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Of course they never failed to supply alternative reasoning; police frequented both ends of it; they had terrible balance; some would go so far as to say they felt a vibration in the tracks. But most locals whom avoided the trestle knew in truth there was no route of access for a squad car to approach either end of the structure, and it was so wide that you would have to lose your footing and stumble four feet to the side in order to pass over its edge. And as for trains, every person in town knew only one or two crossed the trestle per month, maybe less.
Yet it was only the youth, and a mere portion of it at that, that dared to take on the trestle that spanned the polluted, winding stretch of river below. Everyone else avoided it as if it were an uncomfortable topic of conversation; they might’ve tried crossing it once, reached the point where it extended over the water and suddenly decided it wasn’t safe; they might’ve even gone back several times after that, but four instances out of five, they would never even get as far as they did their first try.
And usually their reasons seemed sound –felt sound, even to themselves–, but none held water. All that truly led one to question their balance and their bravery were simple, momentary sensations.
It could have been the way the world opened up around them, slowly receded from sight as they drew ever nearer to the climax of the trestle. Most who turned around knew they would do so –at least a part of them did– even as they took the first step over the edge. They could try their best to focus on the 8-inch planks of splintered wood, but to no avail; every step you took delivered to your eyes a startling glimpse of the reality that the world was not just beneath your feet, but rather an entire atmosphere below you, and at the thought of the mind-numbing plunge, prevented only by old wood and an elementary sense of balance, your eyes swam and each of the hairs on your arms and neck stood like an intuitive animal alerted to the presence of danger.
However, more often than not it was the solitude that sealed the deal. It didn’t matter if you were with a group of friends or holding hands with your daughter—when you’re on the trestle, you’re alone. You’re alone and, in a sense, detached from the real world. The minutes feel like seconds. You can almost watch the sun sink nearer and nearer to the horizon. Its choppy essence vivifies, grows ever more distended, as it reflects off the mud-colored water.
Your eyes feel lit up by the sky; its blue body grows focused, and its scattered clouds become as resplendent as pearls. A breeze introduces itself, and as you venture further out across the trestle, it subtly intensifies, constantly reminding you of its presence by its convulsive faltering and invigoration.
But of all your surroundings, of the overwhelming fall just a quick motion away from you, awaiting you, and of the spirited breeze –quietly whispering the knowledge that there are outside forces governing the events of your world and your life–, none are what truly eat at you, but rather it’s the deadness that complements the breeze and fall.
It’s the stems of dead plants sprouting up from within some of the most corroded planks of wood; the community of hawks circling above the trestle, never allowing so much as a single member to actually land upon the structure; web after web constructed against one or both of the rails at nearly equal intervals, all without any inhabitants, arachnid or otherwise, as if someone had gone along the track and plucked each and every spider from its home and left the homes intact. It was as if some unseen force competed with the very nature of life on Earth, guarding the trestle to ensure its desolateness.
Of course there was no aforementioned force, only some extremely obsessed, extremely anal character, perhaps someone who was paid to maintain the condition of the trestle. I know because I, quite possibly more than anybody else, have always ensured there would be a job for the enigmatic trestle zealot.
Standing through as many decades as it had, the health of the trestle, like anything, whether inanimate or organic, gradually diminished. I observed this firsthand. I went to school in town but I lived on the other side of the river, so to walk home any other route than the train track entailed an extra ¾ mile, at best. So I crossed the trestle almost every day. I frequently disassembled it. Rail spikes, bases—you name it. I took loose pieces of junk –okay, parts– from the track plenty of times and tossed them into the water. It’s not that I assumed it wouldn’t make any difference –though I guess I did assume so–, I just never really thought about. I took parts out of the tracks as casually and thoughtlessly as you would pick up stones on a beach. I was just trying to make big splashes. The stability of the trestle never crossed my mind.
That is, not until the disappearances began. It started on a seemingly normal day in the fall. Two boys from town went missing. It was confirmed that they’d left school together, as they did every day. Both sets of parents alleged their sons never made it home.
