Crossroads

By: Ashlynn Cassidy

Writing Prompt: Yes

Date: 21st Nov 2021

 

A young man stood on a platform checking his phone for the time. The murmurs of chatter and shuffling feet blend to make one, loud, unintelligible, strangely relaxing ambience.  ambience. Amidst the crowd of standing bodies ran a young boy, who couldn’t be any older than eight years old. The man gasped. A woman in FIGHT!NYC shirt scooped the boy up, lifting him up and carrying him away from the edge, handing him off to his father. It was none other than Ashlynn Cassidy. “Buddy, watch it, don’t do that!” The man gave Ashlynn a relieved and grateful smile. A brunette woman joined the father and son. “Sweetheart, we told you! Mind the gap!” The two adults look at each other. The man speaks. “I still don’t know why we couldn’t have gone by plane?  Would’ve saved so much time! Not to mention our little guy has next to no patience.” The woman simply rolled her eyes, replying sarcastically. “Gee, I wonder where he gets that from.

Ashlynn observed the family unit with a smile. She couldn’t help thinking of her son as she saw the child, already antsy in his father’s arms. “Don’t worry about it, train rides are so much nicer than planes. Who said faster is always better? You won’t be able to enjoy the ride! On a train? You can hear and really feel yourself moving! A plane? Only when someone warns you over the speaker.” 

The young boy gives her a screwed up, puzzled face. Ash chuckles. 

Yeah, I didn’t realize or appreciate it at your age either, kid. That’s okay.

God, you can change your name all you want but the whole mindfulness guru still lives in there. Ryleigh Brynn lives!

Cassidy visibly shuddered, the sound of an arriving train thankfully brought her out of her nostalgic mind-trip. 

Ashlynn nodded toward the family as they, and Ash’s party of one went to get settled on the train. 

A voice was heard over the train speaker as she sat in a compartment with a carry on bag for the trip. 

 

Thank you for choosing Chase the Sun Rail, One way trip, 10 and a half hours, Montreal to Hell’s Kitchen, New York. We will be leaving very shortly.

The Undeniable FIGHTer took a deep breath getting comfortable in her seat.

This will fly right by.

Spoilers, it didn’t really. 

***

Chase the Sun Rail would again like to apologize that our program coordinator, Abby, fell ill and can’t facilitate the advertised trivia games, speed dating, poker game, or run the dance party in car 22. She seemed fine this morning. On a related note, we will be operating with one less toilet today. Sorry cars 12 through 17. Thank you Banjo Bill for playing an extra set to fill some time. We should be arriving in 5 hours.”

Well I mean, how was I meant to know the in-train activities would be cancelled because the coordinator got a stomach bug on the train? Or that the entertainment they hired would be this bad?

Well there were all those 2 star reviews. There’s a reason the average was only 3 ½ stars. But no, you said that those were just troll accounts, or super impatient weaklings. You insisted we do this instead of flying because it’d be different! More fun!

And I mean, “Snowpiercer” starring Chris Evans wasn’t the WORST film I’ve ever seen, but I don’t want to sit here the whole time watching movies…

That’s the one you picked huh? 

Oh shush, not like we’ll be here forever, right?

There was a bit of a loud crash outside Ashlynn’s compartment that made her poke her head out. She saw the young boy running down train, his exasperated mother pursuing him. 

Get back here!

Ugh, I’m boooored!

“Fine, you can borrow my tablet for Roblox?

Catch me first!” 

 

Told you” the boy’s father’s voice yelled smugly,  following them, audibly still regretting being talked into this. 

Ashlynn got up, chasing the kid, getting out ahead of him, eventually cutting him off so that his mother might track him down. The young boy gets carried away, glaring at her, annoyed. In turn, Ash winks with a playfully “evil” smirk. 

We’ll get there kid, eventually. 

***

Chase The Sun Rail would like to remind you that trips to Riverdale and Sunnydale promoted via our Twitter account were jokes from a NOW FIRED intern. Also, we should be arriving in no longer than 3 hours!

A hospitality worker popped his head into Ash’s compartment and started to clean up after a provided meal. Ashlynn put on a polite smile. 

I think I get how the program coordinator got sick. God, that sala-

The train pulled to a sudden stop, throwing off the gentleman’s balance and accidentally knocking over an open water bottle  it spilled onto the floor. Luckily none of her clothes or things got wet. 

Oh great…

Ash maintained her polite smile, it wasn’t this guy’s fault. She wanted to reassure him, waving it off casually. 

I can get that dried up in a flash if you wouldn’t mind-” started the gentleman

Need me to give you some space? Gimme a minute please!

Attention, Chase the Sun Rail passengers. We regret to inform you that there is an unforeseen obstacle, and we will need to stop and wait for the obstruction to be cleared.

Oh g r e a t!

Ash blinked a couple of times, she’s spent the last little while scrolling through socials, and reading Denzel Porter report after Denzel Porter report. 

