What or who will Rhubarb T. Porterhut and Columbus come across next?
The engine slowly drifted into the dark, forbidding train yard that bore a closer resemblance to a cemetery. Rhubarb T. Porterhut sat up and rubbed his eyes. He remembered drifting off for a second, but it couldn’t have been for long—and indeed it hadn’t been, if his pocket watch was correct. The trip back to Terre Haute should only have taken a few hours, and yet the sky was as black as pitch. It should have been only 4:47 in the afternoon.
The wheels of the train ground to a halt, the fuel expended. “How long could I have been out?” Rhubarb thought to himself. With the engine at a standstill, he decided to let Columbus out of his sack.
Columbus, also having dozed off, was taken aback at their current location, as he thought he would have wakened to the sight of a familiar train platform. Instead, it was dark and cold with no one living in sight. He quickly began shedding, knowing he would not be getting his steak dinner anytime soon.
“Perhaps we jumped ahead too far in time? But this could not be the Terre Haute of the future, could it?”
Columbus sniffed at the air, but could not pick up any of the scents he was familiar with, excepting the foul stench of burnt coal and sulfur in the distance.
“Well, Columbus. It looks as though we have taken a detour. Surely this is but a minor gaff in our trip home.”
Surveying their surroundings, Rhubarb hopped down from the cab, Columbus in tow. If they were ever going to return home, they would need to determine from where they were having to return home. And they would need to find more fuel, a task which their being in a train yard made more convenient.
As Rhubarb’s eyes adjusted, he could see that the darkness extended in all directions, such that only general shapes and forms could be made out. Alongside the track their chariot rested on were numerous train cars and engines of various makes and models, all old, all decrepit. It was easy to get lost as the train yard was like a maze, so Rhubarb meticulously kept track of where they had been.
“Caw, caw!” For a second, the night erupted as a shrill cry pierced the still air, and what must have been a raven departed for parts better suited to it. Rhubarb spun around to identify the direction, but it seemed as though it was everywhere at once, and Columbus crawled beneath his master’s tented legs for protection.
Trying his best to put on a brave face, Rhubarb nudged Columbus from between his legs, coaxing him forward. “Be brave, my stalwart companion. We must not give in to our delusions, for our fear is our greatest nemeses.”
When Rhubarb looked up, he thought he saw a shadow shift. Squinting, he couldn’t make out a thing. He leaned forward, feigning a step in the direction of the movement, which only saw Columbus back into him, causing both to stumble. The sound of the crash startled whatever it was that was hiding, and it darted out of its spot, its body hugging the carcasses of trains past. Rhubarb, meanwhile, struggled to his feet as he did a quick turn and sped off in the opposite direction. Columbus, in a panic, rolled over and took off in a random direction which turned out to be the same direction in which the shadow was presently headed.
Rhubarb, realizing he was one African Husky short, without stopping turned to look back and began to call for Columbus but was cut short by a pile of wood in front of him. Tumbling end over end like a circus acrobat, he managed to stop when the rules of physics prevented him from bonding with the side of a train. Gathering his senses, he checked himself to make sure nothing was damaged and headed off to look for Columbus.
“Columbus!” Nothing. “Coluuuuuuuumbus!” Still nothing. “Coluuu…”
A dainty “woof” resounded about 50 feet in front of him. Feeling his way through the night. He finally reached the origin of the “woof” and found Columbus sitting beside a new friend.
“I’m sorry for scaring you, mister. I found your doggy. He’s a nice doggy.” A little negro boy stroked a relieved and content Columbus.
“Why hello, young man. Why the devil are you here alone in this train yard?” While he called him “young man,” he was probably no more than eight or nine years of age. As Rhubarb extended his hand, the boy wiped his own on his dirty pants before returning the gesture.
“I ran way from home. I climbed on a train and it brought me here,” the boy sniffled. “But now I don’t know how to get home.”
“There, there, young man. We are lost as well, and trying to get home. Perhaps we can help you find your folks once we extricate ourselves from this dreadful locale. My name is Rhubarb T. Porterhut III, and this is my faithful companion, Columbus.”
“I met the doggy. Hello Mister Portrait. My name is Fibulious Robeson.”
Rhubarb drank the name in, absorbed it, then smiled in approval. “A fine name that is. A fine name indeed. Well, young Fibulious, mighty you help us by first directing us towards our carriage?”
Fibulious took Rhubarb by the hand and pulled them toward the time traveling train. He appeared to be quite familiar with the layout.
“If I may ask, how long has it been since you first arrived here?”
Fibulious stopped and counted on his fingers for a second. “I’m not sure. Maybe a week?”
Rhubarb couldn’t contain his astonishment. “A whole week on your own? How ever did you manage?”
“I packed a sandwich when I left. But when I ate it, I had to look for food. Sometimes the men bring the trains here to leave them, they gave me food.”
“And none of them took you to find your parents?”
“No, sir. They said the engine cab is no space for a little boy.” Rhubarb questioned their judgment concerning that statement, but the thought quickly subsided.
Fibulious came to a stop and pointed straight ahead. “There’s your train.” He let go of Rhubarb’s hand, his face aimed downward. “I understand if I can’t go with you.”
“Nonsense. Why our engine is as safe as ... safe as Columbus right here.” Rhubarb rubbed Columbus’ head. Columbus wanted to disagree, but couldn’t shake the hand that pet him.
The young boy was jubilant. “You mean I can go with you?”
“Why most assuredly. We shall see about reuniting you with your parents. But first, we will have to get out of here.”