But Benightly the big forestman had learned javelin hunting dangling upside down from vines. He had proved himself adult by spearing a meerkat at fifty feet & reeling it in so quick its family had not noticed. Benightly grabbed the harpoon from its housing. Lifted it heavy as it was, his muscles bunched like bricks under his skin, as the cart rolled closer to the digging behemoth. Leaned back, waited—then hurled the missile right into the mole.

The moldywarpe reared, the moldywarpe roared. The spear juddered. The harpoon rope whip-unwound as the animal thrashed, blood on the soil. Rails buckled & the cart careered, tugged behind the animal. Quick— they knotted a soil-anchor to the line & threw it overboard.

The other cart was back in the game, & Kiragabo didn’t miss twice. Now more anchors scraped the ground behind a bellowing hole & furious earth. The Medes juddered to a start & followed the molecarts.

The drags kept the burrower from going deep. It was half-in half-out of the ground. Carrion birds circled. Bolshy ones flew in to peck & the moldywarpe shook its shag.

Until at last in a lagoon of stony steppe, a dirt space in the infinite rails, it stopped. It quivered, then settled. When next the greedy railgulls landed on the furred knoll of its body, it did not dislodge them.

The world silenced. A last exhalation. Twilight was coming. The crew of the moletrain Medes readied knives. The devout thanked the Stonefaces or Mary Ann or the Squabbling Gods or Lizard or That Apt Ohm or whatever they believed in. Freethinkers had their own awe.

The great southern moldywarpe was dead.



Molecarters snared the ropes in its skin & traintop winches hauled tons of moleflesh & a precious pelt across the ground on which no one would step. Scavenger birds at last flew home, replaced in the sky by Arctic darkbats. In waning light the moldywarpe undertook a last, posthumous journey to the butchery wagon. & no illustrations; no flatographs; no salvaged thriddies, paintings, saltprints or liquid-crystal renditions; & certainly not the arse-achingly dull molers’ reminiscences Sham had heard too many times could have prepared him for what extraordinary stinking work followed.

The mole was opened. The flatbed truck filled with its spilling remains. Sham breathed shallow at the sight. Hollow-chested. As if he was at prayer.

The crew hacked, unfolded, peeled, sawed. They grunted & sang shanties. “What Shall We Do with the Drunken Brakesman?” they sang, & “A Life on the Open Rails.” Overhead, Sunder Nabby conducted their concert with his view-scope. Sham stared & stared.

“Nothing to do?” It was Vurinam, broken off from flensing, a gory knife in his hands. “Feeling soft- hearted?”

“Nah,” Sham said. Vurinam was shirtless in the tight radius of heat around the cutting & the fires, skinny & muscled & sweating mere inches from where the air would freeze him. He grinned a little crazily. Sham could suddenly believe there were only a few years between them.

No one needed first aid, but Sham knew Dr. Fremlo would not forebear lending him to the wider crew on a night like this. Vurinam’s gaze went side to side as he hunted for, & found, inspiration. “Oy!” he shouted to everyone wetly unmaking what had been a mole. “Anyone thirsty?” A big tired cheer. He inclined his head & looked meaningfully in Sham’s direction. “Well, you heard that.”

Really? Sham said. He even liked Vurinam, well enough, but really? I’m not even saying an apprentice doctor is my favourite thing to be in the world, he said, but hauling liquor? Don’t you have a cabin boy? No disrespect, it’s an honourable profession, but is it really my job to lug grog? To grog-lug? To grug? Sham said all that but only in his head. Outside of his head, what he said was, “Yes sir.”

& abruptly, Sham Yes ap Soorap was right in the middle of that moment. Quickly bloodstained. So started the longest hardest night he had ever worked. From butchery car to mess & back, again & again, running the length of the train. With drinks, with food to keep the strength up, to Fremlo’s cabin where the doctor loaded him with bandages & unguents & astringents & analgesic chews for rope-burns & sliced-up palms, back again to apply them.

What reward Sham got lay in the fact that the ribaldry & jokes & excoriations of his laziness with which he was greeted by the crew unmoling the mole was more often good-humoured than not. He even, he realised, felt a bit of relief in knowing just what he was to do, the precise nature of his task, in those moments.

He snatched seconds when he could to sway in stupefied tiredness. Cutting or not, there was no avoiding the blood in that butchery wagon. So Sham became the gore-stained boy, swaying like a young tree, quite red. Not knowing what to turn his mind to. He’d been waiting for this, like all the crew, & now here he was, awed but still not knowing what it was he thought. Still lost.

He didn’t ruminate on hunting. Nor on the medicine he was supposed to be learning. Nor beyond wordless aghast wonder at the scale of the mole’s bones. He just endured.

Sham diluted booze—“More water than that! Not as much as that! More molasses! Don’t spill it!”—snuck a couple of swigs himself. He held cups of it to the lips of those whose hands were too entrail-slippery to grip. Shossunder the cabin boy carried cups, too, with poise, glancing at Sham with a nod of rare, imperious solidarity. Sham lit fires, heated metal, stoked blazes to keep trypots hot while railers took skin & fur to be tanned & cleaned, meat to be salted, strips & slabs of fat to be rendered.

The universe stank of moldywarpe: blood, pee, musk & muck. In the moonlight everything looked splashed with tar: in the train lights that black turned to the red of the blood it was. Red, black, redblack, & as if he drifted off like a paper-scrap out to railsea & looked back, Sham envisioned the Medes as a little line of lights & fires, heard the music of its tools & train songs swallowed in the enormous southern space of ice & freezing rails. Everything spread out from the centre of the universe that at that moment was the moldywarpe face. The set snarl, the dark-furred leer, as if even in its death the great predator did not lose its contempt for those who had, outrageously, snagged it.


Dr. Fremlo nudged him & Sham lurched. He’d been asleep & dreaming where he stood.

“Alright then, Doctor,” he stuttered, “I’ll …” He tried to work out what it was he would.

“Go put your head down,” Fremlo said.

“I think Mr. Vurinam wants …”

“& when did Mr. Vurinam pass his medical licence? Am I a doctor? & your boss? I prescribe sleep. Take one, once nightly. Now.”

Sham didn’t argue. Just then, for once, he knew precisely what it was he wanted: to sleep, indeed. He shuffled out of the heat, away from the empty rib-room that had been mole, into the swaying corridors. Towards his little nook. One shelf-bed among many. Through snores & farts of those who’d come off shift already. The songs of the butchers behind him were Sham’s ragged lullaby.


MARVELLOUS!” HAD SAID VOAM, WHEN HE GOT Sham the job on the Medes. “It’s marvellous! You’re not a child anymore, you’re quite old enough for work, & there’s nothing better than a doctor. & where else are you going to learn as fast & deep as with a moletrain doctor, eh?”

What logic is that? Sham had wanted to shout, but how could he? Enthusiastic, hairy, barrel-shaped Voam yn Soorap, Sham’s cousin or something, relative on his mother’s side by a thread of

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