American Historical Fiction


The ground shook, and the burlap bag of seeds flew out of her tiny hands. The seeds scattered around her bare feet as she caught herself mid-fall. For a moment, the earth stood still. No sound of birds. No wind whispering through the ridges. Bewildered, she collected herself. She would have to wait for the mud to dry to collect her seeds again. That, or she could just leave them be. Perhaps those were meant to be planted there anyway. The world didn’t violently rattle for no reason.

“Lilly, head back to Camp 2. Tell the chief engineer there’s been a collapse at Upper Bridle Path,” the foreman ordered as though he had any actual authority over the girl.

As Lilly scampered towards the engineer’s quarters with her message, The foreman and his crew scurried up and over the ridge to assess the damage. Dust was still settling around the collapsed remnants of the tunnel. 

The chief engineer arrived promptly and squinted in the noonday sun to assess the damage.

“How much will it take to gain back the progress we made on this cut?” He asked the foreman with seemingly little regard for the nine men buried underneath the rubble. 

“Well, sir, it could be up to a week with this amount of damage.” 

“Damn.” The chief engineer lit his cigar as he pondered the setback that would cut into the bottom line. He couldn’t afford more setbacks.

“Let’s get the dragline fired up, boys, let’s not waste any more time.” The foreman knew what needed to be done. This wasn’t his first road cut setback. 

Lily scrambled back over the ridge, tripping over twigs and getting slapped by tree branches. As soon as she saw the rubble, her stomach sank. Something inside of her knew Vlad was buried in there. Her body felt empty. 

It was just that morning that Vlad was sitting in the grass with her, teaching her the ways of nature with his broken English. He told her about how the bees would travel from flower to flower, from tree to tree, and that fruit could yield its nourishing wonder with each blossom visited. He sliced off a portion of ginger gold with his paring knife and handed it to her. The apple slice was sweet yet mildly tart.

Realizing he couldn’t get caught loafing around once more, he grabbed his pickaxe, ruffled Lilly’s matted hair, and told her that he had a tunnel to dig. Before wandering back to the work crew, he tossed her the burlap bag with the apple seeds. The tunnel will not be life-giving, he said to her, but these seeds would be. She did not yet know that these would be his last words to her. 


Lilly finished loading the season’s harvest into the boxcar on the side track. She heard the long squeal of the giant locomotive’s air breaks. It then came into sight, exhausted and grimy from having wound its rolling stock through fifteen tunnels. As the train’s crew prepared to couple the boxcar to the rest of the train, they stopped and admired the lushness of Lilly’s apples. 

“Your husband must be real proud of you, ma’am,” the fireman told her, tipping his blue and white striped hat to her as he took a bite out of a Virginia Beauty. 

“Now y’all know my husband’s been shipped off to Europe to fight Hitler. He’s probably not paying no mind to me back home growing these here apples,” Lilly replied with a twinge of humble resilience.

“Well, now, ma’am, we wish your husband a safe return from overseas.” 

The fireman tossed the rest of the apple on the ground, grabbed onto the handrail, and hopped back in the locomotive’s cabin. He unlatched the firebox door with the foot pedal and shoveled in a good helping of coal. The engineer pulled the throttle, and the train lurched forward, gradually gaining momentum one puff from the smokestack at a time. 

The train headed north. Lilly cranked up the decrepit Ford pickup and rumbled back towards the apple barn. The truck backfired louder than a shotgun blast, sending a flock of songbirds fluttering frantically in all directions. On the way back, she stopped at the grove of ginger golds, not far from where Camp 2 used to be. She stared at the yellow-golden apples and wondered what kind of man Vlad would have grown up to be. Even now, in her mind, he seemed so much older and wiser. But how was a six-year-old supposed to know how intelligent a 19-year old immigrant from Russia really was? Who knew what actually happened that fateful day when the earth shook? He and eight other men were entombed in that tunnel, and perhaps their souls never left either. Lily figured that this was meant to be and that Vlad’s knowledge of how nature and creation work was never meant to leave these mountains either. 

She pruned the branches of her ginger golds with care. Even though they did not bear the most fruit on the orchard, they were her prized possessions. 


Lilly sat on the porch of the apple barn and carefully sliced open an apple, holding the knife with her wrinkled and calloused fingers. Off in the distance, the horn of a diesel engine sounded as it hauled 90 cars of coal through Upper Bridle Path Tunnel. She rocked back and forth in the rocking chair to the rhythm of the vibrating rails. She had seen many loads of coal hauled down south on that line over the decades, all passing through Upper Bridle Path tunnel.

As she listened to the horn, she recalled that it had been decades since the last time she loaded up a boxcar headed north. The side track was no longer there. The steam locomotives were long gone, and her childhood home at Camp 2 lay in distant, overgrown ruins. The railroad was now owned by an out-of-state conglomerate that had no interest in the future of the orchard. 

The little girl shuffled underneath Lilly’s tired, old feet. Lilly leaned down and gave the girl a sack full of seeds. Lilly told her that she was getting too old to grow apple trees. She recalled that the last time she hobbled her weary, achy body down to the grove by the tracks to the spindly remnants of her once-prize-winning apple trees, she swore she felt something ruffling her hair. She could hear Vlad whispering to her that, unlike that old tunnel, her seeds did indeed bring life and will continue to do so long after that railroad is gone. 

March 28, 2022 01:38

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Tommy Goround
04:12 Aug 12, 2022

So sorry. That took... I dunno...4 hours? Ok. I was forced to date my own wife. I made her read your story. Because this is what you should do after many years of blessings. She cooed. I did not touch her. I promise. She cooed at your story. It is the most passion I have seen from her person in so many years. She began with the seeds and I stopped her in the 1940s. (Was it '48? 49? I know it was a good year.) "Tell me what can I say to this author??" And she liked the "voice" because it wasn't gentle when you wrote about the woman. I...


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Tommy Goround
00:07 Aug 12, 2022



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