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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #1410130
This is about an adventurous train ride.
For tomorrow, I’d love a story or poem about trains. I want to hear them roaring down the tracks and see the billows of soft gray shooting up from their smoke stacks. (All right, I’m not sure if modern trains still do that. Pollution-wise, I hope not.)

Ilene sat with her tearful face pressed against the train’s window. Her sobs almost drowned out the clickity-clack, clickity-clack of the train passing over the railroad ties.

Why did this have to happen now? raced through her anguished mind, even faster than the train beneath her. We were so good together. I don’t know if I can bear this much pain.

“For crying out loud, Ilene,” muttered Joseph, her older brother, who was sitting on the opposite seat. “It’s not like the end of the world or anything.” He leaned over and angrily pulled down the window on his side of the compartment. Cold air rushed in, along with a wave of thick smoke coming back from the train’s engine. Immediately, the train’s small compartment filled with the acrid taste of burning wood. Joseph quickly slammed the window shut, but the damage had already been done.

One of many hot embers managed to find its way inside, landing unnoticed on the weeping, young woman’s gauzy lace gown. Tiny fingers of fire moved slowly from the delicate hemline and jumped over to smolder in the bench’s ancient velvet cushion.

Before any of the people in the crowded compartment became aware of the danger, they were plunged into darkness. Elderly Samuel Pettigrew sitting next to Joseph spoke quietly to his unseen companion, “We’re halfway there, Miss Lily. This is the Wilshire Tunnel I told you about last night.” He reached out and gathered Miss Lily’s shaking body against his own.

The sudden loud whistle of the train’s engine startled all of them, echoing unexpectedly out of the darkness of the long tunnel. One sharp blast followed by two more warned any westbound trains there was an oncoming train in the tunnel racing toward them. Two years ago, there had been a massive and deadly crash because the warning system suddenly failed. Today, everyone inside the dark compartment held their breath until finally the train rushed out into the bright, afternoon sunlight.

Miss Lily became agitated when she spotted the flames eating, inch by inch, through the bottom of Ilene’s gown. Mr. Pettigrew looked over and was the second to spot the fire. He pulled an ornate brandy flask from his pocket and leaned to pour some of the contents on the flames. Thankfully, the flask contained water instead of brandy, and the flames died out within seconds.

The rest of the water put out the fire just starting to dig into the train’s velvet seat. Joseph wrinkled his nose from the odors coming from the damaged cushion. Years of spilled food and leaking baby diapers combined with everyday train smells mingled into an offensive olfactory experience. Only Miss Lily actually seemed to enjoy the aroma, if the expression on her face was any indication.

“My gown,” moaned Ilene, reaching to brush her fingers against the gown’s damaged hem. The feel of melted lace brought on a fresh flow of hysterical tears. Her brother shook his head in disgust and turned to look out at the scenery flashing by the speeding train. Mr. Pettigrew returned the empty flask to his coat pocket and pulled out a well-read book of poetry from another pocket. He settled Miss Lily back against his side and began softly reading to her. For the next hour, all that was heard was his whispery voice and the ragged sobs coming from the distraught woman.

The sound of the compartment door creaking open brought all four of the passengers to abrupt attention. When they looked inquiringly toward the door, they glimpsed a uniformed train conductor nonchalantly walking away from them. After he disappeared from sight, they saw an open window on the other side of the corridor. The passengers listened to the loud rumbling of the train beginning to cross over a high wooden bridge. The train’s monotonous side-to-side motion, which had almost lulled them to sleep during the previous hours, suddenly changed in intensity.

Dirty, forgotten breakfast dishes on a small table at one end of the corridor crashed to the floor, adding to the rumbling noise. Again the sound of the train’s ear-piercing whistle was heard. This time the sound seemed not to be a signal to other trains, but a frightened cry for help. The train shuddered convulsively when the ancient bridge beneath its rushing wheels disintegrated.

Slowly, as if in a dream, the train dipped down through the empty air toward the rushing river below. First the engine with the supply of wood, then the passenger cars, and finally the caboose landed in the water. Steam from the engine’s boiler filled the air even after the river water covered the engine. Not until after the caboose slid into the river was the sound of the horrendous crash replaced by the sweet trills from birds returning to their nests.

Deep near the river’s bottom, the bodies of four passengers floated lazily in the flooded compartment. Ilene no longer suffered the pain of being jilted for another literally at the church altar on her wedding day. Joseph’s secret love for his sister's philandering fiancé died with him. Mr. Pettigrew would no longer read romantic poetry to Miss Lily, his friend of nearly two decades. Finally, Miss Lily was now crossing the Rainbow Bridge, the loving route for the old Pug to Doggy Heaven.

As for the death of the train itself, inspectors never could find the exact reason for the crash in their investigation. Their final report listed “unexplained bridge collapse.”

Every now and then for years after that, the mournful sound of a train whistle could be heard followed by the distant barking of what sounded like an excited, small dog. Only the birds, though, were there to hear. Only the birds and the rushing river water!

Microsoft Word count = 963

"The Writer's Cramp daily contest entry for 04/06/08
© Copyright 2008 J. A. Buxton (judity at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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