The ghost train is still there, if you go out to the old branch line after dark. You could see strange lights, or hear the unused rails singing a little. You ain't gonna see it like I did, though.
I was eleven, and mostly unsupervised, with Mama working two shifts and Pa a long haul trucker. I hung around with the other kids at the trailer park, and we pretty much did what we wanted. In June, when the lightning bugs come out and night-time starts to feel like a suggestion instead of a limit, what we wanted was to go out and see if we could catch a glimpse of the ghost train. They said that a long time ago, a caboose had gotten separated from a train somehow. When the next train came up behind it, the brakeman tried to signal it with his lantern—but it didn't work, and the other train plowed into the caboose, derailing itself, killing a dozen people, including the poor brakeman, whose head was cut clean off and never found. And if you're lucky, or unlucky, you'll be able to see the swinging light of the ghost brakeman searching for his head . . .
If the story was true (it wasn't), it would have meant that somewhere around the old branch line, there was a real human skull. And if you think a bunch of kids could resist looking for something like that, well, you don't know kids real well.
So we spent some time poking around, and damn if there wasn't something spooky going on. The rails hadn't been used in years, some parts covered in kudzu, some parts just rusted. But if you went there around nine o'clock at night, you could hear a noise from them, a vibration, like there was a train coming. And then you'd notice that the clearing was a little more lit up than you could account for, as if there was light coming from nowhere. You would notice it especially when the light went out, after about nine fifteen, and it was suddenly dark, like it had remembered it was supposed to be night out. And then there was the time when Charlie saw red flashing lights.
We didn't think, at the time, that they might have been tail-lights from the Interstate. I mean, we were more or less looking to get spooked. But they didn't seem to come from much of anywhere. Maybe they were in the clearing, maybe they weren't. How could you tell, if you couldn't see where a light was coming from?
Then we started to notice that any metal we carried into the clearing started to vibrate around nine o'clock at night. You could hold up your keys and listen to them sing. Laurie brought a fork once, and it did the same thing.
And then—late July, early August, when the days are all heat and cicada sounds, and the nights are barely any cooler—we started to see where the lights were coming from. They outlined a square shape, one white light on each corner, a flashing red light in the middle. They were getting clearer and clearer.
Laurie stopped coming. She said the train was coming closer.
Charlie stopped coming too. He said it was because it was lame and he had better things to do. We both knew better. We both pretended not to.
I don't know why I kept going back. I guess I was more fascinated than I was scared. But part of me felt that it was just something I was supposed to do.
Middle August, there started to be a strange wind during the twenty minutes of light. It blew outward from the clearing, and it was getting stronger every night. I started to see the outline of the caboose. Only it wasn't a real caboose, not red and blocky like you see in books. It was silver and rounded at the corners.
I still kept going back. Don't know why. I kept wondering if I was going to see the headless brakeman.
Then there was the moment in September where the wind picked up to a gale, and, with a crack like a billion sheets ripping in an instant, there was a train car in the clearing.
At least, I thought it was a train car. I wasn't sure what else it could be. It was sleek and metal, rounded off at the corners, and it had white lights at every corner and a red flashing light on top.
It didn't have a brakeman, headless or not. But it had a door.
The door opened.
I turned to bolt, and a woman's voice said, "Wait!"
If it had been a man's voice, I think I would have run anyway. But she didn't sound like a brakeman, ghost or not, so I turned around.
She was beautiful. She sort of reminded me a little of Halle Berry, with dark tan skin and very dark eyes, except she had these silver cords coming out of her head instead of hair, and they moved a little on their own, like snakes looking me over. She was wearing something silvery too, a sort of a coverall. "Owen?" she said.
"Yeah," I said, and sounded weird to myself. "Who are you?"
"My name is Chorus. Can I—would you mind if I took a picture with you?"
I wasn't sure what to do, so I nodded, and then shook my head, and then said, "Sure, I mean, I don't mind."
So she stood next to me, and a little spark flew around us like a tornado, and then she thanked me. "I want you to know," she told me, "it's an honor." She got back in the train car and it disappeared again. Just around nine fifteen at night.
I went back to the branch line a few times after that, and there was wind and lights and singing sounds in the tracks, but I got the impression that they were getting steadily less and less. Whatever had happened, had happened. The rest was just echoes.
It made me start to think, though. I mean, the future—the future is the only place you could get silver cords for hair like that. Maybe it plugs into computers or something. And in the future, everybody probably gets to look like a movie star, too. So, if a time machine was coming in to land—would it leave some sort of ripples around itself? Only time ripples, not space ripples?
Anyway, that was what happened, and I thought it was the end of it. Until we moved, and there were strange lights in the woods nearby.
It's another one coming in. I know the signs.
Is it someone else who wants to take a picture with me? Or is it someone who doesn't think it's an honor to meet me—someone who wants to kill me, like in the Terminator movies?
Why would a time traveler take a selfie with me? I'm just a trailer trash kid, nothing special. Only, in the future—who am I going to be then? What am I going to do?
I have to decide soon what I'm going to do about it. Whether I'm going to run away or try to get answers out of the next time traveler. Because the lights in the woods are getting brighter. The wind has started to blow, for twenty minutes a night. They're coming. Whoever it is, they're coming.
IsabelPelech is full of ideas and it shows. She's primarily a writer of science fiction and fantasy but she's not afraid to try other genres. Visit her profile for more wonderful stories.
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