By: Thomas C. Booher
Time passed quickly as Dandy and Brutus talked about a variety of things. The magnerail raced along at 137.6 miles per hour. It slowed down several times as it passed through smaller towns that had no station.
For an observer from the outside, the magnerail looked like a purplish tubular rocket that glided ten feet off the ground above a set of three thick iron rails. One rail was directly beneath the bottom of the tube and the other two were about four feet on either side of the middle rail and about seven feet off the ground.
The outer rails were broad, concave iron strips oriented in such a way that if the magnerail were to stop and rest, the round bottom of the tube would fit almost perfectly into them. The rail beneath the tube provided the power while the outer rails provided stability and direction.
The sun had gone down, and three full moons shone brightly against a sky that was a deep reddish-blue with only a few of the brighter stars visible. The lights that ran down the center of the tube along the ceiling left a glare on the windows that made it difficult to see what lay along their route. When they passed through country, there was little to view except a few buildings that might have been barns or houses clustered around a bright blue-white lamp affixed to a tall pole.
When they passed through the smaller towns, it was still early and the streets were not yet abandoned as they presumably would be in another hour or two. Traffic was light with few autoboxes roving the avenues. Light shone from street lamps and brightly illuminated windows or doorways cast a pale hue on the pedestrians that strolled along the quiet walkways.
Towns that were sizable enough to have a large magnerail station bustled with activity. Autoboxes with gleaming headlamps continued to fill the streets. Sidewalk and pedestrian alike were tinged in a yellow, green, blue, and red effusion of energy that flowed from neon lights that seemed to fill every window along the streets. There were luxurious restaurants, halls of entertainment, sports arenas, and meeting places for recreation. They all looked clean, wholesome, and elegant. It was easy to imagine places where men, women, and children gathered together to enjoy the company of one another and the good creation. The town seemed like one big, harmonious, happy family.
Brutus inwardly glowered over that. Too many cheerful people who probably cared little about what they amounted to. Just be happy and things’ll go your way. From the looks of it, it was probably true. Lazy race of people. Afraid to sacrifice to advance. Imagine what it would be liked if they pushed themselves. If someone pushed them.
Bluebell looked back at Dandy and Brutus. She turned and leaned toward her mother as though to whisper. The woman looked back. A faint look of consternation passed, and she scooted Bluebell out of her seat.
Bluebell looked to be about two years older than her sister and had a purse that was a small replica of her mother’s. With shoulder straps, she carried it under her arm just like Mom. The woman slipped into the aisle and headed Brutus’s way. Bluebell followed, holding the purse primly to her side.
The lady approached with an apologetic smile. “I’m so sorry. Dandy is so outgoing. She loves to talk to people. I hope she hasn’t been a bother.”
“No, no ma’am, Dandy and I have been having a fine time talking things over.” Brutus looked toward Dandy’s sister just behind her mother.
“And you must be Bluebell.”
Bluebell, apparently the shy one, was embarrassed that Brutus noticed her. “Yes, but everyone calls me Blue.”
“He knows that already,” said Dandy, “I already told him.” Everyone laughed.
Brutus’s eyes fell on the play purse.
“Well aren’t you quite grown up.”
“I mean that pretty purse you’ve got there. It’s such a nice and shiny thing, isn’t it.” He looked at Dandy as he said this.
Dandy looked up with a big smile and giggled. “She takes her purse everywhere, even when she goes to sleep at night.”
Bluebell blushed. “Not every night. And I put it on the floor; I don’t really sleep with it.” She laughed again.
The mother spoke up, “Well, if you grow weary of keeping up with a little seven year old, just let her know; isn’t that right, Dandy?” The lady looked at her daughter to make sure she heard.
“Sure mommy, I don’t want to bother Brutus. I just thought he wasn’t feeling well.”
“Oh, you poor boy, are you not feeling well?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said evenly, “I am quite all right, and Dandy has been no inconvenience. I’m sure we’ll enjoy the rest of the trip together.”
At precisely that moment the conductor in the red uniform stepped into the conversation. “Is there anything wrong?” His appearance did not help Brutus’s mood.
“It is nothing,” said Brutus. “We were just making acquaintances.”
“He’s just trying not to be a bother,” the woman said admonishingly, an eye on Brutus. “We think he might not be feeling well.” Brutus opened his mouth to protest, but the conductor stepped in.
“Remember what I said? You should have that burn taken care of. It’s a nasty little burn, nasty.”
“Oh, my,” said the woman, “a burn? Now, now, just show me.” Her tone was sympathetic as though to appease a child. “Maybe I can help.”
Brutus rolled his eyes.
“Now don’t you put up a fuss. I know how you young people are. You think you can endure anything. You should see some of the kids I’ve had to patch up after a rough game of greenchnik.”
