Pages

FICTION: GOLIATH by Joseph Giddings  

Posted by Scott Wilson


Garret liked the feeling of the cool water against the skin. However, he didn't much care for the mud underneath the water. He didn't like the squishy texture of it, or the way it clung to his face when rough hands dragged him from the ground.

“Damn you, Steven,” he said as the unknown hands pulled him up.

“I’m not Steven, Garret. How drunk are you?” The voice was familiar, but he couldn't focus long enough to make out the face. “Garret?”

“I'm fine,” he slurred, slumping a little when the hands released him, only to catch him before he hit the ground. He had sacrificed his balance to a bottle of cheap whiskey earlier in the evening. “Just leave me be.”

“You can't even stand up, man. How much have you had to drink?”

“I haven't been drinking.”

“Ha!” laughed the familiar voice. “I bet you haven't. I’d heard you had fallen into a bottle. I know you lost everything, Garret, but you could’ve found something else to do with your life.”

“All I wanted to do was drive trains, and they took away my license. That bastard put me in the bottle,” Garret said, taking a feeble swing at the man. “Just leave me alone.”

“Alright, Garret. If you're okay, I'll leave you be.”

Garret waved the man off. The owner of the voice and hands walked away, his boots kicking up water from the puddles in the muddy street. Garret watched him go, but he still had no clue as to the identity of the man.

Garret leaned against the wall, groping inside his duster. Finding his flask, he pulled it out and flipped it open, taking a gulp of whiskey. The alcohol burned his mouth and throat. For a moment, he forgot about everything else as it warmed him. His empty stomach threatened to reject the whiskey, but he fought back. His stomach gave in after a minute. He flipped the top back into the mouth of the bottle and tucked it away.

He stayed there for several minutes, occasionally pushing away from the wall to test his balance. After several attempts he found himself standing up, though he leaned to the left. Lifting one foot he took a step, and then followed it with another. He swayed back and forth, his path erratic, but he remained upright. Gaining confidence, he continued in this manner, not sure of his destination and not caring. It rained steadily as Garret wandered though the dark empty streets seeing very few people. Those he passed ignored him, rushing home to get out of the rain and avoid the other wandering drunks and thieves that haunted the streets at night.

Garret didn’t know the time, or where he was. His visit to Raleigh, North Carolina, had started months ago when he was barred from being a locomotive engineer. Ever since the accident on the Rosemary, he’d looked for his luck in bottles of gin and whiskey, and sleeping in back alleys and abandoned buildings waiting for it to show up again. He stopped bothering with unimportant things like bathing. When his stomach craved more than the foul liquids he poured into it, he would eat table scraps from restaurants. More than once he contemplated suicide, but he felt a greater purpose waited for him in this life. And he wasn’t about to give Steven the satisfaction of knowing that he was dead and carried the truth to his grave.

After a while, he found himself at the rail yards, and saw more people working tonight than usual. Workers climbed on a massive locomotive sitting astride a special track. Four feet outside of the main line ran an extra rail, expanding the standard track to an impressive eight feet. The train pointed south. Garret squinted in the poor light and could see the widened track extending off into the distance toward Wilmington. Steam trickled out of the massive vent at the top, and other vents along the base of the train allowed excess pressure to escape. Garret looked at the gigantic machine in awe, and wondered what it would be like to be in charge of such a fine locomotive. This train dwarfed the Rosemary, but any engine would look small next to this monstrosity.

Some of the workers looked over at him as he staggered through the yards, but went back to their tasks after deeming him harmless. Garret made a rude gesture at a few of them, and moved closer to the big locomotive.

Big bold letters on the side of the train read “McAllen Co. High-Speed Power-Pull Locomotive.” Beneath that read the train’s name – Goliath, and a golden circle mounted under the lettering read “No. 13.” Garret chuckled. He knew only one man brazen enough to assign the number thirteen to a locomotive.

“Get away from there!” he heard behind him, yet another familiar voice. Garret turned to see a man rushing toward him, wearing a white shirt with its sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His rain-soaked clothes stuck to his skin, and his eyes narrowed. Garret looked around to see if anyone else was near him that the man would be angry with, but he saw no one. “No unauthorized people near the engine!”

