We went down to the tracks to prove the stories wrong. Not that anyone really believed them, because the people to start the stories were all the kinds of people you didn’t listen to. Laborers, drifters, foreigners. But even those were so long ago, you just couldn’t trust it.
Or maybe we went down to the tracks because no one would look for us there. It was a pretty good bet they would, if they tried, but they didn’t, and that was good enough.
The story went like this: back in the mists of time, when your granddaddy had to walk to school through the snow for five miles, uphill both ways, there was a girl. It always starts with a girl, because girls are trouble. Anyway, she was the daughter of the mayor, and she was beautiful. One of the men contracted to work on the railroad fell in love with her. Probably all of them did, if they saw her at least.
Beauty can turn your head, and if you’re not careful, it’ll turn it all the way around. If you’re not careful, it’ll break your neck.
So of course, being the mayor’s daughter, she shouldn’t have fallen for some dirty, sweaty guy who spent all day swinging a sledge hammer, but on the other hand, that guy definitely had better muscles than whatever pansy type guy her dad had picked out for her. He had something, anyway, because she fell in love with him too.
They started to meet. Late at night, when her father was asleep, the girl would sneak out her window, climb down the trellis, and run off to the edges of the camp, where the railroad men slept. They’d walk under the moonlight and cuddle by the unfinished tracks, away from the campfires, where no one would find them.
You can’t go sneaking off every night without someone noticing, though, and maybe her legit boyfriend came to throw stones at her window some night and caught her sneaking back in or something, because he caught on to their game. The pansy guy followed her one night to see what she was up to and who she was meeting.
Naturally, he was kind of pissed off, and even someone who doesn’t spend all day hitting railroad spikes with a giant hammer can do some damage if he brings a knife. Which he did. He knows he won’t do that well if he tries to approach in the light, from the front, so he pulls a real weasel move and sneaks up on the couple.
But you see, it’s dark, way too far from the town and the camp for him to see much more than their shapes. Still, he’s pretty sure he can pick out the big shadow from the little one, and he lunges for it, stabbing over and over and over until he’s sure the guy must be dead.
Well, he’s got to be, because there isn’t any noise. Then he realizes that there should be noise. His girlfriend should be screaming. She isn’t. No one is. So he pulls out a book of matches, lights one, and sees that he’s gone and killed them both.
Anyway, so people sometimes say they see her ghost, walking back and forth over the tracks, crying for her dead lover.
We figured it was a stupid story. I mean, for starters, how come it’s just her ghost that you see? Wouldn’t they both be there? And anyway, no one actually believes in ghosts. They might say they do, but they’re probably just lying. Or drunk.
Even though we stole Marcus’s mom’s shitty bottom-shelf vodka, and were very nearly drunk, we still didn’t believe in ghosts, so the guys who told stories in the pub were probably just liars. Whatever, you can’t trust old guys. They’re always spinning a yarn just to watch you fall for it so they can yell, “gotcha!”
“Man, this shit is going straight through me. I’m gonna go take a piss,” Marcus says, stumbling up and heading off toward the tree line.
“Watch out for dead chicks!” I yell after him.
He doesn’t say anything, but I imagine his free hand is flipping me off.
I take a sip of the vodka, and I’m still not drunk enough to not notice how bad it tastes, but it’s the kind of thing his mom won’t notice is missing, so it’s the kind of thing we take. Actually, I’ll bet she knows we take it, but at ten bucks for a fifth, I guess she doesn’t mind indulging him. That’s how she figures he’ll learn responsible drinking, and she’s not wrong. Neither of us ever wrapped a car around a tree like Josh did last week, driving with a beer bottle between his legs. We just drink our swill down by the railroad where no trains go.
“Hey, can I have a sip of that?”
I startle and look up. There’s a girl standing in the glow of our solar lantern. I didn’t see her approach, but duh, it’s dark. Of course I didn’t. She’s gorgeous, with long black hair and big eyes in a delicate, pale face. I can’t see what color they are in the low light, but I gesture to the grass next to me and pass the vodka over to her.
“Sure, but it tastes like shit.”
“Thanks, I think I’ll risk it.”
She swigs, and I am impressed. She doesn’t even pull a face. Honestly, I still pull a face. Not because of the alcoholic content, but because really, it’s nasty. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. This girl can hold her liquor though, and since she isn’t some bottom-feeding barfly, it’s kind of hot.
“Do you live around here? I’ve never seen you around.”
“I keep to myself, mostly. My name’s Annabell,” she says, passing back the vodka.
We sit in silence, and I start to wonder how long it takes to take a piss, and if I should’ve offered to hold Marcus’s hand or something. But then, it means I’m the one sitting with the beautiful girl, our hands almost touching on the grass.
“Will you come for a walk with me? I feel like walking,” Annabell says, standing in a fluid motion that makes her look like a dancer, like gravity doesn’t rule over her the way it does us petty mortals.
Ok, I’m kind of drunk by now.
“Yeah, sure. As long as you’re not afraid of the ghost,” I say.
