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Title:      Train for Flushing
Author:     Malcolm Jameson
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0601851.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          June 2006
Date most recently updated: June 2006

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Title:      Train for Flushing
Author:     Malcolm Jameson




They ought never to have hired that man. Even the most stupid of
personnel managers should have seen at a glance that he was mad. Perhaps
it is too much to expect such efficiency these days--in _my_ time a
thing like this could not have happened. They would have known the
fellow was under a curse! It only shows what the world has come to. But
I can tell you that if we ever get off this crazy runaway car, I intend
to turn the Interboro wrong-side out. They needn't think because I am an
old man and retired that I am a nobody they can push around. My son
Henry, the lawyer one, will build a fire under them--he knows people in
this town.

"And I am not the only victim of the maniac. There is a pleasant,
elderly woman here in the car with me. She was much frightened at first,
but she had recognized me for a solid man, and now she stays close to me
all the time. She is a Mrs. Herrick, and a quite nice woman. It was her
idea that I write this down--it will help us refresh our memories when
we come to testify.

"Just at the moment, we are speeding atrociously _downtown_ along the
Seventh Avenue line of the subway--but we are on the _uptown_ express
track! The first few times we tore through those other trains it was
terrible--I thought we were sure to be killed--and even if we were not,
I have to think of my heart. Dr. Steinback told me only last week how
careful I should be. Mrs. Herrick has been very brave about it, but it
is a scandalous thing to subject anyone to, above all such a kindly
little person.

"The madman who seems to be directing us (if charging wildly up and down
these tracks implies _direction_), is now looking out the front door,
staring horribly at the gloom rushing at us. He is a big man and
heavy-set, very weathered and tough-looking. I am nearing eighty and
slight.

"There is nothing I can do but wait for the final crash; for crash we
must, sooner or later, unless some Interboro official has brains enough
to shut off the current to stop us. If _he_ escapes the crash, the
police will know him by his heavy red beard and tattooing on the backs
of his hands. The beard is square-cut and there cannot be another one
like it in all New York.

"But I notice I have failed to put down how this insane ride began. My
granddaughter, Mrs. Charles L. Terneck, wanted me to see the World's
Fair, and was to come in from Great Neck and meet me at the subway
station. I will say that she insisted someone come with me, but I can
take care of myself--I always have--even if my eyes and ears are not
what they used to be.


The train was crowded, but somebody gave me a seat in a corner. Just
before we reached the stop, the woman next to me, this Mrs. Herrick, had
asked if I knew how to get to Whitestone from Flushing. It was while I
was telling her what I knew about the busses, that the train stopped and
let everybody off the car but us. I was somewhat irritated at missing
the station, but knew that all I had to do was stay on the car, go to
Flushing and return. It was then that the maniac guard came in and
behaved so queerly.

"This car was the last one in the train, and the guard had been standing
where he belongs, on the platform. But he came into the car, walking
with a curious rolling walk (but I do not mean to imply he was drunk,
for I do not think so) and his manner was what you might call masterful,
almost overbearing. He stopped at the middle door and looked very
intensely out to the north, at the sound.

"'_That_ is not the Scheldt!' he called out, angrily, with a thick,
foreign accent, and then he said 'Bah!' loudly, in a tone of disgusted
disillusionment.

"He seemed of a sudden to fly into a great fury. The train was just
making its stop at the end of the line, in Flushing. He rushed to the
forward platform and somehow broke the coupling. At the same moment, the
car began running backward along the track by which we had come. There
was no chance for us to get off, even if we had been young and active.
The doors were not opened, it happened so quickly.

"Then he came into the car, muttering to himself. His eye caught the
sign of painted tin they put in the windows to show the destination of
the trains. He snatched the plate lettered 'Flushing' and tore it to
bits with his rough hands, as if it had been cardboard, throwing the
pieces down and stamping on them.

"'That is not Flushing. Not _my_ Flushing--not _Vlissingen!_ But I will
find it. I will go there, and not all the devils in Hell nor all the
angels in Heaven shall stop me!'

