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  • Dan Cavallari

The Green 900: What happens next?

I wrote this story almost a year ago and just sort of...stopped. I think it's decent, but I wasn't sure where I was going with it. You can help me with that.


Tell me what happens next! Just one or two sentences in summary should do it, and then I'll finish the story based on the best submitted idea. Get to it!



The Green 900


Brown snow piled up in mohawks against the rails embedded in the cobblestone street that ran straight up Walnut Hill from downtown to the mansion. Everywhere else the snow had melted, an early storm’s gift to October, not even Halloween yet. But the brown mohawks remained, sculpted by the trolley’s metal wheels and solidified nearly to ice now that evening had fallen.

There were no empty seats on the trolley thanks to the unseasonably cold weather. The six-thirty run up the hill was the busiest of the day every day, but rarely was the trolley packed full. Maggie Penico pulled the brake lever back and the trolley lurched forward on its upward trajectory, crawling its way up Walnut Hill as it had every day and night for the last two years since the Mayor’s Grand Plan came and went. Because it was weighed down with passengers, the trolley went even slower than usual, the metal wheels whistling against the metal rails with uncommon complaint.

When Maggie had first taken the job, she thought it was funny: The derisive nickname “Folly Trolley,” the kids racing their bikes up the hill against the lurching thing and usually winning, then later watching as elderly folks on their motorized wheelchair carts zipped ahead up the hill. After two years on the straight track, it hadn’t exactly become depressing, but it was becoming dangerously close to boring.

The trolley was a pet project of Mayor Robert Willicker, now a resident of a federal prison somewhere east of Denver, Colorado. He had reasoned, just a few years ago, that both downtown and the historic Walnut Hill — which had fallen into disrepair over the course of three decades’-worth of neglect, blight, and poverty — could be revitalized, leading to a renaissance for the once-grand city that had been the leather boot capital of the world before the second world war.

The voters hated the idea, but somehow, miraculously, Willicker had secured a bond from the state and agreements from several wealthy investors to make the project move forward. Miracles and politicians make a stench, and the FBI came sniffing. But before that, the trolley got built and the cobbled street got fixed, sidewalks got installed. A station was built near the clocktower downtown, and another was slated to be built at the top of Walnut Hill just adjacent to the neighborhood once known as The Commons but more colloquially known as Mansion Mile.

The mansions were certainly once beautiful, owned by those who had come to the valley of manufacturing to claim a fortune. That was then. Now the mansions mostly housed rats and vagrants. If the American dream ever existed, Maggie figured, the mansions were the bad breath one woke up to in the morning. Mayor Willicker’s plan was to brush the city’s teeth, so to speak. Caliguro Mansion was to be the focal point of the city’s renaissance, a beacon of hard work, determination, and a sudden influx of cash. The mayor himself bought the mansion out of pocket and began hiring local contractors to fix it up, make it grand once again. But then he departed for federal prison and the banisters lost their shine as easily as they had the first time around.

To Maggie, the Caliguro Mansion meant the end of the line. Everyone off. The station had never been finished, but there was a small platform, and Maggie knew exactly when to apply the brakes to slow the trolley to a crawl just before the rails ended. And for the few moments she waited to let passengers off, she stared off at the only dominant feature above her: the quiet, dark mansion that had had its teeth only half brushed.

Despite its ‘bad breath,’ the mansion was actually quite attractive. Its facade was dominated by deep hues of maroon and brown wood tones. Maggie couldn’t have said in what style the mansion had been designed, but it looked to her like something from an obscure part of Europe where electricity still might be a new concept even today. It felt, to her, lovely in its strangeness and unpolished presence, an unintended symbol of Mayor Willicker’s renaissance push, perhaps. The yard, however, looked like that of a drainage ditch, or the untended confines of a junkyard. Maggie couldn’t see the yard from her seat at the front of the trolley, but she knew it well enough from her walks home and photos in the newspaper. It was the mansion’s unkempt facial hair, Maggie thought, and laughed quietly as the last of the trolley’s passengers disembarked into the darkness.

A few hours passed and Maggie’s trolley hauled maybe a total of five passengers up the hill and one back down. By the time she made her last run to the Caliguro Mansion station at 10:45pm, she was bundled up in the trolley’s conductor cabin with the heat blasting. She was still shivering despite it. But this was her favorite moment every night: the few moments when the green 900 series tram that Willicker had (again miraculously) gotten at a bargain basement price from the city of New Orleans sat silently at the station, the wires overhead yearning to spark when she guided the trolley back down the hill for the last time.

As always, it was quiet aside from the deep bumping bassline from some ridiculous modified geriatric car with a teenager sitting in the driver seat no doubt, down in the valley. Maggie set the brake, waiting the required five minutes at the platform before she would descend the hill and park the 900 for the night. The five minutes was, hypothetically, to allow any late stragglers to catch the last trolley of the day, but no one ever came. The last ride down the hill usually belonged solely to Maggie, a treat she accepted with an embarrassing reverence.


© 2020 Dan Cavallari