RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition who publishes zines & physical books & electronic books & music & photography & digital art & just generally whatever feels necessary to survive this deluded earth thru Rojonekku Word Fighting Arts survival systems (Version 69, establish 14 Feb 1973). Comments encouraged.
I guess up to this point, I had assumed hearing the music from the jukebox in my field was a localized incident, specific to me having placed an old likely enchanted jukebox and poking the cord into some red maple base dirt. Thus, I also assumed what got called Space Espanol was also localized in the same ways. As me and Rey-Rey and Railroad Time and the runaways were chilling in the tunnel though, suddenly the echoed screwed sounds of fresh Space Espanol started to fill the upper areas of dark caverns like a giant speaker cabinet. And it grew louder, but not overbearing, a consuming sound which somehow didn’t steal your ear focus, like sunspots or solar flares for your hearing.
Before Rey-Rey or I could really mention it, as it took us by surprise, we not being acclimated to daily life inside the time tunnels, Railroad Time hollered, “Hey Woodie, how we doin’ on stores? We lookin’ good?”
Woodie yelled from the inkiness, “Yeah, we prolly good for ‘nother month. We don’t need to make no run right now.”
“Good,” Railroad Time yelled back through the cough syrupped sounds. Then at normal voice level so that only Rey-Rey and me and a couple of closest (physically speaking, not emotionally) runaways could hear, “I ain’t feel like goin’ out right now, anyways.”
I had wondered about how they survived in the tunnels all this time (albeit technically not “time” in the way we know time, but they still had to eat and shit, right?), so I asked, “Where do y’all get food?”
Railroad Time monologued, “From town outside one of the tunnels, in Dillwyn from some point, probably ahead of your time from the looks of you. That’s why I had asked Woodie, because we go when the Space Espanol plays.”
“Wait, you call it Space Espanol? You know about that?”
“Well yeah. That’s when we can go outside the tunnels without hassle because time is recalibrating itself. Everything’s movin’ kinda sideways, so the people in the town don’t got time to really figure out what we’re up to or who we are because time’s skippin’ in that moment anyways.”
I was confused as fuck, by lots of what had been going on yes, but also by multiple points of that last statement by Railroad Time. “’Time is recalibrating’? What does that mean?”
“Well, you know all these tunnels goes out to different places in time? All the shit people do out there in those times gotta connect to all the other times sometimes, or else you get too many glitches in all the different times. That’s when all the shit that don’t match up across times matches itself back up, recalibrates, fixes as much broken shit as it needs to to keep running along.”
“Doesn’t it break things too? I mean all those exits are tied to set times?”
“Well yeah, some shit gets broke, but some shit gonna get broke either way. Shit breaks. Don’t matter which time you go out into, some shit gonna break. That’s life.”
I still didn’t understand why they went out during these moments. “Why does it recalibrating matter for you going out? And what does the Space Espanol playing have to do with it?”
“We learned way back,” (note that he didn’t say ‘a long time ago’ – I found that intriguing), “that when the Space Espanol rocked, that’s when time outside the tunnels was fixin’ itself. Then we learned that was the best time to go get all the things we needed, usually just Woodie, a couple extra hands from his crew, and I’d wolf it up to put the fear in all them people outside.”
“’Wolf it up’?” Rey-Rey asked. (Finally, fucking Rey-Rey asked a question. He’s always just sitting around zoning out. I have to admit, even in other realms where space-time continuum is unfamiliar to me, stoners sometimes suck.)
“Yeah man, I’d wolf it up, meaning I’d shift into wolf form. I thought I told y’all I could do that? We go out into town, it being a future town of some kind, with three or four old scary ass looking runaways slaves and a motherfuckin’ wolf, all while time is skippin’ a beat sideways? Them folks ain’t got a chance to even think about stoppin’ us before we done loaded up a wagon full of goods. It’s like a gold box outside the tunnels when the Space Espanol plays… just turn into a wolf real quick-like, hit out real quick-like, and by the time the music done stopped, we already back in the tunnels, sittin’ fed and proper for the next couple months.”
I waited, hoping Rey-Rey would ask another question, because I really wanted to know more about Railroad Time shape-shifting into a wolf, but all that came out of the darkness from Rey-Rey’s side was his stoner voice going, “Wow. That’s fuckin crazy, man.”
[The following is Railroad Time’s accounting of how he came to be in these time tunnels of central Virginia. It should be noted that the entire time he relayed these details, he laughed heartily throughout – a literally “heartily” where the laughter was without thought and deep and real. There was a rhythm to his speech that I doubt my recounting here – again, I’m no journalist – will properly reflect, like the clacks of a train running alongside a skinny thick river rustling through rural country. And though Willie Strunk, Jr. may disapprove, for sake of sanctity, I’m gonna abandon quotation marks for his account.]
I won’t no slave by law, ‘cause it was after that time, but ain’t nobody ever thought slaves was right, in a real sense. Devil men find a way to make it happen though, make different laws that take the wrong and launder it through their laws until it can seem like it’s right. That was me, ‘cause I was in jail. But then they let me loose to slice sap out the pines for the turpentine people. And if they gonna tell you, you can stay in jail or you can be free, you gonna be free, always. Ain’t no sensible man alive, or dead, who gonna choose to stay in jail, unless he done been made a slave all the way down to his heart and don’t know how to think right no more.
