In my old age I’ve seen a lot of things. Some things I’m a little more proud of than others. As a boy there wasn’t a damn thing that could sate my appetite for the world around me. Everything in reach I had to get my hands on, take it apart and study it. My natural curiosity is what got me into the many scraps and situations of my youth.
I remember when I wasn’t any older than six, it was the fall of nineteen hundred and twenty-eight, me and several of the local boys were out playing a game of hide-and-seek. Denny Louis was the seeker, and a damned good one at that, so I took it upon myself to find a damned good hiding place. I remembered the hayloft out in our barn, and figured I could hide myself among the many bales of hay up there, maybe even push some of those bales around like I had times before when I wanted to build a fort, and get myself a perfect hiding space. Denny started counting out loud from a hundred and I took off a running to the barn, the breeze tickling my cheeks and smelling like the harvest.
I ran through those big red doors and my eyes fell on Denny Louis’ mama laying on the ground, straw in her hair and her dress hiked up, with my Daddy laying on top of her, looking like he was trying to pick himself up, but he seemed to be having trouble. I had no idea what I was seeing, but I would later learn all about what my Daddy was doing when I was fourteen when me and Sandra Hannigan made our way up into the same hayloft that I had hid so many times, and made so many forts in, to get out of the rain. She shook the water from that beautiful blazing, red hair of hers and noticed my eyes stuck on her nipples poking out like little buttons in the cold, wet air. She hiked up that flowery yellow dress she liked to wear and spread her creamy white, freckled legs, revealing her sweet fire peach. There in the smell of spring rain and old horse shit I made love for the first time. Beautiful girl, she was.
“Daddy?” my little voice rung out, echoing off the dusty, wooden walls. My old man turned and stared at me, like he’d been caught dipping his hand into the honey pot, and for lack of better words, that’s exactly what he was doing. He hoisted himself off of Mrs. Louis and made his way over to me.
“Whatta ya doin’ in here, son?” He spoke slowly and calmly
“We was playing hide and seek, Daddy. I was gonna hide up in the loft.”
“Yeah? You ain’t gonna be tellin’ nobody about what ya saw, right boy?” I could hear the anger rising up in his voice, but I kept on pushing it, like the curious little boy I was.
“Well, what exactly was you doin’ Daddy?” He just stared at me. His eyes slowly growing darker in the brightness of that fall day. Mrs. Louis, still a ways behind him, was up on her feet straightening her dress and picking bits of straw from her long, golden hair. I was too busy looking at Mrs. Louis to notice that my Daddy meandered his way over to the wall where he kept the tools and picked out a hefty, dirt crusted shovel.
“You ain’t gonna be tellin’ nobody… Right, boy?” he repeated in that slow and calm way he always spoke when he was angry, but me being the stupid child I was, I just kept right on prying.
“Daddy… what was—” I didn’t have a chance in the world to ask before the side of my right cheek exploded with pain as I fell to the ground in pathetic bundle. My vision went hot white. All noise became muffled as if the world suddenly got sucked into a vacuum. What I could hear seemed distant. Ghostly, even. I could hear Mrs. Louis screaming her pretty head off, and strangely, the long, low whistle of a train in the distance. Whether it was my imagination or not, I do not know, but I’ve learned in life that there are no coincidences. I heard that whistle as clear as I could hear Mrs. Louis screaming, Sandra Hannigan’s soft, whispering moans as thunder rumbled across the gray spring sky, and my father’s harsh, labored breathing has stood over me brandishing his shovel as if it was Excalibur. I heard that train. Lord help me I heard it.
“You ain't gonna be telling’ nobody… Ya hear?”
“D-D-Daddy… I—” Another explosion erupted as my father brought the shovel down onto my exposed chest. I heard several pops and cracks echoing throughout my body. I held up my small arms in defense, but they were crumpled like paper the force of his blow. I dared to raise my hands up for protection again, only to see my fingers crooked and bloody. Mrs. Louis was no longer screaming, but babbling on like she’d seen a ghost. My father turned to her and waved his weapon.
