustache. Utena begins to smile, and she picks Chu-Chu up by his big mousy ears to where he better belongs, and then she takes a sip. That warm cocoa delighting her inside.

qdesjardin: (Default)

Ze Polar Express – by QQQQQ

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.


Act I Das Boreal Express and its Trip to the North Pole

SCENE 1 – The Boreal Express

Snow dances in the frigid air. These little flakes upon Ohtori Academy's frosted windows and leaves the sleeping students huddled under their fuzzy blankets. The silent parlor fills the place such that you can acutely hear the drop of a pin cushion as if it were the only sound in existence. If you look at the skies, you might make out the faint fluffy edges of the clouds lit from below by the citylights. It is the 24th night of Decembre month in the year of our Lord 1996; and if you feel the magic in your heart, you would know something very miraculous is about to occur for the chosen ones of this Earth.

What will it be?

/

In the dark dorm bedroom, Utena Tenjou clutches her arms beneath her bedsheets – her eyes wide open, and staring listlessly at the open curtains. The snowflakes fall endlessly before her. A frozen waterfall which hypnotises if you concentrate hard enough. And she'd rather be hypnotised than risk falling asleep and dream in this night. It's a weird feeling. It kinda feels like you're levitating outside your body as a ghost, fatigue all drowned out at the back of your mind. Along with the dread for tomorrow's day.

The glowing numbers on the clock reads 11.29 PM. (About an hour ago, Utena'd slipped into bed early.)

Underneath on the lower bunk, little Chu-Chu finds comfort by Anthy's nice and warm arm, and his snoozing bubble pops in and out, making weird noises like a party blower. When his maester tosses, Chu-Chu squeaks beside her to come back, so he can continue dreaming about the famed Candyland; the nicest paradise one can dream visiting, where the yellow brick road is chocolate pieces with almonds, the houses have candy cane foundations with sugar windows – and the gingerbread men population; if one of them is especially loudmouthed, you can bite his chatty head off and enjoy the snack and peace.

Sighing, Utena wonders who else might be awake at this hour. She feels lonely, and it's silly to wake up Anthy for some chit-chat. I wish I could.. though. She strokes her cheeks for some sort of fulfillment, asking herself if it's worth talking to someone about her Christmas anxiety – Wakaba? The school counselors?

How long's it been that when Christmas comes, her blood curls and her gut sinks as if it's an impending apocalypse? The unnameable fear which pounds in tandem with her pulse, waiting to catch Utena unawares? Why does she dread this season so much?

Instantly vague images pour into her head as if to answer, but they are blurred though (behind tears) and she feels like being punched in the gut for even asking.

So Utena decides to do something about it, rather than just keep lying like a couch potato. She shifts off the bed and slips into her wuzzy slippers. Her legs are sore and achey, so she tries some quiet stretching and yawning, before going to the washroom – flipping the light switch on and go have a sip of water from the faucet.

The water's icy cold. Peh; why would she drink out the tap again? Instead, Utena decides splashing it over her face as a refreshener. The droplets bite her skin, and she wipes it off afterward with her towel.

Rubbing the bridges of her nose, she looks tired. There's wrinkles underlying her eyes.

When Utena slips back into bed, Anthy lets out non-sequiteur grumbles. "Oh Utena.." she mumbles into the pillow. "Utena.. look at the presents..! They're really big.. Zzzzz."

It brings a much-needed smile to the real Utena, somehow flattered about Anthy's dream. That fades soon, when Utena remembers the trouble of this night dragging out – staring at whatever hits her fancy, entertaining what things look like in the dark. They look so differently, compared to the light in which you usually see them.

"Chuu.."

She closes her eyes.

Then she remembers why she refuses to sleep tonight.

Because she imagines, with a faint rumbling, her resting sides shuddering. Is this her finally having an emotional breakdown? Nein; far from it, it is the Earth trembling (not her nerves) and the bedstand items are audibly rattling - they are possessed by flamenco dancers!

Now Utena's wide alert, and she's sitting up as the ceiling creaks, gathered dust falling; the calendar and hung portrait of Utena and Wakaba clattering to the floor – Utena's teeth clattering even! It's the feeling of excitement! Strangeness! (An earthquake?) The very air feels like its being pressed by a giant pump, and Utena is clambering off her bed, forgetting her doubt, shouting, "Anthy! Anthy!"

"Zzzz."

Gee, can Anthy sleep through anything. But Chu-Chu's definitely awake, and he's squeaking "Aaa-chuuu!" pulling Anthy's earlobe with Utena hauling her shoulder—

"Guhhu.. aah!" Anthy goes. She comes about and realises the entire room is shaking. Utena's up already! For a bit Anthy marvels her ability to sleep blindly in the heat of disaster. She says, "Utena, why is everything shaking?"

