The Time Train rolls on with...
Just as Rhubarb T. Porterhut had surmised, they eventually reached the turn table at a literal dead end—the edge of a cliff with peppered with dried-up brown plants. It took a while for Rhubarb to get the turn table to work, as it looked at first to be rusted beyond use. It didn’t look as though it had been used for years.
“Why, Futureman, when was it last you saw one of the engineers pass through the train yard?”
Fibulious thought for a second, and held up two fingers. “Two days ago, I guess.”
“And you say you saw them return from the same direction?”
It didn’t seem right, and yet this was the only location where those engineers could have ended up. It was only a short distance from the train yard, and could not have been nearly enough time for them to make a significant trip into the future. So as they pulled away from the plateau, Rhubarb couldn’t help but feel wary.
Only eight short minutes later, they began to approach the train yard again. But as they drew closer, Rhubarb got the stark feeling that the train yard was ... different. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but it seemed even darker, more world-weary. Columbus felt something as well, as he began to shiver and shed uncontrollably, and voluntarily climbed into his sack.
Meanwhile Rhubarb slowed the engine down so that it crawled rather than charged toward the uninviting train cemetery. And he pulled Fibulious close to him, and kneeled down.
Without turning his gaze from the train yard ahead of them, Rhubarb gripped Fibulious’ shirt and pointed. “Futureman, does anything strike you as particularly odd about those trains.”
Fibulious stared in the direction indicated by Rhubarb, and squinted through the mist that had only just appeared. He stared a good long while before he could answer.
“I haven’t seen it from this direction, but I never seen those trains before.”
While still rusted and decayed, the trains that lay before them were of a type that Rhubarb had never seen. Furthermore the train yard seemed to be larger than it had been earlier, looming over the landscape like a bear embracing a salmon dinner on an empty stomach. As they neared the entrance, Rhubarb thought it best to make their way through as quickly as possible, and began feeding more wood to the fire.
“Steady, lads. We will just be a short time passing through this place, then we shall be back on the path for home.” He said it both to bolster the spirits of Columbus and Fibulious, as well as himself.
With the train beginning to pick up speed, Rhubarb began to relax, as did Fibulious, but Columbus was less sure. A low rumble soon began to rise up from the ground beneath them, until it overcame the roar of the engine and shook the earth.
“What is this? An earthquake?”
Rhubarb grabbed onto Fibulious who in turn held onto Columbus’ sack. The ground continued to churn beneath them while the sound of the rumbling started to morph into a shrill howl. They were about halfway through the train yard which seemed to stretch on for miles more.
“I have a grip on you, so hold tight to Columbus!” Rhubarb’s off hand held onto the frame of the cab. The world around them seemed to be inverting, as their engine fought to stay upright on the tracks.
At the edge of his peripheral vision, Rhubarb saw it—the decomposing trains were rising. Like iron giants, the train carriages and engines began to stir and stand on end, towering around them. The whole train yard was coming to life.
Rhubarb pulled Fibulious in closer and got his arm around him. “Just shut your eyes and hold on tight.” Both Fibulious and Columbus complied.
They were speeding along, but they still weren’t making enough ground to escape. All around them resurrected trains were shifting and howling. Even ones where the wheels had rusted off began to ride on ghostly rails alongside them.
Fibulious began to cry, but kept his eyes shut as instructed. “What’s happening?”
“Nothing, just a bit of a quake and the wind blowing,” Rhubarb tried to reassure the boy unconvincingly.
“This isn’t going to work,” thought Rhubarb to himself. “We need to get out of here this instant.”
Although his equilibrium was greatly affected by the revolting ground, Rhubarb was able to pull Fibulious and Columbus closer. “Fibulious, take hold of this handle.” He guided Fibulious’ hand, and once assured of his grip, sought about his task.
Leaving Fibulious firmly bolted to both the side of the cab and to Columbus, Rhubarb made his way slowly to the throttle. Hugging the walls, he made it to the throttle and opened up it up as far as it could go. They would burn a lot of fuel, but if they didn’t get out of there now, it would be a moot point. The engine surged forward even more, narrowly avoiding a collision from one of the derelict trains. Then, fighting the forces of physics, Rhubarb climbed toward the time dial. By now his body felt as though it was being pulled apart in multiple directions, and it took every ounce of his strength to keep himself from being flung out into time and space.
“Hold on, you two! And whatever you do, keep your eyes shut!”
With a last second lunge, Rhubarb reached for the time dial and turned it past the “T” in “PAST.” The rest of his strength he directed toward securing himself to a grouping of levers. He clenched his eyes shut as the engine shuddered around him. Through the howling he could hear the snapping and the popping of the metal surrounding him being pushed to its limits. In his mind he saw an image of his dear Florentine, and wondered if he’d ever get to wear the sweater she had been knitting when he left.
As Rhubarb thought about his wife, he noticed that the earth was no longer shaking and that the howling was dying down. When it all had subsided, he opened his eyes and pulled back on the throttle.
Fibulious and Columbus were up as well, staring out at the world that lay before them. Rhubarb had to rub his eyes hard at what he saw—they were no longer in the train yard. No, they now found themselves in the midst of a large forest.