The Skeptic on Top of the Mountain

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AMOS BRIDGES HAD BEEN HEARING THE RUMOR for years and had no interest in hearing it again. But the whole town was talking about it, provided that a hamlet stuck on the wrong side of the mountain could be called a town. It had a half dozen houses, all of them fashioned from timbers cut a good fifty years earlier, a graveyard out behind the little white church, and a general store that sold on credit or it wouldn’t have sold any groceries at all.

“I guess you heard the news,” Walter the grocery clerk said.

“About the railroad?”

Walter nodded.

“Heard it back before the big snow of thirty-six,” Amos said. “Didn’t build it then. Ain’t gonna build it now.”

“They’re already clearing right of way,” Walter said.

“They may be cutting down a few trees,” Amos said. “But ain’t nobody gonna build a railroad that comes up here to our town.”

“I don’t know why not?”

“Too far. Too high.” Amos shrugged. “Nobody wants to ride a train up here,” he said. “Nobody wants to ride a train back down.”

He stepped off the porch and began walking toward his forty-four Ford parked in an alley behind the store. He was shaking his head. His boots had been scuffed by too many river rocks. His jeans were threadbare, and the red in his red checked shirt had faded away with the last washing. The sun had bleached his black hat.

Amos was gone in a cloud of boiling dust beneath the Ford.

He was at church on a bright Sunday morning in July when Walter sat down beside him.”

“Heard about the train?” he asked.

“What about it?

“I see in the Asheville newspaper that they’ve started laying tracks.” Walter grinned broadly. “We’re gonna get us a train,” he said. “This time it’s for real.”

Amos Bridges shook his head and folded his black felt hat in his hands. “They may lay a little track,” he said. “It’s flat down there.” He paused, gazed out the window and across the top of a distant ridge. “Wait till they hit the mountains. They’ll have to blast out the rock to get a track up here. Can’t do it. They’ll never be able to wrap that metal around the slopes. Too steep. They’ll work their mules to death.”

“I swear,” Walter said

“About what?”

“You’re the most jaded man I ever met.”

“You think I’m skeptical,” Amos said. “You ought to talk to the parson.”

“Why?”

“He thinks I’m as close to heaven as I’ll ever be.” Amos said. He smiled. “And there are days I think he may be right.”

The preacher prayed.

Walter hoped. A train would bring him business. A train might even bring some fool to buy his store.

Amos said amen and didn’t know why.

He stepped outside the church and listened for the distant clatter of a train chugging up the mountain. All he heard was silence. He grinned. Those who dreamed about the coming of a train had suffered from nightmares before.

Amos was standing in his front yard, watching a hard, cold winter defrost into spring, when Walter drove madly down the road and jerked his truck to a stop beside the mailbox.

“Hear it,” he yelled.

“Hear what?” Amos asked.

“The train.”

“There ain’t no fool train out there,” Amos said.

“Look,” yelled Walter, pointing toward a crevice between Blue Cliff and Andiron Mountains. “See the smoke rising up above that point?”

Amos nodded and said that he did.

“Listen hard,” Walter said.

Amos frowned and cocked his head to one side. There amidst the singing of the birds, he did hear a strange and unfamiliar sound, something like the winds of a bad storm slamming against the side of the mountains before it hit.

Amos nodded.

“It’s the train,” Walter yelled. “They laid the last of the tracks last night, and there’s a train headed out way.”

Amos leaned against the post of his front porch, knocked the tobacco from his pipe, and said, “Well they may have laid the tracks.”

“They did,” Walter said.

“And they might have gotten it started,” Amos said.

“They did,” Walter said.

“And they might have straightened out the side of that old mountain.”

“They did,” Walter said.

“And they may have it running our way.”

“They do,” Walter said.

“But they’ll never get it stopped,” Amos said. He walked inside his cabin, sat down by the dying embers in his fireplace, and waited for the sounds of the crash. He was still waiting when a morning sun touched the top of the ridge.

Book one in my historical thriller series.

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