Train: A Short Story
The small town of Easton was situated snuggly within a predominately rural community in Milford County, Virginia. The town limits stretched about two miles in every direction, with the outskirts made up of crop-filled fields and woods. Even though it was such a small town, it still consisted of everything a community needs to survive: a pharmacy, a few restaurants and convenient stores, a post office, a fire and police station and various other small businesses. Perhaps its most distinguishing feature, however, was the railroad that ran through the southern part of the town. In twenty-four hours’ time, approximately twenty to thirty trains would pass through, blowing their horns and creating a steady, almost thunderous rumble as they made their way east or west. It was a sound that most of the town residents regarded as mundane but took newcomers a while to get accustomed to. No matter where a person lived inEaston, they would know without a doubt when a train was passing through.
Steven Hearn was one such resident. He was twenty-seven years old and had lived in Eastonhis entire life. The trains, and all the sights and sounds that came with them, had always been a regular part of his life. He often found it amusing, whenever he was waiting for the train to pass, to look at the graffiti on every other train car. The colorfully decorated drawings, interspersed with the redundant CSX and Top Gon writing that was a legitimate part of the train, passed by like a moving portrait on a canvas of speed.
One early fall morning, Steven was pumping gas at the Texaco station on the western end of town. It was a sunny, mild day and Steven’s first day off all week. He had decided, with the company of his pug Chuck, to take this opportunity to run a few errands around town and catch up on some things he hadn’t had time to do as of late.
Once he finished pumping his gas, he went inside to pay for it and grab an ice-cold fountain drink.
“Hey there, Sherri,” he said to the sales attendant as he set his drink on the counter. “You look like you’re working extra hard today.”
Sherri was a middle-aged lady who always wore her red hair in a ponytail complimented by a pink baseball cap.
“Yeah right,” she said. “I shouldn’t be working at all. Today was supposed to be my day off, but someone called in sick so I’m filling in for them.”
“Damn,” Steven said in an empathetic tone. “I guess that just means more of a paycheck for you though, right.”
Sherri snickered at this remark. “Yeah, fifty-cent maybe.”
Both of them chuckled at her remark.
“Well I’m off today so I’m gonna go take care of a few things while I have the chance,” Steven said once he paid for his things.
“Alright well you have fun with that,” Sherri said smiling.
“I will try my best,” Steven said before he turned and exited the store.
As Steven stepped outside he was greeted by Marvin, a forty-something black man who some people considered a bum but, in reality, was one of the more decent and ambitious “lower class” individuals who often were seen walking from one end of the town to the other. Today he was clad in his usual attire: a button-up shirt covered with a light-blue windbreaker, a pair of holey jeans, and dark-brown cap that had certainly seen better days. His hair was shoulder-length and streaked a salt-and-pepper black and grey. He had a goatee to match, and was missing most of his teeth.
“Hey hey, big guy,” Marvin said to Steven.
“What’s up, Marvin?” Steven extended his hand for a shake.
“Same ol thing, man,” Marvin answered as he shook Steven’s hand, “same ol thing.”
Ain’t that the truth,” Steven said, then continued on towards his car.
At that very moment, Steven could hear the distant sound of a train whistle emanating from the east. There was, however, something different about this ordinarily distinguishable sound. It was certainly a train; Steven had no doubt about that. For some reason, however, it carried a distinctly ominous reverberation. Steven couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was oddly different about it.
About the time he reached his car, he looked back towards the east and saw something that stopped him dead in his tracks. On the other side of Highway 46, the always-busy road that went through the middle of town, a half a dozen animals were on the move. A few dogs and cats, most likely strays, were scrambling across the parking lots that belonged to two separate businesses. They were, however, running away from the train tracks and the sound of the approaching train.
“What in the hell,” Steven mumbled to himself.
Chuck started clawing desperately at the back seat window. He was also steadily whining, with an occasional yip between the whines.
Suddenly, movement in the sky caught Steven’s attention. He looked up to see an overwhelming array of birds tearing across the sky in a frenzy. They too were moving away from the approaching train.
The blowing of a car horn and the screeching of tires brought Steven’s attention back to ground level. The dogs and cats were now in the middle of crossing the highway, and vehicles were swerving to dodge them. Much to Steven’s horror, an eighteen-wheeler, moving to fast to swerve or hit the brakes, plowed over what looked like a black lab. Steven grimaced, closed his eyes and turned his head away from the appalling scene.
“What in the hell is going on?” Marvin asked as he ran up beside Steven.
“I don’t know,” answered Steven. “A bunch of cats and dogs just barreled out into the middle of the highway. I think they were running away from the train.”
Marvin’s expression became one of confusion. “From the train? Why in the hell would they do that?”
Amazingly, the big rig kept moving and made its way on down the road. Several smaller vehicles had come to a stop, and two people had gotten out and were standing on the side of the road in shock. The rest of the animals never stopped, though. They finally made their way across the road and out of sight.
The train whistle blew again, this time much closer. It still had that same foreboding sound, and Steven was sure something was terribly wrong.
Then, down the highway in the direction of the approaching train, all hell broke loose. Cars started swerving and crashing into one another. Explosions and screams filled the air from that direction, and now everyone standing around the outside of the gas station stood in shock as they stared on at the apocalyptic scene.
Amid the confusion, Steven noticed something. The train was already within the town limits, and it seemed as if though the chaos was breaking out about the time the train was passing by. He quickly realized that was exactly what was happening and that the train would reach this part of town in mere seconds.
The convenient store door swung open and Sherri, along with several other customers and employees, came running out to see what was happening.
Steven turned and looked at them for a brief moment, then turned his attention back towards the chaotic outbreak.
