I spent the better part of my youth trying to derail a train. In a way, my childhood ended when I finally succeeded. I guess the thing about it that surprised me most was the noise. You know how loud a train is when it’s going down the tracks, right? Now figure all those tons of steel sliding against gravel and trees and telephone poles splintering, whistle blaring the whole time, as if the conductor could scare the train back onto the tracks. Ha, I don’t know. It was something, I tell you that much. I watched the train go chugging by, even saw the conductor’s face. He waved at me. That was just a few seconds before he split off the tracks like a broken rib jabbing through skin. I ran all the way home, a scared-shitless fourteen year old man. I walked through the front door and my daddy was loading his shotgun, asking me what in the name of holy hell was going on outside. I didn’t know what to tell him, so I just sat at the table and waited for the police to come. My daddy busted out the front door, waving the gun, hollering. Neighbors were doing the same—not all of them with guns, I guess, but they were all hollering. There was smoke or dust over toward the tracks. I could see it through the kitchen window. But I didn’t go outside. I told myself I wasn’t going to go outside ever again. I tried to convince myself that they couldn’t lift fingerprints from the sacks of grain I had piled up on the tracks like dead soldiers, that nobody had seen me except the conductor. And then I wondered if I wanted him to live or if I wanted him to die. I decided I didn’t know the answer to that one, and that God would work it out His way. I sat there, listening to the chaos outside grow louder, as lights shone down our dirt road. My daddy knew what I had done and he never looked at me the same again, though I couldn’t place what was new with him—was it fear? Or pride? The police never came. It doesn’t help much anymore. I’m still waiting for them.
Jake Walters has been published in several literary journals including 34th Parallel, Foundling Review, The Battered Suitcase, and Fractured West.
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