Welcome to another story of mine! It's been a long time since I've done an original story, but I found one that worked, so here it is! This story was written for the Christmas 2019 event on the site called The Artist's Zone. In this event, a person could write anything Christmas related, provided it was a short story. So I got this idea for the event, and the story was the result! Credit goes to the administrator of the Artist's Zone for the original challenge. Also, despite being an original story, this one makes a lot of references. Therefore, I do not own any of the works this story makes references to, and please see the author's notes for more details. Other than that, enjoy!
Everything started that day.
He went to work that day, and was told a driver was needed.
He had volunteered to go, and those who had given the request had quickly agreed.
After all, he had done the task before, to the point where it was second nature.
So he carefully walked to the area where his vehicle slumbered.
This area wasn't far away, and what he had to do was clear.
Yet, he took his time, still arriving soon enough.
Because he knew when he walked into the place where the vehicle slept, it was like he was in another world.
And the very vehicle in front of him was proof of that.
The vehicle's massive size dwarfed the person in front of it, as if he was simply a speck on the ground.
Yet the person could still see the vehicle clearly.
Countless rectangular machines lined the place, seemingly stretching on endlessly.
Yet he knew there was an end, even if he couldn't see it now.
Because he understood the machines were all connected by wheels that were currently sitting silent. Though there were soundless now, given time and place, they could roar to life.
And soon, the time would come, and the area would be filled with sound once more.
The place would be dictated by the brown roads that were unlike any other, distinctly made specifically for the massive machine.
And he would be in command of it.
A title for anyone who manned the machines.
And one that he was always called around his work.
Yet even though driving the trains was a regular part of his work, it didn't stop him from observing the type of train he would drive.
This one was unmistakable.
Red and green adorned the cars of the train. Some were a mix of the colors, proudly showcasing them separately despite displaying them both. Others were filled with one color, and the line of cars alternated between the two. Further back, the driver could spot cars that sported neither. Instead, the driver could pick out white and gold, colors clearly contrasting against the red and green in spite of the cars being further back.
Despite the distinct colors, something else caught the driver's attention.
Countless makeshift drawings had been scrawled on many of the cars. The driver thought they might have been created using something like black marker, but he couldn't be sure.
Regardless, the driver could still make out what these drawings depicted.
A pointed snowflake decorated one car, edges extending in all directions. On another, a tree stood tall, lines of lights wrapped around as many places as possible. Still another car shared its space with a tiny man, the latter seeming like he was ready to come alive despite his long carrot nose and arms made of sticks.
The train driver couldn't help letting a small smile spread across his face.
He knew these drawings probably violated some sort of law, but he could hardly blame people for doing them.
Especially since both he and they were familiar with the train carried.
The items inside just consisted of boxes and bags, some of which were simply small and thin slips.
Yet the driver knew that they would eventually be placed in different kinds of packages.
Ones that were placed under every Christmas tree.
Ones that were filled with their own red and green colors, complete with their own iconic designs similar to the ones almost stenciled on the cars.
Ones that brought joy and cheer to many faces
Ones that symbolized the tradition of giving, and many more besides.
The train driver felt his smile growing even wider, letting his festive thoughts continue.
He supposed he was one of Santa's reindeer when he rode this train.
He could certainly be Rudolph, comparing Rudolph's shiny red nose to the train's huge, brilliant, lights.
The train driver wondered how Rudolph would deliver the packages.
Rudolph would probably take the freeway. After all, he would be running and in a hurry.
Then again, Santa's reindeer could fly, so maybe that would make more sense.
Rudolph would probably have to convince Santa to take the freeway himself, but the train driver wouldn't be surprised if he could.
After all, Rudolph was considered the mastermind of all the reindeer.
Still, flying would still be faster, so Rudolph could just soar through the skies like a jet.
Perhaps he would look like a shooting star, granting the wishes of all those who wanted gifts.
But what gifts would Rudolph have?
Maybe an electric guitar for the little boys, and a lifelike doll for the little girls.
Perhaps the train in front of the driver was carrying those things in its own packages.
But the train driver wouldn't know.
All he knew was that he had to make sure the packages got to their next destination safely.
He knew it would be a long time before he would come back to the place where the trains slept.
It would be even longer before he could return to his own home.
Yet it was the driver's duty to deliver all the packages safely, and one he had freely volunteered for.
So deliver the packages he would.
With that, the train driver walked even closer to and stepped inside the train.
Shortly after, the train's rumble reverberated through the area.