Garret squinted and made out the face of Steven McAllen, designer of steam locomotives and co-owner of the McAllen Shipping Company. Several successful train designs could name him as creator, as well as a few abysmal failures. Steven designed bold, fast, and sometimes dangerous, trains. He currently held several speed and hauling records, and always looked for the chance to beat them again.

“Sorry,” Garret said, letting his drunkenness slur his words. “I’s jess lookin’ at it.” He averted his gaze, hoping to avoid recognition.

“Long?” Steven stopped and laughed as he recognized Garret. “Well, isn't that something. I heard you were lost in the bottom of a bottle here of late.”

“Leave me alone.” Garret didn't feel like getting into anything with Steven. Starting a fight with a man as rich and powerful as Steven only caused more trouble. He staggered away from the engine.

“Do they still haunt you, Garret?” He fought the urge to turn and face Steven. “All those people that died? They trusted you, and you failed them.” Garret ignored the man, knowing jail would be the only reward for responding to McAllen’s instigations. “Do you think about Mackey?” Mention of Garret’s fireman made his step falter. Mackey Laramie, only twenty at the time of the Rosemary’s run, had died when the engine exploded. Only two other deaths bothered him more than Mackey’s. “Do Anna and Joshua visit you in your sleep? Do they ask why you killed them?”

Garret stopped. At that moment, his mind was clear, his senses alert. He turned, anger burning in his eyes. Mentioning his wife and son dug deep. “Don’t you dare say their names, you bastard. We both know you’re the one responsible.” He wanted to attack Steven, get his revenge on the man whom Garret held responsible for the deaths of those two hundred people, including his family. But he knew it would solve nothing, and wouldn’t bring them back.

Steven and Garret had worked together at one time. Many called them the best in the business, and everyone paid attention when the two men came together on a project. Steven designed experimental, potentially dangerous locomotives, and Garret drove them, testing them for flaws and failures. The Rosemary, the fastest train ever made, had sat on the newly laid track from Raleigh to Charlotte, and Garret operated the controls. The engine ran better than expected, breaking the speed record in less than thirty minutes. The train arrived in Charlotte ahead of schedule.

The return trip broke the speed record again. Garret, pleased with the performance of the engine, relaxed, his fears of the high speed train alleviated. That is, until the boiler exploded thirty miles out of Raleigh, knocking out Garret, killing Laramie, and ruining the braking system. The engine stopped accelerating, but when Garret came to a few minutes later he couldn’t stop the train. He sounded a warning with the train whistle, but the people in the station misinterpreted his intent, and cheered. The Rosemary plowed into the station of unsuspecting people, the train’s speed so great that it jumped the tracks and ripped through the station and into the city. Anna and Joshua died in the station, waiting to welcome Garret home after his successful run.

Garret survived the crash, safely enclosed in the engineer's cabin.

At the hearing after the accident, Steven placed the blame on Garret, citing the engineer’s problem with alcohol. He claimed that Garret’s negligence lead to the boiler's explosion. Garret argued that the engine design was flawed, weak seams along critical pressure points causing the catastrophe. Steven’s wealth and influence tipped the hearing in his favor. The panel took away Garret’s license, barring him from being a locomotive engineer and threatening criminal charges that never came.

Steven got off with a slap on the wrist.

The train designer grinned as if he read the memory on Garret’s face. “Get off the rail yards, you failure. I don't need your kind of luck near Goliath the day before its maiden trip.”

Garret forced his anger down, and took a deep breath. He waved his hand dismissively at Steven and walked away from him. Steven said something else, but Garret ignored it as he pulled out his bottle and took another pull from it. Staggering away, he looked back and saw Steven returning to the team of workers, saying something that brought on a round of raucous laughter.

The roll of thunder overhead startled Garret, and he stumbled over something on the ground. Unable to regain his balance, he tried to aim for a pallet of crates, and fell between several stacks. As he tried to stand, his head collided with one of the padlocks. Garret fell to the ground, sitting in the middle of the stack of crates. Stars danced through his vision. Deciding to give up for the night, Garret collapsed to the wooden pallet and passed out.

