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Ghosts of the Train Tracks
A field lay in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by no major cities and used for nothing. A dead log lay rotting in the middle of it. Wolves assembled there to bark at the night. A train track ran right through this field, and its worn tracks shook with the shock of the incoming vehicle.
A train that was clumsily painted brown clogged down that old beaten track. The train was originally meant to hold a small amount of luggage, but due to circumstances, was now required to be airtight and packed with 80 people. The people were squished against each other so hard that half of the people had to stand for hours at a time in order to make room for the others who needed to sleep. Tiny hands and fingers poked out of a few small cracks that hadn’t been sealed up. In the last cart of the train, a boy sat with his fingers poking through the opening.
“Mommy, where are we going?” Number 7428 asked, “Are we there yet?”
“We’ll be there soon,” said Number 7415 as she looked off into the distance. Number 7415 was worried. Her husband, after refusing to become part of the workforce and sent off to a concentration camp, he had appeared on wanted posters and fled the country. He left her pregnant, and with her son, Number 7428, alone. She wondered where he was and how he was so smart to escape before they closed the borders. On the wanted poster, it said he worth one hundred and fifty-two euros. Her husband was worth much more then that. Here, in this cramped train, she missed him.
“Mom, I have to go!”
Number 7428 tried to frantically clear a space. She created a small area for him to urinate. The warmth covered him. It was more warmth then he had in a while. Number 7428 thought about how he had a real working toilet at home, and why did he have to go on this stupid train at all? When he was little, he used to fantasize about the chance to ride in a train. Now those dreams seemed ignorant and unheard of, and besides, this wasn’t the type of train he dreamed of riding anyway. He dreamed of riding a bright yellow train, with a caboose, that rode in circles on the underground railroad. This train was bumpy and crowded, and the floor was constantly covered with an unidentifiable liquid that he was helping to create more of. He was instantly disgusted with himself.
“Mom, I’m done.”
“Okay, good. Good boy.”
“When are we leaving?”
“How long is soon?”
“Shh, boy. It’s quiet time now.”
Quiet time meant no answers for the boy. His unanswered questions drifted off, ones everyone also secretly shared in wondering but didn’t have the guts or the innocence to ask. As the train slowly settled to a low moan, Number 7428 wouldn’t fall asleep. Something wasn’t right. Only yesterday he had been betting with his friends of who would be able to steal some cookies from the local bakery without getting caught. He fell asleep with the sweetness of laughter and chocolate chips fresh in his mind. He was jolted awake in the middle of the night by the sounds of yelling and the crack of a whip. The glass protecting him from the outside world shattered. And now he was on this train, with only a faint recollection of how he got there. He remembered how the people with the spider on their fronts had pulled his uncle to one line, and pushed his mother and him away to another line. But he had lines in school and he knew that even if him and his buddies weren’t next to each other in line, they would both end up in the same place. Number 7428 hadn’t seen his uncle get searched and shot in the back of the head while the people with the spiders took everything of value this family had. They were told they were to receive their luggage when they got there. Where ever they were going.
His father was a different story. A few days before the stink of the trains, some spiders had come to take Father away. The spiders had harsh voices and loud words. He heard them from way up in his room. The spiders told him to go, and Father said he would, and to come back in a day. Father was gone by the morning. Number 7428 thought his father had done a brave thing, running away before anyone could ever catch him.
However, he was worried. What if Father came back? Then he would realize there was no one there. Number 7428 couldn’t wait to get off this train and back to his home. He hated the wetness, and the hunger, and the drying spit on the back of his throat. He hated the people, the cracks in the walls, and even his mother for forcing him to come here. He even hated the wolves, outside, just for barking.
Someone must have heard his wish, because right then the train ricocheted to a stop. The occupants tumbled sideways as a heavy door opened in the front and about twenty people face planted into the dirt.
It was the spiders.
Pow, pow, pow... firesticks. Firesticks brought sleep, he knew. And the same reddish stuff on the floor of the train that he hated so much.
“Get out, come on, you dirty Jews!”
There was a couple thumps and an “oomph!” from the ground.
Number 7428 wandered closer to the exit, trying to get a good look of what was going on, but, wait...too late, his mother was already awake and held him in a headlock.
“Get out! Leave! Jews! Go!”
“Anyone still in this foul place in the next ten seconds will lose a finger for every second longer that she takes!”
His mother sprinted out the exit, taking him by the hand, but he didn’t need convincing. Even the spiders were better then this train.
Their boots sank into the deep September mud.
“Faster, faster!” the spiders yelled at people, occasionally shoving their firesticks into the backs of slow movers.
Number 7428 was tired. He didn’t want to go any faster, but he knew if he didn’t he would be the one whacked with a firestick.
“Come on, keep moving.”
He leaned against his mother for support. She picked him up and carried him, increasing her speed. This was a dangerous move, because now the soldiers could see that he was indeed a boy and did not belong in this line for women.
The train occupants were filed into a room. Everyone’s hair was cut, except for his, because he already had short hair.
“Mommy, why are you getting a haircut? Is it because there’s going to be a party? Is there going to be balloons at the party?”
A drop of water splashed somewhere. The tension formed, and the women were all pleading to avoid letting it drop.
“Yes, yes, there’s going to be a party. With balloons and everything.”
The women were visibly relieved. Comments were made about this new and important “party”, and Number 7428 felt no need to ask any more questions.
After the haircut, more spiders came in.
“Strip!” they yelled, lying by the walls to witness.
Number 7428 was embarrassed. He didn’t want anyone to see him, so he held his mom by the leg as she undid his shirt and refused to let go.
The spiders opened up a hidden door and told the women they were going to take a shower. A shower! The boy was ecstatic. He knew he smelled rotten, and he wanted to have this good hygiene.
The spiders handed out bowls of soaps. The boy thought, how sweet, they are giving us something to use, but his mother looked ominous.
The shower room was bigger then most rooms Number 7428 had been in in his whole life. The walls reached to oblivion and the ceiling looked farther away then his old house. The spiders shut the door and with that the little boy could finally breathe.
The women talked of death. Death was a topic the boy was unable to fathom, so he decided to listen in on the conversations of the disconnected voices above him. One voice talked about her fear of death. Another told her to picture death like a moonlit sky, filled with exploration and better times for him to be a part of. Yet another said that she heard that death was like floating into a cloud. They all pretended to be calm, but the boy detected fear in their voices. Death sounded so nice. Why did it cause fear?
The boy thought about his old house and his uncle. His father who ran away and his mother who he didn’t understand. The train driver he wanted to be and what Death was like. Why spiders were associated with death. Why they were given soaps.
The sparkling lights of the shower abruptly shut out. He was confused about what had just happened. Then he heard the screams, and he felt a pang in his chest. He grabbed his mother and slowly slipped down the walls of the shower which he knew wasn’t a shower anymore. As he took his last breath, the light faded away, and he realized the truth.
Grey smolder billowed out of the building which Number 7415 and Number 7428 had just entered. The smoke flew into the clouds, shading the moon on that dark, murky night. The wolves howled.