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HellBound Express Chapter 2

Posted by on November 12th, 2017  •  0 Comments  • 

Hellbound Express
By Mel Odom

Did you love chapter one of HellBound Express? Get ready for the second installment. If you haven’t read chapter one click the link here to read it first.

 

 

Home was the Peress Express. The train was pulled by a 1952 Baldwin Locomotive steam engine that Peress, Senior, had purchased during his mid-life crisis in Middletown, Iowa, ten years ago. He’d made a fortune in designer medicine, which was ironic considering the virus that had all but destroyed the world. He’d even toyed with working on a cure for the virus, but it had been beyond him. Whoever the North Koreans had hired to design the virus had done their work well.

During Peress’s mid-life crisis, the man had also built a track around his considerable estates to drive the train on. He’d told anyone who rode the train that the locomotive had been a hit at parties, and signed photographs of movie and television stars who had represented some of the “miracle” drugs he’d created hung in the pulling engine.

Peress sat in the narrow seat on the right side of the engine’s control station and gazed out the narrow window at his side. In the original Baldwin Locomotives, the seat had been metal and wood and uncomfortable. Peress’s seat was custom-fitted and padded to the point of luxury.

In his early sixties, Peress had iron-gray hair that hung over his ears and over his collar in the back, and was vain enough to have it cut every two weeks so that it looked like it never grew. He wore tailored gray striped bib overalls, a gray striped engineer hat, and a red scarf. The overalls hung a little loose these days because Peress had lost weight since the virus event. A lot of people had.

“Good morning, Peter.” Peress adjusted the regulator, the engine noises changed, and the train careened a little faster across the tracks as it gained speed. “We’re starting up that last grade before the stop outside Winslow. I want us at the top of that grade so continuing in either direction will be easier.”

Still carrying his helmet by its chinstrap, Gant nodded and glanced at the gauges and valves that took up most of the headspace in the engine cockpit. Over the last year, he’d learned what they were and how they operated. Gant made it a habit never to be too dependent on anyone else. The days of having a team that watched his back had disappeared back in Afghanistan.

“Coffee?” Peress offered. His blue eyes looked inflamed from the wind and the smoke that drifted up from the fire box below the gauges. The heavy steel door was eighteen inches wide and twelve inches tall. The fireman who handled the firewood in the coalporter car running behind the engine fed split logs into the fire box as needed to keep the boiler stoked.

Gant took the covered cup Peress handed him. Gingerly, Gant sniffed the contents and thought it smelled okay. He’d gotten unpleasantly surprised a few times by Peress’s concoctions over the months spent on the train.

Although Peress had been a stickler for authenticity when it came to the steam engine, he’d wired in a Keurig coffeemaker as his one concession. K-Cups were always at the top of the salvage lists when the teams traveled out from the train.
“That’s just Folgers.” Peress grinned and sipped from his cup. “Now this, this is hazelnut. You don’t know what you’re missing.”

“Smells like that elephant dung coffee you tried to get me to drink.”

Although Junior was a proper ass, Gant liked Peress, Senior. The man knew how to get along with others and work within a team. He was pleasant and hopeful even though he had no reason to be in the world they’d inherited.

A smile split Peress’s round face. In the early dawn light, he looked older and a little grayer. The miles were wearing on him. “No, that’s Black Ivory Coffee. That’s pure nectar and it’s hard to come by. I save it for special occasions. And it’s on the salvage list.”

Gant tapped his pocket under his Kevlar vest, letting Peress know he had the list because the man would ask.

“Winslow was known for its artistic flair before the Event,” Peress said, “so if you get a spare moment to be particular about what you grab for salvage…”
Spare moments were hard to come by on a salvage run. The living dead still shambled around, and there were other salvagers who were out for whatever they could get too.

“I’ll keep an eye out for it,” Gant said.

“I’d be most grateful, Mr. Gant. Not that I’m not already grateful for all that you do. All of us are.”

Gant ignored that. He still wasn’t comfortable around Peress’s operation. With everything that had happened in the world, small numbers would have fared better. But Peress was determined to build a city out of the rubble.

To Gant’s mind, the risk of being around a large population was too great. If people got packed in tight, they couldn’t live off the land and it got harder to feed them. It also marked them for stronger predator groups that waited until the hunter/gatherers among them were off getting goods.

And all it would take to destroy everything was one Yeomra Outbreak in the midst of them. One unattended death and dozens would follow like falling dominoes.

