Then Giovanni saw the weather station pillar right behind him take on the vague shape of a triangular sign, flickering on and off like a firefly. When the blur in his eyes cleared, everything became clear and finely outlined, and the sign with its light soared straight up into the dense cobalt-blue field of the sky as if it were a sheet of freshly tempered steel.  Out of the blue he was sure he heard a strange voice calling...

'Milky Way Station! Milky Way Station!'

And before his eyes there was a flash flood of intensely bright light, as if billions and billions of phosphorescent cuttle fish had fossilised at their most radiant instant and been plunged into the sky, or as if someone h ad discovered a hidden cache of precious jewels that the Diamond Company had been hoarding to bolt the price skyhigh, turning the whole treasure topsy-turvy and lavishing them throughout the heavens. Giovanni found himself rubbing his eyes over and over, blinded by the sudden dazzle.

By the time he came to, he had, for sometime now, been chugging along on the little train. It was really him on the nighttime narrow-gauge railroad, gazing out the window of a wagon with its little row of yellow lights. Ins ide, the seats, nearly all empty, were covered in green velvet, and two big brass buttons gleamed on the varnished gray wall opposite him.

Giovanni noticed a tall boy in a jet-black wet coat poking his head out the window in the seat directly in front of him. He could have sworn, judging from the boy's shoulders, that he had seen him somewhere before. He wante d to know who it was so much that he couldn't stand it. But just as he was about to stick his own head out his window and take a look, the boy popped his in and turned toward him.

It was Campanella!

Giovanni was about to ask him if he had been on the train from the very beginning but Campanella spoke up sooner.

'Everybody ran so fast but they missed the train. Even Zanelli ran like mad but he couldn't catch up with me.'

Giovanni thought to himself...
I got it! We've got a pact to go away together.
But he said, 'Should we wait for them somewhere down the line?'

'Zanelli went home already,' said Campanella. 'His father came to get him.'

Campanella's face turned pale, and he looked as if something were hurting him. Giovanni felt funny inside, as though he couldn't remember something that he had somewhere forgotten.

'Oh, darnit,' said Campanella, coming alive and peering out the window again. 'I've forgotten my water bottle. And I've forgotten my sketchbook too. Well, no matter, we'll be coming into Swan Station soon. There's nothing I like better than watching swans. I'm sure I'll be able to see them no matter how far down the river they fly.'

Campanella looked down at the round plate-like map in his hand, busily turning it round and round. On the map a single track of rail skirted the left bank of the whitened Milky Way, tracing its way south and further south a gain. But the really fantastic thing was that the map, a platter black as night itself, was inlaid with little whistlestops and triangular signs one after the other, and forests and miniature lakes, all shining beautifully in blue, green and bitter-orange .

Giovanni was convinced that he had seen that map somewhere before.

'Where did you buy that map?' he asked. 'It's made of obsidian, isn't it?'

'I got it at Milky Way Station. You mean, you didn't get one too?'

'Gee, I'm not sure if I went through Milky Way Station. We're around here now, aren't we?'

Giovanni pointed to a place directly north of a sign that read Swan Station.

'Right. Oh, good heavens! I wonder if that dry river bed is moonlight.'

When the two of them looked they saw the pale bank of the Milky Way glisten with pampas grass growing all along it, rustling and swishing, rolling in the wind into billows of waves in a silver sky.

'That's not moonlight,' said Giovanni. 'It's shining because it's the Milky Way!'

Giovanni, feeling so elated that he wanted to jump up and down, tapped his feet, poked his head out the window and whistled the tune of the rotating stars as if his life depended on it.

He couldn't get a clear picture of the water in the river no matter how hard he looked at it. He kept staring and staring until he gradually saw that the clear water was even more crystal than glass, even more transparent than hydrogen...and maybe it was just his eyes, but the water in spots seemed to be making delicate purple ripples or glistening rainbows of light as it flowed steadily, silently along. Phosphorescent triangular signs, beautifully erect, patched the sky. The faraway objects were small, the closer ones large; the faraway ones distinctly yellow, bitter-orange, the closer ones pale and faintly hazy. Some objects were triangular, others rectangular; some the shape of chains, others the shape of lightning...but they were all in place, filling the field with light.

Giovanni felt his heart throbbing down to his toes, and he shook his head for all he was worth. Then, as far and as wide as his eyes could see, the blues and oranges and all the luminescent sights began to tremble and flicker, as if they were alive and breathing themselves....

'I've made it right into the sky's field!' cried Giovanni. He leaned out the window and pointed to the front of the train with his left hand, adding, 'Besides, this train isn't burning coal at all.'

'Must run on alcohol or electricity,' said Campanella.

The beautiful little train, chugging and clanking its way through the pampas grass that waved in the sky and through the waters of the Milky Way and the glimmering milky-white lights of triangles and deltas, was running on its endless journey.

'Oh, gentians are blooming. It's autumn for sure,' said Campanella, pointing out the window.

Magnificent purplish gentians, so fine that they might have been carved out of moonstone, grew among the closely cropped grass that lined the track.

'Just you watch me hop right out of here, get some of those flowers and jump back on again,' said Giovanni, his heart leaping with excitement.

'Too late,' said Campanella. 'We've left them behind now.'

But no sooner had the words left his lips than had another batch of gentians flashed brightly past them...and then another, and another...cups with yellow at their hearts, gushing, passing in front of their eyes like rain.. .and a row of triangular signs, some smoky, others burning, rose up, radiant for all the world to see.

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(c) Roger Pulvers 1996
The original, ' "Night On The Milky Way Train" in English (Bilingual Edition)',
was published from Chikuma Shobo.