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Get to know Orson Brisk
Given Name: Orson Brisk Age: 59 Home Region: Outside the Centuryverse Favorite Food: Chicken and dumplin's
Orson isn't originally from the Centuryverse. He was sent there by Shayan Kahree in an attempt to save his life after being drawn into an anomalous rift. Having worked as a train conductor in his previous life, he easily transitioned into life as a Conductor in the Centuryverse. He feels most at home in the Pawpaw Plains, the atmosphere of which reminds him of days spent with his mother and brother.
When he finds himself homesick, Orson calls on his best pals Ned Crickmore and Jame Wheatley. The three have been known to spend evenings fly fishing on the banks of the Mawmaw River.
T’weren’t for my mama, I aint never wouldn’t believe in no ghosts. Them spirits. H’aints. Mama raised us as good, God-fearin’, church-going boys, didn’t she, me ‘n my brother, Orville. Growin’ up in the heart of the Belt, I s’pose just ‘bout everybody was. We went to church, there, on Sundays and on Wednesdays, and on Saturdays Mama would read to us from the good book. She loved to read us from First Samuel, ‘specially the scene with the séance. D’you remember that one? King Saul talks to the witch lady and they summon the spirit of Samuel himself. I never knew why Mama loved that one so much… Mama’s other favorite book was the one she thought she hid behind the other books on the shelf. The one with the hollowed-out hole the exact shape an’ size for a bottle ‘o whiskey to fit into.
When Mama died, I stopped goin’ to church. That was a big life change. Besides Mama dyin' 'n such, I mean. Orville still goes, but just on Christmas ‘n Easter. I suppose that’s all most folks in the neighborhood ever did to begin with. Then another big life change came 'round when I met that outsider. I thought I’d seen the ghost of Samuel himself, when I laid eyes on 'im. There was somethin’ ‘bout the way he talked. Them dark eyes o' his sparkled somethin' fierce. He didn’t look quite like he fit into the scene around him. Or maybe it was the world what didn’t quite fit him. But I tell you what, that outsider set me up on my first train. An' just in time, too. I was a lost soul, driftin' through life like a ghost on the breeze. Conductin' felt like bein' at home. I fell in love with the rails damn-near 'mediately. A'fore I knew it, the outsider had me runnin’ coal from Tuscaloosa all the way to Jacksonville. I didn’t think no rails ran that way, but he said I shouldn' fret about it. An' there I was, eighteen and criss-crossin' all over the country on a train o' my own!
I didn’t think Mama’d’ve liked me doin' it. She always told me I was destined to be a pastor, that God himself had ordained it. "Orson," she'd say, "yer gonna be just like Saul, when y'grow up. Yer gon' be the one who keeps an eye on me when I'm good 'n gone, an' that's the truth." Well, that outsider had showed me another truth, didn’t he? “The truth shall set you free,” or somethin’ about the like. I knew ridin' the rails was my new truth, and I wasn't gonna let Mama's crazy talk put ideas in my head.
The thing is, Mama's truth turned out to be pretty near spot-on, too. I’s probably ‘bout ‘round twenty-three when I started believin’ in spirits proper. I’d just finished a long run: from Knoxville to Albuquerque to Dallas. I hadn't seen that outsider in round 'bout four years then, but I still remembered his words. Best not to fret 'bout it. When the nonsense comes into our lives, we oughta just roll right along with it. We was at the station in Texas, me ‘n my train, unloading our haul. Furniture. Finest hand-built rockin’ chairs you’d ever seen, made from mahogany, oak, or cherry wood. It was getting’ dark out, and me ‘n the train yard boys’d almost unloaded all the furniture when I'd seen it. A strange, blue light, swirlin' 'round the corner o' the car. An' when I got closer, there she was. Mama's spirit, rockin' in one o' them mahogany chairs, readin' the Good Book, swiggin' on her whiskey.
She was right an' she was wrong. I ain't no man of God. But it turns out I am Saul, after all.
I kep’ runnin’ trains after I saw Mama’s ghost, that first time. I’s still a kid, then, weren’t I? Just twenty-three an’ conductin’ trains for five whole years, by then. Sounds downright irresponsible, now… But that’s how things were, back then, I reckon. I tried to get in touch with my brother Orville an’ tell him I saw Mama, but he didn’t believe me. Guess I can’t blame him, really, I’s practically told him I’s haunted.
