Monday, May 9, 2022

“The Trees Blow By” • by Jason Burnham


“Thirty seconds to mark,” says the train, its monotone, automated voice sounding its annual proximity alert.

Dr. Anthony Hesychyz braces himself against the cold, dark glass, heavily modified reach extender in one hand, the window’s latch in the other. Hints of sunlight emerge as the dwindling edge of the dark forest slaps against the windows.

“Exiting woodland tunnel,” says the train.

In one swift motion, Dr. Hesychyz opens the window and thrusts the reach extender through the aperture, lowering the collection apparatus as close as he dares to the ground without risking its integrity.

He smells the wrongness before he sees it, pre-train memories of campfires gone wrong conjured by the scents wafting through the window. He squeezes his head through the opening, as if being outside will somehow erase the fire-ravaged field. Hot tears well up in his eyes from the acridness of the smoke.

There’s a cough from the bed behind him, a clearing of the throat against an edematous airway.

“What’s wrong son?” his father asks.

Anthony gapes at the now dead space that formerly nurtured his father’s life-saving foxgloves, his only source of anti-arrhythmic-producing flowers on the perpetual rail.

The retrieval device falls from his hand and smashes to pieces on the tracks. Anthony barely pulls his head inside and closes the window before the forest tunnel resumes.

“I… I’m sorry, Dad—no heart medicine this year.”

His father coughs again, but smiles weakly. “That’s okay. I’m tired of this train anyhow.”

Anthony’s chest sinks and he wonders if this is how his father feels all the time—a heart contracting too weakly to push blood forward.

“Prop me up when we pass the ocean,” his father says. “I’d like to see it one last time.”

Anthony nods. He can’t blame these tears on the smoke.


Jason P. Burnham is an infectious diseases physician and clinical researcher. He loves many things, among them sci-fi, his wife, sons, and dog, metal music, Rancho Gordo beans, and equality (not necessarily in that order).



This month’s Pete Wood Challenge was to write a 200- to 300-word flash fiction SF/F story that takes place on Earth and involves a train, and specifically a mechanical train of some sort, not a wagon or mule train. To quote Pete: “Amtrak, boxcar, steam locomotive, post-Apocalyptic Snowpiercer type, I don’t care,” but the story must take place on a train.

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