Am I here?


The ecstasy rises in my chest and I bask in the unrealness of actually making it. I twirl around again to get a view of the place. Not at all what I expected.

Just walk.

I obey, looking around. Looming, gigantic cacti stand peppered along the desert sand and interrupt the big, wide sky. Rocks of so many different shapes, sizes and colors litter the ground everywhere. It’s exactly like and unlike any desert I have ever seen (not that I have actually ever been). Walking, I stumble on something solid and level. A board of wood. I look ahead and register that there are many boards of wood, covered by the sand. Train tracks!

I walk along the tracks and come upon a telephone pole. I look ahead to see if there are any more and there but it’s alone. There are still wires attached and I wonder where the rest of them went. A train horn sounds in the distance over the flatness and I did not see a train coming five minutes ago, but there is one not a quarter mile away from me now. I get the cue to wave the train down. It blares its horn again and brakes grind for me. It stops much faster than should be possible for a train of its very, very impressive length, and the door to the car right in front of me snaps open and a metal robot head that is attached to a track on the train ceiling yells at me, all aboard! in typical electronic melody. I board and as the robot backs up on its tracks, it introduces itself to me as FRIT, your Friendly Robot In Transit. Do you have a ticket? No. No one ever does. Where are you going today? Surprise me. It seems almost pleased, red eyes lighting, weird orange mesh streaming from the rims. To great places, then! The train has taken off moving by now and FRIT disappears over the front of the car.

There is an open door behind you.

I stop dead in my tracks and there is an empty booth to my right, and to my left, what I think an angel should look like. My insides spike in sharp excitements and I want to do everything I can to sit in the right booth and escape the attack of nerves but they tell me I must, indeed, sit by the girl.

I tentatively clear my throat and ask if I can sit here. She shoots me a surprised, bright smile and says, why, of course. She sounds how an angel should sound. The buzz of bees mingled with tinkling silver. She’s surrounded by bags of various sizes and lumpy shapes, and a single Samsonite suitcase. She reaches across to my seat and moves a tangle of thread and fabric off it, and I sit down.

She apologizes for the clutter and I look around the rest of the cabin. It’s empty. She asks me where I’m going. I pause for a second, thinking they will come up with an answer, because I certainly don’t know. After they keep silent, I realize I am expected to hold my own conversations with strangers.

Uh, the next town.

I ask where she is headed, and she smiles rays and says the next town. She asks me where I got my hoodie and I tell her it was my dad’s.

She nods politely, and blurts: do you always get picked up in the middle of the desert?

I have no idea how to make excuses for myself; I say I went exploring and I don’t really know how I ended up there but I’m glad there was a train to pick me up right when I needed it.

She cuts right to the heart of it in a conspiratorial tone: You’re not from here, are you?

I pause and say no. It’s pretty obvious there’s a depth to my answer.

I can feel excitement bubble in her in rainbow hues. Where do you come from?

Greeley, I say. Colorado.

Registration on her face, a light bulb that betrays all the excitement at the words, and then she masks it just as fast. She leans in close and in a hushed, still excited voice says, how did you get here?

Her tinkling voice and contagious excitement makes me want to tell her everything. My mission. My strange senses. Who brought me here. I also want her to tell me everything: Where am I really; is this the dream world? Why are you here, what do you do, why is this whole place desert and why is there a train here?

Instead I say, I ran away and found a church that is falling apart and I was led to a door that’s not a door that led to a tunnel that led to another tunnel that led to a courtyard where I passed through a gateway and then it was gone and I was left in the desert and now I am here. And I don’t know where here is.

Her excitement ramps up as much as mine has and she lights up the booth. You are from the Solid!

The term in its context is weird enough that it slips by me; and instead ask where this is, then, waving my hand around to indicate the whole generality.

Dustland. She smiles her shiny smile.

The bells go off. I resist the urge to ask, you mean, Heaven? I want to preserve my semblance of sanity towards the pretty stranger who challenges my composure every time she looks in my direction.

Dustland? She catches my eyes with irises so intense I am caught in an opaline grip. My mood rises three levels and she gives no answer.

What’s your name? I ask. She beams at me and says, I’m Sunshine.