It weren’t like in them movies you see, though. Well, not that I seen any o’ them horror movies they make, these days. Too much evil for me. But Mama weren’t like that, though. She didn’t follow me ‘round, didn’t make the spooky ghost noises, didn’t make things float around me like I thought she might. I just saw her every time I hauled a route through Dallas. Didn’t matter what I was haulin’, or what kind of rail cars I had on my train that day. She always showed up somewhere on the train.
So, I sort of turned it into a tradition. Started planning routes through Dallas every year, ‘round Christmas. For ‘bout forty years, or so, I’d make my trip to Texas an’ say hello to Mama’s ghost, tell her I still loved her, I always did and always would, and wish her Merry Christmas. I dunno if ghosts celebrate Christmas, or if they got some other ghost holiday, but she always seemed happy to chat.
She never said much, when we did talk. There’s prob’ly some rule for how much ghosts are allowed to say, an’ all that, so I was just grateful for what I could get.
Now last Christmas, I had planned my usual Texas route so I could say hello to Mama. I unloaded my train, waited for the train yard boys to leave, an’ walked my train, lookin’ for the ghost, like I always did. But this time, I found some fella I’d never seen before, loiterin’ in a passenger car.
“Well, I’s about think I done had perfect timin’,” he said. He had on a conductor coat, but he talked real smart, like maybe he didn’t used to work on trains.
“Buddy, I dunno who you are, but y’can’t be here, this is my train an’ I got private business on it,” I told him.
“Well, it’s hardly a private train car,” he said. “You got yourself a stowaway, don’t ya?” Then the fella pointed to an empty rocking chair, waved his hand, and some kind o’ TV static came over the chair. An’ when the TV static was gone, there was a big-old, blond muscle brute, sittin’ in the chair.
I tell you what, I seen ghosts, but I ain’t never seen nothin’ like that, before.
I didn’ know what to say, an’ before I knew it, the blond fella was standin’, towerin’ over the smaller fella. He had some kind o’ thick accent. Maybe German?
“You follow me from Illinois,” he said in his accent. Didn’t sound like he knew English too good.
“I sure did,” said the smart fella.
“Why you blow my cover?” said the blond fella.
An’ before the smart fella could explain, there was a glow of light at the far end o’ the car. All three of us turned an’ watched as the light focused an’ warped, an then Mama was there.
“Alright, now I can explain,” I started to say to the two strangers. Would’da been better if’n they weren’t there, but I wasn’t gonna let them stop me from saying Merry Christmas to my mama, and that meant I had to explain to them that ghosts were real, and Mama didn’t mean to trouble to them.
“Don’t go tryna capture that ghost, Tobias,” the smart fella said to the blond one.
“Capture?” I said. Why would anybody wanna capture my poor Mama? But the blond fella didn’t listen. He pulled some kind o’ small device from his pocket, clicked a button on it, an’ threw it across the car. It skittered and landed right in front o’ Mama. I heard a whirrin’ noise, like somethin’ was chargin’ up, an’ then the device started suckin’ in Mama’s ghost.
“The hell you doin’, dumbass?” I shouted at the blond fella he called Tobias. I ran toward the device, and bulldozed past the smart fella, who tried to stop me.
“Orson, no, it’s dangerous,” he shouted. But I didn’t care! They were stealin’ Mama’s ghost!
I kicked the device an’ it flew across the car, hit the wall and broke into a bunch-o tiny pieces. A burst o’ light came out of it, an’ it looked like it was goin’ back to Mama.
“I gotcha, Mama,” I told her. “You’re safe, it’s okay.”
But then I heard the smart fella shout, “E’erybody, get off the train, run!” An’ I looked at him, an’ he looked at Tobias, an’ Tobias looked at me so I looked at him, an’ he looked back at the smart fella. An’ then the smart fella ran for the door to the passenger car, with Tobias right behind ‘im. I looked back to where Mama was just in time to see her sort of…I guess she shrank in on herself. It got real dark in the train car real quick, like all the light got sucked toward Mama, and then just as fast she exploded. Wisps o’ light flew in every direction, an’ when they hit the rocking chairs, an’ the windows, an’ the walls an’ ceiling, everything began to change.
