Dreams of a Steam Train by Patrick T. Webb

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Every second Saturday in the summer, No. 27, “Old Green,” ventured out of the museum under the parking garage. She crawled along with three turquoise coaches to the downtown hotels, past the sailor memorial statue in the square, down the green line to the beach under the catenary wire. She dinged her bell at tourists, locals and her successors.
            Most of the electric trams were friendly. Uptown Blue shared the best gossip, and Circle Orange told hilarious jokes, except for Midway Green “Seaweed.”
            Old Green crawled over the points at the beach station. Seaweed sat in the passing line.
            “Move it!” Seaweed said.
            Old Green ducked her eyes down. The points changed and Seaweed snaked past. Old Green watched her passengers play volleyball, sunbathe, and spend time with family. Every Saturday evening, when the volunteers refilled her tanks, wiped down her side plates and cowcatchers, she looked at a picture on the wall. In a black and white photo, No. 26 charged through a ribbon to open the beach extension. She was gone by the time preservationists preserved Old Green. In her dreams, Old Green ran alongside her sister. She missed 26’s laughter and courage. Why had she survived, and not 26, who never let engines push her around?
            “We survive to carry their legacy,” her driver said, when Old Green asked. She pointed to her father, managing the station. Old Green wasn’t sure she could carry more than her coaches. Her boiler pressure dropped, and she burnt more used cooking oil. The crew fussed over her, though there wasn’t a mechanical solution.
            Old Green dreamed of 26 again, who gave her a sympathetic smile. “Courage takes many shapes.”
            The doors flew open on Tuesday. Old Green squinted at the sun.
            “There’s been a power outage. They need us,” her driver said. She clambered into Old Green’s cab.
            Old Green gulped, then recalled her dream. “Let’s get going then,” she said. They found Seaweed crawling through an intersection on reserve power. The shop owners groaned, traffic blared. Seaweed’s eyes were glued shut.
            Old Green rang her bell. “Stop that! They’re doing their best.”
            No one retorted. Old Green pulled Seaweed to a siding, then ran up and down the hills on the green line, where she used to run. Strawberry Hill still had its brick road and buildings. Old Green passed the Cabbage Hill intentional living community, and whistled at old friends working on the porch garden, who waved back.
            Old Green slunk into the museum once power returned. She beamed and snored before the volunteers left. In her mind, 26 smiled too.
            Seaweed waited for Old Green at the beach station next Saturday. “Thank you.” Seaweed sighed. “I don’t know why you helped.”
            Old Green smiled. “Let me tell you about Twenty-Six.”

Patrick Webb is a fan of trains, science fiction/fantasy, public transit and a good (or bad) pun. He often includes several of his passions into his writings.


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