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The Ones Who Take The Train To Omelas*


by John Holbo

*Confused? This page contains a parody of a famous story, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas", by Ursula K. Le Guin. I'd point you to it, but there are no versions legally free on the web. Buy a book! Read Wikipedia. If you are somehow here about the BTS song - sorry, I don't know about that. (But with half a billion hits, somebody probably does.)

I've written notes on my take on Le Guin. An essay! That's here

Also, once I made the graphics I tossed 'em on Redbubble. Forgive me. It seemed funny.


“I incline to think that people from towns up and down the coast have been coming in to Omelas during the last days before the Festival on very fast little trains and double-decked trams.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”




“We’re vaxxed and relaxed but it wasn’t a Hot Girl Summer was it, fuck you, Delta, but we can make it to Mendocino before Cool Girl Fall.”

“I dunno, let’s take the train to Omelas. I’ve never been.”

“Omelas? Omel-fucking-AS?”

“Yes. Omelas.”

“That’s—fucked up.”

“You know how many people died from Covid in Omelas? No one, is who. Because no one even got seriously ill.”

“Yeah, I guess powering your city with the suffering of an innocent child will do that. Better than Pfizer and Moderna rolled into one.”

“They still had masking. But now all that is lifted and it’s the last days of the Summer Festival and people say it’s beautiful. People say it is, literally, the most beautiful spot on the coast. Maybe the world.”

“What is this, Monsters, Inc.? You are suggesting we stay in, what, a bed and breakfast in Omelas-which-is-basically-Monstropolis?”

“Monsters aren’t real, dear. That’s a cartoon for children. I’ve checked Airbnb. Price is right. Tourism is still down but the white towers are still up. There’s a pretty little bed and breakfast above the bay. You can see all the sails of the ships out to sea. It says here—”

“Can you drive to Omelas?”

“Sure, but take the train. They are fast and actually cute. You see them all over Insta. Or take the double-decked tram.”

“Wait. We can take the tram to Omelas—from this far up?”

“Or from down, coming from the other direction. It’s a very long line but those old-fashioned trams look way nicer even than the cable cars in San Fran. They are all old brass and shiny wood.”

“Trams? Like with—wires? All up and down the coast? Do you hang from some real cow leather strap for a couple hours on the tram, or sit on hard wooden seats?”


“The train, then.”

“No. Fuck no. I am not taking the train to Omelas.”

“All right, we can drive. But I’m not sure about parking. They are very particular, but if your ideal of Omelas involves there being a parking lot, then I guess—”

“No. I will not drive to Omelas. Not in a train. Not in a plane. Not on a tram, Sam-I-Am. I do not like your Omelas. On your weird town I take a pass.”

“That child is going to feel the same either way. We might as well do our part to get the tourist industry back on its knees before fucking right-wingers recall Gavin Newsome again because he went to another restaurant and we get fucking Larry Elder and the state descends into some dystopian nightmare of un-goverance.”

“You’re serious?”

“As cancer. Yes. No, seriously. I don’t see the so-bad problem. You want to go to Mendocino. You think no one ever suffered in Mendocino? That’s stupid. Fort Bragg is fucking named after a Confederate General. In California!”

“And that makes it ok to go stay in an Airbnb that’s powered by a tortured child?”

“The Airbnb will not be powered by a child. They will have electricity and wifi like normal people do.”

“Yeah, wifi paid for by a child’s pain.”

We will be paying for the wifi.”

“Then why do they need to torture the child?”

“Oh, I dunno, to make the city the most beautiful spot on the coast and probably in the world? To make everyone happy? To make their annual Festival an amazing thing lots of people go to. On a train.”

“Is the child going to suffer a little more if we are there?”

“It might suffer a little less. We pour dollars into the local economy. It stands to reason the terms might then not—”

“—Might not require sucking so much energy or whatever out of the child? Do we know that?”

“Well, it makes sense.”

“No. No it doesn’t. None of it makes sense. And, if we go, we are a part of that.”

“Aren’t we sort of already? I mean, we aren’t invading Omelas, sending in the army. Doesn’t that make us as guilty?”

“Nobody asked me to send in the army to overthrow Omelas.”