#

Garret shielded his eyes from the sun when he cracked them open. He felt the ground underneath him swaying. He still lay on the pallet in the middle of the crates. Through the wooden slats he could see that the pallet had been lifted from the ground.

He peeked out between the crates and saw a crane on a service rail lifting the pallet. Steam poured out of the sides of the monstrous crane as it lifted the load. Garret tried to stand, but the motion of the platform ruined his balance, his swimming head not helping. He looked for his flask and found it on the floor beneath him. It lay on its side, the top open. A wet stain covered the wood under the open top. Garret touched it with his finger and then licked it, verifying that his whiskey was now gone. Cursing, he got up on his knees and looked around.

Airships crowded the skies over Raleigh, all coming to see the departure of the newest train. From his vantage on the pallet, he could see a crowd had gathered to see the train off on its maiden voyage. Everyone nearest the train wore waistcoats and dresses, carrying their canes and wearing top hats. Further out were people of lesser privilege, many in their overalls or workman’s uniforms. There were hundreds here. Those that boarded the train wore their best, the launch of the train an event to be seen at.

The locomotive looked even larger in the daylight. Massive passenger, sleeper, flatbed, and boxcars stretched out behind it. Garret thought the size of the cars a bit comical, figuring the size difference would work against the engine and not for it. The Rosemary could reach over seventy-five miles an hour, and could be pushed up to a hundred. This monster, he was certain, could travel faster than that, despite the size of the cars it pulled.

He didn’t want to be on this train. If anything went wrong, and Steven found Garret, all the blame would fall on him. Garret didn’t need any more trouble like that. He looked for a way off the platform. The pallet swung over to the train, and Garret knew he could only get off once the cargo rested in the car. Jumping from this height would be suicide.

The crane lowered the cargo into a boxcar. It jerked as the worker in the car guided it to its location. He could hear the laborer unhooking the clamps from the pallet, and then he watched the cables pull up and out of the car. After a few minutes, the machinery in the top of the car screeched, and the cover started to close. It took only a minute, and with a loud thump, it closed and locked. Garret sat still, waiting for the crewman to leave the car. Meanwhile, he listened to the sounds around him.

A blast of steam came from the front of Goliath and Garret recognized it as a preparatory release. They were stoking the boiler, and soon the train would be underway. The crowd cheered. The whistle on the train sounded, the tones modulated by the engineer. Garret recognized the whistle as none other than John “Boxcar” Wilkes. Wilkes had started as a fireman in the company, working with Garret many years ago. While Garret felt pride in Wilkes’ progress, he dreaded what might happen to him in the cab. A larger cheer went up, and he could hear Steven McAllen speaking to the crowd. His voice sounded mechanical, projected through a modulator-amplifier so that even those on the furthest edges of the crowd could hear.

“Welcome all! Today you witness a new generation in train travel! The High-Speed Power-Pull Engine is ready, and will make the trip to Wilmington in just over an hour. And that, my friends, is with a full load!”

As the crowd cheered, Garret ran the numbers in his head. It was over a hundred and thirty miles from Raleigh to Wilmington, and that assumed the track ran straight, which they never did. That meant this train ran at a hundred miles per hour, and could go higher. He wondered how fast it would go without a full load to slow it down.

“Our passengers and cargo are on board. All that’s left is to send Goliath on its way to Wilmington. We have a full load for this leg of the trip, and the return trip from Wilmington will be the engine only. The trip to Wilmington should take an hour and twenty minutes. However, I estimate the return trip will take only forty-five!”

Garret didn't need to hear any more. Any train moving at that speed would be a death trap. He stood and tried to scramble over the crates.

