by Belinda Roddie
The freight train rumbled through the night with just the hint of clanking carriages in the air. It did not matter that the rails it glided across, after dashing through valleys and past mountains, led to precisely nowhere. What nowhere was remained to be answered, because no one actually drove the freight train. It had simply gained a mind of its own, rattling like a metal ghost across the tracks that were no longer used for supply or passenger purposes. In fact, no one in the town had ridden a train for over ninety years.
I would hear the sound of the horn at exactly three o'clock AM each night, though as I got older, I could sleep through it easily. When I started struggling with insomnia at the age of twenty-five, the train's lonely howl was legitimately a call for me to act rather than sleep. I would write, dance, eat, drink, take walks - anything but actually try and fail to succumb to some sort of bizarre or disjointed dream that my mind had painstakingly woven together from scraps of paper and broken trinkets from my past. Tonight in particular was, for me, a night for a stroll. So when I heard the trill outside my window, I slipped into my shoes, pulled out my father's old brown jacket, and proceeded to walk down to the once abandoned railroad tracks.
When I was only five years old, I had always imagined becoming the conductor on that train. But I never wanted to deal with people, so dealing with soulless crates and cargo seemed more suitable for me. I could talk to them, and they would not talk back. I would not have to take their tickets because they wouldn't have any. It would be a fairly easy job, but at least I'd get to wear the uniform and the braided cap.
I kept my hands in my pockets as I approached the tracks. As always, the grass wound across the rusted metal as if ready to choke the non-existent life out of it. When I looked at the other side, I thought I saw my father, for one brief moment. His eyes were covered in red spiderwebs. He looked like he was carrying a baseball bat.
No. No baseball bat. No spiderweb eyes. My father had been dead for seventeen years. But I could still hear him whistling. And I could still hear the whistle of the locomotive as it barreled toward no man's land.
This week's prompt was provided by Kyle Oathout.