What a great and talented dude that guy is. We love him and are so lucky to have him. 

Even still, looking at a phone screen wasn’t the healthiest habit, and her eyes were starting to hurt. Not a lot of time had passed during screen time either. She rose and walked out of her little space. “Don’t you worry, accidents happen.” She then left the man alone to his task. 

Despite how she started this trip, by now she really wanted to get off this train. Of course, shr couldn’t just hop off mid-trip. She had no choice but to wait it out. 

Her feelings of impatience and exhaustion were shared, as the train collectively voiced it with sighs, whines, and groans. She wanted to get to FIGHT!. She wanted to get back in a FIGHT ring. It’d been more than a few weeks since her last action. She knew she’d make it on time. The wrestling was tomorrow after all. She supposed it just sucked knowing that at least for now, they weren’t headed anywhere. As she wandered away from her seat, she came across who else but the family from earlier. The mother looked exhausted, the father still a real grouch, and the son ever agitated. 

Ugh, we’re NEVER getting off this train! We’re all gonna DIE here!

This stopped Ash in her tracks, she thought a moment, looking to her shoulders. Left, and then right alternatively.

HYSTERICAL! Little annoying dude thinks he’s doomed!

Aww, come on, he’s a little kid, probably scared. 

He’s annoying as hell though, bored or not still a brat. 

Like we were any better around that age?

Whatever! Look, he already thinks you’re evil… Agree with him! Tell him you’re gonna eat him first. You know, like in Snowpiercer!

Really? MORE hysterics is the answer? I have a better story.

Ash put her hands on the kid’s shoulders, steadying him. “We are NOT going to be here forever you’re going to be fine. You don’t want to die, right?

The boy shook his head.

Then you live, why? Because you think and believe you can and will. Like that Little Engine That Could. It might have taken many different tries, it may have taken what felt like forever, but eventually, over the hill he went. So uh…

Liam.” the mother smiled, filling in the blank which drew a thankful nod from Ashlynn. 

So Liam, do you think we can make it?” 

Liam started to nod his head. 

Say it.” 

She gave him her SeriousMomTM look when he was about to nod again.”Saaay it.

I think we can!” 

Keep going. Keep saying it and it will work. I promise.” 

The gentleman from earlier nudged Ashlynn. “Miss, your seat is all dried.” she gave an appreciative nod. As she headed back over, she kept sight of Liam and his folks. “Keep going!”

Just as she was going to sink back into her space, the announcement came over the speakers that they would be resuming the trip shortly. 

IT WORKED!” 

More than a few people who had been staring mindlessly at screens were startled. Ashlynn giggled, amused. She shot the kid and his folks a thumbs up. 

***

Attention passengers, we will FINALLY be arriving at our destination in approximately 70 minutes.” 

Somehow, some way, Ashlynn had been able to fall asleep. She announcement brought her out of that slumber. She stirred, yawning,  fluttering her eyes open. She found her phone to check the time. 

6:31 pm.

Only 53 minutes later from the last time you checked. 

Hey! That’s about 45 minutes more of a nap than I thought I’d ever get.

Whatever, not that much longer to go. Not all that much time left. 

Get focused, plus I mean, there’s gotta be some life lessons in here somewhere.

Ashlynn took a moment, thinking about using a notes app, but this train was full of unblinking drones on their phones. Pen and paper it would be, as usual. A classic. 

Ashlynn took a deep breath, with time winding down she wanted some time to really settle down and remember what and why she was on this train to Hell…’s Kitchen. 

FIGHT!.

___

Zeke,

First off? Trust review sites when you travel. I didn’t want to make that the first thing, but after today… 

Anyway, I’m currently on a train, from Montreal to New York. I haven’t had action for FIGHT in three weeks. I haven’t competed for FIGHT! on land in even longer. I’ve been dying to get back there. So, yours truly, thought that she’d get smart and hop on a train instead of a plane so I’d really feel the anticipation, letting it build and build. 

It worked, I guess. I’m gonna really appreciate getting to where I’m getting when I finally do. 

As miserable as I sound, I did not have the worst time. That award goes to a nice(ish) family. Poor kid (who might be a year older than you oughta be) was having a bad time. Honestly, It’s all been a little annoying. But because of him? Because of every wrong thing that went sideways today, I re-appreciated that children’s story, The Little Engine That Could. You know the story, everyone does. Honestly, I might say that I have a new appreciation for that story, even more in my old age compared to when I was the target audience. In rereading my past letters to you, they’ve all been about facing obstacles and climbing inclines. I’ve written to you about facing challenges and getting over that next hill. Same premise really. Even if I never realized it, that story has always resonated with me. I just always put my own spin on it. 

This week? My toughest challenge. I know I always say that, but this time I have mathematical proof. I’m not just going up against one opponent, but two. 

But you know what? I could say that every match I had thus far has been a handicap match. Every single time I’ve had a match, it’s been me vs. someone else AND myself. 