"I don't know..!" Utena is struggling to keep her nightcap on, as Anthy clings onto her for some support. Chu-Chu skitters into Anthy's pink pockets.

Even as the rumbling becomes worse and violent, it soon grows more coherent. Like the randomness of white noise gradually forming an image, you can eventually make it out to be the heavy, rhythmic chugs amid great hisses of steam. From out the window, blinding rays of golden light gleam across the room – dazing further the two girls, and at last..

The ear-shattering screech of wheels braking on rails, and a full-blown whistle bellowing its presence, drowning all noise away.

Then the silence once more filling the vacuum.

After a moment where Utena stands pant-wettingly frozen, she peels herself from Anthy to glance at the empty track-field they've view of. The dense snow and dank fog make it difficult to peer past the soccer posts, and yet what they manage to see is a gargantuan outline – silhouetted by its own glowing lights.

What is it? A train? It's unmistakably so. Utena is tempted to rub her eyes, to make sure she's got her head straight, and oh yes. But why? Is it a (very) late-night experiment by one of the science classes? After all the quirky things the teachers made them do..

"Pinch me," Utena says. "This isn't real, right? Is it?"

"It's a train."

"..how'd it get there?"

"I dunno."

Chu-Chu: [face peering intently on glass] "Chuuu..!"

Utena makes a bemused face at Anthy.

/...

They dress as warm as they can in their nightrobes and socks. Soon Utena and Anthy head out their room, passing by their lit Christmas tree just out their door on their way. Descending the stairs, it's quite strange how no one else seems to be awake; murmuring or coming out. This question passes however as Utena brushes the door open into the frigid night. Some plumpy snowmen who they've made stand guard in the falling snow. Their breaths streak like wisps and their feet pitter-patter on the ground, rummaging past the gymnasium gates, wading through the thickening fog.

There they almost bump into the titanium-alloy grille – the spear-headed bumper with spikes and slits imprinted on it, almost as big as they are tall. Hot steam erupts out from its sides, taking Utena and Anthy by sudden surprize. They strut over to the side.

This really looks like a train! And the rails it lies on seem to extend into the reaches of the distance.

Utena is agape, transfixed by the sight. What is going on? The Common Sense dictates that events like this should only happen in dreams or movies. Grown-ups know already that magical objects appearing out of nowhere ought to be dismissed as hallucination. But she lets her fingers slide across its surface anyway, and the rough matte feel is as solid as the ground she's standing. It's real enough, so far as she knows.

The numerous passenger cars which trail behind it are brightly lit, like dorm rooms having late-night slumber parties. You can faintly hear the playful laughter amidst the breeze.

"It sounds like they are having fun aboard," Anthy comments. She shivers, rubbing her arms anxiously. ("Chuuu..")

Something begins shining so bright, lighting the place awash in impeccable white light and catching Utena off-guard. Waaah, the staff have found them! They've turned on the field lamps! But no, as her eyes adjust, she sees the light all stems from one clunky lantern, held by the Conductor of this train.

"All aboard!" shouts the Conductor. His husky voice seems to carry into the farthest reaches, and with his waving the galvanick lucipher about, all light and shadow in the vicinity flicker disorientingly wild – as if the morning sun threw a fit and wavered between mid-morning and dusk.

Utena and Anthy waddle to the Conductor.

"Ja!" The Conductor makes a tilting of his navy cap. "Hallo! Your names is.. Tenjou Utena, and Anthy Himemiya?"

"Erm, yes," Utena says.

"Pinky-hair is Utena, and Purple-hair is Anthy?"

"Yes.." Utena's fingers zip to brushing her hair aside.

Anthy finds the Conductor to be an intriguing man, whose well-primmed moustache gives a classy impression. His green eyes strike her as odd, however. "What's your name?" she says. "If I might ask."

The Conductor opens his mouth to speak, but then he halts. Notices someone else who's coming too. Utena catches his gist, and turning around, it's—

"UTENA! Himemiya! What are you bubbleheads doing in my dream?!" Nanami Kiryuu shouts. The blonde-haired girl has just arrived on the scene, and she is furious, taking accusing steps towards the group.

/

Nanami is loathe admitting it, but often when she goes to sleep she likes to cuddle with her stuffed bunny in her arms. Unlike your cute dog, cat or boyfriend, this bunny wouldn't mind at all if you're holding him hostage in huggies at night. He has sharp red droopy ears, and that is what Nanami nibbles on every now and then when she goes to Dreamland. Tastes like cotton and polyester, mixed in with whatever imagined flavour she chuses to her likings.

