The Engine Driver

There is beauty in everything and everything is beautiful

Part One

Chapter 1 : The In-Betweens

Today started like every day that had come before: the sun rose, the engine driver rose. The engine driver dressed and shuffled his feet into the kitchen. He placed a full kettle on the stove. The grinder box crushed the coffee beans under the strain of his well muscled and tired arm. The aroma rose into his face and he took a deep breath, absorbing the fragrance as if it had belonged to a woman whom he hadn’t seen in a very long time. In truth, he hadn’t seen anyone in a very long time. Being a soul Runner, he didn’t often see his guests in their prime living condition, but there were times when he had to confront the not yet dead, when they refused to give up and let go everything earthly. He didn’t like having to collect the dying. They often put up an awful fuss. When he was younger, he would let his heart get the better of him, but now that he was old and wise, he had closed off his heart to the pitiful and needy. It made things so much easier.

Today would be the first run he has had in a few weeks. The fall air was closing in with the hint of frost that will soon deliver the winter dead. The Busy Season, he called it. He liked the busy season. He liked the cold. It felt good on his sore joints and muscles. The people from the nearby village claim that the cold reflected his heart, but the old engine driver disagreed. He loved the cold, the snow, especially. He loved the way the snow sparkled in the sun. He loved the winter chill that nipped at what little skin he had left, giving him a tingling sensation that reminded him of love, a love that he hasn’t felt in a very long time.

The snow flakes came down in heavy clumps, the kind that are very easy to catch on your tongue, but he didn’t; he hasn’t done anything fun or spontaneous like that in a very long time. Instead, he mumbles as he tried to light the fire in stove. He had forgotten to bring in the wood last night to let it dry for the morning and now, freshly wet from the snow fall last night and then again this morning, the wood didn’t want to light. He swore. To his delight, though, he noticed a piece of wood left over from the last night, a nice piece of dry wood that he will be able to use as kindling. It still took him a few minutes to light it, but it eventually caught and it burned nicely. The wet wood spat and crackled in dismay. It will dry soon enough and it too will catch light and provided a nice bit of heat to warm the tiny house he has made for himself out of an old railroad car that used to transport important people like diplomats and senators. Now, it sits in the rail-yard, decaying, a shadow of its past, but still beautiful with its rust stains and dents.

There is beauty in everything and everything is beautiful.

The kettle sounded its ready and the old man returned to the moment. He gently tapped the coffee grounds into his press, followed by the steaming water. He rested his face in the rising steam. Even though he liked the winter and the cold, he also appreciated the warmth of the water, the soothing of the morning cup of coffee and the heat that it gave his body, a heat that his body could not make for itself. He has been cold for years, ever since she died. It took so much of him to try to keep her alive, but Death won in the end.

The platform was long and crooked, its wooden boards warping from the constant freezing and thawing. It connected the main Station building with the train, like one living entity. The building was once a grand sight, being the main railroad station in the county, it ran trains on a regular schedule with regular cargo and passengers. It was a grand spectacle, the focal point of the town and its economic growth. Just as times change, however, a newer, bigger, and better station was eventually built on the other side of the town, offering more services in both luxury and speed. The old station fell into disrepair, a forgotten memory, until it was taken over by a business that once operated by ferry boat.

The train, too, was once a vision of splendor. The large black engine originally ran on steam, like the other engines across the country. An original 1889 Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway engine now was barely distinguishable as a train of that era. It had been modified and rebuilt over the years with new parts, used parts, parts meant for other lines and uses, but the old man fashioned them all to fit his beast, his frankenstein of machinery, a zombie of an engine roaring to life with the anger of the devil every time it was awakened.

The train didn’t need steam anymore to power itself, it ran on the energy of the earth, of life and death, a power no living man could ever hope to harness. The power both frightened and excited the old man. He had no real fear for his life, of course, he was barely alive to worry about that, but it was the energy within the power that he feared. The energy to create life and destroy all. If not handled properly, the train it self could cause much damage, more damage than any man could ever want to discover, but the power was also exciting; the raw energy to transform life itself into something of someone’s nightmares. It was the raw power of the earth itself manifested into a tangible thing like a choo-choo train, and the engine driver was its master, its tamer, its only friend.

He and the machine were one in the same: they shared the same blood, the same feelings, wants and desires. They were like twins separated at birth, organ donors for the other as each tried to keep the other alive.

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