“You must be the new hire, Edward Winners. I must say that that’s a top-notch name—though I can’t say it truly belongs to you.” Conductor Lance Chamsby was eying up & down the robed skeleton standing before him.
Edgar squirmed under Lance’s penetrating vision. The innumerable ways he could screw up were jogging through his brain.
Well, he a’least knew that correcting his new boss would bear him no honey, so he simply nodded & squeaked, “Yes, Sir.”
“O, ¿truly?” Lance’s left eyebrow rose. “That’s odd, ’cause I ne’er hired anyone named ‘Edward Winners,’ but an ‘Edgar Winters.’ It’s quite interesting how you could forget your own name, ¿huh?”
If Edgar had eyeballs, they would’ve widened; if he had skin, he would’ve sweat warheads. Luckily, he did have a throat, limbs, & bones, so he could demonstrate his terror by releasing a massive gulp, clutching his hands together, & rattling under his robe.
Lance crossed his arms & leaned toward Edgar an iris so malodorous that wobbly stink lines were emanating from it.
“Well, ¿have an answer—union spy?”
“¿What?” Edgar gasped.
“You heard me.” Lance stood straighter. “¿You think I’m not onto your activities? You just want to sneak into my establishment so you can hide those signs with your clever li’l rhymes on them all round my train & convert all o’ my passengers to the red side… or to a career in graphic design. Either’s terrible, truly.”
Edgar shook his head so vigorously it might snap.
“N-no, Sir. I’d ne’er want to force passengers to sit in certain colors or work certain jobs. I don’t e’en know how I’d do that.”
Lance’s eyes twisted as he deliberated.
“Well… If you say so. I s’pose it won’t matter, since I’ll be monitoring all your activities.”
With that, Lance turned & walked out the door, only to realize the train was still running & fall out with the Wilhelm scream ’scaping his throat.
Edgar ambled to the cleaning closet for a washcloth & some sulfuric acid in which to clean the tables before the passengers arrived. He truly wanted to impress them, for he secretly hoped 1 would pat him on the head & tell him he did well.
He stood in front o’ the 1st table—grainy, sturdy mahogany—& wiped the rag round the smooth reflective surface in li’l circles. A second after he lifted it, the areas he’d wiped blackened, & then crumbled into falling dust, leaving a rigid hole.
Hmm… Maybe this stuff’s too strong, Edgar thought as he looked @ the rag & smelled the high-pitched sourness o’ the sulfuric acid.
This should be painful, & yet it isn’t. I wonder what the significance o’ that is, reflected the table’s surface.
Edgar stared, stupidestablished, @ said thought, which was now floating ’bove the table, wrapped in a milky white bubbly cloud, with stray bubbles tapering toward the table.
Edgar held a craned finger to his mouth & thought, I can’t believe that hadn’t harmed it @ all, though I’m certainly happy for it, ’fore moving on to the next table.
She could feel the train rumble ’neath her whenever 1 o’ its wheels hit a stone on the tracks, adding a heavy metallic thump to the steady stream o’ steam puffing & whistling through her ears.
Why she was focusing on this, she couldn’t say, when there were much mo’ urgent matters that needed her mental RAM. For instance, she could focus on her need to keep hidden within the dark—but, thankfully, cool—hiding spot that was under some random table.
While the train was already moving—when she’d waited as still & silent as a pothead with her arms wrapped round her upraised knees in a compact ball—1 o’ the passengers sitting @ the table she was hiding under spontaneously said ’loud, “Gee, it sure is odd how they offer passengers a person in strange bandit apparel crouching under every table all not-moving-&-talking-like.”
Autumn felt her body constrict. Her heart flooded her veins with oxygen-rich energy so she’d be ready to bolt the millisecond the need appeared.
Luckily, none o’ the other passengers sounded perturbed by this in the slenderest.
“That’s odd,” someone else announced back. “We don’t have 1 @ our table.”
“Ours neither,” said ’nother.
“Must just be my table,” said Autumn’s guest.
“¿Do you mind if we look @ it?”
“Be my guest.”
Autumn cringed & cursed in her mind, as well as debated the pros & cons o’ staying still vs. bailing. However, whatever flimsy mental outline she began to devise began to scramble as she heard the footsteps thump nearby. When she heard the creak o’ wood next to her under her new guest’s weight, she decided to remain.
Though she couldn’t see, ’cause she kept her eyes closed to seem as inanimate as possible, she could hear the sandpapery voice right next to her ear & smell the oniony stench o’ her breath.
“It’s not very well crafted.”
“I wonder what it’s made o’.”
Autumn felt a sharp nail dig into her cheek, covering it in the rude woman’s itchy germs.
“Ew, it feels all leathery, like dead human skin. I wonder how thick it is.”
Next, Autumn felt her hat rise, & then an e’en sharper needle impale her forehead, causing her nerves to huddle together in discomfort. She struggled not to quiver, lean ’way, or knuckle her tormentor in the beak. Only her perfectionist obsession with a successful heist kept her from clambering out & tipping o’er the chessboard right there.
I just hope this asshole doesn’t pop a vein or cause some other irreversible brain damage, she thought as she felt flotsam rise from in-gullet.
But she couldn’t prevent a sigh from ’scaping her nostrils when she felt the nerve-neutralizing needle leave her head & the soft hat fall back into place o’er it.
