Hey guys, this is a meaningful one. It’s the first time a dream gave me all the inspiration for a story. The title was said in full by a person in my dream. It was quite surreal.
This could easily be a longer story. I am pretty excited. Full on western, steampunk, survival, adventure story.
Hope everything is going adequate, at least,
-Scott “Scot Brown” Brown
The train moved in gentle motions. Swaying as the weight shifted. Light shone through the western side, playing with the mind as the path curved. The setting sun cast moving shadows on the dining cart. A full array of people from all walks of life gathered to receive their complimentary meal, or go off menu.
The off-menu people wore hats that fit their heads. The men’s mustaches were trimmed so well that they seemed to be made of wax. The women’s hair was so tight to their skulls Michael thought they must be in constant pain.
Michael sat with his brother and sister in a small booth for third class patrons. They waited for their meal with rumbling stomachs. Each time the door opened, their eyes met the server. The server would look away. Not this time.
“Why is all the food for them?” Yosh asked. It was whispered into his brother’s ear.
“They have first class tickets,” Michael said.
“But what about us?” Minka asked from across the table.
“What about us?” Michael shot back.
It was wrong for him to be so angry with them. Minka was seven. Yosh was nine. They were children, with questions.
“But we have a ticket,” Minka said.
“I’m sorry, you’re right. But they paid more for their ticket. They get certain things that we don’t,” Michael tried to cover up his impatience.
Another server entered the room with a tray. There was brief eye contact, and they hurried to look at anything else.
Michael took a look at his clothes. They seemed alright. At least, presentable. Yosh and Minka’s hair was greasy, and he felt his own. It wasn’t much better. He knew their faces were clean.
They were better than the man on the other side of the train.
His head hung low. The hat on his head was held on by a miracle. It was beaten, torn, and coming apart at the seams. The hair on his mustache was long enough to hide his mouth. His head swayed like a scarecrow with each rumble of the train.
“We should take their food,” Yosh whispered it again.
Michael shot a glance down to his younger brother’s hands. They were balled into fists, with white on the knuckles. His eyes were narrowed and glassy, focusing on the tall hat six booths down.
“Yosh. You can’t. We are from New Haven. New Haven doesn’t exist anymore,” Michael said.
“I know!” he hissed back.
Michael leaned into the center of the table. His brother and sister matched him out of instinct.
“Minka, why don’t we fight?” he said.
“I know why, but I don’t care!” Yosh yelled in a whisper, “They don’t deserve it! They’re not even hungry!”
“Yosh!” Michael grabbed the back his younger brother’s neck, forcing his head lower, “You do not bring attention to yourself!”
“I miss mom,” Minka said.
The two boys raised their heads slightly. Michael could only stare at his sister’s quivering face.
She sniffled, and began to cry.
Michael got up and switched to the other side of the booth. He sat next to his sister, and she leaned her head against his side, weeping.
“It’s alright. We’ll find Mrs. Pettigrew, and she’ll tell us where to find mom. We just have a little more to go,” Michael said.
It was no use. Minka controlled herself enough to keep from wailing, but just barely. They could all still feel their mother’s presence.
Yosh began picking at the side of the table with one of the forks. His eyes turned to the man swaying with the train.
“I think he’s dead,” Yosh said.
“He’s asleep,” Michael said.
“If he was dead, I don’t think anyone would do anything about it,” Yosh said, wedging his fork into the trim of the table.
“Yosh. Our food is coming. Just be patient,” Michael said, clutching Minka by her shoulder.
“They’d just push him off the train. Like trash,” Yosh said.
Minka rose up from her curled form and then slapped her hands on the table. All the silverware clamored, and some of the guests made startled gasps.
“Shut up, Yosh!” she screamed.
Michael would have said something, but Yosh’s red face and hurt demeanor told him not to. Yosh was looking down, putting his fork back in place.
Michael turned to look at the guests, to reassure them that everything was fine. He waved at some of the concerned faces. The man across from them was awake, and he looked at the young man with one eye half open.
They read each other for a bit, and then the man’s head dropped like a stone back to its hanging position. He was asleep again.
Minka was coherent, sitting beside her oldest brother, glaring at the other with contempt.