That was almost too much. Young people? Kids? The flesh on Brutus’s face heated up, but again he suppressed his emotions. He extended his hand so that the red spot was exposed before them all.
The woman grimaced just as the conductor had done.
“My, my, that is a horrible burn. How did you do it?”
“Froodly’s,” Brutus lied.
“Froodly Frisber, the tobacconist back in Puddle Bottom East. I ventured into his shop today for a visit knowing that I would be leaving this evening. We are friends, Froodly and I. He and a few of his patrons were smoking cigars and having a jolly time when one of them, Fratemore by name, accidentally tapped the red-hot ash of his cigar onto the back of my hand. They offered to take care of it right then, but I had to leave or I would miss my magnerail.”
“You were in the tobacco shop?” the woman asked, surprised to hear this. “The shop must have been open late. Most shops have closed by that time.”
“Indeed they do, ma’am, and so was Froodly’s. It was a private gathering; they were celebrating the birthday of one of the patrons. It seems for them, a box of cigars is the most reasonable way to celebrate such an event.”
The woman acknowledged that sometimes masculine habits carry with them certain hazards. In the meanwhile, the conductor had gone to the engineer’s cabin for some medical items and returned. He offered them to the lady who picked out a tube of salve, a special bandage, and some tape.
“You are quite blessed that they have a very good selection of salves. This one is especially helpful for burns. We’ll have this thing looking as good as new by morning.”
The lady squeezed a pinkish paste onto a square patch of gauze. As the salve made contact it turned blue. The woman waited another half-minute after which the salve turned a bright yellow. The moment it did so, she quickly placed it over the wound and taped it down.
The lady was putting the finishing touches on the dressing when she looked at Brutus. “You speak as if you’ve been schooled very well in English grammar and diction.”
“I speak as I am,” said Brutus in a low voice.
The lady seemed to puzzle over that, but Dandy interrupted her.
“Mommy, can I sit with Mr. Malroye.”
“Why, I don’t think that will be a problem if Mr. Malroye doesn’t mind.” She winked at Brutus as though playing along with the ‘Mr. Malroye’ attribution. Brutus looked at the woman, his features nigh unto a loathing glare, and a foul word lay on his tongue.
“No, ma’am, I rather enjoy the company of Dandy. She won’t be a bother at all.”
Brutus pasted a pleasant-looking smile on his face.
“Well then,” Dandy’s mother said, “if Mr. Malroye needs some time to himself, he will let you know. But anyway, I think you should come back and sit with us in about a half-hour. We should be arriving in Kittanning in about an hour or so, and I think we should give Mr. Malroye some time alone.”
Dandy agreed, and her mother and sister turned to go back to their seats. Bluebell’s purse was still slung over her shoulder; Brutus eyed the purse all the way back to Bluebell’s seat where she slipped it off and placed it in her lap as she sat down. It was such a pretty purse. A purse that every little girl, no matter the age, would desire.
“Isn’t that a pretty purse your sister has?” said Brutus.
“Oh yes,” Dandy replied, “She picked it out all by herself.”
“Now I wonder what Blue would carry in such a pretty purse as that one?”
“Oh lots of things. She has a comb and brush, and a wallet with a pink bill which mommy gave her on her birthday, and a little bottle of cologne that she got at the ham and dom store, and some tissues, and some makeup, and a pencil. She might have a pack of gum, but I think she took it out this morning before we left.”
“My goodness, that is a lot of things. I never would have guessed you could put so much.... uh, stuff.... into such a pretty purse as that. And how did you ever remember it all?”
Dandy thought a moment and said, “I guess because she’s my sister, and we always do things together, and I see her take it out most every day. She’s always taking something out, especially her makeup with the mirror.” Dandy giggled at this.
“She uses the mirror a lot. She says girls should be as pretty as they can even if they aren’t pretty. My sister doesn’t think she’s very pretty, but I do. I wish I had long hair like she does, and black. I love black hair. But she says she wishes she had short blonde hair like I do.” Dandy was glowing with that last thought.
Brutus also smiled. “It sounds like you and your sister have lots of fun together. Does she ever let you play with her purse?”
Dandy hesitated before answering. “Well, not really. I mean, sometimes she lets me put it on my shoulder the way she does and walk around our bedroom a little. But since it’s for somebody older like her, I don’t get to go outside with it. Besides, if I did, what would my sister do? She wouldn’t have a purse.”
“Who said it’s for someone older like your sister? Surely a delightful little girl such as yourself would look very nice with such a pretty purse.”
“My mommy says it’s for older kids. I’m too young. But when I get older, I can have one too.” Bluebell looked back and waved. Dandy waved back, and Brutus smiled and nodded.
