As promised, "Time Train," is back with the further adventures of Rhubarb T. Porterhut and crew.
After a bit of coaxing, Rhubarb T. Porterhut managed to get Columbus to leave the train cab. The discovery of the missing tracks had alarmed Rhubarb at first, but Fibulious had managed to assuage his fears for the time being. Their present predicament allowed no option for leaping in head first, so instead Rhubarb opted to dig in for the time being and think the issue out. However his stomach thought differently, and made that known to his associates, whose stomachs were thinking likewise. It had been some hours since they all had last eaten, and if they were going to work out a solution, they would have to acquire nourishment for their brains.
“We appear to be in a forest, so we should be able to find something of sustenance. Perhaps some form of vegetation will be able to see us through this.”
Rhubarb began to peruse the verdant forest around them. Many of the plants looked somewhat familiar, but different in a way he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
“This… might work. Yes, I believe this might be edible.”
Rhubarb grabbed the end of what appeared to be a fern. The fiddle-like tip was present on many of the plants around them.
“Futureman, you and Columbus gather up as many of these as you can. In the meantime, I shall see if I can procure us some water.”
Fibulious nodded and quickly got to work. While he was busy tearing the fiddleheads off, Columbus was precociously gathering them and putting them into a pile.
Rhubarb hopped back into the engine for a second to collect the water jug. At random he picked a direction and marched off into the forest. Several paces away, he found a clearing that opened further on into a path. From the looks of it, a rather high amount of traffic must have passed through there, as many of the weeds and undergrowth were trampled flat. Following the path, Rhubarb was able to hear running water in the distance. The sound of the water never rose above a babble, and pretty soon he found himself on the edge of a modest creek.
It had been a couple of days since he had bathed, so he took the opportunity to wash his face. Coal and soot caked his countenance, and the water swirled with black for several handfuls. The cool stream stood in stark contrast to the balmy weather, and it refreshed him. With all of the excitement in recent days, he hadn’t had a moment to himself, so he savored it.
After he had relaxed enough, he filled his jug with water, but when he started back, he glanced a movement from the corner of his eye. He turned, but saw nothing there. Whatever it was, it had flitted away, or so he thought. Turning back, he came face to face with a dragonfly the size of a Christmas ham.
Rhubarb took off through the forest like a headless chicken with its tail on fire. In the process he lost a good portion of the water. Tripping over sticks and stones, he never once looked back. Finally he made it back to the clearing and plowed straight on through to where Fibulious and Columbus were, knocking them over. When Fibulious had gathered his senses, he looked up to see Rhubarb, dazed and doubled over in front of him. When he finally lifted his head, he knocked Fibulious for a loop.
“Aaaahh!” screamed Fibulious, who took off in the opposite direction and dove behind a rock. “Wha’d you do with Mister Portrait?”
Rhubarb eventually caught his breath and dusted himself off. “It’s me, Futureman,” he replied. “Mister Porterhut.”
From behind his shield, Fibulious peered intently at Rhubarb’s face. “You mean you’re white?!” Rhubarb hadn’t thought about it, but this whole time his face had been covered in black. He laughed.
“Oh come, come. I washed my face with the water. See?” Rhubarb sloshed a little water onto his hand and rubbed some of the soot into his shirt.
Fiblious was still cautious, though, and remained crouched behind the stone. “Then why were you running all the way here?”
“When I was gathering the water I saw.…” Rhubarb thought for second. What was it that he saw? Unsure of what exactly it was, he didn’t want to alarm the boy. “I was just startled by my reflection, much as you were. The skin of my face has not seen the sun in a good while. Was it really that much of a shock?”
For a second, Fibulious let down his guard. “Well, you looked black, but you never acted like any folks I knew.”
Rhubarb smiled at him. “Black face or white, I am still the same person that promised to get you home.”
That was enough for Fibulious, who lowered his defenses completely and ran out to hug Rhubarb. Columbus, also feeling relieved, stopped shedding, and came out from underneath the train, hoping to join in on the love fest.
When they parted, Rhubarb offered the half-filled jug to Fibulious. “Here, have some water, and make sure Columbus gets his fill.” He patted the boys head reassuringly, while looking cautiously around them. “So how goes the gathering?”
Fibulious gulped the water down and pointed to a pile of fiddleheads. Then he poured some water into his hand and offered it to Columbus.
“Excellent work. This should do for the time being, but we will have to find other sources of food if we are to have the strength to find our way out of here.”
Fibulious handed the empty jug back to Rhubarb and walked over to the fiddleheads. He shoved a hand into the pile, and after several moments of rummaging, pulled out a rather large, leathery egg out from beneath the pile.
“Columbus found these. There’re about eight of them.”
“Really? Columbus found those?” It was an egg unlike any other, but it would have to do. “These will be a valuable source of protein. Mighty resourceful of you, Columbus.”
Columbus beamed at the recognition from his owner.
“I suppose we will need more water to cook these greens. I shall get some more then. In the meantime, we could use some firewood. We shall be setting up camp for the night.”
Fibulious was ecstatic, with Columbus a little less so. Rhubarb hesitated before heading back toward the creek. He thought back to the dragonfly he saw. He had never seen nor heard of one so large before. Rhubarb tried to stifle the sense of unease that was beginning to engulf him. With the sky growing dark, he felt less and less welcome. Wherever they were, or perhaps whenever they were, it was far from home.