“The old Number 6 used to run down this line,” Charlie told Chris as he was showing him around the woods while walking down the old rail line that had been half swallowed by time.
“Why’d it stop?”
Charlie stopped, took a deep breath and looked at the scrawny new kid, sizing him up. They were the same age, but Charlie was from the country and looked it. Thin and muscular, from ten years of wandering through the Hidden Woods. Chris was from the city. Years of video games and television left him with a few extra pounds and from his heavy breathing, very low stamina. It wasn’t as much the differences in size as much as differences in ability to handle the story. All the kids around here learn the story by the time they are five or six. It’s almost a rite of passage. Charlie took a deep breath, while Chris gave him the ‘well?’ look.
“Alright, I’ll tell ya the story, but you can’t blame me if ya can’t handle it.”
Chris laughed until he noticed Charlie wasn’t. They continued walking down the line until they came to a little shack in the middle of the woods. Charlie looked around for a log and flung it down in front of Chris, then Charlie sat on the ground between the shack and a wild blackberry bush.
“It was 1922,” Charlie began, picking a few ripe berries. “The train was packed with people coming back from a fancy party in New York. Well, the party continued on the train and everyone was having a great time. The music was so loud people heard the music long before they heard the train. People looked out their homes while the train passed, and everyone says the people inside were having a great time. People dancing, laughing, drinking. My grams called them flappers. Well, while the passengers were having a party, the engineer was too. He became drunk and didn’t notice the switchman who lived in this shack. The switchman was running up and down the line waving his lantern around like a mad man trying to get the train to stop, but the engineer thought he was a funny little guy and simply waved as they drove right by him.
“What happened?” Chris asked, gripping the end of his log.
“The Number 6 slammed into a tree that had fallen on the line down there,” Charlie said, pointing down the line. “Everyone died. People say you can still hear the train driving hard down the line on a clear night.”
“You’re foolin’ me,” Chris said.
“Says the guy that just moved here.”
Charlie huffed and started walking back down the trail. He was stupid for thinking Chris was ready to hear the story. Should’ve known he wouldn’t believe. But he will by tomorrow. What with Chris living in the old engineer’s house.
“Good luck tonight,” Charlie called as he left Chris at his house.
“How was your day?” Angela asked, pouring Chris a glass of milk as he washed his hands for dinner.
“Mom, the kids here are nuts! They actually believe this story about a stupid haunted train –”
“The Number 6.”
Chris gulped and stared at his mother. “How do you know about it?”
Angela laughed. “Did you forget I grew up here?”
“Oh, yeah. You don’t believe it, do you?”
Angela took a deep breath. She remembered being six years old when she met her great-grandfather on a cold October night when the Number 6 came through. She was woken by the sound of party music and laughter, then the screech of iron wheels slowing on the line. Outside her window, up on the hill, sat a large train with lots of passengers. She slipped her feet into her pink fuzzy slippers, climbed out her window, and ran up the hill.
“Hi, Angie! It’s nice to finally meet you,” the engineer said, helping her up the stairs.
Everyone one the train seemed to know her name and everything about her. She danced, laughed, and drank for what seemed like hours before she heard her mother and grandmother calling her name. She looked out the window and saw them running toward the train.
“You can stay if you like,” the engineer said, standing between her and the exit.
“YOU CAN’T HAVE HER, DADDY!” her grandmother screamed.
The engineer sighed and stepped aside. Angela bolted from the train into her family’s arms as the train disappeared. She saw the train many times after that, but always ignored the calls to come join the party.
Angela looked at Chris. “Yeah, I believe it. And you never go with that man. Or even set foot near that train if you ever do see it.”
Chris thought his mother had lost it. He didn’t believe in ghosts or any of that nonsense. The night passed, and no one spoke of the train again.
It must have been well after midnight when Chris was stirred by the sound of light music. He rubbed his eyes, rolled over, and listened as the music grew louder. His mother was a hard sleeper, so it didn’t surprise him the she wasn’t knocking at his door to either turn it down. The music was soon joined by a screeching sound. The train. Chris grinned and jumped to his feet. No way was this possible. Charlie told the truth? His mom told the truth? His mouth began drooling with adventure. As soon as the train rolled into view, Chris slipped on his Keds and crept out his window.
“Time to wake up! Got to get ready for school!” his mom called as she left her bedroom.
Silence filled the house.
“Chris? You up?” she asked, knocking on his door.
She opened the door and found nothing but an empty room.
This was written for the new WATW Photo Challenge #1. Hope you enjoyed it!