Before she went to sleep, she managed to make a peck on her big brother Touga's smooth lips (by 'accident'). In the midst of the Christmas spirit, she was following her urges to make her inner-most wishes come true. So when she'd plugged in the decorative lights, Touga Kiryuu was brushing his teeth with the greatest fervour – Nanami's brother has a penchant for dramatizing his every action – and he was just striding in the roomy, spacey living room.

Why is Touga so dramatic? Because people rely on him. He is a role model. This is Ohtori Academy. People do whatever the frak they feel like doing, you got a problem with that? Because they have a right to. And because Chairman Akio says so and no one betrays the word of God. As a result, this school has one of the worst educations in the world. When it gets down to it – talking grade averages here – once we've brain-drained our kids into our standardized curriculum, once things have evened out, they're heading out into the big world of jobs and marriages and scandals – y'know what? There's only four things we do better than anyone else

truth
beauty
freedom
l'amour!

"Is the tree set-up?" Touga mumbled. "Ahh, excellent Nanami." This red-haired meng with an attitude spat into his portable receptacle. Then he spoke behind a tinge of froth, "I pray that Santa Claus will drop by sometime, and give you lots and lots of presents."

"He wouldn't!" Nanami exclaimed, gleefully dancing a pas de deux over the hardwood floor. "Aieeee big brother! You're the best!"

She came to wrap her arms around his tall figure, against the backdrop of the lit person-sized fireplace. Touga was as warm as the fires bellowing, if not blazingly hot, and she nuzzled her cheeks upon his elongated neck. Forever and ever and ever if she could bear it. This was a dream, she knew in her heart, and she wouldn't miss this for the World. So let's make the most of it while you can.

"Touga.." Nanami said.

"What?"

She stepped a pace from him. "I have something I want to tell you."

Touga looked at Nanami who was innocently beginning to blush. He'd finished brushing his teeth, and was now dabbing his face with powder. "I am all ears, my sweet."

And Nanami paused. Would she dare? Eat the Fruit? Oh she would.

While Touga shut his eyes dabbing the powder, Nanami just stood on her tip-toes, leaned in to reach and found his lips to be the most blissful thing. Smooth and rough, harsh and tender – even as the taste of his minty toothpaste still lingered, she could taste him, his wet saliva, and the touch left her in surprize, at first, which then became her utmost delight.

"I love you so very much," she chirped, in a daze, saying it more out of accident from her joy. "Touga.." Her eyes widened, watching every fibre of his reaction, and she was trembling. This was the best Christmas gift she ever gave to him. If Santa never came, she wouldn't mind anyways, she would always remember this moment.

Even if it all was just in her head.

Touga opened his eyes. He gazed back at her. A new light seemed to appear in his eyes, and Nanami thought he looked more gentle than ever. (She had to resist the urge to lick her lips.) Then he blinked, and the logs cracked burning to ashen, and he let out a smile.

"Go to sleep," he said at last. "My dearest little sister."

When Nanami rushed to her room, her chest was on the verge of exploding. She dove onto her mattress and gleefully wrapped herself in her thick blankets. Bunny-kins would be quite preoccupied for the night, keeping Nanami happy.

It was later when Nanami felt her bedroom erupt with an urgency very much like the Great Hanshin earthquake. She felt greatly distressed when her desk cabinets fell out their hinges and her makeup and jewelry scattered to a mess all over her floor.

"Nooo! Urrrggh!" she went, scrambling to pick up whatever she could. A girl without decoration is as good as dead in the higher society, you see. Her full-body mirror tumbled upon her bed and shattered into a zillion pieces. "This cannot be happening!" Nanami tore at her wavy hair.

The flashes of light outside soon got her to the windows. A screech and a whistle was all she needed to hear to be convinced that thing by the fields was a train! A frickin' train! What gives? She fumed. As the sister of the Student Council president, she would have her say on whoever's fooling around with the big machinery. Most likely those Science Geeks gloating over their secret weird experiments. Ha, she'd have no problem with them, so long as they aren't toking ray-guns.

So Nanami wore her multi-layered silk robe (snow and water-resistant up to 100m depth), and brought Touga Jr. along to support her.

Outside Touga's study, Nanami tried opening his door but the handle wouldn't budge. "Onee-sama!" she shouted. "There's people doing weird stuff outside!" There was no answer. "Big brother!" Hmmph. "I'm going outside for a nice talk Touga!"

For good measure, she stole a cookie from the plate under the tree. The jolly old man wouldn't mind at this point. Munch munch.

/

The Conductor's lantern spreads the snowy field like creamy butter upon bread. Nanami has to shield her eyes at first; it feels like a new day has inexplicably arrived when she isn't the least bit ready for it – disorienting her. Then her eyes adjust, and she sees that far from being the sun, it is Utena and that Himemiya-girl standing beside the dude.

