When the Whistle Blows (Part 1)

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When the Whistle Blows

(Part 1)

 

      Oh my! How I always dreamt of taking a train! 

      I never had the chance to see a train, let alone board one. Our small town was so remote no railway would ever come through. If I knew anything at all about trains, it only came from some adults who once had boarded a train elsewhere. 

    Those folks had told me it ran faster than anything they’d known, much faster than the fastest horse. That’s why the phrase, the iron horse, had been coined to call that new thing of wonder.

    At present, new inventions have been mushrooming everywhere. But the biggest one that created this real phenomenon is the steam powered engine mounted on wheels known as a train engine. People gasped when they were told that at the same distance, the incredible speed of a train can shorten a week-long wagon journey into within the measure of a day. 

    How fast can trains possibly run? Oh, let me tell you how fast, they boasted and started their story in excitement.

    After the train’s whistle had blown, calling all passengers on board, they counted the minutes while waiting for the train to leave the station. They started counting one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven and so forth. But as they continued up to two hundred, or so, they were getting more and more impatient and wondered why it never moved. Is there a delay? So, they looked out the window and checked and were immediately thunderstruck. 

    Outside, they saw an unfamiliar place coming into view as the whistle started whooshing again. Yes, at that instant, they realized that the train already brought them all the way to their destination. But they never felt its motion while that devil engine was running as fast as hell carrying them all along the track.

    What makes it run as fast as hell? I wondered aloud.

    They then revealed to me a secret power behind that gigantic monster. It was the steam power that made this monster run as fast as hell. In the locomotive’s boiler, the water was heated by the burning coal until it boiled and turned into the massive volumes of steam, powerful enough to haul a whole train, a mile in length on the wheel, to run through a deep tunnel, up and down the hilly terrain and along the rim of a cliff, until it arrived at its destination. 

    Just like a giant dragon in triumph puffing the curly black smoke to blot the sky.  

    But to see it is to believe it.    

    When I let Ohm know this desperate wish of mine, he assured me he would bring me to the railroad track and then we would wait for the train to storm past.

    “No train will be coming here. No one builds the railroad through this desolate place,” I pointed to the cornfields spread acre after acre into the far-off horizon. 

    “You’ll see one,” with his mischievous grin, he nodded to me. “You will.”

    Ohm was a tramp, a stranger, and an aloof man; no one knew where he came from. One day they just found him in an abandoned chanty at the edge of town. But the next day, no one could find even his shadow. He had come and gone at will. 

    Ohm avoided all adults, but he didn’t mind having children sit around him listening to his strange talks about what’s up in the whole wide world outside this isolated town —things too bizarre and impossible to be true, but all the children never had enough of these tales. All the folks warned me Ohm was half-crazy. They wanted me to stay away from him. They suspected Ohm must be a child abductor because since he appeared in our town, one or two kids had disappeared without a trace. 

    However, the more I listened to all his otherworldly talks, the closer I was drawn to him as did all the children who liked to huddle together in front of that old shack waiting for Ohm’s new tall tale whenever they caught him there. In fact, those tales from Ohm fascinated me more than those of ‘the iron horse’ I recently heard from the town folks. But even when he wasn’t around, the children came over anyway, hoping he would appear at any moment while they were waiting and discussing t those unearthly tales they’d heard from Ohm. 

    No matter how far-fetched these stories sounded, everyone still hunkered down to hear them over and over.

    “Remember what he just told us the day before?” one kid started. “It’s about a ship that flies up close to heaven and carries its crews to the planet Mars. So, they can marvel at Mars’ red sky that changes to blue at sunset, much different from Earth’s red sundown we’ve seen for our whole life. Oh, I forget what’s that ship really called, anyone?”

    “You retard, Ohm said it’s called a spaceship!” I made a face at him. “And its rider is called an astronaut.”

    “Whoa! An astronaut!” everyone’s repeating in awe.

    “Oh, what about his tale of the happy helmet,” another kid chimed in, “the helmet that creates a different reality when you put it on to cover your face and head. Imagine you can create any new reality of your choice. Whenever life is too much to bear in real reality, you wear that helmet and press a button, and reality will be gone in a wink. What’s surrounding you in the next instant is your dream place. You can literally see and touch and smell all as if they’re really, really, real. Oh, I wish he told us the truth,” a dream sparkled in his eyes. “Not just another story he made up to fool us.”