The part that really freaked everyone out was how suddenly it all happened. Within a year of the first two disappearances, five more kids went missing.
Initially, there were rumors of a child abductor. However, the rumor died as quickly as it emerged; everybody knew the fourth kid to go missing was Brendan Dougal, a 6”2, 285-pound linebacker on the varsity football team. His abductor would practically have to be able to wrestle an alligator. It wasn’t until little Stephen Reedy disappeared that the s*** hit the fan. That’s when folks put two and two together.
For a child, Stevie was very habitual. Every day after school, he went to the same local ice cream shop and bought a vanilla ice cream cone. He would sit down in the shop and eat it and when he was finished, the only thing between him and his house was a brief trip across the trestle. I knew this from seeing him as I walked home, and his parents knew it, too. And soon after the owner of the ice cream shop told Stevie’s parents that he’d come into the shop, had his ice cream cone and left like any other day, the whole town knew it, too.
Of course people were outraged. Some of the parents of the kids who had gone missing hosted a rally near the town hall in an attempt to get the trestle blocked off. Town officials explained it couldn’t be done because the track was vital for trains to pass over. It couldn’t be blocked off or re-located; their hands were tied.
Eventually they had a police officer patrol the trestle every day after school, and on either side of it, they posted up metal signs forbidding anyone from crossing the trestle or otherwise face substantial fines and potential jail time. They even had a counselor from the town’s elementary school go into different classrooms, including those in the local high school, to speak with all the kids about the potentially fatal danger of going near the trestle.
Alongside the condemnation of it among parents, these initiatives convinced the town’s youth to avoid the trestle; it became virtually abandoned and, excepting the missing youth, the townspeople were, for the most part, content.
I, on the other hand, was not.
I had personally met all seven of the kids who disappeared. I couldn’t speak for them all, but some? Definitely. There was no way each of those kids had simply fallen off the trestle, not the first two at one time—not seven within a single year. Beside the fact that Brendan Dougal had been a coordinated guy, and beside the sweep of the river that turned up not a single trace of a body, the most disquieting thing, to me, was Stevie.
I had known him, sort of. I had seen him just about every day walking home. Usually I saw him as one or both of us were crossing the trestle. I’d occasionally seen him just sitting on it—not peering down over the edge, or hanging his legs over it. He would just sit down in the middle of it and enjoy the sensation of being on top of the world. It was an eerie feeling, being able to look over the top of everything in sight—being able to see a distant horizon in every direction you glanced. And I know he liked it, because, to an extent, it was a mutual feeling.
We never really talked during the times I accompanied Stevie across the trestle. We just walked in wordlessness and soaked in the scenery. He was the only other person I shared the experience of the trestle with, because he was the only other one who truly appreciated it. As other kids crossed it, I would sometimes see them cracking jokes, picking up rail spikes and bases as I liked to do, and throwing them over the edge. Once they got started, they would do it more frequently. By the time they reached the other end, they might’ve tossed two dozen rusty rail spikes over the edge, and half a dozen bases. But they never waited for the splash. They only did it because they liked the premise of picking apart an old structure.
Stevie was different. In fact, it made him mad when kids did that. All they were really doing was chucking some already obsolete parts from the track into the water, but I guess Stevie never saw it that way.
One time I tried to explain to him that the parts they removed from the track were only able to be removed because they weren’t doing their jobs right in the first place. The weight of the tracks had shifted at some point somehow and the pieces had come loose. If they were loose, they weren’t even supporting the trestle. They were only making it look neater.
I remember how suddenly Stevie stopped. He stopped to look at me, and I’ll never forget the way his face looked. It was so marked by passion, so full of thought and fluster—there was a brief, uneasy moment when I swear I thought he was going to try to push me off the trestle.
“But why? Why would they even wanna do that? It’s not theirs. They would be mad if someone went to their house and took little pieces from it,” Stevie reasoned.
Oh man, the look of distress behind those glasses. You would never expect to see such a countenance from someone of such a small stature.