This time around it’s physically two opponents (okay maybe a little ring rust), and I’m in my own corner. I could give you the whole spiel about how I chug an uphill battle, but that’s a tired narrative, and an objectively wrong one. I’ve doubted myself up until now and I came out with a win. I’m over that self-doubt hill and I am barreling downhill. I’m set for a collision course. One train, Ricky Rodriguez. Ricky has been chugging along, marching ever forward. He is one of the hottest prospects FIGHT! has, alongside myself. He’s tested himself against the best, and it hasn’t always worked out for him. I know that especially after last week. He can’t be in a good mood.

The other fellow? Mario Vontez Porter. His train is making its maiden voyage in FIGHT!. It’s hard for me to say, but he’s going through or at least trying to come out of one of, if not the darkest time in his career. We all lost a friend when Druscilla met her fate. But I imagine it hit him harder than most. Even still, he wears a brave face, and rolls on. 

I’ve been away from FIGHT for awhile now. The last time they saw me I was on a high. You know me by now, I don’t sit well with being forgotten about. So come Venom when I come back around, I want everyone to know that I simply took the scenic route around back to FIGHT!NYC. The company in itself might be just about falling off the rails with the whole Natural Born Killers thing coming up again. Not too sure if Vin and Vhodka can stay on staff instead of just competing. Michelle isn’t Bronx Champion anymore, that’s different. 

Ashlynn stopped herself for a moment. 

Ugh, god! That’s too much to cross out or whatever, new line! 

Sorry.

MY POINT IS these are tumultuous times. I need to walk back into that arena and show the world that I haven’t slowed down. I’ve got to prove to the world that I could, and I can, and I will achieve whatever the hell I want. Regardless of what changes, I am constant. I remain UNDENIABLE! I’m no longer my biggest critic. I am no longer fighting scared. I am here, and I belong here. As weeks pass, I look to gain more and more momentum and I will become more and more dangerous. 

The way I see it? I’m about to be at a crossroads. There are two outcomes, two tracks to go down. I have control and I make the choice. 

Well actually Ash, there are thr-

Number one. 

But what if you l-

No. 

My friend…

Ashlynn stopped writing, tilting her head. 

Is she-?

Leave it.

…My friend Sahara likes to call Ricky her “Little Lion”. He’s scrappy as hell and has all the potential in the world. One day, he will be king. I have no doubts about it. But for now, he’ll have to wait. For now, his roar will be drowned out when compared to the roaring and screeching of the bullet train that I am comes to run him the hell over.

Number Two. 

But what i-

NO.

Mario. My heart goes out to him. Good kid, heart of gold, a real chip off the old block. If he’s as good a wrestler as his father is at wrestling reporting, this world is his. Like I said though, it’s his first go around here. He’s just starting out. Who’s to say what headspace he’s really in, if he’s really out of the dark. Poor guy, though. He’s up against me (and Ricky but whatever). He’s oughta learn fast what I already know. FIGHT!? It’s vicious and unrelenting. It never gets easier. He seems nice enough a guy, but he better not go all deer in the headlights because I’m coming, and when we collide head on? I just might send him into a full stop. Maybe I’ll send him backwards. Maybe, I’ll send him back deeper into that dark tunnel he’s coming out of. If he’s not careful, that tunnel could very well collapse around him and burying him in the rubble before he ever gets started. 

I mean- I hope not. But it’s not like he’d be first-nor the last. 

OKAY! But what about track three?

N-!

It’s YOU who gets derailed? Or stopped entirely?

God shut up! I listened to you! I even believed you when you doubted me. You were wrong. 

You’re trying so hard to believe you’re over the hump, that you don’t need me. But you know I’m right. That could happen. You can pretend I don’t exist but I do. And you need me. 

Whatever, you’ll be wrong again. 

Maybe…

Ashlynn gave her head a shake, snapping out of it, realizing that she’d stop writing. 

Okay, fine. Maybe there is a third outcome, just not one I like to think about. I’m not going to focus on what I think anymore. I’m focusing on what I KNOW.

I know that I can prove even my inner critic wrong. I know that I’ve never been as confident or as dangerous before. 

You know that pride comes before the fall too right?

Not if I can help it. I know that I can.

When we’re young, we’re all little engines who think they can. 

Now? FIGHT! finds out.  I’m no little engine who thinks about what they can do. I’m a bullet train who thinks about what she wants. I want this win. I’ll shoot through the heart of either man to get it. 

<3,
Mom, who rode to Hell(‘s Kitchen)

_____

There’s a tap on her shoulder, bringing her out of an intense state of mind. She even flinched, a little on edge.

It’s Liam. “It’s over. We made it.

She relaxes, even offering an apologetic chuckle. “Sorry, Liam.

She’d been so in the zone that she failed to notice the train come to a stop. She got her stuff and got up, she was the last to get off. 

Ashlynn, Liam, and both his parents all smiled, next to each other on a platform, just how it all started.