Endeavour’s Fall #4: Out Of The TreeDec 4, 2016
“Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground,” thought he to him self.
A scramble and scurry across the rooftop above Sam caught him by surprise. The apple tree shook and a few leaves and late blossoms fluttered to the ground. Sam gaped dumbly as Emma Dunbar dropped from the branches to the gravel beside him.
“Sam!? Is that you?” Emma whispered. She embraced him. “I was worried about you.”
Emma pulled the startled Sam across the garden. “The men, Dimsdale, they said that your family’s train was struck by lightning. They said you failed a test?”
Sam took a deep breath. “Well, there was some kind of lightning, I suppose. But it seemed to come from their train.”
“How could that be?”
“I don’t know. But it didn’t come from our train. And it didn’t come from any cloud, that’s for sure.”
Now Emma was lost for words.
“You believe me, don’t you Emma?”
“I told you to watch out, Sam.”
“You were right to warn me. I was going to tell Pa, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. Then it was too late.”
“Oh, Sam, I’m sorry,” Emma said. “This is not your fault.”
Sam sniffed and rubbed his nose. “I know. I know.”
“Sam, is your family alright?”
“Not really. Pa is pretty bad. I’m supposed to get a doctor from Albany. You know, the one that fit my leg for me.”
Emma took a deep breath, and seemed to decide something. “Come with me.”
Emma turned and pushed through the gate. Sam followed.
“Sam, something bigger is in the air. Dimsdale and these men are just part of it.”
“Part of what?” said Sam, struggling to keep up.
“The Empire. The Deacon said it’s like an engine sitting at the station with its brakes on, but the boiler’s been at a full head of steam for too long.”
“Switch wouldn’t revolt again. Not after the bombings. Everyone knows what happens to revolutionaries.”
“That was a long time ago,” said Emma. “People forget. I hear a lot of talk you know: Old Mr. Ricks at the station. Mr. Newell at the store. Look, you can even see it on the Imperial posters.”
Emma pointed at a row of tattered posters on the side of a laundry. When Sam was in town, he usually enjoyed looking at the recruiting posters. They showed massive iron behemoths exchanging blows and glorious airships battling in the clouds. The posters on this wall were all vandalized.
While the scrawlings were mostly anatomical jokes, Sam also noticed a symbol repeatedly scrawled in red paint across the posters. To Sam it looked like a crude line drawing of an anarchist’s bomb: a circle with a long line extending from it and two smaller lines extending from that line, like a capital “F” perched on a rounded “O.”
“What is that?” he asked Emma.
“I don’t know. Something local, I think. I’ve always thought it looked like a key,” she said. “Someone in Switch paints those all over the place. More this spring than usual. Dimsdale asked about it too.”
“So you talked to him?” Sam asked.
“He asked a lot of questions.”
“About what? About my family?” Sam asked.
“No!” said Emma. “Well, not at first.”
“And what, my family was just in the wrong place at the wrong time? We never get involved in talk about strikes, much less about revolution,” said Sam.
“I know,” said Emma. “That might have to do with something I showed him. Here we are. Look, I’m sorry. I’ll tell you more on the way to Albany.”
Emma opened a wooden door to a switch house. Inside was a large brass locomotive. It was a nice machine. No water dripped from its seals. No soot caked its polished chimney. Across the side of the coal tender a painted banner in bright colors proclaimed: Salvation On Wheels. Let No Hand Stop Its Motion!
Emma climbed up into the cockpit. “Let’s get moving.”
“Emma, you can’t expect me to steal your pa’s, I mean, the Deacon’s engine?”
“Of course not. Don’t be silly. I’m going to steal it. Come on, he won’t mind!”
While Sam climbed the ladder up into the metal-floored cab, Emma sparked a small engine fire to life. She blew it aflame with a pair of large leather bellows.
“Shovel some coal on here, but be quiet about it. Quit clanking around with that foot of yours.” Emma smiled and swung down to the ground without touching the steps of the ladder. “I’ll get the switch.” She disappeared through the wooden door.
Sam caught his breath and shoveled some coal. Then he shoveled some more. Emma still hadn’t returned.
If Emma were switching a line, she should be back already. Sam wasn’t sure. The sun was setting.
Sam climbed down and walked slowly along the tracks to the next line. This part of Switch smelled like the latrine trench Ma made the boys dig up in the canyon.
“Emma? Are you there?” Sam whispered.
Sam peered up the line and considered going back to his handcart instead of taking the ornate engine. A locomotive would certainly get to Albany faster than the jigger.
Maybe Emma just changed her mind and went home. It seemed too good to be true that she wanted to help him anyway. Sam turned and walked back to the engine, kicking his metal foot against the rail as he went. Stupid.
By the time Sam got back to the engine, he had convinced himself that Emma had never meant to help. Stupid girls. He kicked the inside of the cab. Stupid of him to trust her.
Sam could not get the picture of Pa, lying in Ma’s arms, out of his head.
Sam squeezed the engine’s brake handle open and pushed the throttle slowly forward. The steam pressure dipped as the pistons churned and the wheels slowly rolled forward. As the engine crept off of its private siding and onto the public rails, a man stumbled drunkenly over the tracks in front of Sam. Reluctantly, Sam pulled the chain to give a short warning whistle.
To be fair, Switch is full of whistles. Besides the train whistles, there are shift whistles, lunch whistles, pressure-release valves on the mine pumps, and who knows how many other loud shrieks any given day or night in Switch. Sam had no way of knowing that this particular locomotive’s whistle would stand out.
When Sam pulled the chain, a wheel marked with holes began to spin slowly above his head. Instead of the usual hoot or shriek, it played a simple tune.
Sam released the handle after a few notes played. What was this, a hymn? Some kind of music box on a train? But it was too late.
He was not quite out of sight of Switch when behind him the engine of the black 4-4-0 locomotive flared to life.
© J. O. Evans 2016. All Rights Reserved.