So I was cutting them pines and pulling the turpentine, and ain’t never been a single man with as much energy as me, so I was rolling through them pines. That’s when they started calling me Railroad Time at first. I got more sap for them turpentine people than anybody. But at the same time, I know right and wrong and that ain’t always the same as allowed and against the law. So I had to move, and I guess that name Railroad Time stuck to me, even though to me I was just ol’ Mo, country boy from ‘bama, natural born bama. So I moved with the tracks, mostly where I was ‘cause I could. But then a sheriff came one time, trying to force the law on me, wrong as ever, and that man was a fool, done went and shot hisself while trying to get at me. You know the law ain’t gonna admit the law was wrong though, so the papers was saying I killed that sheriff. So I had to move a little wider a circle than before, stayed to the tracks though. Took what I need if I needed it, and shared what I had if somebody else needed it too. If it got too cold, I went south; too warm, went north. If it got too crowded, I went west; and if I got to feeling too alone, went east. Just went as things told me too. Along the way I learned how to be a wolf if I needed to be, couldn’t do it for too long, but I could wolf myself away for a day or two if I needed to really get away from some devil ass people.
Anyways, I ain’t one for maps and knowing about this state or that state, but I seen the desert, and I seen cities full of buildings that touched the clouds, and I been places where ain’t nobody speak my language, a couple times been like that. But I was just riding, and the train was by a river and I thought I seen some little men, like little dudes out on an island. The train stopped a couple miles down, so I jumped off to go back and see what them little dudes was all about, because like I said, I been all over the place, and I ain’t seen nothing like that before.
I ain’t find them little people, though heard tell of them plenty of times. I ended up living out in some tunnels for a while, just to be safe and still for a little while, and I ran into these runaway people Woodie was with. Been wandering these tunnels ever since. I loved the trains, following them tracks all over the place. These tunnels like that too though, they go all over the place but different places. Not just like north, south, east, west though but like that got multiplied by math ain’t nobody ever showed me how to do. But I think I got it figured out a little bit by now.
[Railroad Time laughed at that. By my own calculations, I’m guessing he maybe saw the elven people at Seven Islands, and jumped off the train either at Shores or Bremo Bluff, which is directly across the river from where the slate quarries still exist. Railroad Time made me feel practical safe. Knowing things is helpful in attempting to feel safe, in calculating your observable world for solutions. But some folks – Railroad Time type folks – know in a different, deeper, non-brain way, which gives you a deep sense of safety that cognizant knowing just never really fully accomplishes.]
Rey-Rey and Railroad Time stormed in at some point, well that’s what I assume happened at least, but honestly most of my attention and intention and all my mental and heart might was being applied to speed growing lifesaving rat tail from my skull. The grounding nature of my own hairs making tendril connection to dirty earth, warmed by inner lave core, allowed me to fend off incantation of snake blood, but at some point I heard Rey-Rey ask if I was alright and Railroad Time was spin kicking the top boy from these other fuckers with serious force. As the racialists ran off, the top boy dude was yelling, “FUCK YOU RAILROAD TIME! I AM THE MASTER OF ALL TIMES, AND HE WAS GONNA BE MY BOY. I PROMISE TO REMEMBER THIS, AND RECLAIM ALL MY PROPERTY!”
The cold got out my blood, and I started to feel somewhat normal again, all time tunnel supernatural racially tinged fucked-upness considered. Rey-Rey laughed and said, “Oh man, nice rat tail, bro.”
One of the pack of runaways from earlier was there too. “What’s a ‘rat tail’?” he asked.
“His hair, the one long strip down the back. They call that a ‘rat tail’.” He looked at us funny.
Railroad Time turned and said, “Don’t worry ‘bout it, Woodie. That’s some future boy shit. C’mere though. This one of them stones?” He was talking about the large table they had been holding me down on while doing their strange chanting.
Woodie (I guess that’s his name now) went over and felt the stone. “Yass. That’s one of them slate tables they had us bring down here. That’s what him does his white magic on, crazy ass devil magic.”
Look, let me just fill you in on the flesh of these details, as Railroad Time explained to my groggy question-asking self over the course of the next twenty minutes or so (regular time, not sure if it even was time down there). That crazy crew that was chanting over me were led by the slave owner of these runaway slaves, who apparently worked the slate quarries back in the day, which were located at some of the entrances to these tunnels, near Arvonia. He had them carry large smooth stones down into these tunnels for his ceremonies, as he explained it to Woodie. But being a pack of slaves had been shown the tunnels, and knew about them, they knew they could hide out there instead of being chased by dogs through the pines. (And nobody trusted the river back then, according to Woodie, because many slaves couldn’t swim, and also there were stories of crazy elf people on the river. I had to laugh at that, thinking about Chief Blackberry Blossoms.)
“So that’s how the runaways got down here, running away from slavery?”
“Yeah,” said Railroad Time, “except they got lost down here, and come out one time in one of y’all’s future worlds, which got them so worked up they just lived down here.”
Woodie spoke up, “It was either go back to that damn devil master and workin’ the stones, or go into whatever the hell confounded mess it was out the other end. We stayed, lived in the dark, eyes got used to it, like bat owls.”
Railroad Time looked to be an old-timey dude too, of African-American origin. “How’d you get down here?” I asked him.
“Well, just before we had to come find your almost possessed ass, I was gonna tell Rey-Rey that very history. Let’s us go back to the safe spaces of the tunnels, and I’ll tell you both all about how ol’ Mo Slater became Railroad Time, confounder of bull-headed masters from here to Bama.” And we started walking deeper into the expansive darkness of lost time.