RAILROAD TO POTALAKA
By Juan Takai
Translated by Toshiya Kamei
In the dead of the night, under the rotting tin roof that barely covered what lay underneath, a decrepit steam locomotive had fallen into a slumber behind the gleaming rails snaking along the switchyard.
The locomotive wasn’t going anywhere—he remained idle both day and night. If per chance railroad engineers cast their gazes toward him, he would be disassembled and turned into a scrap heap.
However, a full-scale war had erupted a few months earlier. Ironically, the armed conflict with a neighboring country was what kept him alive. For one thing, he was too slow to transport soldiers and he would get in the way of others if they decided to dispose of him. Thus, the steam locomotive was cast aside for the time being.
No wind stirred the night someone pushed open his creaky wooden door. The locomotive awoke at the sound of footsteps approaching.
“Tell me your name,” a gentle male voice boomed.
Although the locomotive was awake, he didn’t open his eyes, forgetting how.
“Cat’s got your tongue, old boy?”
“I was built by Sharp Stewart & Company,” the locomotive mumbled. “What was my serial number again? I remember people called me 160.”
“Open your eyes!”
“I can’t. For years, I had no reason to—”
When the 160 opened his eyes, he saw a white figure in front of him. As the 160 blinked and stared harder at the figure, an elderly man in a mountain priest’s attire—a knee-length tunic, a conical cap on his forehead, and a large conch shell around his neck—emerged from the darkness. “A yamabushi?” the locomotive wondered aloud. “Why did you come down from the mountain?” He gave the yamabushi another glance. He looked vaguely familiar.
“I thought you were—”
“Still alive and kicking,” the yamabushi said with a wry smile.
Beneath the moonbeams, he touched the locomotive’s sooted body. The yamabushi’s hand became sullied, but he didn’t mind.
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~Featured image made at bookbrush.com (with text added).