"He glowered at us, beating his breast with his clenched fists, as if
angry and resentful at us for having deceived him in some manner. It was
then that Mrs. Herrick stooped over and took my hand. We had gotten up
close to the door to step out at the World's Fair station, but the car
did not stop. It continued its wild career straight on, at dizzy speed.

"'_Rugwaartsch_!' he shouted, or something equally unintelligible.
'_Back_ I must go, like always, but yet will find my Vlissingen!'

"Then followed the horror of pitching headlong into those trains! The
first one we saw coming, Mrs. Herrick screamed. I put my arm around her
and braced myself as best I could with my cane. But there was no crash,
just a blinding succession of lights and colors, in quick winks. We
seemed to go straight through that train, from end to end, at lightning
speed, but there was not even a jar. I do not understand that, for I saw
it coming, clearly. Since, there have been many others. I have lost
count now, we meet so many, and swing from one track to another so
giddily at the end of runs.

"But we have learned, Mrs. Herrick and I, not to dread the
collisions--or say, passage--so much. We are more afraid of what the
bearded ruffian who dominates this car will do next--surely we cannot go
on this way much longer, it has already been many, many hours. I cannot
comprehend why the stupid people who run the Interboro do not do
something to stop us, so that the police could subdue this maniac and I
can have Henry take me to the District Attorney."


So read the first few pages of the notebook turned over to me by the
Missing Persons Bureau. Neither Mrs. Herrick, nor Mr. Dennison, whose
handwriting it is, has been found yet, nor the guard he mentions. In
contradiction, the Interboro insists no guard employed by them is
unaccounted for, and further, that they never had had a man of the above
description on their payrolls.

On the other hand, they have as yet produced no satisfactory explanation
of how the car broke loose from the train at Flushing.

I agree with the police that this notebook contains matter that may have
some bearing on the disappearances of these two unfortunate citizens;
yet here in the Psychiatric Clinic we are by no means agreed as to the
interpretation of this provocative and baffling diary.

The portion I have just quoted was written with a fountain pen in a
crabbed, tremulous hand, quite exactly corresponding to the latest
examples of old Mr. Dennison's writing. Then we find a score or more of
pages torn out, and a resumption of the record in indelible pencil. The
handwriting here is considerably stronger and more assured, yet
unmistakably that of the same person. Farther on, there are other places
where pages have been torn from the book, and evidence that the journal
was but intermittently kept. I quote now all that is legible of the
remainder of it.


Judging by the alternations of the cold and hot seasons, we have now
been on this weird and pointless journey for more than ten years. Oddly
enough, we do not suffer physically, although the interminable rushing
up and down these caverns under the streets becomes boring. The ordinary
wants of the body are strangely absent, or dulled. We sense heat and
cold, for example, but do not find their extremes particularly
uncomfortable, while food has become an item of far distant memory. I
imagine, though, we must sleep a good deal.

"The guard has very little to do with us, ignoring us most of the time
as if we did not exist. He spends his days sitting brooding at the far
end of the car, staring at the floor, mumbling in his wild, red beard.
On other days he will get up and peer fixedly ahead, as if seeking
something. Again, he will pace the aisle in obvious anguish, flinging
his outlandish curses over his shoulder as he goes. '_Verdoemd_' and
'_verwenscht_' are the commonest ones--we have learned to recognize
them--and he tears his hair in frenzy whenever he pronounces them. His
name, he says, is Van Der Dechen, and we find it politic to call him
'Captain.'

"I have destroyed what I wrote during the early years (all but the
account of the very first day); it seems rather querulous and hysterical
now. I was not in good health then, I think, but I have improved
noticeably here, and that without medical care. Much of my stiffness,
due to a recent arthritis, has left me, and I seem to hear better.

"Mrs. Herrick and I have long since become accustomed to our forced
companionship, and we have learned much about each other. At first, we
both worried a good deal over our families' concern about our absence.
But when this odd and purposeless kidnapping occurred, we were already
so nearly to the end of life (being of about the same age) that we
finally concluded our children and grand-children must have been
prepared for our going soon, in any event. It left us only with the
problem of enduring the tedium of the interminable rolling through the
tubes of the Interboro.

