|Down the Anything Tunnel
Author: sharpiewritesforfun PM
Abilene Cooper, a college student, grew up hating trains. She lives with her grandmother after the tragic event of her parents in a train wreck. After deciding to drop out of college, Abilene catches a train to Shining Time Station where she is supposed to switch trains. However, she falls asleep, misses her train, and disappears. Semi-sequel to Thomas and the Magic Railroad.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Friendship - Chapters: 5 - Words: 12,714 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 08-17-12 - Published: 08-02-12 - id: 8387200
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Sir Handel crept slowly forwards and peered outside the old shed through a blanket of ivy. Outside, the sun was setting on another lonely, workless day. The snow that had fallen in the high mountains had melted and created patches in the grass and along the line. It was cold for spring, and Sir Handel dreaded the even colder night ahead.
"Get him back in here!"
Sir Handel had no time to respond to the aggravated growl until his was buffed into by his closest friend.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing?" exclaimed Sir Handel.
Peter Sam, the little green engine, pulled his friend back into the shed with the rest of narrow gauge railroad's engines.
"You're going to get us caught," said Peter Sam.
"Am not!" Sir Handel argued.
"Look, Sir Handel. I'm just doing what Grandpuff says," Peter Sam said defensively.
Sir Handel rolled his eyes and put on his brakes, causing his wheels to squeak along the track as Peter Sam pulled him back. He had been obeying "Grandpuff's" orders since 1880, and it was getting old.
"Peter Sam," Sir Handel complained.
Suddenly, an engine burst through the ivy covering.
"Better do what he says, eh?" Duncan said.
"Duncan!" Sir Handel exclaimed in surprise.
Spooked, Sir Handel surged backwards, almost pushing Peter Sam through the rotten buffers at the back of the shed.
"Sir Handel!" shouted Peter Sam.
"What? It was Duncan's fault!" the little blue engine argued.
Rusty rolled in backwards in through the east side doors.
"That was rude, Duncan," the diesel murmured.
"Well, what are ya doin' pokin' yer nose out of the sheds, ya silly engine?" Duncan barked to Sir Handel.
Sir Handel approached Duncan, now very angry.
"I was keeping an eye out for you!" Sir Handel replied.
Duncan immediately engaged in a loud and vicious argument with the railway's number three engine. Rusty rolled his eyes and settled into his favorite corner of the dismal building the engines had been calling home for the passed seven or eight months. Duke, who was parked in the opposite corner of the shed, rolled his eyes and tried to ignore the younger engines.
"This would never suit His Grace," the poor old engine murmured and took to staring at the wall beside him.
Rheneas and his best friend Skarloey were parked on the line beside Duke. Rheneas heard Duke's comment over Duncan, Sir Handel, and now Peter Sam's bickering. He hissed to Skarloey, who approved of Rheneas' hushed suggestion. Rheneas then whistled long and loud over the engines.
"All of you, shut up!" Skarloey snapped.
The younger engines instantly hushed. Rusty was relieved.
"I don't want to hear another word out of any of you! It was risky enough to let Rheneas whistle like that. Your yelling is only making it worse! If we get caught because of this unnecessary griping, I will never forgive any of you. Understood?"
"Of course. Yes, Skarloey," they said.
"Good," said Skarloey, who sighed before continuing, "Look, I know you all are restless and jealous because Duncan and Rusty got to go out today, but we've just got to be patient. One day we will find help and we will work again."
"That's just what I did today!" Duncan spoke up.
The engines were surprised. Rusty rolled up alongside Duncan and peered into his cab. Abilene was still there, but she was shaking and frightened.
"And you have successfully scared her half to death," Rusty said.
"Oh!" exclaimed Duncan.
Abilene had had a long day riding in Duncan, but she had begun to almost trust the little yellow engine. There were no further upsets between meeting with Rusty and arriving at the secret shed, and the ride in the downsized engine was not as bad as Abilene could have imagined. In fact, it reminded her of a ride on the zoo train with her parents. She thought that maybe her fear of engines was in fact a silly, superfluous phobia, but when Duncan charged into the sheds without warning, Abilene was once again fearful. The sight of five new living, breathing, familiar engines all arguing with each other did not help either.
From her spot at the back of the cab, Abilene could see Skarloey, Rheneas, and Rusty on the opposite side. They were a lot wider than Duncan and in much, much more foul moods. When she saw Rusty's kind face come into view, she wanted to jump out of the cab and go to the diesel, but she was too scared to move.
"Abilene!" Duncan exclaimed, "Come here, child."