“Shut up, bitch! Shut the fuck up!” he yelled, his voice like that of a angry God. While he was distracted I tried to crawl away. My crushed fingers clawing at the straw and earth, pulling myself to freedom. It was all for not, though, as my father grabbed me by the leg and threw me towards the ladder to the loft.
“He’s just a boy, Clay… Just a boy,” Mrs. Louis kept muttering, “He didn’t do nothing wrong.”
“I said shut up!” he spoke again with that God-like force. He swung the shovel down on me again. I heard a very loud crack. Almost like lightning skimming across the sky. Very faintly I heard the train’s whistle again. That loud, shrill pitch in the distance. He flipped me over onto my back and spoke again.
“Are you gonna be tellin’ anyone about this, boy?” His voice had calmed down, but there was a deep anger there. Calm and intense. I felt one my teeth fall to the back of my throat. A small fountain of vomit and blood gushed from my mouth as I tried to cough it up. I feebly turned my head and spit it out.
“N-n-no… Daddy… I aint tellin’ nobody.”
“Good” my father tossed his shovel aside, scooped me up in his arms, and carried me like I was just a baby. His voice had flipped to that of genuine concern, like any good father’s voice. “You okay, boy? You took a mighty big fall off of the ladder… Right, Janice?” He turned to Mrs. Louis, still holding me in his arms. Her face burning from tears, she only nodded rapidly.
“Yes, yes… are you okay, Daniel? Are you okay, sweetie?” She rushed over and ran her shaking hands across my tiny, battered face. My father pushed me into her arms.
“Take him up to the house and into bed, tell Martha what happened… Okay? I’ll go to the town to get a doctor. Quickly now!" Mrs. Louis pulled me even closer and ran to the house to put me get my mother to put me down and be comfortable till the doctor came. Before I blacked out I remember Mrs. Louis running across the field to my house. The smell of the harvest filling my nostrils. Mrs. Louis quietly muttering how sorry she was, and in the distance my eyes caught the slowly moving shape of a black train. Smoke pluming from the engine, the slow chug-chug-chug of the wheels, and the horrible shriek of the whistle. Calling me to darkness.
The doctor came and went, but I had no idea. I was unconscious the entire time. A broken hip, three broken ribs, one dislocated, a cracked skull, two missing teeth, four broken fingers, one broken wrist, and miles of bruises. Other bits of damage appeared over time. I lost hearing and most of the sight out of the right side of my face. On a good day, and I can say I had plenty of them, I had a slight limp, but on a bad day I was practically a cripple. My left hand froze up sometimes, couldn’t move my fingers worth a damn, but I got along fine with my condition. My father was never found out, and the fact that Mrs. Louis never came back around the house only meant she would never speak about it. We all just sort of went on with life.
I lived as best I could for ten years before I heard the whistle again. Now, it wasn’t uncommon to see or even hear a train near the farm, Hell, there was a track not more than a mile from my front door, but this train was different. The whistle didn’t sound right. It was like a dying rabbit, nails against a chalkboard, and steam spewing out of a kettle all rolled into one. It’s like that sound pierces through you and sends shivers down to your very bones. Not a pleasant feeling, in other words.
I was sixteen and living like my fathers before me. Working my hands to leather in the earth. I had spent time at what my wife would later refer to as a “hick school”, but I soon left after my teacher figured that I was un-teachable. I wasn’t un-teachable… I just would just have rather spent my time reading, or taking something apart, or going somewhere I’ve never been. The world was my playground, and I wanted to play. The thought of leaving my mother alone with my father scared me, though, I owed it to her to stay around and try to protect her. What my father did to me was only the tip of the iceberg compared to all the things he did to my mother. I remember laying up at night hearing them fighting. My father's booming voice broken up only by the reality cracking sound of broken glass, or the cool clean sound of flesh on flesh contact. My mother would be in the kitchen the next day with a few new bruises, maybe a cut or two, but she never complained. It was plain for everyone to see, but they never paid it any mind, that’s just how things were.