With the deafening shout of a horn, the train rolled away.
Train and driver rapidly entered a world of white.
Snow blanketed everything, and more fell from the darkened sky.
The driver couldn't see a pointed snowflake resembling the drawing on the train, but he could see that the snow wasn't going to let up.
Objects were camouflaged so well that they seemed to all blend into one. It was impossible to pick out one object from another as the snow mercilessly pelted everything.
At least the train's tracks weren't buried, brown color rapidly identifiable against the scene of nature's fury.
If this was a winter storm, then the snow could be called winter rains.
Or at least, that's what the train driver supposed.
And that was if there wasn't any actual rain.
The train driver wondered if he would see a single star in the sky during his trip.
Perhaps there would be only one, sitting alone.
It would be desperately trying not to get swallowed by the snow, surely.
So even if a single star was in the sky, he probably wouldn't be able to view it at all.
Though the snow did not cease its descent, nature's fury eventually grew quieter.
Just in time for something else to enter the train driver's vision.
He could see it was another cargo train, although one almost nothing like his. Instead of the dynamic and distinctive colors, the train was only a plain, lighter shade of brown. There were still drawings scrawled on to the other train's cars, but they didn't at all resemble the cheerful ones that his cars depicted.
Instead, they displayed something crude and simple, with no hint as to what lay inside. The drawings were so crude that the driver didn't bother looking much. He only wondered who would have the audacity, or perhaps shamelessness, to place something like that on a train.
Yet the train driver still wondered what was in the other vehicle, and if the contents would make it to their destination safely. He wondered where the train was going. Perhaps it would be across plains, or through a city. There was no way of knowing.
The train driver couldn't wonder long, though, as the other train rolled away and continued its own journey.
That didn't stop the train driver from being reminded of something else, though.
Sometimes his own journeys would end at night, and at last the train would pull to a stop.
Every night seemed the same.
The train driver would glimpse other trains, either asleep or pulling out.
And he would hear the cries of people helping direct those trains on their own travels, or making sure other trains rested peacefully.
At the end of the train driver's journey, he would be surrounded by those things again, as it would be no different from any other.
Regardless, the journey he was on now continued.
Not far from where the other train had been, something else greeted the driver.
Long, winding, roads loomed near as they stretched on.
They contrasted everything in their ominous and uninviting darkness, something which even the snow could not completely cover.
The train driver understood that few knew where these roads led, and neither did he.
He didn't want to find out.
Sometime later, the intimidating roads were behind him.
It wasn't long before that train driver was alerted to the multicolored flashes of neon lights.
The lights signaled the beginning of a city, as they invited him there.
He accepted the invitation, and soon, the train was rolling past city streets.
The driver reflected that he had sometimes entered the city under stormy skies.
Perhaps he was doing so now, if one could call these rains of winter stormy.
Among the world of white, a flicker of green caught the train driver's eye.
A closer inspection revealed the plant mistletoe.
The train driver knew that if he stayed, he would probably hear the sound of people kissing.
He had never been one for the tradition, but he also had never gotten caught under mistletoe. The train driver wasn't sure what he would do if he ever was.
Another plant entered the train driver's vision, and he recognized it as the red berries of holly.
Even though the colors contrasted with what he had seen before, the train driver still found the holly beautiful.
But he still couldn't stay.
Yet that didn't prevent him from imagining what would happen if he could have.
He envisioned candles, illuminating entire rooms in a golden glow.
Perhaps they would continue to do so outside, light radiating from every window.
At the same time, the train driver could imagine light from the warm fire at a fireplace, until said fire became nothing more than crimson embers.
But what was inside the homes in the city was not the only thing he envisioned.
He wondered if the moon would eventually be seen, enveloping the sky in its own silver light. He hoped the stars would join, bringing their own version of the same silver light. Perhaps everyone outside would be aglow as the stars shined down.
Maybe one star would be bright enough that someone would make a wish.
Perhaps, that wish would be a good intentioned one.
One day, maybe that wish would come true.
However, the train driver knew that the thing that would stand out most would be the white of the winter night, no matter how many other objects there were.
After all, white snow in winter was what most people remembered.
Perhaps he would see more later on.
As he continued, he still saw other things.
Such as young girls gracefully skating on the ice, while young boys watched.
He could see other children playing in the snow, and he hoped their hands weren't frozen.
Regardless, he spotted others dashing home as the snow began to pick up again.
Some of the children waved to the train, while others paid it no mind.
Still others simply smiled, their eyes lighting up as the train passed.