Every day Gant spent there, he knew the risk was greater, and he thought often of leaving before he had to watch it all come apart. Still, he stayed, and in staying, his service there answered some unexplainable need within him.

Peress reached into his bib pocket and took out his Waltham Railroad Pocket Watch and flipped the lid open. The device sat like a small, golden onion in the palm of Peress’s soft palm. The large, Arabic numbers and the minute lines between stood out in black against the white face.

“We’re twenty-three minutes out from our scheduled stop, Peter.” Peress flicked the watch closed and put it away. “Time to get your troops rallied.”

Gant nodded, finished the dregs of his coffee, and handed the cup back to Peress. “Thanks for the coffee.”

“Be careful out there,” Peress admonished.

Turning from the engine, Gant hauled himself up into the coalporter car and passed Adriana Rose, the train’s fireman, who was sitting on a high seat built into the car’s wall. Her booted feet rested on a neatly stacked rick cord of split oak that had yellowed after drying.

Gaunt almost to the point of emaciation and always taciturn, Rose had served as Peress’s chief finance officer in the pharmaceutical business. Her scraggly shoulder-length hair held splinters from the firewood and soot from the fire box left stains in it and around the goggles that protected her eyes. A red scarf hung around her neck. Like her boss, Rose also wore traditional engineer overalls.

“Good luck,” Rose said. “Bring back some chocolate if you can. It might not be high on Mr. Peress’s list, but I like it.”

“I will, Ms. Rose.” Gant gently squeezed the older woman’s thin shoulder as he stepped up onto a rick of wood and walked to the rear of the coalporter. He adjusted to the train’s sway automatically after all this time, and his footing was sure. Once he was clear of the coalporter, the wind caught him and shoved him back along the train.

Peress’s rolling stock consisted of the engine, the coalporter, two railcars that served as bunkhouses for the teams, six railcars for storing salvaged goods when they were on a long haul as they were now, a railcar that housed a machinist’s shop, a caboose that was a fort on iron wheels, and the final railcar that contained the salvage crew’s vehicles.

Sunlight splintered from the long, rectangular solar panels on both sides of the railcars. They charged batteries on the train that the crew used to run security equipment, drones, and comms at night.

As Gant made his way along the narrow path between the solar panel, he made an inventory of the three that weren’t working. Witt, the train’s electrical engineer, would probably catch them on his rounds, but the military had made redundancy part of Gant’s life. An extra pair of eyes always helped. He noted the cars/units on the small notepad he carried.

The final railcar was a covered autorack, designed and built to carry vehicles.
Gant peered over the caboose and called down to the man standing guard there with an M4A1 assault rifle. “Hey, Ponce.”

Manuel Ponce de Leon, once a border patrol agent between California and Mexico, looked up at Gant. In his late thirties, Ponce had weathered the cartel storms as a DEA agent. He was dark and swarthy and wore a long-billed California Angels ball cap that was frayed and stained. His grizzled jowls split in a smile.
“Hey, Peter.”

Gant clambered down the ladder, bumped fists with Ponce for good luck, and opened the door to the autorack.

 

Come Back Next Sunday for Chapter Three of HELLBOUND EXPRESS.

“Coffee?” Peress offered. His blue eyes looked inflamed from the wind and the smoke that drifted up from the fire box below the gauges. The heavy steel door was eighteen inches wide and twelve inches tall. The fireman who handled the firewood in the coalporter car running behind the engine fed split logs into the fire box as needed to keep the boiler stoked.

Gant took the covered cup Peress handed him. Gingerly, Gant sniffed the contents and thought it smelled okay. He’d gotten unpleasantly surprised a few times by Peress’s concoctions over the months spent on the train.

Although Peress had been a stickler for authenticity when it came to the steam engine, he’d wired in a Keurig coffeemaker as his one concession. K-Cups were always at the top of the salvage lists when the teams traveled out from the train.
“That’s just Folgers.” Peress grinned and sipped from his cup. “Now this, this is hazelnut. You don’t know what you’re missing.”

“Smells like that elephant dung coffee you tried to get me to drink.”

Although Junior was a proper ass, Gant liked Peress, Senior. The man knew how to get along with others and work within a team. He was pleasant and hopeful even though he had no reason to be in the world they’d inherited.

