August 1918, Russia
The steam locomotive's driver distinctly saw two tiny figures running towards the train on railroad tracks. Children - no more than ten or eleven. The driver exchanged a bewildered glance with his young assistant and the fireman.
Steam engine's whistle pierced the stillness of the forest. But the children neither stopped, nor turned away. The driver pulled the whistle lever harder - again, and again - but the children still kept running towards them, waving their hands and yelling something. What, he couldn't hear over the deafening roar of the engine.
Why weren’t they stepping off the tracks? Why weren’t they afraid of the giant, black, steam- and fire-breathing locomotive pulling twelve fully loaded carriages? With a pang in his heart, the driver recalled his own grandchildren, a boy and a girl aged eight and ten - thank goodness, safely back home. Damn civil war, even children didn't act as children should!
He knew, if he didn't do something immediately, the multi-ton iron monster he commanded would squash the children's little bodies like a couple of insects.
But that meant disobeying strict orders.
"Full stop!!!" he yelled at the top of his lungs and threw his entire weight on the emergency break. If he acted quickly, he might still be able to avert the collision!
"What the hell is going on here?!" the driver heard a thunderous voice. A broad-shouldered man, black-clad head to toe - leather jacket, tall boots, galife trousers, cowhide belt with attached holster - stormed into the locomotive's cabin, hastily pulling out a shiny, black Mauser revolver.
"Comrade Commissar," choked out the driver, still pulling on the emergency brake with all his might, "there are children on tracks!"
With relief, he felt that the huge machine started ever so slowly, ever so grudgingly, losing speed.
Commissar threw a lightning-fast glance at the tracks, noted quickly approaching children and frowned.
"Comrade Lenin's Personal Directive was," he said in a dangerous voice, "no stopping under any circumstances!" He pointed his revolver at the driver. "Step away from that brake and get back to full speed - NOW!"
"But the children!" cried out the driver in despair, refusing to believe that this kind of cruelty was possible from one of his revolutionary comrades.
"Full speed or you die," said Commissar through clenched teeth.
"I am sorry, Comrade Commissar," the driver shook his head. "But I can't do that."
At that moment, as the locomotive's huge body started finally coming to a screeching halt, the driver noticed with surprise the two children on tracks suddenly jump aside and nimbly disappear into the darkness of the trees.
"Traitor! Saboteur!!!" yelled Commissar and pulled the trigger.
The old locomotive driver felt something hot hit his chest and fell to the floor, like a heavy sack.
"Back to full speed, if you want to live!" Commissar pointed his Mauser at the blanched driver's assistant and at the fireman covered in black soot.
Both men worked feverishly, hands trembling, feeding heaping shovels of coal to the demanding fiery beast, slipping on bloody floor and throwing surreptitious glances at the immobile figure unceremoniously hauled by Commissar into a cabin's corner.
The giant locomotive started slowly, reluctantly moving.
"Faster, faster, sons of bitches!" yelled Commissar. "Remember what precious cargo you are carrying! Faster, I said, unless you want to end up like this traitorous scum!"
They worked as fast as they could, but not fast enough.
Through the steam engine's noise, they heard the rhythmic drumming of the horse hooves accompanied by the horsemen's war cries.
"Faster! Faster, you, bastards!" thundered Commissar, waiving his Mauser.
Urgent gunshots told them that the elite Red Guards regiment assigned to guard the train was engaged in a battle against the attackers.
"Damn, they are boarding the train!" roared Commissar. "Faster, please, dear brothers," he added desperately, throwing a pleading glance at the driver's assistant and the fireman.
The two men nodded, working as hard as humanly possible, while Commissar disappeared into the belly of the train.
At last, the locomotive re-gained its original speed and they paused, wiping dripping sweat, listening. All of a sudden, it seemed awfully quiet inside the train and deciding that Commissar and his Red Guards managed to fend off the attack, the young driver's assistant cracked a rare smile and the fireman's sooty face answered in like. About to return to their duties, they heard heavy footsteps and waited for Commissar to open the door. He would be in a good mood now, he would be happy with their work.
"Stop the train, sons of bitches - NOW!!!" roared a voice.
The man, who stepped through the cabin's door, his gold epaulets gleaming, wasn't the Commissar at all.
"The Whites!" croaked out the driver's assistant.
The imposing man in Tsar's army uniform with gold colonel's stars waved his Smith & Wesson in front of their noses.
"Yes, the White Guards, you, Red filth! And unless you do exactly as I say…"
Out of a corner of his eye, the colonel noticed the young man's move. His Smith & Wesson fired and the driver's assistant sank to the floor. The red-hot poker slipped out of his fingers and fell with a loud thud.
"Can you drive the train?" The colonel pointed his revolver at the fireman.
Cautiously, the fireman shook his head, standing as still as possible, so that not to anger the colonel any further.
"Then, what do I need you for?" asked the colonel tauntingly. The Smith & Wesson went off one more time and the fireman's blackened face hit the floor.
"Red filth," murmured the colonel and spat on the dead man's body.
As darkness fell, a different kind of train snaked on a remote dirt road hidden somewhere in the vast forests of middle Russia. The train of horse carriages, stretching for kilometers, all loaded with precious cargo.
By dawn, not a single piece of the mysterious cargo remained on the train. Only the slaughtered bodies of Commissar, the entire regiment of the Red Guards and the train crew were left behind.
The ancient forest stood silent, the sole witness and the record keeper, as it always did.
To find out what happens next, read mystery/thriller GOLD TRAIN!