I remember it was a pleasant enough summer night. A little humid, but that’s just nit-picking. I spent of the night out on the porch watching the stars and listening to the creatures of the night as they went about their business. Occasionally, I found myself glancing out to the barn. It stood there like a mausoleum in the pale moonlight. An effigy to many things… Pain, lost love, hard work, and my family who died on this land before me. My mind wandered to memories of Sandra Hannigan, God rest her soul. Memories of the shovel bearing down on my like a locomotive bears down those endless steel tracks. My mind liked to wander whether or not I wanted to take the ride. Always has, always will.
I remember my father driving up in his truck. The bastard was swerving horribly, obviously he had indulged to his hearts content on Jimmy McGruder‘s personal moonshine. What burns blues makes your blues go away, boy, he would always say. I knew he’d be in a fighting mood and instinctively made me go to my room. Before I could even reach the stairs I heard his voice, dripping with that damned white lightning,
“Martha! Martha, you come here and welcome me home like a good wife should,” he shouted in a slurred fashion, the ceramic jug in his hand spilled the foul liquid onto the floor... My mother promptly came up the cellar without a word and greeted him to his liking. A kiss on the lips and the removal of his coat. As she turned to put his coat on the hook, he reached out and began to grope her. My mother, I will admit, was an attractive woman, but years of beatings had slowly taken the brightness from her eyes, the skip in her step, and the song on her lips. We made quick eye contact, but just a brief moment said it all.
Go to bed, sweetie… Maybe it wont be so bad tonight. Just go to bed.
But like most nights it was the same. Her giving into this predator and his sexual advances just to keep him happy. She suffered through it in silence. God, the things she did to provide for me, I pray everyday that she is smiling down on me while he’s rotting in Hell. My mind quickly wandered back to Sandra Hannigan. Did she suffer in silence? Did she let him take her every night? Or did she kick and scream and bite until she was too tired to go on? I don’t know. I can’t say. God rest her soul, I pray she fought back.
I climbed the stairs to my room, trying to block out the labored breathing of my drunken father and the cold, complacent whimpers of my mother. Laying in my bed I tried to nod off and sleep, just so it can all happen again tomorrow. Soon sleep found me and I dreamed. A dream that haunted me for years, always picking up new details along the way. My father standing above me with his shovel. Staring at me with all the fury of God. His eyes black as black can be. The shovel coming down. I close my eyes in fear, only to open them and see Sandra Hannigan before me. Her beautiful, smooth skin now wormy and rotted. Her hair still crimson as fresh blood, and a deep black line ran along her neck. Too horrid to look at, but I can’t look away. She hikes up her tattered yellow dress and reveals the further decay of what was once a wonderful sight. She speaks to me. Her voice as crisp and clear as it was that day.
“You love me… Don’t you, Daniel?”
All the while the slow methodic chug, chug, chug of a train. Sandra opens her mouth, her cheeks tearing wide open into a disgusting, skeletal smile, to speak once more, only her voice isn’t there, only a sound that pierces right through you. Chilling you to the bone. Scratching at your soul. A whistle.
I woke up. Sweating bullets and soaking my shirt and underwear, but it wasn’t the dream that woke me, as horrible as it was. No, it was the rumbling in my stomach for release. I didn’t need to be told twice before I swiftly jumped out of the bed, slipped on a pair of trousers, and descended the stairs quite quickly, nearly tripping on the last step in the dark. I could see my father asleep in his arm chair in the family room. His jug tipped over, empty, and bone dry. The moonlight shone through the window and I could see a line of drool falling from the corner of his open mouth. His head tilted back in the way he always slept when he was in his chair. I quickly shoved on my shoes, rushed through the front door, and off to the tiny little shed far to the house. The grass swishing underneath my feet and the wind cooled the sweat on my body. I reached the outhouse, flung the door open and squat down on the splintery seat without a second thought.