Abilene turned away from Rusty and made eye contact with Skarloey. He was indeed surprised to see a human. She turned back to Rusty, who encouraged her to come out.
"It's alright," the diesel said, "We won't hurt you."
Abilene gave Rusty a small smile, then slowly stood and peered out of the cab. She could see all the engines, and the familiarity of their faces gave her a sudden rush of childhood nostalgia. Skarloey, Rheneas, and Sir Handel were in a state of shock, but Duke and Peter Sam looked quite happy.
Remembering Duncan's command, Abilene hopped out of the cab and walked around to Duncan's front. He gave her a kind smile and invited her to sit on his front. Abilene did so and held onto Duncan's side bar as she sat and faced Sir Handel. The blue engine gave her a small smile.
"Hello, Sir Handel," she said.
Next to Skarloey and Duncan, Sir Handel had been one of Abilene's favorite little engines in the television series, and though still shaken up, was very excited to see the engine.
"Hello," Sir Handel said.
Duncan began to explain his day and he told the engines all about Abilene.
"She's from Shining Time Station," he began.
"You must have used the Anything Tunnel," said Rheneas.
"I thought you needed Gold Dust for that?" Peter Sam asked.
"Not under these circumstances," Duke said in his gruff voice.
"What circumstances?" Abilene asked.
The engines were quiet. Abilene looked up at Duncan.
"Strange circumstances. But the timing for your coming is right, lass," said Duncan.
"You may be the answer to our prayers," said Skarloey.
"What do you mean?" Abilene asked.
"Sir Topham Hatt retired several months ago," Duncan began to explain, "leaving his railroad in the hands of the English Railway Committee."
"And they're not very nice," murmured Peter Sam.
"Terrible people," Duke chimed in.
"Why? What did the railway do to them but rake in cash?" Abilene asked.
Duncan's laugh was harsh.
"The steam engines were costing more and more to run. Some are still kept useful, but not for long," Duncan explained.
"Diesels are the latest craze," said Sir Handel, "it was decided about two months ago that the engines were going to be sold."
"Sold?" Abilene exclaimed.
"Split up," Duncan said, "sold to mainland railways."
"And those who cannot be sold," murmured Rheneas, "will be scrapped."
"But they're still in working order right?" Abilene asked.
Duke, who was silent as his friends explained the railroad's dilemma to the girl, noticed that she was getting more and more interested. He thought that maybe, just maybe, Duncan had the right idea in picking up Abilene.
"Being 'really useful'," Rheneas said, "doesn't matter anymore."
"Yeah," Skarloey agreed, "Especially to the Board."
"The age of those engines does not help either," Sir Handel said, "Edward has been working on this island since 1915."
"And how old is James? 100? 101 years old now?" asked Peter Sam.
"Steam engine parts have to be made on the spot nowadays," Duke spoke up, "It's just too expensive to keep us running."
"And what's more," said Skarloey, "I'm 148 years old. What is the Board going to do when they find us?"
"We're instant scrap," said Duncan, "We were not a part of Sir Topham Hatt's railway, but that doesn't matter."
Abilene jumped down from Duncan and walked between the aisles.
"That's ridiculous!" she exclaimed, "These engines on this island are a part of history-my childhood! If anything, these engines should be bringing in tourists. I thought the Skarloey Railway was a big tourist attraction?"
"Abilene, how many children are still railroad fans nowadays?" Skarloey asked.
"Especially with all of their mobile phones and portable games and such," added Sir Handel.
"There's got to be something we can do," she said.
"Darling, there's no getting past that Board," said Duke.
"Well, I'll tell you guys something," Abilene said.
She walked back between Rheneas and Skarloey to see Duke for the first time. She patted the old engine on his dusty, rusting buffers. Duke smiled kindly.
"If I had the money, I would buy this railroad and make sure each and every one of you had work," she said as she walked back to greet Peter Sam.
"That's very kind of you," Peter Sam said.
Abilene smiled at him.
"Then, perhaps you can help us," Duncan said.
Abilene walked around Sir Handel to Duncan.
"Ooo yeah!" Sir Handel agreed, excited as a happy puppy.
"Help?" she asked.
"Aye. Ya heard what Arry and Bert said this morning. We little engines are next. The diesels are taking over Sir Topham Hatt's railway, and the new manager and the Board members have sent the diesels 'round to pick up or hunt down any steamie that is escapin' or hidin'," Duncan explained.
Abilene was horrified.
"What about the diesels that worked here that ran here in harmony with the steam engines?" Abilene asked, turning to Rusty.
Rusty looked glum.