“Strange ornament,” was all her tormentor said.
“¿Need me to clean that spill there, uh, Madames?”
This was a new voice Autumn heard, its nasally softness—like a kitten—an extreme contrast to the dry racket that was her friendly head-stabber.
Stop wasting your attention on such tripe, Autumn chided herself. You have a situation necessitating a ’scape plan.
“If you want to, though it’s not necessary,” said Autumn’s original guest. “Honestly, it hasn’t done anything to me yet.”
“This isn’t e’en my table,” said the other, & then Autumn heard the woody creak to her right ’gain that signaled her tormentor’s departure.
But Autumn’s ears perked e’en mo’ when she heard the crumbling & snapping o’ wood to her left.
“Sorry,” said the soothing voice. “This stuff’s pretty strong.”
“That’s all right. You may want to try scrubbing the ornament under the table a li’l, too, though,” said the original guest. “That woman who just left touched it & probably got her itchy germs on it.”
Sweat drizzled down the back o’ Autumn’s neck. She had an inkling that, whatever caused that snapping sound, it’d not be nearly as pleasant for Autumn’s body as a needle in the temple.
Autumn heard the dark chocolate voice right in front o’ her, which intrigued her so much that it intensified the urge to open her eyes & see its owner. She figured she’d probably have to if she were to avoid heist-spoiling death.
She hesitated, ne’ertheless—not only ’cause she still clung obdurately to her hiding hole, but also ’cause she developed a fear o’ seeing who possessed that melodic voice & being underwhelmed.
Luckily, he seemed to hesitate, too. For rather than feeling scalding acid, she heard him say, “¿Are you sure you want me to scrub this? It looks awfully nice to be ruining by burning holes in it.”
Autumn’s heart leapt, which she interpreted as the hope o’ her hiding scheme not being spoiled, after all.
“It’s your job, bloke, not mine. Do what you think is right,” said the patron.
“I’ll just fix it up a bit,” the voice said as Autumn felt its master readjust her hat, soft satin brushing gainst the side o’ her face.
“Well, uh, just call me if you need anything else, Madame,” stuttered the voice.
Oddly, she didn’t hear the man leave, as if he floated ’way.
If that is the end o’ my disturbances, then I just need to wait here till night, when I can make my move, thought Autumn.
It irked her to waste so much time doing nothing; but the knowledge that ’twas necessary for her heist to succeed soothed that ire somewhat. She sufficed with repeatedly re-enumerating what she’d do when night & everyone else fell asleep so she was sure she had the best plan possibility & so she had it so ingrained that she wasted no time recalling it when the time came to carry it out.
While she tried this, she found her thoughts constantly preoccupied by curiosity surrounding the soft boy, despite her acknowledgement that ’twas useless to any o’ her goals, & thus an inefficient use o’ her e’er-temporary time. Images reeled through her head o’ how he might look, but none satisfied. She couldn’t e’en imagine how a truly sweet-sighted human would look like, since she hadn’t remembered 1 yet entering her sights.
Recognition returned to that on which her attention had been squandered, & then these thoughts ceased.
I s’pose there could be mo’ urgent contexts in which having one’s mind fall victim to the outcome o’ such now-inefficient biological developments.
The hardest part would be determining when the last passenger had left for their room. The best she could do was check when the lights had gone out for the night by peeking under the tablecloth next to the seats—she didn’t dare lift the tablecloth area pointing to the rest o’ the train, which was why she couldn’t tell how empty the room was—& seeing if any light seeped in. Since she figured no one would have a reason to stay sitting in the dark, she decided it made a good cue for when she could safely ’scape unseen.
Sometime after checking under the tablecloth 20 times, she heard a click & checked yet ’gain to see only mo’ darkness on the other side. Then she waited 10 mo’ minutes ’fore taking her 1st look outside her hiding cave in a’least 6 hours. ’Course, since ’twas so dark, ’twas hard to discern empty chairs from those that might still be full; she only hoped this same darkness concealed her as well.
Well, there’s no way I’m going to have less risk than now, so I might as well plunge in & hope for the best…
She crawled out & toward the door to her right, where she knew the passenger’s bunks would be—as well as the restroom, which she hadn’t used since that morn. She considered herself immensely lucky that she’d thought to abscond with the keys to everyone’s room from the closet someone on staff stupidly left inside.
She slowly opened the door to the hallway, cringing as she heard it loudly creak, as well as whispering lame bubblegum jokes.
“Hey, ¿what do you call a finely dressed alligator? ¡An in-vest-igator!”
“¡Shh! ¡Shut up!” Autumn whispered back.
“It tickled the other oaks back when I was still in Wasabi Woods…” muttered the door.
She crept down the hall, cringing e’en mo’ @ the further creaking & terrible wordplay that seemed to ensue under every step. She could only be thankful that the constant rumble o’ the train’s wheels on the track & the blowing o’ the engine’s steam likely drowned it all out. Or perhaps the tedious jokes would put the passengers into deeper sleeps. Either way was fine with her.
She 1st stopped @ the door with the silhouette o’ a purple stick toilet on it, glad her shaky nerves hadn’t caused her to no longer need it already.
Hopefully nobody’s inside or no one will recognize me.
It’s no worse than any other risk I’m taking—& it’ll just distract me, anyway.
