127 The Railway Children

This began as a dream. I dreamt I was part of a rowdy crowd of 'railway children' who lived at the bottom of a mountain, and watched daily as the train bearing food and other goods wound its way up to the mysterious people at the top, like a dragon feeding its children. When I awoke I thought it would be a good story to write for my cousin, who is around four or five and fascinated with trains, but then I wrote this. It's hard to write for a child, and hard to write anything beyond such a short piece when you know nuts about trains, so here's all I have at the moment.

It came in the night.

We were not immediately aware of it, only of the smoke that filled the whole house from corner to corner, and of the unfamiliar sound outside the windows, rather like a deep-throated, phlegmatic coughing, which echoed the little ones’ coughs when the smoke got into their lungs. One within, one without.

“The dragon has awoken,” we heard Grandmother tell Mother.

We ran outside the minute we were allowed to and realized that the sounds were not so much coughing as a chugga-chugg-chugg, and that the smoke came from a shiny red dragon. It lay curled around the new building which the men had been working on for weeks. Its tail lay beyond our reach, but at its head were two glittering, empty eyes.

At eleven the whistles went.

As children of the mountain we are used to noises. The men sing and shout when they work in the fields. The women have their chatter as they hang out the laundry and chastise children. We children ourselves have our roars and yells, particularly as we scuffle in the dirt. But this shrill whistling was new.

It stopped shortly after. The men who had been surrounding the dragon stepped back and it roared into life. The smoke blew more biliously than ever, and it seemed to rise taut on its heels before slowly inching forward, gaining steam.

We were far from it, but stepped back all the same.

We watched as the dragon uncurled itself and went snaking up the mountain. It was so long it took a while before the tail whipped out of sight, and even then we saw the smoke trails winding their way through the trees, down to us. The coughing sound which we had come to attribute to the dragon still rang in our ears. It was close to noon, and the men were heading back to their homes, wiping their foreheads.

“Stop staring and come in for lunch, children,” Mother called. And that was that.

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