“Mystery of the Autumn Train”
By: Pedro Cerda and Daniel Stiles
The apocalypse came but hey, they fixed that shit.
Some fool had the bright idea to give all the animals in the world the ability to speak. He believed it would promote unity and global harmony. He thought it would bring about a new epoch of understanding between us and nature.
Problem is, animals are dumb. Have you ever tried to talk to one? They have a horribly small vocabulary. For example, flies usually only say fly… a lot. They say it over and over again, almost nonstop. In fact, I can’t think of any one of them I’ve spoken to ever saying anything else. It’s pathetic.
History records that shortly after the time of the apocalypse, a donkey got into an argument with a witch. It’s become more than a simple spat over the years. Now donkeys and witches remain in a constant condition of war. No one seems quite sure of why. Witches refuse to speak of it, and donkeys happen to be so boring that no one ever pays attention to what they have to say. If you’re not a witch or a donkey, the best thing to do would be to stay out of the way if they happen to notice each other when you’re around.
One nice thing about it all, we have flying cars. Understanding the ecological problems of fossil fuels for energy, scientists formulated a way to have the cars powered by dirt. Great idea, isn’t it? Too bad we’re running out of dirt. Reusable, my ass.
They dig it up, power the cars, and the vehicles entirely vaporize the dirt. It doesn’t come back. Just look at the huge pits of emptiness making up the majority of the world’s surface. Houses and buildings everywhere have to be raised on incredibly tall stilts, columns, and pillars. You’d almost believe we’re a race of birds. I guess it’s all right since our cars fly anyway. Ground has become unnecessary. Of course, there aren’t very many animals around anymore because of all the digging. Doesn’t leave much space for them to live on.
I guess you could conclude another bonus from dirt-powered cars comes from how it silenced so many of those idiot creatures that kept bothering us. No one wants to hear about how a bear once skewered a leaping salmon in midair on a single claw in his younger days. I’m so sick of that story. I hate that bear.
If you’re wondering about me, I’m a samurai. Right, we all know samurai’s only what they call zombies nowadays. Yeah, zombie’s slang for slacker.
When I was young, I escaped from an orphanage run by small, furry aliens. Don’t ask me where the aliens came from. That’s like asking where your mom and dad came from. Besides, they’re from here.
I’d be living with my mom right now except, like I said, I’m an orphan. I live with my friend’s mom. She’s cool about it. I could have made a livelihood out of being a samurai if not for one chance meeting.
I’m the chosen one. I realized it one lazy, autumn afternoon. Taking a nap on the sofa, I heard a knock on the front door. I waited for my friend’s mom to answer it. The knocking persisted until I remembered she went to the grocery store. The knocking would not stop, so I got up.
Stumbling to the door in a sleepy, yawning haze, I yanked it open to discover a donkey on the other side. At first, I thought him to be some sort of missionary. However, he wasn’t dressed well, and didn’t have any books with him. He wasn’t even on his back. Then he spoke.
“I remember a time before the animals talked… because they don’t,” the donkey informed me.
I stared at him blankly. He told me how I needed to find the Autumn Train. He jabbered about lots of other stuff too. I don’t remember what. My attention wandered. I still wanted to be napping, and almost felt like doing so standing up. He just kept talking…
By the time I realized he’d finished, he already started walking away. “Wait!” I called out. “I missed some of that! Can you give me a brief summary?”
“Find the Autumn Train,” the donkey repeated. “There’s only three weeks and two days before the Autumn Train departs under the moon.”
“Under the moon? That can be anywhere!”
“Only when the sun’s not out,” the donkey informed me. He hopped into a waiting flying car at the end of the sidewalk, his monkey chauffer in a black suit zipping him out of sight.
My quest began that day. When my friend’s mom came home from the store, I packed a duffel bag, took an advance on my next month’s allowance, kissed her goodbye, and set out. It probably wasn’t very considerate of me to take her car. I’m sure she’ll forgive me. If not… well, she’s not my mom.
I went to the library first. Looking up any information I could find about the Autumn Train, I met only with dead ends. I uncovered much about autumn, and a lot about trains. Nothing combining the two.
