“Come on Pa, walk faster, we need to get off the tracks before the train comes,” said Mir.
“Yes, Pa. We’ll get you all patched up and healed once we’re there. The plague won’t get to us, we’ll live,” said Vir, hacking and coughing even as he smiled at the frail figure of his father trudging along on the snaking railroad.
“I’m walking-” cough, “- I’m walking,” their dad muttered feebly.
That’s when they heard the horn of the train, trumpeting loudly as it rolled forth like a juggernaut in the lonely woods, roiling smoke left in its wake.
“Faster, pa, faster,” said the younger son. “The train’s approaching, we need to leave the tracks!”
The elder son did not say anything, he only increased his efforts to pull and push their father sideways, trying to find a clearing to the side where they could hide from the incoming behemoth of smoke, steel and iron.
Alas, there was no such clearing, no hidey-hole to be found.
The gargantuan beast moved closer, ever closer, screeching and screaming as it devoured the tracks.
The family of three looked around wildly, but there was no escape. Death was here. It was everywhere, all pervading, and none could escape its clutches.
And then the Locomotive swept over the three travellers, with Death claiming the last of the villagers trying to flee its ice cold grasp.
Slowly, softly, the noise of the engine and the trumpeting horn of the locomotive receded and faded, moving off to destinations unknown.
…And the ghosts of the three travellers woke once again on the railroad, as they had for the past hundred years. Lost to time, lost to life, lost to death. Eternally riding on the railroad of the in-between, forever forsaken.
They had escaped the clutches of death, but peace was forever lost to these haunted souls, now haunting the forlorn railroad, hapless victims to Locomotive breath.
P.S. – Yes, the title ‘Locomotive Breath’ is a reference to Jethro Tull’s song of the same name. Tip of the hat to all those who got it.
A Story written by me long ago, in a time much different from this one, in what could have been a different age, though it’s been but 5 years to that pleasantly cool morning. Earlier called ‘The Silent Wanderer’, it’s now been rechristened to ‘Wanderer of the Scorching Sands’.
The hot sun blazed overhead, searing the skin, and the hot sand burned Rickard’s bare feet. Wrapped in black samurai clothing, he cut a lone figure in the flaming land. On closer look, one would have noticed that his clothing was ripped and blood stained. Feet red with blood, he walked on. Deeming his cloak to be useless – it was torn and provided no protection in the wild wind, flailing away – he threw it off, exposing a muscled and agile torso beneath.
Eyes burning with hate, he walked on, carving a new path along the shifting dunes. Moving towards his destination, he prodded forward on sheer force of will. No end in sight yet with an end in mind, he walked on. After a lengthy march, having walked a hundred leagues, he reached his destination. The cursed village of Dominica was in sight. Cursed because he was born there. Cursed because he had come back alive, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. He had tried to help them once, and he had been rejected. His helping hands had been taken for those of a demon and rejected by the council head of the village.
A hooded figure stood at the gates, approaching him, he whispered, “Good day, Maticus.”
Shocked out of his reverie, he looked at the newcomer and whispered, “Rickard! You return!” slurring his words in his drunken state.
“Yes my friend, I come back to take what is mine. I come to take my due.”
Leaving the gatekeeper behind in shock, he passed within the gates. “Time to rise sleepy heads”, he smiled.
He went straight to the council heads house, passing beneath the light of flickering lamps. Stealthily passing beneath the vision of his guards, Rickard entered the head’s bedroom.
There, the council head was sleeping with two of his concubines unbeknownst to his wife, lying still as a child with face between her breasts. She couldn’t have been more than 15 years of age, while the other one was closer to eighteen. Both were near his daughter’s ages, and his shamelessness enraged Rickard. This was the man who ruled the village, who had made all the villagers go against him, and had rejected his offer of help against the demons who ravaged the region ten years back. Calming himself, he tapped on the wall and said,
“Enjoying yourself Sire?”
Equal parts fear, anger and bewilderment filled the Council-Head’s face, as he searched for the source of the disturbance.
“No, you!” he shouted. “You were supposed to be dead. I sent my best men to do it!”
“Then it is my ghost come to haunt you, your greatness,” mocked Rickard. Then, with one swift strike of his sword, he cut off the lord’s head .
The girls lay paralyzed with shock, at this act. “I do not have the time to castigate you, for you were here not by choice but by this wicked man’s use of force. Leave now, and I will spare you. However, if I see you again tonight, then may God help you.”
Hearing his words, the girls fled and Rickard walked through the house, carving a path of blood, killing all in his path. A blood bath. A blood dance. The red samurai was back to his home town.
The following day, the sun dawned on the village of Dominica in silence. Or rather on what remained of the village. The samurai had done his job, and he went towards the gate.
Exiting the village, he roused Maticus from sleep, “Goodbye my friend, my work here is done.”
“Come back soon, Rickard, you’ll be missed.”
“The dead do not feel, Maticus,” he whispered, too low for his friend to hear, however his expression must have been awry as Maticus looked a bit alarmed. Perhaps he felt that Rickard had too much of drink the last night.
“Goodbye then…” said Maticus, and left to go into the village for his usual round of drinks at the local inn.
As Rickard walked on, he began his incantation, and slowly the village began to glow blue in the distance. A light hue of blue, and suddenly a sharp sound pierced the desert quite.
“No!” wailed the sound, perhaps someone had seen the carnage he had left behind. Perhaps he had missed killing one of the girls later in the night.
“No-” came the wail again, much different from before, wretched, filled with despair, before it was cut short abruptly.
And as many similar cries filled the once silent air, before slowly being consumed in their own horrific fear, Rickard walked on, away from what was once his home. His work was done. The dead do not speak, as out of the remains of all the dead villagers a new creature was born. A terrible Daemon, one which would haunt the world for a long time to come.
“Goodbye Maticus,” the Wanderer whispered to the winds, as a final dying scream rent the world apart.