The tracks stretched so far toward the horizon that the individual rails merged into one point, and then they devolved into something indistinct. If men had laid down a railroad here, at some point it became lost to the wilderness. I followed the tracks, using a scrap of paper I’d received a couple of hours earlier. Edgar camped out where the tracks took on a look of modern sculpture, the result of a terrible derailing several years ago. Not that modern art was anything anyone had heard of yet. The old conductor told me I couldn’t miss it.
I’d been tracking him for a week, and I was running out of time. I crunched through a stream of broken glass and pottery. Moonshine bottles, brown beer glass, growler jugs, or so I guessed. Hopefully I was getting close. If the story was right then he hadn’t started to spiral down yet, but this was the last night for his sobriety.
The tracks rose up from the ground, twisting and climbing like an iron vine. Scraps from trains lay half-buried in the weeds and wildflowers, glinting from my lantern light. I’d come all the way out to Montana to find him, and now the sun was setting. I called out his name, his new name.
A crackling sound off to my right and I saw the lean-to, a few bums feeding a small fire in front of their shelter. I walked over to them and asked if anyone knew where Melvyn was.
“Who wants to know,” asked a scrawny young man. The self-proclaimed Dr. Traver.
“I need to speak with you, please,” I said. He seemed to doubt my sincerity. “It’s important.”
“It must be if you ventured to this hellacious place,” he said, and he stepped forward, closer to the light of the fire and my lantern. His sunken cheeks and brittle appearance surprised me; he’d never looked particularly healthy in any of our previous encounters, but I hadn’t seen him malnourished before, either. Melvyn stepped toward me with care, checking that the ground underneath would hold his light frame. “Pray tell,” he said once he was in front of me, “who are you and why have you come here?”
He wore wool knickers that by my research, were a good decade out of style, a prickly cotton shirt that seemed about two sizes too large for him, a beat-up brown leather jacket, not made for the cold temperatures, and a wool cap that verged on becoming too tight for him, should his skull grow even a quarter of an inch more. These were runaway clothes, assembled on the road, or stolen from his abusive half-brother or father. He put his hands in his pockets, waiting for my response.
“My name is Brock Tillman,” I said, hoping I’d remembered that correctly. “I’m here on behalf of your family.”
“I don’t have a family,” he said, stiffening up. This wasn’t going well.
“Sir, you do, and I need to explain a few things.”
He sighed. “Explain.”
“You’re working at a lumber yard, yes? The M. J. Dwight Company?”
“You work for them? You have me exasperated, Mr. Tillman.”
“My sincere apologies,” I said. “You’re going to sleep very little tonight, and rush to your job tomorrow, and make a mistake on the saw that will cost a man his life.”
“You’re a crackpot,” he said, and began walking away.
He continued to pace away from me, aiming to take cover with the older men at the fire.
“Edgar, please!” This stopped him in his tracks, and he hurried back over to where I stood.
“Who are you?”
“I am a time-traveler, as impossible as that seems.”
“You are not well, whoever you are.” His anger was so familiar. He had the same sneer on his face, although he was young enough that it hadn’t etched itself there on a permanent basis yet.
“I promise, Melvyn, I understand more than you know. How awful your brother was to you, why you ran away,”
“Stop. It is of no consequence anymore. I am now my own man.” He puffed out his weak chest.
“I know you are. That is why I’ve come to speak with you.”
“It is a strange audience you request, Mr. Tillman.” He paused, thinking. “Accidents happen at mills all the time, and this cold ground is no place for a decent night’s sleep, so you’ve said nothing that isn’t obvious. You psychics are all charlatans.” He waved his hand in the air like I was a bad smell he could disperse.
“Tomorrow, before noon, you will kill the yard owner’s son by accident. Come find me on the corner outside the general store at 3 o’clock tomorrow. You’ll believe me by then.” I fished in my knapsack. He continued to frown at me, but he’d quit yelling.
“I feel sorry for you, sir,” he said, holding his ground. “You’re lucky you’re not in a sanitarium.”
“You may be right,” I said, handing him a small wrapped sandwich.
“What is this,” he asked. He sniffed the brown paper.
“Supper. Made just like Mrs. Ellison prepared them for you in Detroit. You haven’t eaten in two days, after all.”
“You’re the devil,” he told me, as I walked away, back along the tracks and into the tiny town in the mountains.
Call me what you want, I thought, but I gave you the opportunity to prevent a death tomorrow. And all of the deaths after that.