It’s not like I could turn to the internet for help. This strange riddle came to me by way of a donkey, and donkeys hold a notorious dislike of any technology involving communications. There’s not a single website maintained by donkeys. They despise the internet, cell phones, and especially texting. I think it’s one of the reasons nobody listens to them. They’re too long-winded, not having gained experience from conversations at rapid-fire speed cutting the fat of vowels and excessive consonants. Donkeys exist as relics in an on the go world.
Having said all that, I can’t be sure why I bothered to give the donkey’s tale of the Autumn Train so much credence. Some aspect of the dream-like encounter woke something within. I can only equate it with receiving a phone call from an elephant telling you he’s hiding in the cupboard. You might know he’s pulling your leg, yanking hard with his trunk, yet you have to check the cupboards anyway.
Regardless, with nothing else to go on, I found myself at a loss for what to do next. At least I did until the librarian approached the table I sat at, long face peering at me over thick glasses. I didn’t bother meeting her eyes, figuring she wanted to tell me to cease loitering, or stop creasing the pages in her books.
“Did you ever consider a career in dirt farming?” she asked.
“Of course not,” I responded with a dismissive wave. “Dirt farming’s for monkeys. I’m a samurai.”
“Then you would love the book Dirt Jockeys.”
That did not make much sense to me. I glanced up. She had already vanished. I think I caught sight of her slipping around a bookshelf on the other side of the room. Whether it came from a trick of the lighting, or shadows, or her strange afghan-like dress, I almost believed I spotted a wiry set of bristles at the end of a tail trailing behind her.
For several moments, I sat there, trying to think if the information I received held any relevance to anything. A samurai can’t instantly act. All considerations must be weighed, slowly, and carefully. Eventually, since I had to go to the bathroom anyway, I stood and decided to look for the book Dirt Jockeys.
I checked the restroom first, and did not find it there. I did locate a toilet and used it appropriately. Heading back into the library, I wandered among the towering shelves of knowledge.
Aimless at first, I remembered the librarian mentioning dirt farming as a career. Since the book possessed the word dirt in the title, my mind made the connection. I went straight to the careers section of the library. Searching the shelves for nearly an hour, I had no luck finding the proper book.
Exhausted by the misused expenditure of energy, I plopped into a chair. For whatever reason, I received the impression that the other people and animals in the library watched me. Whenever I looked their way though, they always had their attention directed somewhere else. At the time, I brushed it off as paranoia. I’m not so sure any longer. If I knew then what I know now… I guess I wouldn’t have had to do as much.
I heard a small voice from beside me, muttering over and over again. Glancing to the floor, I spotted a praying mantis on the stained carpet, claws pressed together. The thing’s little voice drifted up to me.
“The father, the son, the Holy Ghost. Rub-a-dub, thanks for the grub. Namida amida butsu. Into the mouth, over the gums, watch out stomach, here it comes. Praise Allah. Praise Abraham. Hail Satan…”
Damn praying mantises and their constant praying. Most of what they say doesn’t even make sense. They just repeat random prayers repeatedly. I considered dropping a book on the one I stared at. It nodded its head at me and made a slight gesture, as if for me to follow. It headed towards a row of books.
Curious, I stood and followed the insect. It continued to pray, babbling almost nonstop. It led me through the labyrinth of musty odors and yellowed pages attached to disintegrating spines. We entered a section of the library far older than the rest of the structure. Many of the hanging fluorescent lights had burned out. Others randomly flickered on and off. Arriving at a wall reaching several dozen feet in height containing books all the way up, the praying mantis prayed louder, prostrating over and over before the countless volumes sheathed in a shroud of thick dust.
I still don’t know what section of the library I had arrived at, as nothing had been labeled. A moldy stench of neglect hung heavy and nobody else came within sight. Only the praying mantis and I stood there, staring at obscure lore from a forgotten age. It would have been an awe-inspiring, humbling moment, if the damn praying mantis would have shut up for even a few seconds.
Sliding out the thickest book in reach, I dropped it onto the insect. That shut it up. Grinning, I glanced at the cover. The book’s title: The Path Ahead. Only an arrow decorated the cover and the way I dropped it caused it to point directly to the lower shelf. Shrugging, I looked to the row of books there.