She peeked inside & saw nobody outside the stalls a’least. She checked under the nearest & saw it empty, so she went in & used it, opening & closing the stall door as carefully as possible to minimize noise.
As she went out, however, she heard rushing water & turned to the sinks to see a glowing gray-cloaked figure floating just ’bove the ground & rubbing its sleeves under the faucet water.
It turned to her, only for the inside o’ its hood to hold nothing but blackness. Autumn smiled & waved as she hurried out.
No time to worry ’bout being caught: just go to a room pretending that it’s yours. ¿What are the chances that that stranger will know it’s not yours?
As she went down the hall, she turned her head to the side & looked out a window. Outside she could see the black silhouettes o’ trees & hills flash by, but nothing much else. She knew the train was already crossing Mustard Mountains into Verditropolis. She debated whether such an open, empty area would be advantageous for ’scape, & then quickly decided it didn’t matter, anyway: she’d suffice with what she had to.
You’re just stalling the inevitable, Autumn told herself. You’re going to have to do this ’ventually, anyway, or give the whole heist up, so you might as well get on with it.
So obsessed was she with the prospect o’ failure that she thought she heard heavy hollow breathing right ’hind her, as if someone were breathing right down her neck.
When she turned, she discovered that this sound was no illusion—or, a’least, if it were, so was this vision o’ the gray-cloaked figure from before.
It wanted to join her “party.” She didn’t hear it say so; she could simply sense such thoughts emanate from it.
Autumn shook her head so vigorously it might snap.
“Thanks for the offer, partner, but…” Autumn stammered quietly as she steadily stepped backward. “…but I can’t afford the health insurance & such. Sorry.”
The phantom hung its head with a whistling sigh, turned, & then slowly drifted ’way, fading into the darkness.
As this occurred, Autumn maintained her tread in reverse, till she bumped into something else ’hind her.
Autumn’s heart paused; ’twas the milky voice ’gain. It sounded shakier than before, but ’twas clearly it, nonetheless. She couldn’t stop herself from turning round, only for the darkness to reveal just a black silhouette o’er deep, dark blue.
“¿Do you need help finding the restroom?”
The voice throttled Autumn out o’ her paralysis just as it had inflicted her with it.
“No, I can find it all right,” whispered she, hoping her raspy voice was close ’nough to 1 o’ the other passengers or that he wouldn’t remember, anyway.
O well, she thought as she slipped past him. To remain silent would only likely inflame his suspicion & make him tattle on her to ol’ Conductor Chamsby, who would certainly tie her to the train tracks if he caught her.
Lance had a habit o’ tying his enemies to tracks. He couldn’t say why; ’twas just programmed into his character design, like Autumn’s proclivity for theft. You couldn’t argue with character design—a’least, not ’less arguing gainst character design was in one’s character design.
’Sides, she thought the ruse o’ entering a restroom would be perfect—so long as that phantom didn’t narc. She’d just have to make the sound o’ an opening door truly come from a different door. Since she had no idea which passengers owned what—nor did she know where each passenger stayed, or anything else ’bout any o’ them—she tried the 1st door she encountered.
Hopefully he won’t hear the clicking o’ the lock, thought Autumn, biting her bottom lip, as she jiggled the stolen keys inside. She s’posed he hadn’t, since she hadn’t heard him running toward her. Then ’gain, I couldn’t hear him leave when he was @ our table. Maybe he’s floating toward me…
’Pon unlocking it, she quickly slipped in & gently closed the door. E’en if he had heard something funny… She paused to consider the doors’ punnery. E’en if he had heard something unfunny, maybe he won’t know which particular door I entered.
She worried no mo’ ’bout it. “Don’t stress what you no longer control,” was her motto, after, “If it isn’t bolted down, pick it up.” ’Stead, she focused on the room she was in now & trying to find its inhabitants’—or wherever the apostrophe belonged—belongings without waking them & having to endure their before-coffee grouchiness, which was almost as unpleasant as being tied to train tracks.
She squinted to better discern the black from the almost-black blue. Her eyes stopped on what appeared to be a big lump o’ stuff lying next to a nightstand. When she felt round its top, she found the rough, ribbed texture o’ a zipper path. Must be a backpack.
Well, since she a’least had some decency, she certainly wasn’t going to wake up the whole room, & maybe the other rooms, with loud unzipping; so ’stead, she slipped her arms into the pack’s handles & split.
The next door she tried was farther out into the hallway & on the other side, so as not to be near the 1st victim in case they happened to wake. She tried the same strategy in this other room, but couldn’t find any dark lump; so she tried searching the top, & then the inside drawers, o’ the nightstand.
“¿You need help looking for something?”
Autumn’s blood froze—which should have caused a heart attack through the inability to deliver oxygen throughout the body with now-immobile blood, but ’stead just made Autumn shiver a lot.
“I’m sorry, Madame or Sir. ¿Did I offend you or anything? I’m always offending people, ‘cause I’m too stupid to know how to say things correctly.”
Autumn didn’t reply; she only carefully paced back toward the door. As she stepped back out into the hallway & ’way from the door, she bumped into someone yet ’gain.
“O… sorry ’gain,” said the same voice, only lower & shakier. “Um… I’m guessing by the sound o’ that voice that you didn’t find the right door… Sorry.”
