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Before the Train Departs

By: Abigail Weintraub

The shrill, off-key voices of students singing along to the radio filled the bus, instantly replacing the subdued hum of the air conditioners. We were on our way! Only a few minutes ago, our band director congratulated us for performing so wonderfully.

“I'm so proud of you all!” he had exclaimed. “You must have felt so nervous performing in front of not one, but TWO judges! However, you completed the evaluation with such confidence. Incredible, incredible work, everyone.”

Incredible might have been an exaggeration. Thinking back, I did accidentally hit the keyboard with my elbow on the way to the stage, drop a triangle on the floor, lose my drumsticks when I arrived at my spot, and knock over a cymbal in the process. Try: chaotic?

“Now, I’d like everyone’s attention,” the band director announced. “I’m extremely pleased to say that our choir received a rating of ‘superior’, which is the highest rating given. As for our band… they received ‘superior’ as well!”

The bus erupted into hollers. As for me, I was thrilled- mostly because the choir didn’t outshine us.

It’s a tradition for our school’s band and choir to attend the annual Trills and Thrills music festival, consisting of a performance evaluation followed by an amusement park trip. I’ve been waiting for this day since 6th grade, when COVID hit. The pandemic is mostly behind us now, but it's still difficult for me to fully process that today is happening. Today!

I leaned over toward the other side of the bus. “So,” I said. “What are we planning on doing once we get there?” The question was directed towards my two friends, who were sitting in the seats across from me.

“Dunno,” one muttered. The other shrugged. The look in their eyes told me that they were planning to just snag some popcorn from a vendor and call it a day.

Suddenly, cheers emerged from the bus, and I jerked my head out the window. I was just able to catch a glimpse of the sign: Welcome To Lake Compounce, it read. When I was finally able to contain my emotions, we had already exited the bus, met with the chorus g\roup in the main section of the park, and set up a group chat. We had the entire park to ourselves!

“Have fun,” our directors told us. “Remember to meet us back here at 9:30.”

The next hour passed quickly, with it mostly being me contemplating whether I should go on a ride or not. Log flume? Pass. Drop tower that sends riders plummeting from hundreds of feet in the air? Pass. Neon orange-tracked coaster entitled The Phobia that made me dizzy by just watching it? Hard pass. I decided on the bumper cars and then retired to a candy shop near the entrance. I didn’t buy anything, but instead watched my friends pace back and forth, picking from the vast sea of sour treats and rainbow-wrapped gummies.

Seconds became minutes, then hours. We were well into our fourth hour when I checked the group chat.

Our last meeting stop is the Crocodile Cafe at 1:30! Take these last few minutes to buy some souvenirs and get ready to leave!

“Uh, the cafe is on the other side of the park,” I told my friends. “We have to hurry!”

We raced down the path, my muscles stinging. I don’t think eating those glazed donut holes right before going on the swing ride was a good idea, either. A few thousand heaving breaths later, we spotted the cafe, but no people, strangely enough. The time on my watch read 1:27.

“Surely they should be here by now?” I wondered.

“They should,” my friend said. “There’s something wrong.”

Instantly, the chime of a train whistle filled the air. The clack-clack-clack of tiny wheels chugging along tiny tracks grew louder as we approached the station.

“Look, they just missed it!” chirped one of the students that I recognized from the chorus group. The entire group- choir, band, and teachers combined- had boarded the train ride, which just left the station a few seconds ago. I heard startled gasps from the train cars as the bright red vehicle slowly faded into the distance, containing a sea of astonished faces. We missed the train by a few seconds.

I checked the group chat, but it was devoid of any messages instructing us to meet at the train instead of the cafe. “Huh,” I said, trying hard to stifle a laugh. “Oh well.”

What an eventful end to our day.

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