5 min read

Clove & Moose 4: The Turbulent Train

Clove and Moose is a serial fiction story. While there is an overarching plot, each episode can be enjoyed on its own without reading what came before. However, if you want to get caught up, click one of the buttons below.

Previously, on Clove & Moose: After the mysterious Cataclysm dried up the earth and its magic, Clove left home to search for pools of corrupted magic left behind in the Cataclysm’s wake. Along with her cat Moose, she’s on a mission to find the corrupted magic, reverse its effects, and leave the world a better place.

Clove was dozing in the passengers’ cabin when the pleasant thrum of the train turned into a high screech. Her eyes snapped open as she was flung forward in her seat and Moose’s claws punctured her thigh. 

The train was braking hard and the other passengers were murmuring worried questions.

With her veins pumped full of adrenaline from the sudden awakening, Clove leapt into action. Determined to get some answers, she started toward the front of the train, Moose following close behind her. 

Now that she was fully awake, Clove could only think of one reason why the train would stop so suddenly. She hoped they’d been quick enough to avoid hitting whatever was on the tracks. The scenery outside the windows was already slowing to a crawl.

But people were scared. She heard the tremble in their voices and saw the whites of knuckles as fingers gripped the arms of their seats. 

Halfway through the next carriage, the train sped up again, sending her tail over teakettle to land with a thump.

“You alright?” the nearest passenger asked.

“Nothing bruised but my pride,” Clove answered. “Where’s Moose?”

Moose had, of course, landed on his feet. Clove was tempted to pick him up but decided he’d probably be safer on his own four feet. She hauled herself back up and resumed her journey to the front of the train even though the danger seemed to have passed.

But the train never settled back into its regular rhythm. It kept speeding up, the acceleration pushing everyone into their seats and forcing Clove to cling to armrests and the backs of seats to haul herself up the aisle. 

It took her almost ten minutes to navigate through the changes in speed and even a couple abrupt reversals of direction, but Clove finally made it to the front of the train and opened the door to the conductor’s carriage.

“Ma’am, you can’t be in here!” shouted a young man in a ticket collector’s uniform.

Clove ignored him. “What’s going on up here? The passengers are panicking.”

The conductor, a black-haired woman about a decade older than Clove, turned frantic eyes toward her. “I’m not doing anything! It’s like the train grew a mind of its own. I’ve completely lost control. Nothing I do makes a bit of difference.”

Uh oh. “When this started, did you notice an orange glow?”

“Yesss,” the conductor said slowly. “A while back. I thought it was some fool with a campfire near the tracks, but now that you mention it, the problems started shortly after that.”

“Not fire. Magic. That’s what happened to the train.” She quickly explained about the pools of corrupted magic left behind after the Cataclysm.

“Can we fix it?” the conductor asked.

“Yes, but…” Clove rolled the crystal in her pocket between her fingers, considering. “Not from here. I’d have to go back.”

“Back?” The conductor shook her head. “You heard the part where I don’t control this thing any more, right? I can’t take you back.”

“What if we just left it?” the ticket collector piped up. Clove and the conductor both turned to look at him. “I’m just saying, even with all the starts and stops, we’re making great time.”

“No way,” Clove said. “It’s too dangerous.”

The conductor was quick to agree. “A fast trip doesn’t help us if we can’t stop when we reach the station.”

“Then what do we do?” he asked.

“We wait,” Clove said. “Next time the train slows down, Moose and I will jump off and hike back to the corrupted magic. It might take a while given how much ground we’ve covered, but I should be able to stop this.”

“I can’t ask you to do that.”

Clove would rather not do it; she’d spent the very last of her cash on this train ticket. From here out she’d have to hope people would be willing to barter. It had seemed worth it when she thought they’d cover so much distance, but a scant few hours into the trip they were turning around and trekking back the other way.

It’s not like she had a choice; if she didn’t do this the train might never stop. With the brakes inoperable, it was only a matter of time until there was an accident.

“No one’s asking,” she answered the conductor. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Luckily, the train started slowing again soon. Clove crouched by an emergency exit, waiting for the right time to jump. Although she knew the train was going quite slowly, the ground still looked like it was rushing past.

In the car behind her, passengers were grumbling about the situation. The conductor had made an announcement to explain the situation, which meant that fear had faded to annoyance.

“This death trap is going to get us all killed,” one woman said.

“We’re never going to make it to Bone Vale at this rate,” a man grumbled. 

“I want to go home,” a child wailed.

“Me too, little one,” Clove mumbled. The more time passed, the less she liked her plan.

She looked out once more. It was now or never. She should be able to jump down without hurting herself at this speed, and the longer she stayed on the train, the longer it would take her to walk back to the source of the magic. 

“You ready?” she asked Moose. “Big jump, boy, here we go.”

She didn’t have to tell him twice; he’d been trying to jump from the moment she’d opened the door. The second she released him, he hopped down, landing on all four paws before immediately sitting down to groom away the dirt.

“If he can do it, I can do it,” Clove told herself. She shoved her bag out the door, then followed behind it, trying to roll into a landing. She managed not to break any bones, but she had a feeling she’d have a lot of bruises in the morning.

She didn’t have time to worry about it now. The train was already disappearing out of sight and she had a long walk ahead if she was going to fix this before the train got someone hurt or worse. She hauled herself and Moose off the tracks and began the long walk back.

It took all afternoon, but as the sky began to darken, she could see the glow of magic up ahead. Another hour brought them to the corrupted area, and Clove crouched right at the edge of it. She spoke the words of the spell. Long minutes passed where nothing seemed to be happening, but Clove waited. The train was so far away by now, it was a long way to pull back the magic and reverse the spell. She could only hope that the distance didn’t mess up the spell.

After a few long minutes, she could feel it working. The magic slowly filtered into the crystal. Instead of the usual pulse of warmth, the crystal flared so hot she could barely keep her grip on it. When it cooled down, every trace of orange was gone and Clove was reasonably certain that she had done what she intended. 

Someday, when she got to the city, maybe she’d find out.

For now, it was time to rest so she could start all over again tomorrow. She set up her tent a safe distance from the tracks, and the two of them curled into their sleeping bag, where Clove dreamt of a quiet train journey through sunny fields.

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Katie Conrad is a speculative fiction writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can find her on twitterinstagram, and tumblr.