Jacob took a long slow pull on his cigar before taking a sip of brandy. He stared out his office window at the giant steam engine outside. It hardly seemed possible that this would be its last run. He turned from the window as his business partner entered the office.
“I’ve some news you will undoubtedly find interesting,” His business partner grinned from ear to ear. “We may be able to keep the trains running after all.”
Jacob rubbed his temples as he turned back toward the window.
“I’ve run the numbers a hundred times, James, but the fact remains, with the war in full swing coal is simply too expensive.” Smoke and steam billowed from the Grey Ghost as it waited for its passengers to load. “She’s beautiful and it pains me greatly to see her fire extinguished forever. I’m sure there will be no shortage of buyers. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if the army itself was interested in her. She’d get the boys deployed in short order.”
“Jacob, what would you say if I told you there may be a chance you could keep the Ghost and remain profitable? In fact you may even make a killing.” James chuckled at his own joke.
“And how is that, James? We can’t afford the coal.”
“I have it on good authority that a suitable fuel source has been abandoned in the woods of Maine.”
“I’ve heard no such thing. Would not the government seize any fuel source before allowing us a chance?”
“Not likely, considering the type of fuel in question.”
“I’m afraid I’m not following you.”
“I’m talking about human remains, Jacob, mummies to be precise. It seems over 1500 of them were brought from Egypt to Gardiner.”
“Good Lord, whatever for?”
“The linen wraps. A local paper mill had them imported. They unwrapped the bodies and used the linen as a pulp base to make brown paper. The problem was, the women who were hired to perform the grisly task began to contract cholera. The company took the remaining crates and buried them in the woods.”
“And you expect my men to also contract cholera? I think not.”
“No, you misunderstand my friend. We, that is to say your men, would be burning the bodies. Not even cholera can survive fire.”
Jacob stood looking out the window. The Grey Ghost was all he had. To lose her now, would mean everything he had sacrificed would have been in vain. Could he bring himself to desecrate bodies? He left the window and walked the length of his office to stand behind his desk. He picked up the photograph of his wife as he sat down. God she was lovely; the one thing in the world more beautiful than the Ghost.
James had moved to stand behind his partner. “She’d want you to keep the railroad you know.”
“I know. We’ll leave for Maine tonight.”
Jacob sat in the first car. He had it built especially for his wife. Her tuberculosis had worsened over the years making it difficult for her to travel with him as he tended to the business of the railroad.
Despite his reservations with the mummies, the train seemed to be running quite well. And with a free fuel source he would be able to expand. Things seemed to be turning around. Jacob continued looking out the window at the passing scenery. They appeared to be making incredible time. He dozed, content with his decision, as the Ghost continued on toward the city.
Jacob awoke to a gentle tapping on his arm. His wife’s face troubled him.
“What is it darling?” But she wouldn’t answer, she simply pointed out the window.
The Ghost seemed to be traveling at an incredible speed. He decided to make his way to the engine to consult with the engineer. As he exited the car he became increasingly aware that something was gravely wrong as the Grey Ghost screamed, yes, dear God, literally screamed past the countryside.
Jacob was forced to climb over hundreds of dead mummies to reach the engine. As he waded through what had once been the coal car he felt the mummies were aware of his betrayal. He could sense centuries of death emanating from each body and realized the screaming came from the mummies as they burned in the belly of the Ghost. He placed his hands over his ears and continued through the pile of cordwood bodies. Finally past the gauntlet of death, he boarded the engine.
“What goes on here? Why are we going so fast?”
The engineer turned toward Jacob, the man was quite obviously dead. He chuckled, a hideous rasping sound, as he pointed back the way they had come. There in the distance was an enormous train wreck. The Grey Ghost and its cars lay twisted and burning behind them.
“You may as well go back to your wife sir. There is nothing for you here.”
Jacob crawled back to his car. The mummies seemed to smile as he made his return. The screams of the dead echoed across the countryside as Jacob sat next to his beloved wife. He took her hand and smiled as she smiled back.
“I’ve missed you Donna.”
Author’s note: Mummies were actually imported to Gardiner Maine around the time of the Civil War for their wrappings. The linen was to be used to make wrapping paper. Butchers in Maine wrapped food for their customers in paper made from 1000 year old mummies. Isn’t that beautiful? The project was abandoned because of a cholera outbreak, caused by the bodies. There was also a trans-Egyptian railroad that powered its steam engines using mummies. Sometimes reality is way more frightening than fiction. Happy Halloween fellow #fridayflashers and don’t climb on board any spectral trains this weekend.