Station Operations

Sepia tone. Rivets and machinery at the front of a locomotive. A single window stares outward like an eye.

I didn’t know Davies’ motivation in bringing us to this pass. Cloud curdled under the other sail. It was attached to something large. “Why?” I asked. Davies shook his head and pointed to the word on our sail. “It’s not ‘Neverland,’” he said. “It’s never … land.” #mbnov

Sepia tone. Back of a wooden train car. A wooden door with a porthole in the center of it.

When it came my time to work the sheet I yanked the boom to the other side. I had to change the course. But Fane had me pinioned in two seconds. With that kind of commitment from the others, there was no choice. The other sail was 200 yards away. We were drawing alongside. #mbnov

Sepia tone. Machinery and pipes. A wall of planks with an opening beneath. Brick walls on either side.

It was a ritual by now, how we took turns working the sail. Then Davies instructed us how we were going to swing the boom to match the other’s course. “I thought we were using this to get down?” I asked, frantic. “We have to go there,” he said, pointing to the other sail. #mbnov

Sepia tone. Wrought-iron entranceway. A window in the background. A single chain guards the way.

Four miles away. If I was to retain my sanity I could not look down. So I looked at Fane, notable for lantern jaw; Ainsforth, for green eyes (or one blue); and Davies, premature ruggedness but too young for this. I was on the job just five years myself. Three miles. Two. #mbnov

The sail approached. Like I said before. Like you needed an update. But for one glorious moment in the sun and bracketing wind, our sail full and drawing — “Neverland” was printed on it too — it was joyous. One moment. Just one. #mbnov

The edge of the sail grazed my cheek; the cold and the wind made it a knife. All four of us wrestled with it as it snapped and groaned. We had it attached to the lines at least. After the spin of the red wheel the beacon shot up and there it was, all 20 feet of it: a mast. #mbnov

Ice glazed the railing. The wind was brittle. My God, why the roof? Ainsforth and Fane looked stricken. “We have to raise the beacon,” one said.

“We can do that inside.”

“No.” Davies opened a hatch I had never seen before. Inside was a red wheel. “Like this.” #mbnov

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon. That titanic space is something felt in your chest more than seen with your eyes. But this — I repeat — with the sun on the clouds below and the dizzy bright — we stood on the roof with the wind not so great because we were traveling with it. #mbnov

“Where are you going?” Up the clanging stairs, a spin of the wheel, the whoosh of air, and the sun. Well, this was novel, but I wasn’t budging. “The roof? With only that rail?” “The others know too,” Davies said. “They’re waiting.” #mbnov

Unfazed, Davies moved past me with a smile. “Don’t you tire of all this?” I asked.

“There’s not a moment to lose,” he said. “The others already know.”

“Know what?”

“That sail. It’s not moving toward us.” His feet clattered up the iron stairs. “We’re moving toward it.” #mbnov

All this sailcloth came out of a barrel stamped with that company name: Neverland. I was going to ask “What do we need that for?” but what came out was “You work for them.” Davies was gathering it all up in his arms. “Everyone works for them,” he said. “Except you.” #mbnov

I was furious. “The pipegyros. The steamcurloes. The semiirons. Lighting the beacon in the sunshine! You caused this. You think you own a franchise on the running of this station?” He was still holding the textile. “What is that?”

He grinned wildly. “Sailcloth!” #mbnov

A spiral staircase leads to the main storage bin. That is where I found him, among verdigrised clockwork, aluminum congeries, Bakelite mannequins, and the mermaid. He was covered in textile, plain as burlap but stamped with that company name. “Did you hear me?” I asked. #mbnov

Davies knew. Davies knew. I stormed through to look for him. Through some impossible how the Signal Station was floating thousands of feet in the air when it should be anchored to the ground like any other building. We can never leave. That wasn’t fog; it was clouds. #mbnov

My eyes had to adjust, but not from light. The concrete 30 feet below was shadowed in blue. Cola drinks had spilled to stain it. Planters had been arranged haphazardly. Then my arms locked in terror around the iron bar. Thousands of feet below were ocean, land, and trees. #mbnov

“Down the hatch.” The wind blew me to one side. Dizziness took me. The world shot upward. I fell then swung. I pendulumed — clanged against metal and grabbed riveted iron. I had a suspicion the pylons were intact! With relief I looked down. I thought I was falling again. #mbnov

I must have made quite the display. I had Ainsforth tie the rope around me before going down the hatch. It didn’t help that the fog obscured. There was still the chilly wind and vertigo. The fear. It did help that I expected the ground to be 30 feet below. What a laugh. #mbnov

The Signal Station is built like a submarine. There are pipes, circular doors, and wheels for opening things. There is hiss and steam. The beacon periscopes. But the hatch, though round, is sharp. I can minister to the cuts and scrapes. “But what did you see?” asked Fane. #mbnov

I was the only one who wasn’t certain. So they all stared at me as if to say, “Well, go on, then.” Let me be clear. The Signal Station rests on pylons on a rocky promontory surrounded by surging ocean. And now? And now I was taking a good long look at the bottom hatch. #mbnov

I wish we hadn’t reached a consensus. I would prefer to blame Davies as delusional. Ainsforth and Richards even climbed over the railing to make sure. We can’t see the support pylons to the station. Not because of the fog. It’s because they aren’t there at all. #mbnov

The fog surrounding the Signal Station plays tricks. I had already dismissed the double blue flames, the yellow cat eyes (big as dinner plates), the “candle in the dark,” and what we call the Flying Dutchman. And the sail? Such insight is hard to come by, but it’s real. #mbnov

The sail approaches, miles away, though visible through the fog. I have not mentioned the fog. It obscures enough so that the sail is like a lantern in a snowdrifting night. And we’ve noticed (Ainsforth this time) an echo when we talk at the rail. Could the fog do this? #mbnov

Davies (it’s always Davies) says that there is a country of origin stamped in blue ink on the cellophane of the coffee bags. Yes, the stamp does say “Neverland,” but I’m sure that’s a company name. Or a joke. Always joking, that supply crew. No one’s exempt. #mbnov

The only airdrop we’ve had to the Signal Station in the past 60 days was comprised of 37 one-pound bags of coffee. They have no label and list no country of origin. I have great admiration for the supply crew’s past persistence, but I believe they’ve given up on us. #mbnov

The sail approached. Davies said we should signal it. He jumped to the beacon before I could stop him. His codes were all wrong. Thus we learned he had no license as a telegraphicker, let alone spinefisher or smokeweaver. Ainsforth and I have no idea how he got here. #mbnov

The circumflex window of the Signal Station was a more prominent feature than the beacon itself. “A feast for the eyes,” said Davies, gazing out and becoming master of cliché. But it was true — that unbroken blue — until the day the horizon was marred by a sail. #mbnov

The figure in the vestibule of the Signal Station is unrecognizable. The verdigris has grown thick. But when the clock strikes sunset the beams shine behind it to reveal the profile of the Second Telegraphicker, familiar from gold coins, though lacking in gilt. #mbnov

A red, round lighthouse that is squat instead of tall. A black railing runs round it.

The Signal Station

An old railcar that reads Greenbriar Cheat & Elk on the side.

The lawyers to The Signal Station travel in their own railcar.

Sepia-tone photograph of the front of an old locomotive with the sun slanting across rivets and the number 592.

The telegraphickers at The Signal Station sometimes tap out their codes in metal.

Signal Station Waiting Room

Signal Station Pressure Mount

Advice from The Signal Station

Signal Station Main Dispatch

Signal Station Telegraphicker

Radio Free Signal Station

Signal Station Identification