Our Beast dreams in the day
I met a man on the line today
the kind you’d never thought could be.
He was humming the sound of steel wheels and gnashed sand on the side of his head listening to a train about five miles away. His eyes were looking left-eared down the track back a ways from me. I noticed the left hand at first, coal and sulphur hardened, with nails scratching the cold hammered polished rail surface. His right hand was pulling out a twentieth pandrol clip like he was picking at a baby cotter pin. The wind caught his thin, palid hair, pushing it back as if humanity whisked and screamed from it. I crept closer.
There was a smell of formaldehyde and furnace cracked limestone rising from his ash and sinew skin, if you can call it that. He was lying bare except for a parchment waistband that had lava colored glyphs on it.
Then I noticed the right leg, resting over the other track and pressed up against the contact rail. There’s no way anything can do that. “Hey man, do you need help?” Only the fingers in his right hand were moving. I was close enough now to see him yank out another clip, snapped out flinging with a pry bar lever grip. My mind flushed up and quit trying to understand what was happening. I shuffle stepped on the ties and stood over him. I reached for his arm and grabbed with both hands around his wrist.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt like this before. I mean, grab the prongs on a plug half way in the outlet and 120v AC is just about enough to push an amp past your heart but 750V DC can smoke it inside out. It can also knock your nerves back through your ass on the ground. Not him though, he was pulling on the next pin.
I landed outside of the tracks in a soft bed of ballast. My senses didn’t care about anything anymore. It was like forgetting to sleep for days and not knowing what your own soul tastes like.
The man got up and walked over me. He was dead all right, looking down, wishing he hadn’t lost a fight a million years ago. “This train is fine, we’ll get the next one”. I saw it pass, slow and endless. Each passenger looked, flickering, by him and through him as if we weren’t there. In the last window of the last car an old woman saw me. She had her fingernail between the gap of her front teeth. Her eyes had all the matter I had never known.
As soon as it passed, the man had gone back to the rail, laid flat and started working out the bolts on the splice.
When my brain stopped cooking, I got to thinking, this is where the ordinary becomes something I can no longer do. Lifting myself up was the hardest part, a bit crawling, mostly pain, and all the vibration of a carillon hit by a solar flare sword of flame.
It could have been minutes to move a couple feet. The bolts and the fishplate were gone. He was scoring the splice weld with his nails, throwing sparks and screeches around it. I picked up an old sledge lying on the ground next to him. I swung it with everything I had, squarely at his back. It sounded like a lightning bolt that shattered a metal pole right next to me. It was just as bright. Now I couldn’t see or hear anything. I was feeling around for him and grabbed as tight as I could when he stood up straight as a pipe. This might have been my best chance to stop him. I ratcheted in my arms, skip jumped both feet on the 3rd rail, pulled back as hard as I could and prayed we both burned right there on the spot. We didn’t. It was like his ankles were welded to the track and suddenly cracked from the heat and force that was created. We both flew back and landed ten foot off at the bottom of a drainage swale. When I woke up, my head was in the mud. The left side of my face was seared and black, the eye was a boiled egg. All parts of my arms and chest that had been touching him were a Lycra/fat carbonized glass snake skin. My jeans were burning in like embers of steel wool chaps on bone and muscle. My shoes and feet were gone, charred and dead entirely. The only remnants of the man was a burned inverted image branded on me anywhere my clothes hadn’t been. I could feel a rolling hum getting closer again.
This next one came on the same 68 mph as the last, 643 lives, 210 dead, and the rest forever injured. The dogs found my body the next night, in the ditch with a hungry raccoon, not far from a pinch bar, sledge, chisel, and gas grinder.
The man? He was always lost
but I wish he could have stayed unmet.