"Whether they get hired, sold, or otherwise, nothing will be the same for them," he said solemnly.
"Well, I don't know what I can do, but I will definitely try to help in some way," Abilene decided.
The little engines smiled.
"If I can give these guys anything," Abilene thought, "it's hope."
Later that night, Abilene changed into a spare pair of sweatpants from her duffel and sat out of Duncan's buffers. Most of the engines were asleep, save for Rusty and a sleepy Sir Handel. The diesel and the blue engine spoke of old times while Abilene spoke with Duncan.
"You know, Duncan," she murmured, "I think you saved me from a very awkward conversation with my grandmother."
"How so?" he asked.
"Well," she began, "I was at college when I decided to drop out and come home."
"What's college?" Duncan asked.
"It's like what university is here," Sir Handel said.
"Ah! Okay, please go on," Duncan said.
"Why did you drop out? Did you not like it?" Sir Handel asked.
"No," Abilene replied, "I went there for art. You know, painting and such, but the students in the city were not like the people in the Indian Valley. But Grandma wanted me to pursue art since I doodled all the time, so I went."
"And your parents?" Duncan asked.
Abilene was silent for a moment.
"I lived with my Grandma," Abilene finally said.
Rusty's face fell. He seemed to understand what Abilene meant. Abilene shifted, turning to face Duncan.
"You know, I used to be terrified of trains. For the longest time, I couldn't even go near a set of tracks," she said.
"How could you be scared of us?" Sir Handel laughed, "I mean, the only scary one here is probably Duncan."
"Stop it, you two," scolded Rusty.
"Only joking, dear Duncan," Sir Handel said, still laughing.
Abilene laughed. Sir Handel was right. They were not scary at all. To her, they felt more like a family than anything. Somehow, she felt like she kind of belonged with them.
"Why were you afraid, Abilene?" Rusty asked, "Was it because the engines were big? I heard American engines were fairly large."
"Oh, I don't know about their size. But I was a big fan of you guys as a kid. Then one day, a train coming in from Shining Time to my home, Fort Farley, crashed into a car on the tracks."
"Was it..." Sir Handel trailed off.
"My parents? Yes," Abilene confirmed, "afterwards, all of the Thomas toys and tapes went into closets and boxes and I never looked back until yesterday."
"What made ya change yer mind?" Duncan asked.
Abilene smiled and climbed down. She went to his cab and pulled the Railway Series Collection book out of the duffel bag and returned to show the last three engines awake. However, Sir Handel had fallen asleep and Rusty was having a hard time keeping his eyes open.
"This book," Abilene said, holding it up for the two engines to see.
"Wow," Rusty yawned, "I haven't seen any of those stories in years."
"Would you like me to read one?" she asked.
"Oh, no," Duncan said, "The way I was depicted was all wrong."
"No it wasn't, Duncan," Rusty argued.
Abilene set the book aside.
"Maybe another time, then," she said, yawning.
"Yes, it's late," Duncan said, "There's a cabinet full of old quilts on the far side by Duke. Our drivers would stuff them down our funnels in the winter to keep bugs and things out. Maybe there's a clean one."
Abilene shuffled between the sleeping engines and found a musty old quilt where Duncan said they would be. When she returned, Rusty had fallen asleep.
"I'll keep my fire low so you will be warm," Duncan said to Abilene.
"Thank-you," she said.
As the passed by Duncan to his cab, her stomach growled.
"What on Earth was that?" Duncan asked.
"I guess I was so nervous today that I forgot my stomach needed attention," she said jokingly.
Duncan frowned. He had forgotten that humans needed to eat and was sorry he could not provide Abilene any sustenance.
"There's nothing here, unfortunately. How about we stop at Crovan's Gate in the morning and see if any engines stop by? They can take you somewhere for food," Duncan suggested.
"Thank-you, Duncan," Abilene said sleepily as she nestled her head on her bags.
The floor was dusty and uncomfortable, but it was warm and safe, and for now, that's all that mattered to Abilene.
Abilene opened her eyes and looked around. In front of her was an open firebox with softly burning coals. Above the firebox was a series of pipes, gauges, and knobs. The previous day's events came rushing back. Abilene groaned and rolled over onto her back. She had remained warm thanks to the old blankets and Duncan's fire, but her neck was stiff and her back ached.
Abilene sat up and had to quickly steady herself as a wave of dizziness washed over her. A loud growl from her stomach followed.
"Ah," she thought, "That's why I'm so dizzy."
Duncan had been up all night with nagging thoughts about the day's trip to Crovan's Gate. He had heard Abilene groan and roll over, and he assumed she was awake.
