The Year Was 1918: Journey Into the West

The year is 1918, and we find ourselves riding mostly westward via rail, but on a path that drifts in directions that make sense to neither Man nor God. The long icy train carrying a cargo of cattle, swine, and leathery human beings wends its way upon tracks bent round mountains, over gorges, and through rocky walls. The almanac had predicted a bitter, harsh winter, but the passengers, being the men and women they were, denied nature’s potency—not to mention the acumen of the lily-white college boys out in Pennsylvania who rejected both war and hardship so that they could publish their preachy little weather books.

As the frost found its way into the train’s bearings, the wheels froze and bound, then split and cracked. Twice, men hired by the United States Railroad Administration—older and invalid men who were unfit to fight in the war—had to exit the train and replace wheels. They even had to leave a freight car on the tracks, knowing that the poor visibility might make a collision with the next train inevitable. They would send word to the home office if they ever arrived, but by then it would be too late.

Some of the cars were heated with potbelly stoves that could burn wood or coal, but most weren’t. In one railcar that wasn’t meant for passengers, the USRA men found a small contingent of vagabonds, who at some point, had burned their shoes for warmth, but then died with their squeezeboxes frozen in hand and harmonicas stretching their mouths into uncanny, flat smiles. The blue bodies of these free men of the rails were deposited alongside the tracks with as much reverence as the dog-tired surviving members of the party could muster.

After a few more harsh miles, the USRA men came to the inevitable conclusion that they were frozen in place and all the mighty men from the Great War, both living and dead, couldn’t move that train another mile. Fortunately, there were only fifty passengers on the train and at least three hundred frozen beasts. They also had a two carloads of coal, and because all of the railcars were made of wood, they could burn some of those if need be. Several of the passenger cars were unoccupied sleepers—few travelers had wanted to splurge on the extra $7 for passage in one of those—but the USRA was willing to bend the rules as long as married couples promised not to flaunt their bliss and there was “no mixing of race nor creed.” They were, after all, hideous times for social affairs.

One rather unpleasant consequence of the rapid freeze is that the livestock, which by all appearances were frozen to death, came back to life as they were thawed for meals. One sizable sow leapt right off of the table where she was being seasoned and ran off into the subzero wasteland (where she probably just froze again). After that, whoever was in charge of dinner also had the duty of double-killing the meat. At the end of this trial, all of the uneaten animals came back to life, and never a hungrier nor sweatier menagerie has ever again been witnessed in these parts.

The westward party survived in this manner quite comfortably until the spring thaw came (five days later) and they rode their train the rest of the way to the west coast.

We’re back in 2018. Global warming has ensured that this scenario is unlikely to happen, but it’s not inconceivable to imagine that we’d find ourselves in some other sort of survival situation. Describe a scenario involving massive amounts of heat and radiation and tell me how you’d survive it.

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  1. Thanks for another riveting account of the trials and tribulations of life one hundred years ago. Other than all the hardships and untimely deaths, they’re always an inspiration. In response to today’s assignment, as a native born South Floridian and through the process of Natural Selection, extreme heat and radiation have little affect on me.

    1. Thank you for being the first to leave a comment on It’s time for you to leave, now. There’s literally nothing to see here.

  2. The Cigarette boat sped north across the glass-smooth water ahead of the approaching cloud bank. The captain, ‘Pineapple Pete’ kept a careful eye on the black wall rising out of the sea, while dodging kudzu-covered spires and pinnacles protruding from the water with such unlikely names as “Four Seasons”, “One Thousand Museum”, “Mint” and “Eseleslucks”. As the boat passed by the unusually-appropriately-named “Panorama”, Pete could hear the cries of the feral cats who inhabited every one of these strange islands, living off nesting birds and the occasional unlucky flying fish.
    Lost in contemplation of the future of these felines he was only just able to swerve his boat and avoid a trap laid by pod of sentries with their propeller-fouling net. Among them, the Pete recognized his old war-time adversary, and current business rival, Bloaty. He was sure the tough, old sea cow recognized him, too. They glowered at one another in passing. It was a tremendous risk to pass through Manateeami, but the shortcut was necessary to beat the storm and minimize time spent under the relentless, burning sun.
    The sky was getting dark and the water was choppy by the time Pete spotted the dome on the horizon. Shelter and cooked food awaited. It seemed like the above world consisted of either searing heat or lashing hypercanes, prolonged exposure to either of which could leave him a shriveled remnant of a man in very short order. And a man could only eat so much sashimi. Such was the life of a twenty-second century post-war rum-runner.
    “This cargo should earn me a new Tesla for the boat, and I’ll be good-to-go for another five years.”, the smuggler said to himself as he eased the boat through the tremendous hatch into the secure dome and sealing it behind him. “If I had to live off my legit gig of importing fruit, I’d still be paying off the Mar-a-Lago Mob for my surgery.”
    Pete tossed tightly-sealed bottles of the Cuban Archipelago’s finest over the side as he approached his mooring. He’d slip out through an underwater waste-chute and retrieve them from the seafloor later that night, with no one the wiser. He only slightly begrudged the effort of hauling the crates of the far less-valuable fruit from the boat to the top of the subnicular and loaded them in for their descent to the submerged town of Baja Broward.
    As the sun rose on the surface world, but honest sea-colonists still slept under submarine darkness, the crafty amphibian exited the waste chute, drew water through his gills, and began searching for his bottles of boozy booty. If the Sea War had taught mankind anything, it was that a tipsy land-refugee was no match for a sober dolphin or teetotalling dugong, and that firewater had no place underwater. So the submarine colonies barred strong drink, but people were still people and the Pete’s under-the-counter under-the-sea liquor business thrived.
    It was only after searching the muddy plot for almost an hour and finding nothing to pluck from what should have been a fertile crop of rum-filled bottles that Pete began to suspect foul play. On a hunch he swam to easternmost extent of the colony’s periphery and could just make out, illuminated by a shaft of sunlight, a cluster of rotund forms, undulating away through the depths, with a net full of clear shapes that each sparkled with a golden glint. The sound of the bottles clinking was still perceptible through the water as the manatees swam toward the lucrative contraband markets of Fort Lauderdepth. “So, Bloaty.”; Pineapple Pete burbled. “The game’s afluke!”

    1. Unfortunately, this isn’t an automated response. Thank you for being the first commenter to leave a story involving pirates, booze, and submarines, and the second commenter in the short and storied history of I’m sorry that you almost assuredly didn’t find what you were looking for.

      1. I could say I found something that was inside me all along but, holy fuck that would be annoying.

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