“A train whistle.”
Daniel’s only experience hearing a train whistle, at least as far as he could remember, was from the third Back to the Future movie. Doc and Marty were trapped in 1885, and they had to steal an old steam locomotive to push the DeLorean up to eighty-eight miles per hour.
The ten year old peeked through the flock, he was near the front of it anyway and there it was.
“A real 19th century steam engine. An old fashioned train.”
It was sitting at a platform. No sign of a town or any other structures, but there were people waiting to board, if they were people at all.
“It’s all been arranged, kid. The coast is clear. No roc in sight. We just have to hope any spies around won’t see you leaving the flock. Go onto the platform. One of our agents will pass you a ticket. Then get on board and go to the end of the line. Someone will be there to meet you.”
“You sheep have been great. Thanks for taking care of me.”
“No problem. Well yeah, it was a problem, but they tell me you’re worth it.”
“Who told you?” Daniel hadn’t heard a thing about this sheep underground, so he didn’t know how they were connected to the rest of the animals (or whatever they were) he’d met.
“Nevermind.” Daniel felt his “sheep’s clothing” being pulled off of him. “Stand up and walk, don’t run, to the platform.”
The boy stood and looked down at the sheep next to him. “Thanks again.”
“Don’t mention it, kid. Now blow.”
The child looked at the covered platform a short walk away and moved toward it, trying not to look as if anything unusual were happening. He thought of Olivia again, but pushed the image of her battling the roc out of his mind. He needed to stay calm.
He covered the distance and made himself not look back at the sheep. Up the steps and there. He was among the crowd.
Well, they were sort of people, though they looked more like animal cartoons. Everyone was a biped but the conductor who called “All aboard” was a dog sort of resembling Goofy. A mama goat and her little kid were just stepping into a passenger car (there were three). A tabby cat in a turtle neck sweater was reading a newspaper.
Someone bumped into Daniel’s right side. He looked to see a racoon in a calico dress. “Oh, I’m sorry.” She walked off.
Daniel put his hands in his pockets and felt something inside. He pulled out his hands and he was holding a train ticket. The boy looked up again, but couldn’t spot the raccoon. Just as well.
He moved forward with the crowd and finally got on the train. He found an empty seat near the back of the middle car and sat next to the window.
“Mind if I take this seat?”
Daniel looked up to see a duck in a three piece suit and fedora looking down at him. Actually, the duck was so short that it was more like they were at eye level.
“Sure. Help yourself.”
Daniel was grateful he didn’t sound like Donald Duck since in real life (if this could be considered real life), that water fowl would have been almost impossible to understand.
“First time on a train?”
“Oh great,” Daniel thought. “He’s a talker.”
Daniel turned away from the window to look at him. “Uh, yeah.” Daniel looked out the window again hoping the duck would take the hint.
“The name’s Richard K. Duck”.
Reluctantly, Daniel turned back to see the duck extending his right hand, complete with thumb and three fingers in white gloves, exactly like an animated cartoon character.
Daniel accepted it and they shook. “I’m D…” It suddenly occurred to him that his name might be unique here, especially since he was the only human being present. “Eastwood. Clint Eastwood.” Oh well, it worked for Marty.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Eastwood. Going far?”
“End of the line.” Daniel had no idea what the end of the line was.
“Me, too. Visiting my sister. Her first eggs have just hatched, so I thought I should go and see my new nephews and nieces.”
“Congratulations.” Daniel was wondering if any of the boys would be named Huey, Louie, and Dewey.
“Thanks. I’m really excited. Not married myself. Not much of a family man, but I’m still thrilled to see the new brood.”
The train lurched forward, thankfully interrupting the conversation.
“Tickets. Tickets, please.” It was the “goofy” conductor. Everyone in the car reached into their pockets and produced their tickets. One by one, the conductor looked at and then punched them. He finally got to Daniel and Mr. Duck.
“There you go, son.” The conductor punched Daniel’s ticket. End of the line will come up in about four hours. We’ll get you there safe and sound.” The conductor winked at the duck. Maybe they thought because Daniel wasn’t an adult, he should be impressed by this experience or that he needed their supervision.
