Walking along the penny colored tracks beneath him, Thomas could feel the cool breeze of the afternoon sky slowly pushing against his back. He looked up, catching a glimpse of the powder blue sky above him, not seeing a spot of white. He gently tottered, the balls of his feet lightly patting the side rail beneath him as he attempted to balance, but to no avail, he fell flat onto the ground beside him. Thomas looked up, his faded blue eyes circling the world around him. The wind was now picking up, he looked towards the west where it was blowing and it pushed his wheat colored bangs opposite from its part. He stood up, his large and soot covered hands brushing off his jeans, and he straightened the collar of his blue and white checkered flannel. He was going to attack the tracks again, and in one swift movement he hopped up on the rail, trying to balance.
This time, he was going to concentrate. His small nose wrinkled, taking in his light dusting of freckles with it, and his thick eyebrows furrowed. He started to strut, shoulders back, back straight, and he began to balance. Then, Thomas looked down at the tracks beneath him and began to lose himself in his thoughts. How long have I wandered? He thought, and began to slow his pace and abruptly spin on the ball of his right foot to face the west again. He started to feel the rail beneath him vibrate, and heard a faint noise in the distance. The sound of an oncoming train made him tense with anticipation. Maybe he would stand on the rail right up until the massive metal machine came bolting down the tracks, and then right as it was about to hit him, he'd jump off and laugh. A game of chicken.
Thomas stood still, bouncing on one foot in the middle of the tracks. The train was barreling through the forest surrounding him, the trees rustling and moving along with its melodic force, almost as if dancing to a song. Now, the train could see Thomas, and the conductor gave the boy a few warnings by sounding the horn and telling him to move out of the way, but Thomas remained. Unwavered by the oncoming train, he started to feel his muscles tense up. What if I can’t move when the train gets here? Thomas thought, but it was too late to think now. The tracks in front of him were becoming shorter, and right as the train hit ten ties in front of him, Thomas jumped.
He wasn’t quite sure if it was his muscles or the force of the train that propelled him so far away from the tracks, but as he hit the ground he laughed. His body was pumping with adrenaline, and as he stood up, he looked at the ground to see the picture of her lying face down in the earth beneath him. Thomas picked up the picture and turned it over, brushing the dirt off from her paper face. She was a striking girl, and the picture itself was captured by Thomas’ small camera over one year ago. She was looking off into the distance, wearing a navy blue dress that was drowning in the ringlets of gold her hair provided. It was the one picture he could capture his feelings for her in, yet all he saw her as now was temporary. She was not his to keep, and he knew this well, however she denied this. She desperately grasped for his love every day, a love that was becoming absent as time went on. Yet in that picture, there was no absence of love. He could feel a constant surgence of love for her in that picture- and that’s why he kept it. It reminded him how to be human, he supposed.
Thomas held the picture loosely as the train surged by, and as he was watching the cars go by a flash startled him. It was not a flash of light, it was merely the flash of a human being jumping out of an open train car in front of where he stood. As his body reacted to the flash, his hand let go of the picture, and it, along with her, flew away from his reach. Thomas backed up swiftly and looked down at the man that now lay in front of him. He picked up his New York Yankees baseball cap that the train pushed off of his head and straightened his hair before putting it back on. The man was dirty and old, covered head to toe in rags and coal. His face was shallow and spots of red appeared underneath all of the soot covering his face. The man stood up abruptly and brushed himself off, looking at Thomas as he shook out his boot. Soot fell to the ground, and Thomas stared at the man as if he were staring at God.
“Well, what the hell ‘er you lookin’ at son?” The old man said, a crotchety tone lingering in his patched up voice. Thomas couldn’t speak, still in awe of the fact that the man survived the impact of the jump off of the moving train. He amassed all the calculations in his head, and still could not understand how he was here. Let’s see, he thought, if that train was going 150 mph… and this guy weighs about 130 pounds… and he jumped down at least 10 feet… Thomas still couldn’t grasp his head around the fact that the man just asked him a question.
“Uh, nothing. Why’d you jump out of that train sir?” Thomas asked awkwardly, trying to avoid eye contact with the man.
“Cuz it was getting claustrophobic. Needed some hard earned fresh air so I could finally breathe. What about you son why you out here all alone? You know where you at?” The man said, picking at the dirt underneath his fingernails.
“Oh I don’t really know. Same reason I guess. And no. I don’t really mind though.” Thomas looked over at the tracks again and pointed, “Do you know where these lead?”.
