Snakes and Pills

208 - dirt back

Sasha could hear the faintest rumble of the locomotive now. The sound told her that the train was still quite a distance away, but that was none too reassuring. She knew how fast these things could move.

The snow was falling heavier now. She struggled to make progress moving through it. Each step just buried her deeper, despite her best efforts to move forward. Her parka was keeping her quite warm, and in such a frantic state, it was doing its job a little too well. She felt herself sweating, despite the frigid conditions.

The left side of her body ached in pain. In her rush, Sasha had slipped on some ice just outside her cabin. She hit the ground hard. She could only imagine how bad the bruises and the pain would be tomorrow. But she had no time to worry about it now. She absolutely needed to push through the discomfort.

She had such different expectations for today. Very few people ended up operating remote railway switches by happenstance. Most of them, Sasha included, sought the seclusion and time to themselves.

The chatter on the radio last night was all about how bad the coming snowstorm was expected to be. None of the operators expected the trains to be running today. In short, a day off. Sasha reveled in the thought. The weather outdoors would be raging, but she would be warm inside, next to a fire reading a good book. Paradise.

The early morning's snowfall confirmed the chatter. Her transmitter remained silent, meaning no trains had been dispatched today. She was already kindling the fire when the backup telegraph system informed her that, in fact, the six fifty-five had left the depot as scheduled.

Sasha's heart jumped as she analyzed the readout, checking the timestamps and her watch. She had no time to figure out what had gone wrong with her radio or to wonder why the train was running at all.

Her mind had singularly focused on needing to go, quickly.

The switch was in view. The rumble of the train was growing much louder, too, but Sasha tried to push that out of her mind. All she knew was that she needed to reach the switch handle and avert disaster.

She reached out and took hold of the lever. It was in the same position that she had left it in, when the last train had passed by in the opposite direction yesterday. Grabbing the hunk of iron felt like crossing the finish line at the end of a marathon. She felt a sense of exhausted relief.

Sasha pulled. Nothing moved.

She tried again, exerting more and more force. Still, the switch did not budge. She could only guess that too much snow had accumulated on the mechanism, or perhaps some ice had frozen it into place.

The locomotive's rumble had grown to a roar. She looked, and in the distance she could see the headlights through the tidal wave of snow being plowed by the train's pilot. She had less than a minute now.

On a good day, an engineer had about a fifty-percent chance of stopping a train before hitting an improperly-set switch. Today, that chance stood at zero. He wouldn't even be able to see the indicator on the switch's position until he was upon it, and brakes were not the most effective in conditions like these.

Sasha had to pull the lever. At this range, she was going to be buried under the avalanche of oncoming snow regardless, with only her waning power to dig herself out. She at least had to do her job and ensure the safety of everyone else.

With all her might, she pulled.


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