Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"One Way Trip"; A Christmas Story by Paul S. Powers

My grandfather left behind over two dozen manuscripts that were stored away until a few weeks ago. Here, for the first time ever, is a little Christmas story he wrote under the pen name "Edmund E. Pugsley." Happy holidays, everyone.

One Way Trip
By Paul S. Powers

It's Christmas again, and the snow is deep and downy in Rocky River. And I'm thinking of this railroad town as it was a year ago, on Christmas Eve.

This is a time for squealing, excited children, and I'm thinking of a train with a coach load of them snowed in and lost, somewhere up over the pass to High Plains where their carol singing contest had been held.

I'm thinking, too, of a snowplow crew sent out to find that train. And of Roller Monro, the conductor, whom I'd told in angry words that I hoped he'd make it a one-way trip, when he telephoned the hospital where I nurse, to cancel our date for the big Christmas Tree Party. A terrible thing to wish on any man just because you're peeved.

There is something else, too. Something I'd like to forget. I'm thinking of that same evening when I had dinner in the Mountain Moon cafe with the new trainmaster, Bing Preston. And of his wise grin when I told him of my quarrel with Roller. And of his tale that his wife had left him, and he didn't know where she was since he'd been transferred to Rocky River. No, they hadn't any children, he was sorry to say. How easy it is to work up a case of mutual sympathy at such a time. I could feel myself growing glad I'd broken off with big, awkward Roller.

We were just starting for the Christmas Tree party when the whistle called the auxiliary crew and the callboy caught Bing with the news he was to go out with the wrecker. He seemed scared then and told me he'd been responsible for calling Roller out of turn so he could take me to dinner and cry on my shoulder. I told him something then. Something that wasn't so ladylike. But it was too late for anything but tears.

I floundered back through snow to my waist. My father is in charge at the hospital and he'd been called to go out with the wrecker. I went to look in on our toughest patient, a maternity case who stubbornly refused to give her married name. She was still crying her heart out. I left her, disgusted with all men.

"You'd better come along," my father told me. "Number Five is lost with those carol kids aboard."

I went. But I didn't know till we'd reached the pass that Roller Monro and his plow were missing, too. Trainmaster Preston came through the First Aid coach and told my Doctor Pop.

"Like as not we'll find them both together," Bing said. "That plow outfit and Five. But it'll be next spring, Doc, in the canyon. Under this slide we're fixing to clear right now."

"Get out!" I squealed. "If he's dead, you killed him, calling him out of turn like that."

He got out. It seemed hours later when he came back to say the auxiliary plow gang was almost through the slide and no trace of either Five or Roller.

"Might as well be reconciled to it," he said. "They're all in the canyon for sure."

It takes a time like that to make a person think. I stared at Bing, wondering how I'd ever thought of him as something in preference to Roller. Then the dam broke and I cried myself to sleep. It was an engine whistle and bell that sat me up in a daze. Doctor Pop was peering through the coach window.

"It's engine 5885," he said. "That's Roller's. It's showing a rotary and wing plow ahead...And look what's dragging behind. Coaches. Why, that's Number Five, sure as sin. It's Roller. He found that train, and it wasn't in the canyon!"

The coaches slipped past. Away back we heard something new. Something that took Doctor Pop right off his seat to drag me to the door. "Hear that, Liza?" he whooped. "Ain't that the sweetest music you ever heard?"

Music? It was heavenly. Those carol kids were singing as though they hadn't a care in the world.

"Oh, we won't be home till the morning!" they sang. "But who the dickens cares?"

I was watching for lanterns. We hadn't seen Roller yet. Then the train stopped with a lighted coach opposite as Bing came along. Killjoy Bing, the trainmaster. He looked at Doctor Pop and then at me.

"Take it easy," he said. "Roller's in there. Got some cracked ribs. Squeezed making a coupling. You two can ride down and fix him up. A great guy, Roller. He'll get a dozen merit marks for this night's work - if he lives. Fix him up good, Doc."

Just like that. Fix him up good - if he lives. A great guy, Bing. We changed coaches and Doctor Pop went to work on Roller. We finished the job on the hospital operating table. I was glad Dad filled him with dope so he couldn't look at me with those big honest eyes.

We got him settled about daybreak and I went in to see the Capelle case - our little nameless mother. I heard an engine bell as I went down the hall. It was the auxiliary coming back. Bing Preston stepped off, looking all worn out. I felt kind of glad, seeing him like that. The Capelle woman her her baby up on one arm, a little snapshot photo in the other hand.

"That's your daddy, sonny," she was telling the baby, over and over. I moved in close. "Could I see him, too?" I asked. I didn't wait for permission. And what a shock I got.

"Isn't he wonderful?" she cooed. Then she seemed to remember, and broke all out in a rash of tears again.

"I'll say he's wonderful!" I agreed. "Wonderfully dumb."

I slipped out to the telephone and placed a rush call. I almost passed out with suspense till I saw Bing Preston shoving through the storm doors. I brushed him off with the broom and steered him along the corridor. At the Capelle ward I stopped him. "You don't deserve this, you big tramp," I told him. "But if this isn't the merriest Christmas of your dull married life, it'll be your own dumb fault." Suddenly I reached up and kissed him, then gave him a shove. "Get in there and quit gaping. You've got a lot of time to make up and a lot of salt water to mop."