Finn Wharton, I offer in in the way I’ve rehearsed it countless times. Sunshine. Her name sounds made up, but I’m the last person to judge.

I ask her about the fabric and if she sews, and she animatedly tells me about all the things she makes, clothing for the urchins and beds and playthings and shelters and houses and even an entire town!

I raise my eyebrows starting at the shelters part and they go higher from there. Sewing?

She gasps, oh right, you’re not from here! Her giddiness revs quicker than the train got to me and she expresses that she will just have to show me.

It seems the longer I am with this Sunshine girl, the less I know and the less I care because I am more satisfied to be along for the ride than I have ever been in my life.



Cellophane crinkles my face and hands as I push myself forward into this secret entrance, the tension building until I hear a tear and the sensation of empty air again– my feet catching me before my balance betrays my stance– I look ahead and I am in a tunnel. It stretches on with a light at the end, a deep funnel of darkness that welcomes the tiniest trickle of vision for me to go ahead. So there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I think, and my footsteps ricochet blue soundwaves that frame the darkness.

Up ahead, three more steps. Now, turn to the left.

The voice in my head is clearer now than it’s ever been, not so much a sound but a thought that comes to the front of my mind. I obey and my hand reaches for a knob on a door that I did not see was there. The inconsistency makes me irritated, my senses playing some tricky game that makes me feel less sure of whether to trust them. The knob feels sweet and sharp in my hand, a raw potential that makes my guts a little uncomfortable. A door before the light at the end of the tunnel?

For maintenance.


You’re coming back, you know.

Oh, you mean I don’t get to die yet?


Just as well, I think, and I cross through the threshold and step on a street. No, a walkway. My view is cluttered by stars up ahead, whether or not they’re my own doing or real I can’t tell and I don’t pretend to care. My head plays enough tricks on me I don’t pay much heed; but they float and bob and dance and the lights are so mesmerizing I hope that they are real; if not, I admire my imagination.

There’s a prodding in the back of my neck to follow a path along monumental water fountains. I meander somewhat to take in the view. The stars rain their light down gently on the water, which throws it back up again to dance some more. Different colored specks comprise a depth I can see but not fathom.

Press on.

A small gate glows into my vision, a feeling of urgency overcoming my great discovery. I swing myself through and pull the gate shut; and I pause, petrified, because there’s something in the air that shouldn’t be and there aren’t any more stars dancing.

Stay put.

Silhouette flying against darkness, a blot even darker. I stand in plain sight, blood pumping getting me ready to run, animal instincts kicking in against my better insights. The figure lands all wings and legs and raven heads, drawing itself standing, walking straight my way.

Took you a while to find your way this time, dontcha think?

When you’re in the in-between, things can get a little convoluted…

I’m sorry, I don’t…

Just took a wrong gate.

I’ve waited for a while.

Well don’t make me wait now,

Took a wrong gate?

Don’t ask, crow boy.

I just–

It’s fucking Raven. Just go that way.

Pointing a wing to one gate in a row of many and now I can see another figure– tall, thin, and steady– saunter away.

Feathers fly and grab me by the arm and I jump, the alarm stark on my face and the human bird laughs, says, just had to scare you to make sure.


That you’re real. Real puny, too. What are you doing eavesdropping in the middle like that?

Stretching to my fullest height he still looms over me and I am not about to betray my frightened state. I’m just going through.

You’re a fresh face, don’t reckon the Lady’s hired you too?

Quick to catch my only chance to figure out what my new plan is, I agree and say I got to keep up with him otherwise I’m screwed. Sixth sense always comes to my rescue; the flavor of these two are unmistakably readable but context is a bit obscure. I don’t wait for permission and instead make my way to the same gate the other crossed, and to cover my tracks, yell, the Lady thanks you!

I slam the door shut behind me, and on the other side it’s very, very bright. I look around. No tall figure. I turn 360 and he’s nowhere to be found; no gate behind me either. My chest wiggles uncomfortably; my emotions have caught up with my chase and I am a jam of ecstatic, nervous bewilderment. Half an hour ago I was in plains in Colorado, now I’m in a desert.



