Off Track

Submitted for Contest #42 in response to: Write a story that ends in the past.... view prompt


           It was cool on the afternoon of October 9, 2019 as Lawrence Robinson arrived at Pekoe Train Station. His train was expected to arrive at 2:25 pm, but something felt wrong. He had a churning in his stomach that he had taken as a premonition to peril and he was second-guessing his decision about making the trip. It was a necessity however, because if he didn’t make this journey now, then his company may lose a very important client. Lawrence was a sales representative for a very large pharmaceutical company, and this account would not only make his company millions of dollars, but it would also provide him with a large signing bonus.

           Train number 224 arrived on track number 3 at precisely 2:25 pm and Lawrence hesitantly boarded and his gut feeling was losing the battle of indecision. “All aboard!” the train’s conductor shouted above the noise of the busy station, as Lawrence found a seat next in the car next to the dining car. The engine was an old coal-fired steam train; one of the last of its kind in existence and the cars that it towed were all original all of the way back to the caboose. Lawrence admired the craftsmanship as he looked around. So much detail went into the design, unlike the modern trains of today. The whistle of the engine indicated that the train was about to leave the station, while the smoke billowed out of the smokestack and flowed like a phantom across the windows of the cars which followed in its path. The train’s next stop was 30 minutes away, so Lawrence decided to read up on the details of his potential client while he had the time to do so.

Twenty minutes into the trip, the Engineer gave the train whistle three long pulls and hit the brakes as if there were an emergency. A loud rumble caught Lawrence’s attention as he rushed to the opposite window to look outside. Large boulders were tumbling down the cliffside to the south of the tracks and the train was directly in the path. The train began to back up slowly, but it was too late; the avalanche had impacted with the engine as well as the first few cars, toppling them over and off of the tracks. The car that Lawrence was in, was the fifth one back from the coal car and was dragged along with the rest of the forward cars as they began to plummet down the adjacent hillside and into the valley below. Branches from trees broke through the windows sending shards of glass flying into the faces of some of the panicked passengers. Everyone held on the best that they could, but the rough terrain made it difficult. Bodies bounced from the seats to the ceiling and then down to the floor. The sound of bending metal and crashing trees were barely audible over the screams of the passengers. The car that Lawrence was in then began to turn sideways and roll uncontrollably until it finally came to a stop 165 feet from where they left the track to the edge of a raging river that sat only another five feet away. After he was able to regain his senses, Lawrence looked around and tried to assess the situation. The car was now laying on its side and many of the passengers laid lifeless against the broken windows and scattered debris. He looked up and saw hawks circling in the sky above in search of a meal. Lawrence’s arm appeared to be bleeding as well as his forehead, but overall, he seemed to be okay, so he made it a priority to check the other passengers and see who needed assistance. Only four of the passengers remained alive, including Lawrence, and only one of the four was able to move without assistance, so he and Lawrence aided the other two who appeared to have broken bones and puncture wounds. Lawrence then attempted to climb out of the car through one of the broken windows, ripping his shirt sleeve as he edged his way through. It seemed that all of the cars including the engine had been lost in the river below, while the trailing cars were toppled over and scattered across the hillside. The dining car, which was immediately behind the passenger car that Lawrence was perched upon had smoke coming from inside, so he called back to the other surviving passengers below in his car telling them that he would be back. He scurried quickly across the side of the overturned car until he reached the dining car which also laid on its side. Resting his feet on the ladder between the cars, Lawrence reached across and grabbed onto the dining car and pulled himself over. Looking into the windows, he saw a few passengers lying motionless across the car and a man that appeared to be one of the cooks was moaning in pain. Lawrence lowered himself into the car, and that is when he noticed where the smoke was coming from. Over near where the cook laid, a fire was quickly building. It looked like a burner they were using had set a tablecloth on fire during the accident and it now sat between Lawrence and the injured cook. Lawrence first attempted to go around the fire, but the heat from the flames was too intense, so he decided to raise himself back outside of the window and then drop back down closer to the cook. The cook had lacerations across his cheek and his shoulder seemed to be dislocated, but with Lawrence’s help, he was able to get out through the above window to safety before the fire began to spread. Holding the man’s good arm, Lawrence lowered him to the ground and told him to make his way up the hill and away from the train. Lawrence then returned to his car as promised and helped the other three passengers out and onto the ground below where they joined the cook up the hill. Next, Lawrence and the other passenger who had minor injuries went in search of other surviving passengers. Car-by-car they searched and found only one other alive, but because of the severity of the wound, they were not able to remove her from the car. She was a young woman in her early twenties and was nine months pregnant. Her husband of just over a year lay dead beside her as she began to go into labor. Lawrence decided to help her deliver the baby even though he had no idea what to do. All he knew about delivering babies was what he saw in movies, so he got the girl as comfortable as possible and had her concentrate on her breathing. Lawrence removed his shirt so he would have something to wrap the baby in when it arrived. He also removed a pocket knife that he was carrying so he could cut the umbilical cord. The woman screamed in agony, not from her injuries, but from the pain of the living creature trying to get out of her. Lawrence spotted the top of the baby’s head poking through and told the woman to push. She did so and let out a blood-curdling scream. “Keep breathing,” he said to her as the scalp poked through. “Push again,” he commanded, and as she did the tiny body began to emerge. “One more big push!” Lawrence demanded. With the third push, Lawrence was able to cradle the newborn in his hands and assist in the delivery the rest of the way. “It’s a boy,” he said with joy. Lawrence cleared the baby’s airway until it began to cry, then cut and tied off the girl’s umbilical cord, wrapped him up in the shirt, and handed the little boy to his mom. She held him close to her chest where he laid peacefully. “What did you want to name him?” Lawrence asked. “Well, what is your name? I think it is only fitting that he be named after the man who brought him into this world.” Lawrence told her and moments later, the girl had succumbed to her wounds and passed away. Lawrence removed the baby from her grasp and managed to get him out of the car with the help of another passenger where they joined the rest of the survivors.

