Into the West
by Eric James Stone
According to Jorge, sometime after we pass through Denver the California Zephyr
will run out of diesel. Jorge's already decided that when the train stops, he will, too
-- like a captain going down with the ship. He's got a wife and a passel of kids
back in Chicago who he'll probably never see again, so I guess I understand.
Me, I plan to keep heading west with as many of the other passengers as care to go.
Just keep on going till we drop dead of exhaustion or hit the Pacific or the darkness
We don't know for a fact that anyone back east is dead. Or alive, either. Some of
the passengers just sit up in the dome car and watch the landscape behind us stretch
like salt-water taffy as it reddens and finally fades into the blackness that follows
us. Others are so freaked out they just sit in the dining car finishing off the liquor,
free of charge. The rest of us sit in our regular seats, like everything's normal.
"Those scientists at CERN overdid it," says Varney. His t-shirt's a couple of Xs
too small, but people listen to him because he's loud and confident. "They
probably created the black hole."
I've already told him you don't escape a world-devouring black hole on Amtrak,
but he's fixated on the idea because it's something he understands.
Me, I'm fixated on what I don't understand: when we pass through a town,
everyone we see is frozen in place.
"Gravitationally induced time dilation" is Varney's answer. Makes no sense,
'cause we're just as close to the event horizon, so our time would be dilated, too.
A spindly woman with wiry red hair and librarian glasses sits down in the seat
opposite me. "You think he's full of it."
I shake my head. "Not 'think.' I know he is."
"So, what's your theory?" Her voice is casual, like she's asking about tomorrow's
weather, not the end of the world.
I shrug. "I thought the speed of light had slowed to 50 miles an hour or so. Fit with
the red-shift out back and the time dilation as we passed things at a high fraction of
the speed of light. Was a pleasant theory."
"Pleasant?" she asks.
"It would mean the rest of the world was still there behind us, if it was true. But it's
"There's no blue shift ahead of us."