"In the pages I have deleted, I made much of the annoyance we
experienced during the early weeks due to flickering through oncoming
trains. That soon came to be so commonplace, occurring as it did every
few minutes, that it became as unnoticeable as our breathing. As we lost
the fear of imminent disaster, our riding became more and more
burdensome through the deadly monotony of the tunnels.

"Mrs. Herrick and I diverted ourselves by talking (and to think in my
earlier entries in this journal I complained of her garrulousness!) or
by trying to guess at what was going on in the city above us by watching
the crowds on the station platforms. That is a difficult game, because
we are running so swiftly, and there are frequent intervening trains. A
thing that has caused us much speculation and discussion is the changing
type of advertising on the bill-posters. Nowadays they are featuring the
old favorites--many of the newer toothpastes and medicines seem to have
been withdrawn. Did they fail, or has a wave of conservative reaction
overwhelmed the country?

"Another marvel in the weird life we lead is the juvenescence of our
home, the runaway car we are confined to. In spite of its unremitting
use, always at top speed, it has become steadily brighter, more
new-looking. Today it has the appearance of having been recently
delivered from the builders' shops.


I learned half a century ago that having nothing to do, and all the time
in the world to do it in, is the surest way to get nothing done. In
looking in this book, I find it has been ten years since I made an
entry! It is a fair indication of the idle, routine life in this
wandering car. The very invariableness of our existence has discouraged
keeping notes. But recent developments are beginning to force me to face
a situation that has been growing ever more obvious. The cumulative
evidence is by now almost overwhelming that this state of ours has a
meaning--has an explanation. Yet I dread to think the thing through--to
call its name! Because there will be two ways to interpret it. Either it
is as I am driven to conclude, or else I ...

"I must talk it over frankly with Nellie Herrick. She is remarkably
poised and level-headed, and understanding. She and I have matured a
delightful friendship.

"What disturbs me more than anything is the trend in advertising. They
are selling products again that were popular so long ago that I had
actually forgotten them. And the appeals are made in the idiom of years
ago. Lately it has been hard to see the posters, the station platforms
are so full. In the crowds are many uniforms, soldiers and sailors. We
infer from that there is another war--but the awful question is, 'What
war?'

"Those are some of the things we can observe in the world over there. In
our own little fleeting world, things have developed even more
inexplicably. My health and appearance, notably. My hair is no longer
white! It is turning dark again in the back, and on top. And the same is
true of Nellie's. There are other similar changes for the better. I see
much more clearly and my hearing is practically perfect.

"The culmination of these disturbing signals of retrogression has come
with the newest posters. It is their appearance that forces me to face
the facts. Behind the crowds we glimpse new appeals, many and
insistent-'BUY VICTORY LOAN BONDS!' From the number of them to be seen,
one would think we were back in the happy days of 1919, when the
soldiers were coming home from the World War.


My talk with Nellie has been most comforting and reassuring. It is
hardly likely that we should both be insane and have identical symptoms.
The inescapable conclusion that I dreaded to put into words is _so_--it
must be so. In some unaccountable manner, we are _unliving_ life! Time
is going backward! '_Rugwaartsch_,' the mad Dutchman said that first day
when he turned back from Flushing; 'we will go backward'--to _his_
Flushing, the one he knew. Who knows what Flushing he knew? It must be
the Flushing of another age, or else why should the deranged wizard (if
it is he who has thus reversed time) choose a path through time itself?
Helpless, we can only wait and see how far he will take us.

"We are not wholly satisfied with our new theory. Everything does not go
backward; otherwise how could it be possible for me to write these
lines? I think we are like flies crawling up the walls of an elevator
cab while it is in full descent. Their own proper movements, relative to
their environment, are upward, but all the while they are being carried
relentlessly downward. It is a sobering thought. Yet we are both
relieved that we should have been able to speak it. Nellie admits that
she has been troubled for some time, hesitating to voice the thought.
She called my attention to the subtle way in which our clothing has been
changing, an almost imperceptible de-evolution in style.


