This is one that I wasn’t too happy with the ending. I thought a couple times about taking out the last paragraph. Think it might be stronger without it. I’ll take any comments about that because I’m still not sure about it.
The train was late today, and it was always early. I stood at the station waiting for the telltale puff of smoke from the engine. I took my timepiece out of my pocket and glanced at it again. Fifteen minutes past when the train was due. I would give it another five, but I was sure something had happened. As soon as those five minutes were up and there was still no sign of the approaching train, I strode back toward my office.
A man stopped me before I could reach my destination. “Sheriff, where’s the train? It shoulda been here by now.”
“I know, Jim. I’m on my way to see what’s holding it up. Just need to let Deputy Fetz know what’s up.”
“Do you need someone to ride with you? I can close up the shop.”
I shook my head. “No, it’s fine. It may be nothing. I just need to check it out. Go on back to your store.”
“Yes, Jim, I’m sure. Go on now.”
I waited until I saw the man cross the street to his store again before finishing my walk to the office where my deputy waited. He glanced up at me when I stepped inside. “I didn’t hear the train come into the station.”
“It didn’t,” I told him. “I’m going to go see if I can find the hold up. I shouldn’t be gone long.”
“All right, Sheriff. I can hold things down until you get back.”
“I know,” I said as I grabbed my saddlebags from behind the desk. “Like I said, I shouldn’t be gone long. Hopefully be back by morning.”
I rode out of town, following the train tracks in the direction the train should have come from. I started to grow worried as I rode and saw no sign of the delayed train. When I did see smoke in the distance, I knew something was wrong. It was not the puffs of smoke from a working engine, but a dark column rising into the sky.
I already had a feeling of what had happened, so I was cautious as I rode closer. When the train came into sight, I pulled my horse up and just stared at the wreckage. The tracks had been dynamited. And by the way the front of the engine was mangled, it had been timed so the dynamite had been thrown or placed on the track just as train came to that point. The engineer would not have been able to stop the engine in time to avoid the blast. The explosion had thrown the rest of the train off the tracks. I was not sure anyone could have survived that crash. And from where I observed the scene, I could not see any sign that I was wrong.
With a heaviness in my chest, I urged my horse forward toward the scene of destruction. But, he stopped just a few yards from the tracks, snorting and pawing at the earth. I knew he could smell the blood and death surrounding the train, and it made him anxious. I patted the animal’s neck to calm him then slid down from the saddle. “It’s all right, boy. I’ll take it from here.”
I pulled out my pistol as I headed for the train, in case any of the ones responsible for this were still around. I stepped into the first passenger car and did not see any sign of life. Bodies lay thrown against the wall and into the aisle, but by all appearances, none moved or even breathed. Still, I checked each for even the slightest sign they may have survived.
When I passed through that first car and back outside, I had to take a moment to gather myself again. I sucked in the fresh air to try to cleanse the smell of death from my nostrils. I knew I had to go on, but I was not sure I could take any more of this. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door to the next car. And what I saw nearly brought me to my knees.
I knew all of them. Each and every last person in the car was someone in my life. How could they all be dead? I made my way through the car, my horror growing as I went. At the end of the car, I did drop to my knees. In front of the woman who had been my wife, who had left just the year before when my drinking got out of control. Then, her eyes opened and stared directly into mine. “It’s your fault. This is all your fault.” Then, the darkness opened up and swallowed me.
I woke up in my own bed, my head pounding from the last night of drinking and the taste of stale alcohol and vomit in my mouth. Obviously someone was trying to tell me something. My life had become a train wreck, and I had hurt all the people that mattered, and probably even some that didn’t. It was my fault, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t change it. I got out of bed and going into the kitchen, dumped the rest of the bottle of whiskey down the drain. I would get cleaned up, for good this time, and get this train back on the tracks.