“New Haven is supposed to be gone. So, we are supposed to be gone. If people start talking to us, they’ll ask questions. Don’t let them do that,” Michael said.
“I get it,” Yosh said.
He was looking down, fidgeting with his fingers.
“I don’t think you do. If you did I don’t think you’d be yelling and…”
“…I said I got it,” Yosh interrupted through gritted teeth.
“Alright,” Michael said, nodding.
He didn’t want to push it. The three of them were ready to break, and Michael didn’t want to be the one to go too far.
A server came through the door with a larger tray. It had several plates on it. Each with a helping of potatoes and meat. It was their food.
Michael made eye contact just to be sure, and although it seemed to make the server uncomfortable, they held it.
The three of them remained quiet as the server slid the tray onto the table. It was mediocre food at best, but it was more than they had eaten in the past three days.
“Thank you,” Michael said, looking at his younger siblings.
“Thank you,” the two of them took their cue, almost in unison.
“Welcome,” the server said.
She was older, with gray hair and tan skin. Her eyes watched them and it Michael uneasy.
“So where are you youngsters off to?” she asked, trying to sound light.
Michael heard the wary tone, and did his best to speak lightly in response.
“Headed to Ironburg, same as everyone else here,” He said, with a smile.
She nodded slightly, “Y’all goin there to see your parents?”
Michael put his arm around Minka, who was waiting patiently for the woman to leave so they could eat. She would be set off by any mention of parents. Right now, she was holding herself well.
“We go every couple of months to visit our father. He’s a miner a little ways out of town,” Michael lied.
Her face lit up, “You’re going to Press Ridge Point?”
“Yes Ma’am,” Yosh chimed in, eager to have a role.
Michael worried that his younger brother’s lie might get out of hand.
“Well my husband’s workin there as a foreman. He works pretty closely with his own. What’s your daddy’s name, little thing?” she placed her hands on her knees, looking at Yosh.
“If it’s all the same to you, ma’am, we’re quite hungry,” Michael tried to sound final.
She turned to Michael, “Well I wasn’t talkin to you, now was I?”
Her sweetness turned to poison, as she turned back to Yosh. The boy froze, looking over the table at Michael.
“What’s your daddy’s name, little boy?” she pressed.
“He’s uh…” Yosh’s eyes darted everywhere.
Micheal’s hand pressed against his sister’s shoulder. He looked for quick exits, readying himself to push the woman away and clear a path. Outside it was the high desert. Their chances of survival out there were pretty slim.
“My tummy hurts,” Minka said, her hand moving to her belly.
Michael took his cue, “Ma’am I really must protest…”
“Tut-tut,” she held up a hand, “Let the boy finish.”
Yosh looked at the woman, open mouthed. His face was whiter than a ghost. The moment dragged like a steel brush on rust.
“AHHHHHHHH!” Minka screamed, clutching her belly.
The woman, Yosh and Michael all jumped.
The woman stood up straight, looking around the room at the other patrons. Michael leaned in towards his sister, worrying that something might be terribly wrong. He saw her hand, and her fingers were crossed. It was a performance, and Michael thought it was one of her best.
The woman, caught in the embarrassment, left the scene.
Yosh watched her leave, and Minka giggled softly.
“Good job,” Michael whispered to Minka.
The three of them ate, with Michael deep in thought. That woman had been brash and aggressive. She would be back to question them, or another staff member from the train would question them. Three kids, bedraggled, coming from the southwest, it was not inconspicuous.
As they finished their meal, Michael leaned in.
“We have to get off at the next stop,” he told them.
“Why! You said this train goes directly to Ironburg! That’s where Mrs. Pettigrew is,” Yosh protested.
“I like the train!” Minka said, pulling at her older brother’s shirt.
“That woman will be back. Or someone else, we can’t stay here,” Michael said through the last mouthful of potato.
“But what’s the next stop?” Minka asked.
Michael looked around the outside. The best guess he could come up with was some kind of gold mining town. They were notorious for being bastions of crime. Since they didn’t see many travelers, and they were hard to reach by any other method except train, robbers would come in on horseback and take everything. Or take over the town.
“I don’t know. But it’s either that or they find out and take us in,” Michael said.
