Fiction

Justin R. Guiles – The Trainmaster’s Tinker

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The Trainmaster’s Tinker

I live under a subway line. The wheels strike the track overhead and shake the beam that serves as the spine to my shack, which in turn, jiggles my belly fat and tosses my picture frames. Sleep is almost entirely alien to me; I wouldn’t know a wink from a blink and the hundreds that thunder overhead make sure of that daily. I’m just another rod to shake, another tree to fall, another plot to dig on their way to city paradise. The trainmaster tells me the state has no outlier; that I am afforded the same privileges as those that trod on me. He says I can utilize this station under the subway line to serve the state by servicing old engines, allowing me to domicile inbound and breathe government air. I take full advantage of my government luxuries and spend my nights alternating between atrophy and breath-counting. Last night, I breathed undisturbed for five hours straight. Finally, a cat, or whatever other creature that prowls under the line with me, broke my count with a loud shriek. I’d have fired my gun at it if I thought I even had a place outside. But my place, at least until the trainmaster tells me so, is inside.

The trainmaster told me so two days later. He usually sends word by way of the post. The formula is: I wake up from the imitation of sleep, ingest a few glass shards from the toppled pictures in my bare foot as I walk toward my door, open said door and read whatever piece of mail is stuck to it. Today we have an antique of rare beauty: the Hibler S0, a model of engine popular at the start of my tenure here. I’ve seen enough of its kind to work on it without much difficulty. The tinkers in the city have no idea what to make of this ―practically ancient‖ machine. The trainmaster tells me I, alone, am valued for my expertise in obsolete equipment. It’s one of the few, apparent, descriptors of me that I’ve ever encountered from an outside source. I feel this alone is why I am dignified to breathe, I may even be breathing rarified air, and one day I must compose a letter to the trainmaster, asking him to give me an extensive inventory of the air content down here. I must know what gases I take in and what gases I must contribute to the overall atmosphere. I’ve been told I breathe “smoke and oil” and if I tried, I could “start a train (providing it was outmoded by at least five years) on breath alone.” I never wasted time trying because usually I am given repairs that are limited to the replacement of specific parts or, simply, jiggling a spot that vitally needs jiggling. I figured even the city tinkers could figure out how to jiggle a Hibler S0 the right way, so it appeared down to me to search for what needed replacing.

Sixteen minutes into staring blankly at the Hibler’s frame, I believe I sighted a bit that hung together just a little too loosely. Fortunately, the bit in question had many clones out in the junkyard surrounding my shack. It’s been my prerogative to step through the potter’s field located behind my house and trod softly over the restful heads stationed there in order to enter the wastes and pick my lot. I never fail to coincide my travels with the shaky arrival of the 4pm train, so I decided I would wait beyond my usual time before searching for the Hibler‘s replacement part. I didn’t want to double the trouble of noise pounding down on the strangers interred outside my house. My opinion is that the ram of the train is just under the loudness needed to rouse the dead from their sleep (it certainly exceeds the loudness needed to rouse the living from their rest) and I didn’t want to add my power to the train’s.

Until my appointed time, I sat and tried to remember myself. My belongings were no help to this purpose, belonging along with the shack itself, entirely to the state. The pictures that are supposed to hang from my wall when they are not lodged in my foot are a gallery of families hailing from the state capital: governor’s wives, commissioner sons, and a judge’s god-nephew, I think, who is not only bound to his uncle by blood but, apparently, also God. When I arrived, I was offered no information as to how the lives of those that hang on my wall are lived nor how their freedoms are undoubtedly constrained by living in such close proximity to each other, on my wall or, even, in the city. The portraits themselves give no voice, not any I can hear-though once I was staring in the god-nephew’s eyes and a cat, or what have you, cried out. The nephew betrayed no emotion upon hearing the cry. The state breeds solid people, I think. And if I was to fulfill any stately, or divine, purpose, I was going to need rest and forthrightness upon waking.

My sleeping was disturbed by the 4pm train. Evidently, the state required urgency and sleep makes urgency not, or so I have to believe, or else my rights are infringed upon, which I know is not possible with a purpose and a clear technique to my life so upfront in my mind. I had the freedom to agree to this purpose and if there was a small time before I could agree, I am sure I was made with this purpose. The trainmaster has made it a priority to continually remind me so. “You are a wonder with the wrench; you wield it as lightly as a surgeon does his scalpel. I believe you were born to the wrench, you were born to the machine,” he detailed to me so beautifully in a neat letter from seven years ago. I don’t quite remember the wrench at birth but with this letter as reference, my memory saw to producing a tool of astonishing design curled up in my infant fingers. From what I understand, wrenches were gifted to special children, made to a clear design. That’s what I could put together when I wondered about it in my mind. I believe my wrench was jade. I should write to the trainmaster and confirm soon, I thought, as I opened the door and peeped that something was stuck to it: a letter from the trainmaster himself. He doubled my assignments. The front of the envelope displayed that a Neubachen Pf 23, series …6 was in need of repair. This was a much newer model compared to the Hibler, it required bypasses of a largely different sort than I was used to, I figured. This wasn’t for me. Puzzled, I opened the letter.

This letter was addressed to a name other than mine but contained most of the niceties and turn of – phrases I thought peculiar to correspondence meant for me. Apparently, this person was as “valued” as I was. Which didn’t make much sense; I believed I was the only tinker in the outlying areas of the city. I would need to respond soon and clarify this whole situation, but state priority is first so I resolved to write a letter when I returned from the junkyards.