“I’ll see all of you when I get back!” he heard Steven announce. “Mr. Wilkes, take me to the beach!” The train lurched, sending Garret tumbling over the top of the stack of crates and to the floor of the cargo car. Cursing, he got back to his feet and felt the train accelerating. He could get off the train now, since it hadn’t accelerated enough to be dangerous, but the size of the train put him very high over the tracks. A jump from this height could result in broken bones, or if he landed poorly, a broken neck. He decided to find a place to hide and wait out the trip, then sneak off when they arrived in Wilmington. Garret started to move forward, looking for a way out of the cargo bin.

He located a door on the forward side of the boxcar and opened it. A considerable gap existed between the car he stood on and the car in front of him. He didn’t trust his balance, but he decided to take the chance and leaped across. He grabbed the support rails on the sides of the door, his foot slipping from the narrow ledge. Garret looked down, his heart leaping into his throat as he focused on pulling himself back up. He didn’t want to fall under the train, or into the path of the wheels. He pulled himself onto the car, opening the door and getting inside before he slipped again. Garret didn’t want to stay in the cargo cars for long. The boxcar would become an oven in the August sun of eastern North Carolina. Walking through, he noticed a crate with marks showing it held TNT. He raised an eyebrow. Any explosives on a train, by law, were required to be registered and stored, properly, in the last boxcar.

He took a moment to examine the crate, and found a wire running from the back out through a small hole drilled in the side of the car. The side of the crate showed a washed out logo for Archer Company, a rival of the McAllen family. The two companies feuded bitterly, blaming each other for accidents and mishaps. Steven had tried to accuse Garret of working for Archer during the hearing, but never could produce evidence to back up the claim.

Climbing outside, he saw the wire running under the train and out of sight. Garret hooked his leg around the support rail and let himself dangle over the edge, upside down. He glanced ahead for obstacles, worried that something would hit him in the head. Satisfied that nothing threatened him immediately, he turned his attention back to the wire.

Under the train he saw a small box, the wire running into the side of it. Reaching out, he could barely put his fingers on it, but he managed to grab enough of it to pull it free. He felt a magnet give as the box came loose. He laid it on the ledge, and then pulled himself back up and into the car. Once sitting down, he opened the box and inside he found a complex clockwork mechanism counting down, each tick slowly pushing down on a plunger for a blasting box. Garret reached in and pulled the wires, removing the blasting box and laying it aside. He then stood and smashed the timer with his boot for good measure.

Garret looked at his handiwork. He didn’t care if Steven’s train rolled straight to hell. But he did care about the passengers and didn’t want to see them suffer for that idiot’s hubris. They didn’t deserve to die, even if they were wealthy fools who probably didn’t even know who Garret Long was. Of course, he knew he didn’t want to die on this train, even if he didn’t have much to live for. Garret shrugged and left the mess on the floor, not really caring if anyone found it now that it had been rendered useless.

He made his way into a sleeper car, finding it empty. Everyone would be in the forward passenger and dining cars, celebrating with Steven and his team of workers on a job well done. All Garret could hear, aside from the wheels on the tracks and the distant chugging of the engine, was the sound of the train itself.

Clockworks. Every part of the train ran on some sort of clockwork device. He pressed his ear against a wall, and could hear them turning fans to cool the interior, or spinning small generators to power lights and a voice amplifying system. This train boasted some of the most advanced technology around, Steven going all out on this creation. Garret decided he wanted to see the rest of the train, but knew that he would easily get caught if he explored too much. After several moments of exploring the sleeper car, his curiosity got the best of him. He moved forward, hoping to maybe get a glimpse of the engine itself. If he needed it, he could climb to the top of the train and attempt to cross it that way, though at the speed this train could reach that would be dangerous.

He found the dining car. When he opened the door to go in, the clockwork latch distracted him enough that he misjudged his step and tripped over the molding at the base of the door. He ran into a woman, her gasp of surprise drawing attention from everyone in the car. She recoiled when she saw how dirty he was, and covered her nose with her gloved hand. A few murmurs passed through the room as everyone looked over and saw him.

“Garret Long,” said a familiar voice. He recognized it. The voice belonged to the same person that had picked him up off the street last night. His eyes focused on Bryce Adams, the only man who had defended him during the hearing after the crash of the Rosemary. Garret straightened himself, apologizing to the woman for his clumsiness before turning his full attention to Bryce.

