A Little Fiction For The Evening

Preacher Ludlow looked down at the train schedule in his hand, glanced up a the large clock on the railway station wall, and then neatly folded the type written schedule back together and tucked it in his wallet. Preacher shifted his gaze out the window and saw the people on the platform start shifting from foot to foot and pick up their bags and packages.

Pulling into the station precisely at half-past nine in the morning, the train was late again as usual. That the nine-fifteen train would arrive a quarter of an hour late was the norm here. The first train of the day arrived on time at fifteen minutes past eight, but after that each successive train would be about fifteen minutes later. This causes a slow but steady shift of the schedule where the ten fifteen train would arrive at ten forty-five and so on. By the end of the day, entire runs were shaved off the route. Nobody seemed to care much though because the trains still ran throughout the day, there was plenty of room on each one for everyone who cared to ride, and most everyone who took the train out of the little country station knew the actual schedule by heart.

The only problems tended to arise when either there were out-of-town visitors, or when the railroad company tried to do something to correct the situation. To all of the town’s people’s continued amusement, whenever the company would try to fix the situation they would always look at ways to speed up the trains or shorten the amount of time in station or some other complicated solution. There was widespread agreement among all of the passengers on the line that the real fix was a quite simple one of reprinting the timetables to reflect the consistently late running of the train. Once that amazingly simple idea had actually been typed neatly up by Preacher and sent off of to the railway offices in Atlanta. A few weeks later Preached had gotten a letter back thanking him for his input but explaining that to keep the railroad solvent it had to maintain the current number of train runs per day to carry the current number of passengers. Again, Preacher had typed out a letter informing the company that even though they were scheduling twelve runs of the train per day that only 8 were really being made so they wouldn’t really be changing anything that had to do with number of passengers, the way the trains actually ran, or anything other than a change of printed schedule. Nearly three weeks to the day from when he sent the letter off Preacher received another letter back from the company. This one seemed to be a little different in tone and Preacher thought that the “thank you” in the opening sentence read a bit strained. The letter also went on at length to explain the corporate budgeting process, the approval process for route changes, the way a company such as the railroad calculated requirements and soon. At that point Preacher concluded that common sense and running a business had nothing to do with each other. He thought about writing a third letter, but realized that it would do about as much good to talk to the locomotives themselves and so he contented himself to typing up his own schedule – a schedule that, as he measured it, had remained nearly perfect to the running of the trains for the past five years.

Now Preacher wasn’t a preacher; that was just the name that his parents had given him 45 years before. In contrast to what his parents had hoped would happen, he wasn’t really a religious man at all. Perhaps that was a direct result of a rebellion again his parents influence or maybe it was just a result of his existence in a small Southern town with no where to go. A lot of people in his town centered their lives around the church – it was their anchor and the reason they gave for their existence. But ever since he was a teenager, Preacher had seen the church as something to be suspicious of, something to be avoided. Every memory he had of the church was of someone trying to either tell him what not to do and demanding that he do something for them. He felt guilty for the selfishness of it.

*** More to come… maybe ***

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