Sunshine’s request was granted with gusto; there’s very little she cannot do. For sure, she can count on her fingers what are her limits: Can’t stay in one place longer than a day; can’t get to the mountains no matter how hard she tries; and she can’t leave Dustland. That last one is self-imposed, though. She’s been wandering the vast expanse of this non-place for so long and she never ceases to find something new to admire, a view to climb toward, a trinket or two to take. And always, always the Dustlanders take her breath away.

She doesn’t need it, either, cruising at speeds that seem rather impossible– everything a blur around her almost to the point the distance seems as close as to brush up against her sweater– colors flying by and her comfortably sitting, enjoying her ride. She likes the train because even the most concrete landscape is made transient. Nothing is ever resolute, especially in Dustland and she likes to be reminded of that every chance she is able to.

FRIT comes to check on his favorite passenger, and asks her if she is having a pleasant trip.

She says yes, thank you. I am invigorated and renewed, and have a whole day to look forward to!

The robot says there is nothing more enlivening than moving through space at breakneck speeds, it gets you to hold onto things you didn’t know you had.

They share a thoughtful conversation about the joys of locomotives and FRIT shares some stories about funny places passengers have asked to go. The end of the rainbow; Nantucket; someone asked to not be let off anywhere in particular but instead to go straight through a nemesis’ house; the Edges; that kind of thing. FRIT proudly declares he got each and every one of them exactly where they wanted to go.

And the mountains? She asks, hopeful.

No luck, he says. They’re just a shadow; nothing there to get to.

She slumps into a pout, how is that possible?

Everything is possible, even the possible being impossible. The tracks simply won’t get there.

So you don’t know if they’re nothing, you just haven’t been there! She sparks back, never out for long.

FRIT chuckles, a softer ha-ha-ha than his normal laugh. If you ever decide to go, I will take you there. I would love to see what’s hidden by that silhouette, too. His robot voice makes the word silhouette sound sing-song.

Maybe your goggles will show you something you haven’t seen, a secret passageway, perhaps! She is all shades of hopeful.

Oooooh, so there’s a thought behind your gift. He tuts and Sunshine says, of course not! I just love you, FRIT.

His eyes light up a shade of red and she can tell he is happy. So she is happy too.

Oh, a passenger! I must go. And so Frit glides away and Sunshine is left to contemplate her daydream: why are the mountains so tantalizing? She remembers vaguely going through mountains in her days before Dustland, but there was nothing magical about them. Simply popping ears and carsickness. well, there were incredible views, too. She doesn’t remember what they looked like; her forgetfulness seeping into parts she didn’t realize she had to hold on to.

Something about these mountains sang to her, beckoned her to come closer. And she tried, but she never did. Her feet wouldn’t close the distance no matter how far she’d go; the train wouldn’t do and even waking up to chance kept her the same distance from the grand outline that framed the entire west side of sandy Dustland, too. Every creature she asked said the same thing: it’s a fixture of the view and nothing more. Always had been there, though.

She tries to pick single figures from the rolling world as the train changes its trajectory. Always cacti towering higher than any cactus should, and rocks that look more like ruins even through the incomplete glances the speeds would allow her to focus through. Always the same and always different, she thinks. Just like me.

A second of loneliness sneaks its way in, but she flips her focus to go back down to the cabin: there’s a passenger to meet!



Onward to you, shiny city! Such splendors she never imagined could be so pretty. Surprisingly she never gets tired of the spires and sparkly walls no matter how often she visits. And she visits a lot. Well, every time it catches her whimsy. Which is a lot. Such fantastic streets, nothing’s clear and nothing’s resolute, simple colors shimmering around while she shimmies her way around to get the city goers to join her in her revelry. Such an empire! She is always amazed, and at the hermits and vagabonds that hang out on the edges! Such marvelous entities. Almost forgotten, but she sees them. Of course she does, she always goes to visit them! She’s brought gifts and they’re good ones.

She woke up this morning a little late to start, not really sure where she is but she knows how to get to the train by heart no matter where she is so there’s that comfort that she’s got a way to get to where she wants to be; not everyone in Dustland is so lucky. Poor waifs! Poor ghosts! They’re so lost they don’t know where they’ve come from. She tries and she tries to get them to remember, wake up! You’re fading! But they can only live in the now and hope that the now doesn’t forget them, either. She hasn’t forgotten. Not Sam, not the old coot at the corner of Warm Fork and Ravenden, not the blind old bat who sleeps in the sewers. She remembers.