The car was morphin’ right in front o’ my eyes.
The shape o’ the car grew wider an’ the walls turned into wood. Some o’ the windows disappeared, an’ others turned into doors, book cases—one o’ them looked like it turned into a whole ‘nother room. My childhood bedroom.
I spun around an’ watched as the rail car turned into the house I grew up in, and saw Tobias and the smart fella bangin’ on the door to get out.
“I reckon I smash it,” said Tobias.
“Ain’t no use,” said the smart fella. “We inside the anomaly now, there ain’t nothin’ outside that door.”
“Fellas!” I said to them. “This my house! I grew up here! Mama must’a brought us here… Mama!” An’ I started explorin’ the house, lookin’ for her. Figured I might even run into Orville, too.
An’ wouldn’t y’know? I found ‘em both sittin’ at the kitchen table. Looked like they’d just finished makin’ supper—ham steak, mashed ‘taters, green beans, an’ everything. But somethin’ was off ‘bout ‘em both. Their hair was sort of floatin’, like they were underwater, an’ their eyes were completely black.
“Siddon down, Orson, supper’s getting’ cold,” Mama said.
“Orson, don’t sit down, this ain’t real!” I turned around an’ saw both the other fellas in the doorway. “It ain’t safe here, we gotta go!” But it was my Mama an’ my brother. How could I say no?
So I sat down with ‘em.
“I get ‘em,” said Tobias, an’ I heard his big footsteps behind me. The ground started shakin’, but not from Tobias. It was like there was an earthquake.
“Sorry, Tobias,” I heard the smart fella say, before wavin’ his hand an’ hittin’ ‘im with that static again. Then Tobias was gone.
“Eat your supper ‘fore it gets cold,” said Mama. Her voice sounded like a screech, like metal strikin’ ‘gainst metal. Like a train crashin’ into another train. I looked at the plate on the table in front o’ me, and saw the food had turned to rot. The house kep’ shakin’, and the pictures started fallin’ off the walls.
“They ain’t real, Orson,” the smart fella yelled. “They just anomalies gone outta control. We gotta leave here, ‘fore it all crashes in on us!” The walls o’ the house started to ripple like a pond you skip rocks in.
“This ain’t right,” I said, my voice shakin’. “This ain’t right!” I tried to leave the table, but Orville stood up—he had to be ten feet tall—an’ held me down.
“Y’can’t leave ‘til y’finish your supper,” Mama said. Even though her eyes were black, somehow they looked like they were glowin’.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” I whimpered. “This ain’t right, an’ I gotta go. I love you, but this ain’t right.”
“I got you Orson,” shouted the smart fella from behind me. An’ then I saw the static creepin’ over my vision.
“Y’can’t leave me like this, Orson,” Mama shrieked. “Y’can’t leave me like this!”
Next thing I knew, I was in some kinda green house, sittin’ on my butt next to Tobias.
It’d been a good, long while since I’d been that riled up. An’ a grown man oughtta be able to admit when he’s behaved poorly. I can do that. I shouldn’t’a hollered and spat and stamped my feet like I did, but how was I s’posed to act, when so many crazy things had gone on right in front o’ my eyes?
Seein’ a ghost was one thing. I was used to that. But seein’ a man materialize outta thin air? Watchin’ the ghost o’ yer dearly departed mama explode into a million tiny ghost pieces? Gettin’ pulled into some kinda hell-version o’ yer childhood? I’d be surprised to see even the Good Lord himself actin’ any better after all that.
An’ then that smart fella chucked me through some kinda portal with that Tobias fella, an’ suddenly we’s surrounded by butterflies, an’ before I can catch my breath, they chucked me through another portal into some kinda daggum office! Who were those men? Why’d they have to get to meddlin’ with my mama? At first, I tried poundin’ on the door, yankin’ on the handle, screamin’ for ‘em to let me out. I knew they were out there. I could hear ‘em talkin’. But I realized they weren’t listenin’ to me, so I looked 'round for another way to get out.