Each volume appeared untouched by any hands for years. With a sigh, I nearly turned away when my gaze caught the spine of one in particular. I had located Dirt Jockeys.
Reaching out in bewilderment, I removed it from its spot, a fog of dust accompanying. At first glance, it seemed to be a story of the struggles encountered by the world’s first dirt mining company. Opening it to a random page in order to read a passage, I instead had the entire thing crumble in my grasp.
It sifted through my fingers, piling onto the floor in a little heap. Staring in disbelief, I spotted one rectangle that survived. I picked it up to learn its identity as a business card. Digiri Dugins Dirt Inc.
I knew the company, just as everyone does. It’s the largest dirt company in the world, and the card itself had the name of its infamously eccentric monkey CEO emblazoned upon it in gold lettering. I mouthed the words Mr. Kong. It became obvious where I needed to go next. Thanking the praying mantis, I heard a diminutive voice say, “Praise Zombie Jesus!”
I went to the corporate headquarters of Digiri Dugins Inc. There, I ingratiated myself to the penguin working security at the front desk by way of a pint of anchovy flavored ice cream. He allowed me access to the facility, and even told me where to find the office of Mr. Kong. As I said before, animals aren’t the brightest of creatures. I guess it’s a good thing, or they might surpass us as rulers of the world. It must be wonderful to be so oblivious.
When I found Mr. Kong’s office, I discovered a new obstacle confronted me. He had a secretary situated in front of his door, and she originated from human stock. Staring at me as though I had been fished from the toilet, she waited for me to say something. When I remained silent, derailed by my lack of foresight, she spoke instead.
“What is your business?” she asked.
“Uh… I’m here to see Mr. Kong,” I managed to get out.
“Do you have an appointment?” she challenged.
“No… uh… I have this,” I stated, handing her the business card. When she did not reach out to take it from me, I set it on her desk.
“That’s a business card.”
“Yeah,” I admitted. “Could you… just tell him I’m here about the Autumn Train?”
Rolling her eyes, she pressed the intercom button, relaying the information with obvious reluctance and distaste. To her surprise, and even mine, Mr. Kong responded immediately, telling her to send me right in. Looking to me with wide eyes and an apologetic expression, she motioned for me to enter.
I opened one of the huge, oak double doors, stepping into an immense office larger than an average house. Lavish furniture, chandeliers, televisions and even a bar occupied the space in excessive opulence. Windows made up the entire far wall, stretching to the barrel-vaulted ceiling thirty-plus feet above. They gave a view of the stilted city below, and the vast holes beneath.
In front of the windows rested a huge desk of dark red wood, multiple computer monitors upon it. The high-backed, leather chair behind the desk faced the windows and spun around when I shut the door behind me. Mr. Kong stared at me through oval glasses, chomping on an unlit cigar. His yellow business suit flashed blindingly bright, green tie shimmering.
“You’re asking about the Autumn Train?” he questioned. I nodded.
Mr. Kong hopped onto his desk, scampering over it. Bounding across the floor, he jumped at me, grabbing hold of the front of my shirt. He brought his face close, the intensity of his stare matched by the fear in mine.
“Who told you about the Autumn Train?” he demanded.
“Some… some donkey…” I managed.
Mr. Kong released his grasp, dropping to the floor. Turning from me, he tossed his cigar to the ground. “Do you understand what you’re getting into? Do you know what would happen if you found the Autumn Train?”
“No,” I admitted. “If I did, I guess I wouldn’t have to find it.”
Glancing to me, Mr. Kong shook his head. He shuffled towards the windows, gesturing for me to follow. “I’ve waited for this day for a long time. I never really believed it would arrive. Maybe it hasn’t.”
We came to the glass. Mr. Kong stared blankly to the vast stretches of abyss below. “You must enter the Hole World. You must go down there, and find the ancient witch named Hal. She was cast out by the witches long ago and lives somewhere down there. Find her. She will help you.”
“You want me to enter the Hole World?” I asked and he nodded confirmation. “That’s… a big area. Can you get any more specific?”
