Strangers on the Strange Train

Howl’s arms were wrapped around his knees, which rattled in time with the traincar. The boy was holding his feet as far from the floor as he could, but he could not exert the same control over his eyes: they were transfixed by the floor-wide illusion.
It looked as if the train car’s floor opened wide onto outer space. Immense darkness, countless stars; there were so many pinpricks of light and swirling nebula it made his head spin. The terrifying, engrossing view scooted slowly by underneath his bench, and the train rolled on.
A rustling sound near his ear made the boy jerk his head up, but what he saw there averted his gaze back to the floor just as quickly.
The train’s ceiling was covered with bats, hanging asleep by their feet. The train conductor’s idea of a “fantastically magical, always-different train ride” was having a devastating effect on our hero’s emotions.
The train came out of a tunnel, sunlight struck Howl’s face, and it brought his gaze off the illusory cosmic floor to regard the landscape outside: mountains were rolling by. They were carpeted in hundreds of thousands of trees that set the slopes on fire, an emerald blaze that helped the boy breathe again. “The trees are real, the train car’s real,” he was whispering to himself, “There isn’t actually outer space under me, I’m in an actual train car…”
A few feet forward from him, an old lady slowly stood up to turn towards the rear-end bathroom. The whites showing in her eyes revealed the same fear of this floor that seemed open to the starry abyss, even though her feet were now planted firmly. The boy watched her brave progress across the invisible floor, past the hundreds of sleeping bats overhead.
Sitting at the rear next to the bathroom was another boy, whose only discernible feature at this distance was his hair, blonde like Howl’s. The other handful of passengers were huddled up in fear of their “fantastically magical, always-different train ride,” but this kid was relaxed, head slightly back, staring at nothing. When he suddenly stood up and began walking the opposite way of the old lady, his confidence and calm were obvious. The bats overhead didn’t concern him. The floor was still invisible, but the reassuring sounds of his shoes clicking against it seemed to make the train more real, more solid.
Behind the strange boy, the old lady came out of the bathroom, and gave a huge sneeze. This proved to be too loud of a noise for the bats, and soft cries from the passengers were drowned out by the beating of hundreds of wings. The small creatures were a storm inside the train car. Our hero, finally defeated by the first train ride of his life, hid his face. He only lifted it out from its hiding place between his knees when a hand firmly gripped his shoulder.
It was the other boy. Bats were swirling and screeching through all the traincar, but all Howl saw was the boy’s face. His features seemed to be soft, and strong, and feminine, and strikingly hard, at the same time. His face was calm, and his eyes were smiling.

Howl was born in the wastes north of Hithlum, where only beasts and witches dare roam. He was raised by two old hags, Tabby and Wiles, who had an unhealthy fascination towards the literary arts. Howl now resides in a well-furnished cave off South Rim Trail, complete with an old iBook and Wi-Fi.