The End of the Tunnel
The train had been moving steadily. Sure, the driver took a turn or two faster than what would have suited me, but I was not afraid.
I had never ridden a train before, but I liked them. I remembering walking to the station with my father when I was young. I watched the trains start and stop. I liked the sounds, smells, and sights. But now, at seventeen, I was actually riding one. Not under my ideal circumstances, however.
My father had been drafted. My sister marries and moved away. My mother got sick and died last autumn. My home was invades, and we are all refugees now. Refugees riding this train to the good Lord knows where.
This 4-4-0 American Standard steam locomotive had been traveling at fifty miles an hour. We entered the tunnel, and our speed dropped. They turned the head lantern on. I could see he light bouncing off the walls.
The ride had been smooth, up until that moment. The train bumped violently and ground to a halt. The coach swayed. I braced for impact and awaited shattering glass. Nothing. The train stopped safely.
We waited. Surely this train would start again. The longer we waited, the more we risked. The army told us to leave, so we did. How long before they changed their minds? Before they hunted us down like the Egyptians after the Israelites? Where was God now? Murmuring began on the train. Talk of a trap or a conspiracy. The enemy never intended us to leave peacefully.
The conductor flung the door of our coach open. “There has been a rail twisted off the track. Our engine has derailed…” Panic began to spread. I tried to listen closer. “We’re not sure
how far to the next town. This is not a regularly scheduled train. No one is expecting us to pass through. The driver, fireman, and I have decided we can continue on foot from here. “If everyone will please step off the train. We can safely leave this tunnel. Help will come from there.”
Groaning and complaining commenced. “You can’t make us walk!” “I will not be leaving my seat.” “We could be walking for miles.” “This can’t be safe!” “I didn’t wear my walking shoes.” And so on.
Someone had to make the first move. So I stood up from my seat. I gathered my small handbag and made my way to the door. The conductor offered me his hand. I gratefully took it and stepped to the ground. I felt the gravel under the thin soles of my shoes. I pray this is not a long walk. My thick leather boots had been taken by the army.
“I’m going too!” I heard a boy yell. I turned and could just make out the boy jumping from the coach. One by one, other passengers stepped to the ground. They all carried small bundles and bags. Mothers held babies. Fathers carried small children. The first boy stood beside me and offered to carry my bag. God please deliver us from this darkness, I prayed softly.
The conductor held the lantern high and guided us along the train. We could clearly see where the engine derailed. It made for a tight squeeze between the engine and the wall of the tunnel. The tunnel was entirely dark except for the conductor’s lantern. The driver and fireman stand with the engine, hoping for help to come. They had kept the other lantern.
So we twenty odd refugees crowded behind the conductor. No one could afford to be left behind. We were all that was left of our little town. All the eligible men had been drafted. Many young women had volunteered as nurses or married to get out of town. An influenza epidemic then took out more of our town. Those of us in the tunnel are all that is left.
After twenty short minutes, the children started complaining. The elderly asked to pause. “Conductor, how long is this tunnel?” I asked. He was leaning against the cave wall examining the lantern oil.
“Not sure ma’am. I’m not all too familiar with this line. Could be a mile, or three.” He shrugged. Alright God, we need Your strength to get through this. Our small band started walking again. No food, no water, we were going to make it only by the grace of God. We had to keep moving.
A young mother began to fall behind. I slowed my pace and offered to carry her baby for awhile. As we picked the pace back up, I noticed the conductor’s lantern seemed dimmer. God please deliver us soon, I prayed again. We stopped again after another thirty minutes.
“I regret to inform you all that our lantern is nearly out of oil.” The conductor said loudly. His voice echoed all around the cave. Fear and panic arose. They were tired and thirsty. An hour had passed since we left the derailed train. The children were tired. The elderly were sore. But we couldn’t stop, not yet. We needed to keep going.
I stood up first once again. I addressed the cross nervously: “Friends, we have to keep moving. We are too far in to turn back now. Our God will not forsake us. He delivered His thousands from the hand of the Egyptians. So too will He deliver us from this darkness.” The panic seemed to quiet down. “Where is your faith and perseverance?” I made my way to the front of the crowd, still carrying the child. I looks down the length of the tunnel. It was dark with no end in sight. I was not afraid. I started walking. With one hand on the cave wall, I slowly moved out of the dim lantern light.
It was not long before the conductor and the others began moving again too. The light enveloped me once again. We began moving steadily. Fifteen minutes later, our lantern sputtered out. “Everyone place a hand on the wall and keep walking.” The conductor said calmly.
Trying not to panic, our group kept moving. Suddenly up ahead, I see what looks like a light. Am I imagining things? Perhaps my eyes are playing tricks on me. “Mama look!” Shouted a young girl from further back in the crowd. “I see light! God saved us.” Everyone in the group started to see it too. It took every bone in my body not to run. I was still holding the baby. The pace of the whole group definitely increased.
We finally made it to the light. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the brightness of the outside. I began to make out shapes. Figures moving. People? For the first time since we were embarked on this journey I was filled with fear. Was this a trap all along? Because these are definitely soldiers outside this tunnel.
“Papa!” One of the young boys yelled and ran out of the tunnel into the arms of a uniformed soldier. Almost immediately the rest of the group ran out as well. These were our men! We really were saved. God has delivered us. That’s when I see him in the center of camp. Sitting at a desk, scribbling in a journal. I handed the baby I was still holding back to his mother and ran. I haven’t run like this since I was a kid.
“Daddy!” I yelled. He stood up and held his arms out. Finally, we were all safe. Thank you, I prayed to my heavenly Father as I stood in the arms of my earthly father.