As I stepped out of my door, I caught the presence of that cat, or what have you. It alert ed to its location at the potter’s field behind my shack, I imagined it pawed over sullen heads half-drowned in dirt and light. An exaggeration, for I knew that all bodies were rather deeply placed ever since the midnight train awoke my conscious mind to my occasional nocturnal habit of digging up graves six years ago. I had to train myself out of walking outside unconsciously. It took immense will to cut the excess in my actions and utilize only what was needed to go the distance and fix these machines. Which is why I didn’t chase the cat, or whatever, potter’s field way, I circumnavigated the graveyard entirely. It only cost me a bit of skin from my rump as I raked my body over the tall, old wire fence to the left of my house but I definitely am still complete enough in body and mind to fulfill my duties.

Nothing else prevented me from my search. Though, I think I got some train-times mixed up in my mind as I more than certainly heard a second train ride the line over, I didn’t confirm it with my eyes but there definitely was a continued, stuttering disturbance from above. Weird, I thought, as I wandered the wastes.

I don’t believe I’ve ever had issue with the discarded. The junkyard that practically fills the outlying rim of the city is brimming with new sights daily. The city, maybe a bit too discouraging of decay, sends its ailing items to find refuge in the areas around my home where a new purpose is found for them, where a sun sets differently on their decomposing frame and an elevation is allowed to take place, facilitated by me. Usually, when gallivanting for parts in the wastes, I search the most recent areas of my past excavation. Since the new deposits are always placed in areas that I just recently freed of a decaying fuselage, bike-pump, or what have you, I always know where to look for new parts.

There was, in fact, a new addition before my eyes that day: a mostly intact subway car, lacking only passengers and the inherent noise of motion. A cat may have called from near the car but I dropped attention to the matter as soon as its potential source in the cat came to mind.

The junkyard is made by such rarities as this. A subway car in complete form hasn’t been found by me since my first year of tenure as tinker here. My first car was stripped entirely of the seating; this one seemed to have functional seats, railings, and at least half a door. This car must have been cured carefully in city storage before being replaced by another item and finding rest here. Its exterior resembled the trains that took hold of the line just before my time. The part needed to restore the Hibler S0 to perfect working condition could likely find a clone in this car.

It didn’t take long to notice upon entering that I was not alone in the car. The car contained what I believed to be an anachronism. The Neubachen Pf 23 series …6’s shiny frame was laying squarely in the car’s aisle. This subway car is several cycles outmoded by the Neubachen, it couldn’t have arrived here under the same terms – I braced myself for another’s presence, hoping underneath all anxiety that it was the trainmaster here to clear my head of worry.

It was another man revealed to me, peeping his head out from under one of the seats. I ceased then the hope that this was the trainmaster. The man before me appeared heavy with dirt but light of body, and judging by his eyes focused on me, clear of mind. I extended my hand and introduced myself as a functionary of the state. The man replied in turn, saying he was also bound to the state. I told him of my seven-year tinkering tenure. He told me he just began. I wondered aloud, proclaiming I was the only tinker outside the city. He admitted that he believed the same.

I asked if he knew the trainmaster and he said that he did. I challenged him to produce a paper to this effect on the spot and he quickly furnished a letter. The letter was addressed to the same man as the letter stuck on my door that morning. This was the same man. Despite the value in my uniqueness, here was another and judging from his build and intense focus, a better. I withdrew from the train and took this to mean the Hibler was out of use permanently in the city. Where I would find use without the Hibler wasn’t decided yet. So, as I always did when there appeared a rest between functions, I headed for my bed to commence the counting of breaths in between.

My way back was beset with none but troubled thought. I thought of the myriad uses the state might have for the better version of me and the slimming ones they had in keeping the old me and I found no contentment in this, very severely. With another to take over my physical duties, would I only be prized for my knowledge of the old? I must compose a well-worded letter to the train master not quite complaining but just explaining the overall disagreeableness I find of this turn of things. It wouldn’t help to raise my verbal voice at the keeper of my home at all.

I was relieved to find my home absent of both feline and train sounds. The potter’s field was all that lay between me and my shack. I had lost too much hiking up that fence, it’d be far better to clutch my wounds and carefully step over those interred in order to reach balmy insides of my home.

Potter’s field was upset. The ground was turned out; dirt lay in clumps around a particular hole in the corner of the field. Having a letter to compose, I straightened my head and proceeded to the shack. A cat called from behind and forced my head to turn around. My eye fell not on the cat but on the near silent approach of a train, apparently running the line without any regard to its schedule. My knowledge was going to waste by the very minute. My mind was wasted with it as I suffered myself to watch with intense focus its imminent arrival over my head. I braced myself for the cascading sounds that were to come and, by all good sense, should have hit me by now but the sound was delayed until the train was directly overhead. I turned my body to focus on its travel away from my shack when I saw a man where one wasn’t supposed to be. The tinker from the subway car was standing outside of my shack. Finally, proper sense was being made; cuing the overwhelming racket of the train condensed in a sonic jiggle all about my body as I turn and trip over a dirt clump and descends an eternity in potter’s field.


Justin R. Guiles is a writer/filmmaker from Virginia Beach who believes the merit of his words necessitates his existence. He writes anything and for any reason as long as he can approach some truth. Truth may be accessed anywhere. The fact that his note strikes from Virginia Beach is accidental but, somehow, operative.


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