“Why are we going up island on an old train, Billy?” my sister, Sarah, asks.
“I already told you,” I say, frowning at her while working my iPad. “We’re writing an historical essay on the E&N Railroad.”
“Yes,” Ricky pipes in. “What better way to get a feel of the journey than a trip.”
“But it smells musty and it’s so slow. We’ll never get to Nanaimo in time for my game,” she says as she fingers her iPhone.
“Don’t worry. There’s lots of time to get you there. It’s only ten o’clock in the morning and your game isn’t until three.”
“Yeah, we’re even buying you lunch.” Ricky wiggles his eyebrows.
“I know. It’s just so boring.”
“Well, read your book, or play on your iPhone or something.” I say, rolling my eyes. At that point, she is so immersed in her phone that she doesn’t answer. “I rest my case.”
“Billy, we need to get some pictures from the Kinsol Trestle and at Cliffside, where The Last Spike was driven in by Sir John A. MacDonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada,” Ricky reminds me.
“Don’t worry. That’s at the top of my list. You know, there’s something I’ve not done yet.”
“Walk the trestle. What do you think?”
“That’s swag, man,” Ricky says. He is obviously game.
“You guys are crazy,” my sister chimes in. “You’re not allowed to do that, are you?”
“Actually, you are.”
“Really?” Sarah shakes her head and goes back to her iPhone. Her fourteen years of experience not appreciating our adventure.
“Tell you what. You can film us.” She just rolls her eyes at me.
“How much farther is it?” Ricky asks.
“Well...” I answer, pushing the keys of the iPad. “...let me see. Uh, here we go, about thirty minutes away.”
“You’re not really going to walk the trestle, are you?” my sister asks. “You’ll never get them to stop the train.” She shakes her head, blond curls bouncing with each movement.
“This train is a tourist attraction now. Not only do they stop there, but they give you pamphlets, sell souvenirs and take your picture as you walk it.”
“What?” She looks shocked. “That’s just crazy.”
“No, sis, that’s capitalism. Everything is worth something.”
“It’s the only way they can afford to keep the old E&N running,” Ricky says. “They actually made a profit last year of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars or so. Of course, most of it was spent to upgrade the line and fix some of the old steam engines, but over fifty thousand tourists came to ride on it last year.”
“Come and walk the trestle with us,” I say.
“I don’t think so.” She giggles at something on her phone.
“Suit yourself, but there’s a cool souvenir shop on the other side.”
“The Kinsol trestle was built in the 1920’s,” Ricky says.
“Here, let me look it up.”
“Yeah, we’ll need some of the historical details for our report. Mrs. Owens wants at least a ten-page document.”
“Indeed, and with references. When is it due, again?”
“Two weeks from Friday, I think. Don’t you have the assignment details there on your laptop?”
“Oh, yeah, just a sec. Friday, the seventeenth in History 12.”
“Alright then, I also have a Political Science debate to write before then, how about you?”
“I’ve got to research for a Chemistry lab experiment on mixing organic compounds.”
“Sounds like fun. Just don’t create any Methamphetamines.”
I laugh. “It’s not that kind of lab, Ricky. Back to the task at hand, it says here that the Kinsol trestle was about 187 meters long and 38 meters high, one of the highest one’s ever built.”
“That’s pretty cool. It would be fun to bungee jump off of, eh?”
“Yes, I guess if you’re suicidal.” Ricky snickers as I read further. “They started rebuilding it in 2010 and on July 28, 2011, it was reopened as part of the Trans Canada Trail. The new tracks have only been on it for a few years. Before then it was like a glorified bike path. Now it’s a tourist attraction almost as popular as Butchart Gardens in Victoria.”
“When were the tracks put in?”
“In 2018, even the Prime Minister was there, sort of like the Sir John A. Macdonald ceremony. They put a spike in and everything.”
“Really? Trudeau was there?” Ricky asks.
“Yeah, at the same place, Cliffside, and there’s a second plaque there as well.”
“Good thing cameras are on iPhones and iPads these days, eh?”
“Yup, sure makes it easy. We should be at Cliffside any minute.” I look out the right-side window. “No signs.”
“Don’t worry,” Ricky says, pulling a brochure out of his pocket. “It says here that the train stops there. We’ll be able to get out and take pictures.”
“That works for me.”
About ten minutes later, we arrive at Cliffside. Sarah, totally absorbed in her iPhone, stays on board as Ricky and I hop out. I can hear the steam jettisoning out of the engine when we step down the metal stairway to the gravel beside the tracks. The cool, fresh air is a relief from the smoky smell of the train. A small group of tourists follows us up the path to the site of the Cliffside plaques. A small kiosk sits beside them filled with souvenirs; miniature plaques, flags, postcards, pictures, and of course various trinkets, candies and toys. I take several pictures of both plaques from every angle I can manage while Ricky inspects the kiosk goodies. We buy some trinkets to use in our class presentation later. With the train stopped, I can hear the water from the river below swooshing over the rocks and fallen trees. The air is cool with a hint of winter coming, there’s snow on the mountains above the tracks.