“It’s no problem…” Autumn mumbled awkwardly. She wondered if his overly apologetic tone came from a demanding boss & began to feel her stomach churn for perhaps making it worse for him.
“¿You, uh, want me to lead you there?” he asked.
A rock rose in her throat. I’d rather not increase the risk o’ capture by prolonging his presence near me; but if I decline, that will only increase his suspicion.
Autumn mumbled, “If it’s not too much o’ a bother…”
Then Autumn felt the soft satin gently clutch her arm & lead her forward. ¿What type o’ strange appendages does this figure have? she wondered.
Once ’gain, she couldn’t hear footsteps other than her own. Curiosity dominating decorum, Autumn leaned a leg toward the figure, only for it to get caught on a piece o’ cloth, causing her acquaintance to stumble forward.
“O, sorry,” mumbled Autumn.
“It’s no problem…”
Well, that rules out him being a phantom, thankfully.
Floating meters ’hind them was the glowing gray-cloaked ghost from before. It stared down @ them with its head still hanging low & its arms limp, a sparkling tear dropping from its obscured face.
Though ’twas a short walk, it seemed to go on fore’er. Autumn wasn’t sure if she preferred this or not: heads, it gave her mo’ time to plan… & with a mental sigh she had to admit an increase in endorphin production from touching… whatever that soft appendage was; tails, this was countered by an ironic discomfort caused by self-consciousness regarding the possible reaction her accidental new mark might have to any accidental emotional outputs.
It didn’t help that the mysteries o’ this figure’s identity still leeched on her mind. Though, now that I think ’bout it, learning mo’ ’bout his identity could only improve my knowledge o’ the situation & thus my ability to succeed in this heist. She knew this was a rationalization for an urge she developed from irrational sentiments; but ’twas an apt 1, ne’ertheless. She’d learned long ago that ’twas always better to make juice out o’ cranberries: trying to crush them ’way would only waste time—as well as leaving a sticky mess—while juice could be sold for a profit.
“¿Would you mind if I asked for your name, Sir?” asked Autumn, cringing @ the accidental awkward wavering o’ inflection, which could only increase suspicion.
“Uh, no. Not @ all… It’s, uh, Edgar Winters.”
Autumn nodded, e’en though she reckoned ’twas probably too dark for him to see. “I, uh, just wanted to make sure you weren’t a burglar or something.”
She imagined this probably sounded rude to Edgar’s ears, but the decreased suspicion was worth it. It wasn’t as if he is going to adore me otherwise—& it’d be preferential to reciprocate dislike with corresponding dislike than be a fawning doormat thrown in the dumpster.
Edgar nodded, e’en though he reckoned ’twas probably too dark for her to see.
They were both silent for the next 2 minutes. @ this point, the s’posedly “short walk” should’ve seemed to go on forever to the reader, considering all the thinking & talking that happened throughout. Unfortunately, the reader had yet to realize that “short” & “long” are, ultimately, relative terms & that the narrator only meant “short” in comparison to a walk from the western side o’ Russia to the eastern side. Compared to a walk through a normal train hall, however, ’twas an immensely long walk.
When the 2 minutes I mentioned had expired, suddenly the constant dropping o’ pegs in the Connect Four board that was his mental process—all skeletons’ mental processes were carried out through board games—finally caused 4 reds to connect.
“Hey, uh, Madame… I was just wondering… Uh, ¿how did you get into that person’s room, anyway?”
“I picked the wrong door, ¿remember? That’s why you’re leading me to the suspiciously distant restroom,” Autumn answered slowly, indicating her confusion @ the question.
“Yeah, ¿but shouldn’t it’ve been locked?”
Aye, there’s the rub, she thought with cool midnight sweat dripping down the side o’ her neck.
“I didn’t know these rooms were locked,” she said. “I guess this one’s occupant forgot to lock her’s.”
“O… Sorry for falsely suspecting you or anything… It’s just that I lost the keys to everyone’s rooms that Chamsby gave me & I think he’s probably going to be mad & cut my Chamsby Mart coupons and… uh… ne’er mind.”
“It’s all right,” Autumn replied awkwardly, biting her bottom lip.
A meter or so forward, she added, “So, ¿how long is this hallway, anyway?”
“Um… the restrooms should be here any minute now.”
“’Cause we must’ve crossed a’least a kilometer by now.”
“Huh… I don’t remember it being that long last time I came by…”
Autumn turned her head backward to see how far they’d gone down the hall, but saw that the distance faded prematurely into a black wall o’ shadows.
Then all o’ that was engulfed in a blinding white flash, followed by much milder orange glowing shining ’hind her.
Autumn turned toward the light, only to stop when she saw the robe-covered figure standing ’side her. When his red-orbed eyes met hers, they dropped down to the floor, shaking with fear, the figure withering within himself. With his sleeve-covered hands, he clutched its hood & pulled it farther out.
Autumn watched him carefully, while searching through the corner o’ her eyes for a possible means o’ ’scape. If he planned to alert the conductor or try stopping her himself, she’d have to bolt; but if not, running ’way would only increase suspicion to create a self-inflicted auger, & she might not be able to find an ’scape quickly ’nough—’specially since ’twas still so dark.
Otherly, she was curious if this was whom she suspected. The creature’s sleeve-covered appendages distinctly caught her crosshairs.