“Hey, I might have been waiting for this day for a long time, but it doesn’t mean I’ve devoted my life to it,” Mr. Kong stated. “I’ve got better things to do than watch a decrepit old witch totter around the Hole World. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve got a business to run here!”
“Sorry,” I apologized. “Do you think I’ll be able to find her?”
“No,” Mr. Kong snapped. “She’ll find you… or she won’t.”
When he did not provide anything more, only continuing to gaze out the window, I figured our conversation had concluded. I showed myself out, leaving the building and preparing myself for what I had to do. I only wished I would have known why I had to do it before I did it. Maybe I wouldn’t have done it. It’s done now though.
Descending into the Hole World, I dropped farther and farther into the shadows thrown by the lofty structures of the city. I went slowly, not able to spot the bottom and not wanting to crash into it. Hours went by, maybe days. Perpetual dusk reigned. I passed slivers of metal, antique machinery abandoned on hovering platforms or chains connected to huge welded loops on building pillars.
I went further and further, time losing relevance in the insubstantial realm of wind, emptiness, and mankind’s self-created dinosaurs. When the car settled onto some type of hard, quartz-like ground, I could not tell you if day or night held sway above. The sky no longer existed.
Strange ridges and formations of crystalline substance surrounded me, creating an alien landscape I could before only imagine existing in dreams. Exiting the car, I walked. I hoped Hal found me soon because I didn’t want to walk far. Arriving at a small valley, I heard a voice.
“Is that you!?” someone exclaimed in a raspy tone. “Did I find you!?”
Spinning around, I came face-to-face with a hideous crone in the rags of a tattered robe, and scraggily hair. She quivered and twitched, hunched over on a crooked cane, eyes clouded. Reaching to me, she grabbed hold of my arm.
Before I could protest the contact, I watched her change. The wrinkles smoothed from her skin, body straightening. Her hair shifted from gray to blonde, eyes clearing. Even her clothing reverted to a state making it look brand new. In a matter of seconds, she went from eighty-year-old transient to twenty-year-old seductress.
“Are you Hal?” I asked.
“Is that what you’re here to ask me?” she returned, voice sounding more delicate than it had before.
“I don’t think so,” I admitted. “I’m trying to find the Autumn Train.”
“Is it here?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” I replied.
She turned from me, facing the way I had come from. Looking that way, I did not notice anything different from what I had already witnessed. I moved around to face her again.
“You have to capture the all-knowing goat,” she advised.
“Where is he? How do I find him?”
“He’s there,” she told me, pointing to a spot over my shoulder.
Jerking my head around, I caught a glimpse of a shaggy goat leaping over the crystals, bounding in a zigzagging pattern.
“There he goes! He’s running from you! He knows you’re after him! I told you he’s all-knowing! Catch him!”
I chased the goat, not gaining ground, yet managing to keep him in sight. Never having run so much in my life, I followed him all the way back along the path I had just taken. Witnessing him diving into the car I left behind, he rocketed into the air with it.
“Damn,” I gasped. “How’d he know the keys were in there?”
Dejected, I slowly wandered back to where the woman stood. She had not moved, staring in the same direction. Exhausted, I plopped onto the ground in front of her.
“He got away,” I unnecessarily told her. “He stole the car.”
She turned away. “Did you find what you sought?”
“No. The goat got away. Can you tell me how to find the Autumn Train?”
Looking my way again, she gazed down at me. “Understand you’re trapped,” she provided. “You’re trapped, and the only way out is through the Autumn Train. You have only three weeks and two days before the Autumn Train departs under the moon.”
She turned, entering the valley, moving away from me. “Wait!” I called out. “What do I need to do to find it?”
“How should I know?” she responded, voice degenerating, form withering to how I encountered her originally.
At that time, having arrived at the lowest point in my life, I collapsed to my knees. Not sure how long I remained that way. I only know I’m still here now, going over it all again and again in my head. Gaze downcast, I notice something etched into the crystal ground. Blinking, I recognize it as the year of my birth.
