“The Train” by Michael Neal Morris
Almost always, the train track was deserted. In Winter, the rails seemed to draw the eye to the barrenness of the season. In Summer, the rust shone to any passersby, as if to say, “I carry heat too.” During the Autumn, the tracks were the one place where one could not find leaves. Only in Spring could one see any signs of life, and that was the occasional tuft of grass where the wind may have deposited an errant seed.
Maybe a couple times a month a train came through town, never stopping even though the tracks ran right by the old Feed and Seed store which served just enough farmers in driving distance to keep it running. If Mark was behind the store loading the huge sacks or taking a smoke break, and the train was going through, he would lean against the building and wave at those manning the controls, usually just two men, as if a train came through every day at the same time.
The truth was when he heard the whistle, which was blown about two miles away as the train crossed the farm to market road into town, he’d nonchalantly go outside to watch it pass. Because it travelled only twenty to thirty miles per hour, Mark could easily see each car, and imagine a history for it as the clacking of wheels on rails soothed his usually tired mind.
But last Thursday, the train rumbled through, and it was the last time Mark would watch. He’d nodded at the men at the front and saw their smiles. One had the grin of a boy who has done something wrong he’s proud of, but cannot share. The other man, a little older, almost seemed to laugh. The expressions did not register in Mark’s mind right away.
He took long drags on the cigarette as the cars passed before him. The train seemed longer than usual and Mark looked at the open cars silently, imagining himself a hobo headed to destinations unknown and away from the numbness of everyday work.
Then the last car passed and Mark noticed a kind of tail, like that of a lion, thin to an end with a ball of meat. After a blink he saw it was a rope, about thirty feet long, and the body of man was tied around the waist. Blood splotched a pale green coat and arms and legs bounced in unnatural directions.
Mark jumped from the dock and ran onto the tracks. He shouted “Hey!” knowing that the expense of his energy was futile. “Hey,” he said again softly, as if telling himself to stop the train. The machine continued, a dark line through tall trees, rolling toward an achingly blue horizon.
Michael Neal Morris attended East Texas State University (now Texas A&M in Commerce). He teaches English at Eastfield College in Mesquite. He has published a number of stories, poems, and essays both online and in print. He has worked as a secretary, technical writer, janitor, and tutor. He lives with his wife and children just outside the Dallas area.