Saturday, September 28, 2019

Ticket To Ride - A Ghost Story

She waited by the edge of the track. The trains always made her feel alive as the draft of air whooshed past her and the wind whipped her hair from side to side. Her eyes followed the retreating iron horse as it sped away; the rumble of the wheels resounding on the metal. She fancied she could hear words in the rhythm of those wheels as they danced their way along the cool steel.  Marley stood listening to the echo carried by the breeze that followed in the wake of the locomotive.
What happened to the steam trains? she thought.
Marley frowned as she tried to remember when things had changed. One minute they were there and the next gone. Trains had always fascinated her. She lived just beyond the train tracks and could hear them, no not just hear them, see the steam rising in great white puffs to float across the sky like smoky tendrils reaching for the heavens.
She would run down the garden, her mother calling after her.
“You stop this instant Marly. Come back girl or they’ll be hell to pay.”
Marley didn’t care; swinging the gate wide, she would fly down to the tracks, pinafore billowing out, her boot clad feet slid and scraped in the mud as she clambered down the embankment to arrive just as a train went by. The driver would pull the whistle string and two loud toots would explode into the air. Marly would laugh and clap her hands as she stood and waved to the passengers who raised a hand in greeting at the small girl on the bank.
No one waves these days. Marly sat down on the grass and rested her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. She knew when she went home her mother would be cross. She could hear her voice in her head and knew by heart what she would say.
“I told you not to go. I should beat you within an inch of your life my girl.” But Marley knew she wouldn’t. Her mama was just frightened that some harm would come to her that’s all. “Look at the mud on you! What is it about trains and you?” Her mother would  shake her head, but a smile always was on her lips.
Dear mama and papa. Marley’s eyes glassed over but no tears fell. She hadn’t cried in such a long time, in fact she couldn’t remember when she last did. She lifted her head off her hands, stood up and smoothed down her pinafore. “Another train,” she whispered. She cocked her head to one side and listened; in the distant a faint rumble could be heard. She stood ready to wave, but the train flew past at breakneck speed, the updraft created by it swept her skirt upwards. She grasped hold of it and held it down.  Those trains travel so fast, no wonder no one waves. Disappointed she plonked herself down again on the bank.  One more train, then I’ll go home and face mama.
No one else every came down to this part of the embankment, it was her own private place. She didn’t know why, but she felt connected to the trains and to this place. It was special, it was hers and hers alone. When the trains flew passed her, it was as though her whole body vibrated; an energy flowed through her that lasted only for those few seconds. As she watched the trains disappear into the distance she felt as though she too was disappearing.
Clackety clack, clackety clack, Marley jumped to her feet, a train was approaching much slower. Perhaps they would see her this time and wave. An excitement filled her as she anticipated its arrival.  Clackety clack, toot toot—this was what she had been waiting for. A steam train at last!  A smoky haze drifted into the air as the old train came into sight. Marley held her breath, it seemed she had been waiting all day just for this moment.  She slid down the bank and stood at the very edge of the tracks, her heart beat in time with rhythm of the wheels, clackety clack, clackety clack, claaaackety  claack. The train pulled to a halt with a hiss. The driver, a rosy cheeked man with a large moustache leaned out of the window.
“This is your ride lassy.”
 Marley so wanted to jump aboard, but what would mama say? “I can’t come with you, mama would worry.”
“No she won’t not now my dear. Don’t you remember?”
“Try to remember my dear.”
Marley was silent, what was he talking about remember, remember what?
“The trains my dear. What do you know about the trains?”
Marley stood still while her mind searched, trying to grab at something just out of reach.  The trains, they’d changed, this was the first steam train she’d seen that day. That day….? The last steam train before this one was? I remember. I was standing near the edge, waving, yes waving, then running and waving. I tripped, the wheels…. Marly let out a gasp as she raised her eyes to meet those of the friendly driver.
“You remember?”
“I’m dead aren’t I?”
“What you are my dear is free to ride on this train. Ride and see where it takes you, or stay on that embankment forever, the choice is yours.” He pulled the string and a loud whistle hit the air. “All aboard. What are you waiting for?”
Marley took a last look at the embankment, she still didn’t remember how long she had been there watching the trains slowly change from steam to those mad things that flew past,  then she climb aboard the carriage. There sitting on the other side, were her mama and papa. How long had she been dead? For the first time in a very long time tears rolled down her cheeks as she ran into their arms.
“Together again,” her mama whispered.

©Helen A. Howell