There were always stories of porcupines getting there way into outhouses and gnawing on seats for the salt from sweat and such, but I can say I never did see a porcupine. A raccoon did get in once, poor thing fell into the hole and drowned in the shit and piss of a small farming family. Kind of sad, really. That was years ago and that hole had been long buried. I let myself relax and let the body do what it is trained to do in that type of situation. I nearly nodded off in the smelly, little shack, but something jolted me off my seat. A whistle. Low and hot at first, but it grew into a cacophony, like hundreds of screaming voices. I quickly cleaned myself up and hurried outside. There it was. In the moonlight, not too less than a mile from where I stood. Just sitting there on the tracks. Which wouldn’t have been too uncommon, except there was no switching station out there, just open land and those endless steel tracks.
Like I said, I was a curious boy, and obviously something that had been haunting me for ten years was well worth a look. I broke into a run, the excitement and fear gripping and my heart. I wanted to turn back to the house, tell myself I’m just dreaming, but my feet kept moving. Thank God for the moon that night. You could see for miles. As I got nearer to the damned thing the darker it got. The smoke from the engine creeping into the sky and blotting out the light. The bright diamonds in their satin cloth began to disappear, too. I stopped, only briefly, panting and sweating. I looked up only to find myself right there next to it.
It was unlike any train I’d ever seen. It was black all over, so black it hurt my eyes to look at it directly for too long. It was also very noticeably darker right next to the massive machine, like it was devouring the light that got near it. Most trains that came through were freight trains. Carrying coal and such to parts unknown, but this was a passenger train. The interior of the cabs brightly lit, revealing it’s deep red color scheme. And the people, oh God, the people in the windows. Each one of them just sat there, emotionless. Unmoving like statues of some lost civilization. I tried working my way to the front of the thing. Each car the same. Filled sparsely with unknown, unmoving faces, One or two passengers did turn to look out their windows at me, only to return to their original position. Their eyes gray and sad. I kept on walking my way to the engine, till it caught my eye. In one of the windows, it was my father. I wasn’t sure at first, but it had to be… It was my Daddy.
“Daddy!” I yelled out, but he didn’t turn to look. “Daddy! Hey, Daddy!” I saw that the entrance to the car was wide open. The light spilling out onto the land. I had to get in that car. Why was he on there? I thought to myself, What the hell is he doing? I hoisted myself up onto the metal steps into the car, only to be knocked on my back by a black mass that smelled of oil and smoke. I looked up to see a man standing there. Soot stained overalls, greasy white hair jutting out from under his conductors cap. He stared at me intently, before a smile cracked his lips.
“You ain’t getting’ on, boy…” His voice was flighty and uneven. High pitched, yet low and grumbly at the same time. “Ain't got no ticket! Hahaha!” His laugh unnerving, like the sound of crunching bugs under your boot. “Why you wantin’ to get on anyways for, boy?” His smile still beamed at me. A strange, skeletal smile. Wide and menacing. I found myself reverting back to that scared little boy in the barn ten years ago.
“M-m-my daddy’s on there… I gotta talk to ‘im.” He just bellowed that laugh of his.
“Boy, Lotsa peoples daddy's be on this train. No ticket. No ride. Hehehe.” He clapped his gloved hands together. Black dust puffing out.
“No ticket, boy! No ride!” His voice becoming angry. That’s when I truly saw him. His skin pale, and free of any sort of blemish. And his eyes… They were on fire. Glowing orange like the coals that moved his train. Those fiery coal eyes burned right through me. “Get outta here, boy! Don’t come back till ya got yourself a ticket! Hahaha.” His teeth. They were jagged and pointed like dog’s teeth. I ain’t afraid to say I was scared. In fact, I pissed myself right then and there. He just laughed that crunchy laugh of his.
“Diamond, pearl, opal, jade! Hahaha!” He turned and slammed shut the doors behind him. Soon enough the pistons started their slow chug, chug, chug. Smoke billowing out of the engine. It smelled like rotten eggs and bloated summer roadkill. I still laid there in my own filth, watching the black train slowly pull away. The conductor stuck his head out of the engine booth and yelled back to me over the locomotive.