“Bryce,” Garret said.

“How did you get on this train?”

Garret opened his mouth to answer, but someone interrupted him.

Steven stepped up next to Bryce, and he looked like he had been up all night. But he wore fresh clothes with his hair slicked back. Steven sneered at him. “Hello David.”

“That’s not my name!” he said, almost yelling at Steven. “No one calls me that.” He didn’t care for his first name, and always introduced himself by his middle name. Only Anna would call him David. He missed hearing her voice.

“So,” he said, pausing, pleased with his ability to get under Garret’s skin. “Garret, how did you get on this train?”

“I was brought on board with some cargo,” he said through clenched teeth, trying to regain his composure. “It seems, I tripped and passed out on one of the pallets. Your crews loaded me right up without a problem.” Steven growled a little. The murmurs in the room became louder as rumors about Garret were passed around.

“I want you off my train,” he said to Garret. “Now!”

“Easy Steve,” said Bryce. “We're traveling with a full head of steam. We’ll be in Wilmington in what, thirty or forty-five minutes? Just let him off there and let that be the end of it. No need to cause any trouble.”

Garret avoided eye contact with Steven, and looked around the room. All eyes were on him, and he didn't like it. Mustering his courage, he looked over at the designer and grinned.

“What's wrong, Steve? Afraid another train will blow up on you?”

“The last one was your fault!” Steven’s face started to turn red, but Garret could see worry in his eyes. Steven cut corners where he could, all to save a few dollars, and he feared someone would call him on it. The weak seams on the boiler lines were because of his negligence, not Garret’s.

“Why didn't you ride the Rosemary?” he asked Steven. “You knew there were flaws, and stayed off the train just in case something happened. You just didn’t want to go down with the ship.”

Steven punched Garret in the face. Everyone in the dining car gasped at the burst of violence from a gentleman of such high regard. Garret’s head snapped around, and he tasted blood on his tongue. Garret stepped back, refusing to strike back, no matter how bad he wanted to.

“I'm on this train, Long,” said Steven. He still held up his fists, ready to strike Garret again.

“Of course you are,” he said through his hand. “To not ride this one would raise doubts.”

“Shut up!”

Garret spat blood at Steven's feet. He was about to say something else, but a massive explosion shook the train. A few of the passengers screamed at the sound. All eyes fell on Steven.

Steven’s anger turned to panic. He turned and ran to the front of the train. Everyone watched him go, and when he left the car, all eyes turned back to Bryce and Garret. Both men had achieved a level of fame driving locomotives, and everyone present knew it. Awkward silence filled the car as they looked at the two engineers. Murmurs passed between a few people, Garret heard one woman say “Why are they just standing there?” and another say “Shouldn’t they be helping Mr. McAllen?” They only understood that engineers belonged with the engine when troubles came about.

“We should check it out,” Bryce said to Garret.

“We?” Garret asked, annoyed. “I’m not going anywhere. I don’t want to give that bastard anything else to blame me for. If you want to check it out, go ahead. This matter doesn't concern me in the slightest.”

“Garret, listen to me. I don't know what's going on up there, but you may be able to help.”

“Are you crazy?” he said, looking around at the worried faces. “Last time I did anything for Steven McAllen I was accused of being a drunk and killing two hundred people. You’re an engineer, so you get up there and help. I’ll be damned if I help him with anything ever again.”

“Are you drunk right now?”

“No. But I wish I was. Dying would be so much easier that way.” Panicked expressions turned toward him at that statement, and he immediately regretted saying it.

“Then we all can vouch for you if it comes to that, Garret.” Bryce waved his hand around the room, and some people nodded in agreement.

“No!”

Bryce looked at his old friend with disappointment. Garret looked away and sighed. He couldn't bring himself to help. This whole situation felt like the Rosemary all over again. People didn’t deserve to die, at the mercy of another of Steven’s failed train designs. When he looked up and saw the faces looking back at him, he saw that he never had a choice. This was something he had to do. Something he needed to do.