“Would you like a purse like that?” Brutus asked.
“Sure. I would love to have a purse like that. But I have to wait till I’m more grown up.”
“I don’t think you should have to wait. I think if you wanted a purse you should have one now. Why should your sister have one and not you?”
Dandy frowned at that suggestion. “You mean you think my mommy is wrong? She’s all grown up like you, and she should know.”
“Surely purses should be for little girls such as yourself. Maybe your mommy doesn’t understand.”
Dandy became quiet and seemed to think on this.
“It’s all right,” Dandy finally said. “I’ll have one some day.”
“But it would be nice to have one now, don’t you think.”
Dandy lowered her eyes. “Well, sure, but....”
“Dandy,” Brutus said gently, “You have as much right to a purse like that as your sister.”
“Well, it would be nice. Bluebell always looks so grown up, just like mommy.”
“There you go. Think of what it’d be like, to look all grown up. Imagine how you would feel right now if you had a purse like that. Why everyone on the train.... er.... magnerail would think how lovely you are.”
“I know, but Mommy knows what’s right. She has her reasons.”
Brutus took in a breath and let it out slowly, as though he were about to explain what needed no explaining.
“Maybe she really doesn’t know, Dandy. Maybe your Mommy doesn’t know how much you would really like a purse. If she did, don’t you think she’d get one for you too?”
Dandy thought on this.
“Maybe,” she said.
Silence followed and Dandy had a sullen look about her eyes.
“I’ll bet,” Brutus began a minute later, “that if you asked your sister, she might let you have it for the rest of the trip.”
“I don’t think so,” Dandy said flatly. “She always keeps it close to her. She never lets it out of her sight.”
“Go on, ask her. You’ll never know unless you try.”
“But my mommy says it’s only for older kids,” Dandy protested again, though not so firmly this time. “I don’t think she would like it if I asked to have it.”
“Well, do you think it’s right for your sister to have a purse and you not to have one?” Brutus sounded very serious when he said this. The change of tone made Dandy look up at him curiously.
“I don’t know. You’re asking me to do something I don’t think my mommy would want me to do.”
Brutus was not daunted by this response.
“But that’s the whole point, Dandy. You don’t know for sure what your mother would want. You’re not demanding that you have the purse, you’re just asking that you might have it for a little while. Surely your mother would understand that, wouldn’t she?”
Dandy sat quietly for several seconds, mindlessly squeezing Sniffles neck causing its head to cock sideways. Then she stopped and slid out of her seat.
Dandy made her way to her mother and sister. Brutus watched. Dandy reached their row. Bluebell was sitting nearest the aisle. She paused and looked over at Brutus for reassurance. Brutus smiled and nodded for encouragement.
“Blue,” Dandy said, “I was just wondering if I could carry your purse for a while. Only until we get off the magnerail.”
The mother looked like she had been reading when she looked up sharply. Bluebell looked at their mother.
With an inquisitive look their mother said to Dandy, “Why do you want to carry your sister’s purse? You have Sniffles.”
“I.... I thought it would be nice to have a purse just like Blue. She always gets to carry it.”
“But it’s her purse.” The lady looked back toward Brutus who pretended to be looking out the window.
She continued, “Would you be willing to let Blue have Sniffles while she let you carry her purse.”
Bluebell looked quickly at her mother. “But Mom, I don’t want to trade my purse for Sniffles. Sniffles is for little kids.”
Dandy’s mouth dropped open as she sucked in a breath. “Is that all you think I am? Just a little kid?” Dandy sounded hurt. “I’m your sister, you know.”
“Well, Bluebell,” the woman said, sounding uneasy, “it’s only for a little while. We’ll be in Kittanning soon. It wouldn’t hurt to let your sister carry the purse till we get there, don’t you think?”
Bluebell had a surprised look. Then she peered back at Mr. Malroye. Their eyes met and she looked quickly away. He was watching. She looked at her mother pleadingly.
“Bluebell, she’s your sister, and you love her, don’t you?”
“Sure Mom, it’s just Sniffles.”
“You don’t love Sniffles?” Dandy looked at her stuffed dog. Her voice waivered.
“You say you don’t care about Sniffles? Sniffles is my friend. How can you say you don’t care about Sniffles?”
“But I didn’t mean it that way, Dandy.” Bluebell said sounding regretful. “I mean, Sniffles isn’t real; he’s just a stuffed animal.”
“Then you’re saying you’re too old to play with me? You must think I’m really stupid because I have a ‘play toy’.” Dandy sounded more angry than hurt.
“Now Dandy, don’t talk like that to your sister. You know that’s not nice.”
“Tell her to talk nice to me. She thinks I’m stupid, just like she thinks Sniffles is stupid.” Dandy’s voice was louder now; eyes were turning their way.
