From End to Start

Impasse – Chapter Two

Farva and the chief marched the lengths of three train cars to the caboose at the very end of the line, climbing its thin stairs one by one to the rear platform and the door. “Thing like this, decorative, you know,” the chief said absentmindedly, glancing around at the red paint and round lights on the car.

“What now?”

“A caboose doesn’t really serve a purpose anymore on these modern trains.”

Farva shook his head. “That from your son as well?” he asked, holding his hand back for the long, metal flashlight the chief was holding.

“You know it. Here.”

The detective found a good grip on the knurled surface and clicked the rubber button to turn on the beam. He shined it to the handle of the rear door and gave it a twist. It opened with little force. Schultz shrugged and hummed. “Unlocked, good. At least we won’t have to call a blacksmith, wake up another poor dolt.”

“And here I was hoping I wouldn’t have to head on in.”

The chief took Farva by the shoulder and shook him. “I’ll be just below, getting some sort of detour signs up for the morning traffic.”

“Lucky you.”

“Don’t go freaking out and pissing your pants off any scary shadows, Farve. Look, just take a mental note if you see anything fishy, and I’ll have one of the boys take care of the paperwork. Get a move on now.”

Farva sighed and pulled the door open with a click as the chief clopped back down to the ground. The beam of the light found the specs of dust hovering in the still air like miniature stars in the black sky. The detective pulled on his sleeve, wiggling his wristwatch out beyond the cuff. Still three more hours until the sun comes up.

The floor and simple metal shelves inside, battered from many journeys, held wooden crates and a meager selection of well-used luggage, placed with just enough care to not move around with the starting and stopping of the train. Farva scanned the boxes and belongings for any sign of names; a shipping label or tag that denoted the owner or destination. Does commercial postage still travel on trains? At the very least, knowing the type of passengers on a train like this, this probably belongs to the crew.

More dust was kicked up, swirling in the light as the detective slid his feet closer to the opposite end of the train car. If there is anything to take notice of, it would be further down the line. The door handle was cold, almost painfully so. Farva pulled away out of reflex and shined the light at his hand, then at the shiny metal. Swallowing hard, he wrenched it again, the sensation more bearable the second time. The cold air at the junction of the two cars hit him, as well as the distant flashing of police lights.

The ledge at the end of the rail car was just wide enough for his feet. Beneath was the hitch connecting the individual cars, a mass of contorting metal parts shoved together in the dark. A wide step was all that it took to reach the next car ahead. It pained his bad leg to stretch that far, but hardly an unbearable sensation, and one that disappeared as soon as it came. Upon the next platform was yet another door, unlocked to allow him inside.

The galley was made up of two wide counters, put together with white-painted fixtures and well-used stainless steel, on either side of a central aisle just big enough for a single person to walk, two if they turned sideways. Nearest to the rear entrance were two wide compartments, blocked off by heavy metal doors. The smooth material was cold to the touch— the icebox or freezer, for any fancy meal that the guests were entitled to. On the stove were pots and pans, holding signs of being used not long before, albeit absent of the foodstuffs themselves.

Farva’s stomach rumbled. If he could finish with the investigation before the sun rose, he would be home for a proper breakfast. He marched forward, aiming for the next door. As the staff likely intended, moving from car to car was simple enough, as long as one did not look down while passing above the couplings.

The dining car was next in line, dressed like a fancy restaurant that had been squeezed inside of a vice. Two lines of tables and chairs and white tablecloths and candles waiting to be lit on either side of the car, with a narrow walkway between. If it had been used earlier that night, the staff had been quick to return it to a pristine state. That, or the supposed passengers had not even reached the dining hour that night before…

The red and blue lights flashed in the window, through the condensation that had gathered on the panes of the single-hung windows. Farva continued, hoping to find what would be passenger cars further ahead. He didn’t look at the gap between the cars this time, thinking over what he had seen thus far, and what made sense to make note of.

The present train car had a curving path, with private rooms on one side, the aisle and rooms trading sides halfway down. With the head of the heavy flashlight, Farva knocked on the first door, then slid it open, shining the light first, then daring to look with his own eyes. By the window was a bench and storage shelf, a pair of bunks behind, both areas pristine, despite a meager spray of dust.

Each proceeding door and room shared the same layout and immaculate nature, for the entire length of the rail car and the following. Shaking his head, the detective continued. The next car was made up with seating only, facing wider than normal windows. The strobing of the police lights were barely out of sight. Ahead, another car of private rooms, less fancy but likely still pricey, certainly more than he would have liked to pay.

The next room, a bar and more seats. At least, it looked like a bar, with a sleek, dark wood-grained counter, but behind where a worker would have been stationed were baskets of snacks. From the side, he shined the light under the counter, but nothing that looked like alcohol could be found. No wonder all these people wanted off.

The next car across the platform and coupling was labeled with a sign reading ‘no guests beyond this point.’ I’m neither a guest, nor the staff here, but the chief would moan and wail if I didn’t comb over this place all the way up to the front.

There were more bunks in this car, the only privacy provided by simple curtains. The beds were made without great attention to detail, but showed no signs of being slept upon, nor were there remains of any inhabitants at all. If this were anything close to a real job, these bunks would have working folks snoring away in them, a deserved rest after being bossed around by needy and cooped-up upper-middle class folks.

There was no roof over Farva’s head on the next car over, at least the little platform at the rear of that car. Instead, on either side, were tall bins with just enough space to slide between. Farva sucked in his stomach and pushed through, the smooth black-painted metal on either side of him, daring to hold him back. The bins held coal which tumbled down into lower troughs that could be shoveled from, just before the last destination on the length of train; the locomotive.

Somehow, the train got there… powered and pushed along the tracks until it inevitably stopped for whatever reason… on purpose, or the simple lack of busy back-broken workers to load coal into the furnace. Funnily enough, it’s the same type of person to complain about the ozone layer or global warming while riding smoke-coughing little trains like this very one.

Farva tugged on the final handle and yanked the door open. The beam of the light danced around the inside of the control room, finding all the little dials and handles and gages on the control panel, seemingly untouched by working hands.

What would the Chief and his son say about this little room? It’s hot… The little door at the base of the control panel is for the coal, burned to heat water, and… pressurize steam to… do something and drive the wheels…

The heat inside was too much, especially with the door having closed on its own behind him. The flashlight reflected in the glass window of a gage, reading red. Pressure. Farva leaned in and tapped at it with the nail of his finger. A crack sounded, sending a crooked line through the glass of the little window. What the living…?

Hiss—

The steam began to whistle out of the crack, screaming like something from hell, filling the room and shooting hot vapors to the detective, who jumped back but found the edge of an old pipe with his temple and sent himself to his knees and the flashlight to the ground. Scrambling for the source of the light, his eyes were blurry and tight and the handle was suddenly hot in his grasp, forcing him to drop it once more. The pipes squeaked and squealed and cracked and finally burst, filling the room with hot vapor and making the direction to the door impossible to determine. The backs of the detective’s hands felt clammy and cold as the steam ate away at his skin, but his lungs were already in a worse state, filling with liquid. He found what felt to be the door handle, tight and unturning as the whistling grew louder and the heat grew worse and more humid, finally causing him to collapse to the ground.

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