I had some to mop off my own eyes before I got back to Roller's room. Pop squinted at me.

"She talk yet - that Capelle girl?" he asked.

I planted a kiss on his barren pate. "She talked, Pop," I said. "And I fixed. Guess where I found the missing daddy."

"Don't tell me," he slapped his knew. "I've been watching that Bing guy around town. He's queer. Is it him?"

I nodded mistily as a new sound turned us both to the window. Outside in a big half circle stood half a hundred children. All muffled and rosy in the deep snow, mouths open in deep song. We stood together listening to the old story of God's greatest gift to Man, told by his sweetest-voiced messengers.

"Christmas awake! Salute the happy morn,
Where on the Saviour of Mankind was born!"

When they'd moved on with a lot of cheery waving, we turned to see Roller's grave eyes watching us. Doctor Pop grinned at him and slipped out. I found a chair and pulled it beside his bed. Then I took his free hand, determined to tell him my story. But something happened to my voice and he had to do the talking.

"I didn't bring back my train," he said, slow and measured, but making every word count. "So, in a sense, I got my one-way trip, like you hoped I'd get." His eyes twinkled as he stopped. Mine rained, without stop. "Do you think it would help your wish to come true if we, kind of - well, finished that one-way trip together, Eliza?"

So, it's Christmas again, and I'm thinking of that last one, and what has gone between. We started that one-way trip together, all right, Roller and me. And now, as the deep, downy Christmas snow blankets Rocky River and the old pass, I'm watching it from the same bed in the same room that Capelle woman had a year ago. The woman who turned out to be Bing Preston's wife. Little Roller is helping me. Helping me to forget those foolish, hasty words.


copyright 2009 by Paul S. Powers, Laurie Powers


Bill Crider said...

What a great Christmas present. Thanks, Laurie.

Walker Martin said...

Laurie, it's a puzzle why this short story was never published. It reminds me of the many Christmas stories that I've read in the pulps over the years.

After reading your short story a couple days ago, and seeing that your grandfather's story also starred a woman who was angry at her man, I expected her to kick the guy onto the tracks when the train arrived. But I guess the happy ending is more fitting for the Holidays:)

andrea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
andrea said...

That was a lovely story, Laurie. Thanks for posting it. You must be very proud of your grandfather.

Jonathan G. Jensen said...

Very cool story Laurie, nice that someone kept all his tales for so long. I was wondering what market he was shooting for, it has Railroad, Romance, Western and adventure. It would work for most pulp publishers don't you think? Jonathan Jensen

Laurie said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Bill.

Thanks, Walker. I know he sent it to an agent but there was no correspondence with the manuscript.

Thanks, Andrea! I'm sure he would be happy to see it finally in print.

I think it would have worked just great for Railroad Stories, Jonathan. Either that or a romance pulp.

David Cranmer said...

Bill Crider left my comment. What a great Christmas present to all of us! Just the idea I'm reading a story from Paul S. Powers after all these years is just to cool to place in words.

Barry Traylor said...

Thanks for the Christmas present!
It seemed like it would have fit Railroad Stories rather well.

Laurie said...

David, you'll be getting some in the mail, hopefully soon. My thanks to you for prodding me to do it. :)

Barry, I agree. Too bad Railroad Stories isn't around anymore.

Chap O'Keefe said...

This story is reminiscent of yarns I used to see in the British and Australian reprints of US confessions magazines. They had titles like "True Romance" and "True Story" and went for strong plots, vivid characterization, and heaps of emotion. Despite a certain "true" grittiness, the content was, of course, largely imaginative fiction.

I dabbled in the market myself for a while. In fact, "One Way Trip" has prompted me to take a look through some old boxes. I've dug out an issue of a UK magazine called "Loving" for 29th April 1978. In it there's a story called "A Night I Would Never Forget", which when it left me -- sent on its way to Transworld Features Syndicate in New York -- was called "Collision Course to Heartbreak".

The story is dressed up in the magazine with a sexy, "posed by models", page-and-a-half-wide photograph. Its caption says: "You certainly know how to make a man happy, Jenny," Mark whispered tenderly.

And leading in to the new title is a blurb: When Mark took me in his arms and kissed me I knew I was lost ... no matter what the future held for us, this would always be...

Today I have to wonder how I once used to write in this vein, from a first-person, female viewpoint. Your grandfather was another fictioneer known for westerns. What a pity you don't have his thoughts on "One Way Trip", Laurie. Or do you?

Evan Lewis said...

This was like a time capsule from old PSP direct to us. A great experience.

Matthew P. Mayo said...

Hi Laurie,
What a fine story and a fine gift to us--from you and your grandfather. My thanks to you both.


James Reasoner said...

That's a wonderful story. Thanks for posting it. I love a good railroad yarn!

Kris said...

That is a great Christmas story in any tradition!!!

Ed Ferguson aka Lee Walker said...

Great! Really enjoyed this story and knowing the story behind it makes it even better.

Thanks for letting us in on a little bit of your family history...

Have a good Christmas,


Richard Prosch said...

I knew about this last week and looked forward to getting home from Xmas travels to read it. What a great way to round out the holiday --and what a generous gift. Thanks, Laurie!