#168 Dream Train
Things happened when I was five that I can’t forget. When I go to bed, I try to think of something else, but a vision that’s always in my head appears. I see a steam engine with its whistle blowing, belching smoke and soot as it rolls down the tracks hauling a string of boxcars loaded with freight. Though distant, the whistle lets everyone know a train is coming, a warning to be careful if you were on the tracks.
A warning we boys always ignored. We’d never let a little thing like a whistle stop us from hopping aboard a slow-moving freight train. We had no toys, especially electric trains like other boys did, but we didn’t need them. We had the real thing, coal burning, smoke spewing, choo-chooing freight trains that we not only watched, but hopped aboard and went for a ride.
When one rolled slowly by, we’d climb aboard a ladder on the side of a boxcar and the roof and onto the platforms attached to the roof of each car. We ran and jumped from one moving car to another. What fun!
My friend Ronnie McIntyre and his brother were with me one day when a freight train came and we climbed aboard. Once we climbed to the top, Ronnie ran ahead, and gracefully jumped from one car to the next. He made it first to the car nearest the engine, turned around to claim victory for getting there before us, but he didn’t see the bridge the train was about to go under.
“Watch out, Duck,” I hollered as loud as I could, but the engine made so much noise he couldn’t hear me. I watched as the bridge knocked Ronnie from the train and he fell in between cars. His brother and I scrambled for the ladders on the side and climbed down to see if he was okay.
It wasn’t too far back down the tracks that we found Ronnie, dead. His brother burst into tears. I puked my breakfast onto the tracks when I saw that Ronnie had lost his head.
His brother saw it beside the tracks and picked it up by the hair. Still crying, he ran home and showed his mother that Ronnie wasn’t coming home ever again.
After that when I’d go to sleep, I’d dream of a train rolling down the tracks. I’d see McIntyre losing his head, and then I’d look up and see another train coming at me. In fear and dread, I’d try to run, but my legs got stuck in deep mud. The engine kept on coming. I heard the squeal of brakes when the train tried to stop and steam enveloped me in a cloud before it ran over me. I always moved and woke an instant before I died. No one had to carry my head to show my mother I was dead and wouldn’t be coming home for dinner again.
After years of torment by this dream, I couldn’t bear to go to bed without taking a drink, well, more than one. Enough alcohol to wipe the thoughts from my brain was what I needed before I could sleep. One night as I sat in a local pub, I decided to face my fears for the first time since Ronnie died and go to where I used to play on railroad tracks.
I staggered down the tracks and saw a train hauled by a steam engine, whistle blowing. It belched smoke and soot as it rolled down the tracks, heading for me just like the train in my dream. I turned to look and saw another train coming at me. In fear and dread, I tried to run, but my legs felt like they were stuck in deep mud and the engine kept coming. I heard the squeal of brakes when the train tried to stop, steam enveloping me in a cloud as I heard Ronnie’s voice.
“You could have yelled louder,” he accused me.
I wasn’t drunk, so I must be dreaming, I told myself as the train knocked me to the ground. My neck hit a metal track passed over by an iron wheel that cut my head off as neatly as a butcher’s saw.
“Welcome to our exclusive club,” Ronnie said.
I turned and saw seven other boys holding their heads in their hands. Was I really dead, I wondered, did I simply return here to die, or is everything just a dream? I didn’t know, so I picked up my head by the hair so it wouldn’t get run over by the next freight train when it came.