The boxcar rumbled slowly, having already cleared the junction, its occupant could not think of a reason why. He was a smallish man, five foot six, with blue eyes that never had the sparkle attributed to that characteristic. With him in the boxcar were two dogs, but as they do not feature in this story at all, they will no further be mentioned. Also with him was a flashlight without any batteries, and so he did not see what was obstructing his train.
It was, in fact, nothing. The track ahead was clear, and the signals were all bright green. But the engineer did not go, because of two reasons. One, was because the bridge two miles up had been hit by lightning only half an hour before, and was burning brightly in the rain soaked air. The other reason, and the more pressing of the two, was that his cup of coffee was cold. On an ordinary night, this is a calamity. However, in the rain, with your train not moving, and the ticketed passengers complaining, it is a disaster. When a man needs his caffeine, he needs his caffeine.
(She was being chased by a giant hedgehog, which was eating her money as she flung it out of her wallet. She screamed, turned around, and tried to punch it. It stopped, she ran, it ran, she flung money, it ate money, and this continued. Now back to our scheduled story, brought to you courtesy of moi.)
The coffee had spilled, and he was ineffectually trying to clean it up when the head steward brought him some paper towels, and more importantly, another cup of coffee, steaming hot, with cream. The engineer hated cream. However, as beggars can’t be choosers, he took it. The moment the steward left, he threw it out the window onto a freezing cold tabby cat, which, though appreciating the warmth, did not like cream either. He ran off screaming into the night. With the mess cleaned up, the engineer called headquarters and asked what to do. They told him to sit tight, and keep warm.
This he did, with some success, but the passengers were still annoyed, and he still needed a caffeine boost. He got out of his ivory tower, actually a plastic chair with a little Oakland Raiders sticker attached from a previous occupant, and went first to the galley and thence to the public address station in the back of the engine. While mixing his drink, he absentmindedly poured in salt, rather then sugar. Mentally composing his speech, he trotted off to the PA system microphone. While doing that, he tripped and spilled the coffee. Cursing the gods, and frightening an elderly woman in the process, he went back to the galley for yet another cup of coffee. Little did he know that he had just saved himself from drinking a disgusting drink. This time, he put on a plastic lid, and walking slowly, arrived at his destination. Taking a sip of coffee, he retched. No sugar.
Going back, he poured the coffee out the window, and made sure to do everything right. It worked, and switching on the microphone, he began with a greeting, “Good evening, this is your captain speaking,” (rather pompously, many thought) and continued, “I regret to inform you that the bridge ahead of us is out of commission.” (The head steward snorted his cup of coffee, while thinking, “Oh yes, only burned down and decimating the local deciduous forests.”) The engineer continued, “We will stay here indefinitely, at least until high command sends me orders.” He was, of course, a big fan of WWII movies.
Meanwhile, the man in the boxcar was cold, hungry, and in a MEAN MOOD! He rushed out of the car, tripped, kicked the door back into its place, and broke his legs, arms, and pinkie toe. The pinkie toe hurt the most, but he couldn’t even massage it, because his arms were broken. Moaning pitifully, the burned tabby cat rushed to him, licked the blood off his muddy face, and ran for help.
The tabby headed in the direction of the bridge, but ran back. His efforts were to no avail, but we will get to that part later. After downing his now perfect cup of coffee in a single fell swoop, the engineer considered his work with grim satisfaction. He had showed himself to be a man of action and great fortitude with his brilliant speech. Unfortunately, he had also shown himself to be a WWII movie buff, which was on the whole not a terrible thing, except that in these circumstances it was a horrible mistake. The boss of the firm had been trying to cultivate a love of Vietnam movies, and had threatened to sack any who made references to other great wars. That was another reason why the engineer was going to take as long as possible in getting back to the station. He wanted to savor his last minutes in his plastic chair with the ugly Raiders sticker on it.
Munching on the large piece of apple pie that the steward had given him, the engineer wondered why he had gotten it. “Probably because of my great speech,” he thought, “that he gave me this great piece of pie.” Actually, the steward had given him the pie in order to shut him up and not allow him to talk again.
Now to the part of the tabby. John, the name of the tabby, ran hard through the cold forest along the shining track towards the man he had sworn to save. He was gone. It hurt him, that a man with both legs and arms broken had left him. He could still see the blood, so John knew he was in the right place. In reality the as of yet nameless hobo is now in an ambulance where we join him.
“What is your name?” asked the young and suave ER dropout.
Answered the hobo, “John.” Is not this a curious coincidence that the man and his savior were both named John? But the coincidences were to get even larger, so forebear this prattle and get on with the story.
“What a curious coincidence,” said the dropout, “John is my name also!” See? I told you. By a curious chance, John was the name of every male in this story. Except for one, because his name was Joe. Joe Pinella. He played for the New York Leatherstockingtons, a team that played baseball with the name of the old Yankees. He was the center fielder. He was not very good, but he did get the job done. He was sitting in the third car, the first class one. Behind him were two cars, second and tourist classes, and then the boxcar which the unfortunate John had lived in. He had lived in there because his former home, also a boxcar, had been disengaged in the junction. And now his home in the new boxcar rumbled along, heading towards the burnt out bridge-- John, the engineer had decided to commit suicide because of his fateful WWII reference. The train slowly built up speed. The head steward, realizing what was happening, ran to stop it. Running to the door of the cockpit, he twisted the handle. It broke off. John, the steward, pushed the door. It did not budge. He pushed again. It caved, and John fell with a shock onto the linoleum floor. With a gasp, he realized it was still wet from the coffee. He tasted it. Creamer! ”So,” John thought, “he threw out the coffee that I made for him!”
Flying into the wall, he got up with an extra impetus to avenge the spilling of his handiwork. But he was too late. The train was only one hundred feet from the cliff. He mentally counted them out as he watched the terrain go by. He did not notice, however, the second track which was rapidly coming beside them. Fifty feet! Forty, thirty, twenty, ten, five! He screamed. At that same moment, by a curious chance, Jean Valjean awoke in her prison cell with a terrible fright. She had just had a terrible nightmare! It was about a hedgehog eating all her money! The fact that she had none did little to comfort Jean. She rushed to the window, and stared outside as the rain poured down and make cute little patterns in the river. An ambulance pulled up into the prison driveway, with a tabby running beside it. A train sped past her cell on the new line, which had just been finished ten minutes before. It hurtled into the distance, with one loud WooHoo! emanating from the front.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009