Today she ended up in between a bridge and nothing. It’s usually that way. Something interesting, and something nothing. The bridge is not bridging anything, just standing in this nowhere and not doing a very good job of it. The asphalt has gaps she could fall through easily and there’s big, buzzy cracks that raise some concern to those in its proximity. Bye, bridge, she waves it farewell.

She starts walking and closes her eyes. Concentrates on the inside like she’s so used to doing, train, train, I have a date with you today and you’re taking me amazing places! What an adventure. What a bright day.

And it is bright. Even though her eyes are closed, she can see through to the horizon and the mountain range beside. She sighs longingly toward the mountains and feels she’s closer to them as ever; although they’re markedly in the distance as they always have been. Oh, the train! She imagines she can hear its proud horn greeting her and the tracks leading straight to where she wants to go. What a ride. I even made FRIT some goggles! Oh, he’ll have a fit when he sees through them.

And, so, the train tracks show the longer she walks, sand trying to bury them and them trying to bury the sand. And, yes, the horn sounds shortly after that. She smiles, delighted as she always is to take the train, her best and longest friend, the Trail Blazer, making itself useful in Dustland for twice as long as she’s been here.

She waves and waves, her bags in the crook of her elbow, weighing everything and nothing all the same. They hold her treasures; her wishes and secrets. She loves these bags that hold her things.

The train is loud and bright and amazingly fast, and as it slows the car door stops right in front of her to step expediently, her lucky beeline only up to fate. FRIT glides on tracks in the ceiling, the only addition to the Trail Blazer since it was introduced to Dustland in the beginning. Good morning, Sunshine, where are you headed today? FRIT asks in the typical robot tone she loves to hear.

The city! She exclaims, climbing the steps jovially, precariously pulling her bags through the opening. Take me to the city that shines, that glows, that is so aliiive! And she twirls in the cabin aisle as FRIT cans a laugh and doesn’t ask her for a ticket. I made you something, FRIT! She smiles at him and puts her things down to rummage in one bag, then another, then maybe that one; she can’t remember which one she put it in, but wait here please, I swear I’m about to find it! And she is. And she does. She pulls out a heap of orange plastic; shakes it out and puts the Os around FRIT’s eye holes and steps back to admire him. Gleeful, she asks, what do you see?

FRIT exclaims a little ooOoo and swivels around to look out the window. FRIT laughs his canned laugh and tells her he will never be lost again nor miss a passenger that needs him. He can see it all.

She smiles her wide smile again and says, hey, can I ride on the roof?



Squeaky floorboard announces my arrival startling

vaulted ceilings awake joyfully ringing back with my footsteps.

The sun streaming from the glass high above continues on undisturbed.

Dust motes continue their dance unobstructed. Uncontained sound rings on.

No, not just any abandoned house.

My life begins here. In this abandoned house of GOD.

Have you ever stirred something from scratch in the corners of your brain

that you thought had been long gone but they came back like a familiar memory?

You know, the brand new thought you’ve always had?

In this house, I lose everything I thought I knew about life.

Here I feel different. Hopeful. Transient dreams taking on new vibrance.

I shall find the Great Beyond. Transcend to something new.

We are here in the after-moments when you’ve asked so hard you’ve given up.

Forever leading you to the next clue that reveals all you’re searching for.

You are riddled with all of the ancient pains you repeat over and over again,

the ache in your chest is a reflection of that. Break away, try something daringly new.

Be a creator of your own curiosity. Turn your bones into matter not seen.

You have within you that which you want to become; grasp it.

Here I have come upon the one thing that will change my life forever: An open door.

The threshold between me and my desires seems infinitesimal. Too easy. Why now?

The door is not a door, but I can see the colors, secrecy betrayed by supersight.

Everything has a color painting my vision with layers of my own reality. I know.

Peeling wood paneling hides the way to everything I have ever wanted:

To escape reality.

Or so I hope.

It’s the time. Go straight through. Don’t look back.