“Train fuel? You think I have that stuff lying around in the back?”
Jian stared into the angry, grubby face of the short man who looked like a mechanic. There was very little that Jian knew about how trains ran, and so he assumed that any person with oil or grease on their face would know where to acquire some of this fuel.
“Look, kid, I’m got no idea where you could find some diesel. At all. Nor do I have any clue why you would want any. But you know what I do know? That you’re still standing on my lawn. And that I’ve got a really bad temper today. So I recommend you clear off, before I lose it. Ok?”
Jian wasn’t exactly scared of the short man, he figured he’d probably beat him if it came to a fight, but he decided that he couldn’t really be bothered on that front. He sauntered out of his porch, retracing his steps towards the abandoned station.
As he was approaching the platform, he heard a quiet laugh from behind him, as if someone was mocking him. He spun around, thinking it would be one of the bigger kids from Mameso, or perhaps the short man from earlier. But instead, he saw a large plastic container. He’d seen them before, the soldiers were often carrying them in the city. He screwed off the top, and peeked inside, to see the dark, black colour of some form of fuel inside. He couldn’t believe it.
After pinching himself to check he wasn’t dreaming, he picked up the fuel container and starting walk towards the locomotive. However, just as he stepped up the stairs to the platform, he heard again the the laugh from behind him. He dropped the container in fright, and slowly turned around again. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the shadow of a figure, currently behind a building.
“Who’s there?” He shouted
“Only a friend” Came the response. It sounded like a male voice, someone speaking arrogantly. Jian noticed the figure turn his body, just enough so he could see a speck of his hair from outside the building. Jian gasped: never in his life had he seen hair that was so silver.
He’d seen grey hair before, but this was different. Grey hair looks old, weathered, tired, as if a consequence of living too long. But this seemed alive, bright, also as if following with electricity.
“I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other again.”
And then he was gone. He didn’t see the figure walk away, he just disappeared. Jian sat on the ground and started to think to himself. He couldn’t quite comprehend what had just happened.
“Come on, you old bloody rust bucket, you’ve got some more life in you!”
Jian pushed hard against the controls, hoping and preying that the old locomotive would work. The train made all sorts of noises, and even standing still Jian could still feel his teeth chattering from the vibrations under his feet. Yet it wouldn’t move, no matter how hard he pushed every button and pulled every lever.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, you bloody machine!”
Jian kicked the controls about as hard as he could manage, causing a sharp pain to spread through his foot. He sat down on the ground of the unit, realising how hopeless his endeavours were.
He stood up again, dusted himself off, and stared out the window. Overgrown track and grassland as far as the eye could see; the only building belonging to the angry man from earlier. He was about to exit the locomotive again, before hearing a friendly shout from outside the carriage.
“Hello over there!”
Jian spun round to face who was shouting, to see a young woman, wearing a large hat and farmer’s clothes. She was waving, trying to get his attention.
“Were you the one who found the train fuel?”, she continued, approaching the platform.
Jian walked off the carriage to meet her, and noticed she couldn’t have been much older than he was. She had a dirty and friendly looking face, evidently from working in the fields all day. He didn’t really know how to respond, that he’d just found it lying there.
“You can talk, right?” asked the girl.
“Oh yeah, yeah. I found it.” Jian hurriedly said, realising he’d spaced out.
“Awesome! Did you manage to get it working?”
He looked back at the train, remembering how hard he’d tried to get the rust-bucket working.
“I’m pretty sure it’s completely dead. I’ve been trying to get it moving for about the last half hour.”
“Oh, that’s a shame. I could have sworn that all it needed was some more fuel. Do you mind if I have a try?”
“Be my guest.”
She walked up to the locomotive, and stepped into the carriage. Jian noticed how carefully she studied the controls for about a minute, before turning the igntion then placing her hands on the levers. Slowly, she eased one of them backward, and they heard the screech of breaks releasing after years of being locked. A thin, devious smile crept onto the girl’s lips, and she eased the other lever forward. The wheels creaked as they moved across the rusting rails, and the girl turned back to look at Jian.
“Hey, it’s moving!”
Jian stood, awestruck at how this girl had managed to get the locomotive moving. He was so amazed by the sight of the train moving from its standstill that he failed to realise how it was speeding down the platform. Before long, the rear of the train had passed him.
“Hey, you! You’d better jump on before I rush away.”
