The aetherrail hurtled through the countryside, and Tarren watched in awe from inside the carriage, a grin spread across his face. Nearly there.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly be approaching Meriden. Please ensure you have tickets ready for inspection upon arrival, and that you do not leave behind any personal possessions. Thank you,” said a crackly voice, emanating throughout the carriage — where from, Tarren could only imagine. He gave a quick look up and down, tallying all his belongings, before he began drumming his fingers impatiently on the case to his right.
Tarren turned to the left, where an elderly woman sat across the carriage, regarding him with a smile. Steel grey hair was cut short to her head, and a pair of half moon spectacles rested on her nose.
“Yes. Never been before,” Tarren said with a grin, “I’m excited to finally see it.”
“No,” he said, tapping the case twice, “I’m moving. I’ve got a place lined up in the Spindle. It’s small, but it’s a start.” Tarren noticed the woman’s smile fade a little. “Are you a local?” he asked.
“Yes, yes. My husband and I moved once we were married,” she said, dropping her gaze in thought, “been here ever since. I was visiting my daughter in Whitemark this past week, but here I am. Back again.” She looked up and smiled at Tarren again. He smiled back.
“Any advice?” he asked.
The woman’s smile drifted off as she thought, and she was silent for a few moments, before she spoke. “Don’t get your hopes up too much.”
Tarren’s expression fell. “No? They say it’s the City of...”
The woman sighed. “They do say that. And they’re right, most of the time. Most of the time. If you’ve already got a good lot in life, Meriden can be a stepping stone to better things. But if you have nothing? Not so much. My husband and I...he worked every day of his life. He was a labourer. Real back breaking stuff. Some of those high rise buildings you see? He built them. Hundreds of workers. All of them with families like ours. Living in tiny, cramped houses, just making enough to make ends meet. No more. We were working for years to save up enough to move out of the slum we were in. Never made it out.”
Tarren furrowed his brow sympathetically. “What happened?”
“Two weeks before the last paycheck we needed, there was…” The woman’s eyes were welling up. “There was an accident in one of the high rises. My husband never came home. After the funeral costs, there was nothing left.”
Tarren’s expression fell. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
The woman gave him a sad smile. “That’s what they don’t say. Anyone can make it in Meriden, yes, but they always have to make a choice,” she said.
“Mine was whether or not to bury my husband.”