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The Chthonic Follies
12/15/2015 10:00pm

Underearth Travelogue: Day 335

It has been some weeks since the loss of the ritual devices, leaving us without bearing in this strange land. My bag was inadvertently switched with that of a traveller we met in passing during a particularly sticky wicket involving cannon-fire, stampeding horses, particle beam "heavy light" lasers, and plague-bearing bio-engineered rats. Upon opening my pack and finding a young woman's traveling things (as opposed to the potent and priceless relics of an ancient science that I had so neatly stowed in velvet sacks), we immediately attempted to retrace our steps, but neither the girl nor the vestibule she exited through could be found.

After a number of minor adventures and at times deadly scrapes, we find ourselves in what appears to be a truly massive garden cavern, with stalactites and stalagmites forming columns that tower high into the mists, dripping with gardenia and vine. The light is clear but arises from no discernible direction. It seems to cast no shadow. There is water, which Mr. Lawson has declared fit to drink, and no shortage of wild berries, which I use to create more ink to continue this record of our expedition.

The longer we remain out of contact with the "spirit radio" and associated gadgets in my misplaced rucksack, the more distant we grow from the doors between the cars of the infinite train. The residual energies still clinging to our khakis and pith helmets has some effect, though I fear it will dissipate all too quickly. Cherry assures me she can rig up some kind of "etheric battery" with the equipment in her own kit with which she can capture its dregs. I wish her luck.

If this is to be our final destination, it is at least pleasant. Indeed, to see the remaining pack animals and servants gambol in the meadow here by the shores of a subterranean lake could raise anyone's spirits--even those of the terminally grim Sunny Jim, who has been experimenting with his photoplate equipment in this strange light.


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That Lonesome Whistle
10/8/2015 11:51am

From The Gladstone Car Diaries, November, 2343

On Tuesday, Cherry, Sunny Jim, Pyotr, myself, and Lieutenant Lawson, attended by four servants, with five dogs, and four horses laden with provisions, ammunition, and other necessaries, left the bar car for the purpose of endeavoring to effect a passage to the Engine. I personally carried the ritual arcana, safely packed in its individual velvet bags and secured within the rucksack slung over my shoulder.

We crossed into a common passenger car, where our retinue and livestock seemed to raise no eyebrows whatsoever with the natives. There were many mumbled apologies and Sorry's as our small caravan squeezed through the narrow aisle, and this activity seemed to continue on for an inordinate time, the length of the car itself telescoping to the horizon before us. However, upon reaching the threshold to the next car I checked my timepiece and found the journey had taken less than two minutes.

Cherry firmly believes this journey is pointless, and that the train is in fact infinitely long, with no engine or caboose. Furthermore, it is her theory that the train extends not only linearly in two directions forever, but that each car itself is a nexus for another, parallel train, running perpendicular and in all other directions and dimensions around it. If indeed this hypothesis is correct, then is it possible for us to cross into one of these non-euclidean "parallel" trains? Perhaps even accidentally? Could it be that with every car we enter, are we in fact boarding an entirely new and different train? A vast switchboard of paths - wherein our apparently linear journey is scrambled again and again through shifting pods of locomotive cryptography? It baffles the mind. And raises the question if we can ever again return to the same world we left.

We continued on, moving forward in the train through a vast range of biologic time environments, including a trophy room, a spa car, a small strip mall, swimming lessons, birthday parties, funerals, first dates, and a jungle atrium (complete with faux ancient stone temple, serving delicious-looking drinks with tiny umbrellas and mouth-watering pu pu platters). I have run out of ink with which to keep up these diaries, and am currently using the juice from the maraschino cherry in my Roy Rogers with which to write. After paying the bill we hope to locate a sleeper car in which to accommodate our band of travelers for the night.

Meanwhile, the train continues to hurtle on through the darkness.


That Lonesome Whistle
9/18/2015 12:21am

From The Gladstone Car Diaries, May, 1911

We've set up camp on the roof of the Gladstone Car in order to try and get a reading on the engine - or the caboose for that matter. It's a whiteout, and with the windchill it's roughly 350 degrees below zero.

