Cold Wind Blows

October 14, 2010
She was walking along the side of the railroad tracks in the eerie light of a new morning when he saw her. Her baby blue dress was torn and ragged, her hair tangled with wind and dirt. She walked with a vaguely thoughtful expression, trailing a delicate hand along long forgotten graffiti, her fingernails black and jagged. She was an odd sight, purposelessly walking along the border of the dilapidated train tracks, where nature encroached on the edges of humanity and trees and foliage overtook rusted fences and buildings that no longer served a function. The scene reeked of abandonment, the forgetful and thoughtless nature of the human race. The girl stumbled over a stray piece of rusted out railroad track, and the man, watching surreptitiously from one of the many abandoned buildings, realized she was only wearing one shoe. One dirty, ripped up ballet slipper with a hole in the bottom. He frowned from his covered position, bouts of unease stirring the deadened pits of his stomach.




She had closed her eyes and was humming a rather strange, dirge-like tune when a slow rumbling began from farther up the tracks. As the noise grew louder, rising to a crescendo, the girl's head snapped up, humming abandoned. When the lights of a train accompanied the rumble, a confused look flickered over her dirty face. She dropped the small, patched up bag she had been carrying and wandered over to the very edge of the tracks, watching intently as the train thundered past. She stood close enough for the wind to push her back a step; close enough for the man to leave his sanctuary in alarm.




“What the hell are you doing?” he called out gruffly, leaning through the rusty doorway as the rumbling of the train faded into the distance. The girl turned slowly, tears drawing lines through the grime on her face. Surprised, the man opened and closed his mouth a few times, not sure how to proceed. He rubbed a worn and wrinkled hand over his bearded chin before slowly making his way down to the tracks.




As he hobbled toward her, she stared at him with blurred awareness, taking in his old and battered frame with little interest. By the time he had closed half of the distance between them, she had forgotten him, turning her gaze to the horizon, where the sun was slowly making its way across the orange sky. Her mind drifted away from time and place.

“That’s my favorite color,” she murmured vaguely, nodding toward the rising sun. The man stopped short a few feet away from her, deep concern painted on his aged brow.

“It’s a nice one,” he told her gently, his blue eyes grave. She nodded abstractly, bending to pick up her ratty bag, and began to walk away.

“Where are you going?” The old man called after her, his rough voice giving her momentary pause.

“I’m not sure,” she replied, hesitating confusedly. The man grunted and wandered over to where she was halted.

“What’s your name?” he asked her after a few moments. She turned to look at him, boring her empty topaz eyes into his, tilting her head to the side in thought.

“Umm…” she trailed off, furrowing her brow. “Uhm, Melanie,” she answered finally, her voice sounding faraway. The man nodded at her, holding out his hand.

“I’m Charlie,” he said, waiting an awkward moment before dropping his hand. Melanie nodded distractedly, staring out towards the horizon.

“Where do you live?” Charlie asked after a minute of silence. Melanie looked at him in surprise, as if she had forgotten he was there.

“Well…” she began vaguely, biting her lip. “I don’t think I remember,” she admitted in alarmed defeat. She slumped down to the ground, holding her head in her hands as she stared at her feet. Charlie cleared his throat awkwardly as he reached down to pat her shoulder, at a loss for what to say.

“Why don’t you stay with me for a little while,” he proposed, surprising himself as much as Melanie. She looked up at him through her fingers, tears again leaking down her face.

“Why?” she asked him in a whisper, though the misery packed behind that single syllable was immense.

“Well,” Charlie began, “you clearly don’t have anywhere to stay and I can’t very well leave you here and…” he trailed off when he saw her shaking her head.

“Why aren’t I dead?” she asked him, silent tears continuing to stream down her muddied face, clearing off lines of pale skin. He stared at her intently, his blue eyes piercing into hers, as if trying to look straight into her head for the right response.

“Because,” he began, looking down at the frayed girl before him, “you’re not. It’s all luck, kid, whether you live or die, if you end up a millionaire or living on the side of some train tracks with a million regrets and nothing to do with them.” He finished his statement wishing he could have had something better to say to her, but he had never been one for religion, nor was he a believer in destiny. So he had said what he could muster up, and then stood silently, watching helplessly as Melanie shattered into a million little pieces, her soul slowly leaking out with the tears in her eyes, unable to get rid of the pain without also losing who she was.




Before the sun had risen completely in the morning sky, Melanie had fallen asleep in the crabgrass beside the train tracks, her face stained with tears. Charlie retreated into his rusty little shack, coming out only once to cover Melanie with a threadbare blanket and to put a small bottle of water beside her. He sat on the dusty concrete floor in the doorway of his dingy shack, resting his head against the wall. He took a pack of peanut butter crackers from the small pile of food items on the floor beside him, unwrapping them slowly as a single tear slid down his withered cheek. His fingers trembled as he fixed his gaze on a paper bag at the other end of the room. More tears slipped from the corner of his eye as he put the first cracker in his mouth, eating it quickly and tasting nothing. He lifted his head from the wall and let it fall back with a thud; bitter disappointment coursed through his system as he rose and limped across the small, gray room to the paper bag. The salt water flowed freely now as he roughly reached into the bag, pulling out a glass bottle of cheap vodka. He turned and slumped down the wall in the corner, sobbing in defeat as he drank. He choked it all down in a matter of minutes, the bitter tears clouding his vision.




