Lady’s of the Night


Festival Night Photo copyright Vijayay Sundaram

In their black dress you could almost be forgiven for not noticing them, but tonight was the Festival of the Desert. The Desert Queen would lead her remaining consorts into Rajasthan.

Likened to living prehistoric flying reptiles, tonight they would be washed and polished, then dressed with objects of adoration. This would be the last such procession so Last Star would bring up the rear.

Nigam was proud of his charge, he had cared for her for over twenty years, he had dressed the Desert Queen beautifully for tonight they would both retired. A new era had begun diesels had finally ousted  the steam train.



Both the Desert Queen and Last Star were steam locomotives in India. In 1998 in India the last regular steam locomotives were withdrawn from service replaced by diesel and electric locomotives. In India locomotive drivers were often paired with their steam locomotive for many years, these drivers took pleasure in decorating their engine. The Desert Queen worked in Rajastan. The Last Star was the last mainline engine built by Indian Railways in 1970.

This Post Has 29 Comments

  1. neilmacdon

    That has a sad and magical feel to it. I’m not sure if I’m right but I’m reading this as being about a steam train

    1. Michael Humphris

      You are right, many people who had never seen a steam train at full speed before, likened them to a primeval wild being. Thank you for letting me know how this story read. Mike

  2. Iain Kelly

    Lovely slice of history. Love seeing steam trains.

    1. Michael Humphris

      Me to, if looked after they can be majestic. Thank you for commenting. Mike

  3. Björn Rudberg (brudberg)

    Oh I do love it… how you made me think about something else until the last sentence…

    1. Michael Humphris

      I am so glad you told me that, thank you Bjorn.

  4. rochellewisoff

    Dear Michael,

    And all good things do come to an end, don’t they? Poignant piece.

    Grammatical note..diesels is not a possessive. No need for the apostrophe (diesel’s) 😉



    1. Michael Humphris

      Sadly they do, thank you so much, Rochelle.

  5. yarnspinnerr

    I read the news item. You have spun magic out of it. Awesome writing.

    1. Michael Humphris

      Thank you for your great comments, it encourages me to continue, thank you. Mike

  6. Clare Hempstead

    My mum often reminisces about steam trains 🙂

  7. draliman

    I’d love to be in a carriage drawn by a proper-sized steam train. They have an almost magical quality!

  8. gahlearner

    I love this. I was thinking of a human queen, then dragons, then wondering what magical beasts these could be and then… this was great.

  9. Sandra

    My husband is a steam loco fanatic, so I spend a fair amount of my time hanging around footplates and fireboxes. Very evocative piece.

    1. Michael Humphris

      I have had some very kind comments on this post, including from you. Thank you. They help to define which style of writing works best. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Mike

  10. Liz Young

    I loved steam trains, despite the dirt they used to leave on my clothes as I rode to work. Beautifully nostalgic piece.

    1. Michael Humphris

      The steam train was like a living animal with its two handlers. Thank you for your great comments. Mike

  11. Alice Audrey

    Wow! Talk about a true story! And here I thought it was going to be Science Ficiton.

    1. Michael Humphris

      Thank you for reading and your very kind comment. Mike

  12. Dahlia

    Wow what a wonderful ode to the steam engine – can still hear it chugging trailing smoke. Thank you for a lovely write rekindling old memories.

    1. Michael Humphris

      I also remember steam trains with fondness, thank you for your kind comment. Mike

  13. Margaret

    I like how you did this, Mike. Great lead up to a nice surprise at the end. And thanks for the little explanation too – fascinating.

    1. Michael Humphris

      Thank you Margaret, the comments on this particular story have really helped me. Mike

  14. Emily Livingstone

    Very interesting! I was nicely surprised that we were talking about trains. I like that you made them exotic and laden with emotion here.

    1. Michael Humphris

      Thank you Emily, the reaction to this story has made me think about my style of writing.

  15. Dreamer of Dreams

    Sweet and wistful, and utterly surprising in terms of characters and setting.


    (Sorry about my late response to your story! My computer is kaput, and I’m borrowing my husband’s. The Apple Store Genius Bar will be happy with my upcoming expenses!)

    1. Michael Humphris

      I hope Apple look after you, my wife has borrowed my computer as hers is also broken. Thank. You for your find comments. Mike

  16. patriciaruthsusan

    I liked this story, Mike. I understand how the engineers revere their engines in India as we live here and there was a TV program. I was born and raised until 9 years in a house in a blue-collar neighborhood in the U.S. where the coal-burning steam locomotives thundered through behind our back yard causing the house to vibrate. I missed that and the lonesome whistle in the night when we moved to the country. Good writing. 🙂 — Suzanne

    1. Michael Humphris

      It sounds like we both have fond memories around the steam trains. For a while I to lived next to the railway. Every night I would hear the wheel tapper checking the wagon wheels for flaws.

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