Actually, he was impressed by the train itself. Such remarkable detail. Single pane glass windows. Cloth curtains. Even an emergency brake cord running the length of the car.
The duck droned on for almost an hour until Daniel feigned sleep. Then he tried to strike up a conversation with the young couple across the aisle, but those two love birds (literally) only had eyes for each other.
“Next stop Bonneville Station.” Daniel discovered that he really did fall asleep and the conductor’s announcement woke him up with a start.
A rat in the middle of the car got up with a few of the other passengers whose stop this was and walked toward the conductor. They had a brief conversation Daniel couldn’t hear, then the rat walked past Mr. Duck and Daniel on his way out the door. Daniel thought for a second that the rat looked his way before leaving.
“I wonder if he’s related to the rats who worked for the King,” he mused to himself.
The train got underway again and thankfully, it was Mr. Duck’s turn to snooze. Daniel looked out the window at the rolling hills passing by. He was sitting on the left side of the train, and gazing out the windows on the right, he saw a shoreline appear. He was near an ocean. He could also see storm clouds moving in. It would start raining here soon.
At first Daniel thought the wind had picked up, but then realized something large had flown over the train.
“Oh no.” It must have been the rat. He tipped off Gerald somehow. The roc had found him. But would he attack an entire train full of people (or whatever they were) just to get to him?
Of course he would. He’s a dictator, bloodthirsty, and believes he must stop Daniel at all costs in order to cement his rule over this realm.
The sound of the roc over flying the train came again, the rush of wind shaking the train cars as he passed. Daniel looked around the car and it was almost empty. People had gotten up and were moving to the car ahead of theirs.
The boy felt a pressure on his right wrist and heard the sound of a ‘click’. The damned duck had handcuffed him to the arm of his seat.
“Sorry. You seem like a nice young fellow, but I’ve got to think of myself and my sister’s family.”
The duck got up and followed the last of the passengers in his car. The conductor was coming from the rear.
“I decoupled the car behind us so the passengers in it wouldn’t be hurt. I’ll do the same to this one when I get to the first car. You’re on your own, Daniel.”
Daniel pulled at the handcuffs thinking to break the arm of his seat, but the wood was too strong. “Screw you, Goofy!” the boy yelled at the departing conductor.
Presently, his car lurched and then started to slow. He’d been cut loose, separated from the first and third cars. In other words, he was a sitting duck (and no apologies to the traitorous Richard K.).
He heard the roc’s cry and could imagine him diving for the train car. One strike with his talons and he’d turn it into kindling. Daniel had about the same chance as a rabbit being hunted by an eagle.
“Wait. These handcuffs are made for bigger hands.” The cartoon people aside, most creatures here were larger than their Earth counterparts, and who knows who or what the handcuffs were designed to hold. It hurt but after a few seconds, Daniel slipped the cuff and was free.
He looked out just in time to see Gerald start his dive from the left side of the train. The car had almost slowed to a stop. Daniel had to time this just right.
He was poised at the right hand door at the rear of the car. He kept looking out the left hand window.
The giant mythical bird hit the car, shattering it. Daniel jumped and was struck in the back by debris, which propelled him through the air farther than his legs could have. Something hit him in the back of the head. He tumbled end over end as he passed out in mid-air. The last sound he heard was the cry of the roc.
This concept is loosely based on Iain Kelly’s recent A to Z Challenge 2017 story series. Every day, Iain crafted another puzzle piece to his murder mystery that had me and his other readers spellbound. I doubt I can create the suspense he conjured up, but when my wife got a giant A to Z jigsaw puzzle for our two-year-old granddaughter, I thought I’d give it a whirl.
I don’t have a lot of time, so I think each “letter” will be shorter and I’m not sure I can write one every day, but I’ll do my best.
The previous story is S is for Sheep.
The next story is U is for Umbrella.
I’m back home now, and I have a little more time to write. I took photos of each of the remaining puzzle pieces, so I should be able to continue writing regularly. My schedule will be interrupted again next Thursday, but hopefully, I’ll have several other chapters published by then. Enjoy.