Cherry has set up her equipment but it remains to be seen if she can detect anything in these conditions. Very difficult to operate her gadgets with these mittens on, but to remove our protective clothing for even a moment would be deadly.

A typical day starts at 8 with breakfast at 8:30. We have porridge, tea and coffee, bread and butter and some dish such as fried seal and bacon or scrambled Truth-egg. The tents are warmer now that we've set them mouth to mouth, but getting out remains a challenge.

After breakfast we start work immediately, which consists of cutting sections of biologic time stock, learning German, using the microscope, writing the diary or reading books. When fine I go for a walk up or down the line, but the icy roofs of these train cars can be treacherous as the locomotive speeds along. The ponies are exercised regularly or given simple word puzzles to occupy their tiny minds.

Cherry puts in the day on her electrostatic gadgets, setting them up or repairing them or taking them down. We are beginning to suspect that the train is infinite, with no engine or caboose whatsoever, but without some kind of data it's all supposition. Sunny Jim takes his photos, developing them in the tiny darkroom in his tent, but in this weather they come out nothing but white. We continue with our work.

Lunch is at 1:30 and consists of bread (or biscuit) and butter with potted meat, jam and cheese on alternate days, also tea and cocoa. Dinner is at 6:30 and is always a 3 course meal -- soup, meat and pudding. After each of the meals we sit at the table smoking and talking for a long time, posing unanswerable questions to one another in absurd accents, or just listening to the gentle clatter of the train and the howl of the wind.


That Lonesome Whistle
9/15/2015 11:07pm

"Knock knock"

"Who's there?"

"@Gladstone Services"

I didn't order anything from the kitchen.


I open the door. There's a serving cart with a silver bucket on it. In the bucket there's ice and an empty bottle of Mountain Dew.

The train gently rocks and clickety-clacks.

I look up and down the narrow corridor but the attendant has gone.

I wheel the cart into my suite and step out into the corridor, shutting the door and locking it behind me. It's night. Some kind of lights are passing by outside.

It's time I made my way up to the Engine.

That Lonesome Whistle
9/13/2015 7:26pm

It's weird being back in school full time. I'm hitting all my classes - not even late once yet this year! - and getting all my homework done... but at the same time, it's like I'm not actually here at all. Somehow I'm also still riding in the Gladstone Car.

For pretty much all of July and August I rode the rails. And not just hoping box cars, but riding in style in the Gladstone car. And when you're in the Gladstone Car, time and space seem to rapidly lose meaning.

Which is why now that I'm back on campus, it's like there's part of me that's still riding in the Gladstone Car. You know how the ancient Egyptians said that people had five souls? Well it's like my Ka is out there, still riding in the Gladstone Car, while my Ba is here on campus, in my dorm. Here. Me.

But at the same time I'm still riding on a richly upholstered bench in an antique rail car, or hanging out on the handrails where the cars connect, watching the scenery pass by.

Somehow I'm both there and here.

That Lonesome Whistle
6/30/2015 6:44pm

From The Gladstone Car Diaries, June, 1927

Peaches continues to give me grief for not letting her out of the trunk sooner. Without the proper papers, however, I don't believe she could have made it through the last border check. Those customs men were particularly vicious and slobbery, with far more the number of tentacles and rows of fangs than their usual ilk.

Peaches shouldn't have to spend any more time in the trunk, though, as it's a straight shot from here to the capital. Nothing but miles and miles of desolate moonscape and the regular clickety-clack of the wheels on the track. I believe she may even have a chance to visit the bar car on this stretch, which would be smashing as we've run out of our own gin and it would certainly calm both of our nerves.


That Lonesome Whistle
5/20/2015 12:36am

I've been skipping classes lately - and spending time in the Gladstone Car. A lot of time.

But I feel I can probably get credit for it. It seems like all I do is study when I'm there... though when I try and describe what I'm learning it comes out like "Afram muguliko transnarnar arumphenfeg." Not sure what's up with that, but it seems like something the psyhigh profs would get real excited about.

