THE GHOST TRAIN


Chevy Anderson liked to think he was a good person. He tried to turn his homework in on time, didn't argue when the teachers gave him more busywork when he already knew the subject or litter. But maybe he wasn't. Maybe he was a bad person. He didn't know how things like that were judged.

You see, the reason Chevy wondered if he was a good person or not was because of the train tracks.

Everyone knew about the train tracks. They were old tracks and hadn't been used in over fifty years. He didn't even think anyone knew why they'd been put in there in the first place.

The train tracks were where the older kids went after school to smoke pot and snort crack and drink beer. Chevy wasn't sure where they got all that crap from, but nobody ever stopped them, and nobody seemed to care what they did out there unless someone ended up dead.

Chevy's best friend, Nicole, would make up stories about the train tracks. 'They used to smuggle gold out through the caboose.' or 'They snuck the Jew's out through there during WWII.' He never believed her stories; their small town of Steel didn't have a part to play during the Gold Rush. And they defiantly weren't Nazi-occupied during the war. But he never corrected her, letting her tell the stories like she did for everything.

He was fine wandering around the tracks during the day, with all the other kids from school, while they waited for the bus to arrive, or procrastinated going home. But he didn't like them at night. Because every night, an hour after the sun had set, he would hear it. The chugg-chugg-chugg of the motor and the wheels, followed by a loud train whistle, and then silence, for half an hour. Then, the whistle would blow again. Fifteen minutes after that, it would blow a third time, and the ghost train would chugg-chugg-chugg away.

It was frustrating when you were trying to go to sleep. And the most frustrating part was that all the kids knew about it. Could hear it. And they'd told the adults. All the time. Chevy had told his mother when he was six. She'd told him he needed to read less, that the books were messing with his mind. He'd told a teacher at eight. She'd told him to get more sleep.

Even the older kids, once they were past a certain age, couldn't hear it. And they couldn't seem to remember hearing it either. Nicole had asked her brother what he thought about the ghost train one night, when he'd gotten back from university, and he hadn't remembered ever telling her his made-up stories about it. And he couldn't hear it either.

It was the best-kept secret in Steel, because nobody had a choice but to keep it, and even if they didn't, nobody who didn't already know would believe them. In other words, it was the world's most confusing paradox.

"Has anyone ever camped out and tried to figure out what makes the noise?" Chevy asked Nicole, one Wednesday evening. The two of them were playing Monopoly, and he was kicking her butt. She rolled the dice and shrugged.

"Beats me. Maybe one of the older guys, but none of the forgetters would know, now would they?" she added up her score, and counted aloud as she moved her piece seven spots, landing on one of the squares that she owned. "That's my place. Thank god."

Chevy collected the dice, and cupped his hands around them, shaking them up. "It's real spooky out there after sundown though, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Nicole said. "Take your turn already, would you?"

He went, and moved his shoe four spots, landing on Go. He counted out his allowance and added it to his pile. Nicole scowled, snatching up the dice, and threw them with poorly-concealed anger. She ended up with three, paying him a couple of paper bills as rent for landing on his square.

"Do you want to camp out?" he said, as she passed the dice over.

"Do you want to have nightmares for the rest of your life?" she retorted. "I don't. Have fun out there, all alone."

"Don't be stupid." he scolded her. "I wouldn't be alone. I'd drag you along, and probably your brother too. Maybe we can get the Ghost Train to run him over, let's see him deny it then, shall we?"

"No." she moaned, as he rolled the dice. They bounced on the soft carpet. "Don't kill him. He lets me sleep in, instead of waking me up like Ma and Da do."

"Hm." Chevy said, mentally tallying his score. "Move me eight, would you? I got doubles."

She cursed, and moved his piece, the shoe, slamming it down on every square as she counted. "I hate you."

"You're a sore loser."

"So are you."

"Touché." he said, throwing the dice again. "Three."

"That's my square. Give me twenty."

"Move my piece first."

"Lazy little jerk." she muttered, sliding the object along. "Give me twenty and give me the dice."

He forked the items over, and she slid the bill under the playing board, so that it was barely visible, along with all her other non-existent bills. Then, she rolled. "Seven. Move my piece."

He did. "What if we get some other kids out? Camp out where the station's supposed to be. We can pitch it to the adults as educational."

She snorted. "Educational?"

"Yeah, like those wilderness camps. Except with less physical activity."

"Do you even know how to set up a tent?"

"Can't we just use sleeping bags?"

"Two reasons. One, bugs. Two, rain."

"So, you're Bear Grylls now?"

"Improvise, adapt, and overcome to survive the wilderness." she misquoted cheerfully as he moved five paces ahead. "Hey, are you taking Outdoor Education this year?"

"Don't we get to go scuba diving with it or something?" he asked, dropping the dice into her waiting palm. "And aren't you almost broke?"

"Shut up." she snapped, shaking the dice in her hands. "And no, that's Recreational Fitness or whatever. The gym one."

"No, they're blending them this year." Chevy corrected. "Remember? They told us that last year."

"Nope. I was probably reading."

"Or zoned out."

"Or that." she agreed.

"So, we're not going to camp out?"

"Text some people." she said, finally throwing the dice. She sighed after reading the score, before starting to move her piece. "Figure out who wants to come; oh, and tell them we're gonna die, that'll get people to show up."

Chevy snorted. "You're a goof."

"Nope." she said, sliding her piece into place, and waving her last twenty in the air in surrender. "I'm broke. You win."