Then, the train blew its whistle once again. It was an ear-shattering, haunting howl that carried with it a disturbing sense of agony. It sounded as if the train was a damned soul burning in hell, and its blowing horn was a moan of unbearable torment.
“What in the hell is going on out here?” Sherri yelled, her voice barely audible overtop the cacophony of screams.
Steven heard her inquiry but knew there was no time for an explanation. The train was nearly in sight, and would begin passing by at any second.
“Get back inside!” he yelled and waved his hands in the direction of the store. “Right fucking now! Get in the store!”
No sooner than the words left his mouth, the mechanical roar of the train exploded upon their ears. Steven looked over to see the engine, black as soot, appear from around the side of the McDonalds parking lot. As it did so, every window in the restaurant shattered. All of the windows in the vehicles parked outside the building exploded as well.
Before Steven could even process what was happening, the glass in his car and all the nearby cars exploded. Both he and Marvin dropped down and covered their heads as shards of glass rained down on top of them.
While Steven was down, he happened to glance at his watch. Both hands were spinning around the face at a dizzying speed. “What in the name of..?”
Another explosion rocked the atmosphere. Steven quickly realized it was a car at the far end of the store parking lot. It had just burst into flames as if a bomb had gone off inside it. He shuddered at the thought of someone, maybe a kid, being in it when it happened. There wasn’t anything he could do about that, though.
The wind had picked up rapidly and was now blowing as if a storm was about to break loose. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, though.
Through all the commotion he could hear Sherri yelling erratically. “Come on! Everybody get inside the store!” Steven noticed her pink hat wasn’t on her head anymore, and figured she must have lost it amidst all the mayhem.
Steven rose to his feet and looked in the back seat of his car to make sure Chuck was ok. Every window had been reduced to little crumbs of glass, but Steven was relieved to see that Chuck was alright. The tan-colored pug stood up and placed his front feet on the window edge. He continued his anxious whining, so Steven picked him up and tucked him under his right arm as if he were an oversize football.
“Come on, Marvin,” Steven said as he reached his free hand over and took hold of Marvin’s jacket. “We’ve gotta get in the store.”
Marvin’s face was bleeding in a couple of places where some of the glass had penetrated his skin. He seemed ok, other than being a little woozy.
“Fuck, man,” he said almost drunkenly. “This shit ain’t right.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” Steven said as he helped Marvin to his feet.
They quickly made their way to the store entrance.
“Come on, come on!” Sherri yelled. She held the door open as Marvin and Steven, along with several other people, hurried inside.
Despite the immense danger at hand, everyone’s curiosity got the better of them. They all lined up at the front window to get a view of what was continuing to happen outside.
The thing that drew everyone’s attention, however, was the train itself. On a regular basis, the train cars varied in color, some black, some red, some brown. In this bizarre case, the entire train was jet black.
There was a wide open space where the train was completely visible. As it moved to the west there was a line of trees that, ordinarily, would obscure one’s sight of the train. Once the train reached the trees, however, the trees and surrounding vegetation rapidly wilted away to nothing.
“My God what is the meaning of all this?” an elderly man asked, his voice trembling.
“It’s the apocalypse,” a woman said. “It’s God’s wrath.”
“Oh please, lady,” the old man rebutted. “I doubt that the Almighty would use one little train to destroy the world.”
Everyone continued to watch as the train sailed by at an amazing speed, hoping beyond hope that it would pass sooner than later.
After a few moments that seemed like a few hours, the rear of the train finally came into view. Oddly enough, the caboose was red, blood red.
“Jesus this is unbelievable,” Sherri said, her voice stoic and almost lifeless.
“Look at that,” the old man said and pointed his finger out the window.
As the train sailed by and faded behind the conglomeration of dead trees, a misty trail was left in the air behind it. To everyone’s amazement, the tail end of the mist split into what looked like two emaciated arms. Those misty arms stretched and flailed wildly, as if they belonged to someone who was desperately trying to pull away from the train. After a moment, they disappeared behind the trees as well.
A couple of minutes after the train had passed by, its whistle blew once again. It had the same eerie droning sound to it, this time fading into the distance, and it almost seemed as if it was one last way of declaring its menace.
For a moment, everyone stood in silent awe. Naturally, no one could get a grasp on what had just transpired. It had been five minutes of surreal horror.
No one dared to go outside just yet, though. The scene that they were seeing was one of destruction. Luckily, they didn’t see anyone that looked seriously hurt, but they were certain that wasn’t the case for the entire town.
Steven, mentally exhausted from the havoc, placed Chuck on the floor, lowered his head and rested it on the ice cream cooler in front of him.
Later that evening, Steven sat at home and watched the news broadcast that was covering the horrific event. The damage left behind by the hellish train was immense: every window in town was shattered; fires blazed in several buildings; all the trees were sagging and wilted; Highway 46 was littered with wrecked cars and pieces of cars; many individuals had lost their lives.
Steven listened as the news reporter talked about the carnage and the possible reasons as to why this bizarre occurrence took place. There had been a lot of speculations, including terrorism, the end of the world, and even talk of it being a “ghost train”. Perhaps the oddest thing, however, was the fact that when the Norfolk-Southern railroad authorities were contacted about the event, they proclaimed that they had no knowledge that a train comprised entirely of black existed. They were just as dumbfounded as the rest of the population.
Steven switched off the TV and sat back in his couch. He had seen enough for one day, and all he wanted to do was sleep and forget the whole thing. Forgetting the incident, though, would be impossible. Trains would continue to pass through the town, and from then on out the sound of an approaching train, a sound that Steven had regarded as ordinary for his entire life, would send a shiver down his spine and make him wonder when the next train of terror would pass through.