The train driver smiled back.
Whether skating, playing, watching, or running, it was clear the children knew what his train meant.
It meant something that brought them joy, and a reminder of a special time for them.
And it was the journey he took that allowed that to continue.
Just like the journey that kept going now.
The train driver's ears were soon filled with songs, and he understood it was coming from a choir singing.
He couldn't make out any individual song, as countless different voices blended with each other.
But the train driver did understand that the songs symbolized happiness and excitement.
Accompanying the songs was the ringing of bells, distinguishable even with the roar of the train. Rather than drowning everything out, the bells only seemed to amplify the message of the songs, timed almost perfectly with their music.
With that, the train driver's smile grew even wider.
Perhaps he was bringing some of the things the songs spoke of. If that was the case, then he would continue to for as long as he could go on this journey.
Eventually the white world ended and the city disappeared.
Train and driver entered an area similar to the one where the train had slept.
The driver slowly pulled the train to a stop, and the rumbling faded and ceased.
With that, the train could rest once more.
Yet the driver knew rest wouldn't come for him yet, as he exited his vehicle.
He had to go find his own place for that.
But just before he could start looking, he heard a voice calling to him.
The voice came from a female attendant of the area, calling him to come to where she was.
As he approached, he noticed a package in the attendant's hands.
It certainly was odd, the train driver noted.
Why would someone want to have a package delivered when the other packages had already reached their final destination?
Perhaps someone had forgotten, and wanted the train driver to take the package back with him.
It was something he could easily do.
Yet the train driver's eyes widened in surprise as he realized something.
The package had his name on it.
Why would someone deliver a package to him?
The attendant wasted no time explaining.
People wanted to show their appreciation for those who delivered packages during this time, because they knew the journeys were long, and they hoped the deliverers would be safe.
So these people decided to return the favor, by making sure there was at least one package drivers would not have to deliver.
After thanking the attendant, the train driver sat down on a bench some distance away.
With that, he rapidly tore the package open.
The train driver's eyes widened again as came face-to-face with its contents.
A pair of tiny silver bells was now in his hand.
When the train driver shook them, their ringing almost perfectly resembled sleigh bells.
And the sound made the train driver recall a story.
There was a train that picked up young children on its journey to the North Pole. Santa and his elves awaited, telling the children that one of them could receive the first gift of Christmas. The boy who had been chosen said he wanted a sleigh bell from the harness of one of Santa's reindeer. Santa obliged, and the boy received the gift that Christmas. From then on, the bells always rung for him, carrying a sweet sound unlike any other.
Someone must have known that tale, and the person must've also known the train driver's task.
Which meant the gift giver saw him as the train in the story.
The gift giver saw him as one of Santa's reindeer, perhaps even Santa himself.
The gift giver saw him as the one to bring the children joy, and their first gifts on Christmas.
The gift giver wanted him to enjoy the sound of the bells that represented that, because of what they believed he was.
And the gift giver was hopeful he also believed he was what the bells represented.
The train driver smiled even more, as the bells rang again.
He would always believe, now and forever.
Because of the train he drove, and the journey he took.
-So as stated before, there are a lot of references in this story. I took a collection of songs, novelized them, combined that with a bit of news I had seen, and through my own spin on everything before putting it all together.
-The first of the songs and the primary inspiration for this story is called Trains and Winter Rains, by Enya. It actually does not have hardly anything to do with Christmas, instead focusing on someone taking a long journey away from home by train, and that just happens to be in the middle of winter. It talks about winter rains and doesn't really mention what that is. However, it does mention not going back or going home. Additionally, the song talks about trains going across the plains, going through a city with neon lights, and having skies be stormy but other times having a lone star in the sky. The song also mentions cargo trains, having nights be the same as more trains arrive and there are more sounds and roads that are empty with no one knowing where they lead. After looking at the lyrics, all of them within the song was adapted into this story.
-I knew Trains and Winter Rains was one of my favorite songs around Christmas time, so I wanted to do a story involving it. However, the song itself is almost nothing to do with Christmas, so I knew I would need to add other things to have it fit with the event.
-And that led to my other references, including two more songs.
