160/366 – Along the Tracks

Day 18 of 100 Word Prompts: Railroad

“So, what are we doing today?” Gary asked as he stepped on the ties between the tracks.

“I don’t know,” Eliza replied, slipping off the rail. Her ankle twisted, sending a sharp pain up her left leg. “Damn it.”

“Are you okay?” Gary asked, rushing to her side.

“I’m fine, I just twisted my ankle,” she said, limping along. “It’ll feel better soon.”

Gary watched her closely to make sure that she wasn’t just putting on a good face.

“Do you think that Kyle is home yet?” Eliza asked, joining Gary between the rails.

“I don’t know. His mom said that he wasn’t supposed to be home for another week,” Gary replied, bending and scooping up a handful of gravel before they reached the bridge.

“That sucks,” Eliza replied, doing the same.

“Yeah, but his grandma brings him out every year,” Gary said.

“I wonder what he does out there,” Eliza said.

“What do you mean? It’s his grandma’s house. It’s not like he’s going to some super interesting place,” Gray replied.

Eliza nodded as they stepped out on the bridge. The small river winding forty feet below them snaked from the west to the east, where it vanished at a bend and hid behind the maples and ash trees along either bank.

“Can we take a break for a second,” Eliza asked, sitting on the edge of the bridge.

“You okay?” Gary asked again.

“Yeah, my ankle is just a bit sore. I think a break is what it needs,” Eliza replied as Gary sat next to her. “But yeah, I know Kyle goes to his grandma’s house, but he never talks about it after he gets back.”

“So?” Gary said, tossing a pebble off the bridge.

“So, you don’t see how he’s different every year when he gets back? It’s like he doesn’t even know who we are,” Eliza said.

“It’s a big deal,” Gary replied. “You know how seriously he takes it. He talks about it for like three weeks leading up to leaving.”

“You don’t think it’s weird at all that he spends extra time with us every year before he goes, and when he gets back, he’s all distant?” Eliza asked.

“I don’t know,” Gary replied with a shrug.

“I think it might be like some kind of cult thing. I don’t know that he’s actually going to see his grandma,” Eliza said. “I bet they do all kinds of brainwashing and weird rituals and whatnot.”

“That seems a little far fetched,” Gary said.

“Alright, you come up with something, then,” Eliza said, holding her hand out to him.

Gary gave her half the rocks in his hand as he tried to think of something outrageous.

“What if their aliens?” Eliza suggested.

“Clones?” Gary said.

“Ghosts,” Eliza said, nodding.

“That’s it,” Gary agreed with a laugh, “it’s definitively ghosts.”

Eliza and Gary sat in silence for a few minutes, taking turns tossing rocks into the water. Occasionally Gary would try to hit a tree on the far side but gave up pretty quickly.

“I’m good now,” Eliza said, getting up.

“Yeah?” Gary asked, following her lead.

“Yeah, thanks for stopping,” she said as she began walking down the tracks again.

“Do you ever wonder why these tracks are practically never used?” Gary asked as he walked beside her.

“Not really,” Eliza said, “I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’ve never seen a train on these tracks.”

“But they maintain them, so they have to be active,” Gary said.

“I’ve never seen anyone maintaining them,” Eliza replied.

“Look, there’s no weeds. When it snows in the winter, they’re plowed out. They’ve got to use them,” Gary said.

“Maybe we’re just far enough away from anywhere interesting that things don’t even pass through to more interesting places,” Eliza said.

“Where do you suppose they lead?” Gary asked.

“I’d hate to think that there’s anywhere more entertaining than Fresca, Maine,” Eliza teased. “I have no idea, honestly. I think the nearest interesting thing is like two-hundred miles away. The big cities are even further away than that.”

“I know, but railroad tracks lead somewhere. Do you think Portland, or maybe Canada somewhere?” Gary asked.

“Eventually,” Eliza shrugged. “Maybe we live in a tiny pocket universe, and they just end if you follow them far enough. No stations, no trains, and no maintenance crew. The forest just grows thicker and thicker until it swallows the rails.”

“Yeah,” Gary said, looking down the tracks. “And when there is a train, it starts like a ghost train, all creepy and whatnot. You can only hear it. Then you feel a little rumble-”

“And then it comes suddenly, and you’re totally fine, even if you’re on the tracks-”

“Like in that ghostbusters movie,” Gary said.

“Yeah, it only becomes dangerous a few hundred feet down the tracks where it becomes substantial,” Eliza said.

“Who would ride a train like that?” Gary asked.

“I don’t know, probably people that are stuck in a loop or something. Like they never get on or off the train, they just are with the train until it vanishes on the other end,” Eliza said.

“The other end should be more interesting than just being swallowed by the forest. Like a brick wall or something,” Gary said.

“Maybe that’s how it became a ghost train. A hundred years ago, the train did come through but derailed and took out a building killing everyone on board. The train owners covered it up and abandoned the tracks, leaving the passengers upset enough that they couldn’t continue,” Eliza said.

“You know, you’re a little morbid sometimes,” Gary said.

“It’s one of the things you love about me,” Eliza replied, lifting her chin proudly. “I help to keep this tiny little place of ours interesting.”

“You’re not wrong,” Gary said, nodding. “You certainly do keep things interesting.”

“Well, someday, I’ll steal you and Kyle away from here, and we’ll go someplace bigger, like New York or LA or something. We’ll get to see culture and traffic and all the millions of people,” Eliza said.

“I don’t know that I want to go to a city that big,” Gary said. “It kind of scares me. I can’t imagine that many people in one place.”

“You’ll be fine because you’ll have Kyle and me with you,” Eliza said.

“Yeah, but what if something happens?” Gary asked.

“Even worse, what if nothing happens,” Eliza teased.



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