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Endeavour’s Fall #3: Through the Wastelands

Nov 27, 2016

Law 3 Corollary 2:4: For from hence are easily deduced the forces of machines, which are compounded of wheels, pullies, levers, cords, and weights, ascending directly or obliquely, and other mechanical powers; as also the force of the tendons to move the bones of animals.

-Lord Isaac Newton, PBUH

Sam slowly crawled out of the pit. The men were gone, with their walker and their shiny black train. Sam’s leg was twisted askew. He sat up and reattached the straps properly. When Sam stood, the leg clicked reassuringly.

The Mack train had not fared as well. Axles and wheels and rails were fused into a single piece of metal up and down the length of the train. The steamshovels in the back of the train anchored it from bucking too much, but the front of the train, where Pa had been standing, had no anchor.

The massive locomotive had wriggled and squirmed like a living thing. Now jagged metal bent out of the exploded boiler like petals on a dark ugly flower. A fire still smoked in the overturned engine room and looked to be spreading.

Sam found Ma cradling Pa’s head where he lay on the ground. He must have been thrown across the yard. Lines of red welts showed on Pa’s neck and arms. Tom and Al looked on dumbly.

“Ma?” asked Sam. “What’s wrong with him?”

Ma just shook her head. “He’s alive, but I don’t know… I don’t know what to say. I was inside the galley car. He was thrown off of the engine.”

Something heavy and metal crashed loudly in the locomotive. Ma looked around slowly. “Get the hoses pumping, boys. Put out those fires.”

Sam’s two older brothers scrambled to the hoses. “Wait Sam,” Ma said softly as he turned to follow. “I need you to do something else.”

“Don’t stop anywhere, for anyone,” she said. “Get straight down to Albany and find Doctor McCallister. He is a good man, he’ll help us again. Just take the jigger.”

Sam remembered McCallister. He was sure he could find him again.

“I need to tell you something, Ma,” Sam said.

Pa drew a loud ragged breath, and Ma turned down to his face. Sam’s confession could wait. He squeezed Ma’s hunched shoulder and ran over to the jigger.

The Macks used a small wheeled handcart called a “jigger” to get around near home or to move train cars short distances without the locomotive. It was a simple four-wheeled machine driven by the pumping of one or two passengers on a pair of metal handles. It was light and could be taken apart and moved off the tracks if needed.

Because the Macks are the kind of people they are, their jigger had a few extra flywheels, an added clutch, and new, lower gears. The changes probably violated its Imperial patents and trademarks, but they were hidden under the jigger’s simple wooden deck.

Sam put the jigger together quickly. He pumped his handle to get out through his family’s dig site to the main line to Switch. Soon, gravity and momentum took over and he pulled out the clutch. He stood as tall as he could, watching for smoke and listening for the whistle of oncoming trains. Usually the Macks would check the schedules, but there was no time for that today.

The handcart rolled faster and faster downhill. The tracks ran in parallel iron lines down a twisting canyon. Abandoned spurs branched off from time to time. The thin and ragged evergreens common in the high country were replaced by fields of stumps and blackened meadows as Sam dropped through the brown fog that filled the air around Switch.

The wasteland of stumps was replaced by stony rubbish closer to town. It was hard to tell where the mine tailing ended and the shattered shells of bombed-out buildings began.

Sam watched his speed carefully. If he timed it just right, he could coast for nearly a half mile. His best chance to get to Albany would be to re-engage the gears and start pumping when the cart was going just as fast as the top gears could handle.

Sam kicked the clutch in. He could see the railyard signs that marked the edge of Switch. As he passed the first junction, he spotted the shiny black 4-4-0 train with two crossed bones on the spur near Switch’s depot.

Sam didn’t ever decide to pull into Switch. His momentum slowed and he found himself rolling to a stop. Finally, he reversed directions and backed into the railyard.

Sam levered the jigger off the tracks and padlocked its disassembled parts to a rusted turn sign. The town was crammed with miners and refinery workers, and the types of businesses that cater to them. It would be easier to walk than to use the rails into and out of the crowded center of town.

Sam dropped off the side and stumbled over the criss-crossing tracks and into the muddy streets of Switch. Finally, he climbed a rough pile of slag that gave him a view of the Deacon’s house.

As a Church man, the Deacon of course had land for the town’s ceremonial apple tree. He also had permission to grow other food. It was the only garden for miles, and the only one Sam had ever seen. Even in the springtime, the garden was yellow and sickly under its sooty glass shades. But compared to the rest of Switch and the wasteland Switch sat in, it was an oasis of luxury.

Sam had only ever peered through the bars before on the way to school. Sometimes he would sneak a glance to see if Emma was on her way. That seemed like another life. Now he had to consider how to open the gate and cross the lawn. Those men from the Star Chamber were very likely in the Deacon’s house now.

Wrought iron bars lined the garden and gate. The gate was locked, but Sam’s thin wrists fit between the square bars. The fear of punishment protected the garden as much as the bars were meant to. He slipped the latch and watched the house carefully as he pushed the gate slowly open.

A brick-lined path twisted through the garden to the tall imposing house. It led straight under a large window where Sam could see movement between the curtains. So Sam carefully turned off the path and crawled low through rows of sickly yellow sprouts in raised beds.

Near the house, the Church’s large apple tree grew up and out of the garden’s glass enclosures. Its spring blossoms had already faded. Sam lined the trunk up between him and the downstairs window as he approached. When he reached the rough bark of the old tree’s thick trunk, he could hear raised voices inside.


© J. O. Evans 2016. All Rights Reserved.