He snapped out of his daze, and realised that he’d be left behind if he didn’t act fast. He started jogging down the platform, before realising the train was accelerating significantly faster than he had first realised. His jog turned into a sprint and he tried as hard as he could to catch upto the accelerating train.
He heard another faint shout from the driver, but it was drowned out by the sound of the train roaring to life. He put on a final burst of speed, trying to reach the front. With a few meters left of the platform, he finally caught up, and grabbed onto the railing to the side of the door.
With a jolt the train suddenly sped up again, and Jian was slammed against the body of the carriage. He let out a yell of pain as he held on with all his strength to the railing, there now being nothing bellow his feet.
“Slow the fucking thing down!” He shouted.
“The main lever is jammed, hold on!” Came the reply.
Jian looked forward again, and noticed the mouth of a thin tunnel in the distance. He tried as hard as he could to pull himself towards the door, but the wind kept pushing him back, striking him every second and starting to make his hands go numb. He slowly pulled himself towards the door, trying to fight the every increasing force pushing against him, willing him to fall off and perish
“I’m gonna swing myself round, try and grab my arm, ok?” He shouted as loud as he could towards the door. He heard back an incomprehensible noise. Realising he had no choice, he steadied himself and prepared to swing round.
“Ok then, here I go!”
Will the last ounces of strength, he kicked hard against the train body and swung round towards the train door, letting out a scream as he did. Waiting inside the carriage was the girl, who grabbed him tight by the body and thrust himself into the door.
“Ahhh!” came the joint scream from the two of them, Jian from having his arm almost pulled out of his socket, and the girl having Jian falling onto of her.
Their bodies hit the floor of the train with a thud, followed by the new sound of the wind inside the tunnel. Both of them lied on the ground for a second, taking in what had just happened.
“Hey, can you get off me please?”
Jian’s face went red, when he suddenly realised he was lying on top of the girl. He immediately stood up and starting apologising. The girl stood up after him, brushed herself down, and looked at him. She smiled, and then laughed.
“Hahaha! That’s the most fun I’ve had in ages. You’re mad, you know that?”
Her laugh soon infected Jian as well. She turned to face him again, and held out her hand.
“I’m Jian”, he responded.
Yu turned back to the controls and, with Jian’s help, finally managed to move back the stiff lever to a more sensible speed. They stood in the unit for a bit longer, panting.
“Tell me, Jian. Why did you try and get the train working?”
He didn’t really know how to answer that. He’d been suicidal, and then felt like trying something spontaneous? So instead, he tried to change the subject.
“How come you know so much about trains?”
Yu narrowed her eyes. Jian had realised how obvious he now made it that he didn’t want to answer the question.
“Well, my father used to drive this line. Maepeth to Westing Junction. It was a branch line; there were only a few passengers every day. Until, of course, there wasn’t.” She stopped for a second, looking at her feet.
“But why are we talking about this? We’ve managed to get the line working again! I won’t have to pay that bloody driver all my wage to drive me down every day!”
The train finally exited the tunnel, and they noticed a wooden platform in the distance. The two of them continued to stand in the train, watching the station approach them.
“Although, the track is in a pretty bad condition. As in the train, in fact. In all honesty, I’m surprised we haven’t broken down yet. Hm…”
She turned to face Jian again.
“You don’t happen to have a day job, do you?”
“Brilliant! As of today, you are officially employed as Chief Engineer on the Maepath Railway!” Yu held out her hand for Jian to shake, who just looked completely confused.
“Um, I’m sorry? I’d love to help, but I have absolutely no idea how to fix a train, or a track.”
“No worries! You’ll have me as your foreman, team leader and instructor all rolled into one! He’s what we’ll do: We’ll both travel up to Maepeth in the morning, and from there I’ll go to work and you can do work on the line. Don’t worry – I’ll tell you exactly what to do. Then, at the end of the day, we can travel back together!”
“My house, you dummy!”
Jian’s face suddenly went bright scarlet. He was going to live with a girl his age? He’d never really been close friends with anyone.
“Hey, don’t get any ideas!” Yu shouted, seeing the colour of Jian’s face. “You can have a mat in the kitchen, ok?”
Jian looked again at the girl. She had just offered him a home and a purpose. He’d gone from having nothing to love for to suddenly having a reason, and more than that someone who he could talk to. He couldn’t quite understand what he was feeling, but he responded, a tear sliding down his cheek.