“I hope you all appreciate this.” He looked over at his friend. “Let's go, Bryce.”

Together they ran to the front of the train, through more passenger cars congested with people looking to see what had happened. When they come out behind the main engine, they could see Steven rushing around the engineer's compartment, trying to gain control of the runaway train. The fireman stood off to the side, ignoring the verbal tirade coming from the panicking man. The young fireman looked familiar, but Garret couldn’t place him. Bryce and Garret took the walkway around the tender to get to the engineer’s cabin. They saw no engineer, though the grisly bloodstains on the windows told enough of Boxcar Wilkes’ fate.

Steven saw Bryce and Garret approach. He ran toward them, stopping at the doorway. “This is your fault!” he yelled, pointing at Garret. “This is sabotage!”

“How could I have sabotaged it? I've been in the back of the train this whole time.”

“Last night! I saw you walking the yards! You did this!”

“Steve, last night I was too drunk to walk straight. How in the hell could I have messed up something on this scale? Why would I want to blow up this train? I’m still on it!” Garret leaned out to the side to look, and saw the raging fire around the boiler. The fuel burning inside the engine smelled odd, like coal with some other fuel mixed in. It burned hotter than hellfire, searing heat reaching back to the cabin. “This isn't sabotage, this is poor design. The explosive I disabled in the back of the train was sabotage.”

Bryce and Steven looked at Garret with wide eyes. “There was an explosive?” Steven finally asked.

“Yes,” Garret said, nodding. “It was a simple affair with a timer and a blasting box. Would have ripped open the forward box car and maybe even destroyed part of the rear sleeper car. The box belonged to the Archers, though they may not have necessarily been the ones who left it there.”

“I always knew you worked for them, Garret,” Steven said with a growl.

“Oh stop it, Steve. I always worked for you. My loyalty was never in question, and you damned well know it.”

Steven scowled at Garret, but Bryce spoke first, his voice as calm. “He can help us, Steve. If anyone can stop this train, its Garret.”

“No way am I letting that man drive this train!”

Another explosion shook the engine and it tipped to the right. The three men feared it would jump the tracks. It fell back to the tracks with a thunderous crash, threatening to shake the men loose from the train. Once he had his balance, Garret looked at the forest zipping past. Five minutes had passed since the explosion, and yet the locomotive still charged along at an incredible rate of speed.

“How does it still have pressure?”

“Lockdown valves,” Steven said. “In the event of a breach of any kind, the valves close and keep the pressure in the lines. It can only be released from the emergency lever.” Steven pointed into the cabin. “I already tried it, though.”

“How fast are we going?” Garret asked.

“I don't know,” Steven said with a fever in his voice. “The gauge is busted. I would guess around a hundred miles per hour.”

Garret moved to the cabin door, but Steven moved to block him.

“Oh no you don't!”

“Steven, get out of my way. There are a lot of people back there who are going to get hurt. Do you want that to happen again?” Steven didn't answer, he just looked helpless.

“I'll uncouple the cars,” Bryce said, moving to grab the lock and disengage the handle.

“No,” shouted Garret. “We need the drag they cause. Stay near that lever, though. About five miles out from Wilmington, release them. They’ll slow down in time and everyone will be safe. But for now they need to stay.”

“You didn’t do that last year,” Steven accused him. “You didn't uncouple the cars then.”

“I was alone and doing everything I could to get the brakes to work. When I tried to uncouple the cars, they were fused. And not from my engine fires, but from where your workers welded the locks closed. Remember?” Steven didn't say anything. “Now move out of my way!”

Steven stepped aside, and Garret climbed into the engineer's cabin. The room stank of smoke and blood. Boxcar Wilkes lay against the wall, part of his head missing, a metal sheet embedded in the wall where it used to be. Glass and metal littered the floor, and a small leak dripped fuel on the floor. Garret frowned. The fireman stood behind the engineer’s chair, scared.

“You’re Garret Long,” he said to Garret.

“Yes, I am. Who are you?”

“Daniel Laramie.”

Garret sighed. He thought the young man looked familiar. “You’re Mackey’s brother?”