“Dandy,” her mother said in a rare harsh tone. “You know that she doesn’t think you’re stupid.”
Dandy stood with a stern expression and her arms crossed. Then in a blink, she nabbed Bluebell’s purse and ran off toward the rear of the magnerail.
“Hey!” Bluebell bounded out of her seat and pursued.
Mother watched them looking astonished. Dandy and Bluebell ran into the refreshment bar. Many were goose-necked as they strained to see what was the matter. Others began rising from their seats and some were already in the aisle to see what the fuss was. The woman rose, but by the time she scooted out, the aisle was crowded with shocked onlookers.
Dandy was surprisingly fast. She managed to stay ahead of her sister as she burst into the snack room. At the same moment, there was one who had just bought a yankburger and a large fizz. He stepped back into the aisle just in front of the two girls; Dandy crashed into him. That knocked him off balance, but he managed to keep his burger and drink on the tray. But Bluebell was right behind; the innocent fellow had no chance. The yankburger flew one way and the drink another. The man tripped and fell across the counter sending napkins, drinking cups, paper bags, salt and pepper shakers, pickles, relish, onions, and mustard on a trek across the counter and onto the floor. Bluebell had fallen on top of Dandy.
“Get off me! Get off!” Dandy was pushing and shoving and kicking.
“Give me my purse! It’s mine!”
A tug-of-war ensued. Bluebell was the stronger and was gaining the upper hand when Dandy gave her a good kick in the arm - Bluebell let out a yelp and released it.
Dandy got to her feet and ran out of the refreshment shop but stopped suddenly. The entire load of travelers packed the aisle and seats. There was no way through. Her sister screamed from behind.
“GIVE ME MY PURSE!!”
Blue was closing fast. To Dandy’s right the row of seats held a package next to the window. In a jiffy, Dandy hopped up onto the seat nearest the aisle and stepped over the bag to straddle it, each foot on an armrest.
“No you don’t!” Wild-eyed, Blue caught Dandy by a leg.
There was an innocuous looking cord that ran along the concave wall of the magnerail above the windows and near the ceiling; Dandy thought it was for decoration.
Dandy stretched out with the purse dangling from an arm as a free hand flailed about feeling for something to grab. She heaved her leg in stifled jerks trying to throw Blue off. Dandy got two fingers on the cord.
“Give it back!” Bluebell now had Dandy by an ankle with both hands and was pulling with her full weight to drag Dandy off the seat.
Dandy’s foot slipped, and she grabbed the cord with both hands resulting in a mighty tug. The flying tube came to a stop in two hundred thirty-four and one-half feet precisely.
There was no screeching of wheels as there were no wheels. A sudden silent stop, and everyone in the aisle fell backwards like bowling pins bombarded for a strike. Anything on the shelves in the snack area came crashing to the floor. One individual in a restroom was slammed against the wall and, needless to say, made a mess of himself and the compartment. Dandy tumbled headlong over the next seat and banged her nose making it bleed. Bluebell flew into the aisle and slid under a seat on the other side. Her ankle was wedged somehow, and she couldn’t move.
The middle of the tube was a mass of people piled on one another; those at the bottom began to push and yell at the ones on top. The conductor at the far end cried out for everyone to calm down and not to panic.
Brutus sat quietly through all of this. The moment he first saw Bluebell’s purse he had the urge to plant the idea in Dandy’s head that she should have one too. He was not completely sure why. Maybe it was to satisfy one of his most basic pleasures - to be manipulative of another person, especially one so delightfully innocent and unsuspecting. Besides, he was annoyed about how Dandy’s mother spoke of him, as if he were a child like her daughters. This had been a match of wits, his against hers; his authority as a special, mature, wise, ahead-of-his-years adult against her authority as a parent.
The power of suggestion struck him like a revelation from the gods. He never knew how skilled he was in utilizing it. He had always thought the fist was mightier than the word. But now he saw that the word was just as powerful as the fist.
What power he had! What potential! This was just a small sample. True, he did not expect it to end in such mayhem. He would have preferred that the sisters had gotten only into a spat so that their day would have been spent in bickering and picking on one another, not to mention the unpleasantries of discipline their mother would have surely rendered to their little behinds. But he figured that he would get better at it and would soon learn how to manipulate by suggestion or, if necessary, by threat, many unsuspecting and unwilling participants to get whatever he wanted.
What that was he was not sure yet. He knew the answer was there, and it would come. He had a purpose and this world was where it was going to play out. Brutus felt happy, a feeling he had not had for a long, long time.
 That is, “five and ten store,” but ham and dom are short for hamponk and domponk, the names for the coins worth five ponks and ten ponks respectively.