The Flying Dutchman
The platform was smoky and crowded, people elbowing each other and stepping on toes without care. Soot and smoke hung heavily in the air, blackening the clothes and faces of all there. Through all this, a girl stood, pushing herself as far into a corner as she could, to avoid all the people. Her previously blue dress was now almost black, and her hair, though protected somewhat by a supposedly white sun hat, no longer held traces of the reddish gold it was.
She gripped a large suitcase tightly in one hand and a ticket in the other, waiting patiently for the whistle to blow and the conducter to call, ‘All a-booard!’ To occupy her time, she watched the people around her. The crowd had lessened slightly, as people who had just gotten off the train were finding their luggage and leaving.
A small scuffle off to the side caught her attention, and soon four boys came into her line of sight. Three were large and looked precisely the part of bullies that you might find tormenting little kids in a school-yard at recess-- cowards, and all bark with no bite. These three were cornering a skinnier, but tall looking boy who was on the floor on his back, trying to move away from them. As he got closer, she notices blood issuing freely from his nose. As one eyebrow raised and the other lowered unconsciously at this act of bullying, she tucked her ticket into her pocket and stepped forward to watch more closely.
As she got closer, she could hear the one on the floor pleading with the other three. ‘Please, stop! I swear I didn’t take anything from you!”
The other three knew this, obviously, she thought, but were enjoying the pleasure of having someone smaller than them to pick on. The largest laughed unpleasantly and raised his fist again, swinging it toward his jaw. The one on the floor cringed in anticipation, but the blow never came.
He looked up in astonishment to see a girl in a blackened dress swinging her heavy suitcase into the face of the last bully. The other two were lying groaning on the floor.
As they lay there, groaning and massaging their bruises, she stared down at them imposingly.
“Shoo,” she said, clearly. “Now.”
Eyeing her panickly, they shot to their feet and bolted.
She turned to the one on the floor, knelt and offered him a slightly sooty handkerchief as she asked, “What’s your name?” This was said without any amount of the sophistication or power with which she had spoken earlier, and his eyes widened in surprise. Rather than ask about how she managed a transition like that, though, he said, “Deeqan,” as he accepted the kerchief gratefully and pressed it against the flow of blood. “What’s yours?” he asked.
She smiled a little. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Tamelia Chanqetta Mentenne Demetovo Arrilov.”
He blinked, rubbing his eyes with his free hand. “Well, I believe you, but would you mind terribly if I called you something shorter?”
She gave a little laugh. “How about Jasmine?”
“Much better,” Deeqan replied. “But how is that even remotely related to your other name?”
“It’s not, actually,” Jasmine admitted. “I just don’t really like my full title.”
At this time, the train whistle sounded and the conductor began to summon the passengers to the train.
“I gotta go,” Jasmine said. “Feel free to keep that.” She gestured to the blood splotched kerchief. “My mom made me trillions. Bye.” She turned to board the train, but Deeqan fell into step right beside her.
“I’m going on the Dutchman, too.”
“Is that it’s name?” she asked. “Rather curious for a train, don’t you think? Wasn’t that a ship in fables and old legends?”
“It might be a strange name, but it’s a strange train. And the ship was actually real, but it was called The Flying Dutchman, I believe it was. Anyway, have you seen the inside yet?”
“Of the coaches?” asked Jasmine. Thoroughly puzzled, she paused at the door to one of them.
“No, I mean the actual train, while it’s running along the tracks.”
Jasmine stepped into the coach and looked around for a seat. “No, this is my first time on this train, I only just got on. What’s so special about it anyway?”
Deeqan had quickly found two empty seats and sat down in one, pulling Jasmine down beside him. He leaned forward in a conspiratorial sort of way, motioning for her to do the same before he said in a low voice, “Because there’s never anyone inside the cab!”
Jasmine jerked back so quickly she caught the person beside her in the conk. Apologizing hastily, she stood and moved quickly away.
“Where are you going?” Deeqan asked, following her.
“The front of the train,” Jasmine replied, almost running. “Of the coaches, that is.”
“Yeah, we can’t exactly get in the engine yet.”
