Soham Railway Incident-Historical Fictional Short

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SubatomicHobo
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Soham Railway Incident-Historical Fictional Short

Post by SubatomicHobo » December 4th, 2018, 7:36 pm

It was June second, 1944. Benjamin Gimbert adjusted his cap and looked out over the Whitemoor Marshalling yard. A thick haze clung above the cargo cars blacking out any light cast down by the celestial bodies. The smell of coal soot and hot iron rails permeated every cubic centimeter of air.
An operator coupled the engine to the front car of a 390 yard train, shouting up to Gimbert that everything was secure and ready for transport. A clock in the driver’s cabin showed 12:13AM. He opened up the furnace and primed the coal engine, a fiery inferno that warmed Gimberts hands and face singed his eyebrows as he squinted into the blaze. He shut the door and adjusted the brake lever, letting off of it slowly. With the shrill scraping of iron on iron the 137,000 pound machine carved its way across the yard building momentum with every inch it progressed.
At 12:15AM, engine number WD 7337 departed with 51 cars, 44 of those cars were each loaded with a single 500 pound general purpose bomb capable of leveling an entire 2 story building. With purpose and determination, the caravan of incendiary doom barreled along into the unprotected countryside of Great Britain with the hope of bringing an end to the war.
***
James Nightall stood on the foot-stoop of the engine. He squinted down the line of cars that seemed to go on as far as the train tracks themselves. The dark coal smoke chugged from the smokestack into the otherwise clear sky, obscuring the almost full moon behind it’s dense plume. Frigid wind cut through his new wool coat and raised gooseflesh along his arms and neck. He smoothed the newly earned Fire Marshall felt badge on his collar down against the wind.
The cold kept him alert and sharp. There was no room for error with this payload. Any lack of vigilance and he risked not only the lives of the people on the train, but the lives that the artillery it carried would save. He pulled a worn pocket watch from his coat and popped the bent cover open. An amber glow from the smokestack glinted off of it’s glass face and illuminated the time: 12:29AM. The train would be passing through Soham station in a few minutes.
Taking one more glance down the train line and climbed up onto the catwalk along the side of the engine. The window into the cabin showed a man hunched a furnace, shoveling coal into the hole. “Sir!” He yelled.
The roar of the machinery and wind must have hidden the sound. “Sir!” he yelled again, banging on the glass window. He looked up from underneath coal blackened eyebrows and cheeks. The driver closed the furnace and opened up the cabin door. Nightall pushed inside, the sauna like conditions inside the cabin turned his ears pink and numb.
“Benjamin Gimbert,” the driver introduced himself offering a weathered hand.
“James N-Nightall.” He removed his mitten and clutched the older gentleman’s hand giving it a small, but firm, shake.
“How’s the cargo lookin’?”
“Haven’t seen a thing. Soham coming up?”
He grunted and nodded, hunching over a gauge and tapped the glass face. “What about an air raid? We’d be doomed.”
“Skies are clear. Haven’t heard any bombers either.” Not that I would be able to over the roar of this engine. He added to himself.
“Thank God.”
Feeling was starting to come back to his ears and face as Nightall stood in front of the burning coal. He searched for words to fill the silence but found nothing, instead he focused his eyes on the orange glow seeping through the cracks in the furnace’s door.
The driver looked up at the Fire Marshall out of the corner of his eye. “It’s mad isn’t it?”
“What’s mad, sir?”
“Don’t call me sir, my name’s Benjamin,” he grumbled. “This damn bombs! Hauling the deaths of hundreds possibly thousands of men.”
“Of evil men,” Nightall interjected.
“Of evil men,” Benjamin agreed. “But, still, fatherless children, widows. Lost sons. It’s a scar that won’t heal for generations.”
“They do worse to us, to civilians. Would you rather live under a nazi flag?” He bit.
“I’m not saying it’s not necessary, it’s just bloody mad. Besides,” he scoffed. “It’s all gone to hell, it looks like we’ll be living under the nazi flag anyhow.”
“Not if my father has anything to do with it.”
“In the service, is he?”
“Naval officer.”
Gilbert grunted and went back to his dials and displays.
“He told me they were getting ready for something…” he hesitated. “Something big.”
“Something big, huh? Did he happen to be more specific than that?”
Nightall sunk into his coat, rubbing his hands together. “No, but he said with any luck he’d be home soon.”
Well, for all our sakes I hope you father is-” The furnace light flickered across his eyes as he stared into the mirror positioned just outside the door of the cabin. “Bloody hell we have a fire.”