“Yes sir.”

“Go back to the passenger cars, Dan. I don’t need your death all over this mess.”

“No sir.”

“Excuse me?” Garret looked at Daniel, shocked at his reluctance to leave.

“I know you’re innocent, sir. I seen this engine blow up the same way people say yours did. Along the seams and pressure points. She’s running too damn hot, sir. Made the seams break and the pressure blew it wide open.” Daniel stepped away from the wall and extended his hand. “I’ll help you stop this one.”

“Alright,” Garret said, taking the young man’s hand and shaking it. He climbed into the engineer’s seat and examined the gauges. Several no longer worked, destroyed by the explosion. A few wiggled and jumped, but pressure dials didn’t help anymore. He tested the levers and handles, but none of them worked.

“How far from Wilmington are we?” he asked as Bryce and Steven walked in.

Bryce looked at his watch. “About twenty-five, maybe thirty minutes.”

“Damn it.” He looked Daniel. “Bring me the crate of dynamite in the first cargo car. Also, grab the blasting box and any wire you can find.”

“Yes sir,” said the fireman, running past Bryce and Steven and out of the cabin.

“What are you going to do to my train?”

“Stop worrying about your train, Steve.” Steven glared at Garret, then looked back at Daniel as he entered the first car. Bryce watched him go, too, and then looked back at Garret.

“What are you going to do?” Steven’s voice was higher pitched now, worry over his reputation sinking in.

“I'm going to make sure this train doesn't make it to Wilmington.”

“How?”

“Trains need to stay on the tracks if they are going to get anywhere. I'm going to blow it off.”

Bryce looked uneasy. “Garret...”

“You’re going to blow up my train?” Steven moved forward, but Bryce grabbed his arm to stop him.

“Do you have a better idea?” Garret’s gaze pierced Steven. Steven shook his head and looked away. Bryce remained silent, nothing more to say.

Wilkes’ goggles lay on the floor, undamaged by the explosions. Garret picked them up and pulled them over his eyes, ignoring the blood on them. Being squeamish now wouldn’t help anything. He climbed out onto the side of the engine. Goliath’s speed made it hard to hang onto the railing, and the intense heat limited his progress to only halfway along the side. Leaning over the railing, he assessed the condition of the wheels. They showed signs of damage from the partial derailment. With a little help, those wheels would break apart.

He climbed back behind the engine, and started looking around for something to carry the dynamite with. Finding a messenger bag with the engineer's belongings, he dumped it out on the floor, looking for anything useful. Among various personal items, he found a ball of twine.

Minutes later Daniel returned with the dynamite, a small spool of wire, and the blasting box.

He quickly pulled sticks of dynamite out of the crate, making small bundles and wrapping them with twine. Each bundle he tied with the twine contained six sticks. He then looped each bundle together with four feet of loose line between then. Garret attached the ignition wire from the plunger box and attached the wire to all of the sticks. Garret really didn't know if he did it right, but he didn't have the time to figure it out.

He put the bundles into the bag and walked along the side of the train.

“Get him out of here,” Garret said to Bryce, pointing at Steven. “Daniel, go with them.”

“I’m staying here with you sir.”

“No, you aren’t. I won’t take another child away from your mother, Daniel. Now go!”

Bryce pushed Steven back to the tender and toward the first car. Daniel refused to move.

“I stay with him, sir. My momma already dead, so I’ll just join her and Mackey in Heaven.”

Bryce looked over at Garret, who jerked his head, telling him to leave Daniel behind. Bryce nodded and followed Steven back to the rear of the tender. Daniel went back into the cabin and started taking apart the console, hoping to fix the brakes.

“What is he doing?” Steven asked when they reached the back of the tender. Steven hung out over the side, watching Garret climb. “He’s going to blow up my train!”

“He’s trying to save us, Steven. And maybe save your reputation.” He looked at his watch. “Ten minutes!” he shouted loud enough for Garret to hear. Steven fell silent, shocked that Garret would do that for him.

