The Damascus

Jarod K. Anderson

Jarod is a fan of comic books, John Milton, tattoos, pulp detective novels, herpetology, folklore, video games, and all things speculative. Growing up, he wanted to be either a ninja or a maple tree. He lives in Ohio. You can find Jarod online at:

The tracks of the Damascus freight company knit together the rotting sprawl of Cleveland’s south-side industrial districts—neat rows of course stitching fighting a losing battle with decay.  Despite the steady decline of the area, the Damascus train roars along between old hunks of warehouses and the great, cavernous corpses of steel mills and factories. I guess it won’t stop anytime soon, not until the rust eats it down to the wheels.

In reality, there may be more than one train. Honestly, I’m not sure. But, I like the idea that there is only one Damascus engine left, like the last remaining example of some extinct race of behemoths, made all the more awe-inspiring because of its utter singularity.

I am grateful to that train. If not for that stubborn cacophony on wheels, this place would be as silent as a cemetery. That kind of silence is like a pressgang. It bullies you into joining up with it, until its cause is your cause. I suppose that’s what happened to the other hollow-eyed things in this place, drifting from shadowed doorway to shadowed doorway like empty shopping bags caught up in the wet breeze.

I’m not like them. I am my own Damascus. And even if my cacophony isn’t as grand, it is just as sincere. That train is my brother, and I always imagine us standing back to back, scowling out at the ugly shit pile that stretches away on all sides.

I don’t mean to suggest that the train is real. I’m not crazy. I know we’re all ghosts. But, there are ghosts and there are ghosts. The Damascus and I are what we are, but we don’t have to like it. I don’t want to like it. To like it is to be empty.

In this place, emptiness isn’t benign. It isn’t the emptiness of your favorite chair, waiting patiently for your return. Around here, the emptiness has claws. It’s corrosive. Like the rust. So that now, in the horrible moments when I forget myself, and the Damascus is away on some hidden track God-knows-where, every second of silence sounds like chewing. A repulsive, personless digestion that sustains nothing. It’s a destroyer that won’t even offer a man the natural respect of hatred.

I suppose I hate it enough for the both of us. I guess that’s my way of holding on to the golden rule. If this is purgatory, maybe it’ll earn me some points, but I don’t think so.

Yesterday, I didn’t see the Damascus at all. I heard it, like a distant growl, shivering acres of old sheet metal. I remember blinking dumbly in the middle of an ochre cloud of rising rust particles and thinking, what is that terrible noise.

That thought is why I’m standing here today, whistling “The Wabash Cannonball” as loud as I can, waiting for a train. It’s been about five minutes since I first felt the vibrations in the track beneath my feet. I can see another once-man drifting like a jellyfish between the two buildings to my left, but I make the effort not to look at it. The rumble has climbed up my legs and has taken up residence in my hipbones. It hurts like love.

I’ll tell you something I’ve never let myself say before. I’m not so sure that the Damascus is really a ghost. Except, what business would a real train have in a place like this? Unless somebody sent it. Unless it does have business here. And any business that pisses off the malicious nothing of this hellhole can’t be all-bad. Right?

As the train rounded the dirty-orange warehouse a hundred yards ahead of me, I realized I’d never seen the Damascus head-on before. Something about the curve of the engine almost looks like a smile. I smile back.

I smile because I know that whether I get scattered like dead leaves or get taken away to wherever the Damascus goes when it isn’t here, at least I’ll be different, and I think that whatever devil rules this place will just hate that.

I never did say “thank you” too often. But, this seems like as good a time as any to start.

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