A smile split Peress’s round face. In the early dawn light, he looked older and a little grayer. The miles were wearing on him. “No, that’s Black Ivory Coffee. That’s pure nectar and it’s hard to come by. I save it for special occasions. And it’s on the salvage list.”

Gant tapped his pocket under his Kevlar vest, letting Peress know he had the list because the man would ask.

“Winslow was known for its artistic flair before the Event,” Peress said, “so if you get a spare moment to be particular about what you grab for salvage…”
Spare moments were hard to come by on a salvage run. The living dead still shambled around, and there were other salvagers who were out for whatever they could get too.

“I’ll keep an eye out for it,” Gant said.

“I’d be most grateful, Mr. Gant. Not that I’m not already grateful for all that you do. All of us are.”

Gant ignored that. He still wasn’t comfortable around Peress’s operation. With everything that had happened in the world, small numbers would have fared better. But Peress was determined to build a city out of the rubble.

To Gant’s mind, the risk of being around a large population was too great. If people got packed in tight, they couldn’t live off the land and it got harder to feed them. It also marked them for stronger predator groups that waited until the hunter/gatherers among them were off getting goods.

And all it would take to destroy everything was one Yeomra Outbreak in the midst of them. One unattended death and dozens would follow like falling dominoes.

Every day Gant spent there, he knew the risk was greater, and he thought often of leaving before he had to watch it all come apart. Still, he stayed, and in staying, his service there answered some unexplainable need within him.

Peress reached into his bib pocket and took out his Waltham Railroad Pocket Watch and flipped the lid open. The device sat like a small, golden onion in the palm of Peress’s soft palm. The large, Arabic numbers and the minute lines between stood out in black against the white face.

“We’re twenty-three minutes out from our scheduled stop, Peter.” Peress flicked the watch closed and put it away. “Time to get your troops rallied.”

Gant nodded, finished the dregs of his coffee, and handed the cup back to Peress. “Thanks for the coffee.”

“Be careful out there,” Peress admonished.

Turning from the engine, Gant hauled himself up into the coalporter car and passed Adriana Rose, the train’s fireman, who was sitting on a high seat built into the car’s wall. Her booted feet rested on a neatly stacked rick cord of split oak that had yellowed after drying.

Gaunt almost to the point of emaciation and always taciturn, Rose had served as Peress’s chief finance officer in the pharmaceutical business. Her scraggly shoulder-length hair held splinters from the firewood and soot from the fire box left stains in it and around the goggles that protected her eyes. A red scarf hung around her neck. Like her boss, Rose also wore traditional engineer overalls.

“Good luck,” Rose said. “Bring back some chocolate if you can. It might not be high on Mr. Peress’s list, but I like it.”

“I will, Ms. Rose.” Gant gently squeezed the older woman’s thin shoulder as he stepped up onto a rick of wood and walked to the rear of the coalporter. He adjusted to the train’s sway automatically after all this time, and his footing was sure. Once he was clear of the coalporter, the wind caught him and shoved him back along the train.

Peress’s rolling stock consisted of the engine, the coalporter, two railcars that served as bunkhouses for the teams, six railcars for storing salvaged goods when they were on a long haul as they were now, a railcar that housed a machinist’s shop, a caboose that was a fort on iron wheels, and the final railcar that contained the salvage crew’s vehicles.

Sunlight splintered from the long, rectangular solar panels on both sides of the railcars. They charged batteries on the train that the crew used to run security equipment, drones, and comms at night.

As Gant made his way along the narrow path between the solar panel, he made an inventory of the three that weren’t working. Witt, the train’s electrical engineer, would probably catch them on his rounds, but the military had made redundancy part of Gant’s life. An extra pair of eyes always helped. He noted the cars/units on the small notepad he carried.

The final railcar was a covered autorack, designed and built to carry vehicles.
Gant peered over the caboose and called down to the man standing guard there with an M4A1 assault rifle. “Hey, Ponce.”

Manuel Ponce de Leon, once a border patrol agent between California and Mexico, looked up at Gant. In his late thirties, Ponce had weathered the cartel storms as a DEA agent. He was dark and swarthy and wore a long-billed California Angels ball cap that was frayed and stained. His grizzled jowls split in a smile.
“Hey, Peter.”

Gant clambered down the ladder, bumped fists with Ponce for good luck, and opened the door to the autorack.

Come Back Next Sunday for Chapter Three of HELLBOUND EXPRESS.

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