We are now on the lookout for ways in which to date ourselves in this
headlong plunging into the past. Shortly after writing the above, we
were favored with one opportunity not to be mistaken. It was the night
of the Armistice. What a night in the subway! Then followed, in inverse
order, the various issues of the Liberty Bonds. Over forty years
ago-counting time both ways, forward, then again backward--_I_ was up
there, a dollar-a-year man, selling them on the streets. Now we suffer a
new anguish, imprisoned down here in this racing subway car. The
evidence all around us brings a nostalgia that is almost intolerable.
None of us knows how perfect his memory is until it is thus prompted.
But we cannot go up there, we can only guess at what is going on above
us.

"The realization of what is really happening to us has caused us to be
less antagonistic to our conductor. His sullen brooding makes us wonder
whether he is not a fellow victim, rather than our abductor, he seems so
unaware of us usually. At other times, we regard him as the principal in
this drama of the gods and are bewildered at the curious twist of Fate
that has entangled us with the destiny of the unhappy Van Der Dechen,
for unhappy he certainly is. Our anger at his arrogant behavior has long
since died away. We can see that some secret sorrow gnaws continually at
his heart.

"'There is _een vloek_ over me,' he said gravely, one day, halting
unexpectedly before us in the midst of one of his agitated pacings of
the aisle. He seemed to be trying to explain--apologize for, if you
will--our situation. 'Accursed I am, damned!' He drew a great breath,
looking at us appealingly. Then his black mood came back on him with a
rush, and he strode away growling mighty Dutch oaths. 'But I will best
them--God Himself shall not prevent me--not if it takes all eternity!'


Our orbit is growing more restricted. It is a long time now since we
went to Brooklyn, and only the other day we swerved suddenly at Times
Square and cut through to Grand Central. Considering this circumstance,
the type of car we are in now, and our costumes, we must be in 1905 or
thereabouts. That is a year I remember with great vividness. It was the
year I first came to New York. I keep speculating on what will become of
us. In another year we will have plummeted the full history of the
subway. What then? Will that be the end?

"Nellie is the soul of patience. It is a piece of great fortune, a
blessing, that since we were doomed to this wild ride, we happened in it
together. Our friendship has ripened into a warm affection that lightens
the gloom of this tedious wandering.


It must have been last night that we emerged from the caves of
Manhattan. Thirty-four years of darkness is ended. We are now out in the
country, going west. Our vehicle is not the same, it is an old-fashioned
day coach, and ahead is a small locomotive. We cannot see engineer or
fireman, but Van Der Dechen frequently ventures across the swaying, open
platform and mounts the tender, where he stands firmly with wide-spread
legs, scanning the country ahead through an old brass long-glass. His
uniform is more nautical than railroadish--it took the sunlight to show
that to us. There was always the hint of salt air about him. We should
have known who he was from his insistence on being addressed as Captain.

"The outside world is moving backward! When we look closely at the
wagons and buggies in the muddy trails alongside the right of way fence,
we can see that the horses or mules are walking or running backward. But
we pass them so quickly, as a rule, that their real motion is
inconspicuous. We are too grateful for the sunshine and the trees after
so many years of gloom, to quibble about this topsy-turvy condition.


Five years in the open has taught us much about Nature in reverse. There
is not so much difference as one would suppose. It took us a long time
to notice that the sun rose in the west and sank in the east. Summer
follows winter, as it always has. It was our first spring, or rather,
the season that we have come to regard as spring, that we were really
disconcerted. The trees were bare, the skies cloudy, and the weather
cool. We could not know, at first sight, whether we had emerged into
spring or fall.

"The ground was wet, and gradually white patches of snow were forming.
Soon, the snow covered everything. The sky darkened and the snow began
to flurry, drifting and swirling upward, out of sight. Later we saw the
ground covered with dead leaves, so we thought it must be fall. Then a
few of the trees were seen to have leaves, then all. Soon the forests
were in the full glory of red and brown autumn leaves, but in a few
weeks those colors turned gradually through oranges and yellows to dark
greens, and we were in full summer. Our 'fall,' which succeeded the
summer, was almost normal, except toward the end, when the leaves
brightened into paler greens, dwindled little by little to mere buds and
then disappeared within the trees.