The fire marshal's sunken demeanor disappeared as the adrenaline dumped into his veins. He opened the door and thrust his head out into the bone chilling wind. Flames licked a meter up on the first car carrying explosives.
“Soham station just ahead!” Benjamin screamed. The deafening whistle pierced Nightall’s eardrums. “Hold on!”
They braced as the train slowed, screeching iron sending sparks and smoke into the gravel beside the rail. “Take her slow!” Nightall yelled.
“I bloody know!”
The train’s chug slowed, and halted. The fire rose halfway up the car’s walls. “Aren’t those things supposed to be fireproof?” Benjamin asked.
“Yes, I don’t know how this happened!”
“Doesn’t matter how it happened does it, it happened. Once this train is stopped grab the coupling wrench in case it’s hot and detach the car and then we’ll hall it past the station.”
Nightall nodded. A minute later the engine groaned to a halt and burst through the door hesitating for a fraction of a second. The flames engulfed the car, slithering their way up the treated walls. A smell independent of the burning coal lingered in the air. It had to be coming from the burning car. He grabbed the large wrench from a hook hanging on engine wall. The handrailing was ice cold.
Jumping from the railing to the foot stoop he stumbled as he hit the gravel along the side of the rail. Heat coursed from the car and burnt his cheeks as Nightall jumped to his feet along side the burning payload. His feet sunk into the coarse rock like sand slowing his momentum. He arrived at the back of the train.
There was no time to think or to feel the pain of the flames. There was only time to act. Nightall hoisted the wrench into place, squinting his eyes against the blaze. He pushed with all his might but the coupling resisted his strength. The heat must have caused the metal to warp cinching itself tightly into place.
He pushed his shoulder into the bottom of the wrench using his shoulder as a fulcrum. Just as Nightall was about to let go he felt it give, jolting him forward into the burning cart. The hot wood and metal sent pain coursing through his cheek. He gritted and pushed himself off the cart. The burning cart was free.
Nightall tossed the heavy wrench to the ground and sprinted back to the engine. Pings and groans from the expanding metal inside the car hinted at an explosive temperament about to unleash its wrath.
“Go, go, go!” Nightall screamed up to Benjamin. He gripped the railing to the footstool and pulled himself onto the engine.
Iron rods rolled the engine’s wheel’s forward at a pace that a sloth would abhor. The momentum built just as the size of the flames licked up past the roof of the car. Soham station loomed closer with each passing second, the lamp from the station growing brighter. The train guard stood on the station platform, a bucket of water in his hand.
Nightall rushed along the catwalk towards the cabin “She’s going to blow!”
“We’ve got time!” Benjamin insisted, his eyes darted towards the flames dancing into the mirror. “Get off at the station! I’ll bail once I get this bugger out to safety!”
Nightall nodded and darted back out along the engine to the foot stoop. The remaining ten yards closed quickly, he train was moving too fast to step off. He took a step back and looked up in time to see the train guard’s shocked expression. His mouth opened to speak but a deafening boom resounded over the station. The explosion sent the 60 ton engine 3 meters into the air. Railway ties and large projectiles crashed into the buildings nearest the blast point reducing it to nothing more than splinters and mortar dust.
Nightall was pummeled into the sixty foot crater killing him instantly. Benjamin Gimbert was ejected from the cabin and flew through the air for 80 yards landing in a patch of grass, stunned.
He lifted his head and instantly vomited all over his tattered clothing. The world rang with the pounding of a thousand cathedrals and spun faster than any carnival ride imaginable. A cloud of smoke hung over the station tainting everything with the smell of sulfur and dust particles. With a gulping breath, the train driver collapsed back onto the grass and drifted into the unconscious realm.

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J. T. SHEA
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Re: Soham Railway Incident-Historical Fictional Short

Post by J. T. SHEA » December 5th, 2018, 7:51 am

Interesting, SubatomicHobo! And based on a real event. But it's not a query. You might consider moving it to 'Excerpts'.

SubatomicHobo
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Re: Soham Railway Incident-Historical Fictional Short

Post by SubatomicHobo » December 5th, 2018, 9:14 am

Thank you, will do!

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