“That’s true,” I told him. “But this isn’t anyone’s house. No one cares if it looks pretty. As long as it’s still stable, that’s all anyone cares about.”
Stevie looked around himself for a moment, then at the ground. “I care.”
I chuckled. I thought for a moment, and then my eyes scanned the track.
I bent down and placed my fingers on a rail spike. I pushed it and it wiggled.
“You see?” I asked him. “It’s like a loose tooth. It’s not doing anything useful anymore.”
I pulled the rail spike out of the track and shifted it around in my palm. Stevie’s eyes were fixed on it.
“How do you know?” He asked.
“Well, what do you mean?”
“How do you know it’s not doing something no more?”
“Oh. Well that’s what I was trying to explain. If it’s loose enough to take out of the track, then it’s not doing its job right. It’s just there to look neat.”
Stevie’s eyes considered the concept. They were still trained on the rail spike.
I smiled. “Here, take it,” I told him, and offered him the rusted spike.
“What?” He looked up at me, deeply confounded.
“Take it home,” I said. “It’s a souvenir.”
“But what about the train track? It won’t be neat. It’s always gonna miss that piece.”
I moved the rail spike a little closer to him.
“It’s alright, Stevie. You see how those kids take plenty of these things off the track. Just take this one this one time.”
I saw the fingers on his left hand uncurl a bit. But he still looked hesitant.
“Come on. It won’t make a difference. You deserve it for caring about the track. You and me are the only ones who do.”
He still just sat there, eyes narrowed in on the spike contemplatively.
“If you take it, I’ll never pick another one off the track again. Even when you’re not around.”
He looked up at me as if trying to make out whether or not I was telling the truth. I nodded. He reached forward and grabbed the rail spike, and both of us smiled.
When he got home later that day, he used his mom’s craft supplies and painted the rail spike blue. He even put glitter on it. He would carry the thing with him to and from school every day. I never understood him. And I never did remove another part from the track. Not for a very long time.
It took me a while to cry after he went missing. At first, it was a simple surprise. It didn’t really register with me. Not until I crossed the trestle for the first time after his disappearance. I sat down on it and cried for- I couldn’t even tell you how long. I stopped using the trestle after that.
During the following twenty years, a few more kids disappeared, around four in total. But their disappearances were spaced by great gaps in time, and so were never grouped together like the first seven. After Stevie, the whole ordeal just sort of passed away quietly.
I left a short while after my high school graduation. There was nothing left for me in that town except the ghosts of those missing kids. The fact that I never knew what happened to them haunted me. Especially Stevie. He loved the trestle. He could practically run the length of it after crossing it so many times. He even showed me once. Of course I felt obligated afterwards to tell him to never do it again. But it sure as hell had been impressive. Point being that there was no way Stevie lost his footing and fell off the track. There was simply no way. But I moved away and eventually, he slipped from mind—never from memory, though.
I came back to the town at least once a year to visit my parents. I would stay with them for a few days or a week. One time when I was in my late thirties, I was over there for Thanksgiving. My mom had asked me to go into town for a small order of groceries. I decided to walk there. I told myself it was because of the weather. It was a great temperature outside; it was cool, but not so much chilly. And in my hometown, fall is amazing.
But I knew that wasn’t why I was walking. It was because of the time frame. It was twenty years after Stevie disappeared. Twenty years passed since I had last seen the kid. It made me think about my own life, and the lives of all those kids who disappeared. It made me think about the life experiences they were robbed of, but mostly, it made me think about the mystery surrounding their absences.
It echoed through my mind as I made my way up the hill that lined the train track. It had been twenty years since I last set foot up there. Twenty years and it felt like nothing had changed.
I found the same sensation, although perhaps more dynamic, on the trestle. It was like I was seventeen years old again. I felt the same breeze and the same sense of being on top of the world. I felt my eyes swim and bodily hairs stand on end. But all I could think of was Stevie. His face, his glasses, his voice.
