Gumble’s train sat astride the tracks like a proud but injured stallion. It was by far the largest mechanical monstrosity Marcus had ever seen that was still in working condition. Sullivan’s fleet had acquired plenty of old cargo ships 600, 800 and more feet in length, but their engines were long past operational, even if they could find enough fuel, and all the useful parts had been salvaged years ago. The fleet’s tankers had been secured together to form a large raft city that traveled as the wind blew. The idea that Gumble’s train, a machine so large and complicated, could still be working reliably took Marcus aback. The sharp, acidic smell of the train’s exhaust was not the familiar coal or wood he was familiar with. Marcus guessed the train might run on gasoline, but it was such an exceedingly rare commodity that he’d never encountered it and he was reluctant to believe that The Fighting Phils had such enormous power to have enough of it to power a train across the known world.
The train’s engine huffed and chuffed, biting at its bit as it waited for its passengers to board. Marcus noted the rust that perforated the hull and shook his head. That was the downfall of metal; it was still susceptible to the elements, but much more difficult to repair or replace than wooden fixtures, not to mention the cost of the material itself and how to fasten it all together. The paint job was an offensive orange color to match the regalia of The Fighting Phils and was haphazardly slapped on, perhaps in an attempt to cover the rust spots. The Mate inside Marcus cringed, thousands of hours spent meticulously painting and repainting every fixture of every ship he’d ever sailed on screamed protest to the orange that was uneven, sloppy, and had been allowed to dry with large running drips all along the side.
Whatever reservations Marcus had were pushed aside at the thought of a nap as he boarded the train. The rear car was lined with half a dozen benches on either side and plenty of windows. The carpet was thin and threadbare, fraying in some spots, peeling back entirely in others. Overhead light fixtures were long since smashed and the metal racks hung askew where screws had been lost or salvaged. Marcus chose a bench whose foam cushions hadn’t been too badly damaged and slouched in to it lengthwise.
He leaned his head against the window and propped his legs on the arm rest, closing his eyes and breathing deeply the mildew smell of the cushion. It had been a long day, he’d been promised a high paying job, met so many new, and not entirely friendly faces, had to suck up to his brother’s murderer, and seen a man’s head crushed in a vice. Marcus was more than ready to take advantage of this transit by getting some rest and clearing his mind.
The train lurched and began to move down the tracks. The wheels clacked metallically over the tracks and the car swayed gently to and fro. Marcus smiled inwardly; he’d never been on a train before, but the gentle rocking felt much like the bobbing of a ship on the waves that had carried him to dreamland in his past. The train accelerated steadily, the staccato rhythm of the wheels became a gallop and his head bounced against the rattling windows making the back of his head numb.
A sudden series of alternating tones echoed through the car. Marcus started and sat up, unused to electronic broadcast systems and more than a little rankled by the interruption of his intended nap. With a fizzle and a pop an overhead speaker came to life, spewing Gumble’s tinny voice into the cabin. “Good afternoon passengers, this is your conductor speaking. We will be traveling to Madison today at top speed so be sure to keep all body parts inside the carriage. We also have a few other passengers aboard today- got to be economical about these things you know. One of today’s passengers you’ll come to know is Curtis, he’s a real gorilla. Enjoy your ride!” Gumble could be heard cackling as he closed the connection.
Marcus frowned and stood up, striding impatiently towards the frosted glass doors that lead to the next car. He tried the handle but the metal doors only rattled against their locks. Pressing his face against the glass, and shielding his eyes from the sunlight, he peered into the car. He saw a faint impression of skeletal bodies lying across the floor, sporting bright Waltzer ascots. One of them shifted in response to his shadow in the window, from their emaciated frames Marcus could tell they’d been starving for at least two weeks, probably more. He turned away quickly and sat back in his bench.
“Curtis,” he mused quietly, “real gorilla. How bad can he be? We’ve got Klaus; he’s a gorilla of a man. We don’t need to start any fights anyway.” He ran his palm across his face, trying to wipe away the crushed skull of this afternoon’s Waltzer’s and the memories of his mother that threatened to return with the image of the starving prisoners. Had his mother felt like a prisoner in her own home? She had to be secured to the bed so she wouldn’t attack Marcus in fits of dementia, or starving survival instinct.
An enormous crash rescued Marcus from his haunted memories. The Waltzers in the next car began screaming and hammering at the door. A huge figure loomed behind their skinny frames in the window. Marcus suddenly realized that Curtis wasn’t a gorilla of a man, but a real, live gorilla. Marcus had only heard about these creatures from his storybooks and tales of far off lands and ages long past. His curiosity to see the beast was tempered by the destruction and terror that it was causing in the next car. Curtis was at the door, his shadow filled the window and he began to hammer at the barrier. Metal hinges screeched in protest and the rivets in the lock came undone. Marcus backed away; Curtis was enraged and obviously out for blood and Marcus wanted no part of it. He glanced around quickly, looking for an escape while the others readied their weapons. Fighting a gorilla was asking to have every bone in your body crushed. Marcus pulled his knife and went for a window. He wound up and used every ounce of his strength to send the butt of his knife into the window. Marcus struck and a hideous noise echoed through the train car. The window had only cracked; Marcus’ stomach lurched as he looked up to see an enormous, gorilla dressed in Fighting Phil Orange loom through the door.