The rails travel on for eternity


The rails travel on for eternity, or at least until the Atlantic Ocean. A few old-timers remember when the Chinese laborers were here, driving in stakes and laying tracks. Those days are long gone, though; the only remnants of the past are rust and dirt, accumulated over the years. Sometimes people pass through on the rails, heading off to one of the big cities in the east, but for the most part it is quiet around here, with nary a weary traveler willing to travel over the mountain pass; they prefer the wide-open interstate, and the rest-stops doting that leviathan.


A beetle crawls over the rails, seeking the great perhaps. He was born two miles down the line, in a wooden beam in the Catholic Church, now long gone, devoured by his ancestors. He fought hard to stay for as long as he did, but he was at last defeated by enemies greatly outnumbering him and exiled to the land of steel. He remembers the lovely ticking of his pastoral home and, sometimes, late at night, when the moon is his only companion, he imagines that he hears it, carried by the wind from far-off lands.


The little blond boy, the last remnant of his dead father, marvels at the beetle crawling along the rail. He spends his days collecting fascinating creatures, but never has he seen anything so exotic. He takes an empty Mason jar from his dirty, brown, worn satchel and captures the warrior-bug in the glass prison. He adds some dirt and rocks from the tracks to create a natural habitat, lifts the jar up to eye level and listlessly watches the beetle struggle. It rams its head against the sides. The boy rattles the cage. Suddenly, a shadow appears over him, a singular object separating him from the sun. He turns around.


“What do you have there?” his mother asks. He extends his arm, and she takes the jar. She is an entomologist—that is why they are in the middle of nowhere: to study bugs—and she recognizes it immediately. “Deathwatch beetle. Rare around here. It must’ve come from far off. Hmm. Strange.” She hands the jar back to the boy and stares into the distance at the wispy spires. He tugs on her sleeve. “Mama?” he asks. “Where do you think the deathwatch beetle is from?”


Without shifting her gaze, she says, “From his perspective? Half a universe away.”

~~La Stranezza


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