Garret hung on with all his strength to the rails set on the side of the train. Under normal speeds, the engineer could walk out on the sides of the train and inspect the tank and wheels. He didn’t know how anyone could do that at a hundred miles per hour. The wind whipping past at this speed threatened to rip you free of the engine.

Starting as far forward as he could go, Garret lowered a bundle of dynamite, looping the twine around the rails to hold it in place. Moving as fast as he could, he continued dangling the bundles, until he had them all hanging over the side of the train. Then, holding the wire in his teeth, he tried to get back to the rear of the engine.

The wire was too short.

“Daniel,” he said through the open window next to the engineer’s seat. “Take this wire.” The young man took the wire from Garret and held it while he went back around to the door.

“Sir, that isn’t enough wire…”

“I know, Daniel.” He wanted to tell the fireman to get out, but he knew the effort would be pointless. “How’s that brake?”

“I can’t fix it, sir.”

Garret nodded. “Go back and tell Bryce to uncouple the cars.”

“Yes sir.” Daniel left the seat and ran out of the cabin and across the tender. Garret looked at Bryce, pointing to Daniel, and he nodded, understanding. When Daniel got close, Bryce grabbed him and tossed him through the open door of the passenger car.

“Do it, Bryce!”

“What? How are you going to get off the train?”

“I'm not.”

Bryce and Steven just blinked at Garret.

“Garret...” Bryce said nothing more as his friend turned, walked into the engineer’s cabin and closed the door. Garret looked out the window on the door, smiled at the two men, waved, turned away.

Bryce pulled the lever and the engine disengaged from the rest of the train. Garret could feel the loss of the drag from the passenger and cargo cars. He attached the two wires to the box and took a deep breath. He stood, looking out the back window at the retreating cars, Bryce and Steven still standing there, watching him speed away. Daniel stood behind them, watching over Bryce’s shoulder.

He looked down and saw Wilkes’ cap on the floor. Thin black and white stripes--the engineer’s hat. Blood stained the edges of it, but Garret didn’t care. He pulled it on over his head and smiled down at the body of John Wilkes.

“Rest in peace, old friend.” He tipped the edge of the hat and took his seat at the controls. Garret grabbed the whistle cord, sounding his call one last time.

Once he felt he was far enough away, Garret closed his eyes, said a quick prayer, and pushed in the plunger.

“Anna, Joshua. I'll see you soon.”

#

Bryce and Steven watched as the train sped away. Bryce hoped Garret would be okay, though he knew deep down inside that he would never make it. That train was filled with an experimental fuel that Steven claimed made the boiler run hotter and therefore made more steam pressure. When the dynamite exploded it would ignite and rip the locomotive apart.

As the passenger and cargo cars slowed, the train raced away, Wilmington just on the horizon. Goliath would never make it there. Bryce heard the whistle--three quick notes followed by a long one, and felt his breath catch in his throat. Garret would never sound that whistle again.

The dynamite on the left side of the train exploded, tipping the entire train up on its right wheels again. It wasn't enough to topple the train, and it fell back to the left, its wheels hitting the tracks. Several of the wheels broke free of the train, shards of steel slicing through that air. Once all the wheels and rods had broken away, the locomotive’s left side dropped to the tracks; sparks flew as steel scraped against steel.

Steven tried to leave, but Bryce grabbed his shirt and glared at him.

“That man is dying for you, Steven,” Bryce said, growling. “Stay here and watch so you’ll never forget.”

There was an even larger explosion as the secondary fuel tank breached. The engine lifted from the tracks, shards of metal and balls of fire flying everywhere. Several pieces lay across the tracks, and the decelerating cars jerked as they ran into the pieces. Sparks flew as it slowed the train more. Bryce worried it would derail them, so he pulled Steven back into the car.

Daniel, along with other passengers, hung out of windows to see what was going on ahead of them. Everyone looked on and saw the Goliath explode one more time, leaving the track. It started rolling away from the rails--fire, metal, and smoke in its wake.

“Farewell, my friend,” Bryce whispered. “May God finally grant you peace.”

This entry was posted on Friday, August 12, 2011 at 9:19 PM . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

0 comments

Post a Comment