"The passage of a troop train, its windows crowded with campaign-hatted
heads and waving arms tells us another war has begun (or more properly,
ended). The soldiers are returning from Cuba. _Our_ wars, in this
backward way by which we approach and end in anxiety! More nostalgia--I
finished that war as a major. I keep looking eagerly at the throngs on
the platforms of the railroad stations as we sweep by them, hoping to
sight a familiar face among the yellow-legged cavalry. More than eighty
years ago it was, as I reckon it, forty years of it spent on the road to
senility and another forty back to the prime of life.

"Somewhere among those blue-uniformed veterans am I, in my original
phase, I cannot know just where, because my memory is vague as to the
dates. I have caught myself entertaining the idea of stopping this giddy
flight into the past, of getting out and finding my way to my former
home. Only, if I could, I would be creating tremendous problems--there
would have to be some sort of mutual accommodation between my _alter
ego_ and me. It looks impossible, and there are no precedents to guide
us.

"Then, all my affairs have become complicated by the existence of Nell.
She and I have had many talks about this strange state of affairs, but
they are rarely conclusive. I think I must have over-estimated her
judgment a little in the beginning. But it really doesn't matter. She
has developed into a stunning woman and her quick, ready sympathy makes
up for her lack in that direction. I glory particularly in her hair,
which she lets down some days. It is thick and long and beautifully
wavy, as hair should be. We often sit on the back platform and she
allows it to blow free in the breeze, all the time laughing at me
because I adore it so.

"Captain Van Der Dechen notices us not at all, unless in scorn. His
mind, his whole being, is centered on getting back to Flushing--_his_
Flushing, that he calls Vlissingen--wherever that may be in time or
space. Well, it appears that he is taking us back, too, but it is
backward in time for us. As for him, time seems meaningless. He is
unchangeable. Not a single hair of that piratical beard has altered
since that far-future day of long ago when he broke our car away from
the Interboro train in Queens. Perhaps he suffers from the same sort of
unpleasant immortality the mythical Wandering Jew is said to be
afflicted with--otherwise why should he complain so bitterly of the
curse he says is upon him?

"Nowadays he talks to himself much of the time, mainly about his ship.
It is that which he hopes to find since the Flushing beyond New York
proved not to be the one he strove for. He says he left it cruising
along a rocky coast. He has either forgotten where he left it or it is
no longer there, for we have gone to all the coastal points touched by
the railroads. Each failure brings fresh storms of rage and blasphemy;
not even perpetual frustration seems to abate the man's determination or
capacity for fury.


That Dutchman has switched trains on us again! This one hasn't even
Pintsch gas, nothing but coal oil. It is smoky and it stinks. The engine
is a woodburner with a balloon stack. The sparks are very bad and we
cough a lot.

"I went last night when the Dutchman wasn't looking and took a look into
the cab of the engine. There is no crew and I found the throttle closed.
A few years back that would have struck me as odd, but now I have to
accept it. I did mean to stop the train so I could take Nell off, but
there is no way to stop it. It just goes along, I don't know how.

"On the way back I met the Dutchman, shouting and swearing the way he
does, on the forward platform. I tried to throw him off the train. I am
as big and strong as he is and I don't see why I should put up with his
overbearing ways. But when I went to grab him, my hands closed right
through. The man is not real! It is strange I never noticed that before.
Maybe that is why there is no way to stop the train, and why nobody ever
seems to notice us. Maybe the train is not real, either. I must look
tomorrow and see whether it casts a shadow. Perhaps even _we_ are
not ...

"But Nell is real. I _know_ that.


The other night we passed a depot platform where there was a political
rally--a torchlight parade. They were carrying banners. 'Garfield for
President.' If we are ever to get off this train, we must do it soon.