“But are you part of the boycott and divestment protest movement?”

“There’s an Omelas boycott and divestment movement?”

“You’ve never really thought about any of this have you? But suddenly you are full of opinions.”

“Fine. Whatever. Look. I don’t know if I would—what’s the phrase—‘walk away from Omelas’ if I’d been born and raised there. Probably it would seem different to me. Like, people are different. Probably I would be more impressed by the nobility of it. But buying a ticket and going there on a train actually feels sort of … what’s the word? worse than just staying, passively. Not leaving. Nobody picks being born Omelan. But if we pick going there for vacation? How does that make us look?”

“Like every other normie on the train to Omelas to catch the Festival that goes on every year, like Burning Man but better? You are making a big deal out of it. I don’t think we can make a difference. If it’s ok to live there, it is ok to visit. Look at this. Yeah, she’s an influencer, sue me. The most popular Omelan YouTuber. But the point is that’s the temple, and you can hear the bells. And look at all those houses with the red roofs and painted walls. Adorable. And the kids and the horses.”

“I thought Omelas was all, like, serene and gracious. How can there be social media personalities?”

“It’s 2021 and, even with the power of whatever, there’s going to be one, right? I don’t think the city can make her walk away. Look at that. The Farmer’s Market.”

“It looks like a fucking fairy tale. Is this real? How can a farmer’s market look so—magnificent. That seems like a thing that couldn’t be. I mean. A farmer’s market can be nice.”

“I know. It looks great. And they say the drooz is great.”

“What’s drooz?”

“Some awesome drug that only exists in Omelas and is totally legal, is what. Feds can’t touch you.”

“How is that possible? Wait, don’t tell me.”

“You and I are not going to harm a child or do anything to aid or abet child harm in any way, shape or form. You can go see the child, when you get there. Some sick fucks go to Omelas to see the child. There’s tourism for that, although the Omelans don’t like to talk about it. Snopes says it’s a thing. I checked. I’d feel guilty for that, not for going to a bed and breakfast above the water.”

“That is a fucking cold thing to say.”

“Look, you’re right. I’m sorry. You were making me feel guilty and I don’t appreciate feeling guilty for something I didn’t do and wouldn’t do. Life is hard and life is weird. What can I say? If it’s ok to live at all then it’s ok to live, knowing there’s suffering. Anthony Bourdain went to Omelas and he said it was great.”

“That was years and years ago and he apologised.”

“For saying a thing about, what, how if you are willing to eat veal, you should be willing to crawl, not walk to Omelas. That was disrespectful to the ones who walk away. Which is a totally other thing. Anthony Bourdain did not eat a child. It’s like Nietzsche says: if it’s ok to be alive, it’s ok to take the occasional perfect get-away. If you can’t deal with suffering in life, how are you going to get on with life. Fuck Covid. We deserve to get out. Let’s take the train to Omelas.”

“Did Nietzsche say that?”

“Or words to that effect. Look, I’ll take care of the bookings. You just walk me to the station on the day, my DAH-ling! Sweep me off my feet into the world of my FAN-tasies!”




“Attention, passengers, this is your conductor speaking. I’m sorry there may be a few minutes delay, arriving into Omelas. Our crew members have discovered a stowaway, an un-ticketed passenger on the train. And, as we are a small vehicle that maintains a very high rate of speed, we need to enforce strict weight limits. And, as all your baggage is arriving later, via slow tram, we have no excess weight or ballast to jettison. At current rates, with the stowaway, we will run out of fuel before reaching our destination. Our train will plummet off the cliff, to all our deaths, if we stop or even fail to maintain a high speed, so we must reduce speed slightly, ejecting the stowaway into the Pacific, off to our right, as we round the next bend. We’ll try to make it up, rolling into town. We regret there’s no other way, but we’ve checked the equations. Passengers are encouraged to look to the left, around the next bend. You can see Eighteen Peaks, snow-capped all year round. The same view Ansel Adams captured in the 1930’s as part of his famous Omelas series, and as beautiful today. We know you have a choice of travel service providers, and we thank you for riding with us. To those travelling on to final destinations beyond Omelas, we will do our best to ensure you make your connections, and we hope to see you again.”

[Confused? Story notes here.]

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