by J. Daniel Sawyer
Tap, tap, tap.
The cane foot tapped measuredly on the plank, hammering out a steady tick-tock rhythm. It was not a rubber foot, such as had been common on cane-feet for a century now, but a proper pinned steel cane foot, suitable for a weapon or a prop to lean on or a scepter with which to gesticulate. It kept its clock-like rhythm even as a steam engine pulled out of the station, a few feet from the bench where its owner sat in his frock coat and top hat, measuring the minutes in percussive time.
The late afternoon summer was dry and hot, save for the oppressive blasts of humidity that coated the ticket window with fog for a few brief moments when a locomotive deigned to grace the lonely platform with its presence. The endless in-between times stretched on like the deep-split grain of the wooden planks that seemed to continue uninterrupted from one floorboard to the next. Across the double-tracks, past the far platform, flies and weevils swarmed above the autumn grain, taking from it what pickings they could before the harvest.
It was the last day of summer. Soon the dust would rise from the fields and the northern world would hunker down for a winter season that was comfortable and warm, circumscribed by brick and fiberglass, hearths long since replaced by electric heaters. The days when people froze to death for want of wood, or heating oil, or gas were well gone, but the anachronistic frock coat and cane went seemingly unnoticed on the forgotten railway line, where steam power serviced the nostalgic aging population whose automated homes drew nuclear power from the worldwide grid. The coming months would be a time of hibernation for Europe, but neither the cold slow yearly death the old world had endured, nor the slowed down fallow time of the new world were in the future of this man from out the storybooks of Conan Doyle or the misty streets of Whitechapel. And yet for all his out-of-place formality, the bench he sat on was wrought iron, and the foot of his cane kept perfect time. He seemed a fixture in the weatherbeaten station.