“Sir Winters, ¿is that you?” she asked.
“Uh, yeah…” he answered with a short nod.
Autumn feigned relief, though she still wasn’t sure ’bout the safety o’ her predicament yet.
“Sorry,” she said. “The furnace popping on startled me for a second. I guess it has sensors that go off when one comes close.”
She noted Edgar’s head leap up, his still eyes showing relief. ¿Was he in a deceitful endeavor himself? He hadn’t seemed to worry ’bout seeing the infamous Sticky-Fingered Springer before him; ¿was he hoping since she was a thief, she wouldn’t ruin what he was doing? ¿Had he planned on her helping him? ¿Was his helping her recently part o’ the plan?
But then he scratched his head & said, “Uh… Actually, I don’t remember that thing being there before…”
’Fore she could respond, a voice boomed from some hidden intercom: “Salutations, intruders. Unfortunately, I do not enjoy intruders, so prepare to be combusted.”
“¿What was that? ¿Sir Chamsby?” squeaked Edgar, putting his hands up to his head. He turned his head round while pointed upward. “¡Sir, it’s me: Edgar Winters!”
They felt the floor ’neath their feet move forward like a conveyor belt, slowly dragging them toward the flaming furnace. Just as they began to run gainst this mechanical current, its speed spiked, so that they had to pump their legs as hard just to keep from going backward.
Edgar, who had to hold his robe up to keep from tripping o’er it, had particular problems staying ’head. As Autumn glanced @ him every so oft, she noticed him gradually falling ’hind; & just looking @ his heavy breathing & droopiness o’ his body showed him steadily slowing his pace.
Autumn was caught in a conundrum: ¿could she preserve this acquaintance without sacrificing the success o’ her heist? The prospect itself o’ him being dashed to ashes twisted her throat into knots. Morefurther, she thought she could get mo’ use out o’ this man who seemed not to recognize her.
¿But how would she save him?
She stretched an arm out ’hind her & said, “Edgar, grab my hand.”
Autumn let herself fall ’hind just ’nough for Edgar to be able to reach her arm, & then charged forward ’gain. But with Edgar’s added weight & the increased speed o’ the convey, she found it much harder to keep up.
If I don’t find a way to stop this, neither o’ us will ’scape without denaturation.
1st, she searched for something sturdy to seize onto; but the closest furniture was meters ’way, & the walls were smooth.
“Don’t try ’scaping,” the intercom voice rang out ’gain. “We ensured that all possibilities have been preemptively neutralized.”
“I don’t get why it’s doing this,” said Edgar, breathless from the conveyor pulling him to the edge o’ endurance. “I’ve ne’er seen this happen before.”
“Hey, ¿intercom? ¿Can you hear me?” Autumn said through panting. “Just so you know, this robed fellow is not an accomplice, but a mark—1 o’ your employees, I might add.”
They heard whirring from ’bove, & then saw a door in the ceiling open & a thin metal crane exit. It paused with its fingers clamping & unclamping as if in consideration before finally reaching out & nabbing Edgar, setting him down meters ’head, outside the moving part o’ the floor.
“Uh… That’s better, I s’pose…” Autumn said with a shrug.
But in the back o’ her mind, she thought, Well, I rolled 1 20; if I miraculously roll ’nother, I might hold onto my own cellular structure for ’nother day.
Her lips twisted into a frown. She had a feeling her luck wouldn’t turn out as well this time.
Edgar, who was just realizing his ’scape from the conveyor, turned his head round to see if anyone were looking. ¿Could the intercom see me? Where is its “sight.”
You don’t have time to stand round thinking ’bout all that. You have a job to do, & that job includes not letting customers die in ridiculously gruesome ways.
The only problem was, that would require Edgar being actually capable in some way, which he wasn’t wont to be.
OK: think, think, Edgar bonked his head repeatedly. Unfortunately, the only thought that came back was, Sorry, nobody’s home.
He turned & ran ’way back for the supply closet.
Well, there goes that plan, thought Autumn, biting her lip.
She rummaged through her pockets, hoping in vain that there’d be some tool she could use to ’scape her present interstate to inferno.
Unluckily, out o’ the screwdriver, file, flashlight, slingshot, & card pack, none appeared to have any use in her particular predicament.
Ah, here we go, Autumn thought as she wrenched a grappling hook from her pocket.
Well, she could have mentioned something before I mentioned that earlier paragraph, & made me look like a con writer.
She spun the grapple like a rope ready to wrap a cow, & then flung it forward as far as she could, snagging it on the nearest edge o’ the closest doorway. When she felt it hold tightly, she ran her hands up through the rope to stop her movement backward, ignoring the burns brought by her fight gainst the tough rope & fast conveyor.
“The human still doesn’t understand the futility o’ her continued rejection o’ inevitable death,” said the intercom, followed by the crane popping out the ceiling holding scissors.
Autumn watched with increasing mind sirens as she saw it stop before the rope & open its clippers. She sped forward, but wasn’t quick ’nough to reach the end ’fore the scissors shut, cutting off the caught end o’ the rope from Autumn, & suddenly jerking her backward with the force o’ the conveyor’s regained strength, causing her to topple o’er.
She returned to her feet just as she entered the sunny heat in front o’ the furnace & spilled all o’ her energy into running forward to make up lost distance. She was unsure o’ how long she’d have before her legs finally gave in.