"You're making my night worse!" Nanami goes. "My room's in shambles cause of that racket! I only wanted a good dream, and it had to turn into this.. nightmare!" Bunny-kins emphatically shakes to drive her point across. Yes you are, my wuzzy wuzzy bunny.

Utena scowls. "You don't have to blame me for everything!"

"Every time I get into a mess, you just happen to be around! How are you gonna explain that?"

"Well, that's your own fault."

Nanami: "Meeehhhhh!" [raspberry]

Chu-Chu: "Peeehh!" [counter-raspberry!]

"Of the badly bickering!" shouts the Conductor. "I made a drivings of the BOREAL EXPRESS to this stop! And now I will drive you to the North Pole for a meetings with Santa Claus! I shall be your Conductor for this night— you make a listenings to me and all will be goodly! Ja?"

This shuts the girls up. As a result of the Conductor's lips, tongue and vocal cords moving in certain synchronised harmony, Nanami now gawks at the Conductor. Did she hear this guy right? (But of course! Nanami has super-hearing powers, didn't you know. At least that's what she'd like her fellow students to believe. No news dares escaping her grasp in the Ohtori Times newsletter, and every declaration of love in the supply room gets made – complete with photo coverage. It's an absolute sensation! Now back to our regular programming.)

"Wow," Nanami says. Then her lips turn into a smile once the thought pops into her head, maybe this will be a good dream after all—! "Count me in!"

"Nanami Kiryuu, ja?" The conductor extends a hand. "Unmistakable. You have a history mein Fraulein. Every since you were young, you are up to your voluptuous shoulders in the arts of no goodly."

Nanami, elle ne regrette rien. She does what she feels like and ain't no one going to change that. She barely hides a smirk.

The Conductor eyeballs her. "What will Santa say to that? Tickets, bitte."

"Wha? Tickets?!"

"Let me suggest your right pocket."

Reaching her silken fabric, Nanami finds— only dust bunnies.

"Your other right pocket."

Nuh-uh.

The Conductor then slaps Nanami upon her buttony ears and he 'finds' the Golden Ticket for her. (Owie.) "Your Golden Ticket. Don't you lose this. Now keep it safe in your pocket and let surprizes find you on your majestic journey!"

Nanami's grin is so wide it's like she's found the secret treasure buried deep within them Egyptian temples. She rubs her sore ears. The foil ticket glitters in her hand, do you see what I see Bunn-kins? I've a shiny ticket! This is gonna be the best Christmas ever! Weee! She rushes up on the entrance stairs with Touga Jr. zipping behind. You've not seen anyone that giddy.

Anthy says, "It's lovely you've offered us a ride." She nonchalantly finds her Golden Ticket in her pants pocket – where Chu-Chu pops his head out. "Would you mind if I bring my friend along?"

"Make sure he leaves no droppings on the upholstery and I am happy."

Utena slowly shrinks a step back. Her eyes have been wavering on the riveted letters of the train engine.

"What is your name, Mr.." Anthy asks.

"..Von Hozel." It says here on his nametag.

Anthy politely shakes the Conductor's hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr Von Hozel."

"The pleasure.." He leans in and kisses her by the ring finger. "It is both mine and yours. And your little mouse friend too."

Anthy nods for Utena to come join her soon – she ascends the stairs by the second-to-last car.

The Conductor turns to the last girl left. "Well, you coming?"

The rails which the train sits on seem to lead into the infinite expanse of the dark. The place where even light cannot reach. Nowhere? she wonders. Staring at it gives her that apprehension haunting her in this holiday's lingering, that deathly chill into her gut which plunges into that pit.

"It says here.." The Conductor pulls out his scribt – a flat tablet-like device rather remarkable for its 3D touch-screen capabilities – to show to Utena; which, bearing her name, a portrait of her seemingly sketched by an excelling artist, and a lengthy description (more likely than not her entire biography) in calligraphic text, proves that Santa has kept his eye on her for quite a long time. "You've turned away from Santa for as long as you remember," he says. "No photo with a department-store Santa, no carolling or visits to the Church, and you've made Anthy do all the work decorating the Christmas tree."

Utena doesn't react. It's hard to tell if she's thinking. Whether she's caught in a stupor. Then finally she coldly stares up at the Conductor.

"Sounds to me this is your year," he says. He leans in. "You stand at Crossroads, Utena. Make your choice. I have tight schedule.."

A beat.

Then without any more words, Utena ascends the stairs, into the warmth and comfort of the caboose.

"Goodly choice.." the Conductor mutters, as he looks in her direction – a tinge of doubt about her. Before he heads to the train engine, he shouts, "All aboard? Ja! We're off to see the wizard! The wonderful Wizard of Oz!" And that is that.

Utena remembers what she'd swore, etched in her heart as clear as the rain. I will never, ever forgive Him.