I squinted into the light of the train as it came at me full speed. The ground vibrated under my eleven-year-old ass, and my heart sped up with anticipation. WHAH! WHAH! The street was about fifty feet away, and there was a loud "ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding" where the gates came down to keep cars from driving over the tracks. Even if there had been cars stopped, nobody would have seen me. It was pitch dark out and the part of the tracks I was sitting on disappeared into a patch of woods. After the train drove over me, it would cross Hoag Road and then a bridge that went over the Skagit River.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, watching it turn to fog. It lit up wonderfully by the light on the front of the train. I liked trains. WHAH! WHAH! I mean, it wasn't an obsession or anything. I didn't have a mini set running around my floor, or locomotive wallpaper. But still, I thought they were pretty cool. When I was a kid, I used to love it when one of my parents would get caught at an intersection waiting for one to pass. I would sit in the backseat and count the boxcars. Sometimes they seemed to go on forever. I wasn't a kid anymore though. I was eleven. Now, I couldn't even count that many years on my fingers, which was okay, because I had stopped using my fingers to count in the third grade.
On both sides of me, metal rails went on forever. The noise seemed to be coming out of them. From my bedroom, it always sounded meek: tik-a-tik-a-tik-a-tik-a-tik-a-tik-a. But up close, it was a humbling, thunderous roar. Steven Miller had said not to touch them, telling me they had some sort of electricity running through them. "It's okay to touch 'em when there's no train," he’d said. To demonstrate this point, he had leaned down and placed the palm of his meaty hand flat on the track. "But be careful when there's a train comin’, Danny. They'll zap the livin’ shit out of ya". That had been two days before. Frankly, I hadn't believed there was electricity running through the tracks. Why would there be? But my neighbor was a year and a half older than me and had more experience with this sort of thing. He said he had laid between the tracks before and let the train pass over him, said it was the best feeling he ever had. That, I did believe. I had heard of other kids doing it. Never seen one, even though we had lived in The Meadows as long as I could remember, and I had spent most of my days playing around the tracks. The closest anybody ever got when I was around was the bottom of the hill that they ran along. A dozen feet at least. I had been told that if you're not careful, being that close, the train would spit rocks at you. "Seen that too", Steven Miller had said, "Kid used to live right here in The Meadows. Lost his whole eye". The train was a big part of story telling in my neighborhood. Some kids claimed to have jumped on and rode it for miles. Others said they caused derailments by leaving loose spikes on the tracks. (All a long, long time ago, of course.)
Mostly, I just left pennies and came back later to find them flattened like pancakes. But I wanted a story, which was why I snuck out that night. Why my bedroom window stood open on the other side of the fence, as I sat in my plaid red pajamas on the damp wooden beams, staring into the light of an oncoming train. My body trembled as cold, humid air brushed against the exposed skin of my face. My only regret as it approached, was that I hadn't brought anybody to witness what I was about to do. But it was well past midnight and nobody would be out this late. Even I shouldn't have be, really. My dad would have welted my backside if he knew. The thunder radiating from the tracks grew louder and the earth began to shake more violently. The train was getting close. I needed to lay down. WHAH! WHAH! My heart beat like a snare drum, and there where pinpricks all over my body as I reclined and looked up into the foggy sky. There were no stars visible, but the moon peeked curiously around a thin grey cloud at me, my only witness. Every muscle in my body tensed. I clenched my jaw so tight that I thought I chipped a tooth in the back of my mouth.
