idol season ten | week nine | 708 words
The Trolley Problem
The problem wasn't just the trolleys parked on the sidetracks after dark. Those mouthy ones, who clanged their bells at skirts and smoked the newspapers riders left behind? That bunch was trouble, and everyone knew it.
But it was bigger than that, much more widespread. Cities everywhere had trolleys, and anyone who thought their little downtown darlings were better behaved than the tourist-trade riff-raff was kidding themselves.
The breed itself was flawed.
Maybe it was the electricity, scrambling the brain and eventually taking its toll. After too many years on the rails, there was nothing left but a hum between the wheels and a never-ending thirst for the juice. Or it might just be the restlessness trolleys were prey to, with every line and circuit lit up and buzzing with the burning need to go somewhere new.
Either way, the results were inexcusable.
There were reports of trolleys marauding the streets in packs, spoiling for a fight. They would cluster at intersections waiting for delivery trucks to approach, and then lunge at them. The trucks might be crushed, or just shaken enough to spill their loads across the roadway. Afterward, the trolleys would slink back to their byways and depots, their destructive urges sated until the next time.
They were too smart to pull those pranks in broad daylight, of course. Anyone who claimed to have witnessed the nocturnal hunting expeditions was dismissed as drunk or crazy.
The trolleys didn't take well to strangers, either. Every year or so, a new streetcar would be added to the line. After dark, the other trolleys would gather around it, jeering:
"Well, now, would you look at this?" "Just who does he think he is, with his fancy paint and polished brass?" "We're gonna knock some of that shine right offa him!"
City officials always blamed the damage on vandals. Everyone knew the downtown area was rife with crime.
A few of the trolleys were more dangerous and unbalanced than most. They would run their routes for months—years, even—acting solid and reliable, and then one day pedestrians would step into their paths and the cars would mow them down. The trolley conductors claimed they had done everything possible to stop the cars, and accident investigators always decided that the trolley's brakes had failed.
The other streetcars knew better. They called it going rogue.
Once trolleys developed a taste for attacking humans, they rarely got past it. They all hated humans to begin with—the way people stomped and scuffed with their dirty shoes, or spilled their food and sticky beverages on the floor, or banged the poles with their briefcases and luggage. Once in a while, someone (usually a child) would offer that rare praise of, "Oh, what a pretty trolley!" But usually, trolleys were the means to an end—reaching a destination, or an experience to be felt and then checked off the list.
A rogue streetcar would start racking up incidents like a two-bit robber on a Mom & Pop corner-store spree, and eventually it would be deemed too hazardous to keep on the line.
Rogue streetcars were decommissioned. It was their fate.
The trolley would be loaded onto a flatbed and driven away, never to be seen again. But that didn't stop rumors.
Some said the cars were stripped down to bare metal and rendered scrap to be melted into something new—stepstools, shovel heads, toilet handles, toy airplanes for tourists, or any number of unimaginable things. Others said that was ridiculous, and that the cars were probably dumped in scrapyards and left to rust.
But all trolleys hoped that the wheels were treated differently.
The soul of a streetcar was in its wheels, those wheels that only ever wanted to travel whatever parts of the world they could.
Inside their forged and welded metal hearts, the trolleys dreamed that the wheels of decommissioned cars were saved and used again, perhaps on those shiny metro rail systems or elevated trains. None of those modern creations were as beautiful as trolleys, or as beloved by tourists.
But they were fast, lightning fast at times, and all wheels were the same.
No matter the track or the chassis they sat in, wheels always wanted to run.
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