by Abigail Armani
Annabelle gazed out of the window as the steam train rumbled along the tracks, blowing out plumes of smoke as the carriages rocked and swayed rhythmically. It had been a long journey from Boston and she was exhausted, but at last she was approaching her destination, and as the grey light of dawn brightened and trails of vibrant pink flooded the morning sky, the conductor moved down the train, making his announcement.
"Next stop, Dodge City," he called. "Dodge City, next stop."
His announcement galvanised the passengers into action, many of them rising from their seats to gather their belongings. Annabelle followed suit, glad to be free of the hard seat and stretch her legs. Ten minutes later, the shrill steam whistle sounded and the big locomotive sighed and hissed as it chugged to a halt; countless people stepped out of the dark maroon carriages onto the station platform.
Annabelle alighted with the others, clutching the two bags that contained all her worldly possessions. The station was teeming with people, and the general hubbub made her head spin. It was all so overwhelming.
Tentatively she moved forward through the jostling throng and made her way to the exit. Once out of the station, she gazed at the unfamiliar streets. Even at this early hour there were plenty of people milling around, and tantalising smells of breakfast and coffee emanating from various eating establishments nearby. Her stomach growled a protest as she passed by a crowded rail road diner; her frugal supper of soup in the dining car of the train seemed an eternity ago, but after buying her ticket in Boston, she had precious little money left.
She wandered down the street, wondering how to find her way from here to Uncle Jacob's ranch. Her stomach twisted apprehensively at the thought of her uncle, and she once again reflected how the relatives she had never met would react to her turning up unannounced. Fighting down a rising tide of panic, she stepped through the open doorway of a side street café. A large woman behind the counter smiled at her.
"Good morning," she greeted in a German accent. "Would you like breakfast?"
"Good morning ... can I just have a cup of coffee please?"
"Of course. Please ... sit. I'll bring it to you."
Annabelle took a seat by the window and gratefully accepted the coffee. It was rich and dark and warming.
"Are you sure I can't get you anything else?" the German lady asked, noticing the girl's pinched face.
"Quite sure. Thank you."
The German lady nodded and bustled around wiping down the tables. "You have just arrived, ja?" she asked conversationally.
"That's right. From Boston."
"That's a fair distance you've travelled. You must be tired."
Annabelle nodded. "Yes, and I still have some way to go."
"Where are you headed?"
"Windy Creek ranch. Do you know it?"
"I have heard of it, ja."
"Oh - is it far?"
The big woman laughed.
Not to be reposted, reproduced or distributed, in part or whole.