Today was a pretty typical Sunday. I worked on the Sunday crossword and I went out to the movies with friends. We saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which was quite entertaining, although considerably less so, I thought, than the first movie, and way to prone to director Guy Ritchie’s stylistic excess. (I could have down without a late-edition scene in the German forest, with explosions speeding up and slowing down and weird camera angles, altogether.)
And I wrote this, in my weekly writing group with those same friends. It was based on three words, chosen more or less at random by the three of us:
Its mammoth size and prodigious speed were, for many months before its official launch, the talk of high society, and the luxury train’s design had been a closely guarded secret, rumored to have cost the lives of a dozen men during construction, and to have sent at least one would-be competitor’s spies empty-handed to prison. First-class cabins were booked well in advance, sold out a full year before the last bolt had been tightened and the last rivet had been fastened, and by the time the great beast of an engine was maneuvered finally on to the tracks, not a single berth aboard was unaccounted for.
And yet, despite all of this — all the movie starlets and dignitaries taking passage aboard the rail, the money and attention lavished upon the project, the editorials at home and abroad praising the train’s construction and the genius of its chief architect and owner, Job Matheson — despite all of this and the many other reasons to rejoice at the Azure Day’s maiden voyage, it was in, in retrospect, inevitable that it never reach its final destination, that it become lost in the snowy mountain wastes it had been designed to traverse, and that it only emerge after several weeks to reveal everyone aboard it either dead or missing.
Piecing together what exactly went wrong, decoding the great and terrible tragedy of the Azure Day, is easier now that we have accepted certain facts, now that we no longer pretend the awful things that live in those mountains are not real, or that they do not have a taste for human flesh. And yet it is all too easy to dismiss Matheson and his compatriots, his benefactors and all those who signed on, unquestioningly, for his train’s first and only voyage. It is all too easy to look upon them all with scorn, to call it hubris and folly that killed over a hundred souls, and that moreover exposed us to those terrible creatures, those we now call wraiths (for want of a better word), with whom we have been at war for almost a century.
And yet, Matheson’s Folly did expose us to them, revealed in the most horrible and immediate way possible the very real threat waiting in those rocky peaks. To think we would have been left alone had the Azure Day not invaded their territory is shortsighted and foolish, and it ignores decades of wraith attacks along the scattered mountain settlements prior to Matheson’s train — not called wraiths, of course, and chalked up to superstition or drunks going missing in the dead of night, a few humans lost each year, but this was the work wraiths all the same. It was they who invaded us. The steam-train was one attack of many; in its sacrifice, we at least came face to face at last with the enemy.
And now that we know where they live, we can perhaps finally remake this planet in our image. The war still wages on, but their advantage is gone, and soon the tide will turn. Soon, we will eradicate them all and take those parts of this world that have been denied us since the original colony ships arrived several hundred years ago.
The Barnes & Noble we meet at, where we’ve been meeting for years, is closing by the end of the year thanks to rising rents. So we’ll have to find someplace new in the new year.