Home > Stories > Flash Fiction Month #2: Alternative Fuel Sources

Flash Fiction Month #2: Alternative Fuel Sources

The second installment. Read the last one here. Comes in handy if you’re not viewing posts chronologically.


Railroads are like rattlesnakes. If you spot one off in the distance and hear a train whistling, you should get out of the area as quickly as possible; otherwise, the train might see you, mark you as prey, and jump the tracks in an attempt to kill you and then devour you. That would especially inconvenience the passengers.

Between highways, cargo planes, and enormous container ships, trains have had it rough in the last few years, as their sources of prey grow ever scarcer. In the 19th century, none of these were particularly concerning (much less existent) threats to railroad tycoons. Nowadays, they call those years a golden era – when with the help of a horde of underpaid drudges new tracks would veer dangerously close to your land, and all you could say for fear of reprisal was that you hoped it would grant you access to goods from New York or Philadelphia.

The funny things about trains are that they take bribes, and that they don’t have an especially advanced sense of self preservation. This confluence first entered public eye when on May 12th, 1851, the enterprising Alexander Rodkin snuck into a switching station under the cover of night. Using a rare blend of cunning, guile, and (mostly) gold bullion, he convinced a steam locomotive intended to carry grain from Chicago to an industrial bakery in Erie to attack a nearby passenger station on the way. Besides resulting in seven fatalities, it had the despicable side effect of delaying the grain shipment by over seven hours.  Jurisprudence back in the day didn’t account for murderous machinery, but Rodkin’s actions were condemned nationwide as irresponsible, and he spent the rest of his days imprisoned.

For whatever reason, the train got off without any consequences. It also managed to convey its newfound taste for human flesh to locomotives across the country. You should know the rest of the story from here – a wave of deadly train ‘accidents’ across the country, desperate attempts to design less barbaric railroads that were quickly squashed by the beginning of the American Civil War, and eventually an uneasy equilibrium as we slowly learned how efficient and cost-effective a carnivorous train can be. By keeping a harsh penal code and otherwise sacrificing a pound of flesh or so as needed, the United States ensured the dominance of its rail system for decades.

Some people say that between the declining use of commuter rail and the increasing popularity of diesel-electric motors, the age of killer railroads may be coming to an end. Personally, though, I’d keep my wits about in case an opportunity arises to serve the greater good.

 

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