He chucked the empty bottle across the room as hard as he could, screaming and slamming the wall behind him with his fist as the glass shattered on the opposite wall. Sobs wracked his body as he curled into a ball, frustration and regret controlling his every heartbeat. Every pulse that throbbed in his ear seemed to whisper “failure” and every shuddering breath reeked of stale liquor and self loathing. He fell asleep in a puddle of tears to match Melanie’s, the alcohol muting his thoughts and dreams.




Later that night Melanie woke up screaming, her cries cutting through the quiet evening, interrupting the call of a crow circling high above, drowning out the rustling of leaves in the gentle breeze. Charlie awoke from his stupor with a blinding start, thrashing around in the corner and hitting his head multiple times before finally managing to stumble into a standing position. He lumbered out towards Melanie’s huddled form, hung-over from the vodka.




“What happened?” he slurred, sinking down to his knees at her side. She took a deep shuddering breath then released slowly, her whole body shaking.

“I had the worst dream,” she told him between heavy sobs and sniffles. “Except, it wasn’t a dream. It was real; it happened,” she said, her voice cracking as she balled her tattered dress in her fists.

“What really happened?” Charlie asked her, both confused and curious. Melanie looked up at him, the torment in her eyes more painful to look at than the emptiness had ever been.




“I was in the car with my Dad and brother,” she told him, gaining complete control over herself even as she failed to halt the spilling tears. “I was upset because I didn’t want to go to my ballet recital, but my Dad was making me. It was raining, and I was staring out the window, sulking like an idiot when I saw the headlights….” She trailed off, squinting down at the tracks, lost, for a moment, in the memory.

“I was the first to see the other car,” she picked up after a moment, her focus returning to the man in front of her. “My dad and Johnny were laughing at some stupid joke…I screamed, and my dad swerved to the right…just as the other car hit us…” she stopped again, looking down at her dirty feet as tear drops dripped off the tip of her nose.

“The front of our car was crushed, and we just spun down the highway….we spun and spun and I thought we were never going to stop. But we did. And then it was silent. The worst kind of silence you’ve ever heard. I knew then that they weren’t breathing. That Dad and Johnny weren’t going to be magically okay like I was. But I hoped…” she heaved a sob as she started to shake. “I hoped they’d be alright anyway. I tugged on Dad’s sleeve because it was all I could grab, but he wouldn’t move,” she told him, starting to become hysterical.

“And the smell was horrible. God, it smelled like burnt plastic and hair and rancid meat….I climbed over to see what happened to my dad….and all I could see was metal and skin. I couldn’t even see his face. I puked in the back of the car…it smelled so horrible. I don’t think I could make that smell up. It was just too real…” she trailed off sobbing. Charlie put his hand on her shoulder, at a complete loss for words.

“They’re dead,” she wailed at the top of her lungs, her torment echoing through the twilight like a shockwave. The birds flew out of the trees, clouding the indigo sky for a few moments before scattering into the semidarkness.




Minutes passed in relative silence after that, broken only by Melanie’s quiet sobs and an occasional cough from Charlie. Abruptly, the ground began to rumble slightly; a growl rattled from farther up the tracks. As the noise grew louder, Melanie lifted her head, a peaceful expression coming over her face. She stood slowly, taking small, tentative steps toward the edge of the rails. As the glow of a train slowly came into view, she walked directly in front of it, greeting the oncoming locomotive with a small smile as the lights washed her face in a ghostly light. The horn blew in quick, urgent processions as a cold wind whipped her tangled hair around her face, surprisingly frigid compared to the balmy summer air.

“Get off the tracks!” Charlie yelled, trying to lift himself off of the ground. Melanie shook her head at him, a contented smile on her lips. As the train closed the last fifty feet, she spread her arms wide and threw her head back, arching her torso towards it.




She screamed just before the train made contact; a wild, mad, howling sound that lingered in the heavy summer air long after it had been cut short. Charlie staggered backwards, falling down onto his ass as he watched the rest of the cars thunder past, a tear slithering down his aged face for each moment he could have saved her. He felt a piece of him shatter as the last car cleared his field of vision, leaving only a dark patch on the tracks where Melanie had been standing a moment before.




He sat staring at that spot for what could have been a few minutes or a thousand hours, before getting up and sitting down in the corner of his dark and dusty shack, pulling out another bottle to drink in memory of the girl in the baby blue dress.





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