"Oh, God," Erwin muttered, his heart sinking as his mind scrambled to understand. "Erwin, think about it," the man in front explained. "There is more to faith than doing things. Did you know Him?"
"How are we supposed to know Him? He died two thousand years ago! Do YOU know Him?"
"Ya twit!" Josie laughed. "He ain't on the same plan as us."
"What do you mean?"
"He's an angel," Josie answered. "Likely a fallen one. Ain't so?" The man in front tipped his hat to the dead gunslinger.
"Oh, God," Erwin said again.
"But wait," Jerry said, jumping to his feet unsteadily. "Then, i-if you're an angel, y-you can HELP us! Help us!!!" He fell at the angel's feet, weeping and chanting.
"Yes," Consul Marius whispered. "That makes sense..." He rose and headed up front, clinging on to the back of each seat until he'd made his way to the front. He fell to his knees beside Jerry when he got there. The angel-in-over-alls looked back at Josie and Erwin with a whaddya-gonna-do shrug. Josie echoed it and eased back into his bench seat again.
Erwin's mind was racing; he understood less the more he learned. If only that Reverend had stayed, he could explain... The Reverend! He had went up front to speak to the engineer and never returned! What answers had he forced from the engineer? Erwin raced- as best he could- for the door to find out for himself. It had to beat sitting here watching this! He soon changed his mind, if not his course. The next car was squalid, its passengers engaged in... well, he didn't want to think about it. He hurried to the next door, and the next car was worse- as was every succeeding car from there on. Even the terrain outside the windows was worse: barren, flat... pestilential. After what seemed an eternity of such cars, he entered what appeared to be the locomotive itself. No seats here; just a handful of poor wretches, sucking their toes, gouging their eyes and ears, babbling incoherently. He moved slowly up the long hallway of the damned, at last finding Reverend Stowe sitting near the front.
He knelt to face him; the eyes were blank, serving no purpose other than an origin point for the dark tears that ran unbidden down the unmoving face. Erwin gently touched his shoulders, shook him slightly. "Reverend? Reverend?"
"No use of that," the Engineer said, never turning from the view ahead.
"What happened to him?"
"He looked out my window, and saw what was to come," the engineer replied. "Same as all these others."
Erwin steeled himself to stand. "Are you another angel?"
"No, nothing so great," came the response. "Just a man like you."
"Then, how... how is it you drive the train?" Erwin asked.
"Irony," the Engineer said. "You see, I thought the afterlife was an absurdity, somebody's idiot shared imagination, a way in which governments controlled... well, that doesn't matter now. But it was not enough for me to disbelieve, oh, no. I felt it my duty to free all mankind from the chains of belief, of religion. I felt it my noble charge to convince others how happy, how peaceful we would all be, once we all accepted that there was nothing to see beyond the Veil."
"And.. and then what?"
"Well, obviously, I passed beyond the Veil. And instead of nothing, I saw EVERYTHING. Funny, isn't it? I spent my whole mortal life blinded, teaching others to close their eyes. Then I attained immortality, much to my surprise, and I could see. And what I saw left me blind once more."
"What did you see?" Erwin asked. "Did you... see God?"
"God? No," the Engineer went on. "I had chosen long ago never to see Him, and He took me at my word. No, what I saw was the utter lack of hope I'd won for myself, and for anyone fool enough to listen to the fool I was. No, the only way to be truly blind is to look into the black, and know it to be your own soul..."
"But I believed in God! I did!" Erwin screamed. "I don't belong here!"
The Engineer smiled. "I had a friend once," he began. "He always tried to tell me that you can't see God in a book, or know Him as a concept. It was a relationship that was needed. A relationship! I laughed. Might as well have a 'relationship' with the Easter Bunny, or ol' Saint Nick, I'd say. That's how much sense it takes to 'believe in God'. And he'd say, sense won't do it. It takes faith."
"What is faith?" Erwin asked, shaking uncontrollably.
"How should I know?" the Engineer said, laughing bitterly.
Erwin turned back to the Reverend, yanking him upright. "Snap out of it!" Erwin screamed, shaking him hard, slapping his face. "Tell me what faith is, damn you!"
With the barest trace of coherence, Reverend Stowe looked at the panicking Erwin. "...Not supposed to be real..." he murmured softly. "...Just a way to make money... not supposed to be real..."
"You really should come here and watch this," the Engineer said to Erwin. "It's quite fascinating..."
Erwin let the ruined pastor fall to the floor, and walked with legs of wood to the windshield of the locomotive. He saw a barren land, devoid of light and life, as a horizon rushed up towards them, only seconds away. Then the train shifted, pitching downward as it hurtled into the outer darkness...
The echoes of the horn's wail ripped through Erwin's soul, and all the emptiness in the universe gathered into what Erwin conceived of as his chest. The words of Joshiah Everard to the Reverend came into his mind- "Savor it- it will be the best such feeling remaining to you..."