hwango (hwango) wrote,

fiction - ljidol week 9 - trolley problems

1,740 words

Hello there, children. Shouldn't you all be in school by now? Delayed opening? So you need to kill a few hours and you thought you'd come by for a story. How marvelous for you that I'm always available to entertain you at a moment's notice and never have any important matters of my own to attend to. Let's see...ah, yes, I have just the tale.

Once, long ago, there was a town called Wayfare. Now, Wayfare was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and there was no particular reason for anyone to want to go there, which was fortunate, since it was a rather inconvenient place to visit. It had very few roads, all of them of poor quality, and it certainly wasn't a stop for the railroad.

The railroad? Well, this was a time when trains were all the rage in the world of transportation. This was well before airplanes, highways, or even automobiles for that matter. If you couldn't get to a place on a train or on a ship then you probably had to walk, ride a horse, or importune wind spirits to carry you via tornado, and that sort of thing leads to you talking to scarecrows and stealing shoes from dead people and whatnot.

The town elders were quite keen to see Wayfare "put on the map," so to speak, and they had decided that the best way to do that was to arrange for the railroad to run through town. Like many people in positions of authority, they had a poor grasp of cause and effect, and felt that if Wayfare were an easier place to visit that it would somehow become a place worth visiting. In fact, they took this garbled understanding of the proper order of operations to new heights of absurdity, and decided to build a train station, because then surely someone would come and lay track next to it that connected to them to the main line, and then everything would be metaphorical sunshine and roses.

There was some heated debate over the best location to build this this large piece of bait, but eventually they decided to knock over the circle of standing stones just outside of town and build it there.

At this point, several of the smarter residents with the means to do so sensibly fled the town.

Construction was plagued with problems from the very start. Tools, raw materials, and occasionally workers would mysteriously vanish. Measurements would never quite match up, lines that should have been straight would inexplicably curve, and at night some of the work done the previous day would become undone.

Eventually, however, the building was finished. The town elders were delighted, and gathered together to congratulate themselves on a job well done and discuss how best to spend the staggering amounts of money that would surely soon be pouring into the town. It was during this spirited gathering that a mysterious stranger suddenly appeared before them.

Now, when I say that he appeared suddenly, I mean that he literally appeared seemingly out of thin air, which should have been deeply alarming for the town elders and made them exceedingly cautious, but they were so wrapped up in themselves at the time that they didn't even notice the stranger's unconventional entrance, and in fact he had to clear his throat quite loudly several times before they realized he was there at all.

The stranger had eyes that were a most unsettling shade of green that bordered distressingly on yellow. His hair was much longer than would be considered fashionable for a man at the time, and so black that beside it the stranger's pale skin almost seemed to glow. His clothes were of unfamiliar design and apparently crafted from leather and woven leaves. The town elders took one look at his alien features and strange clothing and immediately came to a unanimous, unspoken conclusion - this man must be a wealthy foreign investor.

I hear scoffs of disbelief. You don't think anyone could be that stupid? Oh, the blissful naïveté of youth. I assure you, these men were idiots. And yet, in the course of your lives, you will surely meet even stupider people.

The town elders immediately attempted to ingratiate themselves with the mysterious stranger. They blithered at great length about what a marvelous opportunity this was for him and what great things were destined for their little town. They went on like this for some time.

The stranger found himself taken a bit off balance by it all, since he had calculated his entrance and appearance to inspire a certain amount of fear and awe. But he quickly rallied. He smiled and told them that he would be only too happy to bring a train to their town, and said that he could have it there sooner than they could possibly believe. All he required of them was -

And here the town elders cut him off and shook his hand enthusiastically and totally failed to notice the look of revulsion on his face and the way he snatched his hand away in horror. They once again started babbling about what great things this meant for the town and how lucky he was to be investing in an enterprise so clearly destined to succeed beyond his wildest dreams.

The stranger made a few attempts to interrupt but ultimately decided that it was hopeless. He shrugged, and then promptly vanished. His exit went as unremarked upon as his entrance, unobserved as it was among so much self-congratulating.

Now as I'm sure you've already guessed, the mysterious stranger was one of the Fae, and not one of the minor spirits that had been causing so much mischief after the circle of standing stones was knocked down. No, this was real trouble. If there's one thing Faeries love, it's themselves. If they love two things, then other one is probably abducting misbehaving children, spiriting them away to Faerie, and transforming them into animals. But if they love three things, then possibly the third one is bringing ruin down upon foolish humans who practically invite their own destruction. In this case, a railroad station in the middle of nowhere essentially was an invitation.

The train arrived at midnight. Most of the town was asleep, but those few who were awake heard a weirdly ethereal whistle that almost sounded like a train. But of course it couldn't be a train, or at least not a train coming into town - no one had yet laid any track! But then, to the astonishment of those who witnessed it, railway tracks began to sprout out of the ground. They were not made of the usual steel, but looked all the world like polished mahogany. The train itself, which also appeared to be made of wood, glided along the rails with a sound like rustling leaves. Rather than belch soot, it exuded a heavy floral scent that seemed familiar but was impossible to identify. The doors opened.

A few curious onlookers approached, but did not attempt to board. However, several other citizens, apparently sleepwalking, did climb up the intricately carved wooden steps and enter the train.

I think it goes without saying that they were never seen again.

Every few days, the train would return, always at midnight. No one ever got off, but a handful of people would always climb aboard, entranced and oblivious to the world around them. Sometimes other townsfolk would manage to stop them, sometimes not. Once it became obvious that anyone who boarded the train wasn't coming back, people tried to rip up the tracks, or burn them. They always grew back.

Well, the town elders may have been idiots, but even they realized that this was unacceptable. Something must be done! One clever individual suggested that they burn down the train station, but this idea was rejected outright. Alas.

No, instead they decided that the ideal weapon against the obviously supernatural was another variety of the supernatural. One of the town elders had a book that had been handed down in his family for generations, and which was always kept locked in a lead safe and buried at least six feet underground, and which he had promised his father and his grandfather that he would never, ever open for any reason whatsoever. This sounded perfect, and so the other elders agreed that they should dig it up with all speed and see if it might prove useful.

Well, it was everything they could have hoped for! The cover even had a face on it! No, not a picture of a face.

There were a few complications, of course. Some of the text was difficult to translate, and then some of the ingredients proved difficult to obtain. One of the elders was badly bitten by the goat.

But in the end their perseverance was rewarded, and the otherworldly train tracks crumbled into ash and did not grow back. In fact, every living thing for several feet to either side of the tracks was utterly annihilated. The elders congratulated themselves on a job well done. And then...

A train whistle. But this time sharper, and more grating. Hearing it made your teeth hurt. And then tracks began to sprout up from the ground, but these were not made of wood. They were coarse, and pale, and...appeared to be made of bones.

Soon the wind carried into town the smells of soot, and sulfur, and burning meat. The whistle sounded again, and this time joining it was a terrible screeching that one might optimistically think was that of metal scraping against metal. Soon, the train itself appeared and oozed to a stop in the center of town. It was made of rusted iron, charred wood, and other substances that one didn't want to think about. The train growled and hissed, which almost but not quite drowned out what sounded like weeping and muffled screams coming from both the engine and the passenger cars. And then the doors opened.

And I'm afraid that's all I was able to learn from the town's lone survivor before he descended totally into madness.

The lesson to be learned here is that public transportation is often managed by people of astonishing incompetence. That, and always mind your fingers around surly goats.

Oh, I think I hear your bus arriving. At least, it sounds like it's probably a bus. Off you go then.
Tags: fiction, ljidol, old man
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