“Maybe next time! Eh, Danny Boy. HAHAHAHA!” His eyes burning bright as even. He laid on the whistle. Close up, I could truly hear the sound. It was screaming. Melting steel and burning souls screaming into the night. I only watched as the train pulled away. The screaming, black behemoth riding the endless steels tracks.
I walked home. Shaken. Scared. Questioning whether or not I am truly dreaming, or if this is all a nightmare. The moon was back out and shining in all it’s glory. The stars sparkled in the dark folds of the night sky. Finally reaching home, I numbly pushed the front door open. It groaned in protest, but I paid it no mind. I trudged into the family room, figuring my father would be gone, but there he was, still sitting there, I quickly crossed over to him, my hands shaking as I touched his face. It was cold. I saw that it wasn’t drool that dribbled out from his lips. It was vomit. My father was dead to the world, drowned in his own sick. I saw the Devil that night. He took my father with him on a slow, screaming ride to Hell. The funeral was like any other. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. A man was buried on holy ground, and nobody but me and my mother ever knew that it was no man…but a monster. I remember how she looked when they lowered him into the cold, hard earth. She had this little smile on her face, no tears, no anguish… Just a little smile. She was free.
A few years later she sold the farm.
“I want to go to the city… Leave all this behind,” she would say. I didn’t blame her. I was glad to leave, but I admit I did miss the place once we were gone, and I know she did too. It was a quiet life. A fine life, but she couldn’t stand to be in a house where memories ran rampant and hid in every corner and shadow. Whispering to her. Reminding her of my father.
It was nineteen hundred and forty two. The world was at war and I couldn’t do nothing, but work building bits and pieces for guns and tanks. Being partially crippled I was 4-F. I could only hear about how all my friends I had growing up went over to fight for liberty and came back in boxes. I suppose I was lucky on that part. My mother took up a job in the same munitions plant as me. Propaganda at its best I suppose. It put a smile on her face, and that’s all I needed to know it was a good thing. We’d been living with her mother in Boston, and life was fine indeed. I liked my grandmother well enough, but she always looked at me like I was a leper. She saw too much of my father in me, I suppose. She hated him for what he did to my mother. The beatings were a secret, but she hated my father for taking my mother away. A soldier returns from war and knocks up a pretty, young woman with a whole the world in front of her. Steals her back to his home where the fruit of several steamy nights ends up dying in it’s sleep. My sister didn’t get much of a chance at the world, but I sure did. She resented me for everything that I represented. A horny farmer, turned soldier. It wasn’t until I started bring Claire around that she started to warm up to me a little more. Maybe Granny was finally seeing I wasn’t my father, or maybe she was just going senile. I don’t know.
I can’t say that I didn’t love Claire. She was a wonderful woman, but I do know that I saw a hell of a lot of Sandra in her. That blazing, crimson hair of hers and those deep green eyes. Maybe it was me mourning for a love long lost, or guilt for never stealing Sandra away from her life. Six feet of rope…Funny how something so seemingly average could remove someone from your life. I loved Sandra, I did, and so did her daddy. A little too much. She was probably praying that I’d come to her window at night and steal her away like Romeo and Juliet. She had something inside of her. Something horrible. Something God forgot about. She wanted it to be something beautiful and it could never be as such. Poor Sandra. God rest her soul. I loved her, but I loved Claire, too. Maybe not the on the truly bottomless romantic way, but I loved her all the same.
Claire and I were married at a lovely ceremony in nineteen hundred and forty five. The war was over. Our boys were coming home, and the world began to get even more scared of itself. "The Reds were everywhere!" they started saying. I don’t know. Men were men, but it’s their toys that always end up hurting them. I found work as a mechanic, and Claire was teaching. Money was tight, but we didn’t complain. We had an apartment to live in and each other. We didn’t need to worry about much else. Until one day I got home from the shop and she was waiting for me.
“Hey, sweetheart,” I cooed in her ear as I kissed the back of her neck like I always did when I got home.