The man shook his head, not in the sense that he didn’t know, but more in an air of comedic disapproval.
“Yep I sure do. Follow these tracks and you find yourself in Seattle. Is that where you’re headed?” The man curiously looked over Thomas, eyeing him from head to toe.
“Yeah, that’s exactly where I’m headed.” Thomas replied airily. Thomas began to head back to the tracks and the man pulled on his arm, leaving a soot stain for him to remember him by. “Son,” The man started, “You got no idea where you’re going. I’ll take you to Seattle.” Thomas looked the man in his piercing blue eyes that reminded him of his father, and the two set off on the tracks to Seattle.
When the pair arrived to the Seattle train station, it was bustling with busy people. Thousands of people Thomas had never imagined could exist were there, all minding their own business, whatever it was, and leaving him alone. For the first time, Thomas felt independent, and not pressed by everyone around him in his life.
“Well son,” The man said, turning to face Thomas, “I best be on my way.” Thomas’ eyes shot up, and he quickly retorted, “Wait, where are you going?”. The man chuckled and put his arm on Thomas’s shoulder, slowly saying, “I bought myself a one way ticket to Olympus. Make a life for yourself kid. And don’t let nobody get you down.” The man handed Thomas back his baseball cap, which he let the man borrow to keep his head warm at night, and abruptly boarded the train headed for Olympus. Then, he was gone, and Thomas felt empty again. He had left his home, his family, his friends, and her. All for a life of something more interesting than what he already had, but now, that life seemed duller than the last.
However, Thomas still heeded the man’s words and set off into the inner veins of Seattle to make a life for himself. It was there that Thomas became a man.
The rain was hitting Thomas’s grey wool coat as he set back off to the train station. It was on a stormy monday morning that Thomas was setting off to go back to his hometown. For nine years Thomas remained a runaway, but it was now that he decided it was time to go home. Even after his success in Seattle, he still felt the same emptiness he felt when he was at home. The only time he felt fulfilled was walking along those tracks. He felt like he could be a kid, something he never really endured in his own childhood.
As he waited on the platform, Thomas took out a notepad and a pen, calculating the time it would take for him to get home. As he was jotting down the numbers, a damp flyer flew down to his feet in the storm. Thomas picked up the curious thing, and noticed something familiar about its concern. MISSING: 18 YEAR OLD BOY BY THE NAME OF THOMAS ATTWOOD REPORTED MISSING ON JANUARY 13th. The poster was from nine years prior, and the picture was of him. Most missing children would find a sense of remorse in their escape, but Thomas felt nothing at all. As he reviewed the wet paper, he heard the train coming up to the platform and quietly folded the poster and placed it into his pocket, shielding his head from the rain with his notepad.
The conductor called everyone aboard, and Thomas obliged, carrying his few items along with him and shaking off his wet clothes before he sat down on the train’s seats, not wanting to ruin the fabric. Thomas sat alone, and as everyone boarded, he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. He immediately sat up and peered his head down the row as he spotted a young man and his children, accompanied by a strikingly beautiful blonde woman. She sat poised and perfect, smiling at her husband and small girls with a smile Thomas could remember as if his brain was searing it into his memory. It was her, with her now short blonde ringlets and ocean blue eyes. Thomas sat, neck craned, staring at the woman in awe, but when her husband drew his head up and made eye contact with Thomas, he quickly drew the red curtain to their section to hide her from Thomas’ sight.
As the ride went on, Thomas peered out of the train’s fogged up window and saw the very things that he now called home. The graffiti covered fences and brick buildings were not to be found in his hometown, but as they rushed past him they became trees and rivers, which were to be found in his hometown. Thomas stared out the window and knew he was making the wrong decision. What am I doing? Thomas thought, I’ve already been gone for nine years, why not stay for nine more? Thomas stood up from his seat and made his way to aisle, walking down the aisle slowly, making his way to the last cart. He passed her section and saw her again, holding her daughter in her hands and singing her to sleep. As her husband was preoccupied reading the local newspaper, she looked up for a moment. The two made eye contact, and she smiled. Her eyes seemed to say, I know why you left, and then the moment was over. Her blonde ringlets covered her face as she looked back down at her daughter and drew the curtain. Thomas sighed and walked to the back of the train and opened the door to the balcony. If he survived, so can I, Thomas thought. And in one swift movement, Thomas jumped off of the train. He rolled in the tracks for a few seconds and then looked up. Laughing, he stood up and said aloud, “I can finally breathe.” and set off into the forest, never to be seen again.