“Hello there, Cap. I’m so glad to see how well you took care of my Johnny. I
want to go with him, but I can’t leave for a few days. Can you stay
Oh, no. Just what I feared. Great Creator, save me from this one. I
want to go home. Not stay
here. Not this place.
“How about if I take the dog and continue on with the coffin back to
Chitina? That way you two can come down when you’re ready instead of
having me around to get in your way. Come back when you’re ready.”
“Cap, are you sure?”
“Johnny, I want to go home. Maybe see Shirley. Stay with Dad. Go
“Okay, Cap. Take the dog. Mom will be waiting at the depot. Let her know
I’ll be home soon.”
“We’ve been together a long time, Cap. This last run was the most thrilling
ever. But we knew this day would be coming. I know you’ve been
anxious to get back to your own life at Tonsina. You know I’ve been
wanting to get together with Rose.”
Johnny extended his hand. Cap reached up, still sitting on the platform next
to the dog, and shook Johnny’s hand weakly and without enthusiasm.
So this is it. This is how
our team finally ends. Just like that.
The train gave a loud whistle blast. Cap watched as the two turned, arm in
arm, walking down the road toward downtown McCarthy until they finally
disappeared in the snow storm.
Cap led the dog aboard and slumped deep down into the seat. No one had boarded
at McCarthy. Only the attendant was on board. He was in back stoking up
the coal stove. The winds had sucked the warm air right out of the
large coach. Cap pulled his woolen blanket around himself. It was good.
Senior engineer Sal Reed had been checking the setting on the snow blade. It
was ready if it was needed. The blade had to be set for any drifting
which might occur along the way. Now Sal walked back and pulled himself
up into the high cab where the fireman had the pressure built up and
Sal Reed pulled the reverse lever, then set off the loud whistle. The train
began moving toward the long trestle crossing at the Kennicott River.
It gained speed up as it made a run for the hill ahead. Pusher No. 102
was coupled in place at the rear to help the load over the hill. It
would take the combined effort of both to make it to Porphyry, which was
the highest point of the railbed west of McCarthy. The line crew had
run ahead of the train on a motorized rail car , checking Kennicott
River crossing for any potential problems. It had turned around on the
far side of the long trestle at the wye, where the it waited for the
train to pass, leaving the large engine and its consist on its own.
It all was looking routine as the engine began slowing down on the grade at the
southern slope of Fireweed Mountain, leaving the Kennicott River valley
behind. The train would stop at the summit and gravel pit named
Porphyry to disengage the pusher. The mogul pusher engine would then
back down the hill to Shushanna Junction where it was permanently
Back in the Pullman combine just behind the engine’s tender, Cap had fallen
into a deep sleep. The dog was at his feet watching the attendant only
a few seats back at the coal stove. Outside the moon was shining
through the clouds as the storm began moving out of the valley.
Cap began dreaming of walking the rails somewhere in the Chitina Valley on a
very hot and sunny day. He was following the sun in the direction of
Nicolai’s camp, his shirt hanging off his belt as sweat trickled off his
bare back. It was just he and Kay-yew-nee. But he felt safe. In the
distance, down a very long, straight section of track, he could see a
bright reflection of a spirit figure.
Maybe it was just the glint coming off the brass bell of a large train heading his way.
Overhead those four large black ravens were flying in a wide circle.
It was a few hours later when Cap finally awoke. Somehow he had slept through
the stop at Porphyry, Chokosna station and Dwyer’s Inn at Strelna. But
he sensed that the train was pulling up the last grade into Chitina.
He looked down. There was Kay-yew-nee--the Ghost Spirit.
The train pulled up at the depot ever so slowly. There was John’s mother
Helen Nicolai Gadanski waiting outside on the platform. The snow storm
had vanished. It was clear and cold as the stars shined brightly toward
the cold earth.
“Helen, good to see you.”
“Cap, son, good to see you too.”
Cap was not really her son. For many years, Helen had called him that anyway.
“Is Johnny still with that woman at McCarthy?”
“Yes, Helen. Johnny is still in McCarthy with Rose Katrina. He wanted you to
know he would be here in a day or so.”
“That Rose. I just don’t know about her. Johnny should have stayed on this
train with you and with his father.”
“I guess you’re here for the coffin.”
“Someone has to wait for him. I’m still his wife, you know. My old man
Fred will bring a wagon to pick up the coffin. Everyone else is still at
dinner. At least you’re here, yaaze.”
Helen hugged Cap.
“Let’s wait in the warm station until the wagon arrives.”
“That’s fine, son. We want you to join us for a late dinner of moose stew. Have
“No, and I haven’t had any moose stew since Green Butte. I’ll be happy to
come up for dinner.”
“And to stay with us.”
“I suppose I should wait around town a few days for Johnny to return. Then
I need to go to Tonsina to see my father.”
“I’ll wait here to help with the coffin, then I think I’ll head down to the
billiards hall. What I really need is a drink. Thanks for the offer for
moose stew and a place to stay. I’ll be up later.”
Helen nodded. She understood. At least she thought she did. Cap would be
drinking tonight. Just then the one-horse wagon came into view. There
were three men aboard.
“Fred brought plenty of help, Cap. My other son Charles and uncle Tanas have
Cap greeted the three men.
Charles wanted to know more about his brother.
“I miss him. When will he be back?”
“Soon, Charles. I’m going over to the hall now.”
“Help us with this coffin, would you, Cap?”
Cap assisted them in lifting the surprisingly light coffin onto the back of
“Mom, I’m going with Cap. I’ll bring him back when he’s done.”
“Charles, take care of your brother. Bring him home.”
Cap looked at Charles with some annoyance.
“You don’t want to come with me.”
“I have to make sure you’re all right, Cap. Johnny would expect it. You always
took care of my brother. I will watch you and be your friend. You look
like you need one.”
As the wagon pulled out, Helen yelled back.
“We’ll have moose stew up there and a place for you to stay for as long as you
want whenever you’re ready. Charles will help you back if you get
He heard an old woman’s cackle as the wagon moved toward the Indian village
“That’s good. I’ll be there,” he shouted back.
Cap walked the short distance toward the no-name billiards parlor and card
room. He knew he could find some good whiskey there. He was looking
forward to that now.
I think I need that drink. Maybe two or three.
Then I’ll head next
door and look for some women.
A loose woman. That’s what I want. Like the one Johnny has.
The dog knew where Cap was heading and rushed to the billiards hall, pawing at
the door until old Smitty opened it. Behind him the younger man slipped
in the door and sat down on the bench.
“I may send you home early, Charles. But right now, I want to shoot some
billiards. Care for a game? Have Smitty get me some hootch, would you?”
The moon moved into place, illuminating the small town. The stars were
sparkling with unusual intensity. Soon the Northern Lights would begin
their magical work. It was already crispy as winter moved in with its
heavy, frigid air to claim its place in this small, remote, railroad
town of the 1920s, somewhere deep within the Territory of Alaska.