“I don’t know what you mean?” She took my hand and placed it on her belly. It all hit me ton of bricks. “You mean…”
“Yes!” She was trying to hold back her tears and smile, but they broke through anyway.
“I gonna be…”
My son was born December twentieth, nineteen hundred and forty nine. The most beautiful baby boy if I ever saw. William Hudson Bronson. He took after me, just as I had taken after my father. I was determined to make him have all the things I never could, but money was tight before, and it wasn’t getting any better. My grandmother had died two years prior to the birth and my mother was living all alone, but she delighted in seeing her little “Billy B” , as she called him, over whenever dropped by. She loved him with all her might. I did me well to see her so happy.
Billy had just turned one when I got the news that our old home was back on the market. My mother handed me a check that had all the money she had been saving for the last ten years. She told me it would be good to go home. Return to my roots, and raise Billy like I had been raised. I didn’t think that it was such a good idea. I just knew those memories would be waiting there for me. Hiding in the shadows and waiting for me to let my guard down so they could strangle me.
“Any ghosts in that house have long since left…” my mother said to me. “It was a good life. I know that life was hard. Very hard at times… but it’s in your blood, Daniel. You don’t like being a mechanic, do you? Haven’t you been aching to get back to the land? Watch the fruits of your work pay off?”
I did. I did miss the farm life, but I didn’t know how much I missed my farm life. We left Billy with my mother, while Claire and I made our way back to my childhood home. The town had grown quite a bit. Everything a modern family would need. When we finally did reach the old farm, my eyes fell on the barn, and a deep chill ran through me.
“You okay?” Claire asked me in that sweet, concerned voice of hers.
“Goose walked over my grave, I s’pose.”
The man who owned it most recently was a rich yuppie who thought about trying his hand at farm life. Couldn’t live without the amenities of the modern man. Fully wired, plumbing, plenty of farming equipment, and a completely new paint-job and décor. It wasn’t my home anymore. Hadn’t been for a long time.
After our tour Claire got into the car and instantly spilled out her opinion.
“We need to buy this house.”
“You really think so?”
“I do… I can work at the school in town. You can make a living here, growing corn, raising cows, and doing whatever it is farmers do.”
“You really want to live here?” I questioned. I did want to come back, but there was too much in my head screaming at me not to come back.
“Yes.” She stared at me intently. She knew that I would crack, like always. She had that special kind of power over me.
“Then it’s settled… it’s ours…”
We settled in and we got our new life off to a good start. The land was good, the crops grew like weeds, and Billy was taking a liking to the open air. It wasn’t much longer after our first harvest that Claire was late once more. We had our baby girl, Esther May Bronson, in the summer of nineteen hundred and fifty three. She took after her mother in spades. A slice of the American dream.
I found myself walking out to the railroad tracks every now and then. I don’t know what I expected to see. Maybe it was sort of my way of trying to make sense of something so unbelievable. I never told anyone. Never once. The Devil and his Hellbound train were my secrets to keep. I wasn’t crazy. I prayed to God I wasn’t crazy. Sometimes late at night I hear a train whistle pierce out in the night. The slow chug, chug, chug pushing the metal beasts along those endless steel tracks. Sometimes, I swear, just under those whistles I could hear screams.
We led a fine life, indeed. Billy was growing into a man before my very eyes, and Esther was blossoming into a beautiful young woman more and more every day. It was nineteen hundred and sixty eight. Another war was going on halfway around the world, but it didn’t bother me none till Billy came to me and said we was going to join the Army. He wanted to be fighting for his country. Claire had a fit, as expected, but he had his mind set and he was damned if anybody was going to change his mind. We got his letters every week, and every week we’d write back.
I was sleeping. It came again. The first time in years. My father standing over me holding his shovel. His eyes burning orange like coal. The shovel coming down on me before the scene melts away and I’m with Sandra. My lovely rotting Sandra in the hayloft. Exposing herself to me in a morbid, yet sexually exciting manner.
