Flash Fiction: “The Sea Train”

The Sea Train

The sea rail stretches over and through the waves, then disappears somewhere under the tumble. The track sits right there on the water—or a few inches below, depending on tide and weather—and it’s solid as a block of cement sideways in a shallow stream. Despite the storm and the violent waves the metal doesn’t bend or wobble. Not even when the locomotive thunders by heading west towards Cherbourg, pulling behind it seventeen freight cars, the bold waves charging and pounding flatly into the whole screaming thing.

*

“Registering some big bastards coming up from the south,” said Sandy Behl in the glow of his radar monitor. “Controllers screwed this one up something fierce. Somebody’s head’s gonna roll for sure.”

Boseman Kyle, SeaTrain’s neatly bearded, heavily pomaded lead operator, peered out through one of the rectangular windshield panels, past the shmattering rain, and with a steady hand wiped some sweat from his forehead. The edge of his knuckles displaced a few dark strands of his hair’s dapper slickness. He frowned. “Guess this’ll be our first test. See how nasty a beating we can take.”

Sandy took a deep breath to sturdy his voice. “Rail’ll hold for a hundred years easy. They say. Rail’ll hold in a tidal wave with boats crashing into it. Wouldn’t worry bout the sea rail.” He said, worried.

“Not talking about the rail,” grumbled Boseman. He went to Sandy’s station and over the man’s shoulder peered at the screen. “I’m talking SeaTrain. I’m talking those waves’re looking nasty and they’re coming at us spot-on sideways this time. I’m talking We’re light. Real light. Less than five tons in textiles ain’t no sturdy seafreight, tell you that.”

Suddenly the whole cabin rocked sideways and, for a squealing, hellish moment seemed sure to topple over. Boseman’s chipped coffee mug from home swan-dived and shattered into the metal floor. The two engineers flailed their arms and held their breath until the locomotive lumped back down onto the tracks and with a morbid skip resumed its speedy course.

Sandy adjusted himself and then with a skittish finger indicated some wavy, glittery lines on his screen. “At our current speed we’ll miss the worst of it by maybe ten minutes. We get past the worst we should be fine.” Except he sounded a little too much like he was asking a question.

Boseman issued a noncommittal grunt and then went back to the front windshield. Looked out. His eyes nearly popped from his head.

“GOOD GOD!” He yanked hard on the brakes and outside the cabin came the bright white sound of metal under duress. Boseman and Sandy grabbed onto reinforced support bars on the wall to keep from shooting like spineless-dolls into the front consoles of the engine room. Boseman quietly bared his teeth under the strain. Sandy made a face as if he had metal clamps shouting one-hundred-and-fifty volts directly into the microphones of his nipples.

Finally the train screeched its way to a stop. A heady smell of hot metal and nose-static seeped up like smoke from beneath the cabin to sting the men’s noses. Sandy, breathing deeply, moved to the window on rubbery legs to see what Boseman had seen. His jaw went slack.

Outside, somehow balanced perfectly on the seatracks: an adult blue whale, its blubbery body bent and drooping over the rail, its whole slick form gripping downwards like a cat on a shoulder. A murderous wave slammed down on the whale’s slick back but the thing only jiggled a bit, didn’t budge at all.

“We ain’t got no scenario for this,” said Boseman to himself. “He’s on there good, the blubbery bastard.”

Then the cruelest wave yet smacked into SeaTrain, elbowing it into a violent tilt that sent the engineers toppling down to the cabin floor. The lights flickered. A warning bell pealed through the cabin, stabbed through Boseman’s braindrums. Somewhere in the distance whined a domino effect of straining metal—the freight cars taking turns mimicking the locomotive’s balancing act. This time the train took a while to reconsider gravity and crash back down safely onto the tracks. One by one the freight cars drummed back down as well. To Boseman this sounded like a row of explosions coming quick in his direction.

“What do we do,” warbled Sandy, still on the floor, his hand monitoring the careening thump in his chest.

Boseman looked back out the window to verify what he already knew: the whale was still there blubbering, unconcerned with that last wave. He said, “For starters we cross our fingers—we pray fatboy loses his grip before we do.” He ran a balanced hand through his slick hair, deftly correcting some renegade strands, then calmly took a seat.

_________________

To get an idea of the wild adventure this short story had on its way to practicallyserious.com, check out this post.

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