I almost feel like I'm not supposed to talk about what happens in the Gladstone Car, but I know the trains don't care. They hardly notice people at all. They're on train time.

And the Engineers. Well. They're not "people" exactly.

Anyway, I *can* tell you that it's beautiful. Velvet curtains, glass panels inlaid with Cuban mahogany, leather ceilings, upholstered interiors - the works. All very Art Nouveau, which is the golden era in the trains' mythology. I mean, it's like I've walked right into the Ark of the Covenant - but for trains.

I do still make it back to campus almost every day - to the dorms, anyway. To change clothes, check my email and stuff. And on the way I still hear @The Whistler - who, somehow, is whistling even more depressing tunes than ever. Lately it's been "Eleanor Rigby." God. And then I started seeing @Ebony Leary at the tree by the trail back to school, so now it's all mashed up in my head and when I hear that song I keep singing it as "Ebony Leary."

But it's easy to forget when I'm in the Gladstone Car.

That Lonesome Whistle
5/8/2015 1:09pm

The trains were very agitated last night - pent up, restless - sections of detached cars moving around the tracks on their own. The most dangerous kind of night to be in the train yard, because you've got to cross a lot of tracks, and it's pretty tight between them. If you're not real careful you can get run over quick.

And sure enough, I heard a scream. And then I saw a cat.

Cats aren't any safer than humans when the yard is like this - they can get cut in half as easily as a hobo can lose his leg. I've seen it. But this cat seemed determined, not skittish at all. It looked like the cat that follows that @Jessica Moon around. It walked right up to me, meowed, turned around and ran a few yards, then turned around to look at me again.

"Alright! I'm comin'!"

But as I tried to follow it, train cars shifted, blocking my way. The cat disappeared under a car. I tried to go around but another section of cars appeared and blocked my way again. It was like being in a house where the walls move on their own, shifting, blocking your way, then creating corridors, and forcing you down a very particular path.

I lost track of the scream. And even lost track of that lonely whistling song. I was lost deep in the heart of the Train Nest - near the core of their rusty metal hive, where few humans are ever allowed to go.

And then I saw it. The Gladstone Car. The polished wood and glass, the ornate Victorian flourishes, looking immaculate and brand new. But the trains say it's immortal - that it exists outside of time as trains know it. It's at the center of all their creation myths. The Gladstone: The Waiting Room of the Engineers.

And the lights were on.

That Lonesome Whistle
5/6/2015 10:53pm

I was down talking to my trains tonight. Bright full moon, breezy but not too cool. The trains don't hardly notice the weather, rain or shine. They just keep on rolling. That's why their clickety-clack doesn't change when you hear it on the tracks, day or night, in a downpour or when it's fair. Trains tell the same old stories and don't feel storms or wind or sun.

But that lonely tune keeps wafting through the train yard, drifting over cars and bouncing off containers. And I've never heard it so sad. It's a mournful whistle, like a ghost in a graveyard, singing the most pitiful song in the world. Even when the engines rumble and the crossing bells are clanging, you can still make out the macabre melody.

I still haven't been able to spot @The Whistler, but he's got to be around there somewhere...

That Lonesome Whistle
4/11/2015 11:12pm

You have to walk a ways to get to the train yard from the campus. I walk it a lot, because I'm a train whisperer. So I gotta be able to visit my trains!

You know those ticks and hisses when the engines are just sitting there idling? They will tell you where they've been and what they've seen. Most people know the distant wail of the horn, or the clickety-clack as the cars pass by, and those are the train talking too. And on their long treks across the land, they communicate with each other on subsonic frequencies - singing their gravity songs and rumbling about the past.

Train yards attract a whole secondary layer of rusty industrial life. Earthmovers, railriders, burnt-out sleeping cars. And the ghosts of lost limbs, and the railroad bulls.

The train yard in town has attracted a unique life form to its ecosystem. I've been down there at twilight a number of times and heard a haunting melody, drifting on the wind. I try to follow it, but it always keeps just on the other side of the line.

This train yard must be home to... @The Whistler!