The laughter helped. A lot.
They were Al [Albert] and Grace. Married. I refrained from commenting on their old-fashioned names and instead complimented them on their knowledge of old-school woodcrafty/tactical kinds of things.
“I learned mine from some old trapper friends forty years ago, when I was just a kid. I’m surprised anybody your age knows this stuff.”
Al flashed a small grin my way but didn’t speak, Grace looked down at the fire to try to hide her blush.
“What are those little gray headless pigeon things?” I got around to asking, then.
“Don’t really know. They’re one kind of canoti. One of the darker ones,” she sighed. “Part of why we’re here.”
“The dark ones basically don’t want humans on their planet,” added Al.
“Canoti? THEIR planet?” I prodded. “I know that word is Lakota for “Fairies” or “Little People”. I DIDN’T know that they were real.”
“Native Americans have the least polluted database about who/what they are. They’re all over the planet, but in other places the stories have been garbled over the centuries and so we can’t really get a clear picture from them.”
“They’re not technically from OUR planet,” added Al. “They’re sort of… bleed through from a parallel dimension. It’s a very different place.”
“Holeeee crap.” I sat with all of this information for a few seconds. I gratefully accepted the blue enamelware mug of hot coffee that Grace handed me.
“So why is this happening right now? I mean, there have been white people building here for 150 years now. Why now?” I sipped my coffee.
“Partly because things are quiet right now. Traffic’s down…”
“THE TRAINS AREN’T RUNNING!” I interrupted, then hastily explained my outburst.
“He said that, huh?” Al rubbed his chin. “Yep, that’s a thing. But it’s been a problem just since they changed the whistles.”
“Changed the whistles?” this one confused me.
“They shifted from the old air horns that were designed with Chinese musical theory in mind to this new cheapassed crap that doesn’t do the job,” he growled.
Grace softly said, “Al, PLEASE….” but he was on a roll.
Al grew oddly vehement, “Swanson KNEW what he was doing when he built the H5s, back in the 50s, but the cheap bastards wouldn’t listen. “Too big!” they said. So he did a bunch of refining and ultimately came up with the “K”, which does the job- barely- but not nearly as well. And then in the early 2000s some young punk did away with all of it and put in these stupid new horns that do almost no good.”
“Wait. So… wait,” I had to chew on this juicy bit of train-nerd lore for a second.
“So there was a guy who designed train horns in the 50s to keep away the headless pigeons? I’m torn between wanting to know all about THAT, and wanting to know HOW DO YOU KNOW ALL OF THAT?”
Al and Grace exchanged a long look. I sipped my [excellent!] coffee and waited patiently.
The laughter helped. A lot.