Randomly coming across a year past listed before me, the passage of time clicks in my mind. I realize how long it’s been, how little’s been accomplished. Frustrated, I glare towards the sky I can’t locate far above.
The heavy-lidded gaze of the moon reflects downward off the stone canyons, making it appear cyclopean mountains surround me framed by twilight. I stare, breath leaving me, all tension draining.
At such a moment of tranquil admiration, care for what has not been dissipates, leaving only a sense of unity with the intangible. Then I understand. Witches uphold the status quo of blissful ignorance and donkeys strive for a greater consciousness, deeper enlightenment. They remain at odds as they keep balance with each other.
Animals don’t talk because we cancel their words by our thoughtless actions. The Autumn Train symbolizes the accumulation of events life attempts to teach us, yet we ignore, allowing it all only the presence of a passing train in our lives. Under the moon simply means we need to step back and examine our experiences with a new perspective. Three weeks and two days could be any length of time. It’s intended to stress savoring the happiness of an instant because yesterday won’t return and tomorrow never arrives.
Then I comprehend the most disturbing truth of all. That damn donkey I answered the door for truly was a missionary! The entire journey’s intent was to bring me to some sort of spiritual and mental well being. Confronted by such horror, I rebel the only way I know. I take a nap with the hope the world will be a better place when I wake up. It’s better than actually trying to do anything about it myself.
Do you have a favorite fall memory linked to a train? What do you imagine you would see if you were riding a train in the fall? Join the authors of Wild CHild publishing and Freyas Bower as we Take an Autumn Train Ride through our blogs.
- Four $50 gift certificates (two for Wild Child and two Freya’s Bower)
- An awesome swag package that includes:
- Wild Child T-shirt and mug
- Wild Child and Freya’s Bower bags
- Four handmade, crochet coasters by Kit Wylde
- An autographed copy of Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
- A rare DVD copy of the Matheson/Furst classic “Up The Creek” (lovingly used)
- One ebook copy of Nita Wick’s short story, The Dream (previously published as part of a Freya’s Bower anthology.)
- Book trading cards
- Signed Dangerous Waters poster
- of “Battle for Blood: The Blood Feud”
- winner’s name as a character in Kissa Starling’s next sweet romance story.
- A Yankee Candle
The Jack the Mac Chronicles.
Having devoted his life to the world of the mercenary, Jack the Mac made a name for himself as one of the most destructive to ever tread across the continents of the world. Unfortunately the collateral damage he became known for reached far beyond what his employers and society considered acceptable and he eventually became blacklisted.
Reduced to the mediocrity of the unemployed and unemployable, Jack the Mac struggles to survive a world he can no longer find a niche within. In spite of lack of pay to provide him with the status of a professional mercenary, he discovers excitement can be found without even leaving home. A parade of killers decides to free him from his worldly struggles in order to revenge both real and imagined slights suffered at his hands and unfortunately, the incidents usually occur when Jack the Mac is on a date.
Forced to deal with random assaults, kidnappings, and car bombings, all while attempting to renew his driver’s license and fulfill appointments with the unemployment office, Jack the Mac keeps searching for the perfect job opportunity and his true love. All he wants is a sweet girl who can shoot a man in the face and follow it up with a night of raucous lovemaking beside the corpse. If he can scrape enough cash together to get some bullets off layaway, he might have a chance.
Marci Baun/Kit Wylde
Critters at the Keyboard
Judith Leger, Fantasy and Comtemporary Romance Author
The Fictional World of Jaime Samms
Follow Where the Path will Take You
The Wandering Mind of Lizzy P. Bellows
Where Love and Magic Meet
The Shadow Portal
The Blog Zone
Blog By iMagine
Ardyth DeBruyn Author Blog
Shadows of the Past
Cassie Exline — Mystery and Romance
Sarcastic Rambling & Writing
That’s What I Think
Sue’s Random Ramblings
Make Old Bones
Elements of Mystery
Molly Dean’s Blog
The Forbidden Blog
Fiddleeebod — land of stories
Nita Wick’s Blog
Ruth G. Zavitsanos
Too Poor for Texas
City of Thieves
Musings and Doodles
The Western Writer
Bike Cop Blog
The Character Depot