Far Horizons: Tales of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. Issue #13 April 2015 - Page 13

ment lights to illuminate the snow beside the track and she peered out across a lonely landscape of low treeless hills. The door slid open, Poul returned. ‘there’s a snow drift blocking the track. It’s too deep for the plough, we’ll have to dig through.” “How long?” She wanted to keep moving. He reached for his fawn woollen coat, ‘the soldiers are already out there. Captain Higgins has called for volunteers. I said I’d help.” She barely knew him but all at once she wanted him to stay. He wasn’t weak, of course not, but other men were stronger, with better clothes. Her red Angora scarf hung on her own side of the door, with her furtrimmed grey cloak and hat. “Here,” Chloe looped her scarf round his neck. “Be careful.” “It’s only snow,” he said jauntily, “And thank you.” # During the morning the sky cleared to a frigid pale blue. Towards noon Chloe put on her cloak, hat and gloves and descended the steps onto the creaking snow. The air was bitterly cold. Other passengers stretched their legs or shared a hip flask. The single track ran along the base of a low ridge, wind blowing across the open ground had drifted snow against the base of the slope. Chloe lifted the hem of her cloak and walked towards the great engine at the front of the train. Standing on the terminus platform, Ice Maiden, in its silver and blue livery had seemed huge and sleek. Here on the ground beside the track she was enormous, her towering bulk like a force of nature. Heat still radiated from the great boiler, refrozen snow melt hung in glassy stalactites from the running plate and buffers. The great steel wheels were taller than Chloe, the pistons and armatures bright, the cylindrical streamlined boiler and furnace higher than a house. It seemed impossible that mere snow could halt such a vast machine. Ahead of the engine, handsome young Captain Higgins directed his soldiers and volunteer passengers with energy and flair. Chloe looked carefully but could not see Poul. Then she saw a flash of red, her scarf. There he was, to the left of the line, ordering a work gang of his own. Chloe sensed movement up on the footplate. ‘Tea, Miss?” a deep voice rumbled. She looked up to see the stoker, six and a half feet tall with a great curling red beard, a grimy dark blue boiler suit stretched over his barrel chest. His teeth flashed white as he smiled. “We’ve just had a brew.” ‘Thank you.” The stoker swung down one handed from the brass hand rail, pulled off a glove and handed Chloe an enamel mug by the rim. “Mind the coal dust, miss, it gets everywhere.” The driver joined them, a wiry older man with a shortbilled canvas cap on his head, a knotted red kerchief round his neck. Chloe sipped the hot and very sweet tea and watched the diggers. “How much longer, do you think?” “Half an hour, miss. They’re just clearing off the top, the plough will shift the rest.” Mist from the drivers breath passed over Chloe’s head. She laughed and blew from her own mouth. “We’re all steam engines today.” To the right the ridge rose a hundred feet, on the left flat hills rolled away to a smoky violet horizon. The scrape of the shovels, the crump of shovelled snow and slow hiss of steam were the only sounds in the enormous unmoving landscape. Chloe shivered. “When will we catch up with Northwind?” The driver and stoker exchanged a look. “Nobody knows how far this line runs,” the driver said. “The PAGE 13