I stopped for a second. My mind was pulsating with thoughts.
What happened to him? What happened twenty years ago at the very spot I now stand?
Something a few feet ahead of me called out to my eyes from below. I advanced ahead two blocks of wood and hunched down. Something on the track was sticking out like a sore thumb. It was kind of jammed in it. It was blue, it was sparkling, and—
I fell backwards and my body sprawled across several wooden planks. I could hear my screams echoing across the open expanse. Each yell seemed to act as fuel to my hysteria. I couldn’t feel myself yelling. No. I couldn’t start or stop myself, either. But I could hear it clear as a bell. Those were my screams.
The clouds drifting across the sky above, the immaculate mass of blue behind it—it all looked the same as it had twenty god damn years ago. It was the same sky, the same track, the same f***ing rail spike. It was the same f***ing rail spike.
I sat up. There it was, just the top of it poking up out of the base it was placed into. I rose to my feet. I had to make sure.
Passing by it, I stooped down. There was no doubt anymore: it was the same rail spike I had given to Stephen Reedy twenty years ago, the same one he took home and painted. And here it was, back in the track. I went to brush my fingertips along the top of it, but hesitated. No. I didn’t want to touch it. I thought about what it would feel like on my fingers and shuddered.
I stood there for a few moments longer, all hunched down awkwardly and squeezing my eyes shut. It was all just difficult to process. That was all. I knew if I went into town, got the groceries and maybe a drink, I would feel a lot better. I just needed to occupy my mind a little bit and everything would feel normal again.
I didn’t get the groceries. I went to the bar instead. And after that, everything did not feel normal again. It felt more f***ed-up, more nonsensical than ever before. Have you ever questioned reality? It’s not a good feeling, to think maybe there really are rips in reality—or even worse, in your mind.
I couldn’t tell you how many drinks I had. Any guess I made would probably be an underestimation.
When I finally left the bar, I felt a whole lot more composed. It still gnawed at the back of my mind, seeing that rail spike, but at least I’d had some time to mull it over. It wasn’t entirely illogical to think someone had found the spike somehow and put it back in the track. Hell, maybe it was someone Stevie once knew, whom he had shown his exalted rail spike to before.
I thought about heading towards the bridge and just taking the long route home, but decided against it. It had gotten dark, and it was pretty cold out. I probably would have been shivering if I wasn’t so drunk.
Coming up to the tracks, I was ruminating over what my mom was going to think when I returned empty-handed. But as I stepped onto one of the wooden planks and looked forward, discerning the point where the earth fell away and the trestle began, all thoughts of my mother were abandoned.
The moon was high, veiled with a thin sheet of fog. The stars pronounced themselves clearly, as they can only do away from the polluted atmosphere of cities, and a multitude of crickets sought late night love affairs.
Making my away across the first few planks of the trestle, I realized it had been twenty years since I saw this view. Twenty years had passed since I gave a rail spike to Stevie, and since then, someone had found it and inserted it back into the track. And in all that time, it still sparkled, and the paint looked as blue as it had when it belonged to Stevie.
I ceased my stride. Never before in all my life had I ever crossed the trestle at nighttime. And it looked so long, so much longer than it ever had before. It was at least 300 discouraging steps to the other side. The thought of turning around bounced around in my head. If I really didn’t want to walk, I could ask someone for a ride or use their phone to call my mom. But that- no, that was childish. And all at once I realized I’d invented a purpose in what I was doing.
I continued walking, head pointed downwards, watching my feet. If there were still crickets chirping, I couldn’t hear them. For the first time, there was no breeze pestering me, either—for the first time, it was silent on the trestle.
The distance to the other end was daunting. On the other side, I could see trees with reddening leaves, and brown leaves gently skipping along the track. Any that attempted to continue along the track onto the trestle slipped into the brown oblivion below. They didn’t try to go in a different direction, or cling to the track; they didn’t struggle at all, because they didn’t have the ability to. They just fell.