WHAAAAAAH!!!!! I closed my eyes and held my breath, my hands balled into fists. This was it. Only then did it occur to me that this might really be IT. What if the stories were all balogna? What if I died? But how? The wheels were far enough apart that I could have fit three of me between them. And I had seen parked trains. They were high. I could have crawled on my hands and knees and they still would have been able to pass over me. But what if there were pieces that hung down? Chains? The thought of getting whacked in the gonads with a dangling metal chain didn't sit well with me. Nor the idea of anything dragging across my face. Suddenly, being under the train didn't seem like such a hot idea. And it was close. How close? The air around me grew somehow colder. I needed to move. I opened my eyes, ready to jump, to roll, to get off the tracks as fast as I could. But, instead, I froze up. Every hair on my body seemed to stiffen and reach for the sky. Until then, I had never seen death, or experienced the dirty tingling sensation of its reality as it stares down at you. I could die content if I never know that feeling again. I opened my eyes and looked into the caved-in face of a dark-haired boy, who appeared to be about my age. I could only see one eye. The other disappeared where half of his skull had collapsed. His jaw hung down so far, he could have fit both fists in his mouth. His head rested on one shoulder, as if it had somehow popped off of his neck bone. Blood decorated his white t-shirt in horrible streaks and splotches. With his one eye, he looked down into mine and blinked. I screamed. I sat up abruptly and my head hit his, causing it to fall from his shoulder and dangle from the skin of his neck. The train was right behind him. I didn't have time to get up and I knew it. I screamed again, and was somehow able to take note over the thunderous noise that I sounded like a girl. I didn't care though. Funny what does and doesn't matter when you know you're about to die. The boy grabbed me by my shoulders and shoved me back to the ground, pinning me against the wooden beams. My head collided with a sharp rock, and the pain that shot through my body told me that this wasn't a nightmare. WHAAAAAAH!!!!! Then the music of hell erupted around me as the train passed over. I closed my eyes as tight as I could, but tears somehow managed to seep through the slits. I'm sure the ground was shaking more violently then ever under my back, but I didn't notice. Fear filled every cell of my body, causing it to vibrate like a jackhammer. I reopened my eyes and he was still there. Somehow his head was back resting on his shoulder, and he was laying on top of me, holding me down. He wasn't strong, I was paralyzed. Something about his touch seemed to drain the life out of me. Though I didn't try, I knew I wouldn't have been able to turn my head and look away from his hideous face. The worst part though, was the way he stared at me, with his head tilted and that lonely eye trained on me like a hunter's scope. He was emotionless. Cold. His jaw, which I now saw was completely detached from his skull, hung from his cheeks, stretching them and resting on my lips. The train was a blur as it passed above him. Even though the light mounted on the front of the locomotive had long passed, and the night was darker underneath. Still, somehow, I saw every horrible detail. All that came out of my mouth was a shaky, "Nnnaaaggghhh!!!” I felt a warm spot spread over my crotch, it contrasted with the cold of the night, telling me that I had pissed myself. What could I do? There wasn't a doubt in my mind what the boy was. I closed my eyes again and thought about what came next. I would die like he had. He probably died the same way, laying under the train. He probably had a neighbor like Steven Miller, with some bologna story about laying on the tracks, who talked him into it. I didn't want to die. At that moment, that's all I really knew. I opened my eyes and looked into the one eye of the ghost. I begged him to read my mind.
Please, I thought. I don't wanna die. Protect me, please. He just continued to stare back at me. That moment seemed to go on forever, and as I looked up into his dead stare, I thought about everything that mattered to me. For the first time in my eleven years, I understood that life is a privilege, not a right. Somewhere in the wreckage of what was once the face of a young boy like me, the cold gaze began to make sense. It wasn't cold at all. It was just broken. For the longest second of my life, I felt what he felt. My fear didn't disappear, but it was gone nonetheless, changed into sorrow. It was bigger and more horrible than the tons of steel passing over me. Not because the boy was dead, but because he was lost and always would be. Then the cloudy sky appeared behind him, and the noise faded out. I looked up and saw the back of the train disappear over the bridge, then back at the dead boy. My tears had stopped flowing at some point, I was still shaking though. "Thanks". I didn't think about it, it just spilled out of me. He didn't answer, he just stood up and began to walk away. I saw then that his back was broken like his neck, and the top half leaned over to the side. He walked with a terrible limp. I think I expected him to disappear, but that's not what happened. He kept walking along the tracks until he was so far away that I couldn't see him anymore through the fog. Suddenly, I knew that he hadn't died laying under the train. He had been hit, walking on the tracks. I went home that night and crawled back in through my window without anybody ever knowing I was gone. I decided not to tell my story to Steven Miller, or any of the other neighborhood kids.
I'm now in my thirties, and telling this story for the first time. I never saw the boy again. However, every time I see some train tracks, I look for him, but I imagine he's far away by now. Still, I never forget to whisper a "thank you" in the direction that he was walking.
|Michael Moore 888554|
Washington State Reformatory Unit
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272
Michael Moore is an incarcerated author who has worked in the Seattle area as a personal trainer for years. His spare time is spent searching the darkest corners of his mind for whatever oddities, fascinations or horrors might have found their way in, begging expression in his unique literary voice. Keep your eye out for his first book, Ninja Girl, set to be released this year.