I’ll just have to check the pack I pilfered, she thought as she slipped it off her arms.
But ’fore she could open the pack, she saw Edgar return, dragging a long wooden pole o’er his shoulder. Though he stopped here & there, stumbling on the bottom o’ his robe, he soon reached the front o’ the conveyor & scooped the pole farther out toward Autumn.
Well, I’ll be cocked, thought Autumn.
The 2 played a mutually beneficial tug-of-war wherein Autumn pulled herself in toward Edgar & Edgar pulled the pole back toward him.
When she finally reached the end, she felt herself tip forward by the sudden lack o’ backward momentum, but stopped herself ’fore falling o’er. Though the urge to sit & rest was immense, she knew she had to Ctrl+W it ’fore the crane came back.
She rushed for the closest window & kicked it open, e’er thankful for her investment in shard-resistant socks. Unfortunately, they were not water-proof, & so the rain that poured in caused them to soak bloated. The constant closeness to such wet clothes would surely increase her chances o’ catching pneumonia.
“Uh… ¿You need help with that, Madame?” Edgar asked as he inched toward the window.
“Nope.” Then Autumn turned, patted him on the head, & said, “Thanks for the pull, by the way. If we e’er cross tracks, I’ll only rob you half.”
& with that she climbed out the window & up o’er the top.
Edgar gasped from so much excitement @ having his dream come true. Then he started choking from the saliva lodged in his throat caused by so quick & heavy inhalation.
Then he heard a door slam ’hind him & turned to see Conductor Chamsby charge in, clad in a striped blue conductor’s hat & overalls.
“¡How dare you help that heathen heister!” he blasted, his fists shaking by his sides.
Edgar scratched his head from the sheer itchiness o’ his embarrassment.
“Gee, I didn’t know she was a thief; I thought she was just a passenger looking for the restrooms.”
“Well, G, it looks like you & your hip-hopping rhymes were wrong,” said Lance, leaning into Edgar with a shaking index finger thrust upward. “¡Sir Winners, you’re fired!”
Edgar stared down @ the floor in sad silence, the self-esteem worm devouring him from the inside, its maw dripping with the blood o’ Edgar’s ego.
He sighed. I s’pose I’d better pick up some treatment on my way back to my tree.
“¡Invisible Hand slap you! ¡I said Sir Winners, not Winters!” Lance leaned in ’gain, so close that Edgar could smell the onion, ingots, & sweat on his breath. “If I discover any bugs @ all in my train, I’m reporting you to the C.I.A.”
Edgar shrunk back—partly out o’ fear, partly ’cause Chamsby smelled bad.
“You don’t count self-esteem worms as bugs, ¿do you?”
“Quit wasting my time,” Chamsby snapped as he walked o’er to the window. He stopped & threw his arms out as an angry eagle spreads its wings. “¡She might’ve ’scaped by now thanks to your distracting distractions!”
“¿& why did you leave this window open, drenching my fine carpets with revolting cloud urine? That’s it, you’re fired.”
“But, Sir… you, uh, already fired me…”
“Then you’re fired from whatever your next job is, too. Now, help me up.” He uneasily put a leg up on the window, trying to avoid cutting himself on the glass still hanging round.
“I knew I should’ve invested in shard-resistant overalls,” he muttered. “Stupid Winners, always making me forget important stuff.”
“Uh, OK, Sir…” Edgar said as he stepped forward & awkwardly put his hands round Chamsby’s sides.
After an uncomfortable minute accompanied by no sound but the wailing wind & the constant patter o’ precipitation, Chamsby said, “¿Well? ¿What are you waiting for? ¡Hoist me up, already!”
“Uh—¡O! Sorry, Sir,” Edgar said as he heaved his arms upward with full strength, tiny grunts dropping from his jaw.
“¡& cease with those grunts, already! ¡They’re making my ears tingle!”
Chamsby sighed. “This is taking too long.”
Then he thumbed his right overall button, causing a metal tube to rise from inside the back o’ his overalls & slide down the other side. Edgar backed ’way just in time to avoid 7-degree burns from the flames that rushed from below the tube.
Chamsby thumbed the left overall button, & the jetpack lifted him off the ground & out the window.
Edgar stood ’hind, uncertain o’ what he should do next. For a minute or 2, he tried watching the rain continue dribbling in, but then decided that might be a waste o’ time.
He sat down with his chin in his hands—he always found thinking easier while sitting. Tragically, though, he accidentally sat in the drenched carpet.
He sighed. The constant closeness to such wet clothes will surely increase my chances o’ catching pneumonia.
The he considered subjects relevant to the story:
Hmm… I have an inkling Sir Chamsby plans to do something not nice to that woman who ’scaped. Considering how nice she’d been, it’d seem mean to not help her or a’least warn her in some way; ¿but then wouldn’t that meanly harm Sir Chamsby’s plan? ¿How can I avoid being mean?
Edgar stood up; he always found thinking easier while standing.
Let’s see… Sir Chamsby was nice ’nough to hire me for his train & e’en offered to pay me 3 whole coupons for his specific store every month… but then he fired me from both this job & my next job. Androgyn, I hope my next job isn’t scratching cats under their chins—I’d like to keep that job.