With the glow of the lantern hitting the underside of her face, making deep shadows hang under her eyes and the outside of her cheekbones, she smiles. It’s both uncomfortably creepy and very attractive at the same time.
“Oh, I’m not afraid. I’ll have you to protect me.”
I’m sure I sound confident, but I have to walk slower and a lot more deliberately to appear sober. She puts a hand through my elbow and rests her fingertips on my biceps. Even though I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt, I can feel how cold her hands are. Probably because she’s wearing a short-sleeve dress, all gauzy like something girls sleep in in Dracula or Gone with the Wind or something. It’s old-fashioned, and a little weird, but it looks so right on her, I didn’t even notice.
“So, are you like, homeschooled or something?” I ask, for conversational filler. My sparkling wit must be out taking a piss with Marcus.
She stops walking suddenly, and I trip up a little before my feet figure out that they’re supposed to quit moving forward. Then she moves so that she’s facing me, or as close to facing me as she can be, with the top of her head just reaching my nose.
“Have you ever kissed anyone under the stars like this?” she asks, both of her hands reaching up my shoulders.
I don’t know what to do with my hands. I’d like to touch her, but I hardly know her, and my heart is racing with the thought of kissing her, and wondering if she’s just fucking with me, because she’s so beautiful and no one like her has ever been this close to my face.
“Can’t say I have,” I say, wondering if I sound nonchalant, or if the knot in my stomach and the tightness in my throat is as audible as I’m afraid it is.
Her lips find mine, and they’re cold too, but it’s cold like a slushie or the first ice cream cone of summer. Sweet and melting, her tongue yielding to mine. My hands have figured out what to do, and I reach for her waist. She’s so small and soft, the fabric of her dress silky on my palms. I push my fingers up, exploring the curve of her, inching up her ribs and seeking more softness.
Instead they find…wetness. All the bits of her skin I felt were freezing cold, but suddenly my hands are swimming in something hot and wet and wrong. I take a step back and look down. The moon is bright, and my eyes are used to the dark by now, but I still squint, because I must be wrong. I have to be wrong.
Because my hands are covered in blood. From my fingertips to my palms, streaking over my wrists and up my forearms is a sheath of blood. It’s sticky and warm, drying in the chilly breeze. Her dress isn’t white anymore, either. The top of it is soaked through, from her breasts to her hips, a deep well of blackish red ooze springing from the center of her.
“Jesus!” I yell.
She’s smiling again, only this time, her beauty is terrible and ghastly, and I just want to get the hell away. My feet scrabble on the loose rocks by the railroad, and I jolt awkwardly forward. But soon I’m running, and my heart is pounding a hell of a lot faster than it was when she started kissing me.
“Where are you going?” she calls after me, a lilt in her voice that’s part mocking and part flirting, but all hollow.
Only–her voice isn’t behind me. It’s in front of me. She’s in front of me, and I slam straight into her. But she’s a ghost. She’s a ghost, so how the hell is she so solid? I try to push past her, but no matter which direction I move toward, there she is. It’s like she’s reading my mind, like she knows where my feet will be before I do.
“Don’t leave me, we were just starting to have fun,” Anaabell says, her hands on my chest, her fingers gripping my shirt.
They sink into my chest, claws ripping through my skin and pushing between my ribs, and I’m screaming so loud I can’t even hear it. I scream as my blood pours out onto my chest and runs in rivers down my stomach. Annabell is kissing my jaw while her hand finds my heart and squeezes.
I fall to my knees, and she comes with me, buried to her arms in my chest.
My whole world is pain, except for the things I can’t feel at all, anymore. I’m losing consciousness, and I hope that death comes soon. The last thing I see is a pair of dark eyes. I still don’t know what color they are.
I guess sometimes the stories are true, after all.
So there’s a story behind the title, and there’s a story behind the story, and both are humorous, so sorry I’m not sorry, but there’s more to read still. The title I stole from the most fascist children’s book that ever accidentally made it into my house (though I am certain that many fascists have written much worse children’s indoctrination, I was spared that pain). It was about a train that liked frolicking in fields of wildflowers, rather than adhering to the rigid tracks and time schedules expected of his kind. It had lovely pictures, but when Mum read it to me, it turned out that the refrain was: “Stay on the tracks, no matter what!” After finishing the book, it was unanimously rejected by all parties.
The story behind the story is this: I wrote it quite late at night, which was fine. Nothing wrong with writing a horror story at night. I mean, there isn’t even a door on my closet, nothing’s going to hide there. We live in the modern age when electric lights can mimic the strength of daylight enough to still the thundering hearts of even the most cowardly lion and wussie bunny. However, JUST at the point where I was writing the reveal, where all the SCARY SHIT goes down, my light bulb blew. BAM, dark! IN MY FACE, ALL THE DARK! It’s shocking enough when that happens, and honestly, I scare easy, but fuck you very much, universe, for your incredibly apposite timing.
Luckily, when incandescent light bulbs were banned, my dad bought MANY MANY boxes. MANY. Which is why I am still alive to blog this short story for your enjoyment and hopefully, you’ll be just as terrified in the reading of it as I was in the writing. But I doubt it.