Somethin’ wasn’t right about the light in the room. I looked up an’ saw the ceilin’ was covered in all kinds o’ newspapers, glowin’ like daylight. I 'membered the butterfly room had glass walls an’ a glass ceilin’, so I reckoned the ceilin’ in here was glass, too, an’ somebody had covered it up. There were some filin’ cabinets with papers stickin’ outta them in one corner o’ the room, an’ in the other was pro’lly ‘round a dozen or so animal tanks on shelves around the room, like the ones you’d keep a lizard in. When I looked inside ‘em, it was caterpillars.
There was a desk with a computer on the far side o’ the room. The desk was covered in papers an’ empty coffee cups. Sittin’ next to one o’ the cups was a pill bottle. I rattled it ‘round for a second, watchin’ the little pink pills shake an’ shimmy. The wall behind the desk was lousy with all sorts of newspaper clippin’s like the ones on the ceiling, an’ in the middle of it all there were fifteen pictures of people. They all had pushpins in them with red string tying them together in all sorts’a which-ways. Three of ‘em had big, red circles drawn ‘round their faces.
One of those ones was a picture of me.
“What in the hell’s all this, then?” I said to myself, startin’ to feel scared. I guess I was secretly hopin’ those men had found me on my train by accident, meddled with me just because they were bad, an’ that’s what bad men do… But it looked like they knew exactly what they was doin’.
“Orson Brisk,” said a man behind me. I hadn’t even heard the door openin'. I whipped ‘round fast as I could.
“Now see here, fella,” I started to say, thinkin’ I was gonna see the smart fella. But it wasn’t him. I was stupefied for a few seconds while I tried to figure out why I recognized the man in front of me. He had long, brown hair, an’ wore a funny hat with a dark jacket. I saw a glint o’ gold as he tucked away a pocket watch.
“'S good to see ya 'gain,” he said. He talked funny, a bit like the smart fella, but there was somethin’ else in his voice. He sounded like he knew things. “I can’t remember how long ago we met, now, but for you, I reckon it’s been right ‘round forty years.” An’ then it clicked.
It was the outsider, the one I met back when I’s just a kid, who set me up with my first train.
“How in the—” I didn’ even get to finish what I was sayin’ a’fore the office door opened and the smart fella from earlier walked in. Tobias wasn’t with him no more.
“Ah,” he said to the outsider, “I’m glad yer already here, Stranger.”
I could feel somethin’ bubblin’ up in my gut again, like that anger that had me stompin’ and hollerin’. I didn’t know these men, I didn’t like these men, an’ I sure as hell wasn’t gonn’ stick around to find out what these men were plannin’ on doin’ to me. I put my head down and charged at the smart fella, hopin’ I could push ‘im outta the way, get to the door, an’ get outta there. But it was the strangest thing—when I did it, I had a strong Dijon-view feelin', like I’d already done it before.
“Yer gonn’ tire yerself out if ya keep doin’ this, Orson,” said the outsider.
“Maybe if we just explain why he’s here, we wouldn’ hafta keep rewindin’ him,” said the smart fella. He hacked a cough into his elbow. When he took his arm away, there was a dark blood stain. His eyes got real wide an’ he looked at the pills on the desk. He took a step towards them, but his legs gave up.
“Shayan!” hollered the outsider, swooping forward to catch him. “Orson, on the desk,” he shouted at me.
“Just get the damn pills!”
I did as I was told. I didn’ trust him, but I wasn’t gonn’ let the smart fella die. I took a knee next to the two men and fiddled with the pill bottle cap. I looked in the smart fella’s eyes, and I saw there were dozens of green things slithering out from underneath his eyelids.
“Holy HELL,” I yelped. “What’s’a matter with ‘im?”
“No! Just one pill!” the outsider yelped. I looked down and saw I’d poured all the pills into my hand. I put four of ‘em back in the bottle, put one on the smart fella’s tongue, closed his mouth and rubbed on his throat. He swallowed an' gasped for air, an’ I watched them green things snake back into his skull an’ disappear.
The man sat up an' rubbed his eyes. “It’s getting’ worse, fast,” he said to the outsider.