You were tasked with protecting the passengers, Edgar. Sir Chamsby would probably be just as mad @ you for failing that as if you ruined his plot, so you might as well go with the solution that’s less mean.
He rose to his feet—e’en though he was already standing, he somehow stood up ’gain—& then began climbing the window, only to cringe when he felt a sharp stab in his heel.
He sighed. I knew I should’ve invested in shard-proof feet. This cut will surely increase my chances o’ catching an infection.
Autumn traipsed ’long the top o’ the train with her arms outspread as if a trapeze walker, feeling the scrappy roof creak under every step. Repeatedly the murk would be sliced by a light beam zipping toward her, only to quickly disappear ’hind her. During the pauses ’tween them she could only see the slight flicker o’ yellow light far ’head, the rest clogged by charcoal gray clogged by rain clogged by strands o’ hair rudely blown into her face by the zephyrs.
Normally, said zephyrs would’ve slapped her hat off into the abyssal wilderness; but unlike water-proof socks, she did remember to invest in a wind-resistant hat in preparation for the wind temple she’d have to go to next, as augured by the ancient walkthrough she picked up in the J. Veasey Library.
“So, the Sticky-Fingered Springer dares to thrust her box-eyed face on my train, ¿huh?”
Autumn glanced back & saw a shadow slowly emerge. ’Nother light beam flashed by, revealing a pasty-faced sneer she’d seen previously.
“After your baleful bust o’ the 99th national bank,” he continued.
Autumn didn’t answer, cognizant that continuing such discussion would coin no coffers. ’Stead, she maintained pace, keeping Lance Chamsby caught in her iris.
I was hoping to wait till the train stopped to get off, but now I see Conductor Chamsby will make that a tad arduous. I’ll need an alternative plan.
“¿You hear me, panached plunderer? ¿Are your ears full o’ sludge metal?”
Actually, they were full o’ blues rock, with a pinch o’ new wave, for some reason; but she didn’t think that necessary to state.
Chamsby grred as a laptop having a heart attack—which was just too many layers o’ figurative language for him to take sitting down. So he stood up; he always found getting angry easier while standing.
“¿How can my clever ripostes & dramatic dialogue be respected when you strew them ’way as credit card offers?”
Lance’s eyes creased, revealing a bunch o’ hyper-realistic wrinkles, & a few veins, which is gross to look @. Ugh.
“It’s no matter,” he said as he rummaged through his pockets.
From it he extracted a pistol, which he twirled round in his fingers with a smile so milky, it’d get you stamped with amber alert in seconds.
As he did this, he fumbled the gun out his hand. Metal clacked noisily gainst metal as it rattled in the wind gainst the train top.
“Pierre-Joseph Proudhon,” he muttered as he bent o’er & scrabbled for the pistol. “Just give me a second; this’ll be o’er with quick.”
He rose ’gain, only to take ’nother second to readjust the pistol so that ’twas no longer pointed right @ his nose.
“Ah, there we go,” he said, only to feel a sharp pain in his hand & watch the gun fly sideways, into the depths.
Chamsby tramped back with full-moon eyes. Yet ’nother flash o’ streetlamp light revealed in a millisecond Autumn holding a slingshot, rubber band pulled.
“You shouldn’t bring a gun to a slingshot battle,” she said with a tip o’ her hat. ’Course, Lance couldn’t see this ’cause o’ the aforementioned murk & precipitation; but I can, since I can just turn off layer 3 with F3.
“That’s OK,” Chamsby said surlily: “I have ’nother.”
He lifted it from his other pocket, only to have it shot from his other hand into the other side o’ the depths.
“¡Kropotkin! ¿Why did I say that out loud?”
“¿How should I know?”
Chamsby & Autumn turned to the source o’ that voice to see the floating, gray-cloaked figure Autumn had seen before; only now its hood was down, revealing a balding face with a bushy combined beard & mustache, forming a large diamond o’er his chin.
Chamsby clutched his heart—which must’ve hurt a lot, considering the thick layer o’ skin, meat, & ribs he’d have to break through—& paced backward. Forget full moons; his eyes were now a full-throttled Ganymede & Callisto.
“A spectre is haunting Boskeopolis…” he muttered.
“Don’t compare me to that bumbling hypocrite,” the ghost growled as it shook a fist in Lance’s direction.
Chamsby frantically pressed down on his left button repeatedly, looking down @ it to make sure he was pressing it, as well as to look ’way from the ghoul’s leer. ’Ventually his sputtering jetpack kicked in, causing him to jut up into the air, & then fly ’way in wild spirals, till he faded ’way from sight into the darkness.
“Huh,” Autumn said, still staring into the space from which Chamsby had ’scaped.
The ghost, seeing that no nearby governments or capitalists were in need o’ haunting, pulled his hood back o’er his head & faded backward into the night once mo’.
Autumn’s ears perked when she heard a whistling whisper through the wind.
“Psst, cowgirl person: I have to warn you ’bout something…”
Autumn turned in the direction o’ the voice. When ’nother beam flashed by, it revealed the dragging silk o’ a dark robe.
“Madame, ¿can you hear me?”
“¿Is that you, Winters?” she asked.
“Uh… Yes. Uh, anyway, I need to warn you that the conductor might be planning to do some mean things to you…”
“He’s taken care o’.”
Edgar stopped. “O… Well, that’s good.”
