Pulp and Dagger Webzine Presents

Government Agent, Abram Donlevy in

The Terror of the Rails!

An Extraordinary Odyssey of Action and Wonderment!

Andrew Dunphy

Chapter Six -  Trapped

 ABRAM DONLEVY, GOVERNMENT AGENT AND troubleshooter, crouched low on top of the impossible contraption rattling beneath him.  Behind him, also clutching to what little there was in the way of hand holds, was the Indian woman, Mary Manyrivers.  They had both come this night to learn the secret of "The Devil" that had haunted this area of the prairie -- according to Mary, for years.  But the secret was more bewildering than if it truly had been Old Nick himself.

"If it is a device, a machine like the iron railroad," shouted Mary, above the roar of its engines, "who built it?"

"I don't know," said Bram.  "I don't know who, or why.  Nor do I understand how it can come and go, vanishing literally without a trace.  It's almost like it's a ghost train."

Mary looked down, frowning, then held up her hand for him to see.  "Dirt."

He shrugged.  "I guess the owner doesn't clean up here.  That's the least of our concerns."

"Not dirty," she said.  "Dirt.  Soil.  What would soil be doing way up here?"

Bram stared at her, but if she expected him to provide an explanation, he had none to offer.  "Can you see the priest you came with or the other man who was with me?" he asked, changing the subject.

Mary peered with him at the surrounding prairie field.  The clouds of earlier had begun to pass, allowing stars and moon light to wash down like a thin coating of amber.  In the vague, watery light, Mary pointed to their left.  "There.  I see someone.  But I do not know if it is Father Forcier or the other man."

"And I see someone to the right, there.  Might be Miles O'Leary.  At least this damned thing seems to have stopped pursuing them.  We can be grateful for that." If nothing else, he thought to himself bitterly.  Bram was no closer to fulfilling his assignment, to actually stopping the thing, than he was before he knew what it was.  In fact, at the moment it was unclear if he would survive this encounter long enough even to report back to his superiors in Ottawa, the capitol of this fledgingly nation called Canada.

Although, with a little luck, and fool hardiness, he and Mary had managed to gain the top of the thing, getting down from it would be another matter.  A leap from this height, and at the speed it was going, would probably result in a broken ankle -- if not their necks -- and there was the very real threat of falling and being dragged under the great, unfeeling monster's iron belly where they would be crushed to death.  Yet his earlier attempt to gain ingress into the machine, to strike at its soft, fleshy vitals -- namely the men who must be beneath their feet, operating the device from inside -- had proved futile as well. 

He looked around at their feet, seeking another hatchway.  After a moment, in the weak nocturnal light, he found one.  Crouching, keeping his centre of gravity low, he went and tried to pry it open.  It resisted adamantly.  Clearly it was locked from the inside.

They were safe for the moment, but safety was not the same as security.  Aside from the fact that Father Forcier and Miles O'Leary were still on the ground, still at risk should the metal creature's master seek to pursue them, there was the question as to what would actually become of himself and Mary.  The Iron Devil was known to vanish without a trace.  He did not think either of them should be on board when it did.

"It's slowing," Mary whispered.

Bram noticed it too.  He felt the vibrations beneath his feet actually increase momentarily as speed was reduced, and maybe even some sort of reverse thrust was applied.  Then the thing shook to a halt and he was thrown from his feet, to land headlong.  Mary, too, was tossed by the sudden stop, and landed sprawled on top of him.  For a moment they lay on the hard metal, each in the other's arms.  Then, with a couple of nervous coughs, hastily disengaged themselves and rose to their feet.

Beneath them the metal creature still hissed and wheezed as its pistons vented and its metal flanks settled after its mighty exertions, not unlike a giant buffalo panting after a great run. 

"Now's our chance to get off," Mary said.

"Wait," Bram hissed in barely a whisper, catching her arm. 

They waited, frozen, as though expecting another shoe to drop.  And drop it did.  Distantly he could hear a click-clank sound, then the groan of heavy, metal hinges that seemed to reverberate menacingly in the still, prairie night.  Hatches were being opened.

He pressed his lips to her ear, forcing himself not to notice the warmth of her soft skin, the silkiness of her lush, raven hair.  Very quietly, he said, "I just realized that this thing could hold two score of men -- more even.  We must be careful till we know what we're up against."

Crouching low, so as not to be too visible from below, they peered over the sides.  Something seemed to spill out from all sides, slithering into the night.  He remembered the testimony of the hysterical witness who claimed the Devil had tentacles.  He felt Mary stiffen against his side and press close.

Then he realized that it was not tentacles, but men.  Men streamed out from the sides, but in such perfect filings, and weaving back and forth as though prepared to evade any possible enemy fire, that in the darkness, and had a mind been given a sufficient shock, they did indeed take on the appearance of tentacles slithering out from the Devil's flanks.

"What are they doing?" Mary said, barely breathing the word.

He stared, watching as some rows of men made for some of the railroad supplies that had been left not far from where he and Miles had camped.  They had been left there at the end of the day to make it easy for the work crews to begin work in the morning.  He remembered that the reports of the Devil's attacks included not just tales of destruction and sabotage, but also of missing equipment.  Was that part of the sabotage -- or was it theft?  If so, what did the masters of this machine need with more supplies?

But he could not worry about that exclusively, for others of the men had surrounded Father Forcier and Miles O'Leary.  It was then that he received yet another shock.  The men that had spilled out of the behemoth were, all of them, quite short.  Not dwarfs or midgets, perhaps, but none rose past the shoulders of either Miles or the priest.

He tried to make them out more clearly, but realized they were covered from head to toe in matching uniforms.  Even their eyes were concealed behind goggles.  Miles attempted to put up a fight but, though he had the better of them by size and weight, he was frightened out of his wits by the night's proceedings, and was out-numbered in any event.  The scuffle was short and one sided.

"We must do something," said Mary.

He nodded, then sensed almost as much as heard a stealthy footstep behind him.  He whirled and saw that a unit of the diminutive figures, their goggled eyes gleaming eerily in the moonlight, had silently climbed up behind them.  He had assumed that, if the men inside the ship were aware they were up here, they would have used the top hatch to come get them, and the noise of it opening would alert him in time.  Clearly they were cannier than that and had silently climbed up the outside of the vessel to get at him and Mary.

All this went through his mind in an instant as Mary screamed and something heavy hit him across the head, sending him plunging into darkness...

Next episode: Within the Belly of the Beast

Previous episode: The Devil's Face

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The Terror of the Rails is copyright 2003, the author.