Is that what happened seven kids in a single year? Did they all just muff their footing and realize they stumbled to the point of no return? Is that what happened to Stevie who could practically skip across the wooden planks blindfolded?
Suddenly I was more than halfway across the trestle, and there it was, the rail spike, looking cold and lonely and abandoned. I knelt down where it was safe. The spike came out of the track with ease. I cupped it in my palms, rolled it between them. Glitter came off on my hands. The metal was cold to the touch.
I was about to slip it back into its hole, but my brow furrowed. I peered between two of the wooden blocks. Moonlight reflected off the surface of the water below. There was a splash as some of the nocturnal residents of the river stirred. I had an idea.
I stood up and swung my arm back behind my head. I stayed frozen that way for a while, looking between the water below and the rail spike in my hand. There was a scuffling sound from underneath the trestle.
Lowering my arm, I thought amusedly, Not once in my life did I ever see an animal set foot on the trestle. Now there’s one scurrying around beneath it.
I raised my arm again. There was a gentle scratching sound. The hair on my arms rose vigilantly. I felt a tingle in the back of my neck, and it reverberated down my spine.
Suddenly I couldn’t care less about giving Stevie a proper goodbye. All I wanted was to get off the trestle, and I wasn’t sure why. Instead of throwing the rail spike, I just dropped it. It bounced off one of the planks, struck another and fell into one of the gaps. I realized it was the first time I dropped a rail spike off the trestle and didn’t watch it fall—a few moments later, I realized it was also the first time I didn’t hear it splash.
For a quick moment, my heart felt like lead. I dropped to my knees again and gazed down into the darkness below the trestle.
Why didn’t the spike hit the water?
It was straight shot to the river; there wasn’t anything in the way except for a pillar or something near the center of the track. Although there weren’t any other pillars built right in the center like that, so I didn’t think that’s what it was. It was hard to make out because it was so shadowed. I squinted my eyes, realizing it definitely wasn’t intended to be there. It actually looked kind of like it was… hanging off the bottom of the track. It was a big figure with two appendages coming out and attaching to the undercarriage of the trestle.
“What the hell?”
I pressed my forehead to one of the planks and cupped my palms around the sides of my face. A little less light came through to my eyes and I could see the figure below the trestle with more clarity.
My first reaction was to take my hands away, so as to return the shadow down there to its original concealment. But the damage was already done. I had seen it. I’d gotten a far better look at it than I would’ve liked to.
The appendages connecting it to the belly of the trestle were arms bulging with muscle, and the body was just that—a body, covered in what looked like feathers or fur—I couldn’t tell. It was a deep, dim indigo, with a pale face that resembled nothing I’ve ever seen. It had a snout that almost looked like the nose of a human, only stretched down and sagged, a huge lower lip that extended over the upper, complemented by two large, dull incisors jutting out over its cheeks, not quite coming in contact with them, and a pair of beady eyes; they were all black, and they were unreadable kind of a like fish’s eye, but they stared –oh, how they stared– with animalistic sophistication and sorrow. They looked like the eyes of an abused canine.
I caught a glimpse of the rail spike –it was clasped between two of the thing’s toes– and then I was gone, bombing down the tracks three planks at a time.
I saw that thing’s face in my mind for weeks. I still see it on a daily basis, but not with so much horror and quivering, and not accompanied by the sensation that I’m about to be grabbed. Most of the nightmares ended sometime after I recognized what it was in its face that really pierced my heart (besides the absolute grotesqueness). It was a look it had. It had this expression on its inhuman face that looked uncannily human, and familiar. It looked so full of thought and fluster—its emotions sink into me every time I think of it.
While it usually doesn’t give me nightmares, I still see it in my dreams. It’s in just about every dream I have, it seems like, even if the dream is about something totally unrelated. Sometimes it’s not that exact same shade of indigo. Other times it has red eyes, or a tail and horns. There are times when it wears a backpack or a pair of glasses. But it always has a sparkling, blue rail spike in its hand. And when it doesn’t… That’s how my dreams turn into nightmares.