Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Train Tunnel

Christopher? It’s Quentin.

Quentin Mc—

Yeah. Yeah, been a long time.

Did you hear?

About Eric.

Yeah, OK, I'll hold.

Three young teenage boys. Just met. Families on vacation in Gatlinburg. Bored. On their own. Exploring. Find railroad tracks that run along the edge of a mountain. Put pennies on the tracks. Souvenirs. Disagree about whether it’s against the law.

Yes, ma’am, I’m Quentin and I’m holding for Christopher.

Follow the tracks into a long curved tunnel. Can’t see the other end. Walk towards it, kicking against the rails. Stop in the middle where each end is a bright hole. Wonder whether the railroad is in use. Continue walking. Exit the tunnel and walk along the tracks, then climb the embankment into the woods. Take turns rolling boulders down the mountain—between the rails is the bullseye. Hungry and tired, turn around.

A message? No, but thank you ma’am. It's important that I tell him myself. I’ll keep holding.

Middle of the tunnel, the long-long-short-long whistle blows. Look ahead and wait. Five, 10, 15 seconds. Bright, white headlight fills the opening in front of them.

Christopher? I know you’re busy, and I’m real sorry to bother you at the office and all, but you're gonna want to hear this. Eric went back to the tunnel. He shot himself.

In the head.

In the tunnel.

Oh, he's dead alright.

No, Eric wouldn’t never break his word. You know how hard he took it. Like it was all his fault or something.

No need to worry about that either. Heard he was so drunk it’s a wonder he didn’t miss his head altogether. Won’t nobody be investigating nothing, leastwise something that happened a long time ago.

Nope, nothing to connect to us. Me and you are the only two who know about the train. Besides, Eric killed himself. Everybody says so.

A shame? Yeah, I think so, too.

I wanted to go, but you’re right. It’s too risky.

Flowers? Yeah that’d be real nice. And like you say, no need to sign the card or nothing.

Next summer?

OK, I guess. I ain’t been back there since the accident. A kind of memorial … he woulda liked that.

You know how to find me.

Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. Least I didn’t give my—uh, least I called from a payphone.

OK, OK. Won't happen again.


Author: Peter McMillan, whose roots are in Alabama and Georgia, is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario.