With hunger setting in, what are Rhubarb T. Porterhut and Columbus to do?
As Rhubarb T. Porterhut rejoiced his latest achievement, a verbal reminder alerted him to his hunger. It had been about six hours since he had broken fast, and he was in need of nourishment if he was to venture on. Columbus had been hungry for quite a while now, having been whisked away midway through his morning meal, but his constant belly rumblings went unnoticed by Rhubarb who eventually mistook them for his own.
Unsure of how deep into the past they would travel, Rhubarb had neglected to ask his dear wife Florentine to pack them a modest luncheon. If they could only head back now, they might be able to make it home in time for supper.
“What say you, Columbus? Should we head back to Florentine and recount our adventure over some aged beef?”
Slightly dizzy from the hunger, Columbus managed a small yip before cozying down into his sack.
“Well, good sir,” Rhubarb addressed the stationmaster, “much thanks for hospitality but it is best that we leave now so that we return home in a timely fashion.”
The stationmaster huffed a little sigh. There was not much else he could really do.
“If that be best, then on yer way you go. Godspeed, and I hope you enjoyed your stay in Decatur, albeit brief.”
Rhubarb turned to hop off the platform, but hesitated as he stared at his locomotive. For the first time in a long time he seemed perplexed, which only alarmed the droopy Columbus more. The general direction of the time traversing engine had no dictate on when they could end up in time, but it did have a bearing on where they would end up in space. Irregardless of time, if they were to make it back to Terre Haute, they would have to head in the opposite direction. Rhubarb made a slow about-face to the stationmaster who had barely moved an inch since their arrival.
“Excuse me again, good sir, but I would like to ask one last favor of you. My colleague and I need to head in a westerly direction, so would you be so kind as to help us turn our transport so that it faces in the opposite way?”
At such a large proposition, the stationmaster did not bat an eye, but just stood there as if weighing the decision, much like a frog on a lily pad about to go bottoms over. After what seemed like an eternity but was actually 2.3 seconds, the stationmaster answered.
“I suppose we might be able to manage something, but it may take some time. We have another train coming through her’ in an hour, so we’ll need to get it off the track, but in the meantime we can probably have yer engine righted.”
“An excellent idea, splendid,” answered Rhubarb, who was genuinely pleased by the solution. “Do you think you could manage that on your own? I only ask as I am famished, and if we are to say here longer, I must partake of a light meal before continuing our journey.”
Nonplussed, the stationmaster removed the hat from his balding scalp and scratched his head. “Reckon I could manage. A bit unusual, but…”
“I can compensate you, of course,” interjected Rhubarb, who was now largely thinking with his stomach and not his brain. Columbus was also in full agreement, now yowling and shedding furiously.
“Sure, sure. Just head on into town, and in ‘bout an hour we’ll have this whole thing worked out then.” There was a hint of eagerness in the stationmaster’s voice. He, too, was starting to feel the hunger, and he wanted to usher this strange man and his dog off the platform as soon as possible so that he could attend to his bread sandwich.
Rhubarb turned serious for a moment, then grabbed hold of the stationmaster. “There is just one thing you should know. Do not touch the dial marked ‘PAST/FUTURE.’” Rhubarb relaxed his face and his grip slightly before continuing. “It is nothing bad. There is no need to worry over it. But do not touch it.”
The stationmaster only nodded, and Rhubarb released his grip. Now walking away from the platform and towards the city, he turned back once more to look at his creation. He heard the stationmaster whistle and a young man ran out. Rhubarb could see the stationmaster grab hold of the young man and animatedly instruct him of what he was to do. He imagined the young man’s name was “Billy,” or “Tommy,” or some other double consonant, long “E” name. His hunger clouded his mind, and he wondered what his beloved wife Florentine was doing.