"Nell says no, it would be embarrassing. I try to talk seriously to her
about us, but she just laughs and kisses me and says let well enough
alone. I wouldn't mind starting life over again, even if these towns do
look pretty rough. But Nell says that she was brought up on a Kansas
farm by a step-mother and she would rather go on to the end and vanish,
if need be, than go back to it.

"That thing about the end troubles me a lot, and I wish she wouldn't
keep mentioning it. It was only lately that I thought about it much, and
it worries me more than death ever did in the old days. _We know when it
will be_! 1860 for me--on the third day of August. The last ten years
will be terrible--getting smaller, weaker, more helpless all the time,
and winding up as a messy, squally baby. Why, that means I have only
about ten more years that are fit to live; when I was this young before,
I had a lifetime ahead. It's not right! And now _she_ has made a silly
little vow--'Until birth do us part!'--and made me say it with her!


It is too crowded in here, and it jolts awfully. Nell and I are cooped
up in the front seats and the Captain stays in the back part--the
quarterdeck, he calls it. Sometimes he opens the door and climbs up into
the driver's seat. There is no driver, but we have a four-horse team and
they gallop all the time, day and night. The Captain says we must use a
stagecoach, because he has tried all the railroad tracks and none of
them is right. He wants to get back to the sea he came from and to his
ship. He is not afraid that it has been stolen, for he says most men are
afraid of it--it is a haunted ship, it appears, and brings bad luck.

"We passed two men on horses this morning. One was going our way and met
the other coming. The other fellow stopped him and I heard him holler,
'They killed Custer and all his men!' and the man that was going the
same way we were said, 'The bloodthirsty heathens! I'm a-going to jine!'


Nellie cries a lot. She's afraid of Indians. I'm not afraid of Indians.
I would like to see one.

"I wish it was a boy with me, instead of this little girl. Then we could
do something. All she wants to do is play with that fool dolly. We could
make some bows and arrows and shoot at the buffaloes, but she says that
is wicked.

"I tried to get the Captain to talk to me, but he won't. He just laughed
and laughed, and said,

"'_Een tijd kiezan voor--op schip_!'

"That made me mad, talking crazy talk like that, and I told him so.

"'Time!' he bellows, laughing like everything.' 'Twill all be right in
time!' And he looks hard at me, showing his big teeth in his beard.
'Four--five--six hundred years--more--it is nothing. I have all
eternity! But one more on my ship, I will get there. I have sworn it!
You come with me and I will show you the sea--the great Indian Sea
behind the Cape of Good Hope. Then some day, if those accursed head
winds abate, I will take you home with me to Flushing. That I will,
though the Devil himself, or all the--' And then he went off to cursing
and swearing the way he always does in his crazy Dutchman's talk.


Nellie is mean to me. She is too bossy. She says she will not play
unless I write in the book. She says I am supposed to write something in
the book every day. There is not anything to put in the book. Same old
stagecoach. Same old Captain. Same old everything. I do not like the
Captain. He is crazy. In the night-time he points at the stars shining
through the roof of the coach and laughs and laughs. Then he gets mad,
and swears and curses something awful. When I get big again, I am going
to kill him--I wish we could get away--I am afraid--it would be nice if
we could find mamma--"


This terminates the legible part of the notebook. All of the writing
purporting to have been done in the stagecoach is shaky, and the letters
are much larger than earlier in the script. The rest of the contents is
infantile scribblings, or grotesque childish drawings. Some of them show
feathered Indians drawing bows and shooting arrows. The very last one
seems to represent a straight up and down cliff with wiggly lines at the
bottom to suggest waves, and off a little way is a crude drawing of a
galleon or other antique ship.

This notebook, together with Mr. Dennison's hat and cane and Mrs.
Herrick's handbag, were found in the derailed car that broke away from
the Flushing train and plunged off the track into the Meadows. The
police are still maintaining a perfunctory hunt for the two missing
persons, but I think the fact they brought this journal to us clearly
indicates they consider the search hopeless. Personally, I really do not
see of what help these notes can be. I fear that by now Mr. Dennison and
Mrs. Herrick are quite inaccessible.



THE END





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