Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sneak Preview! The Last Train...

As I finish up editing on The Lost Channel, I feel compelled to offer a sneak preview of the next title in the series, entitled The Last Train. The Lost Channel should be available on Amazon by week's end, so here is a little something from the next book after it! This is unedited, but I thought I would throw it on here just the same...

   The sunset was beautiful over the train yard, the sky a kaleidoscope of pinks and oranges, as the sun sank below the horizon. It was getting dark as the brakeman stepped up on the side of a grain car at the tail end, keying the microphone on his radio.
  "Shove for sixteen cars, 532." he commanded.
  "Shove for sixteen." repeated the engineer, and the diesel locomotive at the other end roared to life, pushing the rail cars down the track with a chorus of metallic 'clanks' and groans. The steel of the wheels screeched along the rails, as the work train pushed it's consist in the yard tracks.
  "Eight now, 532..." said the brakeman into his handset.
  "Eight." came the repeat.
  The brakeman held onto the side of the car, watching attentively as the cars were pushed down into the train yard, keeping an eye out for anything that could be in their way, or a switch not properly lined for their route. They continued to roll down the track, the cars swaying and clanking as they met each joint in the rails.
  "Four now, 532, four car lengths."
  As they slowed, the brakeman jumped off, his boots raising a small cloud of dust in the failing light.
  "Ok to stop, 532."
  The train gave a screech, the slack between the cars sounding a dull metallic smash as the train came to a halt. The brakeman now produced a flashlight, as it was vetting dark. It was warm and humid, even in the gathering darkness, and he wiped sweat from his brow with a gloved hand. He could hear the engine of the locomotive chugging at idle many cars behind him as he made his way to the last switch. It led down a spur track to one of the older factories in town, where his orders stated they had several boxcars to pick up. He removed the hook from the lock on the switch stand, throwing the handle with a quick grunt, lining the route for his train. Checking that the points of the switch had come completely over, he gave a satisfied grin, replacing the metal hook back into the locking clasp of the switch. It was only a few steps back to the last car on the train, and he stepped back up onto it's side, grabbing the handrail securely. Again he keyed the mic on his radio.
  "532, at least forty cars to the joint..."
  "Forty,...pushing." came the reply as the locomotive again roared to life. The cars clanked down the track, through a narrow treed route, along the outskirts of the city.
  "Thirty cars 532."
  The brakeman held onto the side of the tail end car, keeping a close watch on the track ahead with his flashlight. The full moon had begun to rise through the leafless trees, bathing the rails with it's light. The chill in the air made his breath a steamy cloud as he listened to the cars ride over the steel trail, their wheels 'clacking' over the joints in the rail.
  "Fifteen cars to a stop, 532." he said into the mic.
  "Fifteen." repeated the engineer.
    Through the gloom he could see the last switch, which would take the trim down to the mill where they had to deliver several empty grain cars. As he squinted through the darkness, the illumination from his flashlight caught something. It wasn't right. The switch was lined the wrong way. He grabbed the microphone clipped to his vest quickly.
    "Bring her to a stop 532, stop."
    The group of cars gave a great yank, as the locomotive applied the brakes, the slack between them stretching out with a slight crash. The steel wheel screeched against the rail as the consist came to a halt, just a car length from the switch.
    The brakeman jumped down, his boots crunching in the slag beside the track. Just great, he thought, who left this switch lined that way? Probably kids. He stalked up to the switch stand, removing the hook and throwing it the other way. If they hadn't gotten stopped, the train would have gone down to a dead end where it joined with the bicycle path. He looked down the rails with his light, looking through the darkness ahead, and then down toward the dead end. The track ended about a hundred yards down, a spot which the railway had donated to the city for parkland, transformed into a tree lined walking path which ended at the waterfront. With one last check on the switch, he replaced the hook into the switch stand, and walked back to mount the cars again.
  "Ok to shove, 532, fifteen cars to a stop." he said into the radio.
  "Fifteen, what happened?" asked the engineer as the locomotive once again throttled up.
  "Ah, kids turned the last switch on us, but we're OK now... 10 to a stop." he replied.
  "Ten. Should have the trainmaster lock that one up."
  "Definitely! It's hard enough to see down through here, let alone have to worry about that switch. They should just straight rail it. Five more, 532."
  "Five." came the repeat. "We wouldn't want to go down the other way, might meet up with the ghost of the tunnel!"
  The brakeman grinned. Every rail man knew of the story of the ghost of the railway tunnel which led under the city down to the waterfront. It was an old urban legend about a train brakeman who had died looking for his hand, which had been cut off by the wheels of the train he was working. The story was that he had found gold buried between the rails, and as he had reached forward to claim it, his hand was amputated by the train cars rolling forward. He had bled to death there beside the track, after wandering back toward the head-end of the train, seeking help. No one ever found any gold, and the story was that his ghost wandered the tracks, looking to find his hand, and his gold.
  The brakeman's thoughts were interrupted by the sight of the old stone mill coming into view out of the gloom.
  "Two cars, 532."
  As the train slowed to a crawl, the brakeman dismounted from the tail end car again, walking where he could see the stone of the loading dock of the mill, and keep an eye on his train cars as well. He shook off the chill as his breath steamed in the glow from his light.
  Something was out of place in his mind, and he glanced around suddenly. His light caught something in the trees beside him. It was a man.
  "Hey, you gave me quite a start! Can I help you with something?" he asked, his heart beating slightly faster.
  The man just stared at him, holding what looked like a lantern. His skin was white as snow, his eyes large and pale. The brakeman's breath froze in his throat, his blood pounding as he took in the grim visage. The man was dressed in striped overalls and a hat symbolic of the railway days of old. But it was the pale skin and the eyes that gripped him. There was no light from his lantern, and he continued to stare, not even really looking at the brakeman.
  All the brakeman could do was watch, as the man stood motionless, staring. Terror rose up in his mind, and he stumbled backwards, trying to put some space between him and whatever it was staring out of the trees. The brake
  An began to run, back toward his train, wanting nothing more than to be away from this 'man'. As he ran, the train, with no instructions to stop, crashed through the stop blocks of the mill track, landing the two tail end cars off the track into the slag with a crash.
  "What the heck was that, what's going on!" came the voice of the engineer over the radio.
  The brakeman fumbled for his radio, turning back with his flashlight toward the trees, toward the thing he had seen. The trees, leafless, bore the resemblance of death in the still fall night, illuminated by the flashlight. But there was nothing else. He was alone again, even though every nerve in his body was alive and on fire.
  "S-sorry," he stammered. "I got distracted... Looks like we got a mess."

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