-One of the songs referenced is Run, Run, Rudolph, by Chuck Berry. In this song, Rudolph is told to hurry because Santa has to make it to town during the Christmas season. Rhodopsin charge of making sure he gets there on time, and the other person telling Rudolph to hurry also tells him to have Santa take the freeway. In this song, Rudolph is known as the mastermind out of all the reindeer, hence why the person is leaving him with the task of making sure Santa hurries. During one of his journeys, Santa asks children what they want. A little boy answers that he wants an electric guitar, and a little girl answers that she wants a lifelike doll (although the latter is worded in a bit more detail in the actual song). After the children make the requests, Rudolph is noted to be flying off like a jet and a shooting star. This song is one of my favorite Christmas songs, and is directly associated with Christmas. However, it was too short to become a story on its own, so I mixed it in with my other ideas.
-The final song is White is the Winter Night, by Enya. This song does not mention Christmas directly, but references several Christmas traditions. It begins by asking the listener if they've seen these things, and starts referring to the traditions by their colors. The colors and traditions are green mistletoe, red hollies, silver in stars above, gold candlelight, crimson embers, and white for the winter night itself. There's also other details, such as the mistletoe filling the night with people kissing, a bright star making people desire to make wishes, candlelight shining from every window, and a moon that fills the sky with silver. Still other details is the idea that everyone will remember a white winter night, and that the boys are waiting while girls are skating. New the end of the song, children are playing, and it mentions their tiny hands are frozen. Eventually, the children hurry home when it snows suddenly. Finally, the song ends with the mention of a choir singing and bells ringing. This was another one of the songs that I want to include completely, but at first wasn't sure how. Then, I decided I wanted more references to Christmas and things for the train driver to see as he traveled throughout the city. So, it was just a matter of turning the questions asked to the listener into statements, and having the train driver identify the things in the song. Also, although the song takes place at night, I decided not to pick a specific time that the train driver traveled, and instead made the time of day more ambiguous.
-As for the other events in this story, one of the main ideas actually came from some research I did on trains for it. I found out cargo trains do still transport items in modern times. However, they really only carry things are too difficult or dangerous for other forms of transport. Items like packages are typically delivered by delivery trucks instead. But, considering trains delivering packages was common for a long time in history, it wasn't difficult to imagine that a world where they still delivered them could exist. Add in the fact that the story had to have something to do with Christmas, and the idea of someone delivering eventual Christmas presents was created.
-The train the train driver drives is based off of pictures I found of freight trains. Since freight trains are also called cargo trains, and I figured it was what the original song that inspired the story was talking about, I did research on them and went from there. The train divers train is recolored and repurposed for Christmas present deliveries, but the train he sees during his journey is based off of what a more typical train would look like. Similarly, graffiti on trains actually is something that happens in real life. I figured someone getting excited and then drawing cute Christmas designs on the train, and the users of the train just deciding not to get rid of them would not be too far-fetched. However, some graffiti on real-life trains isn't that innocent, and graffiti is illegal either way. Hence the references to breaking laws, and the idea of the graffiti on the other train being crude and not something the train driver wants to look at.
-The silver bells the train driver receives at the end, and the story he remembers is a reference to the Polar Express. It's a popular Christmas children's story involving trains, and thus one of the first I thought of when I was making this story. The story is exactly as the train driver remembers it, with a few details omitted. The omitted details include that the boy gets the bell from Santa at the North Pole, but loses it on the way back. Christmas morning, he wakes up to find a small prison behind all his other ones, with a note saying that it had fallen into Santa's sleigh. When the boy he rings the bell, he and his sister marvel at the sound. However, his parents, not believing in Santa, remark that the bells must be broken. The boy's friends can also hear the sound of the bells, but eventually they stop being able to hear them. Later on, the bells stopped ringing for the boy's sister as well. It's at that point that the boy he explains that the bells always right for him, and will ring for anyone else who truly believes. The reason the lines of the story were omitted was because in the original story, the focus was on the boy and his adventures. However, I wanted to focus more on the bells and their symbolism, because that's what the driver would think of. So I chose to omit parts of the story focusing on the boy and his family when the train driver remembers it.
-The final reference is to a real-life news story I heard about around the time I thought of this idea. During the time leading up to the holidays, drivers for the popular shopping and delivery company Amazon work a lot to make sure that everyone's deliveries arrive safely. This prompted people to deliver snacks to the delivery people. This was also accompanied by heartfelt messages thanking the delivery drivers, wishing them a Merry Christmas, and hoping that they have safe travels. The efforts were much appreciated by the drivers, and I also thought it was very sweet. Therefore, I decide to do something based off of that here, with bells instead of snacks. I also chose not to do a specific message, since I wasn't sure who specifically would send the bells, and didn't feel like the story necessitated creating other characters just for that. So instead the gift remains anonymous, but the train driver appreciates it regardless.