At the souvenir shop, an unusual girl, about our age, stands off to the side eyeing everyone. She has large, bright purple eyes and an iWatch-like disk strapped to her arm. Her clothes look as if they are form-fitted to her body, like spandex, kind of sexy. Even her shoes have no separation. Weird. She has gold wraparound dragon earrings that glow as if they have tiny batteries in them.
We make eye contact; she stares for several seconds as if reading my mind before diverting her gaze. I gesture to Ricky, who waves more pamphlets, and glances back at me. He casually steps toward the girl without eyeing her. She turns and bats her eyes at him as he walks past her. She raises her eyebrows and smiles at us. My hackles go up and I reach for my wand in my pocket and step forward.
“Hi,” I say, smiling back. “I’m Billy, and this is my friend, Ricky.”
“Hi, I’m Azandra. Happy to meet you,” she replies, and reaches down to touch the iWatch thing on her arm. It’s aimed at us so I suspect it takes our picture. Ricky quickly snaps a shot of her with his iPhone just as the engineer steps down from the train and shouts, “All aboard!” People start filing forward as we talk.
“You have very unusual eye color,” I say. “Are they contacts?”
“Yeah, sort of, although a little more sophisticated,” she answers.
“What do you mean?” Ricky asks.
“They’re not just contacts. They’re more like tiny computers.”
“Really? What do they do actually?”
“It’s complicated. I couldn’t begin to explain it all. They’re like cameras with special abilities. I think we better get onboard before the train leaves.” She turns, grabbing the ladder and rushing up the stairs. We follow but lose her as she zips ahead and into another car.
“Billy, there you are.” My sister tugs on my arm.
I turn and snap at her, “What?” My gaze searches for the purple eyes.
“Well, you don’t have to bite my head off,” she says, crossing her arms and frowning. “How much longer is it to the trestle? I’m hungry, and you promised me lunch.”
“Relax. We’ll be there in a few minutes.” I turn and head back to our seats. All we hear is the light murmur of people chatting and the click-clack of the wheels below us.
“I wonder where that girl is going?” Ricky asks, saying what I was thinking.
“I don’t know, but I sure would like to talk to her again.”
“Yeah, I can’t get over those strange purple eyes. It felt like she was looking into my soul or something.”
“Who are you guys talking about?” Sarah asks.
“Just a girl we met at the last stop,” I answer.
“What was wrong with her eyes?”
“Nothing, it’s just, they were purple in color and she said they had unusual abilities.”
“What unusual abilities?” Her face scrunches up.
“We didn’t have time to ask her because she jumped on the train too quickly,” Ricky says.
“Sounds weird. What was she wearing?”
“That was strange too,” I say. “Her clothes clung to her like they were spandex or something. Even her shoes were part of the one-piece outfit. Do you know any girls who wear clothes like that?”
“Not really,” my sister answers. “My friend, Lolly, sometimes wears spandex, but usually when she’s doing her workouts or track training. I’ve never seen a suit that included footwear before though.”
“Maybe we can find her,” Ricky says. “She’s on the train somewhere.”
“Well,” I say, “there are only about six passenger cars. It shouldn’t take that long. You and Ricky go towards the back and I’ll move to the front. Text me if you find her or if you don’t, text me anyway when you reach the caboose.”
Ricky and Sarah take off one way and I head in the other direction, carefully looking at all the seated people on both sides of the train. I get one ugly look from a girl with green hair and piercing blue eyes as I stare a little too long. I quickly apologize and hurry on to the last car before the engine. Nobody looks like the mysterious, purple-eyed beauty.
Just as I’m reaching for the door to the outside rail, Ricky texts me.
—No sign of her from this end.
—Me neither. Come up to our seats. I’ll meet you there.
When we meet up, Ricky says, “I don’t see how she gave us the slip.”
“The only place we didn’t look is in the washrooms,” Sarah says. “I’ll check the women’s, you check the men’s.” Just as we get back, together the train whistle blows and the E&N starts slowing down.
“Well, that was a bust. I don’t see why she’s not on the train,” I say.
“Maybe she stepped off the train just before we got underway,” Ricky reasons.
“We must be coming up to the Kinsol Trestle. You ready for the walk of destiny?” I tease.
“Yup. How about it Sarah? You game?”
“Like, no,” Sarah says, “but don’t be long because you still owe me lunch.”
The sun is shining as we step off the train except for a mist rising around the trestle from the water below. Sarah sits on a bench under some trees beside a small café where several tourists are milling about looking at souvenirs, menus, and pamphlets. I take a look back as we reach the trestle. Nobody else is behind us. It feels a little strange as the fog surrounds us. A sudden chill wind creeps up and I zip my jacket up. I can’t see in front, behind, or below as a shroud of greenish electricity sparks all around us.
“What the heck?” Ricky says, pulling his wand out as we both stop about halfway across. “Where did everything go?”
“And what’s with all of that green static?”