    “It must have a grain of truth if not the whole truth,” I tried to assure him. “Why! Ohm said strange words that we’ve never heard before, like man-made reality is called virtual reality. And he even said you can’t tell virtual reality apart from the real reality, only know it’s not real. Quite complicated, isn’t it? when people have more realities than one.”

    “Hey! What about this one?” another boy cried out. “When your twin is made, he’s not meant to be your brother. You just use his heart, his brain or whatever part of his body to replace yours to save your own life. So, you can live better and longer thanks to your spare parts. What if it is true?” he shuddered. “Oh, oh, this tale really creeps me out.”

    “True or not, that particular twin is called a clone — a body with no soul. Yes, an artificial life, that’s what Ohm said.”

    Of course, among all the boys in town, I was Ohm’s favourite. He said I was the smartest. 

    So, despite my doubt, I followed him to where he said the railroad track was. We walked a mile across the chest-deep cornfield and passed an open field until we reached the foot of a hill where we couldn’t go any further. Now, it seemed we were stumbling into the edge of the world.

    “So you lie. I don’t see a thing.” This is what I half expected, and still my heart was sinking from disappointment. I turned my back to him and started to storm away. Now, I was certain Ohm was sick in his head as all the folks had said and that thought was now scaring me.

    “Come back! I didn’t lie. I just didn’t tell you the whole truth,” he shouted to me.

     I kept walking but my pace was slowing down. 

    “Listen. It’s not an ordinary train. That’s why you can’t see or hear it.”

    “What?” Now I stopped and turned back to him.

    “When things are out of your scope to understand, you simply tell yourself they just don’t exist. But of course, they are out there as real as anything else your eyes are able to see. Except those you can’t see are perhaps even more real.”

    “But why? Why can’t I see that train?” Now, I was confused as much as indignant. Was he fooling me into believing that crazy stuff?

    “It’s because that specific train is swifter than the wind — so fast that even while the train is rushing past you, you don’t feel the slightest vibration from its movement.” He then lowered his voice, “Yes, it runs at the speed of light.”

    “The speed of light? How fast is that?” Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about.

    “Whilst the ordinary steam engine train can run as fast as 125 miles per hour that train can take 186,200 miles per one second.” When he noticed the perplexed expression on my face, his smile widened. “Forget about that crazy figure. Just remember nothing known to man is faster than lightspeed. Got it?” Then he grinned. “Oh, except one, that’s the mind.”

   At that point I forgot all about fleeing from him. As he went on, my mouth opened even widefr, awestruck. 

   “Very, very few people are capable of seeing that train it’s speeding past, of course, at the speed of light. But even fewer can catch up with that impossible speed. And to get on board and claim themselves as passengers, only the fewest can reach that. The ones who manage to catch up with that train mostly fall off before stepping inside. Most just lose their grip and fall like tiny butterflies tossed into the centre of a storm. Poor souls.” 

    I was shivering. “But if that train is invisible as you say, how come you know it’s out there?” I blindly pointed to the vacant air ahead of me.

    “I know because I can see it,” he said matter-of-factly, “and I can even take a ride on that train to come and go,” 

    “So, you are one of the fewest.” I cried out. And Ohm merely nodded.

     “But if you can, why can’t I?”

     “Yes, you can if you do it with all your sheer force of will. Just like me, I tried a hundred, a thousand times over and over before I made it inside that train. Now, I can take that train to come here and go back at will.”

    “Go back? Where do you come from?”

    He didn’t answer. His eyes were gazing at a certain spot a few yards away for a moment. Then he shook his head. 

    “We missed it. The train just passed us like a flash of lightning, leaving behind its unheard thundering noises that still deafen all sounds. I can climb into that train, but this time I let it rush past. I don’t want you to be frightened if you see me suddenly gone without a trace.”

    What should I believe? Him or my eyes? I turned around finding nothing right ahead of me except the hills, the far distant patch of cornfield and the vast and open sky as far as my eyes could see. And, the only sound I could hear was the summer wind blowing.

   

 
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