THE RAILWAY TRACKS

Why the hell had they had to end up buying a house near the railway tracks? Why? Why? And once again: why?

Eight-year-old Carey turned restlessly in his bed. He felt ill and tired and thoroughly homesick. He missed the apartment where they had lived before they had ended up moving out, before they had ended up in this big new place. He hated it. And his new school was unpleasant, to say the least. From the very first moment he had set his foot in the classroom he had been branded the outsider by all the eyes which had fastened themselves upon him. Burning gazes.

They did not do anything to him for the first three weeks. After that, they began to push him. He would feel an elbow ram into his side, or a finger poke his back. And after that came the bad words. They called him (among other names) "zombie" because he was small and pale and thin and wore glasses. They jeered and sneered and leered at him, making use of him when they needed a scapegoat and excluding him when they didn't need one. Carey didn't say anything to his parents. They had their own problems and were busy enough with their own lives. They didn't care about him, in any case. He didn't have any friends, either. His teachers were strangely blind and deaf to what the others did to him. It really was very odd. Or perhaps it was not that odd after all.

Night brought him no consolation. The trains which thundered up and down the railway tracks kept him awake. Some of them would whistle proudly, and the sound would make him curl up in a fetal position, his arms wrapped around his knees.

He had no one and nothing to make him smile.

Until the day he saw the little girl. He was going to school, his eyes staring straight ahead when he saw her standing on the bridge which was suspended over the railway tracks. She was wearing a short grey dress and her stockinged feet were encased in black shoes with buckles. Her hair was dark, and her face was turned up towards him. She was looking at him. He stopped. She didn't move. She didn't speak. But she smiled at him. And then she was off, running away in her little black shoes and grey dress, her hair swinging from side to side.

He stared after her. He couldn't remember someone having smiled at him just like that. He saw her the next day, too. She was on the bridge again, peering over the railings at the train grinding its way to some destination or the other. Her dress and shoes and stockings were the same. He could see her face clearly, now. And their features seemed strangely familiar to him. But then she ran away again.

Then he didn't see her for a week.

Things did not improve at school, and at home his parents didn't notice or didn't want to notice how scrawny he was becoming and that his face seemed sadder and more transparent with each day that passed. The only ray of hope which warmed his numb heart was the little girl on the bridge,; she seemed to wait for him every single day on his way to school. But one day, she didn't come. He waited patiently. And still she didn't come. Three weeks flew past and she hadn't come. And still he waited. Suddenly, the school term was over, and he came home with the certificate bearing his grades. They were bad grades. His father looked at the certificate. He swore at Carey and threw the booklet at his head. His mother didn't say or do anything. Nothing at all.

"You are useless!" his father roared, "useless! And we never wanted you in the first place! Go up to your room and stay there!"

Carey obeyed.

He went up to his room. He stayed there. Downstairs, he heard the front door slam closed. Peering through the curtains of his window, he saw his parents get into the car and drive away. They had gone to do the shopping.

Carey knew very well that his parents had never wanted him. It was his sister they had loved. His older sister. She had died when a car had knocked her down. She had been only eight years old. His age. One and a half year after her death, he had been born. He had once asked his parents if they had pictures of her. They had ignored him.

Carey left his room. He knew what to do. At last he knew. He pulled on his shoes and went out in the rain without a raincoat. He didn't care. Let the rain fall, it was good that way. He strolled over the bridge, stopped, and leaned against the railings. And in the distance, he heard the train whistle. He watched it loom up, watched it rattle along underneath him, an iron caterpillar consisting of a chain of carriages.

He lingered around for a long time after it had vanished. He looked at the railway tracks. On either side of them grassy banks rose, terminating in the streets which were connected to the bridge.

Carey smiled suddenly, and it was a happy, bright, sunny smile. He ran over the bridge, jogged along the street for a bit and then forsook it for the grassy bank which led down to the railway tracks. The grass was wet; he sat down and he slid towards the tracks. He was green and brown with grass and mud, and he had bruised himself on a couple of stones and sticks, but he didn't care.

Carey lay down on the rails. They were cold. His hand caressed the iron gently, affectionately. He felt as if he could sleep. But the clouds up in the sky were so fluffy and pretty. He had to gaze at them. He didn't stir even when the rails began to vibrate ominously and the piercing whistle of the approaching train threatened to shatter his eardrums. He didn't see the little girl looking down at him from the bridge, her hands, two white indistinct splotches, resting on the railing.

Carey's eyes stared up into the cloudy sky. He had been decapitated, and yet his eyes seemed strangely alive. His spectacles lay next to him, shattered.

There was blood. Lots of it. Spattered over the rails, over the mutilated corpse.

The little girl scrambled down the bank and bent over Carey. The blood did not seem to disturb her. She was frowning slightly. With two fingers, she gently pushed his eyelids over his eyes. She stayed there, at his side, the tips of her hair dipping into the blood from time to time. Her face was grave. Her lips had the same shape as Carey's mouth; her nose was aquiline, like Carey's. The little girl gazed upon the dead face, and it was like looking into a mirror.

"I want you. I always wanted you," she said in a singsong voice. She smiled.

And when the next train came, she and Carey had gone.

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