Canada on The Rails

April 2017

SHE CARRIED A POCKETKNIFE, of course. A multi-tooled contraption with a blade, but also a fork and a spoon, a corkscrew, a tiny fold-out ruler, a level, a bottle opener. She used the knife to hack away at the ropes. A train rocketed towards them.

John Canada was trussed to the trestles and whoever had done this to him knew a thing or two about knots. He had been tied horizontally to the rail, his body bowing over the track, but when the woman showed up out of nowhere, he resolved not to slouch. He stiffened up so that only the heels of his boots and the rim of his bowler hat touched the ground.

And dammit, he was anything but rakish.

His body shook as the train drew closer. The hat was knocked askew, falling to a rakish angle over his left eye, and dammit, he was anything but rakish, but with his arms firmly fastened to his torso and his torso fastened just as firmly to the train tracks, there was no way of fixing it.

The blade was sharp, the woman’s forearms thick with muscle. She cut through the first rope and John Canada’s right arm was loose. He saw immediately that this arm would only be in the way of the Swiss army operation taking place on the left side of his body, so he continued to hold it stiffly by his side.

The train whistle screamed. It screamed “Hurry up! I’m almost here!”
The train’s windshield eyes were wide. Two men with striped conductor’s hats were the pupils and their eyes were wide, too. The train squealed, the knife sawed, a crow watching from the branches of a scrawny spruce cawed, and finally, finally, the rope gave way. The woman, with her muscled forearms, pulled the plank that was John Canada from the tracks.

The updraft from the train pushed them backwards, the crow was blown from its perch, and John Canada’s bowler hat lifted. He made a stiff, tumbling lurch to keep it on his head.

The woman grabbed John Canada tight up against her and held him until the caboose careened around the next bend. The crow settled back on the tree like dust, and began to preen its feathers.

A tide of laughter heaved over her. “Careful there, Skipper,” she hooted, “or you’ll end up a pirate like me.” She waved her hand and it was a silvery claw, polished to a glassy shine. Still shaking, he bowed stiffly and introduced himself.

“Charmed,” she said, winking broadly. “My name’s Newfoundland, but you can call me Anytime.”

John Canada blushed and bowed stiffly again. Newfoundland offered her hooked hand, and John Canada took it shyly, and they wandered off along the track, heading to Town.

Canada on the Rails is part of a NQ short fiction series called “When NL Saved Canada.”  I sent that headline (from a 1940’s NQ column) to a local writing group and asked for their short fiction responses. Five of those stories will be published in NQ. Melissa Barbeau is part of the Port Authority writing group. You can read the first story, by Gary Newhook, here.

Prepared | by April White | Copyright 2017