"Abilene? Are ya up?" he asked softly so the sleeping engines would not be awakened.
However, it was no use. Rusty had woken up as soon as the sun's rays filtered through the yellowed, cracked windows and he was starting up his engine, waking the others. Sir Handel groaned and Duke snapped at Rusty.
"Sorry, sorry," Rusty apologized and rolled out the door to warm up without further disturbing his friends.
Abilene slipped out of Duncan's cab and walked around to his front. She felt terrible, and Duncan noticed that she did not look so well.
"Did ya sleep well?" the yellow engine asked.
Abilene pushed her filthy hair out of her eyes and looked up at him.
"Well, I was warm," she began, cheering Duncan up a little, "but nothing beats a bed."
Sir Handel frowned.
"You need to get her to civilization, Duncan. She will be no use in helping us if she keeps on like this," he said.
Abilene knew that Sir Handel was right. The last thing she remembered eating was a packet of crackers on the train to Shining Time.
"Right," said Duncan, "Quickly, Abilene. We need to get down to the station and find someone before the diesels wake up and start their hunting."
Abilene nodded and walked to the back of the shed.
Skarloey moaned in disgust.
"Ugh, Duncan. Why did you have to put it like that?" he asked.
Duncan rolled his eyes and raised his fire. It would take him a little while to get ready to leave, so Abilene decided to use this time to say her goodbyes. She approached Peter Sam. He gave her a cheery smile, making her feel a little better.
"Hello, Peter Sam," she said.
"Hello, Abilene. Do you think you can really help us?" he asked.
Abilene looked up at the little green engine. She had no idea how she was going to help these engines, and yesterday's hope had soured with her mood. How could one person, who is not even from the Island stand up to the English Railway Board-especially when money was involved? She would have to figure out something.
"I don't know, Peter Sam," she said.
The engine looked sad, and Abilene felt horrible.
"I will try everything I can. I won't let you guys be split up or scrapped-not when you guys have treated me so well. You guys were the highlight of my childhood. Even with all that's happened, I can't let you guys go."
Peter Sam smiled again. Abilene patted his buffer and walked over to Sir Handel to say goodbye, then Rheneas and Skarloey.
"Don't think you'll be doing this alone," murmured Skarloey.
Abilene tilted her head to the side. She was curious. Had the old engine been plotting his entire uncalled for vacation?
"We're going to help you," the little red engine said.
Abilene was surprised.
"How? I don't even think I can do this myself," she said.
"Don't worry," he said.
"Besides," Rheneas piped up, "we have a few tricks."
The engines smiled at that, making Abilene feel a little more confident.
"Yeah," said Duncan, "like the slate mine."
Sir Handel gasped, and Abilene knew why. The slate mine had a steep incline with a wench at the top. Using the weight of empty cars versus full cars, a cable pulled them up and down the hill so the little engines would not have to navigate the climb. However, the wench and the cable that pulled the cars were prone to breaking. She knew that the engines had been in or witnessed many accidents on the slope.
"Duncan, that's too dangerous," Sir Handel said scoldingly.
"Indeed," agreed the antique engine, "Someone could be killed."
"Pah!" scoffed Duncan, rolling his eyes and looking away from Sir Handel and Rheneas.
"Go ahead and get ready, Duncan," she said, "I'll be out in a minute."
Duncan clanked out backwards to get turned around so he could safely see any patrolling diesels once they got to the station. Abilene said her goodbyes to Rheneas and then Duke. She stared in horror when she finally got a full view of Duke. His drive wheels were missing, and whoever had left the engine there had propped him up on chocks.
Abilene leaned down to investigate further. The burnt orange engine was now brown from dust and rust. His whistle was missing and his nameplate was covered in oily grime. Abilene tried to brush it away, but the filth came off in rolls. He would need to be sprayed with a high-powered hose to be properly cleaned off.
"Terrifying, isn't it?" Duke asked.
Abilene walked around to the front of the engine.
"What happened to you?" she asked.
Duke smiled. His pudgy cheeks puffed up and the corners of his eyes wrinkled.
"Retirement," he said jokingly.
Abilene laughed, but she still felt sorry for him.
"It's going to take a lot of work to get you back on the tracks," she said.
"Work? Young one, I need a complete overhaul!"
Abilene had to smile at that. How Duke was still so lighthearted about his situation amazed her.
"But the Works have been shut down," Skarloey said sadly.
Abilene quickly turned to Skarloey.
"What?" she exclaimed.
"That's the news from the Scottish twins. Duncan told us the morning before they went into hiding," Rheneas said.