“It’s okay Minka. We’ll protect you,” Yosh said.
Michael pulled his sister closer, “That’s right. Michael and Yosh! Protectors!”
Yosh smiled, and Minka gave a small motion of agreement.
The three of them moved to their train room to avoid anyone else. The woman came to their door two different times, and they silently waited for her to leave each time.
There was a whistle later on, and the train began to slow. This was the next stop.
Train workers walked past the rooms, shouting the name of the small town.
“Belview, next stop, Belview!”
“Alright, get all your things. We’re going to make a quick exit,” Michael said.
It took them ten seconds. Minka grabbed her hair brush, and Yosh wrapped up the blanket in the room inside his own.
“That’s not yours,” Minka said.
“We might need it,” Yosh said.
“That’s stealing!” Minka whispered.
“Minka, it’s alright. They have a lot of blankets on the train,” Michael said.
“But we didn’t get the ticket,” she said.
“The ticket?” Michael was confused.
“You said the people that got the food before us had a ticket. We don’t have the ticket, so we…”
“I know, I know,” Michael said, “It’s difficult to explain.”
“They don’t need it as much as we do,” Yosh said.
Michael was surprised to hear him say this. It summed up the situation well.
“He’s right. They have enough blankets. We don’t,” Michael said.
Minka took a breath to speak her defiance, or more questions. Michael preempted it.
“I know it doesn’t seem right. But that’s…” the train stopped, “That’s just the way it is. It’s alright. Now let’s go.”
They hurried past the doors and the food car. Michael made eye contact with the server, and she looked away. Maybe they could stay on the train after all, he thought. But he shoved it away; there was no telling how many people she talked to since then.
As they passed the first class section, a man in a tall hat said a familiar array of words.
His siblings passed by him. Michael froze, waiting for the next words from this man.
“…it just wasn’t producing anymore,” he said.
The woman across from him responded after a sip from a cup of coffee, “But the whole town? It seems rather excessive.”
Yosh looked back around the corner, and Michael couldn’t bring himself to move. His heart was pounding, listening to these two talk about his destroyed home town.
“Well Carron needed to make an example for these settlers. We’re wasting money on them if they keep going to places with no resources,” the man continued.
Michael turned to the man. He looked up at the boy.
“You’re talking about New Haven, aren’t you?” Michael said to him.
“Son, you’ll miss your stop,” he said, pointing to the end of the dining car.
“Was it you?” Michael could feel his blood boiling.
“Boy, you are out of your element. Your kin are waiting for you,” the man said.
The train began to chuff. It was gearing up to leave.
“Michael,” Yosh called from the door.
“Please leave,” a nearby train employee said.
Michael turned to leave, but the man in the tall hat called one last thing.
“It’s not New Haven anymore. It’s Null Haven now.”
Michael turned, seeing red. He shoved the train employee, a woman in her fifties. She fell into the other side of first class diners. They gasped as their coffee and tea fell about the table.
“Michael!” Minka yelled.
It was like a muffled sound to him. Michael leaned all his weight into his right side and threw his clenched fist into the man’s face. It connected right below the brim of his hat.
The man’s hands shot up afterwards. He went to stand up, but Michael was already gone.
He pushed his brother and sister out of the train before anyone could grab them. Outside the train, the cold desert air pulled at his skin. He turned to the door as the train pulled away. The man with the tall hat went to the last step, holding onto the train.
“You’ll all be dead within the week!” he shouted at them, “They’ll find you! You vagabonds!”
Michael spit at the wooden platform in the man’s direction. Yosh did the same.
“Nice face!” Yosh yelled.
The man dismissed them with his free hand, and then turned to enter the train.
Micheal’s hands were shaking. He looked around to scope the place out. It was a ghost town.
“You said to not bring attention to ourselves,” Minka said.
Michael thought about a response, but none came to him.
“C’mon,” he said, “We have to find shelter.”
“That was amazing,” Yosh said.
“No!” Michael yelled, “No it wasn’t! I let my anger get the better of me. I could have been taken. You are Minka could have been grabbed. I wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry.”
The three of them walked off the platform and headed towards the small array of lights on the horizon.