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Ray Simon turned the T.V. off and returned to his bedroom where the freight train sang to him, as it did every night, through the open bedroom window from the tracks on the other side of town. It was the only sound he could fall asleep to anymore. So horrifying that it wore him out, yet so familiar that it gave him an untroubled sense of security. Ray took another shot of the vodka his mom thought she hid and puckered, trains made him, as always, think of Timothy. Timothy and ray would always walk to the tracks and follow them all the way own to the McKinley County Train Yard, where they would pretend to be conductors and passengers getting in and out of old retired boxcars that would hide them from whatever the problem was at the time. Timothy loved trains.
Ray woke up flailing violently with a cold sweat running down his neck. He looked at the AA battery powered clock on the wall. 12:43 A.M.
“That means it’s the third,” he whispered to himself.
Overcast. Again. Yet somewhat still a beautiful day for February. Just warm enough to melt the snow atop the rusted old boxcars but still cold enough to allow timothy and ray to see their breath, like cartoon steam whistles. The light breeze was just enough to blow around the little tuft of curly brown hair that wasn’t covered by Timothy’s knit cap.
“See if you can touch this one.” Ray shouted to timothy as the ground began to rumble.
Timothy looked at Ray as if to see if he was kidding. “I don’t know dude,” Timothy yelled with much obvious discomfort.
“Come on man, I double dog dare you.”
The train got closer and fifteen year old Timothy reached out a shaky, nervous arm to touch the 5,000 ton bullet speeding toward him.
Ray rose to his feet, put on his sweater and drunkenly stumbled up the stairs. He grabbed the pack of Marlboro reds out of his sweater’s front pocket, opened it, and put one in between his cracked, dry lips. As he stepped out into the bitter-cold February morning he lit his cigarette and returned the pack to his pocket. He decided to do a lap around the block he finished his smoke.
When he got to the end of his street he kept walking east. He knew where his feet were taking him but he didn’t want to go. Or did he? So much of his childhood took place at the train yard, but he hadn’t been back there since. He got to the tracks at the end of his street, turned right, took the last drag of his cigarette, flicked it to the ground and began walking. He could see it, the place where his childhood ended because of a stupid dare.
Timothy pulled his arm back just as the train began to pass. His thin, wiry body turned around and quickly walked back toward Ray.
“You pussy.” Ray taunted as timothy retreated, looking at his feet. “I’m gonna have everybody at school call you chicken if you don’t touch the next one.”
“I don’t feel comfortable touching one,” Timothy said sheepishly. “I’ll jump across the tracks and play chicken with the next one.”
Ray badgered him, “are you sure you’re not just gonna wimp out again?”
“No, I’ll do it. I swear.”
Ray tripped and fell. He punched the rocks aside one of the rail road ties. His knuckles, cut from the rocks, stung as he rose back to his feet. After dusting himself off, Ray lit another cigarette and continued to the train yard. As his childhood playground got closer and closer his body shivered violently. Eventually, the trembling got so bad that his cigarette fell right out of his mouth.
Up ahead, a mirage of timothy whispered, “Ray, it’s your turn,” right into rays ear over and over.
Ray didn’t know why he started running but when he got inside of the fence, he stopped. The McKinley County Train Yard. Timothy was gone but the whispers remained.
“Ray, it’s your turn. It’s your turn.”
“I know!” Ray shouted to nobody.
“Hey, guy! What are you doin’ here?”
Ray turned around. The shouting came from a fat security guard walking out of the gatehouse by the front entrance. The ground began to rumble.
“I, I, I-” Ray stuttered.
“Why are you here?” the security guard asked again, cutting him off this time.
The rumbling got more intense. The train closed in, blew its steam whistle a few times and the fat security guard started to run towards Ray.
“I’m meeting up with an old friend.” Ray shouted as he turned back around to face the tracks.
“Get away from-!”
Cutting off the security guard mid sentence, the train began to rush by. At times, metal pieces flew only inches from Ray’s face. The freighter continued to pass for what seemed like hours. Ray didn’t move a muscle. He was frozen. Until he felt hands on his shoulders that pulled him to the ground, away from the train. When Ray looked back up, the train was gone and the rumbling had subsided.
“You Idiot!” The guard screamed in Ray’s face, “You coulda been killed!”
“I could’ve been, couldn’t I?” Ray responded sarcastically.
The security guard could smell the alcohol on Ray’s breath.
“Go home, kid,” the guard said, “and quit being so stupid.
Ray brushed himself off, lit another cigarette and stumbled home.