“You love me… Don’t you, Daniel?
“You know I do…” Her rotting lips formed a smile. Her gaping maw opened to reveal an unimaginable darkness. From the darkness came a low whistle, slowly building into deafening screams.
I woke up. Sweating bullets and soaking my night shirt and pants. I didn’t have to use the bathroom. It was the whistle. Cutting out into the night, calling me like a sailor to the rocks. I silently slipped from the bed and down the stairs. Each step creaking slightly under my weight. I slipped on my shoes, flung the front door open and started running. The wind chilled me slightly in the autumn night air. My mind raced with the memories reaching out, not from the corners and shadows of my home, but from my mind. Reaching out and trying to hold me down and suffocate me.
It was the same as it was all those years ago. The smoke plumed from the engine, falling to the ground and lingering like a thick black fog. The deep, black metal glared back at me as I walked along the side of the great beast. The Devil stood outside of a car, watching me as I approached. His eyes burning brightly with excitement.
“Diamond, Pearl, Opal, and Jade! Hehehehe! Danny Boy has come back! Still no ticket I see!” His voice shuddered through me, but I pressed on.
“Why are you here?”
“Oh my, my, my, my… Danny Boy! We all have a job to do! Hahaha! This is just my job!”
“But why are you here!” In that moment I heard my father sneaking into my voice. A calm and quiet anger.
“Dad?” A voice from inside the car rang out like a bell. Out of the open doorway stepped my son, Billy, clad in his official army gear and looking quite confused. “Dad…”
“Billy…” The word got caught in my throat. I ran over and held him close to me, never wanting to let him go. “Billy… Why are you on this train?”
“Don’t know… I remember my squad was walking through the jungle, and then there was this white flash… And I woke up on the train… What are you doing here?”
“I don’t quite know myself…” I smiled lightly. I squeezed him tighter. “It’s good to see you, boy…”
“How touching!” The Devil spoke up. “You have five minutes, Billy Boy.” The Devil stepped into the car and made his way to the engine. Once I knew he was gone, I grabbed Billy’s hand and tried to pull him away.
“C’mon, son…We gotta get you home.” He pulled away from me.
“Dad… If this is what everyone else on there is saying… Then I can't leave. I can't, daddy.”
“We can go home right now, tell your mother you’re home and—”
“No. I belong here. And who knows… Maybe this train don’t just go to Hell… Maybe it makes a stop off somewhere else. I don’t know.”
“Daddy, I heard from friends of mine who went home. They got problems, Daddy. I’d rather be dead than mangled and fucked up in the head… Sorry for cursing.”
“It’s okay, son…” We stood silently for a long moment. Staring at each other. Trying to think of the words to say.
“ALL ABOARD! HAHAHAHAHA!”
The black metal behemoth pulled away from me once more. Screaming down those endless steel tracks. I waved goodbye to my son long after the train was out of sight. Even after it’s screaming whine, disappeared from the night air. I watched. I prayed. Just like every week we got another letter. Only this time it wasn’t from Billy. Claire was wrecked. She wouldn’t leave the house for days. Laying around and crying. Wailing that she should have kept him here. Kept him safe.
She left me not more than a year after that. Said she couldn’t stand looking at me and seeing Billy. I also know she hated me. I couldn’t join her in her sorrow. In her pain. I got to say my goodbye. I got my closure. I don’t blame her for hating me, but to take my daughter away from me was just cruel punishment. I haven’t seen either in years. Many years.
I did the best I could. I tried to live life as best I could with what I had. I was a good father. I was a good son. I was a good husband. None of that means a hill of beans in the long run, though. We all end up in the cold, hard earth. Feeding the maggots and creepy crawlies that haunt our nightmares. I can hear it now. The screaming. The screaming in the darkness. Calling out to me… I’ve seen a lot of things in my life. Some things I’m more proud of than others. As a boy nothing could sate my appetite for the world around me. I suppose that there is just one last thing to figure out… The train is out there, and I finally got my ticket. Only thing left to do… Is to take a ride.