Autumn stared up @ the sky. She noticed that the pouring was now dribbling, & that the sky was gradually brightening into blue so that she could faintly see the black silhouettes o’ pines & furs in the distance.
Almost morn. Almost time for the train to stop, & thus almost time to make footprints.
With fewer drops pattering gainst metal, she could hear the steam whistle out o’ the smoke box & the heaving & shifting o’ valves & turbines from the train’s chugging. She shook her head: trains should ne’er drink while driving.
“Uh, ¿aren’t you cold just standing round out here in the rain for so long?” asked Edgar. “It will surely increase your chances o’ catching pneumonia.”
“No, it’s a warm summer’s night,” said Autumn.
“O, uh, well, OK then,” said Edgar, looking in arbitrary directions out o’ pure uncertainty. “Well, I’ll leave the window open, just in case you want to come back inside. I guess I can’t truly close it, anyway, since it’s broken. Just don’t cut yourself on the glass—”
“Don’t worry; I have shard-resistant socks.”
Edgar nodded. “O, that’s smart. See, I wish I got some, ’cause I cut my foot on some glass on the way up.”
“¿You need a bandage?” asked Autumn, turning back to Edgar.
“Uh, ¿what?” Edgar’s red eyes widened, & then he declined with his head. “O, no, that’s OK. I don’t bleed, anyway, so I doubt I’ll get an infection or anything serious like that.”
An eyebrow rose on Autumn’s forehead. “¿Why don’t you bleed? ¿Are you truly a ghost?”
“Uh, oh, no…” Autumn noticed Edgar turn his face ’way. Nervous. Opaque.
“Though I did see a ghost hanging round here quite a few times last night,” continued Edgar. “Told me a lot ’bout cooperation being better for survival o’ the fittest & other stuff I didn’t quite understand.”
“¿You sure?” asked Autumn. “I have some extra bandages on me.”
Edgar raised his hands & waved them, no. “That’s all right.”
The he added, “Uh, by the way, ¿are you planning to jump off this train & go off on foot?”
“¿Why do you need to know?”
Edgar hesitated. “O, I just wanted to know if you could give me directions… uh… to someplace. Like maybe a town I could stay @.”
“There isn’t a town for kilometers.”
“O… Well, thank you,” Edgar said as he looked down.
Autumn stood silently, still watching the sky, which was now a rainless, dim blue casting gray light down on them.
The chances o’ burden are low, but the chances o’ gain are high, she told herself.
She glanced to her side & saw that Edgar had turned & started to go.
“¿You need help getting to town?” she she asked.
“¿What?” Edgar turned back round.
“I said, ‘¿Do you need help getting to town?’”
Edgar waited a second before answering, “Uh, if it’s no problem…”
She stopped when she heard a pitched screech & felt the growling below her feet sleep. She turned to Edgar.
“& here’s where I sneak off before I’m seen. ¿Still want to come?”
Edgar nodded. “Sure.”
“¿Need to get anything from inside?”
“Uh, I don’t have anything on me, so no.”
Autumn nodded & then turned & walked toward the front o’ the train. She climbed down the front & then looked up, covering her eyes from the rays o’ the newborn sun. Edgar crouched o’er the edge, hesitant.
“¿You need help getting down?” she asked as she stepped forward with her arms out.
“If it’s no trouble…”
She looked up & waited as Edgar turned round & slowly slid down the side o’ the train legs-1st, inadvertently giving her a full view under his robe. Mere words could not describe the pulchritude that her eyes transmitted to her mind, throttling her heart & scorching her face as if in a vicious chase: tendril-like orifices twisted in luscious shapes no mortal could comprehend, varnished with a sticky white substance. Some o’ the tendril-like things appeared as thick & large as crustaceous claws, their front edges sawed so sharp they could likely cut an arm in seconds.
So distracted was Autumn by this delectable vision that she hardly noticed when Edgar fell into her arms, almost causing her to stumble backward. When his feet finally touched soil, & he stood back a few feet, he looked @ her sheepishly, seeing her bewildered expression.
“Sorry if I got you wet…” he said.
Autumn blinked for a few seconds & then said, “O, yeah… ’course.” She turned, her fingers drumming gainst each other while she stared out in empty scrutiny, multiple ideas running through her head.
“Well then: just follow me.” Then she began walking.
“¿Where you bloody bastards think you’re going?” slurred a voice ’hind them.
They turned round & noticed the face o’ the train glare in their direction—though its pupils were in disparate areas.
“¿Well, tossers? ¿Think you’re too good to pay for a train ride, so you think you’re too good to speak to the train? If you… if you don’t give me a good riddle I can’t solve, I’m running you wankers right into a bloody boulder wall, & I ain’t letting you out.”
“We’re already out,” said Autumn.
“Don’t make me… don’t make me…”
The train’s eyes & mouth drooped closed, & then it began snoring.
Autumn & Edgar looked @ each other.
“Sir Chamsby didn’t tell me ’bout that in the initiation,” said Edgar.
“You must be new here,” said Autumn: “Reading always develops a cockney accent when he gets too much into the rum.”
OK, with that finished, now Autumn could walk on, leading Edgar through the vast yellow plain that was the Mustard Mountains, where they would continue their adventure in a different story—hopefully narrated by someone else, ’cause I’m beat.