The outsider nodded. “That’s why we gotta stay focused. Now more ‘n ever.”
“Now hang on a goddamn minute!” I said. Both men looked at me. “What the shit was all o’ that, now? First, y’all kill my dead mama. Then you snatch me up an’ lock me in this…this…caterpillar prison. That outsider I ain’t seen in forty years shows up lookin’ like he hasn’t aged a single second. An’ now the smart fella’s got teeny-tiny snakes livin’ in his goddamn eyeballs!”
The men sat on the floor an’ blinked slowly at me.
“None o’ this makes any sense!” I said, poundin’ my fists on the ground. “Why ‘m I here? Who the hell are y’all? Why’s my picture on the wall? An’ what do you want from me? All I want is to get back to my train and keep on not botherin’ nobody.”
The smart fella took a deep breath an’ stood up. “They’re plants,” he said, stickin’ out his hand to help me up. “Vines. Not snakes.” The outsider stood, and I took the smart fella’s hand to join ‘em.
“Why the hell you got vines in yer eyes, bubba?”
The outsider took off his hat an’ scratched at his head. “Well, Orson, that’s part o’ why yer here,” he said.
The smart fella nodded his head. “We got a lot to tell ya.”
I learned the smart fella’s name was Shayan, and the outsider’s name was Stranger. I told him there ain’t no way that’s his Christian name, an’ he told me it sure ain’t, but that’s what everyone called him an’ so should I.
Shayan wasn’t kiddin’. He and the Stranger must’a spent hours tellin’ me all kinds o’ stories ‘bout time travel, other realities, an’ evil empires from the future, an’ whatnot. They said mama’s ghost wasn’t no ghost at all, but was really a “temporal disturbance made of anomalous matter.” I had to triple check with ‘em to get those words right. The bad guys, them future Jupiter fellas, were just waitin’ for the right time to use her an' trap me, Tobias, an’ Shayan, hopin’ we’d die in that crazy ghost zone.
“But why were they wantin’ to kill me?” I asked. “An’ why’d they lump me in with Tobias and Shayan? I ain’t never met them before today.”
Well, they had answers for all o’ that, too.
If yer readin’ this, I ‘spect ya pro’lly already know a lotta this, so I’ll skip the details. To be honest, I can’t even remember most o’ them anyway. But it turns out me, Tobias, Shayan, an’ the twelve other folks with pictures on the wall were big-ole threats the evil Jupiter fellas needed to get rid of.
Me! Threatenin’ some kinda future space king!
I told them they was downright ravin’ lunatics if they thought I was a threat to any-old-body, and the Stranger said he reckoned just about everybody was a ravin’ lunatic in their own way. Some folks have plants growin’ outta their eyes. Some are train conductors that meet with their mama’s ghost every year for Christmas. An’ plenty others are "normal-lookin'" folks with their own kinds o’ lunacy kept hidden away.
“Orson, I set you up with yer life on the rails all those years ago hopin’ this exact moment would happen,” the Stranger said. “Every second o' yer life for the past forty years has been buildin’ up to what I’m about to ask you to do for me.”
I shivered when he said it. All at once, I felt like I was real far from home. An’ I felt like I wouldn’ be goin’ home for a long, long time.
Y’know, it’s silly. I still didn’ really have a reason to trust Shayan an’ the Stranger. But the more I listened to ‘em, the more I wanted to believe ‘em. That Orson Brisk had a part to play that nobody else could. An’ that’s what I was lookin’ for all along, with mama, wasn’ it? Somethin’ to believe in. A purpose.
With Mama gone an’ double-gone, if I walked away, I’d’ve just been a nearly-sixty-year-old man who throws a temper tantrum every time somethin’ happens that he don’t understand.
So I chose to believe in somethin’ new. To focus on the mission the Stranger gave me and to not fret about the rest.
They couldn’t teleport me away the same way they had earlier, because of some kind o’ convoluted thing havin’ to do with the Jupiter fellas, so they set me up with a train to call my own.
I told them that was mighty fine, because I preferred travelin’ on trains to bein’ teleported anyway.
I said goodbye to Shayan and the Stranger an’ charted a route through a brand-new world.
The first person I had to find was a fella they called Speedy Jame.