They reached the very front coach and sat down. The coach was nearly empty, except for an old man dozing in the corner, a woman with her screaming child, and a sharply dressed, middle aged man reading a paper.
How do you know so much about this train?” Jasmine asked.
“I’ve been riding it since California,” Deeqan said. “I’m going all the way to the end, to Pennsylvania, and I’m staying in an orphanage there. And I’m going to be working in the steel factories that Carnegie has. That’s where this train ends.”
“It’s going to be melted down and reused in steel works.”
“So, this is a historic journey,” Jasmine commented. Then she recalled an earlier statement by Deeqan. “Wait, your parents died?”
“Yeah,” Deeqan answered. “And I have to go to the orphanage in Pennsylvania because it was my father’s dying wish to have me working under Carnegie. That’s how he got enough money to move to California and set up a farm there with Mom. What about you?”
Jasmine shrugged. “My parents are in Asia, and I’m going to stay with relatives in New York.”
“Are you going to miss your friends?”
“I don’t have any. What about you?”
“I had one, a long time ago. Jordan.”
“What happened to him?”
“She,” he emphasized slightly. “Disappeared somewhere without a trace or saying good-bye.”
“I’m sorry,” Jasmine said quietly.
“So am I,” he replied. “I didn’t know you never had a friend.”
She shrugged again. “You get used to it.”
They sat in silence for a while as the cars filled and the station emptied. Then as the whistle blew, the train gave a jerk forward and pulled away.
After the conductor came and collected the tickets, Jasmine and Deeqan went out onto the coupling between the coach and tender.
“Now when we get up on there,” Deeqan yelled over the wind. “Just be really careful where you put your feet and hands-- coal is slippery. And don’t worry about being seen, no one ever notices anything these days.”
Jasmine followed him carefully, scuttling across the heaps of coal that dug into her hands and knees. Reaching the end, she carefully lowered herself into the cab. Deeqan was staring at her.
“What?” she asked, checking her appearance self-consciously. “What’s wrong?”
“How’d you manage to bring that suitcase?” He asked, pointing to her hand.
She glanced down at the suitcase. Her knuckles had gone white with the strain of gripping it and she dropped it quickly, rubbing her hand as she winced at the loud clatter that sounded from inside it. “I have no idea.”
“What’s in it?”
“Doesn’t matter,” she said as she looked around. Deeqan was right: in the cab, there was nary a living soul to be seen. “This is creepy. Don’t they put in a fresh crew, though?” she asked Deeqan in a slightly hushed voice, as if she were violating some sacred ground.
Deeqan nodded. “There’s been a new crew assigned at every stop, but look.” So saying, he slid open to door to the fire. Charred, but distinct, was a pile of human bones baking there.
Deeqan closed it again. “Every one has ended there. It’s baffling.”
“Is that why they’re scrapping it?”
“This and every other train like it. There were about ten others exactly like this one, and the same thing happened in all of them, so they were melted down.”
“How’d you know that?”
“I did a little digging.” Deeqan shrugged, offering no more information on the subject. “You can look around, but at some point, we will have to go back.”
“Obviously,” replied Jasmine, peering at the various field and gauges. “What a sec. What’s this one?”
Deeqan peered at the one she pointed to. At first glance, it looked completely normal, measuring the speed at which the train was going, but a little more than halfway around, in tiny letters, it read, ‘Jump Speed.’
“I’m not exactly sure,” said Deeqan. “But whenever the arrow reached that point, the train starts shaking horrendously. When it gets past that point, though, it immediately smooths out. Calms down, you might even say.”
Jasmine watched the arrow with interest as it steadily moved toward the baffling words. Suddenly, everything went dark.
“What now?” she complained.
“Tunnel,” said Deeqan. “Here, I’ll open the fire door-- it’ll give us a bit of light.”
By the light given, Jasmine noticed the arrow already just touching Jump Speed. “There we go, Deeqan!”
“You may want to hang on.” Deeqan followed his own advice and grabbed a railing nearby.
The expected shaking never came, however. Instead, a feeling of weightlessness came over them for a moment, but dissipated quickly as the train slammed hard onto something, light flooded the cab, and all became still.