Spirit Xpress

“I don’t want to.”

“Come on Maria, full of grace. Nothing to be afraid of.”

Dart’s beer-soaked breath wafted over my face and I felt a foreboding that was deeper and darker than Tartarus.  A wind whipped down the dark, quiet street.  It’s cliched to say it was cold, but it was.  At nearly midnight, everyone in their right mind or not two sheets to the wind was at home.  Trick or Treating was done. Costumes abandoned and candy devoured, yet somehow, there I was, standing at the railroad crossing with my best friend on what, I was fast coming to believe, was the stupidest dare in the history of dares.  The foreboding grew.

“Dart, let’s go back.  We’ll tell them we did it.  They’ll never know. Besides, if the police catch you wasted, your parents are going to be pissed.”

D’artagnan Smith, otherwise know as Dart, ignored me, grabbing my hand and tugging me toward the tracks.

“It’ll be over in a minute.  Besides, three beers doesn’t mean wasted.”

I stumbled over the steel tracks.  They were those old fashioned kind that stick up out of the ground and so corroded I could barely see them.  Dart, gone as he was, didn’t seem to have the same problem.

He stopped, clenching my hand in his cold, moist palm, and I finally figured out that for all his bravado, he was as scared as I was.

“All we have to do is wait.”

Wait until midnight.  Wait until the bells clanged and the red lights flashed and the rails went down.  Wait, after that, for thirty seconds more, while nothing happened, because nothing ever did.   Wait until the rails rose again.

A ghost train.  It was the only explanation, which wasn’t an explanation at all, for the fact that every midnight all of the signals went crazy though nary a train ever appeared.  No amount of electrical work or new equipment made any difference.

Clang!  Clang! Clang!

If I weren’t seventeen, I’m sure I’d have had a heart attack.  As it was, fear forced my heart higher and higher into my throat.  Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the flash of red warning lights and the white rail floating down in the darkness.

“Just thirty seconds more, hon.”

Dart’s hand crushed mine, but I couldn’t respond because in the distance, coming in fast, was the train.

“Run!” I screamed, but my voice stuck in my throat and my breath forced back into my lungs.  No matter what I did, my legs wouldn’t move as the train barreled down on us. Dart just stood there.

When it hit, it was different from what I imagined.  Everything that had been forced down inside of me, my voice, my breath, was sucked out through my back, right at the center, where my heart would be.  The force pushed me backward, though my feet never moved, and Dart was suddenly farther and farther away, yet I was standing there with him.

Clang. Clang. Clang.

The white rails slowly raised.  The lights flashed one last time.

“See nothing to it.”

I couldn’t answer him because I was already gone.

“Maria? Maria!”

My name is the last thing I hear.

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