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.
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!"
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?"
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
"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.
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."
"Let me suggest your right pocket."
Reaching her silken fabric, Nanami finds— only dust bunnies.
"Your other right pocket."
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.."
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.