"Only the remaining working engines can be fixed, but they have to be shipped to the mainland," Skarloey finished.
This news angered Abilene. There was something sketchy behind the closing of the railroad, and she was now determined to find out what.
"Don't worry, you guys. When I return, I'll return with help," she said.
"Don't forget," Sir Handel said, "you can always come get us for help."
"I will be back for you guys," she said.
Abilene quickly headed outside and climbed into Duncan's cab. The sun was just now fully over the horizon. Abilene knew she had a long day ahead of her.
Duncan followed Rusty down the mountain to a switch where Rusty was to split off and hide.
"You best be careful, Duncan," Rusty warned.
"I know! I know!" Duncan barked.
Rusty just smiled. Often when Rusty would give advice he would be ignored by Duncan, but the little diesel had a feeling the Scottish engine would take heed today.
The ride was quiet and peaceful. The last of the snow had melted and it felt like a normal spring day. Birds were singing and the grass was beginning to green up. Abilene almost forgot that she was not just taking a joy ride on an engine.
At Crovan's Gate, Duncan hid behind the same shed he had hid behind before and watched. Abilene made sure her bags were zipped up and threw the straps over her shoulders. She was prepared to make a run for the next engine if need be. Duncan focused hard to listen for any trains.
"What if no one on our side shows up?" Abilene asked quietly.
"If no one shows up within the hour, I know of a few more places we could try," Duncan said.
Abilene was beginning to dread this wild goose chase. This could take all day if they let it. Abilene was shaken from her worrying when Duncan called out.
"Look! I think I see steam," Duncan exclaimed.
Abilene stood on tip-toe to peer out of Duncan's oval shaped windows. Sure enough, about the station's roof came puffs of steam.
"Should I get out and be ready to make a run for it?" Abilene asked.
"No, no, no. Stay put. They may be bein' escorted by diesels," Duncan explained.
Abilene ducked down again.
"Ah! True," she agreed.
Then, a big green tank engine with a tall black funnel came huffing around the corner. He had large, sad eyes, a wide nose, and an odd wheel configuration.
"It's Oliver!" both Abilene and Duncan exclaimed.
When the tank engine spotted the little engine, he smiled.
"Duncan! Come over here, old man," Oliver called.
The engine had a thick, aristocratic British accent that Abilene thought suited him. Duncan switched tracks and quickly chuffed up alongside the platform.
"What's the latest news?" Duncan asked.
"Things are just getting worse and worse," Oliver said, "The diesels' patrolling schedule is getting tighter and tighter. And to make things worse, yesterday they took my brake van, Toad, and scrapped him."
Duncan was sad for Oliver.
"That's terrible," the little engine said.
"Yes, it is," Oliver agreed.
"Well, I think I might have somethin' that'll cheer ya up," Duncan said.
Oliver perked up.
"What?" he asked.
Abilene took this as her cue to climb out of Duncan's cab.
"I've brought help," Duncan said proudly, "This is Abilene. She's from Shining Time Station."
"Shining Time?" Oliver exclaimed, "My, I haven't heard about that station in years!"
Abilene smiled at Oliver.
"It's still there," she said.
Oliver returned the smile.
"And you came here to help us?" he asked.
"Well, by accident, I guess you could say," she replied.
No matter how she got to the Island, to Oliver, help was help, and he was pleased.
"You best get her somewhere where she can eat and rest," Duncan advised, "She will be no good to ya without nourishment."
"Of course!" he said, "I don't know how long it will take, but I will get you a meal and a roof. I know how important that is. It's like engines without coal or water."
"Or oil," murmured Duncan, before he barked out, "Or polish!"
"I'll take care of her, Duncan. Don't worry. But we must get going," Oliver said.
Abilene nodded. She ran across the platform and tossed her bags in Oliver's cab, then ran back over to Duncan to say goodbye.
"Thanks for everything," she said and climbed onto Duncan's front to kiss his forehead.
Duncan's nostrils flared and his eyes grew wide as he glared at Abilene.
"Get back to Rusty safely and stay hidden. No more excursions," Abilene said.
"Yes, of course," he said flatly, making like he was agitated, but smiled anyway.
Abilene smiled and said her goodbye to Duncan before rushing across the platform and hauling herself into Oliver's cab.
"All aboard?" Oliver asked.
"Yes," Abilene said.
Oliver hissed and weeshed before he began to move forward. Abilene, shaky and nervous about riding in a bigger engine, turned out the window and waved to Duncan. Duncan looked sadly on and gave her one hoot of his whistle before he trundled back up the mountain. Abilene hoped he would be okay.