           The group of 6, including the baby, made their way back up the hill to the tracks and around the collapsed cliffside where they walked along the rails towards the next train station. Just over two hours later, they arrived, and with the assistance of the waiting passengers and employees, they were brought inside where they awaited medical help. Baby Lawrence was given a warm place to lay in the ticket booth and the adults were given any assistance that the staff could provide. Lawrence was given a shirt out of the Lost-and-Found box to replace his which was previously wrapped around the baby. At this time, ambulances began to arrive along with police and management from the railway company. Statements were being taken and the baby along with injured passengers were immediately taken care of. Lawrence was the last to give his recollection of the events that took place, but as he did so, the elderly gentleman representing the railway intervened and asked if he could speak to Lawrence alone for a moment. The officer stated that he was finished anyway and excused himself. The manager from the railway walked with Lawrence over to a nearby wall where framed articles hung dust-covered after years of neglect. He pointed to one article, in particular, that was dated October 10, 1949. The headline read “INFANT BORN AMONGST TRAGEDY”, and as Lawrence continued to read the article, he was alarmed at the details of the accident. It stated that train number 224 was forced from the tracks during an avalanche between Pekoe and Billingsworth stations on October 9, 1949. There were six survivors, and among them were four adult men, an adult woman, and an infant that was born following the derailment. The mother, before her tragic death, had named the baby Lawrence after the passenger who had aided in the child’s birth. Lawrence wasn’t sure what to say. This seemed like more than a coincidence. “Was history repeating itself?” he thought. Lawrence looked over at the gray-haired man standing beside him as a smile formed on the stranger’s face. “Can you see any similarities?” the man asked. “Yes, of course, I do! It’s eerie,” he replied. The man held out his hand to Lawrence and said, “I’d like to introduce myself; my name is Lawrence Stapleton. I was the child mentioned in that article. I can’t explain how or why, but I believe what happened here today was the same accident that I was involved in 70 years ago today, and that newborn child that they took to the hospital a short time ago, was me.”

           Lawrence stood in silence while he absorbed this new information and had difficulty trying to fathom it all. He looked back up at the man, but his smile had now turned to a look of shock. His face turned grey and he grabbed onto his left arm then fell to the ground. The paramedics were called once again to Billingsworth Station, but before they had arrived, the elderly railway manager had passed away. Lawrence found himself shedding a tear for this stranger, but in some ways, he felt as if they were old friends. Perhaps the truth will never be known, but in Lawrence’s mind, it is a day that will never be forgotten.

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