Minutes passed as Tommy worked through the coming reality. Was he about to die? He knew he was dead already because of the disease, but it was an odd feeling to know his own end. Despite the inevitability of it, Tommy didn’t want to think about it as his eyes and mind wandered. He saw the Conductor staring down at his pocket watch and thought it incredibly silly that the man still cared about the time. But, the more he looked, the more he knew it wasn’t the time the Conductor was spending his last minutes staring into as Tommy saw the edge of a small picture.
“Your wife?” Tommy asked as his voice, hoarse with life, broke the silence.
“My jewel,” the Conductor responded. “She’s going to be hurt because of this. She’ll defend me, of course. She’s a fiery old gal,” the Conductor said as his voice broke. Tommy could hear the remorse in his voice. “But, what I am most afraid of is my son won’t understand. He’s waiting, even now, at the station for me to come home. And when the dust settles, his old man will be to blame for all of this.” Thomas Rice paused as he bit at a wave of emotion. “I just hate it for him—for having a name that will be forever associated with a broken legacy. It is my name on the manifest. My name will go down in history for causing this train wreck. My son will grow up attached to an infamous Daylight,” Thomas Rice said.
Tommy could hear his sorrow and remorse. He wanted to reach out to him—to the great-grandfather who was so much more than the stories Tommy had been told.
“But, this must be done. If I am ruined for the sake of saving even just one life, then so be it,” Thomas Rice stated resolutely as he increased the speed. As they rode in silence, punctuated by the squeal of the train wheels, Tommy watched. He took in every detail of his great-grandfather.
“Call me Tommy. Harold is my middle name,” he lied.
“I did not know that,” Thomas Rice said with a chuckle. “Good name, though. Certainly, Tommy. We are almost at our destination. We will be going down in elevation, so the Daylight will pick up more speed. But, I need to know when we are in the middle of the bridge. I’ll need you to look out the window and tell me exactly when to throw the bar.”
Tommy didn’t move. He had so many words for Thomas Rice, but none of them were enough. Tommy nodded as he moved to the window and poked his head out. The wind grabbed his hair as if it was his mother running her hands through his tangled mess. Tommy wanted to close his eyes, block it all out, and enjoy these last moments with his life.
The Pit River Bridge came into view. It looked distant, at the end of a rolling hill, but it was quickly becoming larger than life.
“I see it!” Tommy shouted as he glanced back inside. Thomas Rice nodded solemnly. Sam was slumped over against the wall. Tommy could see his chest still rising, but knew he was unconscious.
The chugging of the Daylight filled the atmosphere as the colossal machine continued towards its destiny. Closer and closer they drew, like a final breath, towards their destination. The Daylight continued to pick up speed, hurtling precariously down the hill. The sunlight gleamed off of the Daylight’s trademark orange paint lines. The smell of water wrapped around Tommy as it carried in the wind and through his mind. The Daylight reached the end of the hill with a lurch.
The Daylight found the edge of the bridge going full speed. Thomas Rice had his hand on the brake, knuckles white. His breath was coming in ragged, strained gasps as the sickness ate away at his body. His gaze, though, was steady as he waited for the signal.
Tommy looked at his family. Thomas Rice truly was a good man. Tears welled up in Tommy’s throat and spilled down his cheeks.
“Your son. He is immensely proud.” The Conductor spared a smile. Tommy looked back out over Shasta Lake.
It was time.
“Throw it!” Tommy shouted.
Without hesitation or debate, Thomas Rice slammed the brake in place. The sudden change of speed sent Tommy sprawling in the cabin. He heard a resounding crack which was followed by a fiery pain that moved up and down his right arm. His scream was drowned out by the unearthly squeal of the Daylight.
The abrupt stop of the Engine did not mean the rest of the train was willing to stop as well. The coal car was pushed upwards by its momentum and sliced off the top cabin. Metal and debris showered down on the men cowering inside. This was followed by bone jarring collisions that shook through every fiber of Harold’s body. As he struggled to regain his balance, Tommy could taste blood in his mouth and his arm hung limply at his side. His ears were ringing, but Tommy managed to get to his feet and look out the cabin window.
The Daylight was being undone. The back of the train smashed into the lounge and coach cars before they went careening off the tracks. Weak, distant screams tore across the bridge. Because the train was one single organism, connected together like links in a massive centipede, the back of the train dragged the rest of the Daylight off the tracks. Like a pendulum, the weight of the caboose and back cars pulled the rest of the Daylight into the chasm’s open mouth. Tommy watched, with a horrified curiosity, as each piece left the safety of the Pit River Bridge.
Tommy turned to the Conductor and extended his hand. Thomas Rice took it as he was pulled to his feet. The Conductor rested in the open, broken doorway of the cabin. Sam was laying on his side, oblivious to the destruction unfolding around him. Tommy watched over his shoulder as the rest of the train slipped off the tracks. His eyes flew to Thomas Rice. He was expecting fear or pain to be on his face, but instead he saw a satisfied peace.
The rest of the Daylight submitted to defeat with a mighty growl.
The Engine was the last piece to be pulled off the tracks. Tommy grabbed onto the panel of instruments behind him as the world tipped forward. With a hiss and screech of rebellious metal, the Engine tipped backwards. For a moment, Tommy hung in the air, his feet grazing up against the Conductor’s chest. Behind him, the boiler whined and gurgled as tons of steam and water sloshed. Tommy could feel his grip slipping, and just as he was about to let go, the Engine followed the rest of the train off the tracks.
Tommy felt weightless as the Engine descended into the gorge. He knew what came next. Once the Engine joined the carnage below, the pressure building up inside the boiler would rupture and bring a final, closing note to the symphony of annihilation. His stomach flipped as the mangled pile of train cars came into view just over the Conductor’s shoulder. As the end hurtled towards them both, Tommy stared into the wild triumph found in Thomas Rice’s eyes.
The locomotive punctured the ground like a torpedo. Tommy was immediately wrapped in darkness as the boiled exploded and enveloped the Daylight in flames.